DevoKids post – Florida, the Sunshine State


Florida, the Sunshine State, is home to the world’s largest recreational resort and Kennedy Space Center. Find out more on my post on DevoKids!


Nothing that Glitters is Gold


Mark Twain got bit by the fever sweeping the Nevada Territory—silver fever. Reports of great riches in Humboldt County where folks owned feet of silver mines spurred Twain and three other friends to set out on a two-hundred mile journey.

Fifteen days later, they arrived in Unionville during a snowstorm. Eleven cabins and a liberty pole made up the entire village set in a deep canyon. By building a small cabin, they added a twelfth dwelling to the tiny settlement.

minerals-1230032_960_720Twain expected to find silver glittering in the sun. While his companions searched for a mine, he went off on his own. Finally his efforts were rewarded—a stone fragment with shining yellow flecks. He felt almost delirious with joy. He would have been content with silver and he had found gold.

He marked the spot and left in a roundabout way so that anyone watching would not know where he had been. Then he went back to his new mine and picked up a few treasures to show his friends.

Back at the cabin, he couldn’t talk or eat; dreams filled his mind. With monumental news that they would all soon be wealthy, Twain waited for an opportune moment to share his joy with his friends.

He decided to tease them. Hadn’t they been searching for silver and not found any? Did that mean they should give it up and return home?

Mr. Ballou, the oldest and most experienced of the bunch, believed they should try a bit longer.

mark-twain-391112_960_720Twain couldn’t wait to tell them. He offered to show them something certain to interest them and dumped the treasure before them.

His companions scrambled for the stones to hold them close to the candlelight.

Mr. Ballou pronounced his opinion: granite rubbish and glittering mica. The whole pile wasn’t worth ten cents an acre in his estimation.

Twain’s dreams crumbled. They weren’t to be wealthy after all. He commented that all that glittered wasn’t really gold.

Ballou replied that nothing that glittered was gold. Twain learned the hard way that gold in its natural state is dull; only inexpensive metals fool the uninformed with shining outer surfaces.

Twain then observed: “However, like the rest of the world, I still go on underrating men of gold and glorifying men of mica. Commonplace human nature cannot rise above that.”

 -Sandra Merville Hart



Twain, Mark. Roughing It, Penguin Books, 1981.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo – a Review

41qkfwb2sqlThis gripping story about Colton, a three-year-old whose heart stopped during an emergency appendectomy, held my attention from start to finish.

After he recovers, Colton begins to talk about meeting Jesus when he died. He tells his dad about seeing him yell at God in the chapel while Colton was still laying on the operating table.

As always, the book provides many details the movie did not include. As much as I loved the movie, I loved reading the story more. This is a wonderful book.

-Review by Sandra Merville Hart


Eating a Special Dish on New Year’s Day?


When I was a little girl, my dad insisted that I eat at least one spoonful of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to bring good luck. I didn’t like them. Eating even a spoonful seemed like a high price to pay for good luck in the new year.

As an adult, each year in December I buy black-eyed peas to supplement our New Year’s meal—that is, when the grocery store doesn’t run out of them. That’s happened several times. Apparently, others seek the same good luck. I guess I’m just superstitious enough after hearing the saying year after year to worry when I don’t eat them. We all need a little luck, after all.

Folks from the southern United States eat black-eyed peas on January 1st. Cornbread is another favorite in that section of the country. Green, leafy vegetables supposedly resemble money and eating them brings prosperity.

Citizens in Spain eat 12 grapes at midnight. Each grape represents one month and foretells the kind of year the person will experience. If the fifth and sixth grape taste especially bad, for example, May and June might be a little difficult.

cake-596918_960_720Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians—among others—eat pork on New Year’s. Pigs signify progress. Roast pork, pig’s feet, and sausages are a few of the meals prepared.

Ring-shaped or round cakes are another tradition. Those who find a tiny treat baked inside will have good luck in the new year.

One of the foods to avoid on New Year’s Day is lobster. Eating these is thought to bring setbacks because they move backwards. Chickens scratch backwards. The superstition here is that eating chicken on January 1st may cause the diner’s thoughts to linger on the past.

unwritten-1456159_960_720It’s fun to look at our habits of celebrating the coming year in our meals. There are a lot of choices, but I think I will keep buying black-eyed peas for our meal. My dad always ate them and considered that he had many good years—that’s reason enough for me to keep the tradition going.

Happy New Year!

– Sandra Merville Hart


Cameron, Meaghan. “7 Lucky New Years Foods,” Reader’s Digest, 2016/10/26

Salkeld, Lauren. “Lucky Foods for the New Year,” Epicurious, 2016/10/26

“Ten Good Luck Foods For the New Year,” Woman’s Day, 2016/10/26

The Christmas Truce


by Sandra Merville Hart

The war had been going on for five long months. Soldiers missed their families, their homes, and those special girls who awaited their return.

They also missed being warm and well-fed on this cold winter’s evening. Earlier in that December of 1914, Pope Benedict XV had suggested the armies suspend fighting temporarily to celebrate Christmas, a request denied by the countries at war.

The soldiers hunched in the long trenches across from their enemy, longing for warmth, longing for something to mark this day as Christmas Eve. No man’s land, the area between opposing armies, was only about 100 feet in places. In those spots, soldiers could hear each other. The smell of meals cooking in the enemy trenches often wafted over.

Then the lonely soldiers heard something unexpected on the moonlit night—not the sounds of rifles or cannons, but singing. The Germans sang a Christmas carol in their own language. Next, Allied troops from opposing trenches sang a Christmas tune. This continued until the Allies began the familiar carol, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” German soldiers joined in with the Latin words to the song. It must have been extraordinarily comforting.

helmet-1465352_960_720British Captain A.D. Chater was writing a letter to his mom at 10 am the next morning when he witnessed an amazing sight: a German soldier waving his arms before he and a companion, weaponless, entered no man’s land.

A British soldier cautiously approached them. Within five minutes, officers and men from both armies filled the area. They shook hands and exchanged Christmas greetings.

The soldiers kicked around a soccer ball together. Some accounts mention playing football. A German barber cut a British soldier’s hair. They gave each other gifts of plum pudding, cigarettes, and hats. They posed for photos together and exchanged autographs.

Each side also took the opportunity to bury their dead, soldiers who had been laying in no man’s land for weeks.

Around 100,000 soldiers—two-thirds of the men there—shared in the unforgettable Christmas truce.

christmas-1010749_960_720Peace lasted in a few areas until after New Year’s Day.

The Christmas truce never happened again.

The faith and joy of the season crossed enemy lines one lonely Christmas. Fighting ceased for a moment in time.



Bajekal, Naina. “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914,” Time Inc., 2016/10/26

“Christmas Truce of 1914,”, 2016/10/26

Dearden, Lizzie. “Christmas Day Truce 1914: Letter From trenches shows football match through soldier’s eyes for the first time,” The Independent, 2016/10/26


The Christmas Child by Max Lucado

51cqcdm7vhl-_sx497_bo1204203200_I read this book in an hour yet the story touched me.

A photo received by a Chicago man’s father with no explanation and no return address prompts a visit to a small Texas church.

One man on the brink of divorce at Christmas hears the story of another man whose mistakes brought tragedy to the ones he loved most.

Touching book about healing and forgiveness at Christmas.

I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author. The hardback book makes a nice gift or stocking stuffer.

-Review by Sandra Merville Hart


Oh, Bring Us a Figgy Pudding



by Sandra Merville Hart

We sing the familiar Christmas tune, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” every year. I realized that I had never eaten Figgie Pudding at the holidays or on any other occasion.

Searching through my cookbooks written in the 1800s didn’t produce a recipe for the pudding, which made me wonder when folks sang the song originally. Yet if carolers refused to leave until they received a serving, the dessert must taste delicious.

img_2488The song is believed to date back to England in the 1500s. Carolers sang to their neighbors with greetings of the season. They hoped wealthy citizens would give them a treat, such as figgy pudding, to reward their entertainment.

The song, “Here We Come A-wassailing,” asked for a drink from rich neighbors’ wassail bowl, an invitation to warm themselves around the fire, and maybe a pork pie. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” issues a specific request—Figgie Pudding.

Apparently, the tradition of making this dessert at Christmas had faded by the nineteenth century, but I was still wanted to make the pudding.

I found a modern recipe on the Food Network site. Click here  to see the recipe.

img_2497I made the pudding as directed. The cook said that the ratio of ingredients half-filled eight ramekins. Mine hold six ounces, so I’m not sure what size ramekins the cook used because there was a lot of batter leftover. The remaining batter went into a casserole dish, so this recipe will feed about a dozen guests.

My husband and I both enjoyed the rich pudding with a hint of chocolate. The creamy sauce on top enhanced the flavor. The dates and figs flavored every bite.

If you try this, I’d love to hear about it.

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”


“Warm Sticky Figgy Pudding,” Television Food Network GP, 2016/10/25

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas,”, 2016/10/25

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” Wikipedia, 2016/10/25


The Twelve Days of Christmas


by Sandra Merville Hart

The Twelve Days of Christmas isn’t just a song; it was a celebration of Jesus’s birth beginning on Christmas Day. This was the Day 1 or the first day of Christmas.

A saint was honored on each successive day. For instance, December 26th was Day 2. This is Boxing Day. St. Stephen was the one remembered on this day.

The Twelfth Night—or Epiphany Eve—is January 5th, the evening before the Twelfth Day when people celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. January 6th is the final day of Christmas.

Folks hosted big parties on the Twelfth Night. They played music–usually bagpipes–and played games. Hostesses served Twelfth Night cake every year. It was a fun and festive event.

rock-partridge-50362_960_720Our beloved song, Twelve Days of Christmas, seems to have begun as a “memories—and—forfeits” game, as is printed in a children’s book in 1780, Mirth Without Mischief. The leader began the game by quoting a verse that the followers repeated. This continued until a player made a mistake, when that person paid a small forfeit or penalty—possibly a kiss.

This was one of the games played at Twelfth Night parties. When this and other games finished, guests sat down to enjoy a meal that included mince pies and Twelfth Night cake.

The Christmas season ended on January 6th, known as Epiphany. This day honors two events in Jesus’s life: the first event happened when the Magi traveled from the east to bring gifts to the newborn king, Jesus; and the second event took place when John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

the-three-magi-160632_960_720Many Christians across the world still celebrate Epiphany. Several countries including Austria, Italy, and Uruguay recognize this day as a public holiday.

Citizens of different countries celebrate Epiphany in various ways. For example, the children of Spain leave straw or grain for the horses of the three kings inside their shoes on Epiphany Eve, January 5th. They are delighted to find cookies or gifts has replaced the grain on Epiphany.

The three kings ride into many cities in Spain on Epiphany Eve. Drummers dressed in medieval costumes and military bands enter with the kings as part of the event.

Traditionally, the Twelve Days of Christmas has been much more than a fun song. Learning the history adds meaning to what we already love about the season.


“Epiphany,”, 2016/10/25

“The Twelve Days of Christmas,”, 2016/10/25

“The Twelve Days of Christmas (Song,)” Wikipedia, 2016/10/25