It's Almost Time...

My mouth dropped open earlier today when I realized we're only four days away from the end of 2012.  The years just keep going by faster and faster.  One of these days I expect to blink, only to discover that I'm in a new year, with no memory of the one I just left.

WARA members are probably groaning as they read this.  They know I'll be pulling out the whip soon.  You see, with only four days left of this year, we're coming to the end of our word count challenge for the year.  And that means we'll be starting a new one.

Hear my evil laughter?  Oh, wait!  That means I have to buckle down, too.  Yikes.  Hear my big sigh?

Get ready...
How many WARA members---or non-WARA members---have given some thought to new goals for the new year?  How many have actually taken steps to get ready to work on those goals?  How many are chomping at the bit to get started on those goals?  (crickets chirping)

If you've participated in this year's Word Count Challenge, it's the best place to start for setting a new goal.  Did you reach your goal?  Did you come close, but didn't quite make it?  Did you find you didn't have nearly the time--or the drive--to stick with it?

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Lots of questions, but answers to them will help.  So will a few tools.

  • You'll need a calendar.  I like this one to start with.  It's printable and all of one year is on one page for a great overview.  It also has the option of the availability of more than the current, next and previous month.  And the holidays are listed on the bottom, so I don't have to look them up somewhere else.  Mark off any important dates, such as family birthdays, vacations, times you know you'll be otherwise occupied with life things.  Then transfer that information onto a calendar that gives you space to write on and where you can jot down word count.  (MS Word has calendars and calendar templates that you can print, if you want something plain or don't want to bother with buying a calendar.)  
  • Take a look at your 2012 goal (if you had one) and use it as the basis for planning your 2013 goal.  If it was a good year, do it again or maybe even add more words to your goal.  Maybe it was a bad year for you.  Maybe things happened that you didn't know about, but were big enough to put your goals aside, at least for a little while.  Ask yourself it it's possible those same things could happen again.  Or something similar.  If tax time is busy...  If summer leaves you with little time because of little ones...  You get the picture. :)
  • Keep Murphy's Law of Goals in mind.  Never heard of it?  It goes like this: When working on a goal, especially a year-long one, life will always intrude.  Don't fight it.  Don't let it beat you.  Deal with what needs your attention, then when you can get back to your goal, do so.  And don't beat yourself up, either.
  • Any forward motion, any progress is a +.  The saying, "You can't fix a blank page" has been attributed to Nora Roberts.  Whether she said it or someone else did, it's the truth.
  • Just write.  When you find it difficult to put words on paper, don't give up too quickly.  Sometimes getting started is slow going.  Very slow going.  But once started, no matter how slow and painful, it can and often does pick up speed.
  • Plan ahead.  It really does help to have some kind of idea of what you'll be writing.  This doesn't mean you have to have a book fully plotted or a synopsis written, but knowing your characters, their GMCs and what the story will be about is a huge help.  Ideas often come at strange times, so try to always have something handy where you can jot the ideas that come to mind.
  • Don't quit.  Of course there are times in life where you aren't given the choice of moving forward, but too often people give up when the going gets a little rough.  Lost time can be slowly made up over a longer period of time.  If it isn't, it's okay, as long as you don't give up without giving yourself another chance.
  • Take stock .  If you've fallen behind for any reason, rethink your goal.  There's nothing wrong with making an adjustment, no matter how small or large.  If you find you set your goal too low, smile.  Next time you can set it higher.
  • If you need some help with setting goals, check out Diary of a Mad Romance Writer.  Yeah, that's my blog, and I have more blog posts than what's probably needed on the subjects of both motivation and setting goals.  And I have LOTS of links for extra help.
I'm tired just thinking about it, but knowing  that working toward a goal is doable, I'm ready to start.  I know what I want to accomplish, I know how I can accomplish it, and I plan to start 2013 with determination and the will to finish.  I hope you all will do the same.  See you January 13!  And Happy New Year!!!
Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right. - Oprah Winfrey

Decorating the top one third of the tree (Melissa Robbins)

Unlike Rox, my two sisters and I were the only grandchildren on one side of the family, but that didn’t stop the fun.  Most of my favorite Christmas memories were at my grandparents’ house in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.  We would pile into our family station wagon and drive down from D.C. to visit them. 

This is me at my grandparents' house.  At first, I wasn't sure which house this way until I noticed the carpet.  My grandmother, Mama Ruth would cook a feast.  Turkey AND ham.  The best green beans in the world and creamed corn from their own garden.  Melissa Pickles.  Coconut cake and her signature sugar cookies.  Pecan Pie.  They also had these awesome soft peppersticks.  Just this year, I found them at a store locally.  I could never find them!  My kids love the candy as much as I do.  Also Reese gave me a jar of her pickles which are the same kind my grandmother made (Melissa Pickles).  I just might be able to make Mama Ruth’s cheeseball that hasn’t been made in sixteen years.  Her pickles were the secret ingredient.   This year, my parents, one sister, and her boyfriend are coming here.  They'll be so surprised. 

On Christmas Eve, we piled back into the station wagon and drove around to look at the Christmas lights. 

This is me and my grandfather dressed as Santa.  

When we were older, we visited the Biltmore House looking gorgeous all decked out for Christmas and the Grove Park Inn and their amazing gingerbread houses.  

My other grandparents lived in Atlanta, GA.  This picture was taken there.  I recognize the curtains.  I loved that dress.  The city looked so pretty at Christmas.  There, we had one cousin, a boy.  We played with all his Legos.  Something we didn’t have at home.  My grandmother worked at Woolworth’s and one year she scored the toy of the year, Cabbage Patch Kids back in October.  I was convinced after seeing the craziness on the TV about the dolls, I wouldn’t get one.  Imagine my surprise.

Now that I’m grown and have four kids of my own, I want my kids to have fun Christmas memories.  We attend the Christmas Eve service at church, pile into the minivan to look at Christmas lights, sing Christmas songs, and make gingerbread cookies.  When my youngest was almost one, we were the Holy family and Gwinn starred as baby Jesus.  The future actress stole the show with her applauding loudly after the songs, waving and shouting, “Hello, how you?” when the shepherds, angels, and wise men showed up.   She had the crowd rolling with laughter. 

My three oldest kids helped me decorate our tree this year and we continued the tradition of putting most of the ornaments on the top one third of the tree so Gwinn wouldn’t break them.  She has since removed all the ones from the bottom.  My tree hasn’t had ornaments on the bottom of the Christmas tree since my first kid could crawl. 

Merry Christmas to you all!  Now go make memories of your own. 

A Few of My Favorite...Christmas Stories (Penny Rader)

Can you believe Christmas is almost here?  I can't.  I need another 2-3 weeks.  However, I do love watching Christmas movies and reading Christmas stories and listening to Christmas music.  Just something magical and affirming about them.

If  I share a few of my faves, will you share yours?

The Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black.  I laugh and laugh every time I watch this movie.  And Jude Law is so very yummy.  And I want a tent like the one in his house.

While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman.  Sigh.  Peter Gallagher's eyes are just so dreamy.  And that "leaning" scene between Sandra & Bill has me leaning every time I see it.

A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr.  Loved, loved this book.  So much so that I ordered the three prior books in the series...and buy the new additions as they appear.

A Season for Miracles by Marilyn Pappano.  Wonderful story of an aunt trying to do right by her nieces and nephew...and falling in love in the process.  Also got a kick out of the angelic intervention in the town of Bethlehem.

Leonard Cohan's Hallelujah performed by KD Lang.  The intensity fills me up inside and makes me feel like I'm going to burst.

Okay.  I really have two favorite versions of Hallelujah.  Jon Bon Jovi's version leaves me, well, words fail me. Such passion.  Sigh.

Santa, I'm Right Here by Toby Keith.  The raw emotion gets me every time.

Okay.  Your turn.  What are your Christmas favorites?

Christmas Memories

Although I'm adopted, I've always been fascinated by my mother's family, because they were the center of my winter holidays when I was growing up.

My great-great-grandparents came to America from Bavaria, Germany, in 1886 and settled near a small town southwest of Wichita with their three children.  They were farmers who spoke no English but soon learned the ways of their new home.  A fourth child was born seven years later.  Two generations later, my grandmother was the second of seven children.  It was that generation that I remember, although my grandmother died when I was six months old, as did my great-grandfather, two of her sisters married and lived near the small town.  It was to their houses and those of their children that we spent our Thanksgiving and Christmases.

My great-grandparents and their seven children

An average winter holiday included 20 of us, and my fondest memories were at my Great-aunt Dorothy's house, the youngest of the seven children.  She and her husband lived on a farm southwest of town in a house that was built in the 1890's.  Uncle Milt (her husband) was born in that house in 1900, and they raised their two daughters there.  When everyone got together, whether there or at Great-aunt Lucy's house or cousins Kenneth & June, NOISE was the word of the day, quickly followed by FOOD.  My mother was always in charge of the turkey, and I remember waking up on Thanksgiving to watch the parades and on Christmas to see what Santa brought with the smell of roasting turkey throughout the house.  After packing up the presents for the family, we'd head out for the long trip to the country.  You see, it was twenty-five miles at the most, and the drive took just over half an hour, but to a small child, it was a long journey to sleep through.

We averaged twenty family members who gathered each holiday, with sometimes more when cousins would come from far away or someone would bring a boyfriend.  After dinner the grown-ups would gather around the big table and play Pitch, a card game, for hours, while those of us in the younger set would play outside or with new Christmas toys.  (One year Santa brought me a microscope, so we pricked our fingers and watched the squiggles in our blood.) I don't remember ever watching television or it ever being on.  The grown-ups' card games generated the most noise, with good-natured arguing and laughing.  When my cousins and I were older, Aunt Dorothy would let us use an extra wooden-legged card table, and we'd make it talk.

You've never heard of a table talking?  It's based on the idea of a Ouija board.  Four of us girls would sit at the table and place our hands flat on top of it.  Then we'd start chanting, "Up table, up!" while (great) Uncle Sterl would make fun of us--and the table would rise a few inches off the floor.  We'd ask a question of the table, giving instructions on how to answer (1 knock for yes, 2 for no or knocks for numbers or letters), and the table would tip on two legs, then drop down to knock and tell us what we wanted to know.  (Just so you know it wasn't only my crazy family who did this, a good friend in Texas has done the same.)

Evening would come, and the card games would stop, while the men (all farmers except my dad) drove home to do chores.  Dessert was enjoyed (again), then the games would continue.  Small children would fall asleep in the laps of mothers and fathers or curl up in a chair in the long, quiet living room.  It was always dark when we packed up to go home, tired from the excitement but filled with the happy feeling that only good company and family can provide.

 My great-aunts and uncles, my aunt and uncle, and my parents are gone.  The big family Christmases dwindled and came to a close when my generation came of age and started their own families and began sharing holidays with their in-laws.  Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Milt's two-story white Victorian still stands at the curve of the county road, but belongs to someone else now.  But it will always be a place of happy memories, so much so that I used it as the backdrop for my upcoming June 2013 book, DESIGNS ON THE COWBOY.

Christmas has changed many times since those days spent in the country with relatives of all ages.  Sometimes we're lucky and traditions continue.  When they don't, we find ways of making new ones while putting the old ones aside.  But even when they're changed or gone, we still keep the memories of them in our hearts.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season, full of love, joy, laughter, and the very best in life.   

A Bah, Humbug Christmas --or Not? by J Vincent

In the past when I’ve thought of Christmas I’ve reflected on the anticipation, projects sewn, shopping, wrapping paper and bows, baking, candy making, Christmas morning surprises. and plans to be made for food, gifts, parties,.  I started shopping early in the year, planned what I would make for whom and when I would make it and looked forward to December with eager anticipation.

This year asthma and lung infections caused problems more often than they didn’t.  I lost the last three months and still am physically incapacitated. This one is not starting out that well with the meds I take for allergies failing for hte first time in years resulting in a severe allergy attack.  I’m hoping the new medicine kicks in soon!  But due to health issues I did not start shopping early.  I put off planning except for the vague idea of making throws for one of my daughters and my daughter-in-law and a Frosty the Snowman throw for my young granddaughter.  We’re now almost a week in to December.  I have two gifts purchased, the Frosty throw cut out but not begun, and the other two throws about a third of the way sewn.  Consequently I am, for the first time ever, thinking of Christmas in terms of survival.  My check list, if I had the energy to write one, would be very different this year.  Baking--nope.  Candy making--not this year.  Surprises for the kids, young and old, Christmas morning?  Not unless there is a Christmas miracle close at hand!

Miracles?  Believe in them?  Well, it is Christmas.  Let’s say I believe that one must sew the seeds for miracles.  So--baking?  I’ve always done “from scratch” but survival mode means buying mixes.  Candy?  There are recipes that take little effort --Cracker Toffee for one.  And what about purchasing favorites?  Works for me this year!

But what about gifts that warm the heart?  This year I’m not aiming high.  First I considered giving cash.  That’s what my parents always gave us after we left home.  But it always got spent on bills, and while grateful for the breathing room it provided us,  the kids aren’t in need.  We’d like to give something more personal.  And then I read an article in the Eagle which outlined one family’s plan to keep Christmas from getting too commercial.  They suggested giving one thing a person needs, one they want, one thing to wear, and one to read.  Ahh, the glimmer of a miracle looms.  Perhaps it was the one thing to read that really caught my eye.  But now, perhaps, what with a mix of a few purchases and gift cards this Christmas may prove more than survivable.

Anyone have other ideas on how to improve my chances of more than mere survival?  Merry Christmas to one and all!!

A Little Dust Never Hurt Anyone--Except Me by Reese Mobley

Like everyone else in America, we have many holiday traditions.  I chose to blog about one that is very near and dear to my heart.  And the stomachs of my friends and family.


For as long as I can remember I've made Christmas candy and through the years each of my kids have taken a turn at helping me.  They usually give up after the first hour or so, but that's okay.  I think that's all it took before they appreciated how much work and love it takes to make the batches and batches of sweetness.

Most years I have good luck in the kitchen, but I've had my mishaps along the way too.  Peanut brittle that didn't get brittle or toffee that needed to be eaten with a spoon are just a few.  Probably the most memorable candy making experience happened 29 years ago when I was nine months pregnant with my first son.  

 It was right after Thanksgiving and I was huge at that point but I decided not to let that slow me down.  The candy needed to be made before the baby came because I knew my free time would disappear once my newborn arrived.

Everything was going smoothly.  I was on a roll.  And then I started itching.  Like crazy.  I dug my skin raw.  This went on for days.  I took oatmeal baths.  Went through bottles of lotion but nothing helped.  Finally, one evening I couldn't take it anymore so I asked my husband to take me to the emergency room.  We discussed with the doctor what I'd done over the last week that could have triggered this reaction.  He listened intently.  Asked questions, left the room and soon returned with an answer we didn't expect.

Cashews are related to the poison ivy plant.  I'd crushed the nuts in the food processor and breathed in the nut dust before adding them to the butter mixture that makes up the base of the toffee.  

He told me to take some Benadryl and relax.  Which I did as soon as I got home.  I woke up.  My water broke and fourteen hours later I held my new baby.  

My husband is now in charge of chopping cashews, although I think I'll ask my oldest son to do it this year.  Just for old times sake.


A Celebration to remember.

Hello from Patricia Davids.

I talking today about birthdays. It isn't too far off the Christmas theme of this month because, after all, Christmas is a birthday celebration.

Happy, happy birthday, Josh. Grandma loves you.
Today is my grandson's 19th birthday.

It's hard to believe that chubby baby boy with the most adorable dimple is all grown up. Where did the years go? Each year on his birthday, he and his family come to my house and decorate my Christmas tree. I hope the tradition continues for many years.

My own birthday was back in October. Everyone asked if I was going to have a party since it was the big 6-0.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't tolerate the idea of celebrating. It wasn't because I dislike the idea of getting old. Heaven's no. I don't mind being a senior citizen. The reason I couldn't bring myself to celebrate was because my husband passed away two months before his 60th birthday. It didn't feel right to celebrate reaching 60 when he never did. My birthday was incredibly sad.
Birthdays are like that. Some are great, some not so great. Being 10, being 21, being 30, those were memorable birthdays. When I turned 10, my mother made the most beautiful angel food cake. It had a Barbie doll in the center and the cake was decorated in pink and white to look like her skirt. I'd never seen anything as pretty as that cake was.

When I turned 21, I barely missed being hit by a huge truck as I was turning into the parking lot of a liquor store on my way to buy my first bottle of booze. It was a sobering reminder to stay sober. I've never forgotten that scare.
When I turned 30, I thought, wow, what is the big deal? This is a piece of cake. Being 30 is great. It wasn't until I turned 31 that I thought, Oh God, I'm over the hill. I'm getting OLD! Of course, looking back, that was silly. 31 is a long, long way from old. 61 is a long way from old.

When I turn 61 next year, I'll have a big, big party. If I'm lucky enough to still be here.
So tell me about a birthday you remember vividly. Was it a good one or a bad one? What birthday traditions do you have in your family?

Christmas Village and My Favorite Creative Deviation (Melissa Robbins)

This month, I could choose between “What I do to get ready for the holidays?” or “Creative deviations from my writing.”  I choose both! 

I love Christmas.  My mom has a Christmas tree in almost every room in the house and I appear to be following in her footsteps.  One thing that I try to get up early for Christmas is my Christmas village.  After the first year my husband helped me, I keep them up most of the winter.  That was his suggestion since it took us forever to get them up.  :0D  My five year old helped me this year. 

It’s the Department 56 New England Village.  My mom started collecting the Dickens Village when I was a kid.  Once I got old enough to care about stuff like that, Mom started giving one house each Christmas to my sisters and me from our chosen villages.  I found it interesting how different our tastes were.  One sister, the sophisticated one, got Christmas in the City.  My other sister gets whatever house strikes her fancy.  I chose New England village, because I like the outdoorsness of it and I spent my childhood in the northeast.  The sea themes remind me of spending time on the Chesapeake Bay and summer vacations in Nag’s Head, NC. 

With fifteen houses, they are spread all over my house and out of the reach of my two year old.  I wish I had the room to create a complete town like the miniature one of a Kansas town at Exploration Place, but for now, my library shelves and desk will have to do.  I have shops and homes. 

I believe this lighthouse was my first one. 

My kids call this one the pirate ship.

After decorating my house and should be writing, I’ll do another creative deviation.  What is it?  If WARA members even had to guess.  Yup sketching.  No, this isn’t Jack cheating.  Funny, if I tried to sketch Jack, it wouldn’t have looked like him.  I’m terrible at drawing characters consistently.  This twosome is a new couple I’m still figuring out.  I LOVE this drawing, but I don’t know what happened to the colors.  Her hair is orange and her dress should be a prettier green.  While spending a couple of hours in the car during the Thanksgiving break, I also sketched my boy in my notebook instead of writing.  The sketch is so bad, I can’t bring myself to post it.  Drawing in the car is hard.