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Dear Friends,

The holidays are fully upon us! I know they’re weird this year. Sad. We all long for simpler times when we could all be together. The only good thing is that we’re not alone in this. My family and I won’t be together either this year; it’s another Zoom holiday like Thanksgiving was. But I’m still looking for ways—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—to be festive. For starters, I sent out Christmas cards for the first time in years. I think this year, more than any other in recent memory, a physical card with a handwritten note will mean a lot. And we decorated the house despite some temptation not to since only my husband and I will see it. But I’m glad we did, as I’m enjoying sitting in the living room by the tree at night and reading. (Most recently, The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers, which I loved.)

Also, the cats like to join me in the evening by the tree.

I also baked my usual Christmas cookies and mailed them to my sons, and that also lifted my spirits (and theirs!). Here’s the recipe I’ve used for almost thirty years:

Sugar Cookie Cutouts

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Beat butter & shortening w/an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder & salt. Beat till combined. Add egg, milk & vanilla; beat till well combined. Beat in as much flour as you can; stir in any remaining flour w/a wooden spoon. Divide dough in half; cover & chill for at least 3 hours.

Roll one portion of dough at a time on lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes w/a cookie cutter. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 7 to 8 minutes until the edges are set and the bottoms are very lightly browned. Cool on a rack.

We ice them with plain confectioner’s sugar icing, and decorate with sprinkles. I usually double the recipe when I’m baking for my sons! The trick here is to only roll out the dough once, cut out what you can, then refrigerate that dough while you roll out the other. Then keep repeating until all the dough is used. I find this keeps the cookies from getting tough from too much flour.

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    Also—yikes! Right after the new year, The Children's Blizzard comes out! And below is the list of virtual events I’ll be doing to promote it. Unlike past years when I could travel and meet so many of you, it’s all going to be virtual, hosted by various bookstores as you can see. And look at my guest lineup! It’s going to be SO much fun to be in conversation with these fabulous authors. Each conversation will be different, I’m sure. And the good thing is no matter where you live you can see me, virtually, this time! So mark your calendars. And please, pretty please, consider ordering the book from the bookstores hosting these events. That’s one very hard thing right now; usually bookstores benefit from books sold when people come to see me in person. This year, they can’t. BUT HERE’S THE FABULOUS THING: All these bookstores will have signed bookplates from me, so when you order a book through any of them, you’ll get a copy with a signed bookplate. And that’s the only way I can sign books these days!

    Here’s the tour schedule, and it will be up on my website as well. Please note that many events require you to register ahead of time:

    Tuesday, January 12
    Fountain Bookstore

    In conversation with Greer Macallister
    6:00 PM EST

    Wednesday, January 13

    Anderson’s Bookshop

    In conversation with Christina Baker Kline
    8:00 PM EST

    Thursday, January 14

    Literati Bookstore

    In conversation with Paula McLain
    7:00 PM EST

    Tuesday, January 19

    Watermark Books & Café

    In conversation with Kate Quinn
    7:00 PM EST

    Wednesday, January 20


    In conversation with Elizabeth Letts
    7:00 PM EST

    Thursday, January 21

    Darien Library

    Historical Fiction Panel with Melanie Benjamin, Marie Benedict, and Lisa Scottoline
    7:00 PM EST

    Tuesday, January 26

    St. Louis County Library

    In conversation with Ashley Hasty (Hasty Book List)
    8:00 PM EST

    Thursday, February 11

    Rockville Centre Public Library

    In conversation with Librarian Sarah Siegel
    7:00 PM EST

    One more thing before I take a couple of weeks off for the holidays: I will be selecting four subscribers to this newsletter to win a signed copy of The Children's Blizzard (a real signed copy, not just a bookplate!). I’ll randomly draw four names on January 3rd and notify the winners then. Good luck!

    And please, find some way to enjoy this peaceful time of year, whether it’s indulging yourself in a lot of good books, a fireplace, and a cuddly blanket, or planning a family Zoom game night, or watching lots of old movies. (Which reminds me, I’m still doing my Melanie’s Friday Flicks & Picks on Instagram, and Edward Kelsey Moore and I still do our podcast Who the Hell are We? where we talk about classic movies and books.) The most important thing is to take care of yourself this season, physically and mentally. It’s been a tough year and we have more months ahead to get through, but I believe we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.



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    Melanie Benjamin

    P.O. Box 6613
    Napa, CA 94581

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