Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Christmas Spirit Goes On

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. ~Burton Hillis

Sometimes I have a good idea and having readers share favorite Christmas memories with me was a very good idea. I have enjoyed the stories so much as I read about the things and events that have meant the most to my reading friends. One thing that dominated the stories was the memory of times with family. That's what made Christmas special for so many. A grandmother's or father's gift that shone with love. And isn't that what Christmas should show? "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son..." Christmas is when we celebrate that first gift of love to us. 

I couldn't share all the stories, but please be sure I did read all of them and felt the joy in the telling. Since we are still in Christmas week I wanted to share forward a few more. First from Denise. " My husband and I were married in 1992. Only one of my grandmas was able to come. My other grandma was older and lived 500 miles away. She sent me a beautiful quilt for Christmas. Not everyone would think it was beautiful; Grandma always made-do with whatever fabric was on hand. I guess you could call that quilt a " quilt of many colors"  like Jacob's coat. Grandma never had much, but if you needed something, she'd give you all she had. Love was always in abundance."" 

I know about the love shown in quilts. The quilt my aunt made for me the year I was born is one of my most treasured possessions. It's good to receive great presents that show love, but it's also good to give gifts of love the way Gina and her son did on one special Christmas.
My favorite adult memory is from the first year I had a job where I made " good"  money. My son and I had so much fun buying my sisters and parents gifts that year. We didn't have to worry about money. Since my son's father had died when he was a baby, and my dad had been such a great grandfather to him, my son picked out a gold " Dad"  ring for my father and I bought my mother a beautiful music box from Neiman Marcus. It was the most expensive gift I had ever purchased for anyone, and she was so tickled by it she cried. It made our Christmas complete to know that our specially chosen gifts meant that much more because they were appreciated. My son still recalls that Christmas now and it's over 10 years later, so I know it was special to him too!

Last, let's hear from Beth who had a Christmas that didn't go quite as she planned. " My favorite Christmas gift is a diamond pendant that my husband bought for me when I wasn't really expecting anything that grand on that year because things were very tight money wise and then I ended up in the hospital on Christmas eve with kidney stones. So I say that year I received some rocks I wanted and some I didn’t."  

It's good that Beth can smile about something that couldn't have been fun at the time. I've had some Christmases like that. One when my youngest was almost two and I had so anticipated his fun opening his presents. Then he had a virus and was too sick to care what was under the tree. Another time I had the flu and couldn't take part in the festivities. But those are little things - disappointing, but not all that hard. The really hard times are those first Christmases after a loved one dies. Christmas and all the special memories of times together make the hurt of the loss keener. So thank you all for the happy, fun memories, but if you're one who had to get through a Christmas that couldn't live up to expectations because of a missing loved one or financial problems or sickness, then you are in my prayers. May the coming year ease your heart, fill it with memories of love and bring back the joy of Christmas in 2012. 

I'll draw for the winners of my giveaway before the year is out. Wish I could give you all a gift because you truly have given me a gift by sharing your stories. Happy New Year!! I'll talk to you in 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Two Christmas Stories - The Reason for the Season

Photo Credit:
Christmas - a time of joy and love. It was great of so many of you to share your favorite Christmas memories with me. Some of the stories made me smile. Some brought tears to my eyes. Some echoed my own favorite memories of special Christmases with family. And some spoke of the reason for the season - the gift of love that is Jesus Christ. 

The two stories I've saved for this Christmas Day speak of the best gifts - those of Christian love and family love. First  A.C.'s story. "The Christmas that stands out to me most is very personal but I wanted to share it because of what it meant to me for others to be so giving and that's why to this day I give every chance I can to help others. You never know when you may need that Special Angel or Angels. 
   My Grandmother was very ill and I was going though a divorce and on top of that I was laid off work. I knew Christmas was around the corner and it was going to be a hard one. I didn't let anyone know what I was going thru (it was a pride thing) but I kept my head high and struggled each day. 
   I had a very good friend who invited me to her church. A very small community church where everyone knew each other. I kept finding every excuse I could, as to why I should not go and that worked for awhile. I said my prayers at night but I still had my pride and I didn't want to ask anyone for help. After awhile I finally gave in and decided I would go to the church with my sweet friend to the next Sunday night service. The devil tried every way possible for me not to make it but I had made a promise to a special friend who was dealing with the early stages of ALS. 
   That Sunday night rolled around and I went, dragging my feet. Little did I know God had a reason for putting me there at that time and I cannot tell you how much my life was blessed. My friend had talked with the Pastor and explained my hardship and the church adopted my family for Christmas. I was so touched with all the wonderful things that the people of her church were doing for me. We had a wonderful Christmas, I had a new extended Church family and a better relationship with God. I don't know what I would have done without their help.
    I think about what my friend did for me and I try to give as much as I can and as often as I can. God called my friend home shortly after that but I will remember her forever, especially at Christmas time and dedicate what I can do in Honor of her. So that's my Blessing at Christmas time, to help others during their hard times.

Thanks, A.C., for sharing your story and for giving forward. 

The next story Danielle shares is one a lot of servicemen and women's families are experiencing this Christmas with the soldiers coming home from Iraq. Here's Danielle's story. 
   " My favorite memory of Christmas was when I was in middle school. My aunt was deployed in the army in Germany, so we weren't able to see her for 2 years. On Christmas Eve there was a knock at our door and there she was! It was the happiest time ever. She was home for good. I will never forget that feeling I had when I answered the door after not seeing her for so long. My sisters and I never left her side. We sang Christmas carols. She shared stories about her living in Germany and pictures. She even brought us gifts and showed us all the letters she kept from us girls."

Christmas is a time for giving and a time for families. I hope the stories I've shared have blessed you as much as they have me. Merry Christmas! "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." John 1:4 (NIV)  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And the Christmas Memories Keep Going

A ribbon memory
Christmas is a time for memories. A time when so many memories are made. Sometimes it's the little things we remember with the most affection. I had a very dear aunt who always made Christmases and birthdays special for me and my sisters. She never married or had children of her own, so she spend a lot of love on us. She would get a skinny little cedar tree out of the field - skinny because it had to fit in the corner behind the door. Then we would decorate it with some ornaments that had been around for longer than I had. Last we sprinkled icicles and dabbed a few pieces of angel hair close to the lights to give them a special glow. 

You know about angel hair, don't you? One of my readers found out the hard way and shared her memory. Linda says her earliest memory was sneaking under her aunt's tree to peek at her gifts and getting her first introduction to angel hair. She figures she was about 4, but she's never forgotten how itchy the stuff was. Not what you would imagine for angel hair at all!!

My aunt would let us wrap our own presents if we promised not to peek. That was always fun and believe it or not I never peeked. Mostly because she had the boxes taped up! Wendie has a story about wrapping presents and how that turned into a Christmas tradition with a duck box.
Wendie's Duck Box
Wendie says that one year she decided to wrap a box top in window pane duck paper for her dad's birthday so it could be reused. Her mother thought it was clever and said they could use the box again. So they did. Every Christmas. Here's the rest of the story in Wendie's own words.

Sometime after 1985, the Duck Box resurfaced. Of course, Mom put Christmas paper over it and sent it to my house. Not to be outsmarted, I returned it the following Christmas. That began the "Duck Box"  tradition. You never knew when it would appear since it was a standard size - like a dress shirt box. Some years, it held unexciting things like underwear, but other years, it contained the big present. The one you never expected and loved the best.

As the years progressed, the Duck Box took on personality. We couldn't be happy with plain old ducks. Mom got out markers and added festive Santa hats and holly. The next year, I put on sunglass stickers. Mom decided they needed polish on their web toes. One even laid a golden egg. And we didn't stop with the cover. Inside was tissue paper - with Christmas mail stickers, return address labels from our different houses, the original yellowed wrinkled tissue and a few Styrofoam packing peanuts thrown in for good measure. At some point, on the back of the box, we began marking the years with our initials. Somehow, we always remembered who had The Duck Box. I loved it.

The Duck Box is gone now. It made its last trip over 3 years ago. It was my turn to send it to Mom. If I could have wrapped up a cure for cancer, it would have been the best gift ever hidden inside that tissue. Somehow, I knew I'd never see it again, so I carefully clicked pictures. I guess I knew that there would come a time when I'd tell a story about a silly old box full of love. Yep - I just wrapped my own present, Mom. Thanks for the memories. (excerpted from Wendie's blog after she sent me the link.

A lovely story, Wendie. Thanks for sharing it with us. And the picture of my gift up above has a similar story although not nearly as touching or full of memories. The first year I reused the funky yellow bow, the kids made fun of it. I'm sure I reused it to begin with. I can't imagine actually buying the bow myself. LOL. But since they all thought it was so weird, I kept the bow and used it again the next year and the next. For many years, somebody always got the funky yellow bow. I stopped using it a couple of years ago when the grandkids began to think the one who got it was more favored than the others. But I haven't thrown it away and who knows that funky bow may show up again some Christmas day. 

Thanks for all the memories. If you want you can still share a memory with us. I won't do the drawing for the giveaway winners until after Christmas. And I still have some neat memories to share. On Christmas or the day after, I'm going to share a very touching memory of someone who got the greatest gift - a new church family and a real awareness of the love of Christ. 

Thanks for reading and may you have the very merriest Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Memories 4 - Kids Do the Darndest Things

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out. (Art Linkletter) 

Those of you of a certain age will notice I sort of borrowed my title from Art Linkletter. He had such fun interviewing kids on his show "Kids Say the Darndest Things." Well, these Christmas memories I'm sharing tonight from a couple of readers prove that kids can do the darndest things too. Of course you mothers and fathers out there already knew that, didn't you? 

The picture up above shows one of my own fun Christmas memories. A couple of years ago, this little granddaughter loved Spider-Man. Everything was Spider-Man. She dressed up as Spider-Man at Halloween and played being him all the time. So come Christmas time, I decided I'd buy her something to wear with Spider-Man on it. Of course I had to shop in the boys' department. You're not going to find a cute little ruffled pink top with Spider-Man on it. Trust me on that. I lucked up and found pajamas with Spider-Man all over them. Pajamas for little boys and little girls are made pretty much the same. She opened the present and a few minutes later disappeared from the gift opening scene. Then here she comes running back, wearing the new pjs. I love the look on her face in this picture. You don't often hit the the gift jackpot giving clothes to kids her age, but I think I did with those Spider-Man pjs. 

Tisha shares this story with us about a time when the gift maybe didn't go over as well.  "The Christmas I remember so well I was about 5 or 6 and my mother bought me a doll. No, not for me she should have known better. I was a tomboy my entire life and never played with dolls. She thought it would be nice for me but I saw things different. My mother said she could not find me right after we had opened our presents and she started looking for me. She found me in the bathroom. I had cut the doll's hair and painted the face with lipstick and made the doll look like an Indian. Course my parents were ready to hang me out to dry. The doll had cost $20 and back then that was a great deal of money to spend on a toy, especially one that lasted a whole 5 minutes before being recreated into something different. This was always the one story my parents loved to tell about me. Did bring some good laugh times though.  Oh yes, by the way, that was the last doll Santa left for me. After that was my usual tomboy toys. Softballs, glove and softball bats and such. "

And then we have a story from Sue about one of her granddaughters. This story takes the cake - or maybe that should be "the brick." "I will tell you one of the funniest Christmas stories you have ever heard. In 2003 my granddaughter (then 5) would not even pretend to be good, so we told her that she would not get any gifts for Christmas. She evidently either did not get the message, or simply did not care. So everything we bought for her, we hid. On Christmas morning, the only thing under the tree for her was one great big box. When she opened it,(all nicely packed in peanuts and tissue) she found a brick. She wasn't too happy, but played with that brick all day, even took it to bed with her. The next day, we gave her her presents. she opened them all, but wasn't really interested. She just wanted to get back to her brick. She drug that thing, a regular sized red building brick, around with her everywhere she went for many, many months. The laugh was on us. But the haha is on the other foot now, when everybody in the family tells the story of the girl and her brick every chance we get."

Thanks, Tisha and Sue, for letting me share your stories. You could say both of these kids figured a way to get things to turn out pretty good for them. And thank all of you who have shared a story. Some of them have made me smile. Some of them have brought a tear. Some of them make me remember my own special memories. I'll keep sharing memories until Christmas. And I'll draw for the four giveaway winners the week after Christmas. You still have time to throw your name in the hat. And share your Christmas memory too. I got a memory today about making snow cream - complete with recipe. May have to share that one for sure.

Hope the true Spirit of Christmas is wrapping loving arms around you and the good elves are helping you get everything ready. If they are, send some of their friends my way. I could use the help. Thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Memories 3 - Simple Pleasures

Grandbaby opening a first year present
  In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. ~Kahlil Girbran

I'm still getting entries in my Christmas giveaway where people are sharing favorite memories. In so many of the shared memories, love echoes through every word. It's the simple things that made the writers feel loved and cherished that often stick in the memory the longest. Not necessarily the big things. Nobody has mentioned getting a truckload of presents. It's usually the visits home. The grandparents and aunts and uncles. The family. But I do have three stories about gifts to share today.

The first shows that it's sometimes the little things that mean the most. Nicole shares her story. "My favorite Christmas memory was the first Christmas after I married. We went to my husband's mom and dad's house and before opening gifts, his mom handed out stockings. Everyone pulled the items out of theirs, took a quick look and re-stuffed their stockings. Never having gotten a stocking as a child, I, on the other hand, carefully pulled out each out item, taking time to admire the small gifts and just as carefully, replaced the gifts back into the red stocking with my name written in gold glitter. Family members were getting rather frustrated at the time that it was taking for me to look at what was just a "simple stocking" to them; a tradition that they had known every Christmas. What they didn't know, not only how very special the stocking was to me; but finally, I was sharing in a tradition that I had only wished for as a child...a "simple stocking". Every Christmas, I enjoyed listening to my grandparents talk of getting pieces of fruit and candy in their stockings and how much they looked forward to this as much as they did their gifts. This "simple stocking" took me back to simpler times and a family tradition that I knew would be a lasting part of mine. Needless, to say, my family wakes up every Christmas with stockings!! However, I think I enjoy mine the most!!"

And now from Phyllis a gift that didn't want to wait until Christmas morning and a special night shared with a grandmothers. "  One favorite story of mine is about the Christmas I was about 11. I had asked my grandmother for a portable radio, new to the times! She bought one for me and had it wrapped under her tree. I spent the night with her and during the night the "' gift"  began to play. I woke her and told her I could hear radio music playing in her house. She tried to divert my attention to keep the gift secret. Because the music didn't stop, I could not let it go. We went to the tree and opened the gift that night; after playing with it for a while, she rewrapped the radio to keep until Christmas Day. I love her memory to this day and I will soon be 65." 

The last story tonight (more on Sunday) is about a gift to the writer's mother from Evelyn. "When I was a child, Christmas was a big deal in our little school. (Evelyn is 90 plus.) There would be a huge tree and every child would have a present on it. Everybody in the community would go to the Christmas program and then each child would hope to hear his/her name called, receiving a gift as they were taken off the tree. In this particular year, we kids were aghast when we heard our mother's name called. We stood in awe as Mom opened her gift. It was a wedding ring from my dad. I don't remember if Mom cried, but I feel sure she did. I suppose Dad didn't have the money to buy her a ring when they married but here it was, a beautiful wedding band given to her after all these year. This is a memory I cherish and will never forget.

Thanks so much for sharing your memories. I'll share forward some more on Sunday. One you will have a hard time believing, but it will just go to prove that kids can do the darnedest things. And bring us lots of simple pleasures at Christmas time. Thanks for reading and remember it's not too late to share your Christmas memory or to throw your name in the my giveaway hat.

 " Happiness consists more in the small conveniences of pleasure that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life."  ~Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Memories Part 2 - Bob Hope & More

"When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness." ~Bob Hope

I put this quote in my newsletter last week and then because Christmas is for giving, I threw open a giveaway opportunity to all my reading friends.  One of the ways to get your name in a drawing (for a music box and one of my autographed books) is to share a Christmas memory with me. I have been so blessed reading the stories I've received so far.

Your stories have made me smile and they've brought a few tears. Best of all, I've seen the Christmas spirit shining brightly through so many of your memories and that it is the simple things a lot of you remember with the most love. So thank you for sharing and for letting me share forward by printing some of the stories here (with the writers' permission) on One Writer's Journal between now and Christmas.

Here's one from a J.D., a Vietnam War veteran.
"I have a fond memory from when I was in the Army in Viet Nam, back in 1966-67. I was 19 and feeling quite homesick during the Holiday season, but my spirits, along with many others, were uplifted when I had the terrific opportunity to see a 'Bob Hope Christmas Show.' Mr. Hope was wonderful, as usual, with his great comedic style. And, it was terrific seeing Vic Damone & Joey Heatherton. It indeed made for a special memory."

I remember watching those Bob Hope specials with all the soldiers hanging from whatever they could to get a better view. Bob always came out on stage with his golf club and there were always pretty girls who made the soldiers cheer and whistle. While J.D. doesn't mention the Golddiggers, this group did accompany Bob on several of his U.S.O. tours in Vietnam.

While looking for more information about the U.S.O. visits, I came across the Golddiggers Website where one of the girls, Suzy Cadham shares a poignant memory of a time on Freedom Hill in Da Nang. "We were all on stage closing the show and as far as I could see there were Marines, 20,000 of them, hanging from trees, poles, anything to catch a glimpse of the girls from back home. We looked out on the first rows in front of us, where the patients always sat, with their makeshift IV’s, gurneys, bandages and casts; the wounded, for a precious brief time, laughing and having a good time. As always, Bob closed the show with everyone singing ‘Silent Night’. That day it was raining and we had slickers on over our costumes. Singing that Christmas carol under those conditions, far from home, well, believe me, everyone was crying, not just on stage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house."

Bob knew the soldiers needed to laugh and to see some pretty girls from home. He'd done the same thing during WW II, taking a bit of home to the soldiers when they couldn't come home to their families. And so to all of you who have shared memories (and I'll share more of them here and on my Facebook writer's page too before Christmas) as Bob Hope would say, "Thanks for the memories."

I won't be drawing for the winners until the week after Christmas, so you still have time to join in the fun if you want. All you have to do is send an e-mail from my website or leave a comment or story here with a way to contact you if you win. I've got four prizes. One for those who share a Christmas memory. Another for someone who has never won anything before from me - you have to tell me that to get your name in that drawing. And two more for everybody who enters. So you could have four chances to win. No big prizes - mostly books (for details see my my website Events Page), but you can have fun sharing your memories. And maybe see them here if you're willing to share forward.

Thanks for reading. I'm so blessed with you as reading friends.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Favorite Christmas Memories - Part 1

Christmas is coming and that means sending out greetings to friends. I sent out my Merry Christmas newslettter last week. Of course I had a picture of the grandkids and of course, I threw out a new giveaway. Well, four chances to win. Last year I asked readers to tell me their favorite Christmas gift to make them eligible for a special drawing. That was such fun, I decided to do it again. Only this time it's a favorite Christmas memory.

The stories are pouring in. Beautiful stories that bring a tear and great memories of times when laughs were in order. I'm going to share some of those stories on here before Christmas - with the permission of the storytellers, of course. As one reader said when giving me permission to share her story with you, memories are for sharing.

Some giveaway prizes
Some of you might not be on my newsletter e-mail list, so in case you'd like to join my Christmas giveaway fun, here's the info on what to do to get your name in the hat and what you might win. Send me an e-mail from my website or leave a comment here with a way to get in touch with you in case you win. If you want to join in the fun of sharing a favorite Christmas memory, please do. I'll draw one winner from those of you who do share a favorite story to win a lovely music box that plays "How Great Thou Art" along with your choice of one of my books. Then I always have one drawing for those who have never won anything in my giveaways. (Be sure to tell me that in your e-mail or comment to get your name in that special drawing.)The never won before winner will get Startling Joy, a book of Christmas stories and your choice of my books. The last two chances to win go to anybody who throws his or her name in the hat for the drawings. Those two winners will get one of my books and a copy of The Dog Next Door, a collection of dog stories. My story in the book is titled "A Gift of Love." That has to make a good Christmas giveaway.

So now on to the good part. Here's a story from C.E. about the "Santa beagle" to make you smile. 
"My most memorable Christmas was about 22 years ago. My two sons, one was 10 and the other one was 4. We had a dog named Beaner and when he was a puppy, we taught him how to open Christmas presents with his teeth and paws. He always thought the Santa Beagle was coming at Christmas for him. So one Christmas morning he snuck out into the living room before everyone was up. He must have thought the Santa Beagle had brought every gift for him. When we got up, all the presents had been opened by Beaner. My kids starting crying because they had no presents to open. Beaner had already taken care of that. It just goes to show that Beaner was part of the family and wanted to open presents as much as everyone else. Beaner went to heaven 3 years ago, but he left a sister (Schatzie) who is 6 years old and got to spend 2 years with Beaner and he taught her everything he knew about opening presents from the Santa Beagle. She continues the Christmas tradition. I miss Beaner so much but his memories will last a lifetime. Merry Christmas!"
Then here's one from Vi. that's a lot like one of my own fun Christmas memories. "When I was a kid, there was an older gentleman that would decorate his house (over the top) and dress as Santa for all the kids who used to love it and I was only 3 or 4 and still remember."

My similar memory is a time when we were getting ready to eat on Christmas Eve at my mother's house. We heard a knock on the door and lo and behold, when we opened it up, there was Santa straight from the North Pole. The kids were amazed. The adults knew it was a neighbor, but it was still fun. We laughed and laughed at the looks on the kids' faces"
And finally here's a story from P.C. that made me tear up and remember why every town has Angel trees to try to make sure all our children have a good Christmas.
"Hi, I wanted to share my favorite Christmas memory and that was years ago when I was 7. A social worker came to visit my foster brother and she always had this big warm smile on her face that mometarily made me forget all the problems that were going on . Well, on this day she had a big bag and she pulled a Christmas stocking out of it for each of us with our name printed on it. It was the most unexpected, beautiful present and one of the only ones that all of us got. I still have that stocking and every year I hang it and remember that social worker and how special she made every Christmas from that one and now 49 years later. Thank you for asking and have a Happy Holiday."

Thank you for sharing, P.C. And thank all of you for reading. May each of you have an over abundance of Christmas Spirit. More stories to come on Sunday. And don't forget to share your stories with us too.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Community on Parade

To read the papers and to listen to the would think the country is in terrible trouble. You do not get that impression when you travel the back roads. The small towns do care about their country and wish it well. ~Charles Kuralt

This is a view of my town's Main Street from one of the floats during Saturday's Christmas parade. I wasn't there, so I missed seeing my granddaughter's Girl Scout troop's float win 2nd place. Instead I was in another small town, Perryville, KY. They had a Christmas parade too with sirens blaring and bands drumming and floats scooting along. I was signing my books along with a number of other authors in the midst of a craft bazaar. 

That worked for me. Writing is a craft. A little different from the dolls and jewelry one of the ladies made or the soap and herbal ointments at another table. One lady was making Christmas wreaths. Another had fans and feather looking earrings made out of denim. Yet another had hair ribbons and ponytail holders. Two other women had brooms for sale - raised some of their own broom straw - and an 80 plus gentleman was selling honey. The organizers set the authors up in the midst of all the other crafts. I loved it. And I brought some of their wonderful handwork home with me. A boxwood wreath for my door. A jar of honey for my hubby. Hairbows for one of the grandkids. Cute little skirt purses for some more of the grandkids. Soap and some herbal cures. I did shut my eyes and walk fast past the homemade fudge. The divinity called to me, but I didn't listen. I'd already pigged out on a bag of kettle corn. They were selling that too.    

The man next to me was the Gears & Glass guy, David from Danville, KY. He makes jewelry from old watch pieces and keys. Very unique. He was pretty unique himself with an outfit to catch the eye. A retired teacher, he's now having a good time beginning a new enterprise. If you want to get a closer look at his creations, he has a Facebook page. Just search for the Gears & Glass Guy and you can see some close-ups of his jewelry or as he has on his business card "steampunk accouterments." 

So I had a good day in Perryville. I enjoyed talking to some people about my books and seeing them carry a few of them home with them. Many of the readers were interested in my book, The Seeker, since part of the historical background is the Civil War Battle of Perryville. They celebrate their history in Perryville and host a re-enactment of that Civil War battle every year.  They have community. 

That's one of the best things about small towns - that sense of community. While it was spilling over in Perryville, it was also happening in my town and in hundreds of other little towns all across the country. Christmas parades with floats carrying girl and boy scouts. Brownie troops and Cub Scouts walking the parade route. The local high school bands - in our case just one band. The horseback riders with red ribbons tied to their horses' bridles. The homecoming queen shivering in a fancy dress as she sits on the top of the back seat in an open convertible. The town officials in a car borrowed from one of the car dealers. Senior citizens waving from their van or maybe wrapped in quilts in rocking chairs on a float. The football team on a wagon. And Santa bringing up the rear riding on the fire truck with the siren blasting. With neighbors lining the street, waving at their kids and grandkids in the parade. Community on parade.

Do you live in a little town that has a Christmas parade? What do you like best about your community at Christmas time? 

Thanks for reading. I'll be sending out a newsletter tonight or tomorrow with a new giveaway. If you're not on my newsletter list and want to be, just let me know. I'll tell you all about my Christmas giveaway on Wednesday and post it on my website before the week is gone. Hope you're counting the days down to Christmas with anticipation instead of like me and thinking I'll never get ready. Truth is I don't ever get ready. Christmas just comes and then it's time to enjoy whatever part I managed to get done. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Storytelling Gift

The storytelling gift is innate: one has it or one doesn't. But style is at least partly a learned thing: one refines it by looking and listening and reading and practice - by work.  - Donna Tartt

I was once called a storyteller by a person I respected. I think it was one of the nicest things anybody has ever told me to my face. I want to be a storyteller. I have always wanted to be a storyteller. I like stories whether I'm telling them or I'm listening to them or reading them. In the photo above is my husband and his aunt who has many stories to tell. Not the kind I tell. Her stories are about things she's done, times she's lived through, people she's known. Her father, my husband's grandfather, was an entertaining storyteller. His stories had a basis in fact, but I'm thinking he could embellish with the best of them to make his tales entertaining. Aunt Annie doesn't embellish. She shares from what she's seen in her ninety plus years. My mother was good at doing that too before age related dementia robbed her memory. If only I'd known the right questions to ask sooner. 

The right questions - that's what I'm trying to find the answers to now as I research for my work in progress. Where am I going to take my characters? What was life like in that time? What would they have done, thought, seen? So much to find out. So much to imagine. I've already stumbled upon one major "bridge out" sign. One thing I planned for my character to do wasn't something a person her age was allowed to do. Should I bend the rules and not be totally true to the history of the time? After all, I am writing fiction. But I like to make the historical background of my books as accurate as I can as I look back in time. It was a discouraging discovery that my planned happenings probably couldn't have happened. So now I'm going to have to find a detour, a new way to cross my storytelling river. 

In this picture is one of the next generation of storytellers in the family. Several of my grandchildren show a love of stories. This one's stories spring from the imagination unlike her great aunt's telling of the truth she's lived. Perhaps we all have stories to tell if we can only get someone to listen. Or to read. 

I'm listening and reading and hearing the stories of the past. Now to shape those stories into a past and present for my characters. That is the challenge of storytelling. Fiction with truth in the background.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a storytelling couch at your house and you can ask the right questions to bring the past of your family to life and to help your young ones dream their future.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Every Rock has a Story

"There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly;sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges." ~Ernest Hemingway
I'm writing a new book. The beginning hasn't been easy. The necessary time for working has been hard to squeeze out of my schedule. That's always true during the holiday season. There are always so many things to do - shopping and cooking and wrapping and decorating and cards and Christmas programs and parades and ...well, you get the idea. I'm sure it's the same for you. December brings us many good things to anticipate but it also slams us with lots of expectations. We have to do this or we have to do that. I mean, haven't we always made a fruit cake or a dozen kinds of candy or whatever tradition you want to keep going?

I love traditions at Christmas time. But I've lived enough years to know the best traditions are the fluid ones. The kind that can be adapted and bent to a family's ever changing life. Of course, it's not a tradition that I have to write a story in December. Often that's the month I've had to put my stories on hold for a few weeks. This year my plan was to keep writing, keep pushing out words, give myself a quota of so many pages a day, keep working while squeezing in as many traditions for Christmas as possible.

That's still my plan, but plans have a way of running off track at times. Especially when the words are stubborn, embedded in rock and I'm out of blasting powder. But every rock has a story and with patience and determination, I've chiseled out quite a few stories in my time.

This story is growing in my thoughts, developing even while I'm not thinking about it in that mysterious subconscious. My characters are beckoning me along their story road although I don't think they're quite sure where they're headed. Right now they seem to be hesitating, a bit confused, at every fork in their story road. But isn't that the way life is for all of us? Unknown turns ahead of us. At times we may want to linger in some grassy meadow of pleasure along our life's road, but always we eventually must go on down the road to the next destination. My characters don't have time to linger. They have a story to live and I have to find the words to tell it. And I will. If I have to chisel those words out of the rock of imagination or dip them up out of the well of experience, I will. I am a storyteller. That's what I do.

I hope you have time for all your traditions and to enjoy the wonder of the Christmas season. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Counting My Blessings on Thanksgiving!

There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American. ~O. Henry

Thanksgiving is a great time to pause and think about our blessings. Family is certainly a blessing that has me counting. And grandkids are easy to name in that number. One through nine for us - all beautiful children who can make this grandmother smile. But I'm also thankful for the rest of my family too. My husband, my children and their spouses, my mother and my dad - though he's been gone over 20 years - my sisters, my in-laws and all the others in my extended family. That's one of the good things about living in the same place forever and having family that has done the same. So many great connections and family who are not only related by blood but by love and common experiences. 

My country church
I'm thankful for my church family and for a pastor who is able to open up the Bible and reveal its lessons and truths to me. I'm thankful for the Lord and the many times He has blessed me and forgiven me. I'm thankful for all the everyday blessings of life - blue skies and rain, flowers and trees, hummingbirds and snowbirds, breaks in the traffic when I'm merging onto a busy interstate, a car that starts when I turn the key, a child's smile, a baby's first giggle, a dog's wagging tail - just to name a few. So many little gifts of life to enjoy and appreciate. 

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

Coming February 2012
So this Thanksgiving Day I want to be conscious of my treasures. I can't leave out the blessing of being able to live my dream of writing books and seeing them published for readers to share my stories. Each book a blessing. Each reader a blessing too. I thank all of you who have read my books or who peek in here at my journal from time to time. I am thankful for each of you. And for a new book to come in the new year and for the unknown blessings it may bring me in the months to come.

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. ~Native American Saying

So may you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving Day with many unknown blessings headed your way. As always, thanks for reading. Oh, and for those of you who didn't know the way I didn't know, saleratus means baking soda. A saleratus biscuit is a soda biscuit - the kind my mother used to make every day for breakfast.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Lifetime Commitment

 A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year. ~Paul Sweeney

My husband and I celebrated our anniversary yesterday. In rather laid back ways. No big trips or dinners. We went to Louisville to walk in the St. Jude Give Thanks. Walk. That was to support St. Jude Hospital that has done so much for my little great niece who has leukemia but is now in remission. This walk is a fundraiser the whole family takes part in to raise money for the hospital so they can keep helping children like Kaelyn. Then Darrell's group sang at a community center for a Thanksgiving dinner. The night before our anniversary we went to a booksigning of four writer friends. So I guess our weekend was full of the things we both love - family, books, and singing. 

 A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time. ~Anne Taylor Fleming

We've been married forever. Well maybe not forever in the sense of history forever, but nearly forever in our own history. The battered and well worn picture above was taken the first year we started dating. We were at an amusement park with a church group and ducked into one of those little booths they used to have where you put in your coins and the machine spit out a strip of photos. Probably the very first picture of us together. We were both so young. And here's a recent picture. A lot of water under the bridge between the two photos. A lot of good times, a few hard times. 

Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years. ~Simone Signoret

That's how life goes. Many threads of life connecting us. It's the same with a book when I'm writing. I have to come up with those threads of life to make my story and people come to life. Of course I have to give my characters plenty of hard times because while happily ever after might make a good ending, happily the whole book through doesn't make for enough conflict to keep readers interested. Characters need problems to solve. 

Hope the threads connecting you with your loved ones this week are threads of happiness. Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lesson of the Garbage Truck

Is it really Friday? What happened to Wednesday? I think I missed it this week. I must have been looking to the right when it slid by on my left. As some people have been known to say, "Bless her heart!" In Southern lingo, that means "Poor thing, she's losing it."

And so Wednesday passed and I forgot my post to my friends here on the great, wide web. I could make up excuses. Let's see. How about I'm trying to get started on a new book and that has my head in another place and time where I think it's Saturday? Certainly not Wednesday. Or how about that I'm back and forth between my house and Mom's so much I don't know what place I'm in, much less what day it is? Or it could be the problem is that I actually did some Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. That has to mean the sun and moon are out of alignment and it's no wonder I can't remember what day it is. Or how about this one? The days whizzed by so fast they made me dizzy. It had to be Wednesday's fault, don't you think?

Whoever or whatever was at fault, I did remember that we had a Wednesday this week. And since it's less than a week before Thanksgiving, I thankful for that Wednesday and every day that gives me more opportunity to enjoy the world, to write my stories, to talk to friends. And to ignore the garbage trucks of the world. Where did that come from, I'm sure you're asking.

So here's a little story I came across as I was looking for something to put in my church bulletin. I can't forget there's a Sunday coming!  The author on the piece is unknown, but it could be any of us learning this lesson of the garbage truck.

     "One day I hopped into a taxi and headed for the airport. We were driving along when a black car pulled out of a parking space directing in front of the taxi. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes and barely managed to miss the other car. The driver of the car looked around and started yelling at the taxi driver, but the driver just smiled and waved in an honestly friendly way.
    So I asked him, "How could you wave so friendly like that? That guy almost hit us." That's when the taxi driver taught me what I now call, "The Lesson of the Garbage Truck."
    He explained that a lot of people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage - frustration, anger, and disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they dump it on you. Don't take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't pick up their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home or on the streets.
    The bottom line is that successful people don't let garbage trucks take over their day. Life's too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so: Love the people who treat you right. Pray for the ones who don't and love them too. Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it! Have a blessed, garbage-free day!"

Hope you don't meet any "garbage trucks" this week and that you will have a sunshine filled and happy day. We can also spread the sunshine to all those we meet. That's why I put the above photo with this. This sunset was lovely, but I almost didn't take the picture. I thought the light lines and traffic lights would spoil the beauty of the scene. But the beautiful sun sinking behind some clouds was still there. I had to choose what I concentrated my gaze on. Isn't that what we do every day? Choose to see the beauty. Work to make our worlds more beautiful.

Thanks for reading. Maybe Sunday won't sneak past me without me noticing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stories from Book Fairs

One of the best things about book fairs are the people you meet. Yesterday the Kentucky Book Fair seemed very well attended. So well that at times people were unable to freely walk between the rows of tables. I'd like to say the aisle got so congested in front of my table because of the lines waiting to grab one of my books, but that might be stretching things a bit. But I did have a lot of readers and friends stop by. Got to do a lot of talking. More than my granddaughter behind me wanted to hear from the look on her face in this picture.

Here I'm getting ready to sign a book for someone. It was probably a person I was supposed to know and I couldn't think of her name. I may have been acting cool and asking how to spell her name and she was saying S-u-e. Not really, but I can imagine that happening to me one of these days at a book signing. I sometimes go absolutely blank on names at the worst times. I did that yesterday for one friend. I was saved by the fact she didn't buy my book. Now, was that good or maybe bad? Whichever, I didn't have to be embarrassed by asking her name when I've known her since we were both kids. 

I didn't have too many unusual stories yesterday. I did have people coming back to see me from years past. A few that have come every year since I had The Scent of Lilacs there in 2005. (Thanks Beth and Julie and Sherry.) That's always encouraging. I had a lot of people looking at my books and then buying them for their mothers. Or great aunts. I have to bite my tongue to keep from pointing out that younger people can read my books too. 

But since I'm talking about older readers, I did have one beautiful 93 year old reading friend come by my table to get my book. She grew up in the same little community as my mother and I think she's still trying to sort out which parts of Angel Sister are based on true happenings. I tell her only the background of the story, but she's not wanting to believe that. She's wanting to skip back through her childhood in the pages of the book. And why not? That's what books can do for us. Take us on an adventure in living.

Probably the cutest story I've ever carried home from a book fair, was the one where the husband brought his wife to the fair as a surprise anniversary destination. He'd even bought her one of my books before they got to the fair since, never having attended a book fair before, he didn't realize the books would be available on site. His wife was so happy she sparkled - she felt that loved. 

And isn't that what most all of us want? To be loved enough that someone will make the extra effort to give us a day to remember. To have someone know us that well. That's all we want. That and oh yes, of course a good book. 

Book fairs - always days to remember. Do you like book fairs? Do you have a hard time deciding which books to buy? I had several of those stop by my table. Can a fast talking author get you to carry home a book you didn't really plan to buy?

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a wonderful week.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Counting the Years at the KY Book Fair

The Kentucky Book Fair is celebrating writers and books again this Saturday, November 12, for the 30th year. There's a great article about the Fair in the Frankfort State Journal today talking about how it got started and naming over some of the famous writers who have signed books there. Kentucky Book Fair: Still Going Strong 

A few names most would recognize are former first lady Rosalyn Carter, Hall of Fame baseball legend Mickey Mantle, humorist Erma Bombeck, David Eisenhower, grandson of the late president, track star Carl Lewis, basketball legend "Pistol Pete" Maravich, and Kentucky native, Barbara Kingsolver with her first book Bean Trees. So you never know what new writers destined for fame you might meet at a book fair. 

Of course the fair always has a row of Kentucky historians, but one of the perennial favorites for many of the thirty years of the fair was Thomas D. Clark. You couldn't meet a nicer man than Dr. Clark. He was always interested in the people talking to him. He died a few years ago at the age of 101.  

I don't know how many years I've been privileged to attend the KY Book Fair. One of their main criteria is that the authors have a new book each year. I don't think I was there for their first event, but I went for several years straight in the 1980s with my young adult books. Sometimes sold out of books by early afternoon. Then I missed several fairs when I had those lean years without a new book until The Scent of Lilacs was published in 2005. Now I've had the fun of going to the Book Fair every year since. Some of the same readers come back to see me year after year and one of these days I may even remember their names. I need to keep cheat sheets because I do remember their faces. And often recognize those names when they graciously tell me who they are - again. 

Betty Mae Hodges and me at KY Book Fair 2010
It's also fun getting to know the writers who sit next to me or behind me or across from me. One year, I think with my second Hollyhill book, Orchard of Hope, I sat between a true crime writer and a woman whose book explained how to use Tarot Cards. That was an interesting year! A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to share a table with Jan Watson, a very popular Christian writer from Lexington. Christian writers seem to have a way of embracing one another as friends from the first hello and that was certainly true with Jan and me. Last year I was seated with Betty Mae Hodges signing a memoir of her grandmother,  The Red Can. This year I'm going to get to know a new writer, but I  know we'll have stories to share. 

But as always the same as at any book signing, fair, book event, the best part is getting to talk to readers. Those of you who follow my on-line journal know that's something I love to do - talk. Whether it's with my fingers here or in person. If you're in the area, I hope you'll come talk to me face to face at the Kentucky Book Fair Saturday. I'd love to meet you if I haven't already, and if I have already, I'd love to talk books with you again. 

Thanks for reading. I do very much appreciate each of you.                    

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Making Time

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in."  (Henry David Thoreau)

How we do talk about time! We save it. We waste it. We beg for it. We need it. We wish for it. If I only had more time, we're wont to say. With time, I could do so much more, we promise. Where did the time go, we ask. And the truth is time hasn't gone anywhere different than it has since the beginning of time. It ticks by. Each second irretrievably gone as it makes way for the next second to follow.

Leonardo da Vinci said, "Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it." He certainly used his time to make a place in history. Perhaps that was part of his genius - the mastery of his time.

But these days, we are so sure we can make time that we even add and subtract hours. Last night we added back the hour we subtracted last spring. That's what has me thinking about time. That and the fact that lately a question surfaces in my mind several times every day. How much time do I have? Not the big question of how many days I have left here on earth, but the little question of whether I have enough time to do this or that task before I must do this or that other thing.  

Time has been something I've seemed to have in short supply lately. Of course, that's not true. The time in my days is the same. It's the use of my time that is giving me troubles. Perhaps this quote explains my problem. "Time is like a handful of sand - the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers." (Unknown author)

I don't have as much available to work time as I did before my mother began walking through her confusing valley of dementia. But I still have time enough if I could only reach for that time with determined patience and not worry that it won't be time enough. Then again, who among us knows if we'll have time enough? And time enough for what? Perhaps that is the question we need to answer first. What is it that we want? Tomorrow when we look back on today are we going to be pleased with our spent time?

I know you've heard people say use it or lose it. But with time it passes whether we use it or simply let it slide past. So here's one last quote from A.A. Milne that I'm hoping will inspire me as I come up with a new schedule for working in the weeks ahead. "Time is swift, it races by; Opportunities are born and die...Still you wait and will not try-A bird with wings who dares not rise and fly."

Do I have enough time? I suppose only time will tell. But I don't want to be the bird with wings who dares not rise and fly.

What do you think about time? Do you have time enough for the things you want to do? My wish for you is that joy will fill the hour glass of your life. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Judging a Book by the Cover

One of the most exciting parts of getting a book published is seeing the cover that the publisher's art department creates to represent your story. I really like the cover for my new book releasing in February. The girl looks like Adriane in the book and I love the city backdrop. The story is set in 1855 Louisville and I think the cover shows the historical setting well. What do you think?

Book covers have trends. For several years, the popular chick lit books all had feet or legs of the character model. Many historicals in the inspirational field showed the model in whatever pose but only from the shoulders down. No face. Some readers prefer that. They want to come up with the character's looks on their own and not be distracted by an actual photograph that might have a model who doesn't look the way they envision a character in the book. Lately a lot of books have had the head of one of the characters - sometimes both male and female characters - sort of super-imposed on the background. Then along came those books that hardly had pictures on them at all and only the title shown in a dramatic way. So many ways to make a book cover.

How that cover comes about is a question I get at a lot of the talks about writing that I do. People will ask who did I get to do the cover or did I do the cover. They are very curious about the process. Most publishers work hard to present a book with a great cover. That's because the cover is the first enticement to a reader when a book is there on the store shelf with dozens of other books. A great title helps too, and of course, many readers pick by the writer's name if they've read and liked previous books by her or him. But readers enjoy finding new writers, new books. That's when that first impression is so important. 

My current publisher, Revell Books, comes up with eye-catching covers that capture the spirit of the book. While I would have never thought of using the cover they did for Angel Sister, it was perfect. Lorena was plucked right out of the pages of my book and she has the perfect look on her face as she's looking up at her "angel sister." That cover attracted a lot of readers' eyes and I think encouraged some of them to give my story a try. By the way, I just got some good news that Angel Sister was picked as one of RT Book Reviews Top Inspirational Novels of 2011.  That has me smiling, but then every time somebody has told me they enjoyed reading my story about the Merritt family, I've been smiling. 

Then one last book cover. Everybody knows the Amish fiction is very popular with readers in the inspirational market right now. And those covers usually have a model wearing a bonnet of some sort. My Shaker books aren't a lot like the Amish fiction because the Shakers were quite a bit different from the Amish, but the Shaker girls on the covers attract the eyes of those who enjoy Amish fiction. I'm grateful that many of them have also enjoyed the Shaker stories. So here's my new cover for The Gifted that will be out next summer. A few sites have given a peek at the cover and it's out there on the internet bookselling sites, but this is the first time I've put it out for eyes to see. 

What do you think? Do you like the cover? Does a great cover make you pick up a book to read?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fan Letters

"Hands down, the biggest thrill is to get a letter from a kid saying, I loved your book. Will you write me another one?" (Kate DiCamillo) 

Have you ever written an author a fan letter? When I first started writing back before the internet made communication instant and easy, I would get a few letters from readers sent to the publisher and then forwarded on to me. I got the most letters while I was writing my young adult fiction. A few times, a teacher would read one of my books to her class and then every child in her class wrote me a letter telling what he or she liked about the book. Such fun to read those letters and imagine the children listening to my stories and being introduced to the fun of reading. 

Now that I'm writing inspirational fiction for adults, I still get the occasional old fashioned letter from a reader, but more often I get e-mails from readers who contact me from my website. And I enjoy every one of those e-mails. Well, almost every one of them. Sometimes a reader takes me to task for some part of my book they didn't like or a mistake or mess-up I made. It's good to have readers to keep me straight. So even those e-mails can make me smile.

But my smile is a little broader when the readers are telling me they "couldn't put my book down." Or one man said I'd helped him discover the fun of reading again. Another reader told me that she did put my book down in order to go look up a Bible story my character mentioned. Fun fan letters or e-mails to get.

Back when I was writing the young adult fiction, I once had a young reading friend who wrote me like a pen pal. I wonder about her sometimes now that she's grown up. One thing I certainly never expected with the books I'm currently writing was to get a fan letter from a ten-year-old boy, but I did. Not a letter through the mail or an e-mail either. This kid was at one of the churches where my husband's group was singing a few weeks ago. I didn't get to be there because I have to sit with Mom on most Sundays now. But Chandler told my husband that he'd read every one of my Shaker books and then he found some paper to write me a note that Darrell forgot to give me. I stumbled across the note last week and of course, it made me smile and wish I'd been there to meet my young fan. 

Words can encourage or they can wound. Letters or e-mails from readers are usually encouraging to me. Chandler's note certainly was. I'm encouraged any time someone writes me and tells me he or she has read my books and are praying for me. One reader said she prayed for every author when she opened up his or her book. What a powerful gift to give someone she'd never actually met in person!

So thank all of you for your encouragement and for reading my words. And if you've ever sent me an e-mail or made a comment here, I promise to do my best to answer you. One thing you can know for sure. If you've ever written an author to tell that writer  you liked his or her book, you made someone smile. No doubt about it.