Thursday, December 22, 2016

Merry Christmas to All: Christmas at Martha's House

Today's Christmas excerpt is from

Christmas At Martha's House

Christmas at Martha's House 
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link to go directly to Amazon
Call me Martha. Better yet, don't call me at all until at least the middle of January. I just can't handle another thing right now. I thought I had the preparations for Christmas under control until the meeting that Sunday after church.

5 Sundays before Christmas:


Claire, the Sunday school secretary, says we're doing a play this year and apologizes for not getting together before now. It seems the Superintendent put her in charge and gave her a copy of the play he had chosen. It took her three weeks to convince him that it just wasn't right for us, and to come up with another script. I'm surprised she convinced him at all. But now we'll have to work extra hard to get it ready, if we think we can, if we aren't too wrapped up in our own little interests, if we really have enough faith that the Lord will enable us. And my kids think their generation invented peer pressure!

Our friend Ron says he'll build scenery. I never knew he could do that. Bonnie will play the piano, as usual. The boys would rather stay home and watch football. I inform my teenage son, “If the rest of the family can get involved, Tom, you're going to do the same. It's not going to hurt you one bit.”
My husband and the girls are asked to sing. How nice. Oh, great! They'll all need decent clothes. Maybe the older ones can wear their outfits from the school chorus, and Karen's red velvet from last year should fit Cindy if I can hem it up and locate the belt.

At the first rehearsal I offer to be in charge of costumes, partly because I love to sew and partly so everyone will understand that I am NOT singing. Suddenly the rest of the cast all seem more interested in the whole project. I have to dress Mary, Joseph, three Wise Men, three Shepherds, and an Angel. Who? Some angel! Maybe she can get by with a choir robe and some tinsel in her hair. One down, eight to go.

Mary, played by Claire's favorite niece, comes up to me and says how she would like her outfit to look. I really appreciate her enthusiasm and willingness to help. She wants a simple blue gown and white veil. Mary always wears something like that. I wonder what would happen if some year she showed up in brown and orange?

Monday:

 If I'm going to do this, Lord, I'm going to give it my best effort. You deserve nothing less. Maybe it's not important to anyone else, but it's for You. I glance through a book on historical costumes, and begin envisioning the three Wise Men. We don't know how many there really were, of course, but I'm glad we decided to stick with tradition on this point. I couldn't handle any more unruly teenage boys. Everyone is calling them the Three Wise Guys.

I refuse to throw bathrobes on those boys and call them costumes. One will be a Mede. He can wear the long white gown I made out of old drapes for Trick or Treat. With the addition of a colorful yoke and sword sash borrowed from a Civil War uniform, and a cardboard crown, he'll be fine.

The next will be an Indian or African looking person. He'll have a red and green floral tunic and matching turban. I'll ignore the cracks about Aunt Jemima. Maybe we can borrow Mr. Halsey's oriental kimono for the third. It is a bathrobe, but at least it's not chenille.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Merry Christmas to All: Victory Song

Today's Christmas excerpt is from

Victory Song

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directly to Amazon
A sound behind him made Andy turn abruptly to see that at least one other member of his regiment was seeking out a place of retreat from camp life.
“I came up here to get away from the Christmas music,” Isaac’s familiar voice greeted him. “What’s your excuse?”
“Didn’t know I needed one,” Andy replied with a smile.
Isaac let the conversation lapse, stepped up next to Andy and peered over the logs toward the glowing horizon. After a moment he said, “We have a holiday, too. It begins tonight. It’s a festival of light. A celebration of God’s goodness and providence. Some holiday, huh?”
Andy was cautious as he ventured, “Isaac, what’s wrong?”
Those dark eyes snapped at him. “It’s me. I’m wrong. What I’m doing is wrong.”
“How’s that? You’re just following orders, like the rest of us.”
“But I’m not like the rest of you!” Isaac emphasized. “You haven’t heard the stories.”
“What stories?” Andy asked, confused.
“The old people tell stories…about what it was like years ago in Europe. About the persecution. Horrible…horrible stories about the hatred they lived with. The burning and killing. They left everything, risked everything to come here. They believed in this country it couldn’t happen again. They worked so hard! They built a new life here. A decent life. Not for themselves, for the future generations. They were so proud, Andy. Thankful that we could have a part in serving this country. And it’s come to this! The burning and the killing and the hate! All over again! And God forgive me, I’m on the wrong side! There’s no pride in this, no honor. Burning houses. Destroying crops and businesses. For what? Because they’re in our way? Because some drunk crazy general somewhere decided it might shorten the war? Well, I shortened it for a few of them! Do you know what I did? I shot a man today who must have been close to seventy. He probably had a business. Children. Grandchildren. He probably worked hard every day of his life. He probably never harmed another human being before this insane war! And all that came to an end today with a shot from my gun. A perfect stranger came all the way down here from Syracuse to kill that old man!”
Andy’s eyes narrowed, and his mouth drew into a tight frown. Though moved by the words, he remained unsympathetic. “That’s nothing,” he said. “I shot one that couldn’t have been more than fourteen.”
Isaac shook his head. His eyes retreated from Andy’s gaze, for they were not quite dry. “How can you stand it? How do you live with it?”
“I don’t know. Mostly I’ve been too tired to think about it.”
“But you’ll have to think about it sooner or later,” Isaac warned him. “Maybe a long time from now. When we’re home with our families and holidays come around again. What about then?”
Andy was suddenly defensive and resentful. “I don’t know! I’m not proud of this! But I try not to over-do it. And every once in a while I go out of my way to do something decent. It keeps me from going crazy.”
Isaac found the courage to look into his face again as he replied, “That’s what you think!”
Andy might have become angry, had that remark come from someone else, but he felt his mouth stretch into a smirk. Soon he was laughing out loud and so was Isaac.
Andy could not recall how long it had been since he had laughed in this manner. It did not matter whether the remark was humorous or not; it was an excuse to release some of the tightness his body had been containing. He laughed until he shook and felt weak. His stomach ached and tears came to his eyes. He clapped Isaac on the shoulder and continued laughing, nearly crying, until some of the frustration was spent.
“So…you think I’m losing my mind?” Andy challenged with mock indignation.
Isaac was grimly serious again. “I suspect we all are. And it’s really got me scared. What if we never get it back? I used to worry that I’d never get home again, that Anna and I would never be together again and I’d never see the baby. Now I believe I will survive. I will go home. But what if it’s not the same? I’m not the same; I never can be. Maybe she’s not, either. What if we never get back…what we had?”
Suddenly Andy became short tempered. “Why do you ask me all your hard questions? You’re as bad as Timmy! Am I supposed to know everything about everything? I don’t! You’re talking to a person who never had anything to lose, so how am I going to know what’s going to be the same and what’s going to be different? I can’t help you because I can’t even help myself?”
Isaac was silent, cautious. There was hurt in his eyes. Andy backed away from him, as if to get away from the poorly chosen words and the situation that had caused them. He was unsuccessful at both. He knew he should have apologized, but could not. He sensed there were things Isaac wanted to say, but another time would be better. He turned and walked away along the protective wall of logs.
His hand ran for several yards along the rough, sticky pine bark atop the breastworks. It helped him keep his place in the fading light. He stood long enough to lose track of time, his elbows resting on the log, his eyes gazing toward the light in the sky above the Confederate camp. He was not really thinking of anything in particular, just enjoying the quiet. A cool, clammy breeze puffed at his face, and on it in the stillness came the sound of enemy soldiers singing around their campfires.
“Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…”
The sound left as quickly as it had come, but he had discerned enough to recognize the familiar Christmas carol. Andy had never cared much for Christmas carols; he had always associated them with snow and candles in windows, with visiting relatives and hot cider. He did not care much for hot cider, or snow, or his relatives. The old familiar song had never signified more than that, but tonight the trite, sentimental words touched something almost forgotten inside him. He began recalling what it felt like to be at peace, to take tomorrow for granted. The dull simplicity of his pre-war existence seemed, in retrospect, almost appealing.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Merry Christmas to All: Belonging

Today's Christmas excerpt is from:

Belonging

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directly to Amazon
Thanksgiving came and went without a thought to Shelly. Since she and her father were the only family the other had there were no huge dinners. The day after Thanksgiving was when they began celebrating. They never went out in the crowds for Black Friday shopping. They always went to the woods for Christmas tree hunting.

      Should she continue the tradition?

      Since Christmas was so near, the house was all fresh and clean with new paint, and Shelly needed a distraction, she decided to get out all the decorations and put up the tree. She had debated whether or not to decorate. It seemed like a lot of work for one person. It also didn’t exactly seem like an appropriate time to be celebrating. There would be no gifts to buy and no gifts to be placed under the tree. However, Shelly needed something constructive to do.

      She lugged the totes down from the attic. It took her a while, but she finally got the house decorated. Opening the totes that held all the decorations, she carefully put everything in its spot. It was sort of silly how every year each item had a specific place to be. One year when she was in high school she had tried putting things in different places, but it didn’t feel right. Her dad had said the house looked nice so she hadn’t thought he cared.     The next day Shelly put all the decorations in their rightful locations. When her father got home from work that day he had looked around with a smile and said, “Now it feels like Christmas.”

      Obviously, he had felt the weirdness of it all too, which made Shelly feel better.

      When she was done she smiled at the thought of the upcoming holiday. Then she started crying as she realized it would be the first Christmas without her dad. Christmas had always been her favorite holiday and this was really the first sparkle of cheer she’d felt since getting the phone call about her dad. She wanted to keep that cheer as long as possible. It was time to get the tree. Swiping at the tears that threatened to come, she grabbed her coat and a saw, pulled on her boots, and found a pair of her father’s work gloves. Shelly grimaced, recalling the time she hadn’t used gloves to drag a tree back to the house with her dad. The weather had been unseasonably warm, too warm Shelly thought, to wear gloves. While the warm weather quickly went away, it took much longer for the sap on Shelly’s hands to completely disappear, no matter what kind of harsh soap she used.  

      After putting on the gloves, she picked up the saw. It was a little rusty, but it looked and felt sharp enough that Shelly imagined it would still work.

      Shelly trudged through the woods for a while. It seemed to be harder than she remembered. Perhaps that was because of all the overgrowth.

      It didn’t take her too long to find a tree she thought would look nice in the house.

      “This one doesn’t look too big,” she said to herself.

      Of course, those were her famous last words this time of year. She always grossly underestimated the amount of room they had in the house. Trees always looked much smaller outside than they did inside. One year her dad had to cut off about four feet to get the tree to stand up in the house. That tree had been so full, Shelly couldn’t count the number of times one of them almost knocked it over when walking by it. As soon as Christmas passed that year, the tree left the house.

      Shelly crouched down underneath the branches to get as close to the ground as she could. Positioning the saw she got ready to cut the tree down. She was surprised at how long it took her to get a cut started. Her dad always made it look so easy. Maybe the saw was a little too rusty after all.
      Finally, after what seemed like sawing for an hour, the tree fell over. Now all she had to do was drag it back to the house, which was also not an easy task.

      The branches kept catching on vines that had grown wildly throughout the woods. About half way back to the house Shelly was completely frustrated and exhausted. That, coupled with the fact that her emotions were pretty raw already because of the memories, she sat down right where she was and cried.

      She cried for the loss of her dad. She cried for the pain that was now in her arm from all the sawing. She cried that her Christmas tree was stuck in a patch of wild grape vines. She cried for the fact that she would never buy her father another Christmas present.

      After she had been spent emotionally as well as physically, she took a deep breath.

      “I can do this,” she said out loud. “I have to do this. I’m alone and there’s no one to help me. I don’t mind being alone. I don’t need anybody else.”

      After untangling the vines from the branches of her tree Shelly was on her way back to the house with the Christmas tree in tow.

      Finally, after a couple hours of lugging and tugging, Shelly had the tree in the stand and in its spot, although she thought it looked a little crooked she felt too tired to mess with it anymore. The placement of the tree was the one part of her Christmas decorating that was different. Instead of the tree being in the front room, it was now in the new room off the back of the house. It looked perfect here. If only her father could see. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Merry Christmas to All: Come Eat at My Table

This Christmas season I am going to be sharing Christmas excerpts from my books. I hope you enjoy them!

Come Eat at My Table

Click on the cover to go
directly to Amazon.
“Only two more days till Christmas!” Hope danced around the kitchen chanting while getting underfoot. She was good at getting underfoot, but she was not always a whole lot of help.

“Yes, we know!” Hope’s twin sister Faith said, while frosting some of the cookies she had baked earlier in the day with their mom.

Hope picked up the cookie as soon as Faith put it aside to let the frosting set.

“You didn’t burn these did you?”

“I haven’t burned anything in a long time!” Faith said.

“Yeah, it’s been at least a week!” Hope said sarcastically, taking a bite out of the cookie.

“We’d get more done if you helped a little more besides eating everything,” the girls’ mom, Karin, said to Hope without looking up from what she was doing.

“I’m taste-testing,” Hope said with her mouth full. “And taking pictures.” She held up her other hand, which contained a camera. It was an older camera that used film, but she found taking pictures enjoyable and she was good at it. She used her talent and became the photo editor of their school newspaper. She would often get right up in people’s faces to get a close-up shot. Karin and Faith hated that, which made Hope do it all the more.

Hope and Faith were identical twins who would turn sixteen the next July. While they looked alike, they made every effort to look different. They had the same honey colored hair and green eyes as their mom. The three of them looked so much alike that their father often called them his triplets.
Karin wore her hair long, down to her waist. Faith had hair that came down past her shoulder blades, but more often than not, she had it up in a ponytail to keep it out of her way. Hope kept her hair only to her shoulders and she would straighten hers since she didn’t particularly like the waves that her mom and sister kept.

As far as their personalities were concerned, the twins could not have been more different. Faith was the no fuss twin. Hope was the one who was more concerned about her appearance. She always took the time to do her hair and put on trendy clothes and make-up before she took out the garbage.
Faith liked to cook alongside of her mother. Although she used to burn a lot of meals, after the last couple years of practice she had become a much better cook. Faith liked to play sports and hated shopping. Hope liked shopping and hated sports. Hope was more popular at school and had a lot of friends. Faith was well-liked, but she was much quieter than Hope and was loyal to her small group of close friends. Hope was much more talkative and more interested in the latest everything.

Hope talked incessantly, while Faith was a listener. Faith saw and heard things that Hope had no idea were there. Hope’s personality was more like her dad’s and Faith’s was more like Karin’s.

Faith was baking and frosting cookies while Karin was preparing Christmas dinner. When she pulled the ham from the oven she said as much to herself as to the girls. “I don’t know why I’m getting all this food ready now.” She had pretty much cooked everything so that on Christmas Day it would just have to be reheated.

“Well, now we can enjoy more time together as a family this year,” Faith said. “We always get up early, open presents, spend a few hours cooking, an hour eating, and the rest of the day sitting around doing nothing.”

“Yeah,” Hope agreed. “We can sleep in. We aren’t little kids anymore who are so anxious to open presents that we can’t wait until daylight.”

“We can sleep in as long as Dad doesn’t wake us up,” Faith laughed.

It was true, their dad, Rob, was always the first one up on Christmas Day. He often got up and unsatisfied to be alone and to wait patiently, he would go and wake up the entire household. It didn’t matter that it was only four o’clock in the morning, it was Christmas and it was time to open all the presents that waited under the tree. If only he would leave everyone alone they could sleep in a little longer and still have plenty of time to enjoy the day and eat all the delicious food they were preparing.

Just then the front door opened.