Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Books by Pamela Tracy

It's the last day of 2013.

At the end of each year, I always look for a decent top ten bestselling books list.  Some lists just make me shake my head.  Obviously, the list maker was not a reader.  Or, possibly the list maker had an agenda. This year, the list comes from Barnes and Noble and they had the good sense to just list the ones that really did well.  I'm so pleased that two YA books made it.

Two years ago, I'd read 8 of the 10.  Last year, I'd only managed 2.  This year, I must have been busy.  I didn't read any.

So, here they are:

1.  Inferno by Dan Brown
2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
3.  Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander
4.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
6.  The House of Hades by Rick Riorden
7.  Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
8.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
9.  Looking for Alaska by John Green
10.  Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly

I may not have read any of them, but I did take my eight year old to the public library to hear Jeff Kinney speak.  I own Diary of a Wimpy Kid, too, but it's above my son's reading level, (we started it) so we're waiting to read it.  I'm pretty sure I have a Rick Riorden waiting, too.  See, I read aloud to my son each evening, and these books appeal to me.

I remember the Great Gatsby from college.  My memory of it was SKIM, mostly because as a coed reading wasn't my favorite thing to do (probably the only time of my life that was true).  Maybe I should try it again.

I meant to get Gone Girl, Proof of Heaven, and Killing Kennedy.  I have gift cards, so maybe I will.

I'm amazed that there are two books by John Green, and I've never heard of them or him.  So, obviously he bears attention.  The one that sounds most like me would be Looking for Alaska.

I read Dan Brown's first blockbuster.  It didn't make me run to buy his next.  But, he's number one.  So, what do you think?  Should I read it?  I really want to know.

So, did you read any of the top ten?  And which ones appeal to you?

Happy New Year!

Pamela Tracy's next Heartwarming is What Janie Saw is a May 2014 release.  Her August 2013 Katie's Rescue is still available.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking Back and Letting Go by Melinda Curtis

I confess.  As a working mom, I was a Pillsbury Crescent Roll addict.  We always had them on hand.

Need to bring snacks to a soccer after-party?  Why not pups-in-a-blanket made with Little Smokies and Crescents?

Need a people-pleasing breakfast without a lot of fuss? Why not ham and cheese breakfast quiche with a Crescent crust?

Need to add something to the meal?  Make some flaky Crescents!

But now my kids are gone and Mr. Curtis was told he needs to lose weight.  What had to go?  Crescents!  Nooooooooooooo!  In point of fact, most bread had to go and my husband's favorite pre-packaged cupcakes.  And soda.  And chips.  And homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Sigh.  What did I get instead?  Pistachios.  Almonds.  Cashews.  Every time we wanted bread or chips or cookies we had a handful of nuts instead.  Nuts became a staple in our shopping cart.  Not decadent.  Not sexy.  But it helped us both lose 10+ pounds.

But this holiday season, bread came back!  Sourdough, pumpernickel, whole wheat enrobed in nuts.  There was some soda.  Some chips.  Even some homemade cookies.  The carb load was lazily fantastic.

Why censor ourselves?  It was vacation, right?

But vacation ends on January 2...The kids are returning to college with the leftover soda, chips, cookies, and cupcakes.  We had purchased a 4-pack of Pillsbury Crescents for the holiday and tonight I'm using the last roll.  And then it's back to nuts.

So I ask you, what did you give up this past year?  And why?  Or what are you planning to give up in 2014?  And why? 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Advice from Nelson Mandela - Muriel Jensen

This is a quote I include in class packets when I teach.  I've typed it up and framed it for gifts, and have it posted in my office so that I remember it.  I'm from the generation where children were "seen and not heard," and where even good, loving parents taught you to keep a low profile, to not aim too high, in the interest of minimizing life's disappointments.

Well, I've discovered on my own that life works best when you put everything you have into it, heart wide open, fearless, and aim so high the Hubble Telescope can spot you.  These words should carry all of us into 2014.

From Nelson Mandela:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, whom am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you NOT to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the World.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
As we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Upcoming release and giveaway! by Rula Sinara

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas yesterday and the weather didn't keep anyone from spending it with family. Traveling can be very stressful when the conditions aren't right...and sometimes those conditions have nothing to do with the ice or snow.

They say that the people we care deeply for (or love, for those willing to admit it) are the ones who can hurt us the most. They're the people we open our hearts to, lower our guard for and share our hopes and weaknesses with. We're vulnerable with those we love. And that can lead to deep, aching emotional wounds, which can make us apprehensive about reconnecting with loved ones, like family, during the holidays. But that kind of connection can also be so magically embedded in our hearts...sometimes in our DNA...that all it takes is a drop of forgiveness...

In my January debut, The Promise of Rain, Dr. Anna Bekker makes a trip she has dreaded for five years. One where she'll not only have to face the family and friends she left behind, but a trip that could also lead to losing her elephant sanctuary...and custody of her child.


He wants to take her child out of Africa...

The Busara elephant research and rescue camp on Kenya's Serengeti is Anna Bekker's life's work. And it's the last place she thought she'd run into Dr. Jackson Harper. As soon as he sets eyes on her four-year-old, Pippa, Anna knows he'll never leave...without his daughter.

Furious doesn't begin to describe how Jack feels. How could Anna keep this from him? He has to get his child back to the States. Yet as angry as he is with Anna, they still have a bond. But can it endure, despite the ocean—and the little girl—between them?


Only 1 week left until the January Harlequin Heartwarming stories release! In celebration of both the New Year and my debut, I'm giving away a $15 Amazon.com gift card (see Amazon.com for rules and restrictions), a copy of The Promise of Rain (print or ebook, winner's choice), a bookmark, pen and a baby elephant Plush Pal (in honor of the baby elephants Anna rescues). 

Leave a comment to be entered in a random drawing for one winner. The winner will be announced here this evening, so be sure to check back or leave a way to be contacted. 


Be sure to check out my blog, A Writer's Rush, website, or Twitter for more release events, blog visits and giveaways in the near future! I'll be listing my January schedule soon. Stay tuned for my visit to Harlequin's sytycwSOLD! blog and an article on my journey to becoming a writer, which will appear in Harlequin's February edition of Simply Books magazine for subscribers.

Next week, I'll be at the lovely Jennifer Shirk's Me, My Muse and I blog on Monday, Dec 30th and on January 1st...New Year's Day and Release Day!!!...I'll be on USA Today's Happy Ever After blog's 'Three Things' and I'll be hosting another giveaway on my blog, A Writer's Rush. I'd love it if you find time to visit :). 

In the meantime...leave a comment and get entered in today's giveaway!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Heartwarming Authors!

"May your days be filled with peace, happiness and great stories to share with loved ones. Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a healthy and love filled New Year!"  
--Rula Sinara 

"Wishing you all a joyous Christmas filled with love and family, and a New Year that promises happiness and health."
- Karen Rock

Feliz Navidad from New Mexico! 
Aimée and David Thurlo

Wishing you and yours all the joy, love and peace of The Season, with a new year full of happiness, health and hope! Merry Christmas!  
Cynthia Reese

Merry Christmas!  Hope your day is full of blessings and hugs.  
Pamela Tracy    

I wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and a New Year chocked full of all things wonderful.  Which includes—hot chocolate, a warm corner, and a stack of good books to read.  
Roz Denny Fox
To our wonderful Heartwarming readers, may you have a blessed Christmas and a very prosperous New Year.
- Tara Randel
Merry Christmas to you and your family. You are the reason we love what we do. Let's have a wonderful year in 2014!  
Syndi Powell

May today, and all the days of the upcoming year, be merry and bright!  
Melinda Curtis
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our readers! Thank you for supporting us over here at Harlequin Heartwarming. We look forward to bringing your more stories in 2014. xoxo, 
Amy Vastine

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


The name Christmas Tree Pass brings up many images, and they’re mostly  incorrect. I’ve been down this dirt road west of Laughlin, Nevada, on the way to Las Vegas, at least a half dozen times and never saw a typical evergreen Christmas tree. It’s not a road you’d take a normal car over, although there’s always a few people without common sense who try. On one occasion, we pulled out a vehicle from the soft dirt on the edge of the road. Lucky for them we came along, because I’ve gone the entire distance without coming across any other vehicles. Nor are there any buildings along the twelve deserted miles.

But it’s a beautiful ride. In this picture you can see the desolation.

In warmer weather, I’ve seen a rattlesnake curled in the middle of the road, sunning itself. Desert turtles lumber through the area along with all sorts of small rodents, fodder for the hawks that circle above us.

Last year, when my daughter and I traveled the road in her all-wheel vehicle, I learned at least one reason for the name. Some of the low trees and bushes were decorated with Christmas balls and different trims. One had strings of popcorn that several tiny creatures happily devoured.


           It was a true delight to see how many different ways people had used to bring the few travelers who came down this road some happiness.

My thanks to the many people who added this pleasure to my trip.

May you have a truly wonderful Christmas. 


Monday, December 23, 2013

At the last minute

First, let me introduce myself. I’m Cheryl Harper, a new Heartwarming author (A Minute on the Lips, coming February 2014), and I’m so happy to have a chance to blog here today. Right now, preparing for Christmas with my family is on my mind. How many times have I answered the same question over the past week? “Are you ready?” Most of the time, I shrug and nod in a “What are you gonna do?” kind of way. Because Christmas is a deadline with no wiggle room, right? The real answer is “No.” I’m not ready. I’m still finding my Christmas spirit.

True confession: as I get older, I seem to be losing my ability to be on time. When I was young, fifteen minutes early was on time and anything after that was late. Time-to-panic late. Now, unless I’m in an airport where I must be an hour early or die, I find myself racing to be on time too much and late often enough that it only causes mild discomfort, not panic. That might be one of the silver linings to getting older: less energy to panic.

This year my Christmas spirit has been on a very slow build. Because I’m a planner, I’ve still made logical lists and crossed them off one by one so I have everything in place (EARLY!), but I’ve been missing that glow. I wish I could blame book deadlines or a heavy work load, but it’s really just me. Now I can see that bells ringing and Santa Claus coming to town don’t wipe away the worries, hurts, and fears of the other eleven months so I have to look harder to find the twinkle.

I’ve always loved the holidays. I’m a fan of over the top, so the decorations, the parties, the food are something to look forward to. This year, it’s taken a little more time, but with every ornament exchange, lunch with my friends, random act of kindness I read about, and card I open, I’m getting it. When I look at the ornament that was my favorite growing up and now hangs on my tree, I remember decorating the tree with my mother and the promise of Christmas morning. It’s a good reminder of where the spirit comes from: love and family and gifts that cost little but mean so much. To me, Christmas has always been about hope. And I want that even if I have to pursue it. I might wish the holiday spirit had hit the day after Thanksgiving, but I’m happy to see it grow even if it is at the last minute.

Friday, December 20, 2013

5 short days until Christmas by Roz Denny Fox

I don’t want to panic anyone, but the clock is ticking. I’m sighing a huge sigh of relief because I managed to get everything shipped off to my family by the postal suggested date of December 10. That includes birthday gifts for my twin granddaughters, their birthday was on the 10th. My eldest daughter’s birthday is today, in fact. Writing this blog takes me back to when she was born. Denny was in the Marine Corps and had been transferred from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, to the Marine Corps Air Station in Southern California. Because there was no hospital on base I was assigned a civilian doctor who took military patients. I was young, in a new place, and Denny was being shot off to parts unknown at a moment’s notice. Our first baby was due around Christmas.

I didn’t like the doctor. He was gruff and smoked cigars that made me sick. He wasn’t an OB/Gyn—the Marine Corps didn’t have one on the roster.

I started labor on the 18th. My water broke but I wasn’t making progress. The doctor said I should walk up and down the halls of the hospital. The nice thing—it was a fairly new hospital and the staff was compassionate. I kept laboring to no avail. Early on the 19th the doctor decided to give me a shot of Oxytocin because he wanted to speed up my labor so he could go on vacation.  Late that day he ordered a second dose. I can tell you still, the pain was terrific. Thankfully Denny flew in from Japan.

By the 20th I wasn’t doing well, although a nurse said I’d made a little progress. The doctor ordered me set up for delivery. I’m not sure what happened after we all arrived in the delivery room, sans Denny. (Back then they didn’t allow husbands at a birth.)

The doctor said he’d use forceps. I don’t know what he did, but I remember feeling faint. I remember hearing a nurse say she was losing fetal heart tone and my blood pressure was thready. I’d been a medical record technician and medical transcriptionist, so in some part of my mind I knew it wasn’t going well. Then the doctor said, “I can’t deliver this woman.” And he didn’t.

I later learned in bits and pieces that he literally threw up his hands and walked out of the delivery room. One nurse stepped into the hall and luckily snagged a well-known OB/Gyn who was sauntering past. He came in, took a look, said: “they’ve let this go too long to do a c-section, but put this woman out, I’ll have scrub up and turn this baby ASAP.”

And he did. Kelly was a footling breech with the cord wrapped around her neck once. Every contraction jerked her up instead of letting her head down the birth canal.

What I know is the doctor who delivered her didn’t get paid a cent. The military had already paid an up-front charge to the derelict doctor. The good man said he didn’t want anything, and to just tell me Merry Christmas, and enjoy my miracle baby.

A nurse relayed all of this before I was allowed to go home on Christmas morning. Denny had found time to put up a tree in our little mobile home; a 3 ft silver tree that Kelly still has, though it’s seen a lot of miles.

In fact, neither Denny nor I were savvy enough to sue that doctor. We felt blessed to have our first baby, who on this December 20th is a beautiful, talented, kind woman, and a wonderful mother herself.

There were some good things that happened back then. She was the 100th baby born in the hospital. They gave us a photograph plan along with a gorgeous leather album. And because they listed her birth in the local paper, including her name, Kelly Fox, the radio station in the area with call letters KFOX, swooped in and gave us a complete layette, a convertible stroller and a lot of other gifts. I haven’t thought about this in a long time. But I continue to believe that Christmastime is a season of miracles.   

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Countdown Continues...by Tara Randel

Is it Christmas time already? 

I just finished a book deadline and let me tell you, there were no Christmas decorations in my house until Tuesday. In an odd sort of way, I enjoyed decorating a little bit later in the month. I’ve never been one to decorate right after cleaning up my Thanksgiving meal, although there are plenty of people who can’t wait to finish off the pumpkin pie so they can put up their tree. There is plenty of excitement early on in the season this way.

But as I pulled out the boxes of snowmen and holiday cheer to decorate, I had a pleasant day. No stress. No hurrying. No where to be. I took my time for the first time in years. I think I might start a new tradition.

As for another new tradition, I downloaded some Christmas books as a present to myself. Maybe my stress-free zone has allowed me to sit back and enjoy reading this season. The books I’ve read so far have been wonderful. I’ve been able to sit back with a good book, hot tea and become immersed in the holiday season.

I’d like to wish you all a very, Merry Christmas. Enjoy time with your family and friends. Take a moment to remember the Reason for the Season. I look forward to another awesome year with my fellow Heartwarming authors and incredible readers. You guys are the best!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One week until Christmas - The Season of LIES

Christmastime is often referred to as the season of giving. Some may call it the season of joy.  In my house, I refer to it as the season of lies.

I don't know about you, but I lie a good half a dozen times a day. And I am damn good at it, too.
Some of you may be appalled. Disappointed in me, at least. Lying isn't the first thing you think of when discussing the holiday spirit.  But if you are a parent of a child under the age of, let's say ... ten, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

My nine year old, who is probably enjoying his last Christmas a true believer, has decided to make me an even bigger liar than I've been for the last thirteen years.  He came home from school one day begging for an Elf on the Shelf.
Everyone in his class has one.  Everyone gets presents and candy from theirs.  Everyone has these hilarious stories to share about how naughty or funny their elf is.  His best selling point was this - "You won't have to do a single thing, Mom. The elf flies to the North Pole every night to tell Santa if I'm good and then hides himself and brings me candy. You don't even have to buy it! He brings it from the North Pole!"


As if hiding gifts until Christmas morning isn't stressful enough (you should see what's being stored in the trunk of my husband's car), now I have to move this elf around every day and make it clever AND buy more candy?

But how can I say no when he makes that kind of case for having one? Like I said, this is probably his last true-believer year. I had already lucked out and missed the first thirteen days of this nonsense. So, what did I do? What any good sucker mother would do. I bought one. Ours is named Buddy. The first night, Buddy chose something simple. He hid in the pantry, drinking syrup.
I'd like to take this moment to thank every mom out there who has nothing better to do than think up a million different ways to hide their elf, take pictures of it, and pin it on Pinterest. You've been both an inspiration and the death of me. I hope you're happy.

My son was almost stumped that first morning. He came in my room bright and early to inform me Buddy was a really good hider. We came downstairs and I encouraged him to pack his lunch and look for Buddy in his older brother's room after his brother woke up. He actually stood in the pantry a good minute or two before he noticed the thing was hanging there right in front of his face! But he was thrilled to have a story to share at school that day.

Cue Day 2. My thirteen year old decided at 9:30 that night that he wanted to help. His brother had gone to bed and he wanted to be in charge of moving the elf. Having already scoped out Pinterest for the day, I informed him my plan was for Buddy to zipline across the family room. He was all over that. He strung some twine across the room, hung Buddy, and marveled at his excellent execution of my idea.

Until his brother was standing at the bottom of the stairs, rubbing his eyes and complaining about not being able to sleep.
For some reason, my gut reaction was to run and hide. So, that's what my oldest and I did. Unfortunately, that left my husband on the couch with the elf dangling above his head. The little one mumbled something about daydreaming and ran upstairs to get his glasses because his eyes must have been deceiving him. While my oldest and I silently fretted over what to do, my husband continued to watch TV, completely unfazed (must be nice!)

The little one returned, horrified.  "WHAT IS BUDDY DOING ON THAT STRING?" My husband tried to play dumb, at least I think he was playing, but my true believer would have none of it. No one was supposed to touch the elf. It said so in the book that came with him.

My oldest, having learned from the master, decided to do what every caught-red-handed parent has done. He lied. He stepped out of the room where we were hiding and took the blame. He claimed he was watching a show about ziplines and wanted to make one. Buddy was the only thing he could think of to use. He was very convincing.

After the nine year old yelled and cried that the magic had been lost, we sent both boys to bed - the older one properly scolded for touching the elf "without permission" and the younger assured an email would be sent to Santa explaining the mistake.

The zipline was dismantled and I had to come up with another idea. Since my older son had so brilliantly taken the fall, I decided to keep that theme going. That led to this ...
Buddy defaced all of my oldest's photos with devil horns, mustaches, and the word NAUGHTY. It was perfect. The little one was very impressed with Buddy's handwriting and so thankful the magic was still working.

The next two days went much smoother. Buddy played poker with some of the stuffed animals (my husband thought I spent too much time on the inappropriate Elf on the Shelf sites that day) and he brought some M&Ms and hung from the foyer chandelier (Mom couldn't possibly gone shopping for candy in the middle of the night!)

Needless to say, it has been exactly as stressful as I thought it was going to be. I have lied more than I ever thought possible. I have encouraged my older children to lie and even threatened to withhold gifts from my daughter who wants to tell the truth SO badly she can barely stand it.

At the same time, my youngest son has never been happier. He hops out of bed every morning with that twinkle in his eyes, excited to see where Buddy is and what he's up to. He can't wait to go to school and tell his friends where his elf was found. And the look on his face when he tells me about Buddy's antics are worth every white lie I've ever told. The innocence and the love of Christmas magic is something we only get to truly experience for such a short period of time in our lives. I hope he remembers how it felt so he can grow up to be as good of a liar as his dear old mom.

Do you have a Christmas magic story to share? Comment with the biggest lie you've told or been told this time of year and you could win a copy of my book, The Weather Girl and I'll even throw in one of these fun little ornaments. One commenter will be chosen at random.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Eight Days to Go... Go Shopping!!

Pamela Tracy here, and it's Christmas time at my house.  Yup, oh yup.

So, my eight year old was invited to a birthday party last Friday night and then to stay the night.  Hubby and I decided romantic dinner out and then Christmas shopping.

Eight year old got grounded.  Missed birthday party.

Hubby and I decided that while eight year old was in school yesterday, we'd do lunch at nice but not  romantic restaurant and then Christmas shop.

Sunday night my son complained of an ear ache.  Soon, he announced that his ear was broken.  Should I mention that he'd played all day with no complaint.  At about 11 p.m. he woke us up weeping.

At midnight Hubby and I are in the emergency room hearing the words "rip-roaring ear infection and ruptured eardrum."

We held our son, went to a 24 hour pharmacy, and then returned home.  We looked at the calendar.  There were no more shopping opportunities between his work and mine.  None, nada, nein.

So, babysitter Grandpa to the rescue!

Hubby and I got all our shopping done in two hours and ate at the food court.  Btw, although our son wants the brown dog that poohs playdough, we did not buy it.  LOL

<sigh>  I love being a wife and mom.

I love Christmas.

So, are you done with your shopping?

Monday, December 16, 2013

I must confess ... By Cynthia Reese

I'm going out on a limb here and confessing that I hate the movie CHRISTMAS VACATION. 

Okay, all of you Chevy Chase fans out there who grew up adoring the movie have probably left, and now I'm surrounded by like-minded people.

It's not that the movie isn't funny. Because in a weird to slap-sticky way, it is.

But it's just too painful. I can't even root for someone as dumb as Clark. No, I want a hero worthy of my affection.

Or maybe it's not the movie, but it's the way my husband doesn't think it's Christmas unless he watches it at least three times.

Mind you, he doesn't always get to watch it. Sometimes I put my foot down.

And even when he does watch it, he doesn't enjoy it, because to really enjoy it, I have to be sitting right by him, laughing it up, too. 

To which I give him that classic excuse. "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache."

Give me Dickens and his Scrooge. Now, that classic tale at least has a hero with a growth arc. He may not be swoon-worthy, but at least he's not a static character like Clark.

Of course, it could be that I am not male and I am older than 12. Last night, the movie aired on ABC Family, and my husband introduced this so-called classic to my daughter. Who is 12. And who laughed uproariously through the whole thing, at least until her bedtime. She asked me to record it so she could finish it. 

Ugh. Now that's probably one movie that won't get deleted off our DVR, even though DOWNTON ABBEY enjoys no such security. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Lincoln Logs Manger - 11 Days

Ron and I were married in 1968 and, after five childless years, adopted a family of three through the State of Oregon.  They were two ruffians, aged 10 and eight, and a four-year-old diva.   We were over-the-moon excited. 

A year later,Ron's job was terminated and we had to relocate.  That holiday season when I brought our Christmas things up from the basement, I realized that I had most of our Nativity set, but the shepherds and the structure were missing.  I looked everywhere and discovered an unfamiliar box with teaching supplies in it.  I concluded that somewhere a teacher was trying to post the alphabet around her classroom with our shepherds and manger.  I was bummed.  My life - or rather, my motherhood - wasn't turning out quite the way I'd imagined.  I wasn't as good or as smart as I thought I'd be.  I thought love would solve everything, but while it's a powerful tool and usually wins out in the end, there's a lot of messiness in the middle that requires knowledge and understanding - difficult things to come by with confused and frustrated children.  I needed my manger!

On a shopping expedition to Portland, we found a sale of Fontanini nativity sets.  They were beautiful but a little pricey.  There was one set, though, that was half price!   As we made the purchase, I remarked to the clerk how lucky we were to have found the sale, and she said,  "You realize the ones you bought are half price because the shepherds are missing and it has no building?" Accepting that as some cosmic joke on us, we took them home, not much better off than we were before.

Ron went down to the basement while I fixed dinner and emerged with a dusty, ancient box  and a wide smile.  "Part of the roblem solved," he said.  He'd found the Lincoln Logs from his childhood.  If you're too young to know what those are, they're a building set from the Thirties and Forties (maybe older) using wooden log-shaped pieces with notched ends.  I was doubtful, but I smiled supportively.

He cleared off the top of our old stereo and started building.   Interested, the children went to help.  By the time dinner was ready, the four of them had built a very elegant structure with a pen for the animals.  Our new figures looked beautiful inside - even without shepherds.  Mike, Pat, and Kathy were thrilled with the outcome and Ron wore the triumphant look of the man who has saved the day.

After dinner, when everyone else was occupied, I went to take another, closer look at the manger.  It WAS beautiful, and I had a sort of epiphany.  The manger was patched together like our lives. Wow.   I clearly remember that as a turning point in my mission as a mother, a rededication of myself to the job.  A new serenity came over me.  I could do this.  It wouldn't always be pretty, and it would take more than I thought I had, but I could do it.

It occurred to me, too, that  most times, there is no visible shepherd to guide you.  You have to look inside to find Him.


them home

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Twelve Traditions of Christmas by Karen Rock

Harlequin Heartwarming is a romance line that celebrates love, family and traditions. They are the glue that holds us all together. As there are only twelve days left in our Heartwarming countdown to Christmas, I’m going to share twelve, treasured holiday traditions that bind and define my family to this day!

1.       1. Ornament Beauty Contest- Once we’d decorated the tree, my sister and I would select our ‘contestants’ and lay these fragile glass beauties on the floor, judging them on color, shape, and design. The winner got to hang her ornament in the coveted spot, just below our Christmas angel. Broken ornaments were automatically disqualified, and the contest was suspended while we hurriedly cleaned up the mess and prayed our parents wouldn’t notice.

2.       Santa’s Workshop- as we were a family long on love and short on funds, my parents relied on ingenuity and items scavenged from the Salvation Army. After Thanksgiving, a ‘Santa’s Workshop’ sign appeared on our basement door, and we were told that elves had been sent to work on our one-of-a-kind presents down there. If we peeked, they would instantly vanish. Yikes! The weeks spent pacing by that door, stopping to listen with an ear pressed to it, wondering why Santa let his elves sometimes say bad words, was torture! But in the end, some of the most amazing presents emerged from this ‘workshop’ including a huge kid’s kitchen that was much better than the Mattel version, a beauty salon with blow dryers that worked if we used our imaginations, and an artist station where we could finger paint, sculpt and color. I always felt like the luckiest kid since my presents were made especially for me J

3.      3. Christmas Bake-off: My mother and five of her six sisters lived close to one another and loved each other dearly. Yet a sort of shadow fell on us during the third week of December when my mother began laying out her recipes and writing long lists of ingredients. A flurry of phone calls heralded the start of cookie baking time as each sister jockeyed to claim one family recipe or another. Everyone loved the ease of our jam-filled thumbprint cookies and no one wanted to be stuck making our most complicated family cookie: the dreaded Cartellate. It required making a homemade honey wine, a pasta machine, and a deep fryer. But after much maneuvering, each sister had her assigned cookie. My mother baked dozens of the same cookie and we all got together on the weekend before Christmas to exchange the treats and gifts. Everyone left with platters of the best assortment of cookies I've ever had- to this day. Yum.
4.       Dog Grooming:  We were fond of strays and took them in whenever they wandered close enough to our house to nab them- lol. Yet these skittish pets, though loving, were not the most domesticated. Rather than tame their wild spirit, we let them live as they pleased save for their annual Christmas season bath. We’d give them a scrub that ended with us as wet as our dog, and gifted each with a large rawhide bone that they happily chewed until morning J

5.       Dad Shopping: Although my mother spent most of her time with the elves in Santa’s workshop, my father eschewed that and drove us to a store devoted entirely to toys. I marveled each year at the extravagance of a place that didn’t also sell powdered milk and scratch off tickets. My sisters and I reverently strolled down the aisles, my father taking notes when we expressed interest in one item or another. At the end, he hustled us to our car and asked us to name our top three gifts in order of importance. I was always careful to list them in price order because I knew that Dad would be talking it over with Santa and The Big Guy didn’t have a lot of money to spend on all of the kids in the world. It was an anxious and giddy wait in the back of that Oldsmobile as we second guessed our choices and fervently hoped for what we wanted most. At our father’s yell, we all knew to duck our heads and cover our eyes in case we saw Santa. The sight would turn our gifts into coal! To be sure we didn’t see him, my father always opened the trunk for a bit. Once it shut, we knew it was safe to uncover our eyes and sit up again.

6.       Christmas Movies: Thank goodness for TV Guide! We poured over it when it arrived, circling the dates when Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch, Rudolf, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town would be showing on regular channels. We taped a list of dates and times next to the TV and popped popcorn and dressed in our best flannel nightgowns for each viewing, singing along with Burl Ives no matter how many times my older sister, Jeanne shushed us.

7.       School Elves: Our art teacher/Fleetwood Mac Super Fan would assign us a wonderful project each December that… better still… could be a gift to our parents. I never worked harder on anything in school than I did on clay ashtrays, papier-mâché hearts, finger-painted family portraits, elbow macaroni frames and multi-colored woven oven mitts. While an A on a test made my mother smile, these gifts brought her to tears. Impressed with the importance of this mission, I lavished all of my time on them until I got them just right.

8.      8. Christmas Trouble: It was inevitable, we weren’t the Waltons by any stretch, that one or more of us got in some serious trouble during that all important season. While I never liked angering my parents, there was more urgency when it happened so close to Christmas. Santa was watching, they’d sternly remind us when we quarreled over things like who got to play Barbie and who got stuck being Ken, whose turn it was to ride the bike to school, and who was responsible for the broken ornaments on the floor. Ultimately all was smoothed out when my father showed us the piece of coal he got one year as a boy, the tangible evidence working its magic every time.

9.       Christmas Caroling: Since most of the kids in my neighborhood had about as much in the way of funds as we did, we cobbled together a singing group that began sporadically practicing in my friend, Francine’s basement. Our plan was to ride bikes to a more affluent neighborhood, sing carols, and hope for a treat or- better yet- some money! We’d start off with about twelve or so participants and by the time the performance day arrived, we’d be lucky if four to five showed up. Still, we soldiered on, working our way from one twinkling house to another, jumping for joy when we got cookies, warm cider, and yes- even some change. My favorite moment was a time when an elderly woman who’d once yelled at me to stop riding in her neighborhood gave each of us a hug. I’d never felt so special before.

10.   Midnight Mass: The smell of incense, the previous nights of restless sleep, and our caroling excursions all added up to a mighty struggle to stay awake as the priest chanted and sang, prayed and lectured. The minute my eyes drifted closed, I’d get a swift kick from my sister Cathy or an elbow from Jeanne. If they were suffering, then so was I. But the service wasn’t all bad. In fact, it really was beautiful. The choir sounded heavenly, the message was always uplifting, and the chance to speak my heart to God buoyed me. Although I trudged into church, I always floated out of it.

11.   Jingle Bells: Unable to sleep on Christmas Eve, my sister Cathy and I would whisper to each other, wondering what Santa would bring, fretting about which list we’d landed on this year. At some point, our anxious conversations would be interrupted by loud, jingling bells. They rang so long and so clearly, we knew that Santa was in the house that very minute!!! We held hands (we shared a bed), squeezing each other and trying not to make a sound. If Santa knew we were naughty kids who hadn’t gone to sleep, he’d take away our presents. In that way, Cathy and I woke in each other’s arms every Christmas morning, a warm sensation I still miss to this day.

12.               Hurry up… Now Wait: No matter the time, regardless if only the barest pink rimmed the purple sky, the first to wake- usually me- would run into the hall and shout “Merry Christmas!” followed by “Hurry up!” Cathy stumbled out after me and my older sister, Jeanne, took longer since she was too cool to get that excited about anything. When my parents’ bedroom door remained firmly closed, we banged on it until we heard them groan, say a word or two we weren’t allowed to say, and their bedsprings creak. It was only until Jeanne threatened to go back to bed, that my father opened the door and swept by us, majestic in his plaid bathrobe and brown corduroy slippers. My mother gave us all a hug and told us to wait on the landing while Dad checked to make sure everything was alright for us to look.
I never knew what that meant except that it felt like forever as we squirmed, tapped our feet, and held our heads, waiting for the ‘all clear’. But no matter how much this tested our patience, we knew better than to disobey since one look from us before Dad checked it out would instantly turn everything to coal. Finally, after the smell of coffee drifted up the stairs, my father yelled that it was okay to come downstairs. Like racehorses, we bolted for the tree (even Jeanne escalated her saunter to a quick step) and instantly began figuring out which unwrapped presents where meant for whom. In the end, although I sometimes I got the wrong doll, or a game I hadn’t asked for, I ultimately learned that Christmas was about celebrating with family. The gifts, cookies, money and so on didn’t matter nearly as much as sitting on that wooden floor, surrounded by those I loved most. Although I’ve created my own traditions with my daughter and husband, I still follow the most important one: cherishing time with loved ones.

If you have a special family tradition, from years past or present, please share it with us! I will choose a winner from the comment section to receive a personalized, autographed copy of my Heartwarming novel, WISH ME TOMORROW and a bookmark J Please check my facebook account, http://www.facebook.com/karenrockwrites tomorrow. I will announce the winner there and provide you with directions on how to contact me with your mailing information. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year J