Thursday, December 8, 2022

My Muddy-Booted Santas by Janie DeVos

  
Christmas Eve in 2019 was supposed to be a rather low-key event: A couple of friends were coming for an early supper before going to the candlelight service at our church. In the years prior to that, I’ve had quite a few people over on the eve of that most wonderful day, but that year, there were just four of us, and, in some ways, I was a little relieved that it would be a far less stressful affair. At least I thought it would be.

The menu was an easy one: a pasta casserole, salad and bread, and our friends were bringing cheese cake for dessert. Instead of drinking the harder stuff before going to church, I had a hot orange and cranberry soft cider to enjoy, and the usual nuts and cheese nibbles to go with it. It was the middle of the afternoon and all was going as smoothly as a newly paved road, until I turned on the tap in my kitchen to start washing the veggies for the pasta casserole. Instead of there being a good rush of water, all I got was a pencil-thin stream. There was only one reason for it, and that reason wasn’t good at all: We were running out of water, and the panic set in.

Now, I knew we had plenty of water in our spring because we’d had the wettest December on record here in Western Carolina. But I also knew that might actually be causing the problem. In the past, when we’ve had too much water, it’s re-routed the flow of our spring and we had to run new pipes into it. But here it was, Christmas Eve at 2:00 in the afternoon, and the likelihood of getting anyone out to help us (no, we couldn’t fix it ourselves, we’re still too city-fied), was about as likely as watching Santa swoop down into our driveway. But, that’s about what happened: I was able to reach our plumber, who was willing to come out (I think he likes my dirty jokes and he’s become a friend over the years), and I also got hold of another friend who is our handyman guru around here on a weekly basis. Within an hour’s time, they both arrived, and fifteen minutes later my spring was merrily filling up our tank once again. The pipe leading into the tank had simply gotten clogged up with muck from all of the rain and snow melt. It was an easy-breezy fix – well, for them, anyway. Once they were satisfied that all was running perfectly, out of the woods they came, with shovels resting atop their shoulders, just like Santas carrying their sacks. I stood at the kitchen window watching them, and as they talked and laughed together, their middle-aged bellies shook like bowls full of jelly. “Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus…two, actually,” I said softly.

“Y’all like pecan pie?” I asked as they kicked off their muddy boots on the back porch. There was a unanimous confirmation that they did, so I put on a pot of coffee and cut two extra-large pieces of it for them.

As we sat down at the dining room table, I pushed aside the nicely set silver, china and faux poinsettia napkin rings, then, as they say in the mountains, “we visited”. In the background, in my adjoining family room, sounds could be heard from the movie, The Polar Express, airing on TV.

“Have you seen the movie?” I asked.

Our handyman friend, Jay, said that he had and how good it was.

“What about you, Jack?” I asked the plumber.

“Well, I started to,” he explained in his easy, slow southern drawl after swallowing a bite of pie. “It was on TV the other night but my twelve year old daughter said she’d seen it enough at school ‘cuz they show it every year before Christmas. So, we changed the channel. To tell ya the truth, I was kinda disappointed,” he smilingly admitted, looking a little embarrassed. “I was really enjoying it.”

“Hold on,” I said as I got up from the table and then hurried downstairs to our basement. A couple of minutes later, I returned with The Polar Express DVD in hand. Yes, I had it, along with Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Doesn’t everyone? Well, everyone except Jack.

“Merry Christmas!” I smiled as I laid the movie down on the table next to his now-empty pie plate.

“No kiddin’!” he laughed, picking it up and examining the cover with a smile that was as big as a kid’s on Christmas morning.

“It’s yours. Watch it to your heart’s content,” I replied.

Two hours later, our supper guests arrived and you’d have never known we were in panic mode just a short time before. The evening went off without a hitch, and we all had a wonderfully merry time.

As I lie in bed that night, I smiled thinking about ol’ Jack watching The Polar Express. Because he’s divorced and lives alone, I pictured him sitting there in his living room in an old recliner, in a pair of boxer shorts, with a frosty beer on the table next to him, along with a bag of something salty, smiling as the train’s conductor (Tom Hanks), sang about hot chocolate. And that one little thing – a thing which may seem so unimportant to so many people – brought me much joy and was one of the highlights of my Christmas this year.

All things considered, it’s never the presents that come wrapped in shiny bright paper that make my Christmases so magical. It’s always the most unexpected gifts. This year, it was those two Heaven-sent Santas, who arrived at the eleventh hour in muddied boots and with shovels in hand ready to help us. And to be able to give one a small present that helped him to enjoy Christmas like a kid again was one of the best gifts I received this year.

Wishing each of you a wonderful year ahead, and a kinder one, filled with big and small acts of goodness and love that help us to remember how much we truly need each other.

~*~

Janie DeVos lives with her husband and two Basset Hounds, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and is presently working on a new series about train hopping during the Great Depression. She is also a regular blogger with the WordWranglers, where she contributes pieces on a wide range of subjects.


In turn-of-the-century Florida, a family comes of age, and a daughter finds her destiny entwined with a land that is as full of promise as it is danger.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

A Log Cabin for Christmas by Kristen Joy Wilks




This will be our first Christmas in our own home.


It will be both beautiful and sorrowful because we didn’t buy this house, I inherited it. There is something we often forget about inheritance, one must lose someone precious in order to gain what they longed to pass down.

This is my dream house.

It was my grandparents dream before it was mine. They spent years felling trees from their own land, skinning logs, talking visitors into skinning logs, and finally turning their vision into a home. This house welcomed anyone who stopped by. My grandmother was hospitality personified and despite my grandfather’s gruff exterior he loved company, especially if they were willing to do a bit of work before dinner.

Grandma Autumn started cooking for her family at the age of nine. In her 90s, when she could no longer walk without help, she would still offer to get you something to eat and drink as soon as you walked in the door. I had to quickly say, “I’ll get the tea, Grandma” or she would try to get up, even though she wasn’t able to.

It has been four years since we lost Grandma and five months since Grandpa strode into glory at the ripe old age of 104. Yes, even at 104 he had a busy social calendar. Everyone came up to see him, though he lived off-grid in the mountains.

This house is full to the brim with memories of them.

The best three years of my childhood were spent here. Making homemade parachutes for my cabbage patch dolls and tossing them off the balcony. Watching Gunsmoke and Wild Kingdom together. Grandma waiting with a cup of cocoa and a homemade cinnamon roll when my brother and I came straggling in after building snow forts in the yard.

I have always wanted to live here. But I have never wanted to lose my grandparents.

Inheritance.

Pain and beauty all rolled up together. Death and life in a single word.

My grandfather was the one who loved to decorate for Christmas. Colorful lights around the windows, garland on the banister, that manger scene music box that played “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” He made sure their log home shone with Holiday cheer.

This will be the first year we can both have a Christmas tree and also walk through the living room without a slap from the branches. This will be the first year we can have a big tree. The ceiling in the front room goes all the way to the log rafters. Such an incredible gift.

As we start our own traditions here, finally free of our cramped apartment, we will miss them so much. Hanging the lights will make me think of Grandpa. Baking the pies will remind me that Grandma was the only one who could whip up a lemon meringue pie without breaking out in a cold sweat. Christmas presents will remind me of that year both my brother and I got Flexible Flyer sleds, probably financed by them though the tag said “Dad and Mom.”

They both lived long and rich lives, but their loss is still hard.

As we step into the Christmas season, grieving their loss and rejoicing in the fact that our three teenage sons no longer have to share a room, I am determined not to miss a thing. For if I shut out the sorrow, how can I fully live the joy?

 
God Himself told us that like a kernel of wheat that dies to produce an abundant crop, we must not cling tightly to this world. My grandparents did not cling. They lived a life of service. Through both their hospitality and in founding the Bible camp where we live and work.

They passed their beautiful home on to me, but also left a legacy full of cups of creamy cocoa, slices of pie, and Christmas lights that light up the remote forest for all who wander off the beaten path.

This is more than a house, it is a lifetime of giving. That is what we receive from them this Christmas, not just rooms and a roof over our heads, but the chance to give in new and amazing ways, all because of the faithfulness they showed.

So this Christmas I’m going to get a tall tree, send my husband up a ladder with an armful of lights, and bake a pie worthy of Grandma. We all die in the end, but if we die to ourselves again and again for a lifetime, we will leave an incredible legacy behind.



John 12:24-25—" Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Visit the wilds of Siberia for Christmas in Kristen’s Gothic Christmas mystery, The Volk Advent.

Kristen Joy Wilks is an author, camp photographer, and the mom of three teenage boys. She writes about what she loves: the quiet of the forest, the ill-considered schemes of unstoppable children, and the love of loyal pets who will never leave your side … as long as you pack bacon! Follow Kristen on Instagram, Facebook, or try one of her chicken-themed books for free by signing up for her newsletter at kristenjoywilks.com.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Menorah Cleaner by Jennifer Wilck

If you look through my window during December, you will see lots of light. That’s because we celebrate Hanukkah, the 8-day Jewish holiday celebrating the victory of the small Maccabean army over the Greek-Syrian army and the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

To commemorate the holiday, we light candles, one each night, in a menorah. By the end of the eight days, the entire menorah is lit, providing a warm glowing light that is beautiful to see.

As a child, I lit a menorah my grandparents bought me on their trip to Israel. And my parents lit the menorah my mom used as a child. Both were silver (or silver-looking), although I always thought mine was prettier (sorry, Mom).

When my husband and I got married, we were given a silver and brass one as a wedding gift. This was our first joint menorah and held special meaning for the two of us. But that didn’t mean we wanted to abandon the ones we used as children, and so we lit three—mine described above, ours described here, and a wooden one my husband had made.

And then we had children. When the girls were little, they had baby menorahs—one had a Winnie-the-Pooh and the other had a dog (the candles were on the back of the dog). As they got older, they outgrew their childish ones and purchased menorahs in Israel when they visited. So, each year, we added more menorahs to our collection.

At some point, as the “menorah cleaner,” I grew tired of having so many to clean. Getting wax out of intricate designs is difficult, especially when you’re trying not to damage the menorah. My time was limited, and life was moving fast. So, at different times, I put limits on how many we would light.

And then they left for college. Because Hanukkah falls at different times of the year, sometimes, the girls celebrated at school, and they wanted menorahs that were “dorm safe.” So, they received electric menorahs.

At this point, I’m thrilled they want to continue celebrating with us. And I’ve given up on limiting the number of menorahs they use. The chance to be together as a family, to see the brightly colored candles and warm glow of the flames, and the knowledge that this tradition will continue with them through the years, makes me not care how many menorahs I have to clean.

I think that feeling is a little like what Benjamin’s grandmother feels in my Hanukkah novella, Waiting for A Miracle. She loves celebrating the holiday with her son and granddaughter. And she invites her single, next-door neighbor to join in the celebration—no one should celebrate alone. Over the glow of the candles, the savory taste of latkes (potato pancakes), and the sweet, flavored donuts, these four people learn that miracles can be found where you least expect them. All you need is time, faith, and each other.



Benjamin Cohen, widowed father of six-year-old Jessie, is doing his best to hold it together through order and routine. The last thing he needs is his matchmaker mother to set him up with her next door neighbor, no matter how attractive she is.

Rachel Schaecter's dream of becoming a foster mother is right within her grasp, until her meddlesome neighbor tries to set her up with her handsome son. What's worse? He's the father of her favorite kindergarten student! She can't afford to let anything come between her and her dream, no matter how gorgeous he may be.

Can these two determined people trust in the miracle of Hanukkah to let love and light into their lives?

Excerpt

Six-year-old bodies were good at many things— bouncing, hugging, and racing. Rachel was thankful they were also good at hiding her surprise. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine her favorite student, and her student’s father, would be at her neighbor’s house the same night she was invited to celebrate Hanukkah.

She met the hard gaze of Jessie’s father across the room. Eyes narrowed as if he suspected her reasons for being here. His broad shoulders were stiff. His jean-clad muscular legs were spread apart in a solid stance. Square hands fisted at his sides, and one of them held a menorah. Did he plan to throw it or club someone with it?

Giving Jessie a last pat, she rose. With an arm around Jessie, she extended her other hand to her father. “Happy Hanukkah.”

“Ms. Schaecter.”

“Mr. Cohen.”

“Oh, please,” Harriet said, “Such formality between you two. Rachel, this is my son Benny. I mean Benjamin.”

Benny. Rachel filed the information away for later, along with his flushed skin at the nickname. Interesting.

“And Benjamin, this is my neighbor, Rachel. We’re not at a school event. You can call each other by your first names.” Harriet pointed at Jessie, who gripped Rachel’s hand so hard, Rachel’s fingers lost their circulation. “Except for you,” Harriet added. “You have to call her Ms. Schaecter.”

Jessie giggled. “Yes, Grandma.”

Buy Link:

Universal Buy Link: https://books2read.com/u/m2YvkO

Jennifer Wilck is an award-winning contemporary romance author for readers who are passionate about love, laughter, and happily ever after. Known for writing both Jewish and non-Jewish romances, her books feature damaged heroes, sassy and independent heroines, witty banter and hot chemistry. Jennifer’s ability to transport the reader into the scene, create characters the reader will fall in love with, and evoke a roller coaster of emotions, will hook you from the first page. You can find her books at all major online retailers in a variety of formats.

In the real world, she’s the mother of two amazing daughters and wife of one of the smartest men she knows. She believes humor is the only way to get through the day and does not believe in sharing her chocolate.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Sweet Beginnings by Stacey Weeks

Life holds many sweet beginnings, but none quite as precious as when I first held my children. Our journey toward parenthood was not the typical path. Our stick never turned blue. We never saw two lines appear. We never bought maternity clothes or made a birth plan. Things we assumed would be ours were not. Instead, life redirected us, and we found ourselves at the beginning of an unexpected journey.

Mary and Joseph’s Unexpected Beginning.


Mine is not the only life that has taken a surprising turn. The Bible is full of people like me who had to shift gears and re-evaluate when their circumstances unfolded in unexpected ways. Jesus’s earthly mother had been anticipating her life with Joseph until an angel appeared. Then, confusion and fear replaced Mary’s dreams.

While betrothed to Mary, Joseph was likely busy building a room onto his father’s house, eagerly anticipating the day he could bring his love home. Now, he planned to leave Mary and quietly end their engagement. What appeared to be a great betrayal devastated his dreams for their future. Mary was pregnant while engaged to him.

But however impossible it must have seemed, God was with Mary and Joseph. Joseph listened to the Lord and wed Mary. She gave birth to Jesus and named Him Emmanuel, which means God with us. This wasn’t what they expected, but God’s perfect plan was unfolding in their lives. They began life together, understanding their story was about so much more than them.

The Story Begins and Ends with God


My husband and I thought the beginning of our family’s story was when we travelled to China and met our daughter and later when we met our sons in a local government building. We thought this was our once upon a time that led to happily ever after. But the story is so much bigger than us.

It’s tempting to believe that God begins penning chapter one, a sweet beginning in a new book in the series of our lives, on the day we repent of our sins and turn to him. But maybe God does not begin chapter one of a new book that casts us as the main character, but instead, perhaps he adds a new chapter to an old book, an ancient book that God began writing long before we ever lived a single day that casts Him as the main character.

This story began before there was time. This is God’s story; somewhere along the line, He wove a thread of humanity into it. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit wrote us into His story. We have roles—and they are roles that matter—but it’s not about us. It doesn’t start with us. It will not end with us. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Revelation 22:13, “I (Jesus) am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” The story starts and ends with God.

A Christmas Story

So, this Christmas, as you remember the narrative of Jesus’s birth and consider the story God has written for your life, remember this isn’t a cliff-hanger, although it might begin with some nail-biting scenes. It’s not a tragedy, although it might contain tragic moments. We are not left wondering how this sweet beginning will end because we have the book and can turn to the last page.

We can read of the certain victory secured by God for those who believe in Jesus. Faith in Christ is the sweetest beginning, and it ends in certain triumph, with a victory won on our behalf and sealed by the Holy Spirit.

My children’s story and my story connected at their adoption, but it started long before that and has, we praise the Lord, included them turning to Jesus by faith. Mary and Joseph’s story began much differently than they expected, but because of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, they, like us, can be adopted into the family of God.

However rough the beginning of your story reads, however unexpected and challenging the journey proves to be, your story can also end with a happily ever after that lasts for all eternity.



I’m celebrating this season of sweet beginnings by putting To Sweet Beginnings in Sycamore Hill on sale for .99 for the month of December.

When a disgraced woman’s return entangles the lives of five couples, twenty-four hours changes everything forever.

A whistleblower speaks up, and she tips the first domino of a twenty-four-hour chain reaction on the eve of Sycamore Hill’s most important holiday event. A baker gets a career-making opportunity, a reporter chases the truth, a woman faces her greatest fear, and a lost child returns as the dominos continue to fall. The residents of Sycamore Hill approach a new year, and five couples celebrate sweet beginnings filled with endless possibilities in this short story sequence introducing a new five-book series.

Small-town charm, a faith-filled community, and captivating love stories make the books set in Sycamore Hill perfect for Karen Kingsbury and Deborah Raney fans.

Link Tree: https://linktr.ee/writerSWeeks

Amazon has the “look inside” option: https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Beginnings-Sycamore-Hill-Inspirational/dp/1777958776/




Stacey Weeks writes faith-filled contemporary romance and romantic suspense with strong female leads and imperfect heroes. She is a multi-award-winning author, conference speaker, and Bible study teacher. She loves to read and will try almost any creative pursuit at least once.

Stacey lives in Ontario with her husband of 25 years and three children. When she is not writing, she is probably jogging the trails in her neighbourhood, homeschooling her kids, or trying out a new recipe in the kitchen. Visit StaceyWeeks.com for more information.


Sunday, December 4, 2022

Scents of the Season by Laura Strickland


Most of us have our favorite Christmas and holiday memories. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I see the first holiday commercial of the season on TV or catch the notes of a familiar Christmas song, the images and recollections begin to roll. The breathless excitement I felt as a small girl, when I believed completely in the magic of the season comes welling up again. I remember the fascination of eyeing a wrapped gift, and wondering what was inside. The thrill of decorating the tree, of believing completely that Santa would come. And the scent of Christmas cookies baking.

They say the sense of smell can transport you back in time faster than anything else. I believe it’s true. A hint of cinnamon. Warm vanilla and the heavenly smell of sprinkled sugar. Christmas cookies were a big deal at our house. While she was growing up, my mom didn’t have many wonderful Christmases, so she always made sure her three girls did. Her mom, whom she lost early, was a wonderful British-style baker and at one time ran the tea house at Bowring Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland. My mom continued the baking tradition, and taught me how to make many of the cookies I still bake today.

We started early in December and made ten or more varieties. Cut outs, press cookies, thumb prints, and also many kinds of squares such as cherry chews, pineapple bars, and those old Newfoundland favorites, date crumbles. My mom would clip recipes from the newspaper—her version of Googling them, I suppose—and try them out come Christmas time. I still have many of those clippings today, saved in an ancient binder.

To me, the smell of Christmas cookies baking represents plenty, for that was the only time of year when Mom truly splurged. It represents the delight of having a bottomless supply of goodies, my one true weakness. Best of all, it represents the sense of comfort that came of spending time with a woman who has long been gone from me.

When I had the opportunity last year to write a Christmas Cookie Series story for The Wild Rose Press, Snowdrop Cookie Wishes, I knew it would have to start out with the scents of the season. I guess that’s what truly means Christmas, to me. 




SNOWDROP COOKIE WISHES

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Snowdrop-Cookie-Wishes-Christmas-Cookies-ebook/dp/B09FYV37N2/ref=sr_1_2

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/snowdrop-cookie-wishes-laura-strickland/1140147182?ean=2940162321682

Multi award-winning author Laura Strickland delights in time traveling to the past and searching out settings for her books, be they Historical Romance, Steampunk or something in between. Married and the parent of one grown daughter, Laura has also been privileged to mother a number of very special rescue dogs, the latest being a little boy called Tinker, and is intensely interested in animal welfare. Her love of dogs, and her lifelong interest in Celtic history, magic and music, are all reflected in her writing. Laura's mantra is Lore, Legend, Love, and she wouldn't have it any other way.

Social Media links:

Author Web site: www.laurastricklandbooks.com

Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000002632317

Author Amazon page:  http://www.amazon.com/Laura-Strickland/e/B001KHSACW/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Author Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/760146.Laura_Strickland

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Christmas is right around the corner… by Suzanne Winslow

What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Wigilia (vi gil ya, though we pronounced it va lee ya) was one of my favorites when I was growing up. Wigilia is a traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner that my family modified more than a little, but still maintained its roots. I remember being excited the minute my sister and I piled into the backseat of the car to go to my grandparents’ house. They lived in Fulton, New York, where you could almost always guarantee freshly fallen snow and a traditional white Christmas. I can close my eyes now and see myself in the car: Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" on the radio, the billboard on the side of the highway advertising a small Fulton motel, and my dad teasing my mom, a Fulton native, about the sign Welcome to Fulton, City With A Future.

If I could pick one moment of my life to relive, this thirty-minute drive with my family, everyone happy, healthy, and together, would be it.

But there was even more to come!

Eleven grandkids all gathered together on the biggest night of the year amounted to total chaos. Everyone expected it. My grandparents loved it. Their double-wide trailer could barely contain us so a sit-down dinner for twenty-one was out of the question. Dinner was served buffet-style: adults at the “big” table and kids at card tables. Most of the time, we didn’t bother with the card tables. We ate on the run. The food was authentic, even if most of our holiday would have been unrecognizable in Poland. My grandmother made trays and trays of kapusta, galumpkis (pigs in a blanket), and pierogies filled with cheese or sauerkraut. The scent of fresh pine, cooked kielbasa, and warm sugar filled the small house. It could be ten degrees outside and we would still have to crack a window to cool off inside. Polka music mixed with Christmas carols. Frosted cut-out sugar cookies fueled the excitement. Colored lights and silver tinsel sparkled on the tree.

I can still feel all of that magic now.

Wigilia continued in one form or another until after I married. By that time it had turned into an open house with more friends than family, but the spirit of the holiday remained. Even that’s come to an end now as more of us have moved away and married into families with different traditions. I try to buy homemade pierogies for Christmas Eve—I never learned how to make them the way Grandma did—and frosted cut out cookies, while not Polish, are a Christmas mainstay.

I’m sad Wigilia is in the past, but I’m happy I have the memories. This year I think I’ll make kielbasa and find those homemade pierogies to go with my cut out cookies. It’s been too long.

I wish you peace and joy this holiday season.

Merry Christmas,

Suzanne Winslow, Author of the Smoke and Fire series

~*~


Suzanne Winslow writes the kind of stories she loves to read—contemporary romance with relatable characters, unsung heroes and heroines, and true-to-life stories. Nurses, teachers, firefighters, and Marines top her list of champions. Give her a book about strong, brave characters with hidden vulnerabilities and a secret passion, and she’ll binge read to the end!

Suzanne and her husband call Upstate New York home. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s often planning a road trip, or if it’s summertime, hanging out at the lake. Connecting with readers through Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and newsletters is a favorite pastime.

You can connect with her here. https://linktr.ee/suzannewinslowauthor

Friday, December 2, 2022

Treasuring the Good by Lucinda Race


As we approach the end of 2022 seeing it in the rearview mirror will be bittersweet for me. There has been a great deal of change in my life over the last twelve months and I’ve discovered I am stronger than I knew I was. At times my shoulders have sagged with what I perceived to be a burden but I’ve changed my perspective. In many ways 2022 was a blessing for me.

Not to share my sadness sad but my husband passed away in the spring after a brief illness. We had many plans for our future. I was heartbroken, lost and confused. What should I do next, how would I cope with the loss of this good man?

Instead of dwelling on what I have lost I’m treasuring all the good that we shared. We traveled in our camper that we called our cottage on wheels. We gardened together, and spent time with our toes in the warm sand at the beach. But I think our best times were sitting on the back porch at the end of a warm summer day, with a cool drink in our hand and the air heavy with the scent of the roses in bloom. For the last twelve years he dug up sod, dug flower gardens and created a haven for me filled with colorful roses, happen to be my favorite flowers. But if truth be told, I love all the flowers he planted, from early spring with bulbs popping up through what is left of the snow, until the last rose has bloomed. I’m surrounded by all that my husband created for me.

In addition to the gardens he encouraged me to put fingertips to a keyboard and write to fulfill a dream. The first full length book I wrote was a tribute to how we fell in love, he was the inspiration for Ray. Each book I write has bits of who he was woven into them, his easy going manner, the contemplative moods and always ready to spend time with our family, friends, and each other.

In the last many months that I’ve learned to carry on, some days are easier than others. But through it all I’m still writing and releasing romance books and I’m even moving into writing cozy mystery. As he once said to me, “Why not write a mystery? You certainly read enough of them.”

As I continue moving forward I’ll strive to share my stories in the off chance that someone can take a piece of my characters and find a refuge, a happy place where characters will get their happily ever after.

Please visit my website at www.lucindarace.com
to learn more about my books. And if you want to check out the story that started it all, go to your favorite book retailers for Lost and Found, McKenna Family Romance.

Happy reading and remember to sparkle.
~*~

Award-winning and best-selling author Lucinda Race is a lifelong fan of fiction. As a young girl, she spent hours reading mystery and romance novels and getting lost in the fun and hope they represent. While her friends dreamed of becoming doctors and engineers, her dreams were to become a writer—a novelist.

As life twisted and turned, she found herself writing nonfiction but longed to turn to her true passion. After developing the storyline for the McKenna Family Romance series, it was time to start living her dream. Her fingers practically fly over computer keys she weaves stories about with mystery and happily ever afters.

Lucinda lives with her two little dogs, a miniature long hair dachshund and a shitzu mix rescue, in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts. When she's not at her day job, she’s immersed in her fictional worlds. And if she’s not writing mystery, suspense and romance novels, she’s reading everything she can get her hands on.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

In the Spirit... by Joe DeRozier

There are several people who have heavily influenced my life.

My dad, of course. Mr. Belleau, who was my mentor at Wautlets Bakery in Algoma, Wisconsin. He changed the whole trajectory of my life and taught me about much more than just baking. Mr. Bean, who started working with me after he retired from Chrysler. He stepped in for my dad when I moved here and provided me with a lot of insights from his vast experiences.

Another is Sal Mazzocca. I call him Mr. Sal. One of the first times I was given a glimpse into the semi-mafia world of Mr. Sal, he told me that his college major was in Physics.

Mr. & Mrs. Sal

I'm sure I looked a little puzzled after being given that information. Neither his many responsibilities at his current job nor his blossoming tax consultant business would require a degree in that field.

Sensing my confusion, he continued. "You see,” he explained, "when I was in Bloom High School in Chicago Heights, I failed a Physics class". Apparently he was incensed by that failing grade, and never willing to accept defeat, he conquered his nemesis by getting his degree in that very subject.

Within three minutes of hearing that story, Mr. Sal became my first and only tax accountant. At that time, Mr. Sal was 54 years old and about to retire from Illinois Bell, where he had enjoyed a very successful career. He had been doing some tax work for people the last few years he was at Illinois Bell, but dove in head first after his retirement.

For several years, I would sit in his office in the basement of his home on Kenneth Court in Glenwood, Illinois, as he completed my taxes. It was a nice basement that was finished just around his work area. His office consisted of a desk, a computer, a printer, a fax machine, two file cabinets, and two chairs.

My youth and inexperience kept me from understanding anything about business taxes, and I wanted to know everything. With smoke curling over his pipe, he would take his glasses on and off his face several times as he went over each and every line of my return. Many times, he'd have to uncross his legs (the leg on top was always in motion) and slide himself back in front of his state-of-the-art Commodore computer to confirm the numbers we were discussing. He would literally spend hours with me either in his basement or on the phone, answering all my questions. When I'd receive paperwork in the mail from S.C. Mazzocca, I'd always hold the large yellow envelope to my nose, because it always smelled of his pipe smoke—I love that smell.

Sometimes out of exasperation during one of our many chats, I'd say a tax wasn't fair or I couldn't justify in my head why something got depreciated a certain way. "The IRS,” Mr. Sal would explain, "isn't real concerned about being fair".

Sometimes I'd start a sentence with, "Mr. Sal, as my friend and not as my accountant..."

He would raise his hands and shake his head., "No, no, no, Joey. I don't want to hear this!"

To be honest, there were times I just said that to watch his reaction.

Mr. Sal is still my accountant 33 years later. He has taught me so much, put up with all of my insane questions, and patiently listened to all of my improbable scenarios. Over these last 33 years, he's given the best advice and has had the misfortune of having to listen to me ramble on the phone while he would have much rather been enjoying one of his few vices...a bowl of ice cream.

This year, at 87 years old, Mr. Sal had a serious health scare. He has pretty much fully recovered and at one time, wanted to get right back to work. However, after carefully thinking it all through, Mr. Sal has decided to hang up his pencil.

For the first time in over three decades, I'll be asking those ridiculous questions to a new accountant. I watched my dad retire, and he was fine. I talked to Mr. Belleau when he retired. He was very happy to give up those hours and spend more time on the golf course. Mr. Bean was glad to retire, but had a difficult time sitting still,which I'm grateful for. His full-time job after retiring from Chrysler was just to enlighten a young baker about life.

Mr. Sal is different. He needs purpose. It isn't the money and I don't even think it's because he loves the work. It's because it is his identity, and I don't think he knows who he is without it. His segue from Illinois Bell to "Sal the Taxman" was the perfect transition for him, because he felt he was still needed. But now... Mr. Sal... I hope you thoroughly enjoy your well-deserved retirement. I want you to enjoy your life and be proud of your many accomplishments. As far as your purpose, your calling, your significance, or whatever you want it to be called, I believe that it was never Illinois Bell nor was it being Mr. Sal, the Tax Man.You are the most clever, honest, best teacher, and most patient person I have ever met...and I'm so proud that I can call you my friend. That, Mr. Sal, is what your purpose has always been...and you can keep doing that.

~*~

I don't have a bio from Joe, naturally, so I'm going to just use what I did the 1st time he came to the Window, before he'd ever published his 1st book. Joe DeRozier makes doughnuts. And fritters. And things with Bavarian cream in them. And braids--he talked about his braids so much his daughter asked him to stop. Just the mention of a pastry he's made makes my mouth water. I've never met him, although I've grinned at him through the door behind the counter in Aroma, the coffee shop on Broadway in Peru, and he's waved back. But I love his writing, so I asked him to do guest posts sometimes. He didn't say yes. Or no. But finally he said I could cut and paste from Facebook if I wanted to. So this morning that's what I've done. He and I hope you enjoy it. And if you're ever in Peru, Get Up, Get Dressed, Get DeRozier's. Thanks, Joe.

And now for his latest book, his 3rd... https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BHQ98PQQ/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0






Wednesday, November 30, 2022

WHY? by Judith Jerints Palmer

It all started, I suppose, before I was born.

My mother, age 15, married a man, age 31, who adored her. Three years later they had a son; he lived only two days due to problems during birth. In 1936 there was little or perhaps nothing that could have been done.

Two years later, they had another son; he lived four months, due to gangrene setting in after surgery to correct a bowel obstruction. In 1938 that was what was likely to happen.

Would you expect a young couple who had buried two infants to try again? Well, they did, and in 1941 I was born—9 lbs. and healthy. Over the next months I developed eating problems, especially reactions to cow’s milk. Otherwise, I was a fairly normal healthy kid.

Why did I survive, when the others didn’t?

* * * * *

Over the years I survived many events that today are considered traumatic for a child: my parents’ divorce—moving from town to country to city, back to town, each move taking place every summer for several years—finally high school all in one school, in my home town, all four years, though I knew very few of the kids I’d been in school with years before.

During high school—my mother’s long illness and then death from cancer—not allowed to mourn her in accepted ways—our house destroyed by fire (no one at home, and I was living with my father in another town)--working hard to achieve perfect grades so I’d earn a scholarship to college (my father’s goal for me).

College—three years of difficult classes—getting married—moving to another state so my husband could earn his Master’s Degree—having three children in three years—then a fourth child three years after we were settled in a city. No more tuition to pay. Regular pay check. Finally finishing my college degrees.

Why did I go through all that, sometimes so exhausted I don’t know how I could read or think? Why did I survive it?

* * * * *

We’ll fast forward through a few decades. My marriage disintegrated. I worked at a job I loved at first, then didn’t, but stayed with it so I could “afford” to retire eventually. In 1995 I was diagnosed with cancer—same kind as my mother’s—and had surgery in a hospital nearly 200 miles from my home. A new kind of surgery, pioneered by my surgeon. No chemo, no radiation. Just surgery.

That was 27 years ago. Why did I survive, when others haven’t? Why did I escape the effects of chemo and radiation that have left many women weak and damaged?

* * * * *

Currently I am dealing with heart disease (family hand-me-down from both sides), vision difficulties, loss of energy, and a tendency to pulmonary problems. I have excellent doctors. My general health is good. I’m able to do everything I like to do—read, write, paint, sew, have an occasional lunch with a friend. I have a daughter living with me so I’m not alone during a time when parts of my life seem to falter.

Why, I ask—why am I here?

Why did I survive all the stuff I survived?

What is my purpose in life at this point?

* * * * *

This essay has no answers. I still don’t know, many years later, why I’m here. I pray about it. I read devotional materials and watch worship services online (COVID is still around) for inspiration and support. I continue to write my stories and make quilts from time to time; I paint a lot to express myself without words. Sometimes I read, but not so much now that I have eye problems. So, no, I can’t give you any answers. Can’t even dredge up any for myself.

The best I can offer is thanksgiving for blessings bestowed. We’re in a “season of thanksgiving,” when many folks write about what they’re grateful for in their lives. I’m grateful, too, but I still have that nagging question—why?

I leave the answer to “why” for others.

* * * * *

An Afterthought

If we were to meet, you and I, at a local venue for coffee and music and art, maybe listening to the Three Old Guys down in Miami County . . . you would probably never guess I have the above ideas and concerns rumbling around in my life. I’m living a life I enjoy. It’s not an act. Maybe the best way I can describe it is to say I’ve gained a sort of peace with the way my life has been and how it has come out all these years later. The question of “why” will probably always be with me. Not a burden. Just a fact.

* * * * *

I'm so happy to welcome Judith to the Window. We've been friends since sometime late in the last century when Jenni Licata gathered and formed a group of romantic fiction readers, writers, and thinkers. That group has scattered over the years, as have our interests, but the friendships...well, they're kind of still there. Judith has a blog called Thursday's Child that makes you think, makes you smile, and gives you a good read every Thursday. Stop by and visit! - Liz

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Early Christmas Stranger by Cheryl Reavis

"...She was my family's slightly early Christmas Stranger. She arrived on our doorstep on Christmas Eve eve many years ago, and I can no longer remember her name. It was cold and dark. My mother was sewing my angel robe for the Christmas pageant, and my little sister was a baby. The pounding on our front door was so abrupt and urgent that I was afraid for my father to open it, and even more afraid of the young girl who ducked under his arm and rushed inside when he did. She was barefoot -- and clearly in distress.

She lived in Charlotte, she was eventually able to say, and she was on her way to a party her father had forbidden her to attend, something she regretted even before the partygoers had become too drunk to drive and had lost control of the car they were in and ended up in a ditch. They managed to get the car out, but they had driven off and left her there in the dark.

She had no money. No way to get home. No shoes. My mother searched her closet to find some shoes for her -- gray suede penny loafers that were a couple of sizes too big. Getting her home was a little more difficult. We all piled into the car and took her to the bus station in nearby Salisbury. I remember how strange I felt, wearing my winter coat over my flannel, nursery-rhyme print nightgown. I didn't get to go to town at night very often, and at that time of year it was dazzling with Christmas lights, the kind you don't see anymore. Everything was so beautiful -- a real treat despite the strange young girl in the car who was still trying not to cry.

My father bought her a bus ticket to Charlotte -- which literally took all the money he had -- and he insisted that we would wait with her and make sure she got onto the bus all right. It seemed to take forever for the bus to arrive, but eventually it came. She got on it, and that was that. We never saw her again, never heard from her. But I always think of her this time of year and wonder what happened to her and whether she ever thinks of us in return...."



I’ve also included my late SIL’s legacy recipe for Lemon Fruit Cake in case you need a Family Christmas Tradition to round things out. One should not let the words “Fruit Cake” throw one—it really is good. - Cheryl Reavis

GAZIE'S LEMON FRUIT CAKE


1 pound butter

6 eggs at room temperature

2 and 1/3 cups of sugar

3 ounces of pure lemon extract ("pure" is underlined twice so I'm guessing it matters)

4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 and 1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1/2 pound candied cherries (red)
1/4 pound candied cherries (green)
1/4 pound candied pineapple, diced
1/4 pound white raisins

4 cups of chopped nuts


Lightly flour fruit and nuts with a couple of tablespoons of additional flour.


Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar.

Add eggs one at a time and beat well.

Add lemon extract and beat well.

Mix dry ingredients together.

Beat it into creamed mix a little at a time.

Fold in candied fruit and nuts.



Pour into 10" greased and floured tube pan.


Bake at 300 degrees for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours or until cake tests done.




"She was young. He was going off to a war she hated. But now, the past won’t stay buried, and the regrets won’t die. It’s true what they say. Old sins do cast long shadows."

THE FIRST BOY I LOVED is truly my “book of the heart.” Let me take you to a foreign land. Let me tell you a love story….

THE FIRST BOY I LOVED, available in all formats at online bookstores. (Don't have a Kindle? You can download the free Kindle app from the Amazon website to any device you have: phone, tablet, desktop, laptop.)
https://www.amazon.com/.../ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp

Cheryl Reavis is a former public health nurse and an award-winning published author of short stories and book-length contemporary and historical fiction. Her short stories have appeared in a number of “little magazines” such as THE CRESCENT REVIEW, SANSKRIT, THE BAD APPLE, THE EMRYS JOURNAL, and the Greensboro Group’s statewide competition anthology, WRITER’S CHOICE. Her contemporary romance novel, A CRIME OF THE HEART, won the coveted Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Best Short Contemporary Romance the year it was published and reached millions of readers in GOOD HOUSEKEEPING Magazine. She has won the RITA Award four times and is a four-time RITA finalist. PUBLISHERS WEEKLY described her contemporary women’s fiction novel, PROMISE ME A RAINBOW, as “…an example of delicately crafted, eminently satisfying romantic fiction….” In 2018, her novel, THE MARINE, won the EPIC eBook Award for Best Contemporary Fiction.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Getting into the Christmas Spirit by Cathy Shouse

My mother always made Christmas time feel special. When she hosted extended family gatherings, she would get out her festive tablecloths and use patterned china. Her big, plastic, lit-up Santa on the porch managed to look classy, and she placed her Christmas tree skirt so it caught your eye. Plus, she perfectly pressed dozens of those little green wreath cookies every year. Yet there was a light-hearted way she did things, so you never felt she was pressured about any of it.

Mom would get together with one of my aunts and make peanut brittle, and they’d laugh and chat as they worked. She seemed to enjoy it all and I try to follow her example. Although she’s gone now, if I want to get into the Christmas mood, I can simply channel Mom’s Christmas spirit.

Mom was always learning, and a true homemaker. If she took a ceramics class, she’d bring home a tree she’d made, to add to her Christmas décor. And probably four more so my sister and I had one, and mom’s sisters did too. Her knitted afghans were sturdy and warm to wrap in, but she also knitted little snowmen that stretched around Styrofoam balls and wore jaunty scarves and hats in bright red and green.

When I was first married and setting up housekeeping, Mom and I would go on shopping trips to find things for the newlywed apartment I had with my husband. Always pinching pennies, I looked for “designer” items at Kmart. One year, I bought a Martha Stewart comforter and matching bedding.

Martha Stewart intrigued me and I think Mom was one reason why. Martha was all about making a house a home. Sure, she might overdo it sometimes, with desserts that had ingredient lists longer than a shopping list for a state dinner. But I couldn’t wait to check out Martha Stewart Living magazine at the library and study every page. She might put a string of twinkle lights into a glass bowl, or position a candle a certain way, providing ideas for my own holiday touches.

One year, Martha designed a Christmas wreath for Kmart that I couldn’t resist, and still pull out every year. Her lacey curtain panels hung all around my house, and although my tastes have changed, I couldn’t part with them.

Martha might have had more money, and gone overboard on occasion, but her heart was in the right place, just as Mom’s was. I liked to think so, anyway. Martha loved her cake plates and so did Mom. When bringing snickerdoodles to a family gathering, I’d arrange them on a vintage glass cake plate my mom had given me.

Recently, while in Las Vegas for a conference, Martha’s image on a digital sign in the hotel brought her to mind. Three months earlier, she had opened her first restaurant, The Bedford, named after her farm located in Bedford, in upstate New York. (Supposedly, she’s near the fictional location where the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, was set.)

I felt as though I won the homemakers’ lottery when there was an opening for two reservations at 6:30 p.m. that night. The restaurant offered four kinds of pasta, starting at $28 a plate, about what I paid for that comforter all those years ago.

When a friend and I were seated in Martha’s restaurant within view of shiny copper pots hanging from the ceiling--like they do in Martha’s own kitchen--I felt a thrill. Gone was the memory of acorn squashes that I scraped out for candle molds, inspired by Martha Stewart Living--the only real craft of hers I ever made. (Once was enough.) In her dining room, I splurged on the salmon en croûte for $35. We discarded the idea of sharing the whole roast chicken for $89, rated the best ever by reviewers. It was pricey and we couldn’t bring home a doggie bag due to our early flights out.

Martha did not walk in at any point, as I had secretly hoped. But she was there in the pine tree decorations with the flocking that were everywhere. And then there were the wreaths, all the wreaths everywhere that resembled mine, at least a little bit. I saw her in the cabinets with their glass doors so we could view all of those cake plates.

The shiny rows of cake plates reminded me of when Martha went on Oprah’s show and brought her a piece of chocolate cake--on a fancy glass plate, of course. Martha claimed she had made the cake herself, and Oprah ate it on-air. Watching Oprah savor the sweet goodness was almost as satisfying as tasting it myself, or so I thought at the time.

We skipped the Upside-Down Lemon Meringue pie with whipped cream. The woman at a table next to ours pointed hers out to us, saying it was wonderful ($15.95 per slice). Don’t you love an upscale restaurant where the other diners talk to you? The Bedford was the furthest thing from stuffy, and downright cozy. That’s what I treasured most about the experience, the surprisingly down-to-earth elegance.

In the end, I had to agree with this excerpt from a review in the New York Times. “As one Twitter user wrote, ‘If you’re not trying to go to The Bedford by Martha Stewart with me don’t even talk to me.’”

Those were my thoughts exactly. Somehow, I think Mom would have approved.




All she’s ever wanted was another baby and he’s got two that landed unexpectedly in his life. He’s wounded by a bad break-up with someone only interested in his money.


Single Mom Annie York and eight-year-old Chloe live above the diner, where she works for her cousin. She’s given up on finding love and is hiding a secret. She’s a subpar housekeeper, in the extreme. When Annie has a surprise reunion with Caleb Galloway from high school, they must join forces to care for his sister’s twin babies.

He’s a guy with everything in its place. She has no idea where anything is. But seeing Annie with his niece and nephew has him wondering whether he belongs right next to her.

Excerpt:

Annie held her breath, turned the knob to let them in, and swung the door open. “Ta-da,” was all she could think to say.

Caleb’s eyes widened. His jaw dropped. She’d seen that reaction before and it was the reason she didn’t have people over. He appeared to arrange his face into a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Maybe a dump truck to go along with that shovel?”

She let out a shaky breath. Two bowls with dribbles of milk and the cereal box sat on the large kitchen table, among papers strewn all over its surface. Chloe’s pajama bottoms were on the back of one chair and Annie’s T-shirt and jeans from last night’s practice were draped on the sofa.

Annie sprinted in, grabbed her sports bra that was snagged over a lampshade, and tucked it under a sofa seat cushion. More discarded clothes covered her one upholstered, yard-sale chair.

“To be honest, I used to kind of beat myself up about this…I mean, sure, I really wish things were neater right now. Who wouldn’t? But part of me sees some advantages to being impulsive. Spontaneity is good sometimes. She looked at Drew and then Ella, who wouldn’t be here with two adults caring for them if Annie hadn’t acted on impulse. “So I’ve gotta take the good with the bad. And sometimes I can’t tell the difference myself. I’ve accepted that I’d rather be flexible and messy than rigid and neat.”

She did a one-arm sweep with the papers layering the table, sliding them into a nearby chair. Then she gestured for Caleb to set the babies in their car seats down on the cleared table.

“So that’s what people mean by ‘there’s a fine line between a weakness and a strength,’ huh?” he asked

He had listened to her, really heard her. There was something really attractive about a man who paid attention.

“That’s exactly my point.” She was talking too much but couldn’t stop, like her life depended on him understanding.

~*~

Cathy Shouse writes inspirational cowboy romances. Her Fair Creek series, set in Indiana, features the Galloway brothers of Galloway Farms. Much like the characters in her stories, Cathy once lived on a farm in “small town” Indiana, where she first fell in love with cowboys while visiting the rodeo every summer. Please visit cathyshouse.com for more information on discounts and new releases or to sign up for her newsletter.