Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010!! Can You Believe It?

2010 sounds like a title of a sci-fi book. Maybe it has been the title of a sci-fi book. And you know if you had written a book twenty or thirty years ago about all the things we do in 2009 it would have sounded like a sci-fi book. We have Facebook friends we talk to via computers. We want to find out about something, we "google" it. There's not much demand for door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen these days. Drone aircraft drop bombs on our enemies without the need for a pilot to be aboard. Robots build our cars. We drive up to square piggy bank machines that spit out cash when we insert a little card into them and punch some buttons. We can hold a little book shaped gizmo in our hands and read a book without every turning a page. We put our music on something smaller than a deck of cards. We walk around with a phone to our ears or if we're of the younger generation, type out messages on a tiny screen without having to say a word. And check the weather forecast on those phones or the movie times. We take kidneys, hearts and various other parts from one person and put them in another without the first thought of that being strange. We can make puppy dogs that glow and sheep and cats that are clones. The DNA from a hair or drop of blood can tie someone to a crime or prove he's innocent after fifteen years.
~~Twenty ten. Two thousand ten. Ten. We're entering the second decade in the Twenty-first Century. I had to get up and find a piece of chocolate to keep that from being too depressing. Not really. The chocolate, yes. Any excuse for chocolate. The depressing, no. I have a calendar of daily quotes and one of them reads, "Life is like an exciting book, and every year starts a new chapter." I like starting new chapters in exciting books, don't you? So 2010 here we come.
~~And on the way are you going to make any New Year's resolutions? I've got some I could make. Use my time more wisely. Grow as a person (spiritually, not in the waistline!) and grow as a writer. Write more. Write better. Write right.
~~Write right - that's what I'm trying to do now as I finish up the edits on my new book, The Seeker. I think I could work it over a hundred times and still see some things I might do better. So I'm trying to vary my words, make them flow smooth and easy so that anyone who reads my story won't notice the words at all. Only the story I'm trying to tell about Charlotte and Adam. Most people don't realize how much a story has be polished and worked over before it ever makes it out onto a bookstore shelf. So I'm doing some of that polishing now. Not a bad way to finish out a year. Then next year I can dive back into my work in progress and figure out what happens next to those characters.
~~Hope your year ahead is chock full and overflowing with all the best blessings and that you'll find lots of good books to read as we head out through the teen decade toward 2020. Talk about a sci-fi title!! But we've got a few exciting chapters to go before we get there. Enjoy! And thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hanging on to the Christmas Spirit


~~Do you think it's possible to hang on to the Christmas Spirit once all the wrapping has been pulled off the gifts? When you think if you ever see another piece of candy it will be too soon and the Christmas punch has turned sour. When the thought of another ham sandwich makes you cringe while pizza is sounding like your favorite dish. When the tree starts shedding needles like a dog shaking off raindrops and (this one's the worst of all) the bills start coming in the mail. Christmas is over and we're looking January square in the eye.
~~Ahh January!! A time for looking forward with new hope and plans and determination. And also the time when the Christmas Spirit can slip away from us as we face the grim gray days of winter and wait for the violets to bloom. And yet if we can only carry along a handful or two, maybe even a couple of pinches of that Christmas Spirit that helped you keep smiling even when you had a million things to do and the lines at the grocery store were ten deep at every check-out counter, then the winter days, every day will be brighter.
~~What is Christmas Spirit? Is it two spoons of starlight and a shake or two of angels singing in the night? Is it a cupful of rejoicing and a generous measure of love? Let's throw in several generous measures of love. We need them.
~~The week after Christmas is a good time for those generous measures of love. Especially when bad news seems to keep knocking on our door. That seems to happen often. We get so high up as we anticipate and try to prepare for a perfect Christmas with our families. And of course a perfect Christmas isn't possible. When you look at it, Mary and Joseph probably wouldn't have called that first Christmas in Bethlehem perfect. Far from it. Having to be miles from home just as you're about to have a baby. Sleeping in a manger with the cattle and donkeys. And oh yeah, while you're having a baby. Strangers intruding on your little family circle. Again right after you had a baby and because angels told them to come. How many of us would believe that one? Of course, Mary had an advantage on us there since she'd been visited by one of those angels. And she pondered all those things in her heart.
~~Maybe that's how we can carry forth the Christmas spirit. By pondering in our hearts why we celebrate Christmas. By dwelling on the love that makes Christmas glow. By knowing the Lord will walk with us through the valleys ahead and rejoice with us on all our mountain tops.
~~So take a handful or two of that Christmas spirit and stick it in your pocket to carry into the new year with you so that you can pull out a smidgen now and again to remind yourself of the power of love. John 3:16 - love in its purest form.
~~And if that Christmas spirit leads you to, say a prayer for our little niece, Kaelyn, who was diagnosed with acute leukemia four days before Christmas and is now undergoing aggressive treatment at St. Jude's. She's had a couple of better nights according to her mother. The treatments have been making Kaelyn very sick and also causing her a great deal of pain. So your prayers for her and her family are appreciated and coveted.
~~Thanks for reading. I'm thankful for each and every one of you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Favorite Gifts


These are my favorite Christmas gifts. Nine beautiful grandchildren under the tree. For the last several years we've added a new baby in the family every year or almost every year and I always take a picture of the new baby sitting in front of the Christmas tree. Grammy's favorite gift. So this year we got all the kids to slow down long enough to take this great shot. And believe me, getting nine to sit still in the same area long enough to snap a picture is not all that easy. And then to have none of them crying - that's plain amazing. I've got a picture from a long time back of my two oldest kids and their cousins and everybody but my daughter is crying. Two of the girl cousins were fighting over a stuffed bear. Another baby cousin was crying for his mama. My son was crying because he didn't want to sit there and my daughter is staring up with these huge eyes as if wondering what the heck is going on. But you know, it's a great shot. I smile every time I see it. Of course, I'll smile everytime I see this one too with all these sweet faces waiting for Christmas to hurry up. That's the magic key to getting the picture. We promised they could open presents just as soon as we got the picture. Now you know why they're smiling.
~~We had Christmas here at the farm for the kids last Saturday for the kids. At least the two who were able to get here. The snowstorm south and east of us kept my daughter and her husband from coming. The roads were awful between here and there. We missed them, but the party went on. The WV son and family came early to get ahead of the bad weather and by the time they went home the roads were clear. They're still playing in the snow and all we have here is mud. Plenty of that though.
~~The kids had fun playing together and tearing into their gifts. Both the little kids and the big kids. Do we every outgrow the anticipation of opening a nicely wrapped gift? One of my granddaughters has an almost Christmas birthday so we always have her birthday party first. She was four and has become a Spiderman fan. I think her favorite gift was some Spiderman pjs I went shopping in the boys' department and bought for her. She went and put them on right away and wore them the rest of the day.
~~Then on Sunday as I was expecting to settle in to enjoy the rest of the family get-togethers with our extended families and hoping to see our daughter the weekend after Christmas for a late celebration, things started going haywire. Darrell came in from one of the Patriots' concerts with a stomach bug Sunday and was yuckily sick all night. A granddaughter and daughter-in-law came down with it at about the same time. On the news Monday morning, I heard that my preacher's son's apartment was destroyed by fire. They got out with nothing but what they had on. Then later in the day we got the worst news. Our little great niece, Kaelyn, was diagnosed with leukemia. Suddenly stomach bugs seemed pretty minor. Kaelyn is a beautiful little girl, five years old, who has an active imagination and a sweet spirit. She's already starting aggressive chemo treatments at St. Jude's. And hundreds of people are praying for her. How quickly we were all reminded of what matters most in life.
~~I hope you each and everyone can celebrate the joy in your life on Christmas morning as you rejoice in the birth of the Savior. That is something that always matters and when you believe that, you never face hard times alone. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Ten Best Things about Christmas


People are always doing lists. I do lists too, but mostly about things I don't want to forget. You know, chores-to-do lists. Grocery lists. Christmas card lists. Gift ideas lists. Birthday lists. One late night comedian has made his lists of ten a big part of his comedy. So I thought I'd jump in on the idea. The ten best things about Christmas. Feel free to add your best things.
10. People do book giveaways.
What a lead in! Over on http://continuousdelights.blogspot.com/ the blogger, Carman is doing a drawing to give away my book, The Believer. All you have to do is leave a comment on the interview she did with me. To see the interview go to Carman's blog and click on The Believer's book cover. That will link to my interview. One thing she asked me is what could I tell readers that they might not know about me already. Well, I'm sure there are lots of things, but if you want to know which things I picked, you can go check out the interview. Then leave a comment and be in on the chance to win a book. Something free at Christmas time is always good.
9. Christmas lights decorating everybody's houses. Everybody's but mine. Oh, you might be able to see the lights of my Christmas tree through the window, but I've never strung lights up on the eaves. I know I'd be one of those people who didn't get them taken down until June or something.
8. Shopping. I can't believe I said that. I hate to shop - except in bookstores. Christmas gives me a great excuse to spend a few hours browsing shelves in bookstores to try to find books for my family that they might not have read yet. I ended up bringing home a sack full of books for myself. If you can't buy a few gifts for yourself to reward your shopping efforts, then you might as well stay home.
7. Cookies and punch and all that sweet stuff. We made crackerjacks at my mom's today. She traditionally made crackerjacks and six or seven types of candy at Christmas. She can't do the candy anymore, but I have plenty of good memories of satisfying my sweet tooth with her delicious candy. And we've had punch at Christmas ever since I can remember. OJ and pineapple juice and gingerale and orange sherbert. That just tastes like Christmas to me.
6. Gifts. I like giving gifts to people I love and it's sort of fun getting gifts from those people too. The gifts don't have to be expensive to be good. The best gifts are those that show the person really thought about what you might like.
5. The Christmas Spirit. That's the feeling that has us pitching in our change or a few dollars every time we hear the Salvation Army kettle bell. That's the feeling that keeps us smiling while we're standing in long lines at the stores and exchanging holiday pleasantries with the strangers behind us. That's the feeling that keeps us remembering the true meaning of Christmas.
4. Candlelight Services at churches. We have a great candlelight service at Goshen. Our church is way out in the country and when we turn out the lights, it gets dark. And then the pastor will light the one candle that represents Jesus bringing light into the world. We each then light our candles from the candle representing Jesus to take His light out into the world.
3. Gathering with family and friends. Christmas is a great reason for families to visit. We feast on great food, laugh at old stories and tighten up those family ties that bind us together.
2. The excited sparkle in children's eyes. The anticipation of waiting for Christmas morn as kids put out cookies for Santa and reindeer food for Rudolph, Donder and Blitzen and the rest. It is so much fun watching the little ones have fun. There were some excited kids here yesterday as they tore into their presents. Sometimes I think they enjoy the opening of the packages more than what's in them.
1. Hearing the Christmas story read out of the Bible. Those Bible verses that have been read countless times over the years and that I have heard almost every year of my life still sound fresh and joyful every time I hear them read. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"
~~I'm sure I overlooked some things, but these are ten of the things I love about Christmas. How about you? I hope you are rejoicing in all the favorite things you love about Christmas.
~~And don't forget to go read my interview and leave a comment at Carman's blog, http://continuousdelights.blogspot.com/ for a chance to win a signed copy of The Believer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!!


~I didn't set out to be a Santa collector. It just happened. Mostly because my daughter enjoys finding neat Santas and giving them to me for Christmas. More than half of my Santas have been gifts from her and her husband. It all started many years ago when all the kids were still living at home, none even thinking about getting married. This lady who worked with Darrell made the plump little Santa in the middle or at least painted it for him for Christmas. You might not be able to tell in this picture, but Santa's making a list. In the beginning when Santa was new, that list was five names - mine and Darrell's and the kids. Since then Santa has filled up his list - writing names all down the front and back of that list as our family has grown to include two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, and nine grandchildren. Along with all those names, Santa has gotten plenty of company on his shelf - Santas of all descriptions. A sleeping Santa. A skiing Santa. Even a UK Santa! There are a few more Santas spread around the room. One's a music box/snow globe combination. Another jiggles and bounces when you touch him, and another is a cookie jar. That's the new one this year. My daughter gave it to me at Thanksgiving.
~It's fun to collect things. Your family likes it because it gives them gift potential. When I was a young girl, I wanted to collect something. My sisters both had some sort of collection, and I felt like I needed to collect something, too. But I could never settle on what. I tried salt and pepper shakers. Then I did souvenir cups and saucers. I'd get two or three of whatever and then couldn't seem to get more. So I'd try something else. Wish I'd collected silver dollars now. I'd probably only been able to get two or three of those too.
~ But maybe what I did collect turned out to be more valuable for me than those silver dollars could have ever been. Stories. That's what I collected. The ones I read and the ones I wrote. All great training for a girl who never wanted to be anything other than a writer.
~And if you could see my bookshelves right now, you'd know that while I may have some Santas, I collect books. Along with a little dust. ;-) I talked to a man once at a book signing who claimed all his cabinets were full of books instead of food. I'm not quite that committed a collector. I like having food in my cabinets, but a stack of books here and there adds personality to a house. Along with the promise of hours of entertainment.
~Then of course there are the boxes of books in my closets and basements with my own by-line. I don't think I can have too many of those books. The more the merrier.
~And the same with my Santas. It's fun to set them out every year and remember where I got this or that one. I had an older sister so I didn't get to play the Santa Christmas game very long as a child. She shared her superior wisdom with me when I was five. So maybe I'm still trying to recapture some of that magic and fun. Of course with the grandkids, Christmas can't help but be fun. Hectic and a little noisy, but fun.
~Don't worry. I haven't forgotten the true reason for the season - the greatest gift, Jesus. We'll be celebrating His birth on Sunday at church with special services, but I'd really like to know the spirit of Christmas every day of the year. May you collect much Christmas joy in the days ahead. Joy and love - now those are some real collectables.
~~P.S. By the way, I think the puppy is going to be a Lucy.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What's in a name?


~Here's my granddaughter with the puppy I decided to keep from the litter the neighbor's dog had in our garage. She's a very cute puppy and my daughter-in-law named her Latte. Since I have to admit that didn't sound like a puppy name to me, I started calling the pup L.T. But that doesn't fit either, so we're having a puppy naming time in our family. I get the final vote, but the grandkids and everybody else can voice a suggestion. Me and the dog-loving granddaughters have heard and rejected Spot and Pug and Dandy. Cookie is on the table and so is Sadie. We tried a bunch of names out on her yesterday, and she paid absolutely no attention to any of them. "Puppy" still gets her attention some of the time. Especially if I'm opening the dog food bag.
~I like thinking about names. A writer has to do that a lot. There are always people to name in a story and not just the major characters. Everybody has to have a name. Maybe for some of the minor characters, the name won't matter that much, but then sometimes the name is how you get people to bring up a mental image of a character without having to add a lot of details. A Josephine brings forth a different image in a person's imagination that Miranda. Dusty than Wilton. Jake than Jeffrey. So a writer has to think about the character's personality before she hangs a name on him or her.
~I've never actually counted the total number of characters I've had to name in one book, but that might be interesting to know. Then again it might make my mind go completely blank and I wouldn't even be able to think of my own name.
~I've done posts on naming characters before. I think it's an important first step in getting to know my characters. The name has to fit. The name has to sound right, and the name has to be right for the historical era. In my current work in progress, the heroine's name is Lacey. I didn't have any problem coming up with that name. She sprang into my mind and was Lacey at once. Lacey completely. She is Lacey. Then I started noticing there are a lot of Laceys out there in fiction right now, but she's still Lacey.
~Being that sure of a character's name doesn't happen that often for me. Usually I waffle a while on the names of my main characters. Sometimes change the name two or three times before I start my story. And sometimes without even realizing it, I pick a famous name or a name that sounds very similar to a famous name. The name will roll off my imagination's tongue easy with no sharp edges but then I'll realize why the name sounds so good - or an editor will point out the obvious. When that happens, that name has to be changed for the good of all. The character, the eventual readers, and the writer. Not to mention the editor.
~But I like coming up with names. I've worn out a couple of baby name books. I'm sure I could come up with a name that I like for the puppy. But first the grandkids can have some fun thinking up names next weekend when we're celebrating Christmas.
~I celebrated Christmas with a group of Central Kentucky writers today. The Danville Theater group was performing an original play "Claus and the King" written by Amy Barkman, a member of our writers' group. All but one of the actors were kids and they did a fabulous job acting out the play and singing the many songs that Amy also wrote. I don't know too many other things that can get a person more into the Christmas mood than watching kids acting out a Christmas play.
~I'm going to need to be in a Christmas mood this coming week so that I can do the baking and cleaning and shopping and cooking and ... well, you get the idea. My goal is to have most everything done before Saturday so that I can enjoy my family all being together for Christmas.
~I hope you have a great week with the names of your loved ones dancing in your head like treasured sugar plums. I'm going to be sending out a Christmas newsletter soon, so if you're not signed up for that and would like to be, just go to my website, www.annhgabhart.com and click on the newsletter link. And thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Countdown to Christmas


~Right. This picture has nothing whatsoever to do with the countdown to Christmas. But it does show a little joy. My son-in-law loves dogs and they love him as you can see. The puppies thought it was very neat having a human playmate and Oscar looks like he's wondering how to get in on the fun. All the puppies have been adopted now except for L.T., the little brown and white one that I'm keeping. I need another dog like I need a hole in the head, but she is very cute and the grandkids love her. Not to mention the son-in-law. Reasons enough.
~And so on to the dreaded question this time of the year. "Are you ready for Christmas?" I think the people who ask that are usually the ones who are and they just want to gloat. My sister told somebody the other day that she hadn't done any shopping and she thought the other lady was going to faint away. But it just turned December - well, almost ten days ago now. And that means it's only fifteen days to Christmas and actually we're celebrating here with the kids and grandkids on the nineteenth so that means it's only nine days. Oh, dear, I think I'm going to have trouble breathing. ;-) Maybe I'd better not think about how many days before I blow some circuits and start whirling in place.
~As you can probably tell, I'm not ready for Christmas. I'm never ready for Christmas. It just gets here. And every year I say I'm going to do better the next year. I'm going to shop early and wrap every present as soon as I bring it in the door. Sounds like an excellent plan, but you know what happens when I shop early? I'll tell you. I hide the presents. Then two years later when the kid I bought that present for is now way too old for that toy or whatever I come across it and say, "Oh yeah, I remember buying this." I lost some plush baby toy hammers I bought the twins last year. They were so cute, but I forgot all about them. Found them about July this year. But they're for babies, not toddlers. So the new little one may have to get two hammers. One for each hand.
~That's only one of my problems with shopping early. Another is getting stuff that later I wonder why in the world I thought anybody would like that. It must have been on sale really cheap. Of course it's months too late to try to get a refund and so it goes into my sack of maybe someday gifts. So far someday has never come. I have a feeling it never will for some of those gifts.
~But it's not only gifts I have to get ready. It's food too. Cookies and snacks and sausage balls and every good thing anybody can think up to eat. I think I have to fix it all. And of course the house needs to be cleaned. Don't houses always need to be cleaned? And there are people to visit and cards to write. Alas, there's another of my problems. I think I have to actually write something besides my name on Christmas cards. Something that makes the person getting the card smile. Isn't that what Christmas is all about? Making somebody or a lot of somebodies smile. That's a mama's/grandmama's job, isn't it? And most of us wouldn't have it any other way.
~So are you whirling in place or can you say yes to that dreaded question, "Are you ready for Christmas?" Maybe we should forget the shopping and the baking, the decorating and the wrapping, and just say yes. Yes, we are ready for Christmas. Ready to welcome the spirit of love into our hearts and share the joy that Christmas means. As to the rest of that stuff we need to get ready, we'll get enough of it done. Enough to enjoy the day and see the magic sparkle in the eyes of the little ones we love.
~Hope you enjoy each and every day as you count down toward Christmas.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Time for Stories


~The holiday season is such a great time for families to get together and share stories - some old and heard dozens of times and some others new and never heard before. Here my little granddaughter is sharing one of the never heard before stories. She's been making up stories since before she was two, so maybe someday she'll be like her grammy and want to write them down. I don't remember ever telling too many stories back when I was a kid. I would have been much too shy to take center stage like that.
~Several of my grandchildren show a flair for the dramatic and they all love stories and books. The littlest ones just want to chew on their books, but that will change when they realize there's magic in those words.
~There's magic in family stories too. I love to hear my mom talk about how things were when she grew up during the depression years. Her mama never put up a Christmas tree and so their presents were placed on a rocking chair. Nothing like the presents kids get these days. She said they'd maybe get a doll, an orange and some candy. Then when I was a kid, we did our Santa shopping in the "wish book." That's what we called the Sears Roebuck catalogue. We were given an amount and then we could mark what we wished for that was at or below that price. I remember almost wearing out the pages of those catalogues wishing. One toy I wished for and got from Santa was a Betsy Wetsy doll. Why in the world anyone would want a doll that wet, I don't know now, but I wanted it then. I also got paper dolls and games and chocolate candy that I hoarded like it was more valuable than gold. My kids have their own Christmas memories of getting up early and running to see what might be under the tree. And now my grandkids are making their Christmas memories that they may turn into family stories someday.
~To me that's the sort of thing that makes the best family stories. Memories of the little things in life that can forever warm your heart. One of those warm heart memories for me is how I spent Christmas Eve day at my aunt's house waiting for my mother and father to finally get there so the good times could begin. The tree lights would be blinking. Sparks would fly up the chimney when my granddad poked the coal in the fireplace. Brightly wrapped presents beckoned from under the tree. Delicious scents drifted out from the kitchen. The candy dishes were full of homemade goodies. The afternoon would drag along, surely the longest day of the year. But finally my parents would come in bringing with them the brisk smell of the winter air and then the magic of Christmas would begin.
~Now I wish I had been smart enough to ask the older members of my family to tell me more stories about when they were growing up. About their average, ordinary days and what their mothers and fathers or grandmothers and grandfathers were like. Some of the stories I heard. Many of the stories I can only imagine now. And yet all of that, the real and the imagined is stuffed down in a pot pushed to the back of the stove in my creative center where it's bubbling in a nice simmering stew. Ever so often something in that pot pops out and lands in a story. That's why, for a writer, the more stories she hears the better. That pot of creative stew is very greedy and constantly in need of being fed if you want it to keep popping. Sort of like that Betsy Wetsy doll I had. I had to keep pumping in the water if I wanted her to perform as promised in the advertisements.
~Hope your creative stew gets fed some wonderful family memories and stories this Christmas holiday.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Shopping till I Dropped


Thanksgiving is over and I can no longer pretend Christmas is a long way off. Especially since we're going to celebrate here the weekend before Christmas. AIII!!!
--So I took off on a marathon shopping trip today. First you have to understand that shopping is one of my very least favorite things to do - unless I'm in a bookstore. I'm going to do that shopping next week. That will be fun. I'll get to buy a bunch of books for all my family members. They get a book every year whether they want one of not. ;-) Fortunately they are all book lovers. My daughters-in-law too, but right now with their big families they have a hard time squeezing out reading time. I understand that. As the saying goes, been there, done that, got a t-shirt.
--Well, I didn't have quite as big a family as both of them. I stopped at three. One of the ladies at my church used to tell I should have a whole houseful of kids because she thought my kids were so cute and smart. And they were, of course, says this not so unbiased mom. But guess I decided to let my sons have the whole housefuls of kids and now those grandkids are so cute and smart, of course. Grandmas are notoriously biased.
--And so here I am with three of the little reasons I was out hunting bargains and fun things to wrap and put under my tree. And I found a bunch of cute stuff. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not Santa Claus. I'm just a grandma with a lot of grandkids and so I have to keep my gift buying under control or my new room built so we could have enough room on Christmas might not be big enough. I've got my list and I'm sticking to it. Except for that red shirt I bought me. ;-)
--I hope you are enjoying every little thing about Christmas this year. The lights and decorations and shopping and the sound of the Salvation Army Kettle bells. I haven't seen as many of those yet this year. But I know they are in need of our help with so many families struggling right now. It's a good time to share with others. But then I suppose it's always a good time to share with others. Thank you for sharing a few minutes of your day with me.