Christmas Romance

Hey there…yep, it’s me. The last Insktie blogger – the one who brings up in the rear. You all know me by now – I’m the slightly dazed woman spinning into my biweekly panic mode. After all, over the past two weeks we’ve covered nearly everything on my list of Christmas reads.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the discussions…it’s just that every time I opened my mouth…er, keyboard…a smidgen of my blog slipped out. So by midweek I was really stewing over what I’d write come the 18th. (Whoohooo – it’s B-day!)
Let’s see – we’ve covered childhood favourites, venerable classics, tearjerkers, audio books, Christmas music and traditions and lets not forget our debate over the existence of Santa Claus (didn’t that topic generate a lively discussion?) We have defined what makes a good Christmas book or movie…and what doesn’t. And we’ve been very vocal about both. So, I ask you, what on earth is left?

Romance – that’s what! Warm, tingling, full-of-hope-and-holiday-cheer-couples- falling-in-love-at-the-most-magical-time-of-year romance. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!

Phew, that was easy! Well, almost. Lorna and I have the same taste in books and there’s a duplicate recommendation in my blog…see if you can remember which one as you read my reviews below.

cowboychristmas[1]Cowboy Christmas by Mary Connealy

Take one annoyingly stubborn, though well-intentioned young woman and call her Annette. Add one infuriatingly stubborn though equally as well-intentioned cowboy and call him Elijah. Throw them together in a clash of wills and a series of misunderstandings and watch the sparks fly.

Then, just for fun, whip in a tough-as-nails-with-a-heart-of-gold ma, a mysterious stranger and two of the orneriest villains ever to grace the pages of a Western and then sit back and enjoy the best romantic Christmas comedy ever!

Can you tell that I LOVED this book? Mary Connealy has a unique style and a quick wit. Her deadpan humour catches you unawares and leaves you laughing out loud (which can be embarrassing if you’re riding a bust at the time).

Her characters come to life and wrap themselves around your heart and you grow to love them so much you want to reach through the pages of the book and grab those darling characters by the scruff of their sorry necks and thwack their heads together in the hopes that you can unstick some of that persistent stubbornness!

This is the first book I’ve read by Mary Connealy but it won’t be the last. May she have a long and prolific career!

silverbells[1]Silver Bells : a Holiday Tale by Luann Rice

Here’s your tissue warning, Brenda. And it’s been made into a Hallmark movie so you can watch it or read it or both!

Christopher ‘Christy’ Byrne is a happily married Nova Scotia Christmas tree farmer. He and his family travel to Manhattan every Christmas to sell their trees. Life is pretty near perfect until his wife dies, plunging Christy into despair. He struggles to keep the farm afloat, to father his motherless son and daughter and cope with a grief that grows stronger with each passing day.

Catherine Tierney is New York City librarian who used to keep Christmas but then her husband died, leaving her a hopeless unbeliever.

Two lost souls struggling to find balance in their lives are thrown together by fate at Christmastime.

Luann Rice has created a ‘new’ holiday classic. An emotional, tautly woven tale of tragedy and hope with a little magic thrown in. It’s the kind of story that makes you laugh and cry and, in the end, believe that miracles are possible.

wildwestchristmas[1]Wild West Christmas by Kathleen Y’Barbo, Lena Nelson Dooley, Darlene Franklin and Vickie McDonough

A book of 4 Christmas novellas, this is a great way to become familiar with new-to-you authors. Kathleen, Lena, Darlene and Vickie pooled their creative resources and the Ames family was born; four girls raised to womanhood by their widowed father. Charlsey can ride, rope and work the ranch as well as any cowhand. Lucy’s sharp-shooting skills would put Annie Oakley to shame. Sarah is the Wild West’s version of a horse whisperer and Bess is an expert tracker.

While collaborating on a back-story, each author has taken one sister in hand and has given them a Christmas romance. I read about this book on Carla Gade’s Writingtodistraction blog when she interviewed the authors. I’ve read novella’s created around a common theme before, but I have never read one where the stories overlap. The writers did a great job and it sounds like they had a lot of fun creating Wild West Christmas. I know I had fun reading it!

movie_christmas_cardThe Christmas Card

This movie embraces the meaning of Christmas. More tissues needed while watching, Brenda. It starts with a simple act of charity when Faith Speilman writes a Christmas card to an unknown soldier serving in Afghanistan. Captain Cody Cullen, a rather embittered, lost soul, is the recipient of the card. In spite of himself, he is touched by the words Faith has written to a stranger and he keeps the card with him through a difficult tour of duty. When Cody finds himself stateside again on an extended leave he is compelled to track down Ms. Faith Speilman and…magic happens.
So, can you add to my list?  How about the romance titles that are on your Christmas wish list?  Care to share?  Santa might be reading!  May you all find a little Christmas romance be it fictional or real this holiday season!
 

 

 

 

The Warmth of the Season

Christmas came early to me this year. It came at a discouraging time when I was, once again, wrestling to make ends meet. It seems that no matter how hard I work or how frugally I live, unexpected financial obligations leave me strapped at the end of the month.
 
I’d been saving for a new winter coat since the beginning of the fall, not that I had much to put aside. I’d thrown my old coat away. It had been worn to a threadbare state with a broken zipper and frayed cuffs and was past the point of repairing. So I started saving at the end of the summer, thinking I had plenty of time to accumulate enough cash to find a sturdy winter coat that would see me through the next ten years of harsh Canadian winters.
 
I was heartened when I saw the pre-season sales beginning the end of September. 40% off! With that kind of discount I could afford a good quality coat. Of course, I didn’t have enough money yet…but in another pay or two I’d have more than enough.
 
So it was with a light heart that I headed to the shopping mall in mid October. I’d already scoped out the stores and knew which ones had styles I liked. Warmth was a priority. I was looking for the kind of coat that could protect me from the elements during the inevitable long winter waits at bus stops. That kind of coat came at a cost but, with the slashed prices I had seen earlier, I was confident I could afford it.
 
Funny thing about the retail industry – they put the merchandise on sale when you don’t need it and jack up the price when you do. By the time I went to do my shopping there wasn’t a sale sign in sight. The prices had crept up along with the encroaching winter.
 
I spent a lot of time looking for a deal, frantically expanding my search in the hopes of finding something decent that I could afford but I knew that time was against me. Our unusually balmy weather wasn’t going to hang on forever and it looked like I’d be greeting the first blast of winter coatless.
 
I mentioned my frustration over the price of coats to an online friend, just a sentence or two in passing. A week later a parcel arrived from the states. Can you guess what was inside?jacket
 
A coat. A lovely, three-in-one toasty warm jacket that had me breaking out in a sweat when I tried it on inside the house. There were pockets galore and cozy fleece and snap-tight wristbands guaranteed to deflect any amount of wind or snow. I was thrilled and humbled not just by the generosity of a friend I hadn’t even met in person, but by the fact that she had clearly cultivated a relationship with that Still Small Voice. So, while I am extremely thankful for the coat, I am even more grateful for the giver’s example.
 
It’s not as easy as you might think – the listening part of faith. Truth is, the Holy Spirit is whispering to me all the time. It can get downright annoying – those quiet promptings that make no sense and interrupt the hectic rhythm of my day. But at some point my friend bought a coat she didn’t need because something prompted her to. And then she kept that coat hanging in her closet until such at time as the need for it became evident. Now that’s a great lesson in faith!
 

 

 

 

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The Blog Monsters Are Gonna Getcha!

Kav tumbled into bed and curled into the warm spot Simba had gallantly heated up for her.  Eyes already closed, she sighed as her faithful companion belly-crept to the bottom of the bed to perform foot-warming duty.  Hmmmmm…that felt good. Her eyelids drooped as a wave of weariness swept over her.  Three extra evening shifts added onto her six-day workweek had depleted the last dollop of zip.  “Yep,” she mumbled to her dog, “my zip is definitely zapped.  I’m in zerious need of zzzzzzzzz’s,” and she floated away on a dream cloud made up of…ouch!  She opened one eye and shifted her left hip.  Metallic clanging shattered the silence.  “What on earth…”

“Not earth,” a disembodied voice intoned.  “You’re in Dreamspace 564 but not for long.”

“What?  Who?”  Kav sat up in confusion, sliding awkwardly on her lumpy bed.  Only it wasn’t a bed – at least not the one she had snuggled into just seconds ago.  This bed was hard, and shifty and cold and…pokey.  She reached beneath a delicate part of her anatomy and pulled out… “A film reel?”  Whoever heard of a mattress made out of film reels?  “There has to be some mistake!”

“You’re right,” the voice declared with a hint of malice.  “You’re in a holding pattern over Nightmare 234 and as soon as we get clearance I’ll dump you…ah…here we go.  I’d tell you to hold on tight, but that’s kind of hard when the bottom drops right out from under you.”

Kav’s stomach switched places with her heart and before she could sort out her roiling innards she crash-landed on a movie set.  “I – I – don’t understand…” she whimpered in confusion.

“Not bad – a little more emoting would be good though,” said a little man sporting a rakish beret and a pointy goatee.  He held a clappermegaphone in one hand and a clapper in the other.  “Here, hold this.”

“W-w-w-what???”

“Save the stunned Bambi eyes for the Blog Monsters’ entrance.  Just sit tight and lets get the lighting right.”

“I’m sorry, but I think I’ve landed in someone else’s nightmare.  I’m scheduled for a romantic interlude with…”

“Silence on the set!”

“But…”

“That includes you, even if you are the star.”

“S-s-s-tar?”

The director rolled his eyes heavenwards.  “Tell me you didn’t forget your lines.”

“Lines?”

“Look, the wary edge to your voice gives a nice touch of authenticity, but all that acting isn’t going to get you anywhere if you can’t remember your lines.”

“I really think I landed in someone else’s dream.  Could you check, please?”

“You Kav – tenth blogger at inkspirationalmessages.com?”

Kav nodded.

“It’s Thursday night – 10 p.m. and you haven’t written your blog yet?”

“Oh my gosh…I forgot…”

“Ah – now that’s what I’m talking about.  Horror. Fear. That perspiration on your upper lip is a nice touch as well.  We’re ready to roll…Lights…”

“Wait – I really don’t know what’s happening!”

“You got the role of the librarian that gets eaten by the Blog Monsters…camera…”

“M-m-monsters?”

“Yep.  And they’re a nasty lot.  Been in makeup for three hours, add another two while they waited for you to get home and, well, let’s just say this isn’t going to be pretty.  Act…”

“No!  I can’t!  I don’t know my lines.  The words aren’t coming…”

The director shrugged.  “Adlib.  It’s too late to change things now.  The blog is due in two hours and you’re already in bed fast asleep.  You can’t keep that kind of nightmare at bay.  Here’s the plot…you run, the Blog Monsters chase you.  You run some more and the blog monsters catch you.  You scream for mercy and the blog monsters eat you.  It’ll all be over before you know it.  Standby on the set.  Lights!  Camera!”

“Isn’t there anything I can do to change this nightmare into a dream?”

“Why do I always get the difficult dream patrons?”  The director sighed as he took the clapper back. “All you have to do is come up with something to write in your blog.  Books and movies.  Movies and books.  Come up with something original and I’ll see if I can slip you onto a romance cloud but until then…The Librarian and the Evil Blog Monsters.  Take One.” The director banged the clapper shut and leapt out of the way.  “ACTION!”

Kav’s breath came in gasps. Her chest burned as she tried to pull air into her lungs.  Her feet thudded against the pavement, jarring her bones and shooting pain up her spine but she couldn’t stop.  They were gaining on her.  She could hear their lumbering feet shuffling closer; smell the fetid odour of countless unwashed Blog Monster bodies.  She gagged and then she stumbled and when she righted herself she found that she was in a video store.

“Sorry, we’re closed.”

“H-help…chased…monsters…” Kav gasped.

The clerk typed the words into his computer. “Nope.  We don’t have a copy of Help Chased Monsters.  Sorry…and we’re closed.”

Kav slumped against the counter. “Need…DVD…book made into movie.”

“I said, we’re closed.”

“Not going until I get…”

“All right, all right…why do all the difficult customers come into the store at closing?”  The clerk muttered as he typed frantically.

“Do you hear that?”  Thud.  Thud.  Thud.  The Blog Monsters banged on the door. “Hurry!”

“The Outsiders.”

“Lorna.”

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

“Discussed.”

“Little House on the Praire.”

“Good until they veered away from the books.”

“Pride and Prejudice.”

“Colin Firth, hunky Darcy, likely on Regina’s romance cloud.”

“Grinch…”

“1966 best.”

The door gave way under the weight of a multitude of Blog Monsters.

“Quick I need the name of a movie but one that’s not: A Firm Count of Monte Cristo who Kills a Mockingbird that throws the Thornbirds into such Misery it would fill a Notebook that Da Vinci couldn’t unCode even if he had the help of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings leaving Holes that are Gone With the Wind…” Kav gave a frantic kick and clung to the edge of the counter as the Blog Monsters surrounded her.  She squeezed her eyes tight and wondered if being a midnight snack would hurt very much.  Teeth clamped onto her arm and guttural growls echoed around her.  The stench of monster breath made her wretch as she struggled to free herself.

“Woof!”

“Umph!”  Kav’s head hit the wall and she sat up, dazed.  Simba let go of her arm so that he could lay his head along her shoulder, wuffling sympathetic endearments in her ear.  “It was just a dream!” she exclaimed in relief.  “Good boy, you woke me from a bad, scary dream…” Her relief was short lived however when she realized that her blog still wasn’t done.  The dream might be over but her nightmare was about to start all over again.

the end

True Confession:

I have Techno-cyber phobia.  It’s a real cross to bear in this increasingly technological savvy world we live in – especially as an aspiring writer.

 I’ve always felt like I was born in the wrong century.  How I long for the days of feather pens and inkpots and rustling parchment paper…the satisfactory sound of a knife-sharpened nib scratching against hand-pressed velum…

 *v#@^}*! 

Oh dear, you’ll have to forgive the unbridled emotions of my dear friend, Twit.  She does, after all, have a point since, as a laptop she wouldn’t even exist in an earlier century! As you can imagine – this is a delicate matter between the two of us.

 A traumatic incident in my early childhood undoubtedly contributed to the techno part of my phobia (technophobia is the fear of technology). As far as I’m concerned, witnessing my little squeaky bear being sucked up into the vacuum cleaner at the tender age of three started me on the treacherous path that has often left me terror-stricken.

 It was inevitable that cyberphobia would follow.  That’s a fear of computers.  The horror stories I could tell!!!  Like the time I had just completed an online exam that had taken me 90 minutes of meticulous work.  Beads of sweat were dripping off my forehead as I raised a trembling finger and pushed ‘send’.  I still remember the stark horror I felt when I received that fatal error message.  It gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it.  Talk about hair standing on end!computer

 And then there was the fateful day I applied for a position as a school library technician.  I passed the interview with flying colours, no doubt due to my bag full of puppets, my lucky teddy bear and the story time books I brought along.  I’m a hands-on-kind of gal…but not when it comes to computers.

The second part of the interview was a test.  How hard could that be, I wondered.  Put a few call numbers in correct Dewey order, write an overdue notice, advertise a book fair.  Piece of cake!  And then they brought me into a room the size of a broom closet.  It was empty save for…spooky organ music swells in the background…the computer! Bwhahahahaha! Talk about a Vincent Price moment!!!!  They wanted me to do everything online!!!!!  Let’s just say that after I was hired my new boss told me it was lucky I’d done so well on the interview because that swayed the superintendents who were less than thrilled with my test scores! (I had experienced another Black Screen of Death moment).

 I still experience symptoms of tachycardia when I think about the little mix-up with Taxation Canada.  Their computers said I owed them $24,000 in back taxes!!!  That took a full year to sort out, because we all know that the computer never lies.

 And then there’s the funny story about me trying to enrol in college as a struggling, dirt-poor, single mom.  See, the college computers said that I’d registered the year before for another programme and had quit without paying the bill.  I had to pay up or else I couldn’t enrol in the library program…oh and by the way did I know that my name has been given to a collection agency?!

 I remember the day that I finally got that kafuffle sorted out with great fondness.  Because it wasn’t technology that came to my aid but sheer human perversity!   When I couldn’t cut through all that red tape I declared my own last stand.  I was a caregiver at the time and brought all my little charges with me to the Registrar’s office.  Two of them were in diapers.  I told anyone who would listen (and many who wouldn’t) that I wasn’t budging until somebody cleared up my account.  Silly people.  They didn’t believe me.  They didn’t realize that I was a woman on a mission.  It was Humanity vs. Technology and I was fighting for more than myself.  I was battling piles of plastic and circuit boards (sorry Twit) for the greater good of man(and woman)kind.  Besides, I had nothing to loose except my student loan.

So the little darlings and I camped out in the Registrar’s office.  The plush carpet was the perfect place to play and surely the Scotch Guard warrantee on the new sofa and matching chairs covered baby spit-up.  By noon we were well into our siege.  The floor was littered with toys, the glass doors were decorated with toddler handprints and I still remember the stunned silence when I proceeded to spread out a blanket on the floor and doled out sandwiches for lunch. (I was so tempted to bring soup and crackers)!  I could tell the wall of resistance was starting to crumble.  It was Avery filling his diaper babyboythat sent the wall toppling. With an expletive that isn’t suitable for this blog, the manager pulled up my file and cleared it.  “Now, will you go?” she implored.  Triumphant, I smiled.  “After you enrol me in the library program.”

 So what am I doing participating on a blog?  Ask Lorna.  She got me into this mess…and she gets me out of it every second Friday.  Lucky for me, Lorna has Super Blogger powers and trails after me, fixing the chaos I leave in my wake.

Blog Deadlines!

Twas the night before my blog deadline and all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

It lay still by the laptop, it’s light now diminished

In spite of the fact that my blog wasn’t finished.

I had abandoned my post in search of inspiration

But, alas, only found myself drenched in perspiration,

From walking my dog up and down empty streets

As I fought writer’s blog block while doling out treats

To Simba who happily enjoyed every bite

Blissfully ignorant of my own dismal plight.

‘Writing nooks’ was my problem; my mind was a blank

And the more that I thought about it, the more my heart sank

For I knew other bloggers had said it all quite nicely;

They’re thoughts and expressions delivered concisely

Over the past two weeks with wonderful flare

Yet leaving me wallowing in the depths of despair.

For what could I add to what had already been said?

I thought, as I finally shuffled home with great dread.

laptopTo face my laptop, Miss Buttercup Twittlebottom, dear ‘Twit’

Whose reproachful glare told me she thought I was a half-wit!

For wasn’t she waiting in gleaming perfection?

Wondering, no doubt, at her misplaced affection

For a bumbling, mumbling fool of a writer

Whose work hours had become exceedingly brighter

Since Twit arrived last October from the far away south

After word of my computerless state traveled by word of mouth.

And then the light bulb went on with a blinding flash!

A nook was obsolete now that I had Twit’s memory cache

Encased in her polished, sleek and svelte ebony hide.

My fingers caressed her keys and she beamed with pride

As I began to compose this lame little verse

In honour of Twit, who has brought me to diverse

Nooks and crannies where writing flows free

On the couch, in my bed – it doesn’t matter to me

In the garden, at the library, in a park on a whim

Twit’s my constant companion thanks to my friend, Kim!

And the world is my nook

Where I’m writing my book

Sigh…

If only Twit had power over that old capricious time!

But I guess I’ll leave that ditty for another rhyme!

Harvest Your Blessings

Are you ever burdened with a load of care? 
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
 
  The familiar words from one of my favourite hymns haven’t been far from my mind lately. In fact, those first two lines of the second stanza from Count Your Blessings by John Oatman Jr. (1856-1922) have been replaying over and over in my head for months. I was in a rut, dwelling on heavy crosses and burdens instead of the uplifting promise in the chorus:

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done.

 I’ve always had difficulty with math, and, when circumstances in my life seemed to tip the scales towards tempests and discouragement, it was easy for me to get bogged down in the technicalities of doing the arithmetic. Even an operation as basic as counting escaped me…until I finally remembered how – at a funeral I attended recently.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged thinking all is lost.
 
It was a difficult and painful gathering. The friend/father/husband/co-worker we were mourning had chosen to end his own life. Anticipating a small crowd, the family had arranged for a quiet, intimate service at the cemetery only to discover that they had radically underestimated the breadth and scope of this dear man’s influence.
 It wasn’t long before cars overflowed the cemetery parking lot, spilling out onto the quiet lanes that meandered through the grounds. In fact, the sheer number of cars turning off the main road caused traffic to back up for blocks.

churchThe little chapel was filled beyond capacity. Crowds spilled into the foyer and overflowed into the hall until the line-up of people wishing to pay their respects extended right out the front door.

As I stood in the midst of the throng – a cross-section of age and gender from all walks of life – I marvelled that a man so loved and respected obviously hadn’t realized the impact he had made on so many lives. And it was there, as I contemplated the many ways he had touched my life, that I remembered my favourite hymn’s promising refrain.

Count your blessings, name them one by one

Obviously my friend had forgotten to count. Or maybe he had started counting the wrong things, like we all do from time to time. However it happened, he had lost touch with his blessings and in the process had become so discouraged that he actually believed all was lost.
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
 
It shouldn’t surprise us, should it? The bible is full of examples of the promises He has made to us but somehow, during times of trials, it is easy to overlook those words of comfort.
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.
 
Johnson Oatman’s words rang out like a challenge – one that I readily accepted. I have been counting ever since and I think I’m getting the hang of it. Perspective is the key.
 
From, Lord, how can you let my dog’s lymphoma come back? – to – Lord, thank you for the blessing of six years with that little scamp.

From, Lord, I don’t know how much longer I can work 6 days a week. – to – Lord, thank you for the blessing of having two jobs when so many are losing theirs.

From, Lord, why can’t I breeze into Sears and pick out brand new furiniture? – to – Lord, thank you for the unexpected blessing my neighbour left at the end of his driveway. With a little bit of paint and some new fabric that chair will be perfect in my living room.

Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven nor your home on high

 
This weekend marks Canada’s Thanksgiving celebration and the perfect time to contemplate a harvest of blessings. So, quick, grab a piece of paper – wait, make that a pad of paper – and a pen – oops, you’ll likely need a couple – and start counting.
 
 Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
 

Don’t Forget to Pack Your Flood Book!

Flood Books.  What are they?  A phrase coined by librarian, storyteller and author, Caroline Feller Bauer.  She’s the motivational guru for children librarians everywhere. A flood book is the second book you keep on hand in case you finish reading your current book and you find yourself stranded for any number of reasons, be it flood, torrential rains, blizzard, kids’ hockey game, a delayed flight…well you get the idea.  Your flood book is your spare so you’ll never be stuck without something to read (a thought that leaves me quaking in horror). 

 In embracing this brilliant strategy I may have taken it too literally, since my flood books have flood books and those flood books have flood books and…well, let’s just say I use a little red cloth grocery cart as a purse most days!  So, asking me to limit my book list to just those on my nightstand isn’t limiting me at all!  And did I mention I have two nightstands?  Brace yourselves:

bible First and foremost, a ‘must read’ for everybody’s list – the bible.  I prefer the King James Version and try to read from it every day.  Sometimes it’s just a snippet, sometimes a chapter, occasionally a whole book at one sitting.  I like to think it’s the most read book in my house – it’s certainly the most worn!

 And now, in random order from the higgledy-piggledy pile cocooning my bed:

 Lois Hole’s Perennial Favorites.  I’m a book-taught gardener who dreams of a yard to rival the best cover shot from House & Garden.  With that intent, I dug up all the lawn in front of my little bungalow and replaced weeds with flowers, bushes and groundcover of every hue and form.  I may have a green thumb, but my eyes are bigger than my property line and I made the usual beginner gardener mistake of planting too much in too little space.  Lois is setting me straight.

sacred chaos Sacred Chaos : Spiritual Disciplines for the Life You Live by Tricia McCary Rhodes.  According to the author, life is often chaotic and no matter how hard we try to slow down and find time to devote to prayer and meditation the chaos usually wins.  This book is about how to harness that chaos and make it sacred. Short chapters with practical challenges at the end make this an inspirational growth book that can fit anyone’s lifestyle.  It’s full of fresh views on how to connect with God and new ways to find time to pray and listen and be guided by God. An inspiring read, and a book you’ll want to refer back to again and again.

knit together Knit Together : God’s pattern for Your Life by Debbie Macomber.  Another inspirational book filled with love and humour and lots of personal anecdotes from the author.  Leaf through the pages and read a snippet here and a snippet there and you’ll feel like you are in your best friend’s kitchen having a gabfest over a cup of tea and a plate of cookies.  This is a feel good book that lifts your spirits and inspires you to believe that your own dreams can really happen. Since Debbie Macomber discusses her journey towards becoming a published and subsequently best-selling author, it’s particularly appropriate for those of us who are aspiring authors.

guernsey1 The Guernsey and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  I’m re-reading this one – for the third time! – for this month’s book club.

 My friend and fellow book-lover rapturously urged me to read this book. She hugged it to her as she enthused about how wonderful it was and made the noble sacrifice of offering it to me before she had completely finished reading it a second time. (She has since bought a second copy so that she has one to lend and one always at hand for a Potato Pie Peel fix.) I have to confess that the title threw me and my friend and I don’t always share the same taste in literature, I accepted her generous offer with some trepidation. I mean, with a title like that the book had to be lame, right?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

I don’t even know how to describe why it is so right. Perhaps because reading it was an experience. Perhaps because I felt as if I had suddenly acquired a secret stash of new friends with the oddest quirks who had begun to make my life more exciting. Perhaps because I couldn’t help but savour every word or stop myself from googling ‘Guernsey’ so I could see the island for myself. Definitely because it made an impression on me. Perhaps Annie Barrows (coauthor) said it best:

The wonderful thing about books–and the thing that made them such a refuge for the islanders during the Occupation–is that they take you out of your time and place and transport you, not just into the world of the story, but into the world of your fellow-readers, who have stories of their own.

 Ack – so many books, so little time and I haven’t even started on my second nightstand pile!

Look Up

sheltie3I’ve spent a good chunk of my life living on the ‘wrong’ side of poverty. Once you have, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you are constantly living in its shadow.  I had a refresher course of what it was like this summer when I was faced with unexpected vet bills.
 
I rely on the dual income both my full-time and my part-time jobs bring in most of the year. However, since one of my jobs is at a college, I am laid off every May and not rehired until September. Those are my lean months when I have to weigh every purchase and count my pennies. I was prepared for this summer to be particularly tight. There wouldn’t be anything left over for extras. And then my dog got sick.

I robbed Peter to pay Paul and managed the vet bill, but very little else. By the time some of my other bills had been paid, there was nothing left over for niceties like…oh, say…food or transportation.

As I walked the hour and twenty minutes to work in the grueling heat of midsummer I had many conversations with God. Not all of them were uplifting. I was, in fact, guilty of wallowing in a pity party like no other. Wasn’t it time for me to move on to some other kind of challenge? I asked. Being poor was so twentieth century for me! Surely I had learned all I could from the prolonged experience. If God was lacking in imagination I could happily provide other life-altering experiences that I hadn’t wrestled with yet – like wealth for example. Now there’s a challenge I could sink my teeth into!

God was silent through my sarcasm. Then He tried to wipe away my tears but I stubbornly clung to them. He wanted to lift the dreary cloud that dogged my every footstep but I refused to let it go. And then I got angry. I mean, really, who was God to put me through this again?

One day when I was hot and cranky and my feet hurt and my spirits dropped to a new low, I wandered around the grocery store, more to bask in the air conditioned coolness than to shop. I only had a handful of change and three days to wait before my next pay and my cupboards were bare.

With a listless lack of enthusiasm, I finally decided on a jar of peanut butter. True, I had no bread but at least there was protein in the peanut butter. Robbed of my last paltry pieces of change, I trudged home clutching the jar, head hanging low, my eyes fixated on the shuffle of my hot, tired feet.

I’d spent most of the summer looking down. So much so that I had memorized the various shades of ‘worn’ in the sneakers that should have been replaced last spring. I could tell you exactly where the left shoelace had begun to fray and which grommets had lost their metal fasteners. It was hardly a scenic journey home and the only reason I looked up at all was to place my key in the lock to open the door. As I did something prompted me to look higher. It was the shiver of a whisper quietly sounding in my head. Look up.

I did and found myself eye level with a white grocery bag hanging on the hook reserved for my Christmas wreath. A hastily scrawled letter was taped to the bread1outside of the bag. “Was praying and thought of you. Your sister in Christ.” I reached in and pulled out a huge loaf of homemade bread and a jar of raspberry preserves. 

Eyes blurred with tears, I looked even higher – at the blue expanse of the summer sky…and beyond, and was reminded of a scripture in the sixth chapter of John. “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (verse 35).

Maybe I did have something to learn after all…

 

 

I WAS RAISED BY BOOKS…

…Really. I was a feral child of the written word. You know, like Romulus and Remus who were raised by wolves? Only instead of a wild animal, I imprinted on the characters from the books I read. I had multiple mothers and fathers, hundreds of brothers and sisters and enough extended family to…well, fill a library.

I read all the time. By the light of a flashlight under the covers at night. In the light of day as I walked to school. (I usually had a bruise in the middle of my forehead from walking into lampposts!) Curled up in the round wicker chair by the window in the last bit of twilight.

Weston Public libraryI read so much that by the time I was eleven I had out-read the children’s section of the public library, much to the consternation of the librarian. She didn’t know what to do with me. (This was in the days before children had access to the entire library collection.) You stayed in Children’s until you were thirteen. Only then could you move up to the Young Adults section. But there I was two years early and out of books.

The Children’s Librarian consulted the YA librarian who sought out the Head Librarian. She called my parents who gave their permission for me to venture into the YA realm a full two years early!

That’s where I met Madeleine L’Engle and my life changed completely. There was a depth to her writing that I hadn’t encountered before. Vicky, Meg, Poly, Camilla, Calvin, Zachary and so many others came to life for me in a way I’d never dreamed possible. I stopped devouring books and began savoring them and the transformation from reader to writer began.wrinkle-in-time

I wrote my first book when I was eleven. It was 78 hand-written pages. I could never write short stories. My imagination was too big to restrict my characters to just a few scenes. I was constantly docked marks for incomplete work in English class but in grade eight Mrs. Whittlesea (isn’t that a glorious name for a junior high English teacher?) told me that I had the heart of a writer! I floated home on clouds of euphoria and began the hunt and peck method of typing out my first official manuscript.

I actually did get an article published in Seventeen magazine just after I graduated high school. And a few years later I had a picture book published by a small Canadian press. I’d followed the old adage “write what you know” and had concocted a story about my little family, starring my daughter. The book ended with the line “…but most of all they were happy.” Sadly my husband wasn’t and I soon found myself a single mother. I lost the ability to dream for a while under the stress of working to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

And then I went back to school, turning my love for books into a practical library degree. I worked as a school librarian for 14 years and my current position is in the school board resource centre. I not only get paid to read…but someone else pays for the books I read! It’s a dream job – one I buffer with a part-time position at a college library.

No rest for the weary and no time to write…or so I thought until I stumbled onto romancefanfiction.net. The lure was too great and I started writing again. And once I’d begun the old dreams began to surface and I suddenly find myself hurdling forward, barely able to catch my breath!

What am I doing here? Hyperventilating most of the time and holding long discourses with God. If only I could learn to stop talking long enough to listen for an answer! How have the rest of you expressed it? Rollercoaster ride? Nerve-wracking? Tough? Definitely. Humbling? Absolutely. So, taking a deep breath, I close my eyes and press send…