Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Catalogs, Junk Mail, Solicitations & Pain at Christmas by Karla Stover


Wynters Way          A Line To Murder (A Puget Sound Mystery Book 1)     Murder, When One Isn't Enough
Historical mystery                Murder in Tacoma, WA.    Murder on Hood Canal

     The day before Thanksgiving, my husband and I went to put flowers on my parents' grave sites. When we returned home, Mom had a solicitation from the insurance company, Kaiser Permanente, and together they had a request for money. The week before, three Dr. Leonard catalogs arrived. Those are regularly followed by Blair, Haband, the Salvation Army, Disabled Veterans, Indian tribes, and I can't, right now, think of who all else.

     Being an orphan is horrible, at the best of times, but the constant reminders coming through the mail make it even worse. And everything sent to my parents is passed on to me because I was the executor and have a forwarding address at the post office.

    When they first passed away, I tried sending notes back to the various solicitors letting them know about their deaths. Fat lot of good that did! And, of course, their names have been sold. Today, the Emerald Queen (EQC) Hotel & Casino sent a fold-out flier of coming events. My folks never went to the EQC, let alone used any sort of identification there.

It hurts to have this come, to be constantly reminded that I will never see my folks again. I wish I knew how to make it all stop.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Holiday Traditions

I come from a family with three sisters and a brother which made the Christmas holidays fun because there were a lot of presents under the tree! For the first seventeen years of my life, Dad was in the Air Force and that meant moving every few years, but regardless of whether we lived in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia or Texas; Japan or Kwajalein, our Christmas traditions arrived right along with the Mayflower Moving Van.

We always got a Life Saver© story book; we hung stockings on a pretend fireplace. We girls dressed alike in outfits Mom had made for midnight church service on Christmas Eve.  And we would always peek under Mom’s bed because that’s where she always hid the Christmas presents. (My own children were well into college before I quit giving them Life Saver© storybooks.)

One of my holiday traditions was writing Christmas stories for my family and friends. Over the years there were stories about Christmases in the past, Christmas ghosts, holiday memories and even lumberjacks who helped Santa. One of these stories, "Once upon a Christmas Wish" was about a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania called Snow. Even in the midst of the coal mine shutting down, the children of the town decided to celebrate the holiday with a snow sculpture festival. This story so captured me that I decided to write a mainstream novel based in Snow. Again, the snow festival was such a huge part of the story that I even invented a fictitious website all about the town and its many businesses. 

That story is "Always Believe". It’s a story about family and friendships and maybe even a miracle or two. Emma doesn't believe in the enchantment of Christmas, but then she and her dad move to Snow, where even the stores have holiday names. What is she supposed to think when her new friend, Charlie, pulls her into the magic of the holiday by insisting he knows the location of Santa's workshop?
Letters to Santa tend to be another tradition of the holiday. But what happens when a typographical error causes hundreds of letters to Santa to end up at a Chicago Cosmetic Company? Because of an error in ad copy, CEO Chantilly Morrison is inundated with letters from children, whose scribbled wishes tug at her heart. She hires an investigator to find the letter writers so she can throw a huge Christmas party and make the children's fantasies come true. AJ Anderson can find the unfindable, whether it's lost artifacts or people and he's very good at his job. But when Chanti dumps hundreds of letters in his lap with the directive to find the children -- before Christmas Eve -- he knows the request is impossible, but the woman is irresistible. Should he use his skills to make her Christmas wish come true, or can he use the countdown to Christmas to find the key that unlocks the lady's heart?

I wish you all the best of the holidays, in whatever way you celebrate and with whatever traditions you hold dear. If one of your traditions just happens to be reading a fun holiday story, I invite you to grab a copy of “Always Believe” or “If Wishes Were Magic”, both available from

Barbara Baldwin

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Advent calendars by J. S. Marlo

I would be lying if I said I wasn't counting the days before Christmas, mainly because I take care of my five-year-old granddaughter every morning, and the first thing we do while we're eating breakfast together is to check the date and month on the calendar. Now that we're in December, we also count the days before Christmas Eve and then she opens her two Advent calendars.

I debated which Advent calendar to buy her before I settled on the chocolate and the Lego calendars. There are so many different ones on the market, but like many Christmas traditions, where or when did this one start?

Advent calendars originated in the 1800s in the German-speaking world when parents began to think up different ways to illustrate the remaining time until Advent for their children in order to highlight the special, holiday atmosphere of the season.

Some parents added a new picture with Christmas themes to their wall or windows each day leading up to Christmas Eve or Day. Other made 24 lines with chalk on cabinet doors or door frames, then allowed the children to wipe away one stroke each day.

In Austria, they made “heaven ladders” on which one progressed down the ladder rung by rung each day, illustrating the concept of God coming down to Earth. And in Scandinavia, a candle was divided into 24 segments and a segment was burned every day until Christmas.

In the late 1800s, they started making “Christmas clocks”. The face of the clock was divided into 24 segments (some adorned with song texts or Bible verses) and the hands moved one step further each day.

Then in 1908, inspired by his childhood memories,  Gerhard Lang (1881-1974) commercialized the first print Advent calendar. As a child he'd received 24 cookies sewn onto the lid of a box by his mother and he was allowed to eat one of them every day during the Advent period.

Lang's calendar didn’t have any little doors  to open...yet. It was composed of two printed parts: one page contained 24 pictures to cut out, and a cardboard page on which there were 24 boxes, each with a poem composed by Lang. The children could cut out one picture each day, read a verse and glue the picture on it. On December 24th the Christ child, dressed in white, was glued in place.

In 1920, the first Advent calendar with little doors or windows to open appeared, and around 1926, Lang created the "Christmas Rose", the first Advent calendar with 20 pieces of chocolate from the Stollwerck company.

Over the decades, the calendars evolved in shapes and content, from chocolate, to cheese, to toys, to wine tree, and everything in between, but one thing hasn't changed. It still counts the days until Christmas, building up the excitement in both children and adults.
Only 17 days until Christmas...

Wishing everyone a joyous holiday season!


Saturday, December 7, 2019

The NaNoWriMo Experience by Eileen O'Finlan

For the past few years I've been reading about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in the writing magazines to which I subscribe. It sounded interesting, but I had yet to give it a try. The goal is to write 50,000 words in thirty days starting on November 1st.

I've been working on Erin's Children, the sequel to Kelegeen for some time. As with any historical novel, there is a ton of research to do before the writing can begin, continuing right up through the final draft. That eats up a lot of time, but it's necessary for an historically accurate story. Once I had enough research under my belt to begin writing, I realized that between a full-time job, caring for my mom who turned 93 in October, and various other obligations, I was having trouble finding time to write. So as November was approaching, I remembered that November is National Novel Writing Month and jumped on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon in hopes it would help me kick my writing into high gear.

As of the writing of this post (it's 11:43 p.m. on November 30th) I have logged in at 50,039 words. I did it with just over two hours to spare. The first draft of the novel is still incomplete, but I certainly got a gigantic chunk of it written. Besides hitting the 50,000 word goal, I was determined to write every day of November. It took a lot of discipline and a bit of sacrifice (mostly in the area of sleep), but I did it. Thirty consecutive days of writing. Granted some days saw a lot more words hit the screen than others. I only wrote one paragraph on Thanksgiving morning before taking off for my cousin's house in Connecticut, but I did it just to keep my writing streak alive. 

One huge benefit of NaNoWriMo is that it fostered a disciplined writing regimen that should help me complete my novel within an acceptable time frame.

So, how do I feel having completed my first NaNoWriMo and met the 50,000 words in 30 days goal? Thrilled, self-confident, energized, more in love with writing than ever, and very, very sleep deprived!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Luck is opportunity seized.

I’ve been told I’m lucky I can speak in public.

It’s not luck. Anyone can learn to speak in public. Here’s how.

When I was young — under the age of 10 — I wanted to do two things more than anything else. I wanted to tap-dance and play the violin.

My dreams were crushed. My parents opted for singing lessons (solo and choir) and elocution lessons. I realize now they were the cheapest lessons around and money was short. Or was that really it? Did my parents know something I didn’t?

My first humiliation came when I sang with my choir at a concert. I think it was in the Westminster Church Hall in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. I stood in the front row. I remember a brown dress with full crinoline (it was the 1950s) and my favorite yellow and brown cardigan. (it had come as a hand-me-down from my cousin, Kathy.)

All was well until we stopped singing and the crowd clapped loudly. And so did I! Laughter rippled around the room. They thought it was cute. I thought I’d prefer to sink through the floor. That ended my choir career, at least as far as I remember.

A year later, I performed solo at one of the ubiquitous Kiwanis Music Festivals. (My music teacher was going to earn her fees, no matter what.) Folks, I was painfully shy but that wasn’t the problem.

Reality — I couldn’t carry a tune in a tin bucket. However, I warbled through a song about Susie and seashells. The judges comment? ‘A sweet little voice.” Come on, I had heard enough of the judging to know that was a place holder. One of those comments designed so as to not hurt the child. Mortified, I hustled from the stage.

Later, as a teen, I sang in the church choir. Of course, I did, I was the minister’s daughter. I felt sorry for the choirmasters stuck with my off-key renditions. When one director said if we didn’t know the notes we could mouth the words, I was relieved. (I knew he was talking to me.) However, standing in the choir, I suppose I got used to facing a room full of faces.

Along the way there were parent nights for the elocution presentations. I fared markedly better in those. It seems I had a good memory. (And I was not required to carry a tune.) My mother (who couldn’t carry a tune either) played into this one. My grandfather had taught her and her six siblings to recite poetry by the bucket full, and she’d done the same with me. Elocution recitals I was ready for.

By the time I was twelve my dad, a clergyman, had me reading scripture in both Sunday School and occasionally in the pulpit. Either that or the teachers thought I was the logical candidate as the minister’s daughter. I had plenty of opportunity to practice in front of people.

High school came with stage appearances in plays. My choice-and though keyed-up, by this time I wasn’t fearful enough to stay away. In English class, reading the role of Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s Pygmalion became my favorite activity. I look back now and realize I loved it. I loved playacting.

My appearances continued through nursing school, teacher’s college, and teaching. If they needed an MC. I was it. If they need scripture read. They handed me the text. On Family Sunday at the church, I gave the layperson’s sermon. More practice.

From there, I moved on to adult education, workshops, and speeches as outside-of-work activities. I gave lunch-box talks at businesses. I took and taught workshops for educators and worked for the Dale Carnegie organization. I spoke to a dozen people and to 3,000+ people. Learning and practice.

Am I lucky to be able to speak in public? I’d say it was opportunity seized and practice, practice, practice coupled with learning necessary skills. That’s why I can face down a crowd and have a roaring good time. Somewhere along the line, I turned into a first-class ham. It’s really no different than how swimmers turn into Olympic competitors. Or writers turn into multi-published authors.

One major advancement came when I learned the audience wasn’t judging me. They were just darn glad it was me at the front of the room and not them. I also learned to laugh at myself, my tongue-tied moments, my misspoken words, and the forgetfulness that struck me from time to time. And they laughed with me, not at me.

On the other hand, maybe it was luck — luck that my parents chose those activities for me, luck my mother taught me to recite poetry. Either way, it’s not what presents itself, it’s what we do with the opportunities. Given a different path, I might be able to tap dance and play the violin. I find I prefer to speak in public.

Some opportunities teach us what we are not to do (like sing), that’s okay too. I built on the other opportunities and you can too.

Does it take courage and practice? Yes. But, be not afraid. You’ve got this.
Whatever it is. Whenever you start. – Speaking, writing, swimming…and more.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Tis the Season by Rosemary Morris

Click the cover to find out more about Rosemary's books.

Tis The Season to be Jolly
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

In the Georgian period, which includes the ever-popular Regency carol singers visited country houses decked with holly and laurel.
In my novel, Wednesday’s Child, I imagined carol singers at the hero’s mansion on Christmas Eve.
“Beyond the flight of steps which led up to the house, a group of men carried lanterns which cast a golden glow on the snow. One of the boys who accompanied them sang the first verse of The Holly and The Ivy.
The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
His clear treble voice rang out across the snow concealing an imperfect lawn which stretched toward a belt of trees, their limbs stark against the night sky lit by a full moon and brilliant stars.”
On Christmas Day after attending a church service, plum pudding, which contained thirteen ingredients that represented Christ and his apostles, and mince pies were served after the main course at lunch. The tradition of giving ‘Christmas boxes’ with small gifts or money to tradesmen and servants was observed
Many of the 21st century’s customs were imported from Europe and the United States of America. Presents were given and received on New Year’s Day, and some people still resisted change by observing the Old Christmas Day on January 6th before the calendar changed in 1752.
We no longer observe the twelve nights of Christmas but I take down the decorations in my house on the twelfth day after Christmas.
From Christmas morning until the end of the season our most fortunate ancestors were jolly. Balls, charades, dances, music, riddles, theatricals and pastimes such hunt the slipper and blind man’s buff were enjoyed. So were the hilarious games such as snapdragon when the participants snatched raisins from a bowl in which brandy had been ignited. Apple bobbing, when each player with a had behind his or her back tried to grab an apple floating in water with their teeth.
In Wednesday’s Child, Amelia, the heroine asks her guardian what Bullet Pudding is.
“It is an essential part of Christmas at Longwood,” he replied.
His sister waved her hand at him. “Not for me. And I am sure Amelia would not enjoy it.” She faced Amelia. “Allow me to explain. Saunton will sink a bullet into a bowl filled with flour.”
Amelia raised her eyebrows. “Why?”
“For each player to cut a slice,” Charlotte explained. “Careful not to breathe in any flour, the person who dislodges the bullet must seek for it with nose and chin and try to slip it into his or her mouth.”
Yet, as it is today, the Christmas Season was also a time to be charitable. On Christmas Eve, 1798, Jane Austen included the following in a letter to her sister Cassandra.
“I have given a pair of worsted stockings to Mary Hutchins, Dame Kew. Mary Steevens and Dame Staples; a shift to Hannah Staples, and a shawl to Betty Dawkins amounting in all to about *half a guinea.”
Woodforde, a parson, invited seven poor old men to dine at his parsonage where roasted sirloin of beef, plum pudding and mince pies were served. Afterwards, he gave each of them **one shilling.
*Half a guinea is approximately £25 in today’s currency.
**One shilling is approximately £2.50 in today’s currency.
Classical Historical Fiction by Rosemary Morris

Early 18th Century novels: Tangled Love, Far Beyond Rubies, The Captain and The Countess

Regency Novels

False Pretences.

Heroines Born on Different Days of the Week Books One to Six, Sunday’s Child, Monday’s Child, Tuesday’s Child, Wednesday’s Child, Thursday’s Child and Friday’s Child. (The novels in the series are not dependent on each other, although events in previous novels are referred to and characters reappear.)

Mediaeval Novel Yvonne Lady of Cassio. The Lovages of Cassio Book One


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Henry Hudson by Katherine Pym

Buy Here


Henry Hudson

In the first decade of 17th century, Henry Hudson worked for several merchantmen companies, both in England and in Holland. His goal was to find the northern route to the Spicerie Islands in the South Pacific. 

He worked for the Muscovy Company, East India Company, and the Dutch East India Company (VOC). These companies pooled their resources, made their captains sign extensive contracts, gave them long lists of rules and regulations, then sent them on their way to find the easiest, fastest passage to spice ports of call.

Henry's search for the NW Passage
The route south through the Cape of Good Hope was fraught with danger, i.e., weeks of calm, scurvy, the bloody flux, pirates. Once into the Cape, there were added dangers of rogue waves that came from out of nowhere, swamping and sinking a ship to the depths.

If it weren't for the ice that filled the northern regions, that route would be far easier to navigate. When men sailed north toward Greenland or west to Newfoundland, these intrepid explorers found a vast ocean so crowded with fish, they leaped into their boats rather than be netted. They brought home stories of ling cod, and whale meat/lard. Fishermen sent their ships to these waters, and the English dinner table began to find new foods that delighted the palate.

When Hudson worked for the Muscovy Company, he failed to find the Northwest Passage, but alerted his employers of a place where one could catch many whales. The Dutch East India Company had so many failures, when they heard of Hudson, they enlisted his services.

Hudson was certain the passage could be found and promised better things. All their previous captains could not find the passage, and the directors wanted to know how he would go about it.

Henry replied that he followed Petrus Plancius' theory. Plancius was one of the founders and cartographer of the VOC, so the directors nodded their approval. When Hudson offered this concurrent theory, Plancius was still alive. He could be consulted for authenticity.

The theory was of a temperate, open sea in the North Pole not covered with ice. What Hudson professed was a mild climate above '74 degrees latitude - the point at which the Dutch ships had always found their path blocked by ice'. Hudson not only affirmed to have seen this, he raised the stakes higher by adding the depth of the sea was so great at this point, the swells could never freeze. In this ice-free area, Hudson declared to have seen a new land with many animals, sweet grasses wherein the animals grazed. It was a veritable paradise.

Hudson further added if he could go above '83 degrees latitude', he would sail west to the Pacific then south into the warmer seas of the East Indies. VOC demanded more proof, so Hudson sent for Petrus Plancius. The gentleman, an astronomer and clergyman, nodded his concurrence on Hudson's every point. He added the sun's long days and white nights during the summer kept the waters warm enough so that ice would not form. As a result, Henry was given the opportunity to seek a northern route to the South Seas.

Once aboard ship, Hudson disregarded all instructions by the VOC. He used his own maps and went northwest through bad weather. Finding the way too difficult, Hudson tootled south. He expected to find a waterway along the American coast he could travel to the Pacific. He did not find it, but did find a land rich in fisheries and game, trees so big they would make excellent ships.

Hudson had found Manhattan Island. The VOC was not impressed but other merchants were, which started the colonization of that area.

A Doomed Henry Hudson
In 1610, this time financed by the English merchants, Hudson tried again. He found his way into what is now the Hudson Bay. The seas were filled with ice. His crew turned surly, and one night mutinied. They grabbed hold of Henry Hudson and a few faithful crewmen, put them in a small boat without food, water, or warm clothing, and sent them adrift.

Henry Hudson disappeared into the night, never to be seen again.

Many thanks to the following bibliography:
Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton, and Wikipedia (Hudson, Petrus Plancius)

Map of Hudson Bay is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.