Wednesday, November 27, 2019

And Thank You For The Butter...

In our culture we talk a lot about being thankful. We strive to be appreciative of what we have and even set aside a day for it. 


Thanksgiving is not exactly a true celebration of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth in 1620. Nor is it a true representation of the reported celebratory dinner shared by the English Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621. 

Thanksgiving has come to mean different things to different people: A day or two off of work or school, a home cooked family meal, football, or the start of the Christmas season. 

In truth, we should be giving thanks every day. 

For everything.

When our daughters were young, like many other parents, we gave our girls the opportunity to pray. We all took turns praying at the evening meal. Allison, our oldest was articulate at an early age and was always ready to pray. Our youngest, Kendall offered simple, sweet prayers for the food…if it was something she liked. 

But it was Danielle, our middle daughter who taught us about being thankful for all we had. We would gather around the table, hold hands and bow our heads. Danielle would begin her heartfelt prayer. “Thank you, God for the chicken and the mashed potatoes and the corn.” Specific and pretty good for a six-year-old. But she didn’t stop there. Her prayer went something like this:

Danielle: Now She's a "Fisher" of a Different Sort
Bringing People to Know Jesus
“Thank you, God for the chicken and the mashed potatoes and the corn. And thank you, God for the salad and the dressing and the butter and the salt and the pepper. And thank you, God for the plates and the forks and the knives and the spoons and the cups. Oh! And thank you, God for the napkins and for mommy and daddy and Allison and Kendall.”

I am not joking. If we hadn’t cleared our throats or squeezed her hand, she would have continued to thank God for the table and chairs and everything else in sight. 

In sight. We quickly learned Danielle would open her eyes and pray for everything she could see. 

Danielle was right to thank God for everything. We take having a clean plate for granted. Butter? Not everyone has it. Napkins? In some circles, napkins are a luxury item. 

This is a season to recognize we have much to be thankful for…then again, every day is the right time to give thanks. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Piecing Together the Fragments of Our Lives

My maternal grandmother made quilts. Often they were created from scraps of fabric left over from other sewing projects. I can remember my mother saving remnants from dresses she made for me and taking them to Grandma. 

As a child I would lie on my back under one of grandma’s quilts in the early morning as the sun would shine through the window. I would put my feet and arms up in the air, stretching the cover over me as a sort of tent. I could see all the colorful patterns on the walls of my makeshift dwelling. Sometimes I pretended I was in a cave where my ancestors, the Cherokee Indians had painted colorful markings on the cave walls.

At some point, each time we visited my grandparents, Grandma would take me and my mother to one of the bedrooms and one by one show us the quilts she’d made since our last visit. I would trace the patterns on the quilt tops naming the fabric I recognized. “That was my Easter dress!” I would say. Or, “I remember that red material! Mommy made that dress for me when I was in kindergarten!”

Those quilts seem to chronicle my childhood. 

I first used the illustration of Grandma’s quilts in Libby’s Cuppa Joe. Here’s the excerpt:

[Sonja] climbed into the bed of her youth and pulled the quilt up around her. Grandma Grace made the quilt for her tenth birthday. Sonja traced the pieces of triangle shaped fabric making up the colorful star patterns on the quilt with her finger. A few were cut out of remnants of material from dresses Grandma Grace had sewn for Sonja. Others were fragments of old play clothes and school clothes. Rags, really. Each star was sewn into a square and each square was blocked with the same material Annette used to make the pink flowered curtains in Sonja’s room. 
As an adolescent, Sonja appreciated how the quilt matched the curtains. She took delight in pointing out to friends spending the night, the print that had been a favorite blouse or the blue flowered material that had once been an Easter dress. Now, though, as she lay in the soft light of her bedside lamp, Sonja studied the quilt more closely. It was beautiful. Prettier than any single piece of fabric that had gone into its making. 
In the still night, Sonja lay in her bed weeping. This was what Kevin had shared with her. This was the message her parents had spoken of. This was what her grandmother wanted her to know. “God can take the torn and fragmented pieces of my life and create something new.” 
“Now what, God?” Sonja whispered into the night. “Without you I am a spent, worn out rag. With you I am a beautiful and useful quilt. That’s what I want, Lord. No more doubt. I want to give myself over to you completely and have you make me into what you want me to be.”

I don’t quilt. It is an art I never practiced or perhaps never acquired. I appreciate the few quilts I own that my dear grandmother stitched together for me. I know my children and grandchildren will never fully understand the quilts and treasure them as I do. 

I wish I could leave each member of my family a hand-sewn quilt: A remnant of our heritage. Then again, I can’t help but wonder if maybe I am leaving my own family a different sort of treasure. I take words and fragments of experiences to piece together stories and publish books. 

Perhaps one day my daughters will snuggle under quilts sewn by their great-grandmother and read one of my stories to their own grandbabies. They may recognize bits and pieces of our life experiences in the stories I craft. 

It’s possible. 

Perhaps they will trace the fragments of fabric in the quilt with their fingers as Sonja did and wonder if maybe this piece or that was a dress or a shirt once worn by someone from their past. 

Then again, they may simply appreciate the comfort of the moment… realizing quilts warm the body just as stories warm the heart. 

Might I just say, it makes a great Christmas gift...(Okay...done with the self promo...Go and Enjoy Your Day.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Seaside Woods

Several weeks ago I invited readers to enter a writing contest based on the names of Yankee candles. Today I'm pleased to announce the winner, Ellen Burton of Ohio! Congratulations to Ellen and thank you to all entrants and judges! In addition to a $10 Amazon gift card, Ellen's story is featured below. Enjoy!

Seaside Woods 
by Ellen Burton

Erica stood on the pier breathing deeply. She closed her eyes, imagining the cleansing ocean air filling every space in her body. The sun would be up soon. Erica watched as an older couple made their way up the sandy beach. Few people were out this morning. You could always tell when the school year started. The beach was calm and quiet. Young families were nowhere to be seen. 

Erica sighed. If Rob hadn’t left her totally out of the blue six years ago, they might be one of those young families. And then one day they would have been that older couple, simply enjoying each other. Past the hustle and never in a rush.  Instead, here she was, standing on a pier that jutted out into the Atlantic Ocean all by herself.

Stop it. The voice inside her, the one that definitely saved her more than once, told her to stop feeling sorry for herself and enjoy the moment. “Never again,” she told the inner Erica. “I am a strong woman!” she shouted.

“Here me roar!”

Erica jumped and looked around. She saw no one. 

“Down here!” the male voice called.

Erica peeked over the railing. A man, maybe in his mid to late thirties was looking up, grinning. Erica laughed. “I didn’t think anyone was around.”

“Sorry if I startled you.”

The tide was slowly creeping in. The man waved his goodbye and Erica turned back toward the sunrise. A glimmer of orange was making its way above a gray cloud near the water.

This happens every day. The sun goes down and the sun comes up. Even in my darkest times, the sun is doing its thing.

The clomping of feet on the wide wood boards of the pier shook Erica out of her moment of reflection. 

“Still roaring?”

Erica turned to see the man from the beach walking toward her. A touch of gray, but definitely in his thirties.Why was she even noticing? Stop it.

“Just enjoying the sunrise,” she answered.

“I get it. I try to jog nearly every morning I can so I can see the sun coming up over the ocean. You’re not from around here, are you?”

“Do I look that much like a tourist?”

The man chuckled. “No, it’s just that I know nearly everyone on the island and of course most of the tourists are gone for the season. I’m Andy.” He stuck out his hand.

“Erica Tanner. I usually come a bit earlier in the season, but this year…well, my schedule didn’t work out.”

“Well, it was nice to meet you, Erica. See you!” Andy started to leave.

“So you live here?”

“All my life. My place is over there.” The man pointed toward the seaside woods to the south of the pier. “Through the trees.”

“I thought that was all swamp.”

“Nope. In fact there’s a trail a lot of people hike through there. You should try it sometime.”

His face was kind and he looked safe, but Erica had learned to be wary of strange men –especially the good-looking ones. 

“I’ll mention it to Carson.”


“Yeah, he’s sleeping in.” No need to tell this stranger that Carson was her cat.

“Oh. Well, if you two decide to take the hike, there’s a great hamburger joint near the end of the trail. Best on the island. Tell them I sent you.”

“Thanks. Will do.” Erica watched as the tall, muscular man strode back down the pier. I wonder what a man like that could do here for a living? The question lingered as she made her way back to the cottage she rented through Airbnb. Carson greeted her at the door.

“The only business on the island is tourist trade and even that is iffy,” she told her cat as he wove himself in and out between her legs. Erica opened his tin of food and dumped the contents into his small dish. While Carson ate, Erica fixed herself a bagel with cream cheese and a glass of lemonade.

Andy was on the beach the next morning and the one that followed. He waved but didn’t stop to talk. Erica found herself wishing he would. A cat can only provide so much company.

Three solid weeks at the beach sounded blissful when she booked the cottage during the height of the Jamison-Benton merger. The extra week Rudy Jamison promised her for seeing the details through would make this her longest stretch at her favorite seaside island. 

“September will be perfect weather,” her friends told her.
“A well deserved rest,” her coworkers said.

No one mentioned the beach would be deserted. No pick-up volleyball games. No fire pits with everyone pitching in food for a spontaneous party. No people. Nothing.

“Even most of the restaurants are closed,” Erica told Carson one night. “There is the one Andy mentioned. That might be worth a try.” 

Erica was not about to head into the dark woods on a trail she didn’t know to find the place. “Maybe in the daytime.”

The sun had already set as Erica started to make dinner. She had just turned on the stove when the electricity crashed. Erica looked out the window. Other lights were on in other homes down the road She pulled her phone out and opened the Airbnb app to report the problem. 

A half hour later a car pulled in her drive. Andy! So that’s what he does. He’s a maintenance man. She listened as he made clanging noises outside and grumbled under his breath. 

“Ah, it’s you,” he said when he finally came to the door. “It’s the generator. I can’t seem to fix it. I’ll have to call someone.”

Just then the cat dodged between the two and dashed out the door. “Carson!” Erica called as she raced after the cat. 

Andy was the first to reach the escapee. “So Carson’s a cat,” he said. “Interesting.” He stroked the cat’s fur as he handed Carson back to Erica. “Do you have any appliances on?”


“The stove, an iron, anything that could cause a fire with a power surge when we get this fixed.”

“The stove. I was getting ready to make something to eat. I’ll turn it off.”

 “I called a guy, “ he called after her. “Jeff can fix anything,” he added as Erica returned to the porch. “He’ll be here shortly. I’ll be back.”

Erica sat down on the front porch of the cottage, Carson in her lap and the flashlight from her cell phone offering the only light she had. A few minutes later, Andy’s car pulled back in the drive. He emerged with a bag under each arm. 

“Dinner!” he said.  He set the bag of food down and sat down beside Erica. “I didn’t forget Carson, either. Carson, you have no idea how happy I am to meet you.” 

Erica stared at the meal spread before her and the tuna for Carson. “This looks great.”
Andy pulled a candle from the second bag and lit it. “It could take a while for Jeff to get here.”

“Should I try to ping the owner again?”

 “Won’t do you any good. I’m already here.”

Meet Ellen Burton:
Ellen is a wife and mother of two. She loves to read and her favorite author is Nicholas Sparks. She dreams of one day having enough time to sit down and actually write a novel or at least a novella.

Also, It Is Never Too Late to Give to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship Fund for Ergonomics Research! Perfect for Your End-of-Year Giving to Reap Tax Benefits....Okay, Truth? I Want It to Grow. If It Helps You...Great!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Writing YA Mysteries with JPC Allen

I'm excited to have my friend and fellow author, JPC Allen as my guest on today's blog. Enjoy!

Writing YA Mysteries
by JPC Allen

I’ve loved mysteries since I first sat down in front of the TV on Saturday mornings to watch Scooby Doo. In the past two years, I’ve had two crime short stories published in anthologies from Mt. Zion Ridge Press. I could have written my short stories from any point of view, but I felt most comfortable writing from the POV of a teen. In the process of writing “Debt to Pay”, a country noir, and “A Rose from the Ashes,” a Christmas mystery, I learned some important lessons about writing mysteries for teens. 
Meet Author JPC Allen

Teens make great amateur detectives.
Stories with amateur detectives have always attracted me because they are the ultimate underdog in mysteries. And I love underdog stories. Who could be more of an underdog than a teen, especially one who isn’t even a legal adult yet. Without the aid of official standing, fellow officers, or a crime lab, the amateur detective tries to solve a mystery relying soley on her intellect and abilities. 

To make the amateur detective more believable as a character, I need to give her some qualities that she can apply to crime solving. She can have an insatiable curiosity or just plain nosiness. Maybe she can’t stand seeing someone bullied or has a deep desire for justice. If the mystery involves other teens, then the teen detective has an edge over the police because she can investigate in ways they can’t.

In “A Rose from the Ashes,” my teen detective, nineteen-year-old Rae Riley, shows great determination and courage as she tries to fulfill her late mother’s dying wish. She thinks if she uncovers who tried to murder her pregnant mother twenty years before, she may also discover the father she’s never met.

The investigation is about more than the investigation.
The teen detective’s pursuit of the mystery should mean more than just finding the answer. In the real world, the teen years are a time of change and discovery. Uniting those themes with a mystery makes for a richer story. The investigation can be a sign that he’s ready for more independence or responsibility. Or maybe he’s a loner, who learns to rely on friends. Many of these themes can be applied to mysteries with adult characters, but I find them more meaningful when used within a YA mystery. 
In my story, Rae is desperate for a family since her mom died. She’s willing to take on a would-be killer if it leads to her father.
The teen detective must be active in the solution.
After following the teen detective through her investigation, I can’t have the police or some other adult solve it for her. Or, even worse, have the police rescue her from the criminal. Having the teen detective blunder so badly that she must be bailed out will only irritate readers.
That doesn’t mean the detective can’t make mistakes. The teen detective has to remain human. Only Sherlock Holmes can get away with perfect deductions. She doesn’t have to figure out every part of the mystery. She can unmask the criminal but maybe not understand all his motivations until after he’s arrested and questioned by the police. Or the criminal isn’t who she suspected, and when he comes after her, she captures him. But the teen detective must be essential to solving the mystery and never just a helpless bystander.
What are some of your favorite mysteries? I’d love to get some recommendations!
I’m holding a book giveaway on my site! Click here for details.

JPC Allen started her writing career in second grade with an homage to Scooby Doo. She’s been tracking down mysteries ever since. A former children’s librarian, she is a member of ACFW and has written mystery short stories for Mt. Zion Ridge Press. Online, she offers writing tips and prompts to beginning writers. She also leads writing workshops for tweens, teens, and adults, encouraging them to discover the adventure of writing. A lifelong Buckeye, she has deep roots in the Mountain State. Join the adventure on her blogFacebookInstagram, or Goodreads.

Book Blurb
Christmas fiction off the beaten path

Not your Granny’s Christmas stories …

Step off the beaten path and enjoy six stories that look beyond the expected, the traditional, the tried-and-true.

Inspired by the song, “Mary Did You Know?” – a mother’s memories of events leading up to and following that one holy night. MARY DID YOU KNOW? By Patricia Meredith

A young woman seeking her own identity searches for the man who tried to kill her and her mother on Christmas Eve twenty years before. A ROSE FROM THE ASHES. By JPC Allen

Princess, tower, sorceress, dragon, brave knight, clever peasant – combine these ingredients into a Christmas-time story that isn’t quite what you’d expect. RETURN TO CALLIDORA. By Laurie Lucking

Anticipating tough financial times, the decision not to buy or exchanged presents leads to some painful and surprising revelations for a hardworking man and his family. NOT THIS YEAR. By Sandra Merville Hart

Years ago, a gunman and a store full of hostages learned some important lessons about faith and pain and what really matters in life – and the echoes from that day continued to the present. THOSE WHO STAYED. By Ronnell Kay Gibson

A community of refugees, a brutal winter, a doorway to another world – a touch of magic creating holiday joy for others leads to a Christmas wish fulfilled. CRYSTAL CHRISTMAS. By Michelle L. Levigne

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And Remember...It is Never Too Late to Give to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship Fund for Ergonomics Research! Perfect for Your End-of-Year Giving to Reap Tax Benefits....Okay, Truth? I Want It to Grow. If It Helps You...Great!