A New Beginning

Have you ever heard of a Round Tuit? It’s an invaluable little device and if you can get your hands on one you’ll be amazed at what you can get accomplished – you know all those things you’ve been putting off doing?  Like the chapter-by-chapter synopsis for your book – I know, I haven’t gotten ‘around to it’ yet myself.  Or carving out that invaluable niche of time necessary for writing. Hard to get ‘around to it’, isn’t it?  And then there’s the research that needs doing – haven’t got ‘around to it’ either.  Woe is me!  How will I ever get around to achieving all my writing goals if I don’t get ‘around to it’?

 That’s why I have enjoyed this blog session so much.  You have all inspired me to do better with my own goal setting.  I’m amazed at how diverse a group we are and yet can still be connected by so many common threads.  As I have read and reflected on your blog posts these past two weeks, I’ve been reminded that I have had many examples of dedicated goal achievers in my life.  They inspire me as I hope they will you.

 “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”       Laurence J. Peter

backpack-BW I have a friend who is backpacking around Vietnam right now.  She took a minimal amount of clothing and larger amount of first aid and emergency supplies and won’t be back for five weeks.  Why?  Because it had always been a dream of hers and, at fifty-eight, she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to make it a reality unless she finally got around to it.  So she set a goal, started saving and when the opportunity presented itself she was ready.

 “Obstacles are those things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”           Hannah More

 Celeste is a nursing student at the college I work part-time at.  An immigrant to Canada, she has overcome many obstacles in her desire to become a nurse.  That yearning began when she was a young girl treated at a mission health clinic in Haiti.  She credits those missionaries with saving her life…and changing it. She wanted to be just like them, so she set a goal that everyone thought was unattainable.

 She struggled through poverty and lack of adequate education before immigrating to Canada and enduring more poverty while she worked at menial jobs and upgraded her high school education so that she could finally enroll in the nursing program.  She will graduate this May and has always intended to return to Haiti and serve the country and the people she loves.  I saw her just days after the earthquake and with tears in her eyes, she told me her resolve hadn’t wavered now that her ultimate goal is in sight.  She will still go home in the spring.  Haiti needs her more than ever now. 

 Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it.       Rene Descartes

 breast-cancer-awareness-ribbonMy friend, Mary, died of cancer several years ago but I still remember (though find it hard to apply) her example when it comes to resolve.  After her initial diagnosis she resolved to beat the cancer ravaging her body.  They gave her months to live; she thrived for years.  They told her she couldn’t go back to work; she continued counseling high school students in her capacity as guidance counselor until the last time she was admitted into the hospital.

 I think she actually accomplished more in those two and a half ‘cancer’ years than I have in ten ‘healthy’ years.  How did she to do it?  She made mini-goals and broke them down even further.  She didn’t get overwhelmed at the thought of going into work on a ‘bad’ day because she eased into it in stages.  First she’d work on the sitting up part and then on the getting her feet into slippers part.  Then she’d shuffle down the hall and have a shower.  Each small feat was an accomplishment and all of them made the end result entirely doable…getting to school and working with her kids.

 Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new beginning.           Author Unknown

 I’m ready for a new beginning and the promises it will bring…how about you?

Not a Creature was Stirring…Except at my House!

Take one sheltie in sheep’s clothing, add a squirrel on a hydro wire and you get one of my chaotic classic Christmas memories. 

 When my daughter was younger I had the bright idea of staging our own little outdoor nativity pageant for our neighbours.  All the children had parts and I made the cutest little sheep costumes for my dogs because, after all, the shepherds had to herd something. 

 I deliberately left squirrels off the guest list but one bushy-tailed rodent took exception to being snubbed and showed up anyway.  Much like the irate fairy godmother without an invitation in Sleeping Beauty, our uninvited guest stuck around long enough to wreck havoc before scampering off – my two shelties in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, Sandy’s leash was wrapped around the manger so when she flew off so did the baby Jesus, creating an unorthodox ending to the sacred story. 

 I love animals so it’s natural that some of my funniest (and embarrassing) Christmas memories involve them.  In fact, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some sort of pet catastrophe.  Like the live animal outdoor nativity pageant my friend and I attended along with our children, and, yes, our dogs.

 Her Alsatian turned into a statue at the sit-stay command.  I was always envious of her dog training ability.  My two Shetland Sheepdogs sat…for a while…and stayed in the general range of their leashes…until a sheep bleated. 

Ears pricked forward, bodies crouched, they moved in tandem, united by an instinct bred of centuries.  Nothing could sheep-and-sheep-dog-3keep them away from the small flock of sheep, certainly not something as insignificant as a leash!  Unfortunately they herded the sheep away from Bethlehem and after a brief tussle with pageant staff, the dogs and sheep were abandoned on the hill and the shepherds went to worship the Christ Child alone.

 My fellow audience members assured me that it was the best pageant they had ever been too, but one look from the ‘sheep bouncer ‘had us hustling back into the car without any hot chocolate or cookies.

 I wasn’t raised on Christmas traditions but as I grew older, I yearned for them, feasting on books to satisfy the need for that kind of special family heritage.  I blithely borrowed from favourite authors and their characters until my own little family needed to celebrate the season longer in order to fit in all those new traditions.

 night treeLike Eve Bunting’s Night Tree – the story of a family’s Christmas pilgrimage into the woods to decorate an evergreen tree with food for the animals.  Remember I said that I love animals?  Hello, there couldn’t be a better tradition for my daughter and I to adopt then this one.  Of course I added my own little touches like peanut butter sandwiches in cookie cutter Christmas shapes.  I borrowed as many kids as I could nab to play ‘elf’ and once we’d filled our buckets and hampers with wildlife edible delights we took off the for the park behind my house in the dead of night.  Of course my dogs came along and the neighbour’s cat, Desmond, who thought he was a dog. 

 The park was large and sprawling and well treed – the perfect place to find the perfect tree to decorate for the animals.  We trudged single file off the groomed paths with only a few flashlights to guide us through the wintry darkness.  I felt like the Piped Piper with my motley crew winding their way behind me.  It was picture postcard perfect – freshly fallen snow, bright moon, twinkling stars.  The children sensed the magic of the night and were unusually quiet.  Even the dogs stopped chasing the cat.  It was a Christmas Eve miracle!

Unbeknownst to me, a rookie RCMP officer had pulled into the parking lot to take a break and noticed the suspiciously bobbing lights coming from the brush.  He called for back up and got out of the car.

 There isn’t enough space in this blog to relate the entire pandemonium that ensued.  Suffice to say that the RCMP in question did not have a sense of humour and was definitely lacking in Christmas spirit.  Still, years later,  it makes a good story and fills out the memories of my very untraditional family Christmases!

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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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…