Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Are you resolved?

My new book--out this month!

Resolutions? Do you make them? Do you break them? Can you take them or leave them?
I never made them as a child--well, as an angsty teen--when all my friends would list theirs. I knew myself. Anything I resolved would become a task. In my early adulthood, I began to think I was missing out on an opportunity because I didn't look upon the new year as a time to start over, so I'd give it a shot.

The new year just isn't a start-over to me.

I finally learned to make the one resolution I can manage to keep because I work at it every day. It sounds kind of beauty-pageanty and embarrassing, but I try to do no harm. I have an ugly temper and a sarcastic mind, but I don't use them in anger. I think twice before I say whatever pops into my head. Most of the time. You know how something sounds funny in your mind, but then once it's out there in the air--not so much? At least these days, it's usually some nerdy allusion that makes me feel like a big, old sore thumb, but I don't mind the "what are you talking about?" look. It's the hurt face that kills me.

My all-time resolution has become more easy to keep when social media makes people so generous with their anger and the right to rant. I find all the bad feeling overwhelming. Frustrating moments that are part of just living suddenly become a soapbox for normal people who wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings in person. I can't do that--probably because I learned a few lessons from the shame of wielding that sarcastic temper. I don't feel smarter or better when I blurt out the perfect response. I just feel bad.

So, this year, I'm resolving the same old thing--not to hurt anyone, not to try forcing my opinion on top of anyone else's, but to accept that people don't think like I do, and I like to know how other folks think. When I'm driving down the road, and I see other travelers chatting, I always wonder what's going on in their lives--what's happening today that feels just as vital as all my urgent matters.

Mind you, I also try not to post personal stuff, and this post feels pretty personal. I'm tempted to delete and start over, but I'm about to ask you what you're resolving this year, so I might as well leave my own feelings out in public.

What is something you'd like to make sure you do? Or something you don't want to do any more?

I'm wishing you all the new year that makes you most happy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A few of my favorite things


        I have a fondness for office supplies—give me a pen that fits my hand and writes nicely and I’m your friend for life. I’m also fond of the kitchen aisles in Walmart and Target—put me in a kitchen store in a mall and I’ve been known to go into puppy-like paroxysms of joy. (This is not a pretty sight. I’m 64 and I left cute behind many pounds ago.) Then there’s my thing about snowmen—I love them and even though I don’t collect them, I seem to have...many.
          Now, with the New Year just around the...well, just around the clock from now, I have another little infatuation I may as well admit to.
          Calendars.
          I have liked them since I couldn’t yet read but understood that in just three more boxes from the calendar it would be time to go to town—or do something else exciting. In elementary school, we were always putting crosses through the boxes on the classroom bulletin board calendar counting down time till party days or Christmas break or summer vacation.
         My mom used to write the weather on the free calendar from the First National Bank in Elkhart, Indiana. Snow, no school or rain, 2” or too hot to cook read the notations. The big calendar hanging in the kitchen was how she
kept track of births and deaths, of calves being born and how many kittens the orange cat had.
          When I had three kids in high school, the calendar was the only way I kept from leaving them in all the wrong places at the wrong times (which I did occasionally anyway.) It was where I kept track of my work schedule and of writing submissions before submitting became electronic.
          Several of us from work bought the 2000 calendar that gave birth to the movie Calendar Girls. It was one of those life-changing things, when I started to really wonder why all romance heroines had to be young and beautiful. It changed what I wanted to read and write. I wasn’t sure there for a while how I felt about the romance genre and its reluctance to recognize that being of “a certain age” didn’t mean we were in any way less.

          I get calendars in the mail now, more of them than I can ever use. I choose one, send money to the charity that generated it, and hang it in the laundry room. As 2015 passes the calendar will have notes like snow! and release day! and give blood. I put the other calendars that come in the mail in a bag and donate to a nursing home along with my already-read magazines. I hope there are other people there who might like to look at the pictures and remember where they were on November 22, 1963 or that their first serious boyfriend’s birthday was October 11—or was it the 21st?
          The datebook on my desk is literally the story of my life. It has birthdays, doctors' appointments, and guest blog dates noted in all colors of ink. It will tell me when it’s time to get my roots covered or my nails made pretty again. It will remind me to get a mammogram or have lunch with Nan on Wednesday. At the end of the year I will consider tossing it, but I won’t. It will go in the bottom drawer with the one from the year before.
          As infatuations go, I think mine are pretty innocuous. How about you? What did you just suddenly realize you like...well, really a lot?
          Happy New Year!

          

Monday, December 29, 2014

Top Ten Bestselling Romances for 2014

Pamela Tracy here, and I am a list maker


Not only do I love making lists, I love reading them (well, some of them.)

Every year I go looking for the top ten bestselling romances.  Used to be, that was easy.  I went to Barnes and Noble, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Times.

It's not so easy anymore.  I couldn't find a list I could trust on Barnes and Noble.  The New York Times didn't seem to have one listed.  Below is what I finally arrived at, and I settled for 5 or 6 as apposed to 10.


According to the Washington Post, the five best romance novels of 2014 are
  1. The Arrow by Monica McCarty
  2. Evernight by Kristen Callihan 
  3. Suddenly Last Summer by Sarah Morgan
  4. Fool me Twice by Meredith Duran
  5. When the Duke was Wicked by Larraine Heath
I've not read any of them.  How about you?  Now, I've heard of Lorraine Heath and have read her in the past.


According to Publisher’s Weekly, the six best romance novels of 2014 are
  1. The Submission Gift by Solace Ames
  2.   Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
  3.   The Honeymoon Trap by Kelly Hunter
  4.   Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
  5.   Craving Temptation by Deborah Fletcher Mello
  6.   Somebody Like You by Beth K. Vogt
Ah, finally a list with one I've read.  I read Bitter Spirits and LIKED it.  Had no idea it had made it on a list. You go, girl, Jenn Bennett (and no, I don't know Jenn personally).  Also on this list is one I think I'll buy.  Somebody Like You.  Christian fiction rarely gets it due.  I think I'll write Beth a fangirl letter.


The top five for Goodreads
  1. Written in my Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  2. Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover
  3. The King by J.R. Ward
  4. Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  5. Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan
I have not read the above, but I did try.  I checked out Diana Gabaldon's book in audio from the library.  33 discs I think.  Alas, that was just part two.  Somehow I walked out of the library without part one.  66 discs felt a little overwhelming.  Plus, I'm pretty sure I need to read the one before.

As a note, Outlander is one of my top ten favorite of all times book.  I'd take it to a deserted island with me.  I've probably read it a dozen times and have two copies.  The series on TV captivated me.  I have a nine year old and never get to watch my own programs.  I made time and wasn't disappointed.


According to Eros Books, the top five are
  1. Written in my Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  2. Captivated by You by Sylvia Day
  3. Blood Magick by Nora Roberts
  4. The Arrow by Monica McCarty
  5. The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan  
Okay, here's Diana again.  Not surprised about Sylvia.  I've read many Nora Roberts.  Hmmm, here's The Arrow mentioned again.  As for number five, I'm heading to Amazon to check it out now.

What all this tells me is that probably Diana Gabaldon was the number one best-seller for 2014, with The Arrow coming in next.  Not sure about the rest, but to me, Eros looked the most on target, although I'd like to think that Publisher's Weekly nailed it.

In truth, I don't know.

What do you think?



btw, Pamela is not a top ten bestselling author, but she made the USA Today bestseller list with Mistletoe Kisses just last month.


Oh, and she has a new release coming up in April from Harlequin Love Inspired!


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sit-Down Saturday with Karen Rock and A LEAGUE OF HER OWN


So, Karen, where did you get the idea for A LEAGUE OF HER OWN?

I’ve always loved sports and pitched softball. Now that I’m older, my husband and I go to live MLB games every season and I watch him play league ball, too. I thought it’d be fun to mash up the two and have a softball pitcher vs a baseball pitcher and the story of a woman who takes over her father’s minor league baseball team and falls for their troubled pitcher was born.

 
In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?

                                                     Win or lose, we always have each other.

How long did it take you to write?

This book took me approximately two months to write and then add on another two to three weeks for revisions and edits.

What is your favorite scene?

My favorite scene is where my heroine and hero have a pitch-off contest. Whoever gets the most strikes in 20 pitches wins. If Garrett, my hero, wins, Heather, my heroine, will release him from his contract. He wants off the team now that she’s taken over it as he doesn’t believe she has what it takes to manage baseball players and help them have the winning season he needs to get him Major League attention. If she wins, he will stay on the Falcons and give her 100% effort and support. It’s a fierce battle and funny too because adding in the heckling teammate/spectators made for lots of fun lines/insults… as only fellow athletes can hurl. Of course Garrett Wolf gets the brunt of it as their cocky pitcher.

Who was your favorite character and why?

My favorite character is actually Heather’s dad. He’s had to raise his daughter alone after his prescription-drug addicted wife nearly killed Heather in a car accident then abandoned them. He doesn’t know a lot about ‘girly’ stuff, thinks the best way to parent is to point out what his daughter could be doing better, and is misunderstood because, despite his constant criticism, he adores his girl. He’s a gruff sportsman and I just love him.

If you could pick actors to play the hero and heroine, who would they be?

I’d have Chris Hemsworth play Garrett because he’s athletic and blonde and gorgeous! As for Heather, I’d need an athletic brunette, so maybe that’d be Mila Kunis… not sure.

Tell us one thing you learned during research.

The way a manager picks batting order is the first hitter needs to be your fastest runner to make sure you get someone on base. Your second hitter is someone who can hit in all kinds of directions so you get a base hit and advance the runner who’s hopefully made it to first. Your third and fourth batters are your homerun hitters who will hopefully bring in lots of runs with a moon shot (slang, I learned, for a homerun J)

What music would match the mood of this novel?
Anything you’d hear in a ball park… We Will Rock You, maybe?

This is your fourth book with Heartwarming.  Exactly what does that mean to you?

It means a lot. I absolutely adore this clean, contemporary line. I’ve had wonderful chances to explore layered characters and real issues that affect us all. It makes me feel great to touch people’s hearts. This review from Harlie at Harlie’s Book Reviews meant the world to me. “A LEAGUE OF HER OWN is not my first book from Ms. Rock nor will it be my last. I love her writing, voice and how she makes me feel after I finish. She makes me feel better about myself and also realize that I’m not alone with some fictional characters. We all have issues, it’s just how we deal with them that’s different” That says it all about this wonderful line!

What do you plan to work on next?

I’m currently editing my April 2015 Heartwarming- RAISING THE STAKES- about an Adirondack Forest Ranger and a diner owner who is determined to raise an orphaned bear cub.

What are you reading for pleasure right now?

I’m reading Philippa Gregory’s THE KING’S CURSE (The Cousin’s War Book 6) I read everything, but I’m on a historical kick right now.

Thanks so much for stopping by the Heartwarming Blog. If you’d like to check out A LEAGUE OF HER OWN, the links are:

Amazon (Kindle): http://amzn.to/1tqr4Ee

Barnes and Nobles (Nook): http://bit.ly/1sEFKPM

eHarlequin (Print Book):  http://bit.ly/1rmpYgb


Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23252231-a-league-of-her-own?from_search=true

                                                 Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

What I Got For Christmas





Fudge, cookies, pumpkin bread, homemade candies, store bought candies from various friends and neighbors.  There isn't a munch-mouth in this world who could have appreciated it all more than I do.  Or did.  Our daughter and son-in-law and the grandkids were here and there isn't much left. Not that I didn't eat my share.

A T-shirt from my younger sister of the Kliban Cat (do we all remember him?) at the top of the Christmas tree, holding on for dear life as it begins to bend over under his weight.  Do you think there was a subtle message there?  Or maybe she heard about the fudge, cookies, pumpkin bread . . .

Cereal bowls and matching plates with Norman Rockwell figures on them.  They're adorable.

A gift certificate to our favorite coffee house.

A giant box of Hickory Farms sausage and cheese.  Ron is in pig heaven.

A bottle of White Zin, and one of Moscato.  I'm in pig heaven.

A tear-shaped amber pendant from Ron's cousin in Denmark.  Some tiny seed or particle of something is trapped in it.  I was so fascinated, I Googled amber.  Did you know it comes from fossilized ancient forests now underwater?  If I try to explain it, I'll get it wrong.  There's a lot of science involved and I still think of electricity as magic.  Bottom line is that it's millions of years old and finds its way to land in various ways.  In Denmark, it usually comes to shore in the seaweed.  Cool to hold something against your skin that was here long before man.

My washer and dryer are probably thirty years old and both fainted at the same time  (I refuse to think they're dead) and my neighbor did my laundry while packing to visit her children.  Good friends are the most precious gift.

Our church has three Masses for Christmas - the 'family mass' at 7:00 on Christmas Eve  so the children don't have to try to stay awake through Midnight Mass, and parents don't have to try to tear them away from their toys for the 10:00 Mass on Christmas Day.  Ron and I always went to Midnight Mass together, and in the old days, when all the kids were around, we celebrated Christmas Eve then went together to Midnight Mass.  Ron can't come with me anymore, so  while he watched EWTN, I went to the family Mass.  I could not have made a better decision.  It was packed to the rafters, riotously noisy until the service started, and the most joyous celebration I've enjoyed in a long time.

Our priest invited the children up to get a closer look at the Nativity Scene and told them they could touch the baby.  Soon, one little boy took Him out of the manger and they passed Him from hand to hand.  There was momentary panic on Father's face, but the kids were very respectful and a little awed and the baby finally was returned to the manger.

College kids returning home for the holiday were invited up front to the choir to sing carols.  It was fun to watch old friends who hadn't seen each other in a while hug and giggle in the case of the girls, and elbow and shove in the case of the boys.  They sounded particularly wonderful.

After Mass, all the Mexican ladies were exchanging baked goods and I came very close to jumping into the middle with a 'Feliz Navidad' to see if I could score some of that yummy looking stuff, but I remembered in time that I was in church, and not only Santa but GOD was watching.

That Mass was a gift.  My daughter and son-in-law and my grandchildren showing their grandfather photos on their phones of the new dog was gold.  I'm embarrassed to be so rich, but I just keep greedily gathering it around me.

What was your favorite Christmas gift?




Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays from Cynthia Thomason

I'm using my blog time to wish everyone a very happy holiday. A special shout-out to my Heartwarming sisters who continue to produce the most amazing books. May your punch be fruity, your ham just salty enough, and your revisions light! And if any of you are experimenting with a new recipe like I am today, may your creations be tasty. I'm making a French Gateau, a bundt cake of sorts with just a hint of spiced rum, lots of golden raisins and apples.

Enjoy the days ahead, and remember, books make great gifts. And great gifts come from the heart.

Cynthia

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Very Last Minute

     
    Haven’t the posts on this blog been great? I’ve loved reading about Christmases and traditions and things that are just fun. It is a privilege being part of this group of authors.
          But here I am at almost the Very Last Minute before my scheduled day, and I don’t have a post! I’ve been busy—who hasn’t? I’ve had to work to get holiday cheerful this year—well, it’s certainly not the first time for that. The writing right now is a little iffy, but I will suck it up and get better. So, there, I don’t really know what my problem is, but I hope you’re not sharing it.
          That being said, I remember a few day-before-Christmas shopping trips when my husband and I were young. We’d already done the best we could for the kids and for others on the shopping list, including each other. The turkey was thawing and the tree had been up long enough it looked a little bedraggled. Yet he and I would go out at the Very Last Minute and take advantage of some sales, drop a couple more dollars in the red buckets, and have lunch all by ourselves with no one spilling an entire glass of milk across the table. It was a gift in itself.
          Then there was the year we didn’t plan to have company on Christmas Day, but the afternoon found the house full-to-overflowing with food and people and no one cared at all that I hadn’t dusted all week or that the Christmas tree was not only bedraggled but listing to one side as well.
          There was the Christmas Eve of the Holly Hobby dress, when I finished sewing at two o’clock in the morning, Duane wrapped the dress, and we fell into bed to sleep for three hours before the kids careened down the hall to tell us Santa had been there.
          So I will let that be a lesson to me, and maybe to some others who want everything to be just so for the holidays. Perfection, at least in holiday celebrations, is overrated. Sometimes the Very Last Minute is the Very Best Minute.

          I hope all your holiday minutes are good ones!


If you're doing any Very Last Minute shopping, don't forget Harlequin Heartwarming books!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Day Down Through the Ages

by Patricia Bradley


On the news tonight I heard a TV anchor tell the story of the Christmas Truce that happened one hundred years ago during WWI. I looked it up and this is what I found:

December 25, 1914 Just after midnight on Christmas morning, the German troops along the Eastern and Western fronts cease firing their guns and artillery, and start singing Christmas carols and playing brass musical instruments; at first light, many German soldiers emerge from their trenches and cross No Man's Land, calling out Merry Christmas in English and French; at first the Allied soldiers suspect a trick, but soon they are shaking hands with the Boche; swapping cigarettes and plum pudding, and even playing soccer; the Christmas Truce lasts a few days, then it is back to the bloody conflict of World War I; there are no more Christmas Truces.

A little more research revealed that the German soldiers put up Christmas trees on their parapets. There was no record of a soccer game being played, but I'd like to think it happened. After all, if a Christmas Truce during the bloodiest war ever can happen, why not a soccer game?

 I found this photo taken of the troops during the truce. 
German and British soldiers


Then, I wondered what else had happened on Christmas in the past. Here are a few things I found:

December 25, 336, the first recorded Christmas celebration in Rome

December 25, 1223, St Francis of Assisi assembles first Nativity scene 


December 25, 1621 Gov William Bradford forbids game playing on this day 

December 25, 1643 Christmas Island is founded and named by Captain William Mynors of the East India Ship Company vessel, the Royal Mary

December 25, 1758 Halley's comet was first sighted by Johann Georg Palitzsch 

December 25, 1776 George Washington and his army cross the Delaware River to attack the Kingdom of Great Britain's Hessian mercenaries in Trenton, New Jersey

December 25, 1868, Despite bitter opposition, President A Johnson grants unconditional pardon to all persons involved in the Southern rebellion (the Civil War

A lot more things happened on December 25 and you can check them out at Dates in History

To everyone celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, I want to wish that is your best ever. May you have a happy and productive and restful 2015. 

Or is that an oxymoron? 


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sit-Down Saturday with Cynthia Reese


Great to have you here today, Cynthia!

Where did you get the idea for this novel?
 I grew up with a mom who moved walls around furniture, not furniture around walls -- we lived in a constant cloud of sawdust. So I came to love old houses. Plus, my sister lives in an historic neighborhood. Because of that, I've heard all sorts of pros and cons of historic preservation restrictions. I wondered what it would be like to try to grow a relationship when two people had such vast differences in opinion about a renovation.

In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?


Hmmm ... Tough one! Maybe the corny one about when one door closes?
How long did it take you to write?
 I declare writer's amnesia! I think about three months, but honestly? I can't remember. 

What is your favorite scene?
 Has to be the "canning tomatoes" scene, where the home's AC gives up the ghost. I love how my hero rides into the rescue ... To me, a guy fixing things is the ultimate romantic gesture.

Who was your favorite character and why?
 Gran, hands down! I love her feisty, never give up attitude. I've known so many strong southern women with so much starch in them that they'll never wilt.

If you could pick fictional characters to play the hero and heroine, who would they be?
 You mean actresses and actors? My heroine Allison looks a lot like Maria Thayer, while my hero Kyle would be a more relaxed Ben McKenzie.

Tell us one thing you learned during research.
 I thoroughly enjoyed all the info about what historic preservation groups can and cannot do that Leah Michalek of the Savannah/Chatham Metropolitan Planning Commission's Historic Preservation division. She showed me tons of Second Empire and Victorian homes and was so patient with me.

What music would match the mood of this novel?
Anything Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin -- in fact, those old romantic dance tunes were what on my playlist as I wrote.

 This is your 6th book. Exactly what does that mean to you?
 That I'm not a fluke?? This book was special because it was my second original work specifically targeted toward Heartwarming ... It makes me hope I might be getting the hang of this writing business. 

What do you plan to work on next?
My next book, MAN OF HIS WORD, is the start of a series about a family of firefighters and the stresses the danger and risk can put on a relationship. It's such a wonderful feeling to be able to stay with a family for more than one book.

 What are you reading for pleasure right now?
Hmm ... I read A LOT. While I'm writing, I seldom read romance, opting instead for non-fiction or thrillers. I recently finished THE HUSBAND'S SECRET by Liane Moriarty (two thumbs up!) and a non-fiction book LONGITUDE by Dava Sobel (another two thumbs up!). Right now I'm reading a non-fiction personal finance book, HOW COME THAT IDIOT IS RICH AND I'M NOT?, by David Shemin, and about to start on Vince Vater's PAPERBOY.

Friday, December 19, 2014

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS. . .PEACE!


Happy Holidays!  


The year is almost over and I look back on the goals I set for myself.  My plan was to complete six writing projects in 2014.  I buckled down, afraid I wouldn't complete them before 2015 rolled over on the calendar.  Well, I got them all done.  In fact, I had them all done by April and so I added four more and went on to finish them even with life intervening.  It has been an interesting and productive year and I have you to thank for it.  Let me take this opportunity to thank my readers for your support in the past and your continued support in the coming years.  Without your help, my career might not exist.  So I appreciate both the help and encouragement you give me.

As Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years celebrations begin, remember when you were a kid and wanted the must-have toy of the season? 



For me the toy I had to have was called Mini-Brix.  They were the precursor to Legos.  I was about seven and I longed for them.  You could build things with them just like you can with today's Legos.  However, my father said it was a boy's toy and I was a girl.  This was prior to the sexual revolution.  On Christmas morning the mini-brik were not there.  I got a doll and a tea set as all good little girls should want.




What is the toy you want today? If you could get your must-have toy, what would it be?  You're never too old for the perfect holiday present.  If I got to sit on Santa's lap and whisper in his ear what I want for Christmas, it wouldn't be a tangible toy, a coat or that one of my books makes the New York Times bestseller list (although I wouldn't refuse that).  I want peace.

This is probably why I choose to write romance.  There is always a happily-ever-after, and the characters remind me of Superman.  They stand for truth and justice.  So as the year comes to a close, let us all pray for our soldiers to come home safely, that the sons and daughters of our enemies lay down their weapons and return to their families, and for the world to work for peace.



Come January, I'll begin the year with new goals and a new book.  Summer on Kendall Farm is the story of Jace and his son returning to their family home only to discover it's been sold for taxes.  Kelly Ashton, a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, now owns the farm and her plans to make it a public showplace has sparks flying between the two over both the land and her flash of bright red hair.  http://amzn.com/B00M6G8LV6

I have written thirty-four novels.  This is my first Heartwarming novel and I am thrilled to be among such great authors and in the company of readers who loves these books.  I hope you enjoy Summer on Kendall Farm.  I sent a lot of time with Kendall Farm in my head before a story totally jelled.

The idea came with an explosion.  It's all right.  The explosion was in my brain and out of it came Ari, the young adopted son of hero Jace.  It was the love between a father and son and the sacrifices Jace makes to give his son a better life.  As parents, we make sacrifices for our children.  It may not be getting better medical care since we live in a society that provides many outlets for children's heath.  What we do is expose them to opportunities, music lessons, sports, play dates, or programs that will enhance them in the future or allow them to find their niche in life.  We sacrifice our time for pursuing our own dreams to help them attain theirs.  It may not appear as a sacrifice because we love our children and are happy to be there for them.

We'll drive for hours to get them to a meet, sit on hard bleachers all day to come home with ten minutes of video.  We'll spend hundred of dollars on overpriced costumes for dances programs and recitals.




When it's all done and they are safely home and in bed, we go to our offices and write wonderful stories that stem from our own experiences, some of which are provided by those long sacrificial days with our children.



Until next time, keep reading.

Shirley.Hailstock@comcast.net

http://www.shirleyhailstock.net

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift of Giving by Lee McKenzie

Everyone who knows me knows that I love Christmas! I love getting the house all glammed up for the holiday, preparing menus for all the meals I cook for my family, planning tablescapes for each of those meals...it just doesn’t get any better. The presents are fun, too, but the best gift of all is having my family gather in the dining room. I also volunteer with Homeless Partners, and this year I received an early Christmas present that I will cherish forever.

The homeless are more than just a statistic; each has his or her own story. To recognize that, volunteers for this program visit local shelters to meet homeless people and record their stories and Christmas wish lists, which are then uploaded to the Homeless Partners website where the public can read them and pledge gifts.


The pledges are personal items that the homeless recipients have requested, and as you might imagine, even a small gift can make a big impact. Homeless Partners can help bridge the gap between people like us and those who are less fortunate, helping us to show them someone cares and perhaps even help them step out of the cycle of homelessness.

Several weeks ago I spent an afternoon at a shelter in my city, where I meet with people and write up their bios for the website. I also pledge Christmas gifts for several homeless people and my daughter and I have great fun shopping for them, especially for the mothers and grandmother who have asked for gifts for their children or grandchildren.

This year I also had the privilege of interviewing a young man who changed my life. He had been in six foster homes by the age of four, then went into long-term foster care. It wasn't good. He said, "When you've been beaten and abused for eleven years, it's hard to turn your life around." He's now twenty-six, spent part of his teen years in a group home, has been in juvenile detention and incarcerated as an adult, and struggles with addiction.

To that point in our interview, I didn't feel as though we were connecting so I asked if he had any special interests or if there were things he would like to do if he had the resources. He told me he liked to draw, and then he opened his backpack and produced a set of designs he created while in prison—designs he hopes will someday lead to having his own business. I was in awe! He also showed me numerous drawings he'd done on bits of paper and salvaged cardboard before launching into an animated and eloquent discussion about the injustices in our society.

I was so moved that I reached out and put my hand on his arm. I told him I was saddened by the things that had happened to him as a foster child and an inmate. Then I told him that I believed the artist and social justice advocate who had come to life during our conversation is who he really is, and that his purpose in life is in his art, and in his heart.

We ended up having a long conversation, and then three consecutive hugs after the facilitator reminded me that I still had other people to interview. Then he pulled out the most impressive of his drawings, cradled it in his palms for a few seconds, and gave it to me. He said ever since he'd drawn it, he knew he had to give it to someone. That someone was me. It's an intricate design on a three-inch square of piece of pizza-box cardboard, and in the middle there’s an abstract heart with the word "love" in its centre. I have to tell you, I wept. And I'm having the piece framed because it's worthy, and because it will always be a poignant reminder of that afternoon. For his gift, I've pledged the art supplies on his Christmas wish list.

Part of me wishes I could do more. I've never been in foster care, in prison, abused...and I have no idea whether or not I’ve made a difference in this young man's life...but he certainly made a difference in mine.

Do you have a “heartwarming” memory about a special Christmas gift you’d like to share? Or maybe a unique person who came into your life during the holidays? Or maybe you’d just like to drop by and say, “Merry Christmas!” I hope you will because I’ll be drawing two names from the commenters on this post and offering a copy of my most recent book, The Parent Trap, or one of my backlist books. Your choice!


For all of you and your families and loved ones, I wish you peace and happiness and love and a very merry Christmas.

Until next time,
Lee

www.LeeMcKenzie.com
The Parent Trap, Harlequin Heartwarming, October 2014
“McKenzie takes a tired plot and turns it into a charming story.” 4 Stars (RT Book Reviews)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Life Can Be As Much Fun As Fiction
by Linda Sweeney, the "Lynn" of Lynn Patrick
I have never been a mother but I try my best to be a crazy aunt.  I think you kind of need crazy aunts in a family, someone who takes kids to get their ears pierced when their Mom didn’t plan on it and has 7,000 books, a real sword, an art studio in one corner of the kitchen, and various ancient artifacts in her apartment.  I only wish I could dye my hair bright red like the character Aunt Margaret in “Home to Sparrow Lake” and spray it to stand on end.  Unfortunately, my real hair is too fine to stand on end and I look terrible in bright red.  I am an artist like Aunt Margaret, however, and I dote on my little nieces and nephews.
My twin great-nieces, especially, have played a part in our Heartwarming books:  the aforementioned “Home to Sparrow Lake,” and “The Forever Home.”  They also have walk-on parts in the upcoming “The Long Road Home.”  

I’m going to call them Addison and Taylor, like the twins in the book, though those are not their real names.  "Addison" and "Taylor" are the daughters of my late middle sister's daughter and are bundles of joyous energy. 

The twins can also be a bit naughty and I'm always asking their mom what they've done lately in case I can use it in a book. 


The twins in their dad's karate outfit.
Some of the “twin” incidents in Lynn Patrick books have actually happened.  For example, the dolls and horses and bath scene in “Home to Sparrow Lake” was based on the time Addison’s and Taylor’s other crazy aunt, Stacy, their Mom’s sister, tried to babysit them and told them to take a bath.  After a bit, she heard a splashing uproar and went to find both twins, toys, their older brother, and pieces of clothing amid a mountain of towering bubbles in the bathtub.  It took a while to clean that up!

Like Addison and Taylor, my little great-nieces love animals.  They don’t have a dog like Kirby but they have two cats to dress up, sleep with, and play with.




Lady wearing princess crown
 

Taylor being kissed by Lady


Addison and Patches



Though it probably won’t be appearing in one of our books, the twins’ Mom told me the latest funny story.  The twins ride the bus to and from school.  One day, the bus driver came to the door after the twins had come home and asked to speak to their mother.  Concerned, she listened carefully. 

 
“I’m sorry to bring this up, Ma’am,” said the driver, “But your daughters have been using bad words on the bus.” 

“Bad words?” said Mom, thinking she was going to have to punish them.  She and their dad had been careful not to say anything questionable in their children’s hearing.  “Such as what?”

The driver looked uncomfortable.  “Uh, well, they used the 's' word.”

“Oh, dear,” said Mom.  “I’ll talk to them.”  Immediately.

After the bus driver left, Mom called the twins to task.  “The driver said you were using bad words on the bus, girls.  You can’t do that.”

Two pairs of big brown eyes stared up at her.  “We didn’t use any bad words, Mom.  Honest.”

“The bus driver said you used the 's' word and said it to other kids.”

Taylor, who had the most innocent and hurt look of all said, “The 's' word?  No, Mom.  We didn’t call anyone 'stupid.'"

May we all be so innocent and fun-loving these Holidays!
 
 
The twins and their older brother
 
 
 
 

 

 












 







Tuesday, December 16, 2014

5 Tips to Get the Most from Your Workout by Melinda Curtis

I’m a writer, which means I have Writer’s Butt (a documented phenomenon, similar to Reader’s Butt, I’m sure). But I’m also a fitness instructor, which means my Writer’s Butt isn’t as bad as it could be.  Here are five tips to combat Reader/Writer’s Butt and get the most out of your workout.

  1. Set Goals: Do you want to lose weight? Get stronger? Whittle your waist? Get fit? This impacts how much you need to up your cardio, increase the weight you lift, target trouble zones and/or change what you eat.  Bonus tip: always change what you eat to amp up your results. Replace chips with nuts (good fat), soda with Mio (carbonated water plus a squirt of water enhancer tastes just like soda), and your favorite Starbucks drink with the skinny version.
  2. Start Slow: Figure out what motivates you to exercise. Don’t just show up at a class without knowing what you’re getting into. You want to find something that fits your ability and makes you smile. If you like to walk outdoors, walk outdoors. If you hate to step to the music, don’t force yourself into a step class.  Similarly, if you aren’t a runner, don’t sign up for a 5K.
  3. Seek Variety: There’s been a lot of research into the science of muscle tone. One I find the most interesting is the 6-week theory. Basically, your muscles get smart after 6 weeks of the same routine. Yes, that means the step class you go to with weights 2x a week is no longer effective if the instructor isn’t varying the workout. Yes, that means the circuit you’ve been doing in the weight room for years has reached a plateau…long ago.
  4. Think in Intervals: World class athletes often train with a High Intensity Interval Workout.  What does that mean?  If they don’t offer a class like this at your gym, super-charge your workout with 10-30 second high intensity bursts – go faster, kick higher, dance with more hip action. For example, in the midst of climbing a hill in spin class or while road cycling, go faster for 10 seconds. Wait another 20-40 seconds and do it again. If you walk to music, pick up your pace on every chorus, slow back to your regular pace on the verse.
  5. Say Hello: You’re more likely to show up consistently at the gym (or at the park where you walk everyday) if you interact with other people. Say hello. Start up a conversation. If someone misses you, you’ll show up more often, and be more likely to meet your fitness goals.


Do you have any helpful workout tips you'd like to share?


Monday, December 15, 2014

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, By Linda Hope Lee

     "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." We've all heard these words of wisdom (according to Wikipedia attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, and Knute Rockne), aimed to reassure us in times of trouble.
     Other inspirational quotes you may be familiar with:
     "Tough times never last, but tough people do," by Robert Schuller.
     "When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on," by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
     "In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity," by Albert Einstein.
     Here's one you may not have heard. This story comes from my friend, Celia, who volunteers in a nursing home.
     "One of my favorite residents to visit is Hank," Celia said. "He recently celebrated his 102nd birthday. He's a friendly guy, always in good spirits, and loves to talk.
     "On one visit, more to be conversational than anything else,  I asked him, 'So, Hank, are you having a good life?'
     "'Oh, yes,' he said with a big smile. Then he added, 'The first hundred years are the hardest.'
     "Despite his serious tone, I had to laugh. Really? The first hundred years?
     "When I got home I did some research, to see if maybe someone else had authored that bit of wisdom. Sure enough, the quote is credited to American playwright Wilson Mizner. But I think Hank should have some claim to it, having actually lived those first hundred years.
     "Since then," Celia continued, "whenever I've been stressed or upset, I say to myself, 'Remember, the first hundred years are the hardest,' and, by golly, I feel better!"
     Do you have a favorite inspirational quote that helps you through life's rough spots? If so, please share.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sit Down Saturday with Tara Randel



Today we’re celebrating the release of Honeysuckle Bride.
Book three in The Business of Weddings series.


 
 So, Tara, where did you get the idea for this novel?
I had the ideas for Magnolia Bride and Honeysuckle Bride sketched out a few years ago. I wanted to stay in the beachside town of Cypress Pointe, where I set Orange Blossom Brides, the first book in the series. I love to revisit the characters I’ve come to love, so although each story stands on its own, you can catch up with old friends.



In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?
I’m looking for Mr. Right.

How long did it take you to write?
4 months.

What is your favorite scene?
When Wyatt comes to Jenna’s house to have dinner with Jenna and the twins. Disaster ensues and everyone gets a good laugh. As much as I love heartfelt scenes in books, I equally enjoy a good laugh along with my characters.

Who was your favorite character and why?
Wyatt. He is still struggling with the death of his son. I have plenty of experience and sympathy for Wyatt since I lost my own daughter two years ago. When I came up with the original concept, my daughter was still with us. Still, I decided to keep the original premise, knowing that much of what I was feeling would go into strengthening Wyatt’s character.

If you could pick fictional characters to play the hero and heroine, who would they be?
For Jenna, I pictured Scarlett Johansson. She portrays a mix between being sure of herself and doubting just how sure she is of herself. I love self-irony. Of course we must have a hunky hero, so I imagined Wyatt looking like Colin O’Donoghue, the dastardly pirate with a good heart from ABC’s Once Upon A Time. *Sigh*

This is your 10th book. Exactly what does that mean to you?
It means I’ve been blessed to do what I love.  Writing is a part of who I am, I’m always coming up with new ideas and story lines. My mind can get pretty crowded!

What do you plan to work on next?
I have proposals in with my editor for the next books in The Business of Weddings series.

What are you reading for pleasure right now?
I have six Christmas romance books on my nightstand ready to read. It's my personal goal to finish them all by year’s end.