When Grieving Hangs Over Christmas

THE HOLIDAY SEASON is a time of joy, surprises and laughter -but, it also can be a time of heartfelt grief and loneliness for many folks, especially families who have lost a loved one in the past year. 

IN MY PROFESSIONAL ROLES as registered nurse and family therapist, I sat with many families who lost a loved one, while they grieved.  As a member of the board of Hospice and Palliative Care of Charlotte, including having served as Board Chair, I am well aware that the holidays are a challenge for families who experience recent loss. 

I  HAVE PERSONAL LIFE EXPERIENCE, as well, in trying to get through the holidays after losing a loved one.  Five years ago, both my Mother and Dad and a brother-in-law died within six months of one another – two of them left us in November, just before Thanksgiving. It was a long and difficult holiday year that stretched from Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year’s.

Ten suggestions for the Holidays When Loss is in the Room

1. ACCEPT THAT YOUR FEELINGS of loss are real, and recognize you may need some time alone during the holidays to grieve. Time alone is OK – taking a walk, stirring up something in the kitchen alone, taking a drive, taking time-out in your room. Research demonstrates that healthy families accept when a family member needs some time alone. HOWEVER, healthy families also reach out and support the person to re-engage in family life, if she is withdrawing too long.

2. GREIVING IS AKIN TO taking out a treasure box and going through your memories stored there, one by one – appreciating them and then putting them away. The work of grieving cannot be done all at once, but thankfully will occur over a period of time, as memories arise – even a year or two. Share memories of your loved one with close friends and family. There will surely be fond memories that will eventually make you all smile and even laugh together.

3. IT’S NORMAL TO HAVE REGRETS about a loved one now gone – woulda, coulda, shoulda done this or that. Forgive yourself any regrets! After all, you’re only just human. Knowing this was a normal response to grief was helpful to me, as I thought about other things I might have said or done while mom and dad were here. I wrote a poem about regrets after Dad’s passing – called Small Regrets.

Small Regrets  

I wanted to tell you one more time that I loved you,
and I wanted to thank you for being such a great Dad.

I wanted to thank you for Sunday drives for ice cream,
and games on rainy days.

I wanted to tell you what wonderful memories I have
of standing beside you in church singing hymns in harmony.

I wanted to thank you for driving two hours in a rainstorm
to bring a book I left behind –
that you thought I needed for a college class.

I wanted to thank you for so proudly escorting me
down the aisle at my wedding – and to my 20th high school reunion
when my husband was out of town.

I wanted to thank you for teaching me to drive a car,
to sing, and to laugh back at life’s hurdles,
all of which have been useful to me in my life.

I wanted to tell you again that we would be OK –
and we would take care of Mom.

Today, my heart is filled with gratitude,
for having you with us for so long,
and for taking the opportunity when I had it –
to say “Thank you” – and “I love you”, –
but, in this hour of loss – a small part of me,
Wants to tell you – one more time – “I love you, Dad”.     

4.  INCORPORATE A WAY to honor the memory of the person you lost, an ornament on the tree, flowers at church. My Mother loved candles – on her dining table and in the kitchen. She always lit a candle for “travel mercies” as she called it, when any of her children were traveling – she let it burn until we arrived safely at our destination. The first Christmas she was gone, I distributed some of her candleholders to all the family, children and grandchildren. We all lit a candle for her during the holidays for travel mercies. Finding a way to honor a loved one’s memory may bring comfort.

4.  KEEP TRADITIONS that have meaning for you and the family… and savor them…and let go of traditions that are too painful to keep this year.

5. TAKE ADVANTATGE of any community events that will support your need to acknowledge your feelings and the life of the person no longer with you. Our local hospice offers a holiday service in early December, specifically for families who have lost a loved one in the past year. The program is largely choral, with uplifting poems, and candles to honor individuals. One woman said every family should attend each year just to remember with love all family members who have lived before. Standing with other people in Christmas Eve service, or a community candle lighting event may bring comfort – just knowing we are part of a human community.

6. IF THE LOSS OF a loved one significantly changes how you can celebrate the holidays, start a new tradition. When our children were grown and were home only a short time during the holidays, and our parents were gone, we found ways to expand our holiday activities in new directions, for example, sharing some of our baking with the neighbors, visiting friends and acquaintences and thanking service people who do things for us every year. For example, giving cocoa and cookies to the mailman on a cold day.

7. MAKE A LIST OF foods, favorite books, friends, and places that bring you comfort and make a plan to eat them, read them and visit them.

8. SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE during this time. Accept only invitations that bring you joy. If you are feeling a lot of stress, plan a simple menu for family dinners, reduce your shopping or order from catalogs.

9. NEW YEAR’S IS a new beginning. Start a journal this year recording your feelings, thoughts and memories as you travel along 2014.

10. AS NEW BEGINNINGS become clearer to you, set goals for the year – when you are ready to do so. For those of you who have lost a loved one this year, may you be comforted by your memories, and blessed with beginning new transitions.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Is it the Real Santa? (For the Children)

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IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS – as the holiday song goes. This post is for children everywhere who are still in the magical time of life to eagerly await the arrival of St. Nicholas.

ONE THING I KNOW FOR CERTAIN – all the signs are there. He will be stopping by this year.


NO… looks like a Santa doll. Wait!

NO! That’s not him!

NO! THAT’S TOO FUNNY to think that’s Santa.

IT LOOKS LIKE SANTA – and he has presents. But it’s just a picture.

Look, these are not real Santas… Just his helpers.

YES! THAT’S HIM… I think it’s a picture of the real Santa.

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I SAW HIS BOOTS ONCE! Now that’s real…I think so.

COULD BE HIS GLOVES because it’s cold at the North Pole.

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IT’S HIM! I’M RIGHT! It’s really him! I TOLD YOU!

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HI, SANTA CLAUS! Santa, are you on schedule for Christmas Eve?

Santa Claus is coming to town!

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

My Top Ten Blessings This Thanksgiving

THANKSGIVING IS THE TIME OF YEAR to count our blessings, one by one – and I have many. It is our family tradition when we sit down to the Thanksgiving meal, for each of us to share at least one thing we are thankful for during the past year.

Thanksgiving at mother-in-law Nora's.  Traditional pecan pies and jam cake with caramel icing
Thanksgiving at mother-in-law Nora’s. Traditional pecan pies and jam cake with caramel icing, Italian crème cake, Hummingbird cake

AS I REFLECT ON THE PAST YEAR, I am so aware of new blessings that have come my way, since I retired from an academic career, and started freelance writing. I truly loved my work in the university and was unsure about leaving it. But, I found there are new life experiences to be savored. Oh yes! And it’s something for those who have yet to retire to look forward to.

TOP TEN NEW BLESSINGS I am thankful for this year:

1. A LEISURELY BREAKFAST with my husband and time to read two morning newspapers before starting the day’s activities.

2. SHOPPING DURING THE WEEK in uncrowded stores, when most working people are in their places of employment.

3. SCHEDULING ROUTINE APPOINTMENTS (e.g., medical and dental) in the afternoons, in case I want to sleep late or finish work at home first.

4. TAKING A TIME-OUT “Me Day” to do just want I want to do. If I want to read all day – it’s ok. I am so oriented to being productive, that it took awhile to feel comfortable taking an occasional day off.

5. SPENDING MORE QUALITY OF TIME with loved ones (e.g., enjoying family in new activities, learning more about family history, lingering at the table with friends).

The Pie That Made My Dad Propose (recipe in Aug 29, 2013 post)
The Pie That Made My Dad Propose (recipe in Aug 29, 2013 post)

6. FEELING AND LOOKING (and being) more rested. When I was working full-time, I had a demanding schedule that sometimes compromised my time to sleep. I don’t take naps, but am able to get a full 8 hours of sleep a night now. When I meet an old acquaintance who comments, “You look fantastic.” I reply, “It’s called being rested.”

7. HAVING LARGER BLOCKS OF FREE TIME available, so I can work longer on a project I have started (writing or home-based), rather than working on it in only short bursts of time. And I might add, the rewards are great when I complete a project I was eager to do.

8. SEEING A REAL OPPORTUNITY to plan and implement some of the “if only I had time” goals. When it really gets down to planning, there are some things I thought I wanted to do, that I no longer have a desire to do. But making a new “bucket list” is exciting – and working on the list introduces new adventures in my life.

9. THE SPONTANEITY to drop what I am doing and seize an emergent opportunity. The freedom to change plans midstream is an unexpected pleasure (e.g., meeting friends for coffee or a concert at the last minute).

10. THE OPPORTUNITY TO PURSUE new interests and develop new skills. Learning something new every day is my mantra!


Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

WHAT IS ON YOUR list of blessings this year?

Sweet Potato Recipes for the Holidays: Part II

MY SEARCH CONTINUES for sweet potato recipes for the holidays to expand my culinary repertoire for using this vitamin packed and low calorie vegetable. In response to the public’s increasing interest in healthier fare beyond meat and French fries or mashed potatoes, vegetables are showing up more and more on restaurant menus and the sweet potato is one of them. Thank goodness!

WE SOMETIMES EAT OUT on Sundays after church. Today, we met our son at Long Horn Steak House for lunch. I chose a fabulous salad that would be a nice addition to a holiday lunch: spinach leaves, thinly sliced tart apples, toasted pecans, bacon crumbles, cranraisins, and sweet potato chips, drizzled with balsalmic vinegar. It was delicious – and the sweet potato chips on top added a crunchy flavor to the salad.


I FOUND SEVERAL SOURCES for appealing sweet potato recipes that I want to share with you in this Part II post.

THE DECEMBER ISSUE of Southern Living (p. 181) has a recipe for sweet potato spoonbread that I am so anxious to try. The first time I ate spoonbread was at my mother-in-law’s house when I was first married. She was an excellent Kentucky cook who served real comfort food. I enjoy all kinds of bread – but this new spoonbread, with a crusty outside and custardy inside, smeared with butter and jam, was a new taste sensation for me. I remember she said she always used Martha White flour and white cornmeal. The sweet potato spoonbread is an old American recipe. English cooks make yorkshire pudding, and American cooks make spoonbread – a recipe dating to Native Americans, some say.

THE LOUISIANA SWEET POTATO COMMISSION has a mouth watering list of recipes of all kinds on their website to try, soups, salads, entrees.(sweetpotato.org/recipes) Many recipes sound special enough to star on the Thanksgiving table, for example, these dessert recipes sound so Big D delicious:

Brie and Sweet Potato Tart in Maple Pecan Crust
Sweet Potato Flan
Sweet Potato Souffle
Sweet Potato Bundt Cake
Old New Orleans Sweet Potato Rum Cake
Sweet Potato Cookies with Vanilla Icing
Sweet Potato Cheesecake

OK – DESSERT RECIPES HAVE A PLACE during the holidays, but what about entrée vegan recipes and healthy recipes with sweet potatoes? I found a small 35 page cookbook by Wendy Jordan, Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes (2012) that includes a few of these recipes. This cookbook is available as a book or Kindle download from Amazon for $3.99. (Amazon.com) Recipes are included for soups, sides, pastas, roasted dishes, etc. There are several healthy recipes I marked to prepare for the family taste test. Examples in her book include:

Asian Sweet Potato Soup
Grilled Caribbean Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potato and Pasta
Mexican Stuffed Sweet Potato
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Crispy Sweet Potato and Pear
Sweet Potato Wedges with Thyme and Garlic
Shrimp and Sweet Potato Salad
Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew

IF YOU HAVE A SPECIAL family approved recipe you want to share, I’m interested. So.. A salute to the colorful vegetable that is so good for us.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving: Soup, Sinfully Rich, Healthy Sides and Dessert

Today was such a busy day of errands that we didn’t even take time for lunch. At 3:00, we stopped at Jason’s Deli and ordered take-out of the soup of the day, along with one of my favorite sandwiches. I wasn’t sure the sweet potato and pork soup would be good, but I knew the sandwich of multigrain bread, roast turkey, philadelphia cream cheese, cranberry relish, onions and field greens would be great. We took our carry-out lunch home to relax and eat.


I added some of my raspberry mustard to the sandwich and sampled the soup. To my surprise, it was delicious… I mean Big D delicious. I imagined this tasty soup could be a good evening meal with leftovers, using sweet potatoes, blended with vegetable stock, left over shredded pork roast, spinach and onions. I would have to experiment with the spices to try to recreate it.

When I was growing up, Mom prepared sweet potatoes often. She usually prepared some version of candied sweet potatoes, so my repertoire for using sweet potatoes was limited.

WHEN I BEGAN COOKING in my own home, I made the candied version too, but less often, and in recent years, frequently serve baked sweet potatoes with a little butter and salt. I also roast them in the oven with other vegetables with some olive oil, salt and pepper … or cook them in the crock pot with pork chops, orange juice, onions, ginger, honey.

WE COULD EXPECT TO SEE on Mother’s Thanksgiving and Christmas table, her sweet potato recipe that she called her “sinfully rich sweet potatoes” – and it was too. I don’t know where this recipe came from, but it has been a staple in the family for many years. Sure it had its share of calories, but it was the dish that some family ate for dessert, or even breakfast, if any was left over.

Ina’s Sinfully Rich Sweet Potatoes

3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter (or margarine)
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup pecans

In mixer, beat sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, evaporated milk, butter and vanilla. Pour into greased 2 quart casserole. Mix brown sugar, butter, pecans and coconut till crumbled and sprinkle over potatoes. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. (I have lightened the calories in the recipe by substituting half and half for some of the butter, and Splenda and Splenda brown sugar for some of the sugars.)

I CHECKED MY FAMILY’s OLDER COOKBOOKS published from 1907 to the 1940’s and found no recipes for sweet potato soups. When I searched on the internet, I found dozens of recipes for sweet potato soups, with a wide diversity of ingredients. . They seemed to be grouped into savory soups with garlic, onions, celery, chicken stock using leafy tops of celery and other spices, milk… or with lentils and spinach… or curry and carrot. There are also slightly sweet soups with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, maple syrup, brown sugar. My daughter says she recently had sweet potato soup with coconut milk.

AS I CONTINUED TO EXPLORE other recipes on line and in contemporary cookbooks, I began to realize just how versatile this tuberous vegetable really is. There is sweet potato risotto, sweet potato pie, sweet potato cookies, sweet potato pancakes. Sweet potato fries are showing up on a number of restaurant menus now. And the list goes on. Health.com lists 25 healthy recipes using sweet potatoes, like quesadillas,

THE VERSATILE SWEET POTATO is one of the oldest vegetables known to humans and is a major staple in many parts of the world. It was often quoted that Christopher Columbus introduced the sweet potato to America. DNA testing has produced other information, says Michaeleen Doucleff (www.npr.org/…How the Sweet Potato Crossed the Pacific Way Before the Europeans). There is compelling evidence that sweet potatoes originated in the western coast of South America.

SWEET POTATOES ARE LOADED – and I mean really loaded with nutrients and vitamins – vitamin A and C, some calcium and iron, lots of fiber and low calories. The versatile sweet potato will surely find a place on my holiday tables… in various forms.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE sweet potato recipe?

Writing Holiday Poems by the Fire- 1, 2,3: Just for Fun

I have been playing around today writing short 1-2-3 poems about the holidays – just for fun. Please join me by adding yours to be enjoyed by others during this holiday season. Anyone can do it… It’s only three lines – one word, two words and then three, to express a thought about the holiday season.


blessings of
Thanksgiving are now.

mend hearts
and enrich lives.

reminds us
we aren’t alone.

makes me
a hungry debtor.

for life
warms my heart.

many friends
are you bringing!

one roaring
fire fuels romance.


many Santas
in this town!

always receive
a new nightgown!

Christmas wish
has come true.

wanted laughter
spilling from you.

is coming
ready or not.

is in
the gifts given.

peace on
earth is universal.

creating peace
on earth impossible?

on snow
makes crystalline stars.

pie tastes
like grandma’s house.

life can
sometimes be chaotic.

is the
best Christmas gift.


brings something
bigger than me.

family that
sings together rocks.

trees carry
glitter and memories.

child’s giggle
peals joy and mirth.

you for
my life’s blessings.

Night, Holy
Night…quiet night.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013


A Message for Christmas: The Gift of Happiness

ARE YOU A CLIPPER TOO? I occasionally clip an article or note, from a news source or research article, that I want to read again, or share with someone else. Three years ago, I clipped an article from the “Charlotte Observer” (Dec 18, 2010), that delivered a positive and powerful message – especially for the Christmas season. I shared it with a friend that I thought might find it particularly meaningful. This holiday season, the message merits repeating, as we engage in a whirlwind of activities in the build-up to Christmas. The author is Lynne Hinton, minister and author. She has graciously given permission to re-print her message as a post on the blog, Womenlivinglifeafter50.com. Thank you Lynne.


THERE IS A LINE FROM A MOVIE that I can’t get out of my head. One character, a light-hearted woman, is trying to encourage her friend, a more melancholy character. They are on vacation together. After a few days, she tells her solemn friend to be joyful, because good things are coming her way. Her friend replies, “That’s easy for you to say; you have the gift of happiness.”

BEFORE SEEING THE FILM, I never really thought of some people having a gift of happiness, while others do not. I see now the truth of it. There are some folks who just seem to have the gift of joy and lightness of being, while it appears that the rest of us have to work to be happy. I know this, because I am more of a “glass half-empty” kind of person. I don’t come by my joy easily. It takes work – spiritual and emotional discipline – for me to be happy.

AS THE HOLIDAYS APPROACH, I have been thinking about the gifts I will give and receive that I hope will bring pleasure to my friends and family. We always want our presents to be enjoyed by our loved ones. Aren’t we looking for that present of happiness so we can buy it, wrap it up, tie a big red ribbon around it, and hide it under the tree?

PERHAPS THERE IS ANOTHER WAY TO LOOK AT GIFT-GIVING this year. Perhaps the best gift we can give to those we love, is to do the work, so we can become people of joy. If you think about it, happy people are much more fun to be around then miserable people.

I’M NOT SUGGESTING selfishness. I’m not promoting spending the money we were going to spend on others on ourselves. I am suggesting that we make the effort to be the people that others want to be around. I am suggesting that the best gift we might give away, is finding and fostering our own emotional health.

WHEN WE ARE HEALTHY AND WHOLE, hopeful and joyful, we give happiness away. And when that happens, others often make the same kind of decisions for themselves.

WHEN WE SEE HAPPY PEOPLE, we want to be happy people.

BE A PERSON OF JOY. Give yourself, and those who love you, the gift that will matter most. BE HAPPY.

The Family Storyteller: Before It’s Too Late

WE ARE EXPERIENCING A TEMPORARY cold front in the South, prompting memories of the magical snowy days of my youth in Indiana and West Virginia (although we are not expecting snow in Charlotte NC).

AS THE HOLIDAYS DRAW NEARER, my thoughts drift to family members who are no longer with us for gatherings of the clan as in past Thanksgivings and Christmases. When I was a young adult, I gave little thought to the temporal aspect of life, as if we would all be here together for years to come – holidays at grandmother’s house – then mother’s house – and then – the gathering was at my house. As we come together, we celebrate, eat and share family stories – usually funny or touching ones -and we laugh and bond as a family.

I WAS FORTUNATE that Mom was a born storyteller with an exceptional memory. She shared much of her growing up and my siblings and I learned about not only our family roots, but the townspeople and the issues of life in the generations before us. What a treasure!

NOW, AS AN OLDER ADULT, my interest in family history is piqued even more, likely because I am a little closer to the end of my journey (not for many years yet, I hope) – and maybe too because I value the importance of connecting the generations. There are lessons to be learned, even from unproductive decisions made by someone in the past. In Mom’s last years, I made a greater effort to ask questions and write notes on history she shared. Although – now that she is no longer here, there are so many things that I wish I had asked her.

AS THANKSGIVING APPROACHES, and we become engaged in the hustle and bustle of holiday activities, it may be prudent to take time-out to invite…. to question… and to listen to the older adults of our families, to learn where we came from, and our ancestors journeys along the way.

WHEN I TAUGHT A UNIVERSITY GRADUATE COURSE in life span development, I frequently gave an assignment for the students to complete over the holidays. They were asked to interview the oldest member of their family, or the oldest family storyteller (not all folks have the gift of remembrance). To prepare for this interview, they were to prepare a timeline. They wrote the years of the family member’s life and beside the years, wrote major events that were occurring (war, disease epidemics, new inventions, politics, etc)… Then they could begin at the earliest memories and ask how these events influenced the family (e.g., you were 14 when the polio epidemic was at its worst. What do you remember about it?).

THANKSGIVING AND CHRISTMAS are family holidays, and various things stimulate recall of holidays past. I remember with deep affection, family and close friends that are no longer here to share this holiday season with us. I am grateful we traveled together for a time. My life is richer for knowing them. As I reflected recently on the blessings of our family (and a few close friends), I wrote two poems to try to capture a few of my thoughts.

Someone Left the Window Open

Someone left the window open and they are slipping through,
One by one – and two by two.
Drum majors of a parade,
loving grandparents marched on
leaving us behind
to find a way to make our lives rewind.

Uncle Don, who drove me everywhere
looking for little pink pigs –
like ones in my storybook;

Betty Davis, a dear childhood friend,
named for a movie star,
who survived polio to be felled
by its re-awakening in later years;

Uncle William who lived a formal life
as a Presbyterian pastor,
till he retired in Asheville
and put away his suits for denims and blue grass;

Aunt Erm, Dietition for Cumberland College,
who oved the game Sorry and
made memories with her fruitcakes and jam cakes;

Aunt Verna, who loved books and learning,
and cared for her community in New Bern
as county public health physician;

Aunt Maggie, who liked brandy alexanders’s,
managed her own business in Charleston and
parachuted from a plane in her 80’s;

Aunt Shirley, who enjoyed taking care of her home
and sang country songs
while she washed the dishes;

Aunt Fanella, twin sister of my father,
who kept the family connected
and her faith strong;

Dottie, my 6 foot tall college roommate,
who had a big heart, a hearty laugh,
and was a wonderful nurse;

Sweet Alice, my university officemate,
loyal to her friends,
who found love in late life;

Mother-in-law Nora, loving mother and grandmother,
and beloved teacher
who taught first grade for 52 years.

Brother-in-law Don,
who went at life in a run,
and took good care of my sister;

Dad, a talented man
who loved big band music, dancing-
and all competitive games;

Mom, who loved her family
and her home in Madison –
lived to 91 – still interested
in politics and new experiences.

Someone left the window open,
and we keep slipping through.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

The Family Storyteller

Our family storyteller knows.
Stories – old and true:
hardships overcome,
milestones reached,
loves that endured,
passions unrequited,
adventures undertaken,
family secrets held,
laugh-out-loud episodes,
family builders, dreamers
and schemers known,
lessons learned,
worth of our land revealed,
challenges met,
history witnessed,
heritage passed on.
We thought
there was time.
To listen.
Too late.
Our legacy lost.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

AS WE GATHER FOR THE COMING HOLIDAYS, may we have the foresight to engage our own FAMILY STORYTELLERS to enlighten our lives.

Come Walk With Me in November

COME WITH ME on a two mile walk on the Greenway – and on a short cut back home.

Entrance to Greenway

WE GREET SEVERAL WALKERS, although it’s early for the late afternoon walkers. Everyone we pass waves and smiles, and some stop to chat briefly – such is the way in the South. We meet so many interesting folks this way.



THE LEAVES RUSTLE like twisting saran wrap and we leave the path to walk among them. My husband says it reminds him of childhood memories of Rice Krispies – snap, crackle, pop.


WE PASS SEVERAL PEOPLE on bicycles. We decide to bring our bicycles next time for a real workout.


WE EXIT THE GREENWAY to our shortcut street back home (This leg of the greenway continues on for 15 miles.)


WE MEET A COLLEGE STUDENT walking her new puppy. The dog’s name is Tansy and is a rescue dog from one of the Native American reservations out West. I remember reading about the great need to adopt dogs since the economy has been struggling. Many families in America and Europe have been forced to give up their pet animals (dogs, and even horses) because they could no longer afford to feed them.

WE NOTE THAT THE COLOR OF THE DOG’S FUR appears to match exactly the beautiful red hair of his mistress. We comment about it and she laughs – “I know,” she says. (Sorry, she didn’t want her picture taken.)


AS WE APPROACH THESE TREES, they remind me of candles lit from within and burning bright – or multi-color pom poms at a football game. I don’t know what kind of trees they are, but I call them candle trees when we see them on our walk.


A LONELY SCARECROW left over from Halloween keeps vigil over his family’s house.

Almost back home.

HOME AGAIN, I work on menus for Thanksgiving – as I enjoy a slice of pumpkin bread and hot tea.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013


Remember Veterans Day All Year!

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the unveiling of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Park in Mint Hill, NC- was an impressive occasion. Honest emotion was freely shown on the faces of the Korean vets in attendance as some of their stories were shared, and gratitude expressed by the General Consul of South Korea. The memorial honors all North Carolina veterans of the war called the forgotten war.
WE SALUTE ALL OF OUR VETERANS on this special day set aside to recognize their service to our country.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE to protect our freedoms to choose and to live our lives.
My prayer is that we will remember our veterans all during the year and their needs for support as they return to civilian life.
No longer forgotten. We also will never forget the service and sacrifice of those we lost in wars past.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Christmas Morning Bread

BAKING THIS SWEET BREAD with Fruit and nuts for Christmas morning breakfast has been a holiday tradition in our family for several years. I make several batches weeks ahead and freeze – pulling from the freezer on Christmas Eve to thaw, and re-heating for a few minutes in the oven. NaBloPoMo Day 11.


I BAKE THE LOAVES IN MINI LOAF PANS, as that gives flexibility to pull out just the amount I need from the freezer. Christmas Morning Bread is delicious served with a dish of fresh fruit in a beautiful glass bowl, yogurt, juice and coffee. This is a satisfying and quick early morning repast until after Christmas gifts are opened. Then it’s time to prepare a BIG Christmas brunch.

THE CHRISTMAS MORNING BREAD is also a delicious way to share one of our family traditions with neighbors and friends. I wrap the loaf in saran wrap with a colorful bow, and deliver it a day or two before Christmas in a small basket or tin. I attach a note wishing them Happy Holidays, mentioning that we serve this sweet bread on Christmas morning.

ALSO – I HAVE USED THIS RECIPE TO MAKE CUPCAKES and frost with a cream cheese icing to create small gifts to give during the holidays. For example, a hot cupcake and a cup of cocoa to the mailman on a cold December day when he arrives with our mail in his mail truck. I have been asked for this recipe many times. So, here it is – one of our family traditions for you to experiment with and improve with your own ideas.

Christmas Morning Bread

2 boxes nut bread or cranberry quick bread mix (I use Pillsbury)
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup water
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped in small pieces
zest of 1/2 of an orange
orange peel from 1 orange (cut in long narrow strips – cut away the white part)
3/4 cup mixture of any 3 of these fruits: fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, drained crushed pineapple, drained and chopped mandarin oranges, blackberries. Select for a variety in color and taste.
1 cup walnuts or pecans
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or cardamom

Coat fruit and nuts with small amount of dry nut bread mix, so they will not tend to float to the top in baking. Combine gently but well, using large spoon the bread mixes, beaten eggs, yogurt, water, orange juice and spice. Fold in fruit, nuts and zest. Don’t beat.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes in loaf pans. Reduce time if made as mini loaf pans or cupcakes. Test for done with tester.

While breads are baking, simmer orange peel strips in saucepan with 1 round Tablespoon sugar till orange est is transparent and tender. Cool on wax paper.

Mix powdered sugar, orange juice and butter. When fruit breads are partially cool, drizzle icing on loaves, sprinkle with chopped pecans. When serving, arrange candied orange peel on top to decorate.

WHAT IS YOUR FOOD TRADITION on Christmas morning?
Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Six Ways to Reduce Stress During the Holidays

On NaBloPoMo Day 10, activities for the approaching holidays are fast gearing up – advertising in the media is intensive now and expectations are growing. I thought about some of the actions that I try to adhere to, in order to keep body and soul together, and to enjoy the holidays with family and friends – as well as remember what it is really about. It is no fun if I feel overwhelmed, committed to attend activities that do not interest me, or worried about financial obligations we are taking on. I’ve found some of the following to be helpful in preparing for the holidays and in enjoying the season.

1. ORGANIZE – ORGANIZE – ORGANIZE. Setting clear goals and a plan of action to achieve these goals puts us in charge of events, rather than waiting for events to unfold -tossing us here and there. This is essential to surviving the holidays well. (see November 5th blog: The Holidays Are Coming and It’s Time to Get Organized)

2. TAKE A TIME-OUT EVERY DAY. The old adage seems so true that a woman’s work is never done. Whether you are still mothering children or teens at home, caring for grandchildren, balancing home and work, or caring for an ill or disabled family member, the demands are many. We set out to be superwomen and in a sense it is amazing what we accomplish. But, having said that, we are human – we need food, sleep, meaningful activity and yes – we need time out – an adult recess to play, re-charge.

Building a time-out “me time” into our schedule can stop the crazy merry-go-round and may help to clear heads and sharpen our focus – remind us of our priorities. Alone time can be 30 minutes in the morning before others get up if you are an early riser, or in the evening when the house is quiet – or an afternoon or even a full time-out day to do just what you want to do that brings you joy – lunch with a friend, going to the bookstore, shopping alone, or reading a book.

Don’t underestimate the value of short time-outs for your own well being – even 15 minutes. Women take care of everyone else… We should do no less for ourselves… We deserve it. Find your own retreat (November 3rd blog: Finding Your Own Personal Retreat.

3. DESIGN A PLAN TO SHOP FOR GIFTS THAT FITS YOUR BUDGET, YOUR PERSONAL WISHES AND YOUR TIME. Set a plan for the gifts you choose to purchase. If you have suggestions for gift giving this year with extended family or friends, make them known early – and share your thoughts and decisions for this year. It is a terrible idea to go into January burdened with debt from Christmas. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Make a list before you go shopping and shop for specific items on your list. Then stop buying when you complete your list. If it is an especially tight year financially, find ways to celebrate without breaking your budget (e.g.,homemade gifts or one family gift.)

The first year I was married, I was shopping in downtown Louisville, KY, on Christmas Eve, with my new mother-in-law and sister-in-law. We locked the car trunk with all our purchases to shop for one more item we wanted to buy. A thief broke into the car, removed the back seat and stole our Christmas – all of it! We didn’t have the money to buy again, as several of us were in graduate school. So we all cut out pictures from magazines of what we had bought for each other and wrapped it up in Christmas paper. I remember I received a picture of a beautiful slip as one gift. We laughed as each was opened and we had a wonderful Christmas (played hearts and charades I think). I remember this Christmas with joy and warm feelings.

4. MAKE PLANS TO CARRY FORWARD AT LEAST A FEW FAMILY TRADITIONS from year to year, related to specific food for Christmas dinner (e.g., granny’s pumpkin pie), decorations, entertaining, or family rituals (e.g.,attending candlelight service, caroling, reading the Christmas story, re-telling the Night Before Christmas, hanging grandmother’s ornaments). If there are few traditions that you wish to carry forward – create new ones. These become part of the family’s identify, give comfort and meaning to the holiday season, joy in each other, and build memories. As a former family therapist, I saw how important family traditions and rituals are to family cohesiveness. I will share a few of our family traditions and rituals in November and December blogs. I welcome your sharing of some of the holiday traditions in your family.

5. SET A PLAN FOR ENTERTAINING based on your own wishes and the interests of your family. Politely decline invitations to social events you do not want to attend. JUST SAY NO. Set a budget for attendance at holiday events that require major funds, if finances are an issue. A few well planned events or smaller events in your home may be more rewarding, than an overload of social commitments and guests.

6. GIVE SOMETHING BACK. This could take many forms, as in financial gifts or in bigger gifts of your time to help with gift wrapping for needy children, helping to serve homeless on holidays, or taking baked goods to Hospice House for the families who will be spending the holidays there with their loved ones. It seems to me that a more generous spirit is loose in the land during the holiday season. There is plenty of mischief and ill meaning folks about, but there are also numerous stories of charity and good will. Small things can be passed forward that can make a real difference in someone’s life – such as taking a cup of hot cocoa and warm cookies to the mailman, smiling at clerks, greeting neighbors, paying anonymously for the meal order of a veteran. There are so many ways we can open our hearts and let our children see we belong to the community of a diverse group of humans. I know this sounds terribly sentimental and I try not to go there in my writing… but you know what… Christmas brings it out in me…!

My husband took a time-out with me and we walked our two miles on the greenway and back home. The trees are glorious, as more leaves fall each day – and the blue Carolina sky is a sharp contrast to the lively colors of the trees.


Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Oatmeal Cookies with Cognac Infused Cranraisins

NaBloPoMo Day 9. TODAY, THE UPS DELIVERED A BIG BOX of pecans, fresh from the pecan orchard harvest in Georgia (sunnylandfarms.com). I buy pecans (and walnuts) in bulk, when they are harvested in October and early November, and at their peak of freshness. The nuts keep their freshness best in the refrigerator or freezer. The small bags of nuts in the grocery grow stale in their little bags – and there is no comparison to the taste of those nuts and freshly harvested nuts. I freeze the pecans in small bags, so I can remove just the amount I need.

THE PECANS ARE HERE, so I decide to put on my baking apron. I typically plan several baking days in November to make cookies, muffins, fruit pies and cake layers (to be assembled later), to add to the freezer – so I have a lot of different sweet treats for the holidays – ready to go.

MY THOUGHTS DRIFT TO my Aunt Shirley and her oatmeal cookies. Aunt Shirley was married to my mother’s brother Steve. When I think of her during the years I was growing up, I think about her in the kitchen with a smile and a song. When she came to visit, it wouldn’t be long before she was in our kitchen cooking up something. She loved her home and her kitchen – and was the only person I ever knew who truly enjoyed washing dishes. “I just love to see them shine and my kitchen put back in order”, she would say. She would wash dishes and sing along with the radio. She also was the only person I knew who loved country music- (we had big band and popular music on at our house most of the time).

I HAVE VARIED the oatmeal cookie recipe many times, such as adding peanut butter or butterscotch chips. I like to make them, as it goes so fast, dropping them from a spoon to the baking pan – no rolling or cutting. I decided to create something different today. I view cooking as a creative process and more enjoyable if I have fun with it.

I PULL OUT THE OLD RECIPE for oatmeal cookies that my dear Aunt Shirley made so many times. This recipe comes from her cookbook, The Modern Family Cookbook by Meta Given, J.Perguwson and Associates, 1942. Her cookbook easily falls open to page 412 with the oatmeal cookie recipe. I decide to punch up the recipe with a little cognac, brown sugar and cranraisons.

Oatmeal Drop Cookies with Cognac Infused Cranraisins

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cups rolled oats
3 Tablespoons milk
1/4 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup cranraisons
Cognac to cover cranraisins

PLACE CRANRAISONS in a glass cup, add cognac to cover, microwave for 1 minute – then set aside. Cranraisins will be plump and juicy with cognac flavor.

SIFT FLOUR, measure and sift again with salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Cream butter with sugar. Add slightly beaten egg. Mix well until smooth and light. Add oats. Add milk and flour gradually, stirring after each addition. Add nuts and now plump cognac cranraisins and mix well.

DROP COOKIE DOUGH from a teaspoon onto a buttered baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until just starting to brown.
THANK YOU AUNT SHIRLEY for your cookies, the memories and your love for the children of our family.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Godiva Chocolate Liqueur Pumpkin Bread

CIMG0756I LOVE CHOCOLATE! I really do love chocolate!

ONE CHRISTMAS several years ago, my Mother altered her annual pumpkin bread recipe by adding chocolate chips. I loved it!..

LAST YEAR, as I was preparing to make pumpkin bread for the holidays, I remembered her chocolate chips recipe. I decided to amp it up a few notches more by adding cocoa and Godiva Chocolate Liqueur. I am making it again this year, as it was a big hit – (although I likely gained some weight eating too many pieces).

MY BROTHER MILT frequently brings Godiva chocolates when he arrives for Christmas. It is well known in the Marquis family that chocolate is a favorite of so many of us. I developed this recipe using Godiva Chocolate Liquor for extra flavor for all the chocolate lovers – and of course named it for Milt.

YOU CAN ADAPT A FAVORITE PUMPKIN BREAD RECIPE or use a box mix, jazzing it up with various rich and spicy and chocolate flavors for the holidays – I added pumpkin puree and an additional egg as well. In this recipe, I used World Classics Pumpkin Spice Muffin and Bread Mix I purchased from Trader Joe’s. My recipe can be doubled and it freezes well. I typically make it in mini loaf pans and freeze them, so I can pull one or more out as I wish based on the number of guests present.

THIS IS GREAT IN THE MORNING WITH COFFEE or in the evening after dinner.

Milt’s Pumpkin Bread with Godiva Chocolate Liqueur/strong>

1 box pumpkin bread mix (I used World Classics Pumpkin Spice Muffin and Bread Mix.
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/8 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
1/2 cup Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (can use dark)
3/4 cup pecans, chopped in small pieces
1/4 cup pecans, ground to tiny pieces

3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon Hershey Cocoa
1 Tablespoon butter, softened
1 tsp Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

PREHEAT OVEN to 350 degree. Beat eggs well and add pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, Godiva Liqueur and water.

MIX WELL BUT DO NOT BEAT. Fold in chocolate chips and chopped nuts. Pour into a regular sized loaf pan or three mini loaf pans. Bake for 55-60 minutes or 30-40 minutes for mini pans. Check with cake tester and remove when done. Do not overbake so bread is moist.

WHILE LOAF IS COOLING, mix powdered sugar, cocoa, butter, Godiva liquor and vanilla for glaze. Blend and spread on warm loaves. Sprinkle ground pecans on top whil glaze is still soft and press down gently to settle nuts in glaze. Sprinkle on a few chopped nuts.

TO SERVE, sprinkle cocoa around the outside edges of a pretty plate and place a slice of the pumpkin bread in the middle. Serve with a dish of cold peaches with vanilla whipped cream and coffee (or a small nip of Godiva Chocolate Liquor for the real chocoholics).

Hope this works out for you if you try it.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Marquis Twins and the Birthday Black Cake: Recipe from 1918

NaBloPoMo Day 7 – continuing daily posts in November blogging some of my on-going work on a cookbook project, tentatively titled: 100 Years of Marquis’ Family Christmas Recipes and Traditions. As a new blogger, I appreciate your encouragement and comments in my journey and welcome your joining the conversation as the holidays approach, to share your traditions on the daily topics. (The header picture near my home in Charlotte North Carolina – the city of Trees)

TODAY IS MY FATHER’S BIRTHDAY and my thoughts have been of him all day – remembering his ready laugh, his enthusiasm for life and how much he loved the holidays with all the hoopla and family time.Dad at Piano

DAD SHARED a BIRTHDAY WITH HIS TWIN SISTER Fanella. They were born in New Kensington, PA, but grew up in Charleston, WVa and remained close during their lifetimes for nearly nine decades. (My mother also has a twin sister.)

BIRTHDAYS ARE A BIG DEAL IN OUR FAMILY. When I was growing up, we looked forward to a birthday as much as we did Christmas (well almost as much). The family member having a birthday anticipated not only birthday gifts, but their own special cake and favorite foods for the family dinner. (Such power to be the center of attention when you are a kid.) This tradition was passed down from past generations.

THE TWINS’ BIRTHDAY was always an extra special occasion to celebrate two birthdays. When they were young, Grandmother Marquis baked two cakes for her twins – so each one had a special cake. She baked the same two cakes for decades and they were known as the twins cakes. The Sunshine Cake was for Fanella and the Black Cake was for Harold.
Margaret Jackson Marquis (grandmother), Fanella Elizabeth Marquis (Jenkins), Harold Edwin Marquis II(Mark)

EVEN IN THEIR SENIOR YEARS, my Aunt Fanella would travel from Charleston, WVa to Madison, Indiana to celebrate her birthday with her twin brother. And yes, my mother made two cakes for them. She didn’t have grandmother’s recipe, but made her version of their cakes. I was thrilled when my Aunt passed on grandmother’s cookbook to me and I discovered recipes for the twins cakes in grandmother’s own handwriting. Grandmother Marquis left behind the recipes for the twins’ cakes, tucked into the pages of one of her well-used cookbooks: Lowney’s Cook Book by Maria Willett Howard, published in 1907 by the Walter M. Lowney Company, Boston. Price was $2.00.

I DON’T KNOW HOW OLD THIS RECIPE REALLY IS, but I can date it to at least 1918 – as the family reported she baked these two cakes for the twins every year they were growing up into early adulthood, beginning when they were toddlers. They celebrated their first birthday on November 7, 1918. I have written the recipe for Dad’s BLACK CAKE as she recorded it in her own hand. (I am currently experimenting with spices to get a taste that makes sense and testing oven temperatures.)


1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup butter
4 eggs (leaving out whites for frosting)
1 cup sour milk
1/2 cup grated chocolate dissolved
in 3 tablespoons of boiling coffee
1 teaspoon of all kinds of spices
1 teaspoon of soda sifted with flour
2 cups of flour
Mix well. Bake in layers.
Put layers together

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon flavoring
1 cup Lowney’s cocoa
1 tablespoon cream or milk
1 teaspoon butter

Beat egg white, sugar and cocoa for five minutes.
Add flavoring, milk and melted butter.
When cool, put layers together with frosting
and spread chocolate frosting on top and sides.

Grandma Marquis must have been a believer in Lowney’s Cocoa. We found in her personal papers that she won a contest put on by the company for a jingle she wrote to advertise their cocoa. I don’t know what she won, but I remember my mother telling me about it. So many things I wish I had asked when I could.


ARE THERE ANY SUGGESTIONS as to the “all kinds of spices” she might have used in 1918?

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Learning Something New Every Day