Friday, November 29, 2013

Random Acts Of Kindness by Roz Denny Fox

I have to admit up front that I swiped information for this blog from a great flyer my realtor sent out this month. Several times each year she provides ideas to make one’s community better. This time she says her data came from several sources: (Scientific American, Dartmouth College, Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, and Psychology Today.)

Kind actions are said to brighten the day of the person who receives the benefit, and also the giver. Doing good will make you feel good, and boosts the health of both giver and receiver. Also, people who volunteer live longer than those who don’t.

I was particularly impressed by a list of ten acts of kindness a person can do for free. I consider most of these “paying it forward”.

1.    Hug your loved ones, and always take the opportunity to tell them you love them.

2.    Hold the door open for the person walking behind you.

3.    Offer your seat to someone on the bus or train who looks more tired than you.

4.    Write a note of praise to the manager of someone who has helped you, such as a waiter, waitress, helpful flight attendant, or customer service rep who solved your problem.

5.    Write something funny, kind or inspiring on a sticky note and leave it somewhere unexpected, such as the inside of a library book, or mirror in a public restroom.

6.    Rake or mow your neighbor’s lawn.

7.    Clear the snow off the car next to yours in the parking lot.

8.    Visit the local senior center or nursing home just to spread good cheer.

9.    Pat the shoulder of someone who looks upset, and offer encouragement.

10. Smile at strangers, and say “hello”.

These seem remarkably easy and many I’m sure most of us do automatically and that’s good. Some other facts on the flyer listed the generosity of volunteers: 65% of households give to charities. 65.1% do favors for their neighbors. 73% have helped a stranger. In general, Americans spend 7.85 billion hours volunteering. (Amazing)

“Remember there is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” –Scott Adams.

Another list of ten acts of kindness purportedly all cost $10.00 or less.

1.    Put change in someone else’s parking meter.

2.    Pay for the coffee of someone behind you in the line at the coffee shop.

3.    Buy a few extra groceries and drop them off at the nearest food bank.

4.    Pay the toll of the car behind you.

5.    Give a homeless person a large plastic bag with a bottle of water, a couple of granola bars, a packet of tissues, a toothbrush and toothpaste.

6.    Send a handwritten note and a small memento to a friend or family member you haven’t spoken with in a while.

7.    Offer your change when the person in front of you at the register is short of cash.

8.    Buy an inspirational book for a friend who needs encouragement.

9.    Buy a dozen daisies or sunflowers to give to a co-worker or a stranger on the street.

10. Surprise a friend, co-worker, or loved one with their favorite beverage or snack.

Some of these suggestions may mean we have to step out of our comfort zone, but according to the studies named above, you will benefit from something called: “helpers high”. It’s a release of two powerful mood boosters: dopamine and endogenous opioids.

Since we are in the season of giving I decided to pass on these ideas. Can you think of other helpful things to do that cost little or nothing except for perhaps a bit of time?



Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from Tara Randel

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our Heartwarming readers. I hope today is spent with your family and loved ones. I plan on cooking, my favorite Thanksgiving tradition. As I typed the word tradition, I got to thinking about what this day has in store for us and came up with a list. Does your list come close?

1. Take time to be thankful for all the blessings this year.

 2. Get the turkey in the oven.
3. Can’t miss the Macy’s parade.

4. Football.

5. Sit at the beautifully decorated dinner table.

(Not my table. LOL)

6. Eat. Eat. Eat.

7. Clean up not so beautiful dinner table.

8. Football.
9. Pumpkin pie. Or apple. Or cherry. With whipped cream.

10. Take a long walk around the neighborhood to work off turkey haze. You might see early Christmas lights.

And the most important item on the list? Enjoy!

I’m sure I’ve missed a few traditions in this post. Share some of your favorite holiday traditions.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Who's Ready for Family Time?

Disclaimer: NOT my real family
Ah, Thanksgiving is almost here.  Time to gather around the big dining room table with all the members of our wonderful family.  The children, seated at the designated "kid table", will wait patiently to be served before showing off those excellent table manners (because we're at Grandma's, you know!)  Everyone will take their turn sharing what it is they are thankful for this year and after a prayer, we'll pass the food around and indulge in a delightful meal.    

Together.  As one big, happy family.  

Because that's totally what happens in most families. Right?
All right.  I'll confess.  Maybe it's a little less Leave it to Beaver and a little more The Hunger Games at my Thanksgiving.  

My family has a habit of throwing rolls across the table, telling embarrassing stories, and jumping on a pile of living room couch cushions with the little ones when we're finished eating. The kids aren't exactly what I would consider patient nor do they always remember those manners (even at Grandma's!)
Dear sweet baby Jesus, thank you for this fine meal ...  OMG I love this movie!
Between my family and my husband's family (his being MUCH crazier than mine) we can always count on a memorable Thanksgiving.  There was the time my brother-in-law made stuffing that looked more like mushy brains than something edible.  Or the time I made my brother laugh so hard that milk squirted out his nose (at the grown-up table, nonetheless!)   And who can forget when my niece found her uncle (okaymaybeitwasmyhusband) wearing her prom dress at the breakfast table the morning of one Thanksgiving. 

I have come to realize that no family is perfect.  Every family has their quirks.  I think that's why I love writing for the Heartwarming line so much. Heartwarming stories let us explore more than just the romance.  We get to meet the family and friends of these characters.  Their inappropriate joke-telling uncles and weird childhood friends get to make an appearance. 

In THE WEATHER GIRL, coming out in January, there is an entire cast of characters for readers to fall in love with, including a gentle giant of a grandfather, a meddling grandmother, and a brother who teases but always has his younger brother's back.  

The members of Heartwarming families may give one another a hard time and do embarrassing things at the worst possible moments, but they also care for one another something fierce, are willing to forgive and forget, and always have each other's best interests at heart.

Just like the people at my Thanksgiving. 
My REAL family (sorry, I don't have a pic of my husband in the prom dress!)

Who are you looking forward to seeing this Thanksgiving? Come on, tell me all about the crazies in your family!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Murial’s post got me thinking about snow and school cancellations and freezing cold birthdays. I’m from Connecticut so I can remember all those days when my brother, Jim, and I longed for snow and a chance to stay home from school. Our cancellations came over the radio, and we were up early listening to all the schools that were closed, praying that ours would be one of the lucky ones. No one ever considered that we’d be making the days up in June and suffering in the heat without air-conditioning.

 We built forts. I’d have mine on one side of the driveway, and Jim had his on the other. It was such fun, tossing snow balls at each other, our cheeks all red from the cold. Then we’d take our sleds and slide down the snow covered street before the snow melted and patches of black asphalt appeared.

My sixteenth birthday came on a Friday in early November, and I was supposed to go to the movies that night to celebrate. It snowed and snowed and snowed. It was the first time I could remember ever getting snow that early. School was cancelled, and Jim was home sick. He couldn’t enjoy the free day, nor could he do his paper route.

So on my BIRTHDAY, I was forced to spend hours hiking through hip high snow to deliver those papers. Obviously, the movies were out since the only vehicle able to get through the storm had been that darn newspaper truck. I was furious. After I spent the whole afternoon delivering those papers, I had a long discussion with my brother and mother. From that time on they found someone else to take over the route whenever Jim got sick.   

At college in Providence, the traffic stopped on College Hill once we had snow. Students from all the neighboring colleges took advantage and slid down the hill, usually on trays from the various cafeterias. So Murial, stealing trays for sledding must be a universal occurrence. One time a group of guys from Brown University stopped at our dormitory and threw snowballs at our building. We girls enjoyed the spectacle from the safety of the second floor.

When I moved to my job in New York City, I became active with a group of skiing enthusiasts. I loved it and looked forward to every weekend on the slopes. I preferred the Bunny trails, the ones meant for the inexperienced. I can still remember my fiancĂ© insisting I was better than that and needed to go on more advanced slopes. We went on the ski lift together, and he pointed out the path below that I needed to take. I followed him down the steep incline. Halfway through the run, I panicked. But if I stopped, I’d never get off the mountain without the help of a helicopter. I made it, lost all my love for skiing and never went skiing again.

Years later, now married to the same guy, we went on skimobiles with my husband driving and my son sitting on the back holding onto his father. My daughter and I were in a special sled pulled behind. He went so fast. My daughter, and I bounced all over the place, desperately holding onto the edges for some balance. I screamed at him to slow down, but he couldn’t hear me over the sound of the machine. Once he did stop, I found a long branch to take with me and hit him with it whenever I wanted his attention.

I’ve never been fond of the cold, although in my youth I tolerated it. For the past twenty plus years I’ve enjoyed the absence of snow in sunny Arizona. No more black ice, freezing toes or scraping ice off the windshield. Winter has arrived here. The temperature has dipped below 80, and I’ve had to get my warm clothing out.    

Thank you Murial, for reminding me about all those memories of fun in the snow. I’ve enjoyed the nostalgic trip in the safety of my warm office and hope I’ll never see snow again. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Post Deadline Euphoria - this and that.

Hey, all!

I'm finished! Revision deadline met one day early!  Cookies, Christmas movies, and elf-ing for the next six weeks!  Can you tell I'm excited?  I'm so happy to be free of my little office that I can't think clearly enough to write something significant, entertaining, or educational.  You're all so good at that.  And the Thanksgiving topic has been beautifully covered.  So, I'm moving on to winter and some random thoughts about it.  I tried to find a common thread, but couldn't, so here's just euphoric ramblings on winter.

(To make matters worse, I may have already told you some of this stuff.  If I have, just go watch The View, of the Chew (I really like that.) or read something fun.)

Snow Days in New Bedford, MA, in about 1953 were announced with the factory whistle - one toot meant we went to school, two toots, we stayed home.  I so clearly remember hearing the first blow of the whistle and closing my eyes and praying for the second.  When it didn't come, I dragged to school, when it did come, I put on my snow gear and walked a block to the house across the street from the Polish Hall where all the kids congregated.  Susan Veer's dad always piled the snow into a good hill and we waited in line to go down it in somebody's toboggan.  (this was the heart of the city, so this country treat was a thrill.  We were even quiet and orderly, waited our turn, slid down the hill, screaming and cheering, then went to the back of the ever-growing  line and waited again.

Then somebody would throw a snowball and all organization fell apart.  After that, it got down and dirty.  Forts were built and arsenals collected.  When I went home to  go to the bathroom, my mother would make me change my clothes because they were wet with snow.  By the third or fourth time of the day, I was wearing my father's sweater, my sister's flannel pajama bottoms and socks on my hands because all my mittens were drying on the radiator.  Those were the days.

I remember, particularly, my  8th birthday.  (Birthday is January 1st.  Want to write that down?) We hadn't had snow yet, unusual for MA, and my mother kept telling me the snow was waiting to show up on my birthday.  We had a small neighborhood party and the sky was grey, but no snow.  The weatherman even predicted it, but by the time I went to bed around nine, it still hadn't fallen.  My mother shook me awake after midnight.  "Come on," she said.  "It's snowing!"

I'm crying as I remember this.  One of my uncles had given me a wagon for my birthday.   Mom and I carried it down the tenement stairs and into the snowy midnight.  New Bedford is an old town, with early 19th Century architecture and globed street lights like you see in old movies. I remember looking up as I climbed into the wagon and seeing snow floating down in the glow of the lights.  It was beautiful.  My mother walked me around the block in my wagon, and she reminded me that she had promised snow for my birthday.  I can still smell the cold when I think about that night.  And I recall that she must have been tired after throwing the party for me, but she got up after midnight to make sure I enjoyed my promised snow.

One day, my friend and I were walking from her house to mine - a distance of about six blocks.  We decided to take a street we didn't usually use and encountered a group of boys throwing snowballs and two of them grabbed me and pulled me into the yard.  Jenny got away and ran to my house, where she probably said to my parents something like, "We were walking home and two boys grabbed Muriel!" Imagine how that sounded to them.  It was just before Christmas because my father was home in the middle of the day to hear that terrifying announcement.  Meanwhile, I had managed to get away from the boys, who wanted nothing more awful than to put a snowball down my coat.  I got it away from them and threw it aside - just as my father stormed toward us, wearing the brown slacks he hung around in, a white T-shirt, and bedroom slippers. Jenny followed.   He'd been helping my mother move furniture when Jenny ran into the tenement.  He took off without even grabbing a jacket. The boys scattered.   I remember that he wouldn't talk to me on the way home.  Several people offered to give us a ride, surprised to see a man in just a T-shirt when there was snow on the ground.  Dad  kept walking.  My mother explained later than he was just scared and he'd be fine tomorrow.   That night we went  for fish and chips at a place where they wrapped it in the New Bedford Standard Times. My father seemed to loosen up a little.  As a grown woman, it breaks my heart to  realize how much he loved me.

So - nothing significant.  Just ramblings because I'm free!  At least until the AAs come.  Will you share your favorite winter memories?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

To Pasta- With Love by Karen Rock

I celebrated my birthday this weekend doing what I love the most: spending time with my family.  It was a low key affair with maximum meaning. My husband, daughter and I shared a quiet day with a meal out, cake, presents, and a trip to see Richard Curtis’ (writer/director of Love Actually) latest film About Time. I’ve always loved his films, such as Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, for their emotional intelligence and sensitivity. Yet About Time offered more than a beautiful love story and intriguing characters. It contained a message that stayed with me past the end credits. To quote the main character, Tim, “Live life as if there are no second chances.”
In this time-traveler tale, Tim, along with the other males in his family, can go back in time to correct their mistakes.  Yet this beautiful story of unconditional love showed that some things cannot be changed, however much we might wish it so. I completely identified with Tim’s longing to see a deceased relative. There are many moments in my life I wish I had a second chance to relive. Times when I let every day stresses and worries keep me from fully enjoying my life and those I loved.

If I could pick one day to revisit, it would be the day my nonna taught me how to make homemade pasta. As her health was failing, the need to learn our family’s Italian recipes became urgent. I’d already learned how to make her gravy (sauce as it is normally called), focaccia bread, eggplant parmesan and other recipes. Yet, as a busy college student, I hadn’t found the time needed to learn how to make pasta from scratch. I phoned my grandmother and planned a Columbus Day weekend visit. However, when the time neared, I regretted making that commitment. My boyfriend was acting strange and distant, I had a paper due, and my roommates hadn’t chipped in to pay the electric bill. When I called to cancel, my Aunt Pam lectured me. She said Nonna had been preparing all week for my visit and had spoken of little else in her excitement. Nonna had insisted, despite her arthritis, on scrubbing her entire apartment and having my aunt take her grocery shopping so that she could personally pick out the ingredients. It would crush her if I didn’t follow through. Resigned and resentful, I agreed to make the trip.

Nonna wasn’t one to show affection. She dished out her love through her food. When I arrived, she handed me a plate of my favorite cookies, her almond biscotti. It was her way of saying, “I’m glad you came, and I love you.” Yet I was too upset about my troubles back in Albany to notice. I listened with half and ear as she prattled in her broken English. Whenever she was excited, her speech was mostly in Italian, and I didn’t try translating it this time. Instead, I let the words wash over me as I thought about my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Michael. I went to bed early, knowing she’d wake me up as she always did- at five am- by poking me with a broom’s bristles, followed by her booming belly laugh. But my restless night made me cranky in the morning. Instead of giving in and getting up, I refused to leave my bed until seven. When I finally showered and dressed, she’d been sitting at the kitchen table, ingredients at the ready, for almost two hours. Ungrateful person that I was, I barely apologized and we set to work, my hands following hers as we went through the steps and set the pasta out to dry.

Although I went through the motions of making Orecchiette (pasta sometimes called ‘little ears’), my heart wasn’t in it. Nonna grew quieter as the day went on, sensing, I’m sure, my lack of enthusiasm. I spent the evening arguing on the phone with my boyfriend instead of watching television with her. In the past, we’d always poked fun at game show contestants, ranted about the evils of the world while watching the news, or clucked in sympathy with talk show guests. But this time, she sat alone, hunched on the sofa, silent, as I had what I thought was a crucial exchange with Michael. The next morning, I did get up at five a.m. But my early rise was motivated by my need to leave quickly. I wanted to get home and continue my fight with Michael, finish my paper, and round up my roommates’ share of the electric bill.

Well, I did get the money for the electric bill, I earned an A on the paper, and Michael and I made up- for the time being. Yet all of that pales in comparison to what I’d lost: the chance to fully appreciate the last time I’d see Nonna alive.  She died a month later, and all I have from our last day together is a hastily scrawled recipe. I would give anything to have a second chance to redo that time. To linger over coffee and almond biscotti with her, to pay close attention to what she said, to jump out of bed and help her set up for pasta-making, to patiently learn our family recipe rather than rushing through it, to sit beside her as we watched TV, her hand slapping my knee as she laughed, my head on her shoulder as I inhaled her favorite scent- gardenia.

About Time was a great reminder that life doesn’t give us do-overs. We shouldn’t let the stresses and worries of our everyday lives keep us from appreciating those we love and the wonderful blessings we’ve been given. The message couldn’t come at a better time given the Thanksgiving Season. Being thankful isn’t enough. It’s important to take action as well- to be engaged- to pay attention to the things that matter most. The normal moments I take for granted are the ones I will want back someday. Better to appreciate them now, than wish I had another chance to enjoy them. So my wish for this Thanksgiving is for us all to be thankful and to be giving. To commit our hearts and minds to those we love instead of allowing other, less important things, to steal that time from us.

If you could have a second chance, and go back in time, which moment would you relive? I’d love hear your thoughts! Answer in the comment section below, and be entered to win a copy of my Heartwarming Wish Me Tomorrow, print/Kindle/Nook version- your choice. I will announce the winner here as well as on tomorrow. Thank you so much for commenting! I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving full of family, laughter, and unconditional love. Oh- and pasta too J

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happy Thanks-living by Syndi Powell

Last month, a friend of mine made a comment that this month she was going to celebrate Thanks-living. For her, that meant sharing something that she was thankful for every day in November. She said she would post her daily thanks on Facebook as status updates and encouraged some of us to do the same.

Years ago, I kept a gratitude journal where I would list three things that I appreciated for that day. Surely sharing one thing a day for every day in November couldn't be that hard, right? I have many blessings in my life, so I started with members of my family. My husband, stepson, parents, sisters, and their families were all included. Some days it's been about being thankful for what I have: my health, food in my cupboards when so many go to bed hungry, my job, my talents and gifts.

I don't know if my Thanks-living has inspired anyone else like my friend's encouragement did with me, but it has opened my eyes to see what blessings I have in my life. I've worried less about what is going to happen and focused on today. I'm learning to live a life of thanks.

What are you thankful for today?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thanksgiving Woes

Pamela Tracy here, and, well, Mel's post yesterday got me thinking.

I'm not much of a cook.  I'm so not a cook that when I started dating my husband, and when I invited him over for dinner, the pre-school teacher where I taught prepared the meal.

I'm not making that up.  For a week, I'd been telling my friends at work about Don coming for dinner and what I was making.

That afternoon, when I finished walking my kindergarten class outside, Wanda met me with a box.  Inside was all the food and notes about how long to cook and such.

Yes, I served Don Wanda's food and he told me I was a good cook.

Two months after we were married, I told him the truth.

I believe that was the day I gave him food poisoning.

I made a chicken casserole.  I read the directions literally.  They told me to put the casserole in the over and cover it.

Hey, the pan I was using came with a cover.

Well, that cover melted.  The directions should have been more clear.  Who knew cover mean aluminum foil?

I digress since the post's title is Thanksgiving woes.

When I was in college I had a boyfriend named Mark.  He was an air force guy <sigh>

I invited him and two other friends for Thanksgiving.

Back then, I REALLY wasn't a cook.

I went to Safeway and bought the most beautiful, greenest head of lettuce.

As we were eating the salad, Mark asked me, "Why are we having cabbage salad?"

It was green, round, and leafy.  That meant lettuce, right?

It wasn't.

Are you convinced yet?

I do make a mean sloppy joe.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pros/Cons of a Healthier Turkey Day by Melinda Curtis

Let's face it.  Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks and binge eat.  Tradition is often a mixed bag, isn't it?

For years, I've been hosting our family's holiday celebrations (more a function of the size of my kitchen and living room than a function of my desire/ability to cook).  And in the past five years, I've been cutting out the fat and calories from our family meal.

Wheat rolls instead of white butter-top?  Yes!

Steamed vegetables instead of green bean casserole?  Yes!

Crock pot turkey instead of baked (no crispy skin)?  Yes!

If only I could entice my clan to eat low sugar pies!  As it was, my purchase of low fat whipped cream one year nearly met with rebellion!  It's to the point where the family starts grilling me at Halloween as to what changes I'm planning for the big day.

This year, instead of five different pies, I'm only going to provide two - one traditional (pumpkin) and one I can't seem to wrench the men in the family away from (banana cream).  There will be no blueberry, no apple, no pecan. 

So where do you stand on Thanksgiving food?  Is it a one-day indulgence (anything goes)?  Or a battle of wills with your family?  Would love to hear about it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

We're In The Season For Giving Thanks by Roz Denny Fox


I always like to begin November by counting my blessings and all that I have to be thankful for. Some years my list is longer than others, but some things always on my list are a wonderful family, good friends, a roof over my head, and food aplenty.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about food. Not because I’m on a diet—that’s perpetual. It’s more because every time I turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper there’s talk of how many families go hungry every day in our nation. It’s appalling. A recent cut to our National Food Stamp program of 5 billion dollars has resulted in food losses to 22 million children and 9 million veterans. And it’s probably the first in a series of cuts.

I wasn’t born during the great depression, but I wasn’t so far removed from it that it wasn’t a topic prevalent in our household as I was growing up. My parents considered themselves lucky to own property where they could plant large gardens during the depression and during World War II. My mother fed people. She baked bread, cooked huge roasts, and canned fruit and vegetables. She always had a sandwich available for anyone who knocked at our door. And when I was four or five I remember going with my mom, hauling jugs of coffee and sacks of sandwiches and cookies in my little red wagon to soldiers riding troop trains that stopped to refuel in our small town. It was always dark and I felt important to be allowed to stay up late. It was scary dark because of black-outs, but as young as I was I remember soldiers being grateful for food as many had been riding the train for days.

As I got older I griped about weeding those massive gardens. Now, looking back, I wish I’d had a better understanding for how many people didn’t go hungry because of the bounty from my mother’s Victory Gardens as they were called.

What living in a house-of-plenty did do was imprint on my DNA the fact that food is the staff of life, and it’s important to see that people, especially kids don’t go to bed hungry.

Food Pantries, Community Food Banks, and organizations like Bountiful Harvest are in more need of assistance than they’ve been since the great depression. No amount of help is too little. For instance, my RWA chapter collects loose change at our monthly meetings to donate to our local food bank. One might think loose change won’t feed many families. But, our total of loose change for half the year was over $90.00. And for every $20.00 given to our food bank, they’re able to purchase $130.00 worth of food. In many ways giving a donation is better than taking $20.00 to purchase rice and beans or cereal privately. Not that food banks can’t use real food, they can.

And yes, I know some say there’s fraud and waste in our government food programs. I suppose there are always folks who figure ways to take advantage. I also know schools in our area have started filling backpacks with food on Fridays to help feed kids on weekends. I’ve heard the food in the backpack is usually shared by the entire family. And there are too many stories of mom’s skipping meals so their children can eat. Most are working mothers who can’t afford to get sick and miss work. I find this hard to wrap my head around the thought of people going hungry in our country, and really my blog isn’t a plea for donations. It truly came about for the reason I first stated—a count of my blessings. I’ll end by saying I’m thankful to still be able to carry on my mom’s tradition of helping to feed the hungry, even if I can’t do it on the personal scale she did.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Promise of Rain By Rula Sinara

I can't believe Thanksgiving is only two weeks away! It's the ultimate holiday for kicking off an entire season that revolves around love, family and giving. A season that leads up to the start of a new year. In a perfect world, the love, giving and closeness of family would last all year long, not just during the holiday season, but still...I think it's symbolic that my debut, The Promise of Rain, is a January release. It's a story that centers around forgiveness, sacrifice and sometimes misguided selflessness. Families torn apart by trauma and the struggle to rebuild those relationships is a prominent theme in The Promise of Rain, so it's perfect that the cover captures the sense of serentity, family and happily ever after that the characters almost miss out on. And those characters include 'heartwarming' little ones like the baby elephant you see in the background and the little girl, Pippa.

My heroine, wildlife veterinarian Dr. Anna Bekker, is a giver and if there's one thing she knows it's that the emotions and values that bind families...things like nurturing love, mourning, worry and joy...aren't limited to humans. She has witnessed, first hand, those very emotions in the African elephants she's trying to save through both research and by rescuing babies orphaned by poachers. One little male elephant in particular steals her heart and I can only hope readers are taken by him as well.

I'm thankful for everyone who spreads kindness and compassion in our world. I'm thankful for everyone who reaches out in their own way and who raise awareness. It's not always about money, although Dr. Bekker's research and orphanage camp in Kenya's Serengeti is being threatened by funding cuts...cuts that are pushed forward by hero Dr. Jack Harper. Sometimes the eye of a photographer or artist touches the heart. 

Closeness by delboysafa
And another one I love by the same photographer...

What are you thankful for this year?

The Promise of Rain (January 2014):

He wants to take her child out of Africa...

The Busara elephant research and rescue camp on Kenya's Serengeti is Anna Bekker's life's work. And it's the last place she thought she'd run into Dr. Jackson Harper. As soon as he sets eyes on her four-year-old, Pippa, Anna knows he'll never leave...without his daughter.

Furious doesn't begin to describe how Jack feels. How could Anna keep this from him? He has to get his child back to the States. Yet as angry as he is with Anna, they still have a bond. But can it endure, despite the ocean--and the little girl--between them?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

For the love of Mistletoe


          Beautifully crafted holiday romance stories have always been my favourite novels to read-and not only during the holiday season, but all year round. And I’ve come to discover that I’m not alone. Readers worldwide enjoy ‘love under the mistletoe’ stories that evoke sincere emotions and reflect family and heart and home. So, when I began writing, I decided that the best place to start would be writing the kind of stories that I love to read.

          Holiday themed romances are a great place for any debut author to start, as they contain certain parameters that are helpful in structuring the story. The specific timeline, for one, is useful in that the journey usually begins sometime after Thanksgiving or December 1st and concludes typically on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This provides a framework for the story and gives both the author and the reader comfort, knowing the happily ever after is simply weeks away.

          The scenery in these novels also provide a familiar and uplifting backdrop supporting the protagonist despite the hurdles and obstacles they face on their way to finding love. The urgency of the upcoming holiday creates a driving motivation for the characters to resolve their issues in time for their desired mistletoe kiss.

          Secondary characters that appear in these novels also tend to be those that resonate with readers-children, parents, grandparents, close friends. They enrich the story and provide a familiar support system that readers can identify with in their own lives. They often help the hero and heroine realize their love for one another and they encourage the union, making it feel right on every level.

          Ultimately, what better time for romance than the holiday season-a time that in essence is the symbol of love and forgiveness? A time that is focused on family and community and time spent with the people who matter most. The holiday season embodies the true theme of any romance novel and provides a fantastic foundation for writers.

          My new series- A Brookhollow Story... from Harlequin Heartwarming begins with my signature holiday title, which I’ve become known for. The Trouble With Mistletoe explores what can happen when love is given a second chance…under the mistletoe.
What is your favorite part about writing/reading holiday romances? Do you have an all-time favorite?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What’s in a name?

I don’t have any special way of picking names for my characters. They’re random choices, a fixture I need so I can put my idea into the computer. I chose Emmy Lou, the character in “Just Like Em” because I liked the name. But typing a two word name was time consuming, so I reduced it to Em with the intention of doing a search later and changing Em to Emmy Lou. Well, my character balked. She liked Em and her ex-husband was the only one who used her full name, so I kept Em. Also, the hero called her “Auntie Em” after the aunt in The Wizard of Oz. At first it was a derogatory putdown because he couldn’t stand the brat who was destroying his love life. Eventually it became an endearment.

Did I start out with that idea? Absolutely not. 

We’re not supposed to use similar names in our stories that might confuse our readers. The hero’s thirteen-year-old daughter is Samantha and Em’s seven-year-old son is Sammy. Red flags! But throughout the book, Sammy wants to change his name because Sammy is a girl’s name. Heaven forbid that he should be stuck with the same name as a girl. Happily my editor agreed and the two names stayed in the book.

My own, name Marion, has had a few problems. Marion is actually the male equivalent of Marian and half the time people write my name with an “a” instead of an “o.” Did you know John Wayne’s first name was Marion? He didn’t like it and took the nickname Duke. I have a male friend with my name, and he also uses a nickname. In fact, it’s only recently that I even learned we shared the same name.

Then there’s my married name, Ekholm. It’s Swedish. The German equivalent contains a “c,” and I have to constantly check my name to be sure it’s spelled correctly, especially on legal documents.

You’d think with all these problems I’d take a pseudonym, maybe even use my maiden name. No way. Can you imagine all the problems I’d have with Suess? That too is a German name meaning sweet. And it is not spelled the same as Dr. Seuss. My father was adamant about pronouncing it “cease” and my brother and I corrected people straight through my wedding day, when I could happily drop it. Everyone confused it with the famous writer and after my father’s death, my brother no longer corrected people.  

I’m fascinated with names. When I find someone with an unusual name or a spelling different from the norm, I ask how that came about. And the stories I get are wonderful ideas that I can use in another book.

How do you chose your character’s names? Are you happy with your own name or do you prefer a pseudonym?

Monday, November 11, 2013

What's Taste, Anyway? - by Cynthia Reese

I know it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but Walmart had Christmas decorations out before Halloween, so I think I'm okay here.

I don't know how it was in your family, but my mom had a rabid hate of multi-colored lights.

The only lights that were welcome in her house or on her house or recognized by her as good taste were small twinkling white lights.

As a kid, I did not have taste. At least, as defined by my mom. I would see the brightly colored rainbow of lights strung up on our neighbor's houses as we drove by, and I would gasp, "Oh, wow!"

My mom would make this strange growling noise under her breath, grip the steering wheel a little tighter and step on the accelerator. 

It took awhile for me to figure out why my comment elicited that growl. Finally, one day, I asked my mom why she didn't like multi-colored lights. 

"It looks like a jook joint," she explained. 

A bit of translation is needed. "Jook joint" in my mother's vocabulary equalled "run-down beer joint dive where knives are likely to be used." I think it actually was "juke joint" but I never asked her to spell it. 

Since we were a teetotalling Baptist family, I had no desire for our house to be mistaken for one of THOSE kind of establishments. Soon, I, too, was emulating my mother's growl as we drove by multi-colored lights. 

And then I married my husband. Who grew up on rainbow colored lights - big, old-fashioned bulbs in every gaudy hue possible. 

Why, no. He does not have permission to decorate my Christmas tree. But after over two decades of quibbling over this debate, I did cry uncle and let him string multi-colored lights on our front fence. 

And yes, when I drive by it, I growl, "Jook joint," under my breath. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Daily Astoria, The Red Sox, and me

This is a quote from the publisher's column in yesterday's Daily Astorian.

It's entitled,  LET ME NOW EAT CROW

"Boy, did I get it wrong.  The Boston Red Sox destroyed my illusion  that the St. Louis Cardinals would always rebound.

On the Wednesday that I offered an unqualified prediction of a Cardinal championship, Muriel Jensen, a Massachusetts native, challenged me.  We settled on lunch at Urban CafĂ© as the stakes of our bet.

Jensen is Astoria's renowned (that may be overstating it just a little) author of romance novels.  She has more than 80 to her credit.

Following the Sox victory last Wednesday, she gloated in a delightful way.  (He was on vacation.  I left a message on his voice mail saying, "I know an ungracious winner shows very bad manners, but  NEINER, NEINER, NEINER!"  I did promise to buy dessert.)

Boston made relatively easy work of the Cardinals.  But there were excellent moment in the games.

So, if you see us at the Urban, that would be crow on my plate."

Of course, I've bought him a figure of a crow left over from Halloween and plan to present it in high style.  Our lunch is on the 13th.

Point of this story - it's always good to have a working relationship with your local newspaper.  Sometimes it really pays off!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Christmas Movies by Tara Randel

I know getting ready for Christmas happens earlier and earlier every year, but when it comes to original movies from the Hallmark Channel, I’m a total sucker! Don’t you love the Countdown to Christmas? C’mon, admit it, the movies get to you too.


This year there are twelve new movie premiers. Yes, I was on the Hallmark website reading the synopses of each movie. Between this weekend and Christmas, my DVR will be getting a workout.

What is it about these movies? I enjoy them because most have romance in the story. As a contemporary romance author, I’m hooked. The movies also get me in the Christmas spirit and in this harried world we live in, it’s nice to sit down with a mug of hot chocolate or a big bowl of popcorn and take a few hours to enjoy the season. 

If you take a look at the Heartwarming releases this month, there is a prevailing theme. You guessed it. Christmas! Besides reading, watching Christmas movies ranks a close second. Take advantage of the beautiful Christmas stories by the wonderful Heartwarming authors this month. I know I’m going to carve out a few hours to read the books.

On a side note, two author friends of mine were in Starbucks a few months back. They were helping me brainstorm the book I am currently working on for Heartwarming. A man, dressed nicely in a button down shirt, tie and slacks, sat beside us, reading his newspaper. Well, actually he was listening to us. Finally he asked if we were writers. A conversation started and he told us he was a lawyer and offhandedly mentioned he also writes books.

"Have you heard of The Christmas Card?" he asked. (The story of a woman who sends Christmas cards to soldiers overseas and the military man who comes to town to thank her.)

"Yes," I told him. It happens to be one of my favorite Hallmark movies.

"I wrote it," he tells us.

After a moment of stunned silence, we flipped. Asked him a million questions, because that’s what writer do. He glossed over the experience, since he’d originally written the story as a historical and Hallmark updated it, then proceeded to tell us about his current work. an author, who wouldn’t want to see their book on TV?

So tell us, what are your favorite Christmas movies or books? Share now so we can set the DVR and order the books!