It Wasn’t Exactly the Christmas I Wanted…

(I originally posted this on the Classic and Cozy blog, but wanted to repost here.)

But it was the one I got, and it was terrific in its own way. Just not the way I planned.

It’s always a better Christmas when there are children around, so I was elated when my daughter said she, her husband, and four little boys would be able to come to our place for the holiday. That meant a lot of packing for them, and a ten-hour drive with the four boys (ages 6, 4, 2 ½, and 6 months) in car seats in a mini-van. It’s a pretty big venture for them.

The three older boys playing at the kitchen island.

But come they did. I had things mostly ready – guest rooms, toys for the kids, high chair and portable crib for the baby, plus all the Christmas decorations. Gifts were bought and wrapped. We had plans to visit several relatives in the week following Christmas and to take the boys to a few of their favorite places. The back yard was ready with toys so they could play outside, since winters are generally pretty mild in central North Carolina.

My daughter warned me on her final phone call the day before they left that she and the baby weren’t feeling well and seemed to be developing colds. I assured her that wasn’t going to be a problem.  Little did I know…  (Writers love to use that particular cliché, and it’s so appropriate here.)

They arrived a few days before Christmas, and things started going sideways almost immediately.  The weather took a turn for the bitter, making it too cold for the boys to spend much time out-of-doors. In fact, temperatures remained ridiculously low for this area throughout their visit, making any outing an adventure in endurance. I’m talking daytime highs in the 20s and lows at night in single digits. Biting wind at times.

But I had a good supply of toys, crayons, markers, scratch paper, and books to keep them entertained. They’re good about playing on their own. Until all three of the older boys got sick as well a couple of days after they arrived. Then their Dad caught it. And my husband and I came down with it the day after Christmas.

This wasn’t the normal, garden-variety cold either, of the sort that makes you sniffle for a couple of days. We don’t think it was the flu, since none of had the achy muscles and joints, bad headaches, and nausea that go along with flu, but it was a really ferocious cold that made people feel generally icky for close to a week, then left us all congested, coughing, sneezing, and running for an additional week to ten days.

We had to cancel all the planned visits to relatives, forego the church services we wanted to attend, and forget some of the other places I wanted to take the boys. The kids were frequently, and understandably, cranky, mopey, and whiney.

On top of that, the bug exacerbated a continuing throat problem in my son-in-law, which forced a trip to the emergency room – right as we were getting ready to sit down to Christmas dinner. And a day or two after that the bug set off the six-year-old’s asthma. Fortunately they’d brought along his medicine and a friend lent us a nebulizer, but his parents didn’t get much sleep that night. In fact, sleep was in short supply for them for most of the visit with four wheezy, snuffly, stuffed-up children who all had trouble sleeping.

We blew through (literally) about 20 packages of wipes (for diaper changes and cleaning up runny noses) and several boxes of Kleenex for the adults.

And yet, amid all the chaos and changes of plans, there were some wonderful moments and great blessings.

Present-opening on Christmas morning went well for the most part. We do stockings first, and each of the boys got a foam play sword stuffed in the top. The two-year-old was so excited about the play sword, he went off brandishing it, and Christmas could have ended right there for him. We had to call him back and remind him there were other things in his stocking.

And there was the moment when the six-year-old unwrapped a present and found a book he desperately wanted. He literally shook with excitement and his face lit up with the kind of joy that, if bottled, could solve many of the world’s major problems.

The assistance of my older daughter, who lives nearby and has grown children of her own who were spending the holiday with their other grandmother, was invaluable during the chaos of Christmas day, and my sister-in-law Page was also helpful and understanding when dinner didn’t go according to plan.

At the end, they had to extend their say here a few days because of ice and snow clogging the roads back home on the day they’d planned to leave. That, too, was a blessing in disguise. With the boys finally mostly healthy again, we were able to do some of the things I’d wanted to do earlier, including outings to Safari Nation, a terrific indoor playground, the library for story time, and the Greensboro Children’s Museum.

Perhaps the biggest blessing was contained in something my daughter told me shortly before they left. In thanking me for all the help (though I still don’t feel like it was that much), she said that if they’d been at home with everyone sick, Christmas would’ve been pretty dreary. Being with us meant she didn’t have to handle everything herself, could grab a few extra naps she might not have had at home, and had extra hands to help with caring for the children. That made a huge difference for her.

And I realized I was glad that she and the family were here, illness and all. Together we all had a better Christmas holiday than any of us would’ve had on our own.

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Halloween Reading

I have two Halloween stories available for your spooky reading pleasure!

Guardian of the Grimoire, a romantic paranormal novella, is just $1.99 at  most ebook outlets.
Amazon     Nook    Smashwords

Unmasking, a short ghost story, is $.99 on Amazon and free at most other ebook outlets.
Amazon     Nook    Smashwords

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A Sale!

Belle Bridge Books/ImaJinn Books is putting the ebook of Witch’s Journey on sale for only $.99 from October 16th to the 31st. It’s a great opportunity to pick up a copy!


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Eliminating “Stuff”

Over at the Classic ‘n’ Cozy blog, I’m talking about my struggles with eliminating much of the excess clutter in my life. It’s a struggle when you have packrat tendencies:

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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A couple of months ago I noticed that my bill from the local power company, Duke Energy was a bit lower than I expected. Not a lot but somewhat. However, we’d just installed a bunch of energy-saving light bulbs and I thought that might account for the lower bill. Also we’d been out of town for part of the month.

The next month I got a bill that was much lower than usual, like about one quarter of what I expected. I knew something was wrong.

Sometimes I think I’m too honest for my own good. Others have suggested that if Duke Energy was making a mistake I should just enjoy the ride and see how long it would go on. Did I? No. I called the company.

I told them I was probably the only person in the world to complain that their bill was too low, but I suspected that my meter had a problem. They promised to send someone out, and the service technician showed up a few days later and replaced the meter.

My reward for that honesty?  A few weeks later I got a bit that was about three times normal.

Thanks, Duke Energy. You know how to reward customers who try to be honest with you.

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Bye Bye Baseball

Most people who know me know that I’m a sports fan. I love pro football, college basketball, and baseball in particular.  While watching Major League baseball on TV is fun, I can only take so much of it at a time. But I love going to games.

Unfortunately getting to games at either of the two major league teams nearest to us is hugely expensive. We’re just about halfway between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and we have been to both Braves and Nationals games. But that’s a special treat due to the cost of travel, hotels, tickets, parking, concessions, etc.

Greensboro’s ball park

Greensboro, where I live, has an A-level minor league team in a really nice new ballpark, and going to those games is ridiculously inexpensive and totally fun. mMy husband and I get to as many of them as we can. The baseball isn’t always as polished as in the major leagues but it can be exciting and sometimes even wonderful.

The Greensboro Grasshoppers are a class-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, and we’ve seen a number of their current players pass through here. Marcel Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and J.T. Realmuto all spent a year playing here. Giancarlo Stanton still holds the South Atlantic League record for home runs in a season and also hit the longest home run recorded in the stadium.

Along with watching future major leaguers play, you can get one-dollar hot dogs and hamburgers on Dollar Monday, one and two-dollar beverages on Thirsty Thursday, and fireworks after most weekend games.

Miss LouLou Gehrig retrieves a bat dropped by a hitter.

Our team has a few other unique features. The most charming is a set of black Lab dogs who have functioned as ball and bat dogs during games (bringing buckets of fresh balls to the umpire and retrieving bats after a hitter makes contact and tosses his bat aside). That used to be Miss Babe Ruth’s job until she retired a couple of years ago and Miss LouLou Gehrig took over.

Another of them, Master Yogi Berra, has been part of the entertainment for many years. He holds the distinction of being the first (and probably still the only) dog to be ejected from a game. After a between-innings game in which he chases a ball while a fan runs the bases, Yogi stopped to do some business on the field and a peeved umpire threw him out. Unfortunately Master Yogi passed away in August from cancer.

The mascot is a bizarre creature called Guilford the Grasshopper. But the team isn’t really named for an insect. Greensboro’s main claim to historical interest is that it was the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a Revolutionary war battle that helped turn the tide of the war and led to Cornwallis’s surrender a few months later. One type of small cannon used in the battle was known as a Grasshopper.

Alas, the season is over now. Minor leagues complete their schedule early in September. The good news was that the Grasshoppers won the division in the second half of the season, which put them in the playoff.  The bad news is they dropped two games in a row in the playoffs and were out just that quickly.

But it was a great ride while it lasted and I’m eager for next season.

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Eclipse Thoughts

I’m fortunate that my husband and his family own land in upstate South Carolina that was within a couple of miles of the median line of the recent total solar eclipse. My brother-in-law mowed a pasture on a hill that he already knew was prime viewing area. Many friends and family gathered there, set up tents and everyone shared food, drinks, chairs, conversation, and more, which enhanced the experience tremendously.

Among the friends who came were a group of amateur (but very serious) astronomers, who had done presentations for my brother-in-law’s scout troop in the past. They had used the hill before and asked if they could set up some equipment there. And they did have some incredible equipment! They were also very generous in sharing their knowledge and letting us peek through their scopes.

But the celestial event was the highlight of the day. I’ve seen a couple of partial eclipses before, though it’s been some years since the last one. The difference between a total eclipse and even 95% is huge. Even moments before the totality, there was still enough of the sun showing to mostly obscure the shadow blocking part of it without the eclipse glasses. You couldn’t even glance quickly and see much but a slight dimming of the light

Photo by Douglas Schiff; Click on the image to open a larger version. The resolution on this picture is so good you can tell that’s the moon in front of the sun at higher resolutions.

Then the totality happened and the world changed. It didn’t get black as night which disappointed some members of the party. But it was very dim, like late twilight about ten minutes before total darkness. The temperature dropped, which was easy to notice since it was a swelteringly hot August day in upstate South Carolina. The coolness was welcome. A strange hush fell over the world. The birds got silent. We got silent as awe overtook us.

The view was magnificent with that black disk completely blotting out the face of the sun, leaving the corona visible in a way it never is otherwise. We saw Venus and a few other stars, though not many. One other interesting effect occurred I hadn’t known would happen until our astronomer friends told us about it. On the horizon it looked like sunrise happening, but it was all around us, a 360-degree dawn. Probably the fact that we were on a cleared hill helped that effect.

Even knowing the mechanics of the moon moving between the earth and the sun, seeing it happen sent a bit of chill down my spine. For a few minutes, the sun transformed into…a black hole. It turned everything inside-out. Turned light into darkness, daytime into night, a hot summer’s day into a much cooler one.

It was eerie and unsettling, a reminder that there are forces much greater than human beings at work in the universe.

I know there will be another full solar eclipse seven years from now and I may or may not be around to see it. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to do so once in my life. It’s one of those events that makes you consider a lot of things about your life and your place in the universe.

I’m very grateful for all the people whose labor and whose sharing helped us enjoy it even more! My brother-in-law, Joe McCullough, and his family did a great job of getting the area ready. Particular thanks go to the wonderful folks who gave us their extra set of eclipse glasses, since by the time I’d gotten around to looking for them, there weren’t any to be had anywhere.

Some of the astronomers with friends, family, and equipment.

Talking to the experts while we wait for the eclipse to start.

Photo by Joe McCullough; A view of the horizon during the totality. It looked like this whichever way you turned.

The partial eclipse taken with my iPhone, filtered through the lens of the eclipse glasses.



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Killer Nashville Schedule

I’ll be leading a couple of panels and participating in several others at this weekend’s Killer Nashville. Also doing a reading and several signings!

Panels I’m Leading:

Saturday 9:40 AM – 10:30 AM
I Love You, But I’m Sacred: How to Write Suspense & Romantic Suspense Thrillers/Mysteries

Sunday 9:50 AM – 10:40 AM
One Night: Love Interests, Minor Characters, and an Occasional Hunk

Panels I’m on:

Saturday  2:00 PM – 2:50 PM
I’m Not the Same Anymore: Character Arcs

Sunday  10:50 AM – 11:40 AM
Out of This World: How to Write Sci-Fi (Science Fiction) Thrillers / Mysteries

Sunday 12:20 PM – 1:10 PM
Self-Publishing Advice

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The Consumer Dilemma

A few days ago my printer died, which forced me into researching printers and buying a new one. But that brought with it another dilemma…

Read about it here and I’d love to hear your thoughts about the situation:

Right is my bright, shiny new printer!

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Hunter’s Quest Coming Soon in Print

Spent a lot of yesterday and all of this morning getting Hunter’s Quest ready for print. The cover is similar to the ebook cover but slightly different. Thanks to Sarah Katherine Gerdon for editing it, there are a few updates to the text. It’s now awaiting approval from Createspace. I’ll be interested to see how the cover looks in print.
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