Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Christmas Story:A Writing Challenge

Tanya Eby a fellow member of GRRWG challenged us to write a short story about a Christmas party.  Here's my entry, starring Gabe and Betty, from Tall, Dark and Slayer, available next week from champagne books.

The only Christmas cards that concerned me two nights before the big day were the queens of hearts, clubs and spades I gripped and the possible straight my ex-lover held.  If he was bluffing, I’d win a pound of cashews.  If he won, I’d have to sacrifice my Kona coffee.  I’d be damned if that happened, so I didn’t have time for distractions like the dozen or so guests – half of them vampires – crammed into my Brooklyn apartment, the rapidly disappearing seven layer dip or Christmas cards.
Not true.  One card preyed on me like a safari hunter on the Kenyan plains.  It taunted me from where it lay, half propped against the toaster, oh so casually reminding me its sender.
Al Banks.  My biological father, although I say it as if I had been adopted and had another dad waiting in the wings.  No such luck.  Al had brought me up on the road as he ran one scam after another, teaching me the tricks of the trade along the way.  I could only imagine what scheme was tucked into the card along with the season’s greetings and pictures of snowmen.
“Your turn,” Vince reminded me.  He snapped his fingers in front of my face.  “Betty, are you with us?”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t get your panties in a bunch.” I laid the worthless three on the table and drew another card, hoping for the elusive queen of diamonds or another eight to make a full house.  I hid my disappointment as a five showed up.
“Call, and raise you a vanilla scented candle.”  I moved the gift bestowed on me earlier that evening to the center of the table.  Hey, I was all about re-gifting.
As Vince drew his card, his face unreadable, the hand of my current lover settled on my shoulder.  I didn’t turn around, but warm fuzzies settled over me.  Gabe had that effect on me.
“You two about done?  Rachel needs a ride home.”
He’d said the words too loud for a whisper as he leaned forward to kiss my neck.  I glanced at Vince and caught the flash of excitement and the even briefer flash of resignation on his face.  Excitement because, strange as it seemed, he’d honed in on Gabe’s sister the minute I’d broken up with him.  All the better for him as she had a ready-made family, and I’d danced around commitment for months.  Resignation – well, now I knew he didn’t hold a winning hand.  Hello, cashews.
He didn’t even try to bluff further but laid down his cards, one short of the straight I thought he had.  He pushed the cashews toward me even as he reached for his coat, slung over the kitchen chair.
“Nicely done,” I whispered to Gabe as I stood.
He placed a hand on my arm.  “You okay?  This party isn’t too much for you, is it?”
How had he picked up on my distraction?  I’d admit I’m not the most social of creatures, but a Christmas party?  Pffft.  A call to the local deli and the help of my best friend, Darcy, who happened to be Vince’s sister and a Vamp, made things easy-peasy.
“Everything’s fine.”   I dealt with vampires every day, but a harmless Christmas card spooked the beejesus out of me.  I kept my gaze from the that portion of the countertop.
“If you’re sure.”
“No problem.  Let me say good-bye to Rachel.”  I loved Gabe, a new phenomenon for me, but I didn’t need him hovering over me like…like a father.
Don’t know what that’s like.  Al hadn’t exactly been the poster boy of great dads.  I couldn’t understand him sending me a card, unless he’d already embroiled me in another of his schemes.  I hadn’t recovered from the con he’d tried to pull over Halloween.  I didn’t know whether to admire or curse his gutsiness.
I found Rachel in the bedroom, extracting her coat from under a mound of others.  I pushed aside a stray pillow and snagged her scarf.
“Thanks for doing this,” she said as I handed it over.
“What?  You need a scarf.  It’s colder than a witch’s – ”  For once, I stopped my stream-of-conscious mouth.  I really didn’t know her that well.
Her gray eyes, so like Gabe’s, locked on me.  “Not for that.  For hosting the party.  We never had good Christmases growing up.  He might not show it, but it does make a difference to Gabe.”
“Oh.  Yeah, of course.”  I recovered quickly.  I’d agreed to a party for selfish reasons.  I’d made it a point to celebrate the holidays since I’d established a permanent place.  Fixing Gabe’s childhood trauma hadn’t occurred to me, but it should have.
“I knew you’d understand.”  Unexpectedly, she hugged me.  “I never had a sister.”
A sister?   Until recently, she’d been a customer, ordering Heat-N-Go artificial blood from me.  I guess it was time I started thinking of her as family.  A disconcerting thought.
“Thanks.  I never had a sister, either.”  I extracted myself as diplomatically as possible and was saved from faking intimacy or saying something stupid by the entrance of two other guests.
Vince’s eagerness to take Rachel home had signaled the breakup of the party.  I spent the next few minutes retrieving coats and wrapping leftovers.  Saying good-bye, surprisingly, hit me harder than I’d thought.  I’d grown to like these people – my lawyer and his wife, Rachel, even Marcus, Gabe’s enigmatic ex-boss.
Gabe closed and locked the door behind the last guest.  I’d switched off most of the lights, only the tree remained on, its twinkling not enough to hide snowflakes swirling outside the window.
He enveloped me in his arms, and his familiar scent of cloves and leather drifted to me.  We stood in the darkness for several moments, enjoying the quiet and each other’s company.  We hadn’t been alone all day.
“You gave a great party, Betty.  Everyone enjoyed themselves.  Thank you.”  He snuggled me closer.
“Hey, Mercer, you’re not going all sentimental on me, are you?”  The party had been a little stressful, the arrival of Al’s card even more.  I didn’t need a lover with shaky emotions to round off the evening.
He chuckled, and I felt the vibration.  “I’m a vampire slayer.  Nerves of steel, remember?”
Right.  Mr. Tall, dark and slayer, international man of mystery.  “I’ve seen your softer side.”
He grunted in a macho, you-are-so-wrong way.  “Don’t blow my cover, okay?”  He nuzzled my neck, and my knees threatened to give way.  “Good party.  Good food.  Good friends.  Thank you.”
“’Twarn’t nothing, sheriff.”  I tried to keep the tone light.  A lump of emotion clogged my throat.
“Uh-huh.  I know you’ve been distracted.”
His hand under my sweater distracted me.  The rasp of his beard against my neck distracted me.  Anything else?  Pffft.  “I can think of one or two ways to make me focus.”
Gabe moved, drawing me with him.  But instead of heading toward the bedroom, he led me into the kitchen.
“I think the whipped cream is gone.  Unless you want to do something kinky with the leftover cranberry sauce, but I’m warning you, that stuff stains like crazy.”
“Betty, you’re a nut.”  He stopped and reached across me.  A moment later, he held up the Christmas card.
Thoughts of romance crashed around me like broken crystal.  “Oh.”
“Time to face the truth.”
“Gabe – ”   I couldn’t understand his motive.  He’d seen the destructive side of my father.
“It’s like pulling off a Band-Aid.  The quicker you do it, the sooner you can heal.”
“I don’t need him.  You’re my family now.  You and Rachel.  Vince, in a weird way sometime in the future.  Darcy and probably Marcus, though I’ll never understand that attraction.”
“Stop babbling and open the card.  It can’t be as bad as your imagination thinks it is.”  He waved the card under my nose.
“Oh, I’ve got a pretty vivid imagination.”  His gray eyes showed no mercy.  I snatched the envelope from him.  “All right.  Al Banks didn’t raise a coward.”
Gabe leaned against the counter, smugness showing in every pore.  He snapped on the light over the stove.
I ripped open the envelope and pulled out the card.  The front pictured two teams of snowmen playing hockey.  I flipped it open to read the message.
A smaller envelope dropped out.  I grabbed it before it hit the floor.
“More trouble.”  It had the weight of an anvil.  Or sword.  Or bomb.
“Maybe not.  Did he write anything on the card?”
“’Sorry I couldn’t be there to help celebrate your first Christmas together.’  A good thing if you ask me.  Not a sentimental man, Al Banks.  We probably won’t see him for a couple of years, or whenever his luck runs out.”
“Such a cynic on Christmas Eve Eve.”
He enjoyed this too much.  I glanced at the stove clock.  “Christmas Eve now.   I suppose I can’t put this off any longer.”
I unfolded the packet and froze.
“Betty?”  Gabe surged toward me.
My hand shook as I held out the contents.
Gabe held them up to the light.  I watched his face change from suspicion to awe.
“Open ended tickets to Hawaii?”
“He does have a lot of air miles.”  I couldn’t believe the old man had coughed up such an expensive present, but he’d always treated me like a princess when he’d been flush.  “I hope he didn’t scam anyone to get them.  They are in our names, right?”
Gabe glanced at them again, then he froze.
“Gabe?”  What had he seen?
I snatched the tickets from him.  The first read Gabriel Hawk Mercer.  The second ­–
“Elizabeth Mercer?”
A smile transformed his face.  I’d never seen him look so pleased.   “I like the sound of that.  A lot.”
Our relationship had never been traditional, why should his proposal be ordinary?  I’d expected panic, but this felt natural and right.
I let the cards and tickets drift to the floor.  I’d pick them up later.  “I do, too.  A lot.”
Family is where you find it, and I’d finally found mine.
(to read how Betty and Gabe met and their adventures to this point, purchase Tall, Dark and Slayer from Champagne Books after 1-2-12.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

On Author "Sigh-nings"

Posted for Lori Lapekes:

After my debut novel was published a year and a half ago, I had an author signing (my first!) in, of all places...Denver. A friend of mine who lives there organized it. I was on a panel with four reasonably well-known writers, and I was terrified! We all had to pass around a microphone, talk about and answer questions about our novels to a grand total of---(drum roll) perhaps thirty people. And that was with five authors present!

Although the experience was fun and educational, I think I sold a grand total of five books that day. I’ve since learned that is not unusual.

I read about one hopeful author who, at his much promoted first reading and signing, was dismayed to discover that only one fan showed up. Yet he decided that, by golly, a fan was a fan and he did his presentation as to a room full of people. Afterwards, the writer lavishly thanked that one fan for coming. Horrifyingly, the fan then lowered his eyes and admitted, “Well, actually... I’m the volunteer who was supposed to introduce you.”


Thank goodness humiliation can at least make a great story at the bar or family gatherings.

So now, after several months without a book signing of my own, I have another. An editor from a new Grand Rapids magazine called “Around Town” contacted me about my book for an article on local writers, and are coinciding it with a book-signing Saturday, January 14th at the Literary Life Bookstore on Wealthy St. Come one, come all! I plan on having fun, no matter the outcome. I love writing. I love bookstores, books, and all the lovely people who love them.

(Oh, and the signing of “For a Short Time” is from 2 -4 --if anyone would like to introduce me…)

Lori Lapekes

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Building and Preparing for a New Year

Looking back at 2011: We had a blizzard at the beginning of the year. Japan suffered from a tsunami. There was an uprising spring of revolutions in the Middle East while Governments were overthrown. Earthquakes were devastating. The European debt crisis has been a hardship while Americans struggle to improve their own financial difficulties. But through the midst of turmoil, there have also been positives. People try to reach out to help others live healthier lives. William and Kate married this summer. Scientists believe they’ve found life on another planet. In small ways, there have been successes learning how to cure cancer. Secret Santas helped pay layaway bills, and many people were kind to give presents, food, money, and anything else needed to help their fellow neighbors. Together, we all survived the year. Through the negative there was positive, and we can be proud of the experiences we were part of in 2011.

As great as 2011 was, I especially look forward to the year 2012. A new year allows for new experiences, positive changes, and a brighter future. We have the opportunity to make anything we want become reality. For some people, they hope to find their way home to family and being true to themselves. Others seek a job to support families. Many people hope to shed a few extra pounds while other individuals strive to make their personal dreams come true. For several of my friends, they welcome their bundles of joy into their families and are blessed with wonderful marriages. They are grateful for careers, friends, family, and happiness. And most importantly, they are thankful to God each day for the wonderful life that has blessed each and every one of us with.

Without God, we would be nothing. With God, we are everything. For this coming year, I strive for a few self-improvement goals. I am also thankful for the wonderful people in my life, and I hope to give back to those in need. Whether we reach out to neighbors by showing love, dedicating time, donating money, or helping in any small way; I hope this year is dedicated to working as a community, helping one another make our world a safer better place, and a world where we honor God and allow His light to shine not only on us but through us for the betterment of everyone striving towards a better world as well as a better year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Traditions that Teach

By Diane Kniowski

When the holidays arrive, the biggest thing I think about it the past. I think about many Christmas celebrations and the fun I had. I think about my favorite gifts received. I think about all the great food consumed. I think about my family. I think about how it has changed over the years.

We start out as the child. We become the parent. We become the Aunt, Uncle, Grandparent.
The constant in our lives is the Holiday itself. I think the best gift is to be able to hold that day and those people and that exchange of celebration and happiness in our hearts forever.

I would like to offer some of the ways that I make sure there are memorable moments that make the day special. I would also like to share ways to celebrate Christmas past in the Christmas present.

Here are my top 5 things to make the holiday more fun and carry it to the next year.

1.) During the opening of the presents, give someone a paper and pencil and write down the exact quotes and expressions that are being exclaimed. Later at dinner, have everyone around the table read at least one or two of the expressions and words used during the gift exchange or the Santa moments.
It is really fun to have the family read out load the silly expressions and words used and try and guess who said them. In my family, you may hear things like...."Is this candy or is this a bar of soap?" or "Are these underwear or is this a headband?" Or my personal favorite, "I love that you think I am a size small." Make sure to date the writings. I save them we laugh as I read these the next year.

2) I save all the Christmas Cards from the previous years, especially if they are from loved ones that are no longer with us. I sit down with the family while the lights on the tree are twinkling and quietly we take turns reading the cards and tell a thoughtful or funny story about that person and how they impacted our life. It is a wonderful way to honor our past and teach our children how important the people around us shape us.

3) My family was fairly poor, so my Mother and my Aunts used to gather leaves, pinecones, thistle and milkweed and use bits of nature to decorate our table and our tree. I continue to bring nature into my home and every year I spray paint, spray glue and glitter in the memory of my Mother, Louise and her sisters, Kay and Angie. I make sure to save some of the sprinkling of glitter for the young nieces. Each Christmas I take them into the garage and have them sprinkle glitter on the leaves and pinecones that we are going to place on the dessert table. It gives me an opportunity to tell them all about my Mother and her sisters. I love to share the stories of how, for very little money, my Mother found ways to make Christmas happen for days as we gathered the pinecones, pressed the leaves and prepared for the paint and glue days ahead. We always helped put our finished decorations on the table and tree and beamed with pride at a job well done. I didn't realize until later that the finished product wasn't the real joy. It was the time together learning how to make anything special by getting creative.

4) I love to take pictures. I take pictures all day long. I take pictures of the trees, the gifts, the food, the cookies, the cats, the snow. I make sure that I print a few of the photos and put them in a folder with the Christmas cards and funny Christmas morning sayings. I date the folder, and the next year, I show everyone present the Christmas just past.

5) I like to hide presents around the house and put clues on the Christmas tree. Every year, I save one present for each person that I hide. They must look for clues on the tree and guess the location of their present. If you do this for each person, it makes the present opening time last so much longer.

The holidays are what you make them. For me, the holidays are a celebration of everyone and all great memories from my life. The ornaments on my tree are directly tied to memories. I view my Christmas Tree as a celebration of my life and the people in my life.
You must make the holidays what you want them to be. Find ways to make them special for you and everyone in your life.

May these holidays and all remaining holidays bring you closer to your dreams and bring your family members closer to your heart.
Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Green Family Traditions

We're a family full of holiday traditions. For instance, the tree goes up as soon as possible after Thanksgiving. It gives the cats more time to play in it.

The boys and I bake cookies on Christmas Eve. Even though they don't buy into the "Red Fat Man" anymore, they still want to bake cookies with me (and eat them!) and leave some out for Santa. I'm cool with that. I like baking with my kids. We'll also make our edible peanut butter and birdseed ornaments and hang them outside for the critters.

There are the special holiday decorations I love to get out every year. This is the hand print wreath banner I made with my kids many years ago (I had all of my daycare kids make one for their parents that year, too - best gift ever - directions at the end of the post) the Christmas castle my Grandma made for me, the holiday stockings I've cross stitched for everyone in my family. I'm making a new one for next year since my brother got married in March. Luckily, his wife knew exactly what she wanted so I'm hard at work on it. Hopefully, I get it done in time!

That's another tradition - handed down from my mom, and her mom before her - scrambling to finish making presents at the last minute. Yeah...that's how we roll around here. When we were little, we'd frequently get gifts of fabric or yarn from Mrs. Claus and a note saying how Mrs. C was too busy to finish our presents but that she knew our mom was handy and wouldn't mind helping out.

Of course, my favorite tradition is spending time with my family and friends. I have no idea how I got so lucky to be surrounded by these wonderful, amazing people, but I'm beyond grateful. I hope you're all able to enjoy the traditions you have and the people you share them with!

DIRECTIONS FOR HAND PRINT WREATH: This hand print wreath is the easiest project ever. Get a piece of muslin and some craft paints. Hem the fabric then paint your kids' hands and have them press their hands on the fabric to make a circle - overlapping is fine. Berries are made with paint-dipped fingertips. Tack on a bow, if you like. Attach ribbon tabs at the top and hang from a dowel or a branch. Easy peasy and people treasure them. My mom still hangs hers up every year, too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Letting go..

I bought a magnet as a Christmas gift for a friend of mine. It's a very simple tile with a small flower that says "Let go" in teensy letters. She's been an amazing support in my life, reminding me to take good care of my self, encouraged me to get involved in meditation, and also happens to be a co-worker, so she "gets it." We have emotionally challenging jobs and in a lot of ways, I view her as a "war buddy" who's been in the trenches with me. You develop a special bond that's hard to explain to others.

I like how Christmas inadvertently has helped me reflect on the special people in my life and in this instance, I wasn't obsessing over "what do I get her" like I often do when it comes to gifts. Instead, it was a pleasant surprise to find it, think of her, and be reminded of what a good friend I have. It was also a nice reminder to "let go." As a recovering perfectionist, I've been working on letting go by giving up certain holiday activities, doing simpler gifts, fewer decorations, and being okay with sending out-of-state cards a bit late.

Keep it simple. That's my mantra in everyday life, but especially helpful lately. Part of letting go is about reducing, simplifying, foregoing, and so on, but it's also about not beating yourself up when you don't "do enough", when you make mistakes, or even when you do slip up and find yourself stressed out at Hobby Lobby over what color, texture, and size craft paper you're going to buy for a Christmas project. (Guilty party!)

It can be a challenge because as much as I want to do x, y, and z, and hate giving them up, if I simplify, I allow more room for, well, you guessed it, writing! I'm taking some time off of work over the holiday and planning on doing a little extra writing. (I can't wait!!)

Now back to my prioritizing and seeing what I can let go of during the home stretch of Christmas. What can you let go of this week?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

About that thank you blog...

This blog entry was going to be a heartfelt thank you for allowing me to serve as your president during the last three and half years.  I had all kinds of witty things to say about your talents and energy and persistence in pursuing your dream.  (all true)  I was going to dazzle you with the numbers of our growth (from 22 to 38 members, a slightly more than 72% increase when the average loss per year of professional organizations is around 40%, which means we grew a jagillion times more than others).
I still think you are an amazing group (clap, clap, clap) and will continue to narrow the gap between published and unpublished members.  But something happened today that turned my blog entry in a different direction.
I spent part of the day shopping.  In a little place in Rockford, while buying unique and perfect gifts for family members, my husband bragged to the shop owner about me being “a published author, don’t you know”.  Those who know Larry are aware he’s a big fan and will talk the leg off every sales clerk he meets.  What was interesting is the response he received.  The owner, Jeannie, also writes.  Great!  A kindred spirit.  I gave her the URL of this blog, and we chatted about the changing industry, etc.  As we identified with writing in the zone and not remembering it later, the only other customer in the shop was nodding her head.  Another writer!  Three out of the four people in this tiny spot had something in common and we might never had known it.
My point?  Start talking about what you do.  Don’t be shy or ashamed or think you’re bragging.  Why not brag?  Aren’t you proud of what you write?  If you can’t pontificate about your own work, mention that you belong to a fabulous writing group.  Give them the URL of the blog.  Throw out a title or name or two.  Mention the support you receive and our all around awesomeness.  Invite them to join us at a meeting.
You never know the paths already laid out for us to cross.  Sometimes, we don’t need a conference to make connections.  Sometimes, it can be done over homemade mittens or soaps or cheeseball mixes.  You’re not only a member of GRRWG, you are also one of its ambassadors.  More importantly, you’re an ambassador (and head marketing director) for You, Inc.  
 Marvelous wonders await.  You just have to look for them.

p.s. It HAS been an honor and privilege serving as your president.  Don’t ask me to do it again.  Kidding.  Not.  No shop owners or husbands were harmed in the writing of this blog.  Gratuities accepted in cash or chocolate. Go GRRWG!    

Friday, December 16, 2011

Strange Christmas

This Christmas has been a roller coaster. First, it's been crazy busy at my regular gig, I've been sewing like crazy for my etsy shop, we have our first real Christmas tree in a dozen years (make that 2 I feel in love with a 2' fat tree), I made my first official sale on my etsy site, and then, unexpectedly, we lost a dear friend to cancer.

It's hard to put my full emotions into words. She was my husband's "work wife" year's ago. An amazing woman who overcame lots of obstacles in her life (poverty, stuttering), she was wickedly brillant, a total sweetheart, and a fearless, tireless fighter. She'd been fighting for 7, 8 years now (honestly I've lost track) and the news of her passing came as a big shock. At the same time, having a Grandmother who went through cancer treatments for a big chunk of her adult life, it's a bit of a blessing that she's no longer in pain.

I discovered why she hadn't texted me back with answer to my question I'd posed about a week before. I found out why she hadn't when I learned of her passing. That sealed the decision. My character that needs the rename is really happy with my choice. And I know my friend is too. She'd read the first chunk of my book awhile back and had really like Molly (my character's old name). Other than the fact that Molly's a red-head, they're pretty close in other ways.

Both of them are fighters. Molly's in her 40's, as was my friend, and she loves life. She's also a bit of a Cougar, hooking up with younger men on a routine basis. But she's fun, strong, brilliantly smart, wickedly funny, and fights for what is right.  I think it's a pretty good match.

The interesting uptick to this is I've had a deluge of ideas for all of my book series. Now I just need to find more time to write, along with decorating the trees, finishing up baking, packing boxes to ship out West, and a frantic rush to wrap up my projects at work before I take some much needed vacation time.

Heck, I'd planned on getting this post written early this morning, but got waylaid with issues at a client site and am just now squeaking out the time to get this done. It just means I'll be baking cookies into the wee hours of the morning.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Writing Challenge

by Tanya Eby

So it's the holidays and who isn't slammed with holiday planning, shopping, stressing out, and general angst? Or is that just me? That's why I'm going to pose a holiday challenge. (Wait for it.) Why now, you ask?

For me, especially when I'm really stressed out, writing can feel like slipping into a warm bath. It transports me somewhere else, lets me walk around in other people's lives. It takes me far away...and when I'm done, I emerge feeling fresh and clean. Yeah. Maybe I extended that simile a bit far. But you get what I mean.

So here is my holiday challenge to you. Write a short story about The Holiday Party. You can interpret this any way you want. It can be sweet, O'Henry style, or knock out naughty. Whatever you want. Make some time for yourself and slip into a new story. Try to have it done by New Year's.

I'll even give you an incentive. You write The Holiday Party, post it here or share it within the GRRWG group, and I will give you a $5 gift certificate to Amazon. That's right. FIVE WHOLE DOLLARS. That's enough to buy five cheap ebooks, or one expensive one.

That's the challenge.

And happy holidays.

Oh. Legal stuff....this is for members of GRRWG. At least the 5 dollar part. I can't give out 5 dollars to everyone out there because I'm a struggling writer myself.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Cookies

Last year, I posted my favorite holiday cookie recipes on my blog.  Since I'm feeling especially lazy this year, I'm going to send y'all over there to fulfill your baking needs. All the recipes are super yummy and easy enough that I can make them.

Happy Baking!

Holiday Cookie Recipes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bad Blogger

So, I've been a sucky blogger. My apologies. I have every intention of posting something and every month it gets away from me. Since this is December, and I recently posted a Thanksgiving tribute over at Three Wicked Writers (where I blog every Thursday), I thought maybe I should do a Christmas tribute here.

I'm not a huge fan of Christmas. I think that might make me a party-pooper, but here's the thing, I grew up overseas and Christmas was in the dead of summer. It's hard to get all festive, fire-crackle, nog drinking cheer when you're sweating. It just is. We still celebrated with a fake tree and lights. Mom still brought out the ornaments and dad cued up the Christmas music. Mom and every youth group I ever attended insisted on caroling (Have you ever tried caroling to people who have no idea what that tradition is or even speak your language??). If you know me, you know I can't sing my way out of a paper bag and was kicked out of choir as a child. You know, that age when everyone is "supposed" to be nice to you because your tiny and have a future of dreams filled with candy-apple promise? Yeah. Crushed. Although, I used to look like a little German boy complete with sweater vests and maybe they thought my alto was a bad mockery of tenor.

Anyway, I digress. My kids haven't grown up in a house that's decorated to the roof, but we do celebrate and they do have their favorites. We were talking about our favorite memories this week, and I found myself marveling that their fondest memories were things that would have shamed me if I didn't have them for perspective. Funny. I remember my mother saying the same thing about my memories.

So, I thought maybe I'd share my Tiny Tim story. Back a couple of years ago, we had nothing. I was the only parent employed and supporting the family on royalties. I had been for a couple of years at that point, as I paid the ex's way through seminary (He wasn't an ex at the time. I'm not that big of a boob to pay for an ex to go through four years of school.). That Christmas we didn't have a tree or ornaments. There were no lights and we didn't own a cd player or iPod or anything that spits out nifty music. We'd begun our move there a few months prior living off of tomatoes, zucchini, squash (I won't touch zucchini and squash to this day), cucumbers, bacon, and green beans. We had gardening neighbors with too much produce. Bless them. Anyway, there wasn't "extra" to buy supplies for a holiday that would last a week or so. We couldn't justify the expense.

That year, I went to the dollar store and bought a green padded table cloth and a red padded table cloth. My girls and I cut out the green one into the shape of a tree. We super glued it to the red one to create our Christmas wall tree. It was a little pathetic and we laughed at it, but having already gotten into the spirit, the girls and I cut out a star and snowflakes. We used a highlighter to color the star yellow and we attached it all to the tree.

A lady from our church had some old ornaments that we taped to the faux branches and when we hung the disaster on the wall over a table, that became our living room focal point. The four gift-boxes went on the table "beneath" the tree and we left it up all season. We couldn't spend the money on a turkey or ham and all the fixings, but we discovered that Chinese restaurants are always open on Christmas, so we had our Christmas meal at the local Wok.

Until recently, I counted that as my lowest family moment. My kids? It's their favorite. Hearing it from them amid the giggles of youth and the "remember how"s and the pleas that every Christmas result in a new International restaurant experience has changed my opinion. Sometimes we need kid-approved glasses to see how special a moment really is. We need to step out of our adult skin and take a look at it through a child's eyes, where different is exciting and all family moments are special if they're had together.

They teach me something new all the time. Here's to another Christmas of memories and praying that each of you make moments to cherish with your families this year.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Expect the Unexpected - Holiday Magic

Every year someone asks if I’m heading home for the holidays. “Home” is Denver and I always reply that the holidays are too hectic for a real visit. We’ll find out if that’s true this year. 2011 will find me home for a double helping – Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Maybe I’ve made peace with my hometown but I find I’m definitely looking forward to being there.

We are not the Waltons. Likely, with three distinct households, there will be three separate celebrations. My brother will have his family, I’ll probably be with my sister, and my parents will take it easy, my mom venturing out to join us for a couple hours. The teenagers – that’s shorthand for all of our kids now – don’t need much time to unwrap their gifts … gift cards and cash, for the most part. I’m bringing something homemade (it’s a surprise!) but gifts aren’t the real focus anymore. Thank goodness.

Special times for me don’t have much to do with the actual holiday. Hanging out with my sister, talking for hours, sitting on the side of the tub while she puts on make-up or does her hair … that’s special time for me. My mom and I like to go to the movies – she saves it up for me, I think. So an afternoon matinee with lunch or coffee somewhere – that will be my mom time.

Chinese food with my dad and heading down to see my brother and his family at some point … that about covers it.

Friends … as in, spending time with them – a real treat for me living 1,300 miles away from some of the most important people in my life.

Christmas – the celebration of Christ’s birth – that’s my personal time with my church. Beyond the malls, lights, missed expectations, sales, lists … I’ll make time to join my church family to celebrate this holy day.

New Year’s Eve. One of my favorite holidays of the year – I love the emotional “saying good-bye to the past” and “hello to the future” aspect. 2011 has been an amazing year and it started with a magical New Year’s Eve turning to New Year’s Day. I’m looking forward to unexpected magic again this year – it’s one of those elements that can’t be planned.

I’ll tear myself away from Denver and return to Grand Rapids to greet 2012. Maybe that’s why I haven’t visited as often; it’s so difficult to leave. Returning to my Michigan home, I’ll leave part of my heart in Colorado. I always do.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Perfect Time for Remembrance

Today would have been my grandmother's 99th birthday, so I decided it would be a perfect time for remembrance--after all, the holidays have always been a time for family. Every Christmas Eve night was spent with my grandparents, aunts uncles and cousins. Gifts are given, food was eaten, and joy was spread. Heck, my cousins and I even tried putting together a Christmas play. Sadly, we were never able to pull it off. But it's the thought that counts, right?

Frederick Mathias Homrich and Katherine Mary Nickels were simple people, raised on the farm. My grandpa has regaled me with stories of milking cows and chasing chickens. I distinctly remember a story about a young boy (grandpa) going out and “helping” his dad by bopping chickens on the head. He apparently thought it would help them lay eggs. Unfortunately, it only helped by giving them concussions. OOPS! Hopefully they got dinner out of it instead.

Living during the depression, they learned the art of frugality. I remember when we would help grandma make cookies or cake, fully expecting to lick a spoon or bowl. My grandma was definitely a waste not want not kind of lady. By the time it came to lick the bowl, there was nothing left to lick. Trust me, I’m not complaining. I’m proud of my grandparents. Their frugality helped them survive tough times, including a devastating tornado that destroyed their home back in 1965.

I just want to thank my grandpa and my grandma for all the wonderful things they did for their grand-kids. I couldn’t imagine life as a kid (and as an adult) without them.

Love you Grandpa and Grandma! You will always be remembered.

Back to Writing

Back to Writing

During the holiday season, I have not only been inspired to give and help others but I managed to find my writing abilities. It has been a long season of writers block. Attending writing groups helps motivate. Listening to successful writers inspires. But sometimes that isn’t enough to kick yourself in the butt and write something.

Here are a few tips if you are struggling to get into the swing of writing again:

  1. Remove some of the stress in your life- it will help improve the creative thoughts.
  2. Make sure to get enough sleep- it doesn’t always help when trying to write exhausted.
  3. Eat healthy- it makes you feel better.
  4. Start writing. Give up on writing a novel. Start small and let the words flow onto the paper.
  5. If you’re like me and have difficulty writing on a computer (because you like the old fashioned way of writing with paper and pen) work on breaking that habit. Only so much can be written with paper and pen while the words fly onto the screen typing.
  6. Don’t judge what you are writing. Just do it!
  7. Find a setting that you enjoy (like going to a coffee shop where you can sit by a fireplace, enjoy the jazz music playing, and get comfortable with a big, cozy, leather chair, and type your heart out).
  8. Make sure to find time and exercise. This not only keeps you healthy but it can also help improve creative thoughts.
  9. Have classical or jazz music playing in the background as you write.
  10. Go back and read your work later. Don’t do it right away because you will criticize, try to change things as you go, and then the process of writing stops.
  11. If you’re struggling with writing what you normally write, try something else. (Writing articles, songs, short stories, poems, novels, screenplays, etc. Writing is writing; just get something on paper because you’ll probably use those new thoughts later on.)
  12. Also, take time to read. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand.
  13. And if none of this works, make a game of it. There are plenty of writing games. (ex. Fill in the blanks with random words to come up with stories. Or you write one section, let someone else write another section, etc. until the story is complete). These are fun. The stories barely make any sense. They make you laugh, but they also help you stay creative, fresh, and give new ideas.

Happy writing!

Holiday Blessings

It’s the holiday season. It is a time of giving, a time of enjoying family, and if you are religious a time of honoring Jesus’ birthday. The season where we decorate our homes with beautiful lights, put a Christmas tree with lights up in the house, fill the underneath part of the tree with presents to give to our loved ones, a time to enjoy family (along with a few occasional fights), especially the season where people like to attending church services, and it is also a time where we go out of our way to give to others to brighten there holiday season.

I am so proud of my co-workers. They selected a family that was in need of daily supplies along with Christmas presents needed for their children. As a whole, my co-workers were able to give food, clothes, basic house supplies, a Christmas tree with decorations, gifts for the children, and a few more things. When I passed by the table where all the presents were it was a beautiful sight. This family will have a brighter holiday season because of the items people were able to give.

It is the season to love and help others. Everywhere you look, it seems someone needs help. If we volunteer to cook a meal, sometimes give a few extra bucks, help with buying needed items, or do something small to make a difference, we share the spirit of giving. That in turn can be passed to the next person. And hopefully the spirit of giving continues not only through the holiday season but for the rest of the year.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lessons Learned From My First Blog Tour

By W. S. Gager
For the last 10 days I have been blogging with 14 other authors on the Mystery We Write Blog Tour. It has been a great experience. This is my first blog tour as well as doing one with other authors. Each day I have tried to visit everyone’s blog, read the posts and comment. I’ve tried to post information to Facebook and Twitter on who’s at my blog and where I am appearing.  

 I wanted to share some things I have learned. Try and have a gimmick when you do a blog tour. For my blog, I have had my main character, Mitch Malone, interview each of the author’s character. Many have liked this unique approach. The other blogs have followed various themes such as writing on setting, a valuable lesson learned or having each author write the same subjects. This showcased how each author is unique and different. The hardest one for me was to post a piece of writing I was most proud of. That was a really difficult choice. 

Just before I went on the tour, I took a blogging class. This was important because it told me what I needed to do to have my blog ready.  One of the things it said was to make it easy for others to spread the word about your blog. Make sure they can follow you through Netblogs. Also have buttons to post easily to Twitter and Facebook. Many of my fellow blog mates didn’t have that. I couldn’t put something out to my followers on each of their blog posts--just not enough hours in the day without the easy share buttons.

I’m not sure if I’ve sold very many books with the blog tour but I do know that I met a lot of really generous mystery authors. Also the people that have seen my Mitch Malone Mystery Series have grown exponentially. That’s all I can ask. I’m happy with that. Have you participated in a blog tour? What were the lessons you learned?

I have four more days of the tour and I would love you to check out my blog and where I’m a guest. My blog is
I will be visiting these blogs:

W.S. Gager has lived in Michigan for most of her life except when she was interviewing race car drivers or professional woman’s golfers. She enjoyed the fast-paced life of a newspaper reporter until deciding to settle down and realized babies didn’t adapt well to running down story details on deadline. Since then she honed her skills on other forms of writing before deciding to do what she always wanted with her life and that was to write mystery novels. Her main character is Mitch Malone who is an edgy crime-beat reporter always on the hunt for the next Pulitzer and won’t let anyone stop him, supposedly. You can follow Wendy on her blog:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's beginning to feel...

I'm sure you're all filling in the blank with "a lot like Christmas", but for me I'm just not feeling it yet. Perhaps because I have done very little so far to get ready for the season.

It's the second week of Advent, but the first Sunday I've made it to church. My youngest, Simon, was out of commission for two weeks after having his tonsils and adenoids removed. It was two weeks of reminding/encouraging/forcing him to drink liquids every 20 minutes so he wouldn't get dehydrated. So we missed the 1st week of Advent last Sunday.

My hubby does the grocery shopping every week. (Thank you, darling!) So, I've been missing the whole commercialization of the season with the canned Christmas muzak and specialty green and red decorated items in every aisle.

The weather has been unseasonably warm for West Michigan, which has been fabulous for not having to wear a heavy winter coat, but 50 degree temps with light rain doesn't put me in the mood for singing Christmas carols. I've never lived in the south, so I expect my Christmas to come with lots of cold air and snow.

I've barely begun to shop for presents. The boys have submitted their Santa wish lists, but I haven't had a second to look through them. Thank goodness Christmas is on a Sunday, and I have the whole week before to get gifts shipped to my house.

And finally, there's no Christmas tree standing in my family room. We always go out a few weeks before to chop one down as a family and engage in a snowball fight, but we have no snow! It just doesn't feel right to drag a tree through the mud to the car.

But now, I've just returned from picking up my eldest from Youth Group, and I caught the last 10 minutes of the film they were watching. Suddenly, I feel my mood uplifted and the wonder of the season flows through my veins.

What, you ask, were they watching that could turn things around so suddenly?

It was Santa's sled being powered by the spirit of the season as a crowd of disbelievers - turned believers - sang Santa is Coming to Town, as an oversized Santa's helper hung on for his life.

Know the film?

Yep! It was Elf. The perfect antidote for any Scrooge-like feelings this season.

What gets you into the holiday mood?

Wishing you a lovely holiday with your family.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Favorite Things

Wow, here we are already in December.  If you're like me, you probably had a shock when you looked at the calendar and realized that Christmas is only a few weeks away and the New Year is not far behind that!  So, rather than dwell on how I am soooooo not ready for Christmas, I decided to blog about all my favorite things.

First and most important is my Family.  It never ceases to amaze me that I could have had only 3 kids, but my family now has expanded to include: 2 daughters-in-law; a son-in-law; 4 grandsons, 7 granddaughters, and this year, we added a cute-as-a-button great-grandson.  We also added my spoiled princess of a dog, Sophie.  It is wonderful day when I can be surrounded by them.  I'm so proud of all of them.  They are unique and wonderful individuals, although some days I'm not sure about the furry one. 

Books, books, books! Like most writers, I love to read and have books in EVERY room of my house.  Last month, I got to spend a lot of time with my grandkids and had the pleasure of discovering how much they all like to read, too.  Having them ask if they can borrow books from my numerous bookshelves was music to this reader-and-writer's ears.  One weekend, six of the grand were over and all but one of them had their nose in books or eReaders rather than watching TV or playing video games.  Hurrah!  I also helped introduce one of my younger grandkids (a previously reluctant reader) to the pleasure of reading on my Kindle  (TM) over Halloween weekend.  He took to it with such pleasure that his parents actually bought him an eReader for his birthday last week.  Yes! I love that their parents' love of reading (and mine, too) has passed down to them.

I love the Holidays, especial Christmas.  I love the decorations, the lights, the food, the traditions, the liturgies, the music -- although maybe not quite as much as my daughter who has an entire CD filled with various renditions of "The Carol of the Bells."  I also have a huge collection of angels (ask Chel and Chris who went through my place one time and tried to count them all).  I keep them out for most of the year -- Angels aren't just for Christmas, you know.  There's nothing I don't like about the holiday, except maybe gift wrapping.  In my humble opinion, the unknown person who invented gift bags is truly an unsung modern day hero!  Seriously, the time spent with family and friends this time of year are always full of laughter and fun, and I love every moment of it. 

Okay, as those who know me will tell you, no list of my favorites would be complete without at least a mention of two more things. 
One is Office Supplies
I'd like to say that my love for office supplies goes with the territory of being a writer.  I'd like to say that, but I suspect I'd still buy office gizmo and gadgets even if I never wrote a word.  In fact, I know I would.  Of course, the grandkids love it, because there's always paper, scissors, tape, colored pencils, markers -- you name it, I got it -- available for craft projections when they come over.  Most of the time, hey also get to take home a cool journal or set of colored pencils, too.  It's like Jello, there's always room for more. 

Finally there's my passion for SHOES.

I love them.  It's as simple as that.  Although some, who  shall remain nameless (Chel), have hinted that it's an obsession. there's a reason why I love shoes.  I'm not very tall, less than 5'1".  For most of my life, I've worn 3" heels just to be considered short.  Especially when all my kids and family tower over me.  I wear them just to be able to see something more than their belt buckles.  Besides, shoes are so pretty! All those styles and materials and embellishments!  Ferragamo, Loubouin, Choo, Weitzman, Vivier...their designs make me drool.  Unfortunately, the years of wearing toe-pinching, arch-stretching styles have made me turn to more comfortable shoes like ballet flats, but I still adore beautiful footwear.  So much so, that one of my WIPs is a mystery about a shoe-store owner.  Okay, maybe I am just the least little bit obsessed!

So now, I've told you my faves, so what are yours?  Fill us in!  I'd love to ear.

~ Stephanie

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas, Old and New

The Holidays are indeed a time of looking back as well as forward. For some reason, the memory of my very best Christmas comes to mind lately. We lived in southern Missouri, just over the boarder from Arkansas. I had just finished second grade when my mom and dad had a terrible crisis in their marriage and separated. Dad took my brother and sister and me to his mother's farm way out in the boonies in Arkansas.
In some ways it was a fun summer and in some utterly miserable. The good parts were that we got to play with all our cousins and Grandma made fresh dinner buns every day, oh how I loved those buns, and we got to go swimming in the sluice ditches for the rice fields Grandpa was experimenting with. We had to watch out for snakes and Grandpa stood guard but that only added to the excitement that we were doing something unusual.
As the oldest I was supposed to help watch out for my brother and sister and I took my duties most seriously, even getting mad at Grandma and bawling her out. when my brother fell and hit his head and she didn't cuddle him. That sassing netted me a sit in the corner, and I admit I hold a grudge, so I was never as close to grandma after that. I thought she was mean and mom and dad were far away. She further annoyed me during a tornado when she sat in her rocking chair through a tornado, her rockers squeeching on the hard wood floors, while she gripped the rocker arms and chanted a litany that she wasn't afraid, that she was ready to go to heaven if the Good Lord wanted to take her. She was more scared than we little ones were. But I remember thinking, I'm not ready to die and go to heaven. I willed her to be silent in case God heard her and took her up on her words.
Well, the tornado passed and so did the summer. I became tired of staying with Grandpa and Grandma and began to pester her about when my dad was coming to get us. She informed me that Daddy wasn't coming back for us, that he and mom were getting a divorce and we'd have to live with her the rest of our lives. I was devastated. I'd already put Grandma down as a heartless woman who didn't love us and didn't want us. It's a miserable way to live.
Then miracle of miracles, my dad came down the dirt road, hanging out the car window waving at us with a huge grin on his face. My father was a very handsome man, Black Irish with black wavy hair, beautiful blue eyes and flashing white teeth. My first hero. I cried when I ran into his arms and asked him if he was taking us home. He assured us he was. Summer was over and we had to start to school. He and mom were not going to divorce, in fact, they had worked things out and had moved into Blythesville where they had a new house for us to move to. I was so happy. We left that very day and I never went back for a visit with grandpa and grandma. Mom and Dad were understandably upset with her.
That fall just kept getting better and better. I started my new school and loved third grade. Mom and Dad smiled a lot. Our house was so happy, then came Christmas time. They got a big tree and we helped decorated it with lots of ornaments and strings of lights, then mom wrapped angel hair all around it. Angel Hair isn't used now because it's considered too much of a fire hazard, but back then it was all the rage. I loved the angel hair on the tree. It diffused the lights and made the tree beyond belief beautiful. I would stand and stare at it with awe. On Christmas morning, Santa Claus found us at our new house and he brought lots of toys. I got a baby doll that I adored and dishes for my dolls. My sister and I had tea with our dollies and yelled at our brother when he bumped into us with his cars and trucks.
No matter how old I get and how wonderful each Christmas, I still remember that magical Christmas time. We were safe again with our mom and dad near by watching over us. Oh sure, there were arguments again and making up and tears and sometimes I hated my parents for it, but only later did I understand, they were a volatile combination and they loved each other very much. They were married until my father died and mother never remarried. I think she missed him very much. No matter what emotional upheavals we go through, we have to look back at the wonderful magic that life holds. My mom and Dad gave me that and I'll always think of Christmas through a veil of Angel Hair.