Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, 2009...

In my lifetime, there have been few years I've been as happy to see over as this year. However, I have much to be thankful for. My children are all well and employed. My spouse and I are both reasonably healthy. My parents are, too.

In many respects, I have learned new things about myself this year. Some were good, some were not so good, but as that is the way of life, perhaps those things can be improved. I certainly hope so.

I look forward to the new year with hope and anticipation. I pray we all share in the blessings and rejuvenation of renewal. Happy New Year to you all, my friends. Happy New Year.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Writing Styles

One of the standard questions interviewers ask writers is about their writing process. Everyone has a different process. Everyone.

One writer may totally outline their book in excruciating detail (I know of at least one author who professes to do this) with pages and pages of notes. By the time they finish outlining the the outline is longer than most e-books.

Another author might sit down at the computer and write by the seat of their pants as the story unfolds in their mind. They never know exactly where the story will end up nor how they'll pull all the threads together before the end.

I suspect the majority of writers reach a point where they end up somewhere between the two extremes. I confess that I've tried both ways. Now I start the book by the seat-of-pants method, writing enough to see if it actually has enough merit to switch over to some minimal planning. If it turns out I don't really care for the characters, then it usually never makes it to the planning stage.

The second aspect of any writers process is quaintly called revisions or re-writes or editing. Take your pick. Basically, it boils down to smoothing out the rough edges. I think of it as the sanding process on a woodworking project. The more rough spots, the more sanding.

Since I detest sanding in big blocks, I tend to sand as I go. My writing process is one of writing for a week, letting the project sit over the weekend, re-reading/revising from the beginning on Monday, then moving forward.

That week long rest between re-reading allows me some distance--enough distance to catch minor errors and weird plot points. It also allows me to assess how well the story is coming together. Is it coherent? Am I scrimping on character development? Have I failed with description or dialogue?

The weekly re-read also refreshes my faulty memory about those things I've already mentioned that need to be explained OR not. I once found I'd expounded on the same minor point in three different chapters, thus making my heroine sound imbecilic. Not exactly the effect I was going for.

It also allows me to catch the really silly errors. Sue, the heroine begins a long scene dressed in dark jeans. Yet, twelve pages later, the hero is slyly slipping his warm hand up her skirt. Uh, no. In this case, there was considerable pondering before I made the ultimate decision to stay with the jeans. It meant some re-writing in the later parts of the scene, but at least I had valid reasons for dressing her like that.

Finally, that Monday morning read affords me the time to tweak my book plan. Is the story sticking pretty close to the plan or have I hared off into left field? That is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, the characters have their own ideas about the way the story should go. Sometimes the plan doesn't deal with crucial issues so it has to be changed. When I finally finish the Monday morning read, I have a pretty clear idea of what the writing will entail for the rest of the week. Maybe.

And that's my writing process. For the most part. When nothing interferes with the schedule.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Almost-Christmas Child

Christmas 2003. It was a busy, busy year. In June we moved from New York to Maryland because the house hunk was transferred. Moving is always stressful, but this time it was particularly so because we lived in our last home for nineteen years. So much stuff. So much stuff to sort and get rid of or throw out! Then in mid-September Hurricane Isabel roared into Maryland. Fortunately, we were not near the flooding, though one of the trees behind our building ended up on our balcony.

Our youngest daughter was pregnant, due in late December. We made arrangements to stay with our oldest son. Our daughter and her boyfriend were staying in a small room so Christmas was celebrated at our son's apartment. No baby. It appeared that the baby was in no hurry to arrive. We made arrangements to wait the baby out, but by December 29th, we were running out of our medications and reluctantly made the decision to go home the next day. That afternoon our daughter called, "Don't go yet! I've started labor!"

In a little while, her boyfriend called. "She wants you to be here when the baby's born." So we hopped in the car and made the forty-five minute drive across the Hudson River to the hospital. When we arrived, he was waiting for us and ushered us up to the maternity floor.

She didn’t quite make it for Christmas, but on December 29th close to midnight, the househunk and I were with my daughter and her boyfriend, present when D* M* made her entrance. Witnessing the miracle of a new baby never gets old. The precious gift of a new life—especially at Christmas—is a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.


Today, D* M* is six years old! Happy Birthday!!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Expressions of Romance

Over the years I must have read thousands of books and watched thousands of movies with romantic elements in them--note that I say romantic elements. In more recent times, many movie makers and authors have substituted sex for romance.

I've struggled with the problem of demonstrating the difference, especially as my older granddaughter has reached the stage where boys are interesting. Unfortunately, even much of what passes for romance on television is both too mature for her understanding and quite frankly skips over the best of romance.

Yep, I believe that sex can be romantic...up to a certain point. But romance, the elements of falling in love rather than lust, is a rare thing now days, especially in a G rated version. Then last night the girls and I sat down to watch Sound of Music.

I confess that I haven't watched it in many years, mostly because I find the commercial breaks so freaking annoying! However, the girls and I persevered. They were so drawn into the story that they made sure they were back from their commercial "errands" (bathroom, drink, snack) in time to catch the next sliver of the movie.

Both girls commented on the fact that there wasn't much kissing. And the older one pointed out something I thought was very interesting. She said we didn't need more kissing because the expressions on their face showed they loved each other. As I watched, I realized she was absolutely correct.

Love lived there.

It occurs to me that we writers too often skip over the expressions of romance. We cheat our readers and ourselves with our rush for physical fulfillment when we gloss over those expressions of love.

I have spent much time in reflection lately wondering what was missing in my stories. I think this might be it. Somewhere along the line I've failed to demonstrate the very important expression--facial, physical, emotional--expression of romantic love.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this was the best three hours I've spent in a long time.


Saturday, December 26, 2009


Now that Christmas is over... well it's time to return to the normal regimen. This morning I have a doctor's appointment where I'm sure I'll receive admonitions to get back on the wagon so to speak. Sigh.

I've changed doctors and this new doctor seems to be a lot stricter--hence the motivation I suspect is right around the corner.

For all the rest of you, enjoy Caturday! Sleep in late, eat leftovers, and watch movies!


Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.

Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell my husband that he needed to come home. My husband's father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided that he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew that he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed my. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I did not have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out that they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was short so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted. It was an action made more remarkable because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe in observance of holidays… not even Christmas.

A miracle.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas with the Navy

Christmas 1992. My second son's graduation from Navy basic training at Great Lakes Naval Base was scheduled for December 23rd. I wasn't the best ending for a very rough year. Our youngest daughter’s behavior had finally reached the point where we knew that we could no longer parent her effectively. Heartbroken beyond hurt, we placed her in a boarding school for kids with behavior problems. Our son left for the Navy on October 7th. Our daughter was taken to her school on October 29th. In a few short weeks, our family shrunk by half. I bitterly missed both of them.

Christmas was upon us. It was too soon for our daughter to be permitted to come home for Christmas. We had to make the impossible decision. Would we attend our son’s graduation? Or would we spend Christmas at her school with our daughter? After discussing it with the staff at the school and with our daughter, we decided to go to our son’s graduation.

I made arrangements for us to stay with my brother and his family in Chicago. They graciously included us in their Christmas plans. J and D our two remaining children at home traveled with us as we drove to Chicago, providing company and distraction. My plan was to spend whatever time we could with our younger son.

The ceremony was solemn and impressive. My son wasn’t my son anymore. It was so strange. He sort of looked like my son, but he didn’t have enough hair. The beard was gone. He sort of sounded like my son, but the “Yes, sirs” and “Yes, ma’ams” were a bit odd. The ramrod straight bearing was amazing.

We were allowed to take him back to Chicago for a few hours, so we went to an Italian restaurant to celebrate his birthday, which passed in early December. His uncle and aunt bought him a balloon bouquet as a surprise. I can still see him stalking down the street afterward in his dress blues, straight backed, head held high, with the colorful balloon bouquet blowing all around him. It’s one of my favorite memories.

At his request we went to Gary for the family Christmas dinner. It was good. I needed the love and support of my extended family. There were many tears, pouring out at the oddest times, because our daughter wasn’t there. Carol singing was impossible for me, but I listened, inexplicably comforted by the old familiar words as I sat with J’s arm around me. The crying made me feel silly, but I couldn’t seem to stop. Then Aunt Mary gently reminded me that all of them understood grief and tears.

Time was too short. The days flew past and soon we had to give our son back to the Navy. We came home, marveling over the changes, touched by his abrupt maturity. It was a Christmas of extreme highs and lows, happiness and sadness, laughter and tears. It reminded me that Christmas isn’t about money and gifts. It isn’t about getting or giving. It’s about togetherness and love… the most precious thing we can have.

A miracle.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Grinch Gets a Heart

Christmas 1997. Well, there we were. Life, as usual, had twisted us in knots. We were short on money, long on bills, and the holiday was around the corner, nipping at our wallets. That year we had a new miracle in our family. Her name was T* M* and she wasn't old enough to know that she was a miracle.

I watched her being born back in September. My younger daughter and her husband were having tough times so they were living with us… which meant that I got to see T* every day. She was nearly three months old and changing almost by the hour.

Back in my more arrogant days, among the many silly things I said, was one particular gem—that none of my children would be allowed to move back in with me once they were on their own. I’ve been forced to eat my words several times. That Christmas both of my daughters were living with us! In any case, I have found that God generally gets what he wills, one way or the other. That June, in a matter of twenty minutes, he simply removed all other options. God was determined to give me a blessing I didn’t want.

Tough times can shrivel the soul. On the outside, I carried on, but on the inside, like the Grinch, my heart was several sizes too small. And then, God sent T* into my life. Life was still tough. There was little income and large out-go. But when I came home from work and held my granddaughter, things were okay. I forgot how precious the little children are. I harbored resentments and bitterness because of my own failures with my children. With this tiny baby, I was able at last to forgive myself for my failures and simply allow myself to love her without expectations or conditions. When I watched her young parent's faces when they held her and cared for her, then I knew that I did something right. A miracle. Merry Christmas.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Gifts of Christmas

Christmas 1964. That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked hard to make a haven for us.

As a parent now, I realize how difficult it must have been then for her to sit us down a few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could have a special Christmas dinner.

Solemnly, we considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we put it behind us and life went on.

One day, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we opened ours. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.

Every level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with gifts. Beautifully, lovingly decorated gifts. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.

I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we hadn’t gotten rich overnight. I walked around the room gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen. Two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates. A special Christmas dinner indeed!

A little later we opened the gifts. Of all the Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single thing I received. Not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were all gifts of sacrifice from strangers. Our family friends were a minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to them, would have a special Christmas.

The minister and his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.

As Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together. Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by strangers.

A miracle.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

After the storm...

Time for the clean-up!

Today is the son-in-law's birthday! Happy Birthday, Dion!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowy Caturday 2 Blizzard 2009

Pictures above... still snowing like crazy at 6:00 PM. This is our front walk. It was shoveled about an hour ago. Official snow depth our town right now... 15".

Lunchtime pics... Really starting to come down hard now. Another twelve hours of storm to come...


Snowy Caturday

Gonna be a really, really snowy Caturday...I'll post pics later on!

And so it begins... 11:30 PM

Ah...let it snow! Here we are at 8:30 AM.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Bride Doll

Over the years I've written several short vignettes about different Christmas' in my life. Today's vignette takes place in 1957.

Christmas 1957. I was eight years old. That was the year of the Bride Doll and also the year I discovered the truth about Santa Claus. I lived in a very small town called Hayden, Arizona. At that time, there was a general store in the center of town near the elementary school. Each afternoon on the way home from school, I would rush inside and check out The Bride Doll.

The Bride Doll was the most important dream of my young life. She was two feet tall dressed in a bride dress composed of layer upon layer of white lace. She had short curly blonde hair and a veil. The display box was high up on a shelf so that you could see her the minute you entered the store.

Every afternoon, I rushed inside to check that she was still there. At the time, I don’t think I realized that the store would naturally have more than one in stock. I was sure that as long as The Bride Doll was in the store on Christmas Eve, then Santa would bring me my dearest wish…The Bride Doll.

One afternoon as I trotted down the sidewalk after school, I saw my mother standing by our car in front of the store. Now in those days, kids did not ride in the front seat. The front seat was reserved for grown ups. So when my mother asked if I wanted a ride home, I naturally yanked open the back door even as my mother yelled, “No!”

And lo and behold, there was The Bride Doll on the back seat.

I was dumbfounded. What was The Bride Doll doing in my car? It says much about innocence of that era that it never even occurred to me that my mother had bought it. All I could think was, “Why did Santa bring my doll when it wasn’t even Christmas?”

Well, we rode home in silence. Then, my mother took me by the hand and led me into the kitchen where we proceeded to have milk and cookies while she explained how Moms and Dads were Santa’s helpers. It was vague enough that it took me two more years to finally get it. She explained that my brothers didn’t know about how Moms and Dads helped Santa so I would have to pretend to be surprised.

Pretending and having secrets was almost as exciting as knowing that The Bride Doll would be mine on Christmas Day. I dragged that poor doll around for years. As a matter of fact, fifty two years later, she’s still stashed in my spare room. I’m afraid that she’s a bit worse for the wear, but my granddaughters still love her anyway. Her bride dress is long gone. At the moment she has a sailor dress. I keep thinking that I’ll find time to make her a new dress but I haven’t done it yet.

A little over two years later, my mother died. I wonder what she’s thinking now as she peeks down from Heaven? Is she shaking her head over that bedraggled dolly? Probably so.

The picture is my mom and grandpa, now gone many years. Oh, and that's me clutching my Bride Doll.


Today my Aunt JoAnn and Uncle Glenn are married 52 years. Fifty-two! May all of God's Blessings shine down on you. Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silent Night

Christmas 1956. I was seven years old that Christmas that I played Silent Night as part of the Christmas Pageant. I had been taking piano lessons for six months, practicing on the old beat up upright piano in our living room. We lived in a small town in Arizona where my father was the pastor of the church we attended. He also worked full-time in a copper mine about forty miles away. Every day he traveled to work on a narrow two lane curvy, hilly road.

He was a lineman, stringing wire underground for the communication system. One day he fell from an underground pole and broke his back. Considering the state of medicine back in that day, it's a miracle that he ever walked again. I still have pictures of him in his body cast that made him look twice as big around.

Anyway, our church had a Christmas Pageant. It had the usual cast of suspects. Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, the Shepherds, and the Angels. My baby doll was the baby Jesus. I wasn't very happy about that because one of the Shepherds decided to play catch with one of the Wise Men and they used my dolly's head for their ball.

In an effort to defuse my understandable wrath at this abuse of my dolly, Mrs. Jones, the Pageant director made an on the spot decision that I would play Silent Night on the piano while the Angels tiptoed up the aisles, toting lighted candles, on their way to sing Hark the Herald Angel Sings.

It might have worked out that way, too, except that I couldn't see the sheet music in the dark, I couldn't reach the pedals on the piano so it sounded more like a choppy march, and I played it so slow that the Angels could have crawled up the aisles and still reached the stage before I finished. Since the Angels were all from the primary grades and were hopped up on all the sugar from candy canes and cookies, Mrs. Jones had to devise a new plan.

After some reworking, she finally determined that I would play Silent Night while the Shepherds trudged slowly up the aisle carrying their stuffed toy sheep. And then there would still be time for the Wise Men to traipse up the aisle, swaying to and fro like they were riding camels.

The night of the Pageant arrived. I had a new red plaid taffeta dress that my mother made. She made all of our clothes because she could sew like a wizard on that old Singer treadle sewing machine. My mother was a crafty woman. She made all the Angels' wings and most of the costumes.

When it was time for me to play, I pranced up to the piano like I was a movie star, flounced onto the piano stool and ponderously pounded out my rendition of Silent Night. The Shepherds and Wise Men did their part, but still arrived at the stage before I was half-way through.

When I finished the congregation stood up and clapped wildly. Looking back on it, I think they were incredibly relieved that I finally finished. I do know that was the last time I was asked to play anything in that church. That's okay. I certainly had my one night as a Christmas Star.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I saw Santa Claus at...

the gas station. Yesterday I took my neighbor to the local garage to pick up her car. While I was waiting in the car with my granddaughter and her friend, I noticed a decommissioned U-haul truck at the gas station next to the garage.

Normally, it wouldn't have made much of an impression but Santa was pumping gas. His suit was pristine, his beard snowy white, and he wore black boots on his feet. We all watched him for a long time--the children quite excited--while he filled the gas tank on the truck.

The kids speculated about a lot of things. Why was he driving a truck? What happened to his reindeer and sleigh? When I suggested he might be picking up presents to take to the North Pole, they were aghast at the idea that the elves might not make ALL the presents.

One of them mentioned that Santa could come right over to the house since he was already in the neighborhood, but I squashed that notion pointing out that it isn't yet Christmas Eve. They were distracted when they noticed someone else in the truck cab. "It's Mrs. Santa," said my granddaughter's little friend.

I couldn't really see that well, so I agreed that it might be. Just then, Mrs. Santa popped out of the truck as Santa finished his gas pumping chores. They embraced, kissing in a very un-Santa-like fashion. Then they climbed up into the truck and drove away.

The kids were goggle-eyed at that kiss. One of them asked, "But aren't they too old for that mushy stuff?"

My neighbor, who had returned just before Santa left, calmly brushed off their concerns. "The mushy stuff lasts as long as you want it to."

"Ohhhhh." More food for thought there.

Then it was time to go home. Those few enchanted moments brightened the evening though. Suddenly anything seemed possible. After all, what could be more impossible than seeing Santa at the gas station?

Speaking of impossible. Today, the househunk and I mark 42 years in the marriage race. Some days it seems it passed as swiftly as an eagle. Other days it was slower than molasses in July. That's pretty much the way marriage is. There are great days, bad days, and a lot of ordinary days that we don't always value until we have the advantage of perspective and time.

To the hunk...Thank you for hanging in there with me through the good, bad, and especially the ordinary! I love you.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Good Tidings...

At this time of year, it's always wonderful when we read or hear of a true "feel good" story. On Saturday morning in a Philidelphia diner a mystery couple set of a hours long string of various customers paying for the meals of other customers. It wasn't planned. It wasn't organized. It was simply spontaneous generosity. For the details, click on Paying Forward

Tomorrow the house hunk and I will be married 42 years. Perhaps that's why this clip touched me so deeply. The couple in the clip are married twenty years longer than me. And the gentleman turned 90 in February. They seem to be having so much fun! I hope if I'm married that long that the hunk and I will also be able to have the odd spontaneous urge to do something fun. For a wonderful pick-me-up, check out the Piano Players

If you can watch that video without smiling... well, I'm STILL smiling!
Thanks to Sandra Cox for bringing it to my attention!


Monday, December 14, 2009


My critique partner, Cindy, tagged me with this meme. I'm still considering who I might tag, so I'll reserve my three choices for a couple days. In the meantime...

1. What’s the last thing you wrote? What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?

Last thing: Last thing I finished was Larkspur, a free read that is part of the Flowers of Camelot series for Ellora’s Cave. First thing: Is a "jumpstart" set on the planet Lycos. And that is all it is as this point.

2. Write poetry?

3. Angsty poetry?

4. Favorite genre of writing?

Romance. Mostly paranormals though not by design.

5. Most annoying character you’ve ever created?

I have no idea. Perhaps Nigel, Morgana's son in Daffodil.

6. Best plot you’ve ever created?

It's probably a toss up between Love Never-Ending and one of my current wips that I'm simply calling Vampire for the moment.

7. Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?

Huh. I have no idea. Perhaps the ending of Prisoner of the Heart.

8. How often do you get writer’s block?
Not often. Mostly when I don't write, it's because life is interfering.

9. Write fan fiction?
No. Fan fiction was well past my time.

10. Do you type or write by hand?
Way back in the beginning I wrote by hand. Now I seldom do that except when I'm trying to work out a very short difficult piece.

11. Do you save everything you write?

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?

13. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
Love Never-Ending. Although the three wips I'm working on now are also quite intriguing.

14. What’s everyone else’s favorite story that you’ve written?
I have no idea. The one that sold the best was Kama Sutra Lovers.

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
Romance is what I write. Angsty teen drama? Not in this lifetime.

16. What’s your favorite setting for your characters?
Whatever's in my head mostly, though I spent the most time on Mystic Valley.

17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Three, mostly. Although I have worked on as many as five at one time.

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
Actually, in October at RomantiCon I won an award for Love Never-Ending for creative worldbuilding.

19. What are your five favorite words?
Love, Faith, Hope, Generosity, and Trust.

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Delilah Jericho.

21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?
I have no idea. Generally, they just appear in my head, wanting to get out.

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?
No. I think I once had a dream that persuaded me to change a book. That is a very rare occurance.

23. Do you favor happy endings?
Always. Personally, I don't like reading books without happy endings.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Absolutely. That doesn't mean I catch all of them.

25. Does music help you write?
No. Mostly it just gives me a headache.

26. Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops into your head.
From Prisoner of the Heart~~

He stood and helped her to her feet before stepping out of the tub. Kissing between strokes and pats, they made a sketchy business of drying off before moving into the bedroom. She halted next to the bed, taking in the lit candles and flowers. “It’s beautiful.”

You’re beautiful. The candles are just background.”


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reindeer Cookie Party

When mothers work outside the home, they have to fit in the "fun" stuff where and how they can. My daughter also has a long commute which means a late arrival at home. So yesterday when she announced that she and the girls were going to make no-bake reindeer cookies, I was quite interested in the proceedings.
As it turned out, so was Poppy (the house hunk). He found the "makings" fascinating, too. Anyway, Mama and the girls and Poppy had quite a bit of fun decorating the reindeer cookies. I think they were very inventive besides.

Nutter Butter cookies, frosting (to make the face pieces stick), an assortment of items (m&m's, pretzels, jelly beans, chex mix, etc.

Allow your imagination to run wild.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snowman in the Mail

This delightful snowman arrived in the mail yesterday from my precious aunt and uncle in Arizona. The girls were so excited as they helped me open the box and free the snowman from his bed of confetti.

It contains a lovely collection of all sorts of goodies...cookies, candies, citrus fruit. Yummmmy! Thank you, Aunt Jo Anne and Uncle Glenn!

I seldom post reviews for my books, but the new review for Prisoner of the Heart has one of the best lines I've ever received in a review... "Warning: You might want to have a hanky or two nearby, just in case. I usually don’t get real emotional on stories like this, but this actually left me with a lump in my throat."~~Tony B., Dark Diva Reviews

Click on the Dark Diva Reviews to read the entire review!

Two years ago today, my first Christmas story, Winter Hearts was released! Wow, it doesn't seem like that long ago. It's the first of my stories about the angel/shifter Jericho family and like all my stories naturally ends in a Happily Ever After!
Last year on this date, my second holiday story, Magnolia was released. It's the fourth story in the Flowers of Camelot series and reunites all the families from the previous books for a merry Yule celebration...and a lot of Happily Ever Afters!

Time sure has zipped by.


Friday, December 11, 2009

The Long Road Home

Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.”

For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a our family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. My husband was on disability because of an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.

“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.

The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.

My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. The older one pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but my older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets. Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make some extra beds.

We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.

It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Two came from Guam. Others came from all over the United States. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards there were games, carols, and visiting.

A couple of days later the trip home was longer as there was more snow to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.

Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.

A miracle. Several, in fact.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Help Wanted: Christmas Bicycle Mechanic

Christmas 1979. That was the year we stretched the budget to get the kids’ bicycles. At our house, Santa always brings a stuffed animal. It was my feeling that Santa bringing tons of presents sets up kids for unrealistic expectations. No matter how the year went, a stuffed animal was always doable. And after that, whatever Mom and Dad can come up with is great.

My kids had a realistic idea of our money situation from the time we sat them down and let them pay the bills with real money. My house hunk had his check cashed at the bank in $1 bills. Then we sat down with the kids and let them count out the money for each bill. We did that for six weeks. If there was any money left over after the bills we let them do the grocery shopping with a calculator and count out the money for the food.

After that when we said there was no money, they understood that reality. To this day, they’re all very good managers. This particular Christmas was important to us as a family as the previous Christmas had been very, very bad. We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was a bit more than usual so we decided that we could afford to buy bicycles.

Of course when your kids are pre-teen age, hiding bicycles is a pretty tricky proposition. Finally, we simply made the garage off-limits. Late Christmas Eve the house hunk and I were out there trying to assemble three bicycles. The store would have assembled them, but that cost money that we couldn’t afford. One needed training wheels. Things did not go well.

Around 2 AM, the door opened and my second son trotted out there with his hands in his pockets. First of all, I was startled that he was still dressed. And then of course I demanded to know why he was awake.

“Well,” he said, “I thought I would see how long it took you to put them together. But it’s late. I’m tired. And I would like to ride my bike tomorrow. So I gave up. Do you want me to put them together?”

His father handed him the wrenches. “If you think you can do better than we are, go for it.” Thirty minutes later all three bikes were assembled and parked by the tree.

My son was nine years old that Christmas. Until he left for the Navy, it was always his responsibility to assemble all the gifts marked “Some Assembly Required.”

That year Santa brought the kids stuffed Safari animals—lions, tigers, and such. Up until a few years ago, they still had them. And then they decided to donate them to a kid’s program. As I recall, that was the sum total of Christmas gifts that year, except for the perennial favorite… new underwear. To this day, that’s a family in-joke. Every Christmas the kids receive new underwear. Now of course, it’s pretty fancy stuff.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Christmas Mouse

It was two days before Christmas and Herald, the Christmas Mouse was too tired to move. When humans started the Christmas Shopping Season, they didn't think about how hazardous all those busy shoppers were for the mice. Why, a mouse could barely scurry across the wide hallways in the mall without someone stepping on his tail--or worse! It was up to Herald to take care of all the tiny mouselets while their harried parents shopped.

Some of the mouse children didn't want to stay in the nursery. Some pulled on Herald's tail because they wanted to shop with their Mamas. There were fifteen children from the Snow family and they all wanted something to eat! Little Angela Tree sucked her paws and bawled for her Mama.

Herald ran from child to child, wiping whiskers, offering cheese crumbs and toys, and refereeing arguments between the two oldest boys in the Star family, Twinkle and Shiny. Herald desperately wanted a few minutes of quiet.

Then he heard a beautiful sound drift through the nursery door. It was the sound of someone singing. One by one the mouse children grew silent. As the singing grew louder, the mouselets all gathered on the rug in the center of the room and they sat down in small groups, listening carefully to the music. Soon Herald realized that some of them were humming the melody.

In the still, quiet nursery, Herald crept to the door and peeked out into the corridor. A young human woman sat on a bench in the center of the mall, singing all alone. People were smiling and stopping to listen. Cranky children who had been crying, grew quiet and leaned against their weary parents as the young woman continued to sing. Slowly, peace fell over the mall to the strains of a Christmas song. Then Herald recognized the music. She was singing the Christmas Lullaby--Silent Night.

Herald turned to look at the mouse children and saw that they were all asleep. Twinkle Star was even snoring!

Softly, Herald crept out to the young woman and stood near her foot with his whiskers twitching and his beady little eyes shining, listening to the beautiful song. And then, wonder of wonders, she bent and offered him a perch on her fingers. It seemed to him that she even perhaps invited him to sing with her.

Suddenly, Herald wasn't so tired. He opened his tiny mouth and began to sing. And as he sang with all his heart, the Christmas Spirit swelled within him so much that when the song was finished, he roared out, "Merry Christmas Everybody!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Over the last two or three years, I've posted some stories about the Christmases from other times in my life. This December I will no doubt intersperse some of them again with my other blog posts. This one is one of my favorite memories. Please enjoy.

Christmas 1959. I was ten years old. Our family lived in Globe, Arizona, but we had traveled by automobile to Gary, Indiana. It was before the days of interstate highways and my parents drove many hours, late into the nights, to arrive by Christmas. My younger brothers and I occupied ourselves by discussing and boasting about the snowmen we were going to build when we arrived “up North.”

We arrived safely (our first miracle) in the cold pre-dawn hours. It was a cold, damp, windy morning with nary a snowflake in sight. Dad stopped at a gas station so that we could freshen up. The restrooms were unheated, providing us with an excellent reason to speed through our clean-up. With our faces washed and our hair combed, so that we were presentable, we piled back into the car and traveled the few blocks to my Aunt Betty and Uncle John’s house.

There, as we shivered under a barely lightened sky, my Dad was struck by an inspiration. He gathered us in a tight group on the small front stoop—and at 6:00 AM—we began bellowing out the strains of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Now it stands to reason that SOMEBODY would want to shut us up, but nobody came. Dad led us into a second verse, urging us to sing louder.

Still no reaction.

The wind whipped up, cutting through our light coats. Lips turned blue and strands of hair blew across our eyes as he led us through a third teeth-chattering verse.

Nobody came. Mom rang the doorbell as he launched into the first verse again. Uncle John flung the door open and demanded, “Who is it!” before he recognized us and invited us in.

Later there were a few chuckles when he described his mad dash from room to room searching for the radio that someone had left on.

During our visit, my brothers and I waited in vain for snow, knowing we only had a few days to spend there. At last, our hopes for snow dashed, we headed home. Oh, we had a great time milling around with our cousins, roaming in small packs from room to room, but in some small secret place within, a little snow would have been perfect.

After a long boring trip, suffering from holiday letdown, we arrived home safely (another miracle). Dad parked in front of our small house. We sat in the car staring out the foggy windows in amazement at our snow-covered yard. The cactus plants in the corners had spiky snow beards. There wasn’t enough snow to build a snowman, but we had a great snowball fight before we unpacked the car.

A miracle.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Baking Cookies

One of the traditional activities at the holiday time is baking cookies. At our house cookie baking has fallen by the wayside as our children grew up and left home. After all, who in the world is going to eat those cookies? Between restricted diets and a need to cut back on those cookie calories, baking just wasn't very cost effective.

And then the grandkids came to visit for a while. Like many multi-generational families, ours is a melding of responsibilities and privileges. Grandparents can contribute some things that parents aren't equipped to handle. Experience, a sense of perspective, a model for parent/child relationships, even a neutral ear when needed.

Grandchildren observe the way their parents treat their parents. Does Mom show respect for Grandmom? Do they get along well? Do they express love and affection?

Often, the way that grandparents contribute is by sharing their knowledge and experience in such areas as crafts, cooking, car repair...whatever way the grandparent and grandchild can spend time together.

And so last evening, the girls and I baked gingerbread cookies. There were lessons to be learned. Mixing the dough, reading the recipe, cleaning the table, sprinkling the flour and rolling out the dough. They cut out cookies, discovering for themselves that the cutters needed to be floured so they didn't stick. When the cookies stretched out of shape as they moved them from the table to the baking pan, they found out why I insisted the dough needed to be cold.

When we cut and baked a dozen both girls decided it would be best if we put the dough back in the refrigerator until after school today. When they get home from school, we'll roll and cut and bake the rest.

As her older sister put the bowl back in the fridge, the little one turned to me with a solemn expression and said, "Patience is good, Nanna. We'll just have to be patient."

Perhaps that's as good a lesson as any to learn at the holiday time.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Snow Day

View from our balcony.

Yesterday morning we woke to a snowstorm. It was the kind of snow that is wet, heavy, and comes down in huge quarter-sized flakes. I had to go out to Target to pick up my blood pressure medicine so I pulled on warm clothes and off we went.

As I journeyed to the store and back and then spent the day watching it snow, I pondered on the difference the snow made in my personal attitude about Christmas. Oh, I know Christmas is not dependent on whether or not it snows, but in some indefinable way, it changed my perspective much like the snow scene at the end of that old Bing Crosby movie, Holiday Inn. When the actors fling open the doors at the end of their performance to share the snow falling outdoors, there's a sense of "rightness" in the scene.

In many, many locations around the world, it never snows on Christmas. And I'm sure that has nothing to do with those places having Christmas spirit. But in the north, much of the population grew up with snowy Christmases so that's our norm. When Christmas arrives in the midst of seventy degree weather, somehow it just seems wrong.

We took unashamed advantage of the snow. The girls made a snow man. We played Christmas carols and finished decorating. And dreamed like so many families that all our members would be home for Christmas.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Caturday in December...

Well, our first significant snow is forecast for later today. It sounds like a wonderful day to stay inside and make cookies! Have a great weekend!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Disappearing Presents

December is a busy month for me. Not only do I have Christmas and New Years, but our anniversary is also in December. The year we were married five years, our friends had a surprise party for us to celebrate. The party was actually early in the month--around the second or third. During the party, I happened to glance out the window and saw a For Rent sign across the street.

We'd been looking for a bigger apartment for several months. We ran across the street, talked to the couple who owned the building and arranged to move in on the 16th of December--our actual anniversary.

As you may imagine, the next two weeks were very busy. In our old apartment, the Christmas tree was already up and decorated. Presents were under the tree. And of course, we also had two little boys aged one and two.

I packed all the stuff that could be boxed up and we drove back and forth with loads of boxes in our car, but we hired a moving company for the furniture. Finally, the day of the move dawned...with an ice storm. The area of Chicago where we lived was a warren of narrow one way streets with cars parked on both sides of the street.

The movers arrived and carried the furniture down to the truck. When they were ready, we followed them to our new apartment, creeping along on ice covered streets. When they pulled up in front of our new apartment, we saw a miraculous thing. There was actually parking space in front of the building!

And then open mouthed the house hunk and I sat dumbfounded as the the moving truck slid sideways into the parking space, coming to a halt neatly at the curb! The driver hopped out, stared at the truck, shook his head and grinned at us before motioning for us to park in the space behind the truck.


We set the tree up, unpacked the necessities, redecorated and on Christmas Day celebrated as usual. Fortunately, our little boys were young enough that they never knew the difference because we were finding those packed away presents for the next few months...