Apples on a Christmas tree

Don’t Forget the Apples

This is the time of year when one tends to reflect back on Christmases past, and on the past year when I write my annual letter for friends and family. Kind of like what I do when I’m drafting the next book for my Other Worldly series. I peruse each novel to maintain continuity and keep myself rooted in the story and characters, looking back on where they’ve all been.

Alienable Rights, the first novel of the series, contains a family Christmas dinner scene, depicting how it all began, this fantastical word of aliens and supernatural auditory abilities that I cooked up in my imagination. It’s also a good example of taking real life experiences and weaving them into a comical tale, because in 2017 I really did join my family for Christmas in a rental house in Napa Valley.

Growing up, we actually adorned our Christmas tree with apples (among other edibles), and Honeycrisps are especially featured in my novels—along with red orb UFOs. Since I began drafting this adventure in late 2017 and first published in March 2020, I now no longer eat meat, but I still love Honeycrisps, wine, and my family.

So, here’s a chapter from Alienable Rights where it all started, with thanks to Mom and Dad, and my sister and her husband who, unlike me, definitely got the gourmet cooking gene:

Christmas Eve was spent preparing for the night’s feast, a traditional English meal with standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. Gigi and Phil went to the local grocer for items needed. My brother-in-law made two additional trips once my sister realized what they forgot.

I wandered into the kitchen to see Dad standing at the sliding glass door to the backyard.

“A hummingbird hovered in front of me a minute ago,” he said.

I wanted to ask if it told him anything, but realized I’d sound nutso.

I just got off the phone with George about our ear testing at UC Davis. He’s pals with a physics professor named Bruce who teaches acoustical engineering, so we have private use of an academic lab.

“Bruce, Owen and I are forming a company called OUTWARD,” George said, “which stands for Other Universal Transport, Weather and Acoustics Research and Development. We’re looking at Washington State, where Owen’s from, because California is cost prohibitive.”

“Sounds more than capable of figuring out my auditory issues. Mom will be pleased with the weather part.”

“I hope you and your dad are ready to be our first guinea pigs,” said George.

“Dad will probably enjoy the opportunity for more Navy and Morse code talk. And as long as it involves absolutely no multiple-choice questions, I’m in.”

“Not to worry, all testing is non-invasive and painless.”

I perched on a kitchen stool listening to my sister boss everyone in her orbit, which was only me after the two males in our midst abandoned ship.

I braved an inquiry, “Will our Christmas meal be a galaxy-to-table extravaganza?”

“No,” she grumped before smiling sheepishly. “Sorry, I just realized we forgot the flour for the Yorkshire pudding. Phil will kill me if I send him back to the store.”

I was ready to say I’d go because I wasn’t about to forgo Yorkshire pudding when Mom walked in sporting her pink hair curlers.

“I brought flour,” she said. “It’s in a bag you put on top of the washing machine.”

“Where?” G dashed to the washer, beaming upon return. “Mom gets three gold stars!”

“Only as long as there’s enough for two batches of Yorkshire pudding!” I countered.

“There is,” said Mom.

“Okay,” said Gigi, “I need some sous chefs. Mom, do you want to snap beans? And we should get started on breakfast prep too. Rowan, do you want to slice bread cubes or grate apples? Oh no, did we remember apples?”

“Of course,” said Mom.

She went to the hall closet and unearthed a tote bag with six apples, two umbrellas, three bags of herbal cough drops and a multi-pack of gum. No partridge in a pear tree or French hens for Gigi, though.

A Christmas breakfast tradition from childhood included a cheesy egg souffle and Colonial Williamsburg sausage-apple ring. Cutting 20 bread slices into cubes for the egg dish involved a less-than-sharp knife, while grating apples would result in scraped knuckles.

“I’ll cut bread,” I said, noting the apples were plain red, not Honeycrisps. Also, I hadn’t evolved in my kitchen helper role, because this was the same task assigned me at age 10.

Dad and Phil crept back into the room off the kitchen to watch football. No red orb landing was scheduled for halftime, but an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet whizzed by after the national anthem. I once reviewed environmental impact studies for this stealth aircraft.

The president was also watching the game and took to Twitter:

“Aliens don’t have anything as stealthy as our F-35s, which they won’t see coming! Go Space Force! HUMANS FIRST!”

The public responded:

“Somebody tell the president the F-35 doesn’t have a Klingon cloaking device.”

“The president thinks F-35s are invisible. How do we make him invisible and silent?”

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Except the president. The president is none of these.”

The second half of the game was boring, so I considered researching human hearing tests. But I hesitated, because months ago when I looked up tinnitus, I got mailed advertisements from hearing aid businesses.

Big brother was watching.

Dinner conversation was enhanced by a silky Oregon Pinot Noir. That and savory Yorkshire Pudding was all I needed to garner the Christmas spirit. Until my brother-in-law announced he decided to change his name also, to Rory, because his favorite golfer was Rory McIlroy of Ireland.

Over my sister’s snort I asked, “Did you find out what it means before you made your decision?”

“A common name for the Irish and Highland Scots meaning ‘red king,’” he said.

“I guess that’s better than Red Orbiter. But I think it means you should have red hair.”

“I don’t have any hair!”

Mom weighed in, “What does Roy Orbison have to do with it?”

“No, Mom, I said Red Orbiter. You know, aliens flying around in orbs?”

“Well I’d just like to talk about something other than golf for once,” she grumped. “I had the devil of a time trying on shoes. I wish we could go back to my shoe store in Florence. They know how to make cute shoes for my narruh foot in Italy.”

“It’s okay, Audrey,” Rory the Red King soothed. “I was just kidding anyway. Hey, maybe there’ll turn out to be a planet that makes cute shoes that will fit you?”

“I’m not letting anyone on another planet mess with my hair,” she glowered.

“May I have more wine?” I asked. “Maybe I should change my name to Pinot?”

“What planet do you think wine is from?” asked my sister.

“What’s for dessert?” asked Dad.

While G and Phil and I cleaned up after dinner, I asked, “What are we going to do if it turns out Dad and I can hear aliens?”



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