Puzzling It Out

About a week ago, Lance emptied a 1,500 piece puzzle on a table he moved in from outdoors. A card table wasn’t big enough to hold everything. First thing, of course, he put together the frame.

Except for one little piece. Now, how hard could it be to find ONE straight-edged puzzle piece in the mess spread out before us?

Very. Two days later, I happened upon the recalcitrant object and jubilantly fitted it in. Oh, the satisfaction!

Since then, long hours have passed organizing pieces by color, being foiled at fitting them in, and fretting when it seems as though ONLY THE ONE PIECE we’re seeking seems beyond our grasp.

Puzzles are somewhat like writing a book. They may lead you down dead-ends at times. They keep you up late.

And they’re addictive…perfect for a January getaway.

A NEW IMPRINT

This is exciting–(:

Congratulations to my reader and author friends–we have a new publishing venue! One of the editors, Karen Ullo, joins us this week. She’s also an author–see below for her GIVEAWAY details.

Thank you, Gail, for inviting me to be here with you this week! I’m thrilled to introduce your readers to my fantasy novel Cinder Alliaas well as Chrism Press, a new imprint of Gail’s own publisher, WhiteFire Publishing, dedicated to fiction from Catholic and Orthodox perspectives.

First, I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that, hopefully within the next few years, Cinder Allia will become a movie! Believe Entertainment (God’s Not Dead, Unplanned) recently purchased the film rights, and we are actively working on developing the film! 

What if the happy ending dies before the fairy tale even begins?

The way the idea for Cinder Allia came to me is a funny story. Once upon a time, I got together with some of my childhood girlfriends for a sleepover. We were all in our mid-twenties and still single. Sometime after midnight, we started wondering what had happened to our Prince Charmings. Fairy tales had promised us princes! Then we thought, what if Prince Charming had died before we could meet him? We concocted a very silly story that the prince’s guardian angel had gone on vacation and left a replacement—the Angel Vinnie—in charge. Vinnie had been asleep on the job when the prince got whacked by a crack dealer. 

Fast forward many years to a happily married, mother-of-two version of myself… and I realized there really was something to that idea. What if Prince Charming died before he could save Cinderella—and what if it was the fairy godmother’s fault? Out of that very silly seed of an idea, something completely different blossomed: a tale of war and espionage, with a crippled prince, a spy priest, a stepmother whose wickedness is poised to take down the throne, and a cinder maid who has to save not only herself, but her kingdom. 

I’m pleased to be able to offer a signed paperback of Cinder Allia to one lucky person who comments on this post, so please, ask questions, make comments, and let’s talk fairy tales!

I’d also like to invite you all to come join the fun at Chrism Press. If you read a lot of Christian fiction, you may (or may not) have noticed that there are very few depictions within this market of Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Surprisingly, the story of Chrism Press begins with two Evangelicals, David and Roseanna White, the owners of WhiteFire, who noticed that lack and wanted to create a place for these voices to be heard. Rhonda Ortiz and Marisa Deshaies, two Catholics who were already part of the WhiteFire editing team, invited me to join them, and a new imprint was born. Our first releases will be issued in the fall of 2021. I hope you’ll sign up for our newsletter, and if you want a sneak preview of what this ecumenical fiction looks like, check out the book that inspired it all, Roseanna White’s own The Number of Love 

It’s lovely to “meet” you all. Thank you once more to Gail for hosting me. Come find me on the web!

My website: www.karenullo.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/karenulloauthor

Renovations and Resolutions

This past year has renovated some aspects of our lives. Well, at least ALTERED them. Usually we plan and welcome renovations, but boy, can they ever make a mess!

The idea is to keep our eyes on the goal…what looks like a disaster can only be temporary, and as they say, the only way to accomplish anything is to begin. Right now, our carpenter has begun a HUGE project that involves chopping down a weight-bearing wall above a basement stairway, plus a whole lot of rebuilding.

With plaster pieces launching across our dining room like rockets, it’s reasonable to wonder, “Is this worth it?” But the goal, to open up the floor space so heat from our pellet stove can reach the rest of the house, is no impetuous one. My husband has desired this for many years.

The end result, increasing all-around efficiency, will make a big difference. So we’re plunging ahead, keeping our eyes on the target. Isn’t this similar to entering a new year?

The only way out of 2020 is moving into 2021, right?

We hope this new year satisfies the deep longings brought to light by the troubles of the old one. Universal yearnings: truth and justice, health, safety, joy and peace.

As the old hymn goes, “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail…with peace on earth, good will to men (and women and children.” (When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned these words, I’m pretty sure he was including everybody in his mind.)

The beginning of a renovation parallels the New Year’s resolutions I used to make. We all want to be kinder, more serene, more patient. to develop stronger character (and characters!) But amid the actual tests that strengthen us deep down, the drills, hammers, and brute force of renovation can be daunting.

Along the way, we may discover weak spots badly in need of repair and requiring more work than we thought. After some time, we pause and look back at our progress and realize it’s all good. In spite of our struggles we clean up pretty well.

After quite a few decades of resolution-making, I take a less strictly defined approach. One day at a time, one of the hallmarks of Al-Anon. And always, gratitude.

So we enter a new year. I appreciate all of your support throughout this extra looooong one, and hope to see more of you again in person during 2021. We’ve done our best, we’ve made it through, but it’s simply not the same!

Grand Openings Can Be Murder

It’s a COZY MYSTERY to begin the new year–enough questions to satisfy, but light. Amber Royer is offering a print copy giveaway to a commenter: enjoy reading her take on writing fiction! “““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““

I’ve always been a believer in the whole writing is therapy adage.  I’m a writing instructor as well as an author, and I’ve seen people uncover amazing things about themselves in my memoir classes.  But what about fiction?  Things don’t have to line up one-to-one for a writer to be able to process emotions or puzzle out pieces of human nature.

When I sat down to write Grand Openings Can Be Murder, I decided to write about a character who had experienced grief and disappointment and decided to reinvent herself. Felicity is moving locations, starting a new venture, slowly learning to live life on her own terms.  I’ve been through a lot over the years (because I’m over 40, and let’s face it, who my age hasn’t?) including deeply personal loss. And some things I’ve never been able to write about in the context of memoir.  But I can relate to what Felicity’s going through, because loss is loss no matter what form it takes, and as story events force her to change and help her to heal – I have to confront those same emotions too.

The story is a mystery, so of course, there’s a murder, which gives Felicity a puzzle to solve and puts her into proximity with new people who will become important to her over the course of the series.  But I made the murder victim someone who was also trying to reinvent herself, and Felicity gets to see how going about it the wrong way can be destructive.

Cozy mysteries are by definition light, so I had to balance Felicity’s grief with her sense of humor, and put her into situations where fun/funny things are happening around her, pulling her forward psychologically as she gets pulled into them.  And I gave her a quirky group of family and friends who genuinely have her best interest at heart.  One of my favorite moments in the whole book is when her matchmaking aunt decides to set her up on a date.

  

But it is interesting writing a sleuth who has instant empathy with the family of the murder victim, and who needs to see justice done to ease their pain.  It gives her this whole extra level of stakes in the story. And it allows what is going on in her personal/business life to mirror what is going on in the investigation.  I’ve already drafted the second book in the series, and while she’s made emotional progress throughout the first book, she’s still dealing with the loss in the second (which, admittedly, takes place only a month later).

I hope you enjoy Grand Openings Can Be Murder. It’s got an island setting with Texas flair, plus a bean-to-bar chocolate business to die for.

Connect with Amber online:

Website: http://www.amberroyer.com Blog: http://amberroyer.com/blog/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/amberroyerauthor/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Amber.Royer.Author/ Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoA_29HV2nPmRnox9LPVanw Twitter: https://twitter.com/amber_royer Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Amber-Royer/e/B00PFV4CGM Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8144619.Amber_Royer


Purchase Links for Grand Openings:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Grand-Openings-Can-Be-Murder/dp/1952854083/ 

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/grand-openings-can-be-murder-amber-royer/1137714818?ean=9781952854088 

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/grand-openings-can-be-murder 

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/grand-openings-can-be-murder/id1532667488 

cozyIndie Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/grand-openings-can-be-murder/9781952854088

Still Waiting

Yes, Advent, the time of waiting and watching for the birth of our Savior, has passed. But we will still wait as the new year comes and our lives continue.

Does waiting ever get easier? Not in my experience! I used to think I’d become less impatient with age, but that has yet to occur.

The quote below reminds us of the various aspects of waiting. We often wish we had more time to simply BE, but when that happens, we’re often uncomfortable with the quiet, the lack of running around, worrying, pushing our way through each day.

What does it mean to linger, to tarry without anxiety? The best explanation I find is included in this quote: STAYING.

Remaining. Ceasing all motion.

Stay.

The final sentence gives us the secret of such a pose. It’s knowing something’s on the horizon. It’s focusing on something wonderful, something called hope.

So here’s to a New Year for one and all, filled with this precious commodity.

Rumors of Christmastide

With so much of our normal activity hushed this year, we settle in to wait. The gatherings we’ve shared, the excitement, the candles we normally light together…so much has changed in 2020.

But waiting can be quite activel. It’s all a matter of mindset: our preparations may be quieter, humbler, but simplicity breeds clarity. What does this annual time of celebration really mean?

For those caught in the chaos of World War II, so much altered overnight. All around the globe, with “Christmas past” in their memories and imaginations, they served our nation.

Still, they found creative ways to keep this holiday with their comrades, and even sang Silent Night from frozen foxholes. Through the ages, despite war and pestilence, ime and again the Christmas spirit proves it is no slave to circumstances.

Whatever our situation, thoughts of Christmas motivate us to take action, however quiet that may be. We light candles, hum a holiday tune, and find a way to cheer others. Action proceeds from hearts in tune with the ineffable joy of this season.

What a difference! The three kings had only a rumor to go by. But it moved them to make that long journey. The scribes were much better informed, much better versed. They sat and studied the Scriptures like so many dons, but it did not make them move. Who had the more truth? The three kings who followed a rumor or the scribes who remained sitting with all their knowledge?

—Soren Kierkegaard, from “Only a Rumor”

At lonely outposts around the world, even in the shadows of the forest during the Battle of the Bulge, the idea of a tiny babe bringing light and peace to this old world moved soldiers, too. Surely our present trials can make room for such a rumor.

When Cleo Lampos and I began work on our World War II Holiday Scrapbook, we had no idea how appropriate the ingenuity of the Greatest Generation would be for this particular Christmas. Hopefully, that era’s make-do attitude spreads cheer from us to you as we all keep this unique Christmas.

A Fresh Start For Christmas

I’m so happy to welcome Kimberly Grist this week. In Fresh Start For Christmas, a part of the Spinster Mail-Order series, she writes about a 19th Century Pandemic that some of us may not recall from our history lessons. After listening to this old-fashioned love story, I can guarantee it will transport readers back to a time when things might seem simpler, when a childhood and youth spent in an orphanage were not unheard of, and an old-fashioned love story might develop across the miles through hand-written letters.

And Miss Jane Austen shares her wisdom at the beginning of each chapter–what else would anyone want for Christmas?

After the Civil War, the yellow plague epidemic and gold fever sent young men west. A Fresh Start for Christmas is a mail-order bride story based on a matrimonial service started by several pastors and an orphanage matron. The group bases the agency on Rebecca and Isaac’s story and work together to find a way to match women to Christian men in the west to form H.I.M.M., short for Heaven Inspired Matrimonial Matches. 

Kimberly is giving away a copy of Fresh Start For Christmas to a commenter, and below, she shares some of her rich research about Christmas celebrations in a bygone era. Now I’ll turn this over to her.

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Did you know that the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” had much to do with shaping Christmas traditions that are still popular today?

Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book was an American women’s magazine published in Philadelphia from 1830 to 1878 and played an important part in shaping the cultural customs of the 19th century.


Sarah Josepha Hale, author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” was the editor from 1837 until 1877. When Hale started at Godey’s, the magazine had a circulation of ten thousand subscribers. 

By 1860 it had 150,000 subscribers and was the most popular journal of its day. Hale used her influence to advocate for the establishment of a national Thanksgiving Holiday and other various causes, including advocating for women’s education.

Best known for the fashion plate that appeared at the start of each issue, other articles and editorials helped shape many of the traditions practiced by American families today.

The above picture is based on an image of Queen Victoria and her decorated Christmas tree previously published in The Illustrated London News in December 1848. 

A revised version was copied in Godey’s in 1850 and removed what was referred to as royal trappings from Victoria’s tiara and Prince Albert’s mustache to remake the picture into an American scene. It was the first widely circulated picture of a decorated evergreen Christmas tree in America and was reprinted in 1860. By the 1870s, a Christmas tree was common in the United States.

Appearing in the December 1890 issue in Godey’s Lady’s Book, Hale wrote, At no time in all the year is the heart so filled with joy or the home so replete with genuine home love and home feeling as during the time that leads us up to the holiday season. Christmas Day is, to be sure our day of days-the most joyful of all the season; but surely every home-mother at least will agree that the days of preparation before Christmas are filled with a quiet, stead, soul-stirring happiness that could not be exchanged for any singe day of revelry. 

For is it not during the weeks that precede the holidays that we prepare gifts for our dear ones? Are we not busy planning and scheming and perhaps denying ourselves some coveted thing that we may enrich those we love? 

In Europe, it was fashionable to chop off the tip of a large fir to use as a Christmas tree. However, since this practice prevented the tree from growing taller and made it useless as a timber tree, statutes were enacted to limit people from having more than one tree. With the introduction of the “goose-feather tree” made in Germany as early as 1845, this problem was resolved. Goose feathers were plentiful, and what was perhaps the first artificial tree began to be produced as a cottage industry as the alternative to cutting a live tree. 

Meanwhile, in America, cut live trees were the cherished way to make the holiday come alive. German immigrants brought their portable feather tree to the United States and introduced the Victorian feather Christmas tree. However, using artificial trees did not become popular until Sears Roebuck first advertised artificial trees for sale in their 1913 catalogs.

Here is the gist of A FRESH START FOR CHRISTMAS:

Memphis Rose Griffin loves teaching at Counting Stars Children’s Home. The girls and staff are like family, and working here ties her to her mother, whose last wish was for Memphis to take her place as teacher. But something’s missing. Now at the age of twenty-eight, her teenage dream of having her own family has all but faded.

Until her pastor and the orphanage founder come with a proposal that will change her life forever. Should she become their first candidate for their new matchmaking venture? Though grim, at least her future at the orphanage is familiar and certain. Can she risk an unknown future with a man she’s never met?

The last thing thirty-three-year-old Mike Montgomery wants is to marry again, especially to someone he’s never met. His family has other plans for him and completes the application without his permission–even changing some of his preferences to make him seem more intriguing. Can two star-crossed candidates dare to dream again?

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B081SF6HCK

Kimberly Grist is married to her high school sweetheart, Nelson, a former teacher and coach, now a pastor. They have three adult sons, one with Down syndrome, and they have a passion for encouraging others with family members with special needs.

I’ve enjoyed writing since I was a young girl; however, I began writing my first novel in 2017. Inspired by so many things life has to offer, one of which includes our oldest son’s cancer diagnosis, it’s especially gratifying to write a happy ending.

I believe you should come away refreshed and inspired after reading a book. In my personal life, I wear so many hats, working inside and outside the home. I work hard, try harder, and then begin again the next day. Despite my best efforts, sometimes life stinks. Bad things happen. I need and want an outlet, an opportunity to relax and escape to a place where obstacles are met and overcome. My stories are designed to entertain, refresh, and inspire you, the reader. They combine History, Humor, and Romance, with an emphasis on Faith, Friends, and Good Clean Fun.

Links:

Website:https://kimberlygrist.com/

F.B.https://www.facebook.com/FaithFunandFriends/

Sign up for my newsletter:  https://mailchi.mp/a920c145512a/kimberlygrist

Amazon: Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Kimberly-Grist/e/B07H2NTJ71

Let There Be Light!

  This phrase from the book of Genesis describing the very beginnings of creation could not be more appropriate this season, or this year. As 2020 slides into its last month, we look back with questions and concerns. But doubts and wonderings only make light more precious.

Used as a noun, here’s the definition of light: the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible. But light also radiates warmth, so welcome during winter in the northland. And so we light our house this year.

This is the third re-stringing of lights on our pine tree. A phantom squirrel (we think?) sharpened its teeth on the first two strings, which were blue.

With no more blue lights available in town, we’ve switched to multi-colored, and will see how that goes, remembering, of course, that’s it’s still 2020.

Having just learned of Lance’s mom’s positive COVID test results, we’re watching and waiting in yet one more way. Hopefully she has a mild case, but no one ever knows. This “not knowing” makes just about anything we go through more difficult, doesn’t it?

And so we light our house this year. Thanks to Lance for this photo, and may your preparations for Christmas bring you great joy.

Thanksgiving, Darkness and Possibility

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for so much. This year has brought some unique challenges, and the support of many friends, tangible and virtual. At my three-month appointment yesterday, my surgeon shared x-rays that show good progress in my hip replacement recovery. Whew!

We have friends and family touched personally by the Covid virus, others battling cancer or enduring delicate surgery. My circumstances seem minor in comparison, yet it’s wonderful to hear good news!

In one of the Mayo Clinic waiting areas, this graphic from 2010 shows the number of joint replacements performed up to that time, ten full years ago. Imagine what the numbers would be now, and the progress that’s been made.

It’s such a gift to be able to access this sort of hard-earned expertise, and so good to know that the worries I experienced concerning healing were baseless. Well, they DID have a base in fear. Most of us know how anxiety can weasel its way into our lives again and again.

This stands true with my fictional characters, too. They’re regular folks, normal humans, and often believe lies about themselves and the world around them. Their faith may be hindered by deep-rooted, irrational fears … that’s the whole idea: they grow and change, overcome and gradually experience victory.

How thankful I am to be able to write! Especially during these months of hunkering down to avoid infection, my characters have kept me company.

Researching the incredible wartime challenges they had to face puts things in perspective, and being able to use my gifts–to contribute understanding of that era to this old world–means a lot. Writing warms my soul and brightens my life like Christmas lights on a shadowy night.

As winter approaches and northern Iowa days become gray and gloomy, it’s good to focus on gratitude. In this pause before entering the season of Advent, lights take on new meaning. It’s been a rough year for so many, but today, may thanksgiving fill our hearts.

Winter 2020 Arrives

Certain urges kick in with this change of seasons, right? We make more soups and start baking certain items, or at least thinking about it.

Some extremely industrious, organized folks have their gifts wrapped and ready (not naming names, Carolyn!) I’m often one who resists putting up the tree too early, but not this year. Last week I started checking our lights.

Do the events of 2020 have anything to do with my behavior? Absolutely!

I rarely share recipes, but here’s one for the yummy cinnamon honey pretzel mix shown above–quick, easy, delectable.

Mix one 11 oz pkg of pretzels in shape you prefer, 3 cups corn Chex, your choice of nuts, raisons, craisins, etc. (I used cashews and walnuts.) Melt 1 cup butter with 1/2 cup honey, pour over dry mix and stir.

*** The photo above is minus corn Chex, didn’t have any in the house, but my make-do inheritance from the Greatest Generation kicked in, and husband likes it anyway.

Bake at 350 degrees for 5 mins, remove and stir. Repeat and cool a minute or so. Toss with mixture of sea salt and cinnamon. Cool thoroughly.

Makes enough for…depends how many other snacks you offer!

On this topic of the holidays and food, here’s a review of one of my latest books:

If you’d like to engage in a bit of time travel,“World War II Holiday Scrapbook” is a nifty way to do it.

     Whether you’re a history buff, or crave a bit of nostalgia for holidays celebrated with homemade gifts and packages sent lovingly to foreign shores, this book is for you. 

     The focus is on the home front. Everything from Christmas treats in the time of rationing to how Christmas was celebrated in the White House. 

      It’s a lovely read with pictures of much cherished gifts from that time as well as heartwarming stories. 

      Give yourself a gift. Get this book.