Remembering

As I set out to photograph the flowers around my apartment complex, I couldn’t help remembering my grandmothers: Lela (paternal) and Marie (maternal). Both are dead now, one as recent as 2011. Seems fitting to think of them on Memorial Day. Though neither fought in a war—Memorial Day being a day to pay honor to military service people—they were soldiers nevertheless. Just not in the military.

    

In keeping with my habit of not posting family photos (I’m writing this blog under a pen name after all), I will not post photos of my grandmothers. (Sorry to disappoint.) Instead, think of the flowers I photographed as representing my grandmothers. 🙂

Now, what do I mean by soldiers? Imagine being dirt poor and having kids to raise. You fight a battle against despair every day. But you have to win this battle for the sake of your kids. Both of my grandmothers had large families—my paternal grandmother having nine children, and my maternal grandmother having fifteen. You read that right. Two of my mother’s siblings did not live to adulthood.

My grandmothers didn’t go to college. One grandmother didn’t even go to high school. But all of her children did. College too. Both grandmothers wanted their children to have a better life than they did.

    

When I was a kid, my family spent many a weekend traveling to Pontiac, Michigan, to visit my paternal grandparents, and many a summer’s day driving to see my maternal grandmother in Lake Providence, Louisiana. We never thought about the fact that my grandparents were poor. They loved us, and we loved being with them.

My paternal grandmother taught me to crochet. My maternal grandmother taught me to be generous even if I have next to nothing to give. That was how she lived.

Some people talk about antiques or trust funds passed on to them by grandparents. Neither of my grandmothers had much to leave anyone. But they left something money couldn’t buy—a legacy of resilience, faith, and unselfishness. Not to mention precious memories of time spent with them. Their personalities imprint just about every story I write (and even one that I ghostwrote under a different name).

   

This Memorial Day, I also remember the people of Manchester and the victims of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert on May 22. My blogger friend Laura said it best in this post. She provided excerpts from a post and comments by another blogger friend, Andy, who lives in Manchester. Many of you follow his City Jackdaw blog.

Memorial Day also is a day for me to remember that I’m giving away two books.

    

Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of The World’s Greatest Detective is . . .

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Nancy Hatch!

The winner of Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery is . . .

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Jill Weatherholt!

Nancy and Jill, please comment below to confirm. If either of you would prefer an eBook to a physical copy of the book, please let me know.

Rosie Bloom is shocked to discover that the flowers she planted came up crocheted. She plans to contact the seed company to demand answers.

Photos by L. Marie. Rosie Bloom by Moose Toys.

Thanksgiving

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Poor Thanksgiving. You often get lost in the shuffle between Halloween and Christmas or Hanukkah, don’t you?

Mostly, you’re lumped into the general autumn scheme of things when it comes to decorating. Well, you are a holiday born out of thanksgiving to God for a good harvest (and for survival) back in 1621. And thanks to President Lincoln, you were celebrated nationally on a Thursday, though you didn’t become an official national holiday until 1941.

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I’m grateful for all of the Thanksgiving meals I’ve had in the past, where I consumed mass quantities of food, played board games with my family, then vegged out in front of the television, watching football. This year will be a little different. I plan to hang out with friends, play board games, and eat mass quantities of food. (As I said it will be a little different.)

What are you thankful for? My attitude this past week was anything but thankful, though. I received a record number of rejections from manuscript queries—four. I felt like a failure. But some good friends encouraged me (thank you, Sharon, Laura S., and Megan). Someone else did too. A few days ago, I made a quick stop at a jewelry party at the home of another friend. A young woman was there, whom I hadn’t seen since she was a kid.

“I still have some books of yours from when I was a kid,” she said, referring to a series I’d written many years ago, that went out of print within a year. “They were some of my favorite books. They helped me decide to be an author/illustrator.”

Her words made me tear up. How could I have so quickly forgotten the power of reaching even one kid by the written word? How easily swayed I was by discouragement.

Sometimes you have to kick discouragement in the teeth. And what better way to do that than with the giveaway I introduced in my last post? (Click here for the list of books.) At first, I was going to give away just one book. But I decided to give away more than that. It is Thanksgiving (soon) anyway.

I looked at the list of people who mentioned books. Here it is:

Charles (Star Wars)
Penny (Meetings)
Pamela (Meetings)
Karen Gradient (Grace Lin)
Reocochran (Star Wars)
Lyn (Grace Lin)
Nicki (Grace Lin)

Congrats. You’re all getting a book. Please comment below to confirm. Then I’ll need you to email your snail mail address and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com (or email my primary email account if you know it, which would be faster). If you would prefer that I not have your snail address, please let me know, and we can make other arrangements.

If you commented and mentioned a book, but don’t see your name on the above list, please comment below. I’m going by the honor system here.

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Seriously, have a good Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it, that is; if not, have a great Thursday)!

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Rudolph and his gang of unfinished crocheted reindeer discovered a new house in the neighborhood. Perhaps they could spend Thanksgiving here.

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After booting out the reindeer, the new neighbor, Rainbow Kate, took up residence in her new house. But Kitty invited herself over for a Thanksgiving meal. Chaos is sure to ensue.

Turkey images from latintimes.com and openclipart.org. Thanksgiving image from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Fireflies

Happy Independence Day to those who celebrate it.

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Is there an image that is the quintessential summer image for you? On a night like velvet not long ago with a soft breeze and the moon like a pearl in ink, I rejoiced at the tiny pinpricks of light flickering by the flowers yards away. Fireflies. They fluttered too fast to document on film (especially with my phone buried in my purse). But fireflies always signified summer to me.

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Last summer, I saw very few fireflies. Maybe even two. This year, I saw three on one night. I welcome the return of these tiny treasures.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I chased fireflies (or lightning bugs, as we called them), seeking their capture in rinsed jelly jars with holes drilled in the lids. But mostly, we sought to capture the magic of a summer’s night and hold it forever. Sadly, we weren’t gentle in our handling of these tiny creatures. Not with our tendency to poke and push.

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Isn’t it funny how we try to hold on to things, as if we could freeze time in a jar?

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But I realized, watching the fireflies’ bioluminescence light the night, that something had been captured for me: a little bit of the magic of childhood in the graceful flight of a firefly.

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The flowers in the yard are lovely this time of year. Hope to see some fireflies tonight!

Firefly photos from nativeplantwildlifegarden.com and Pinterest.com. Fourth of July image from healthline.com. Clock jar from sbcanning.com. Flower photos by L. Marie.

Happy Holidays 2015

024Well, it’s almost Christmas. As the well-known song goes, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” While some might not believe that sentiment, I hope you’ve managed to avoid holiday stress. Perhaps like me you said “bah, humbug” to all of the holiday gift-buying rush-rush-rush and instead rushed to a theater to relax and watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens unfold onscreen. (In case you’re wondering, I loved it.)

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This is the time of year when even enemies think peaceful thoughts toward each other.

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Based on the color of their light sabers, you can tell to which side of the force Kitty and Jordy belong. But despite their animosity toward each other, they wish you a joyous holiday season.

What’s also great about the holidays is the way total strangers extend holiday greetings. Like today. As I fought my way through the driving rain (happy winter) to head into the library, a guy who looked very much like Santa Claus (except without the red suit) announced to me that Birmingham, Alabama had a temperature in the 80s. “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas,” he added, probably in acknowledgment of his resemblance to Santa. Of course I checked the weather in Birmingham when I returned home. Since he was off by twenty degrees, obviously he wasn’t the real Santa. Still, it was nice of him to spread holiday cheer like that. I would never have thought to look up the weather in Birmingham, had he not mentioned that city.

Has anyone spread holiday cheer to you in an unusual way? If so, please share your story in the comments below. In the meantime, I wish you the joy of the season. May peace reign in your heart this week.

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P.S. The pattern for the tree at the beginning of the post can be found here. The pattern for the tiny star at the top of the tree is here.

Nativity image from priestsforlife.org. Star Wars: The Force Awakens logo from hngn.com.

How to Really Win the Holidays

I’m very late getting this post  out, having been offline for three days. Obviously, I’ve returned! 🙂 But I said I would announce the winners of the book giveaways today. Better late than never, eh?

If you’ve watched TV at all recently, you’ve probably seen some of Best Buy’s recent “win the holidays” campaign. You can win by purchasing gifts of technology at—where else—Best Buy. The clear winner of course would be Best Buy, who would significantly add to its coffers with your money.

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But I’m sure you know how to really win the holidays. With the angels proclaiming peace on earth and goodwill toward men (Luke 2; consult A Charlie Brown Christmas, which comes on TV every year), you can extend goodwill toward people. How?

    • Instead of texting, call or visit a friend or family member—especially someone who lives alone or suffered a recent loss. Maybe you don’t know what to say. But your presence is more valuable than words.
    • Buy someone homeless a hot meal. You’ve probably seen this viral photo, which involves a woman doing just that. Think of the impact you can have. A hot meal might seem like a drop in a bucket compared to an ocean of need. But it’s an act of love that will never be forgotten.
    • Make a card or a gift for someone. Remember how excited you were when you were a kid and could hand off the paper chain or wreath you made? Recapture the fun and wonder by making a gift for someone.

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This is a Happy Foot coaster I’m making as a gift (pattern by A.D. Whited of Enchanted Hook).

  • Instead of stressing about where you can find that bobble-head figure from the Star Wars franchise (Toys R Us or Target by the way—you’re welcome), take a hot chocolate break. I know. Easy for me to say. I don’t have an 11-year-old who is dying to get a storm trooper bobble head. But I know some would love to chat about the movies or shows over a nice cup of hot chocolate.
  • Give an animal friend a treat. Even if you lack a pet, you can still give to the animals around you. The orange tabby who lives in the area likes to stop by for tuna. (Though he’s very finicky about brands. He won’t eat the dirt cheap kind.) If you have a garden that rabbits and deer enjoyed over the summer, relax. You’ve already given.

Another way to win is to get free stuff. So let’s get to the book giveaways: All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg

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and Heading North by Andy Murray.

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The winner of All We Left Behind is

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Carrie Rubin!!!

The winner of Heading North is

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Laura Bruno Lilly!!

Winners please comment below to confirm.

Best Buy logo from slant.investorplace.com.

Thanks, Mom

Happy_Mothers_Day_wishes_greetings_wallpapers_celebration_love(www.picturespool.blogspot.com)_02Hope you had a lovely Mother’s Day. If you’re not from the U.S., here in the States we celebrated mothers everywhere on May 10. I don’t have children of my own. Can’t have any. Nieces, nephews, and other people’s kids have become mine over the years. So when someone tells me, “Happy Mother’s Day,” I say, “Thanks,” and keep on swimming.

I’m grateful that I have a wonderful mother, one who even goes the extra mile by reading my blog posts! I gave Mom a hard time growing up. She wanted the best for me. I didn’t always see it that way—like when she would tell me that the guy I dated was not right for me. Grrr. She was always right. Also, she never stopped pushing me to do my best. I called it nagging; she called it “helping me succeed.”

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Mom has an uncanny sense of knowing when I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Like in my freshman year of college when I took codeine pills for pain that unfortunately gave me insomnia for three days. Mom called me at 7:30 one morning to ask, “Okay, what did you take?” This is the same woman who once told me she had eyes at the back of her head. When I was a kid, I believed her. But that day, she told me she’d had a dream about me, which prompted her to call.

She has prayed for me every day of my life. Judging by some of the stupid situations that I survived (like running out into the street without looking and getting hit by a car), I needed the help. Remember Natalee Holloway? What a sad story. A friend and I faced a slightly similar situation during a vacation we took in Montego Bay, Jamaica, right after we graduated from college. (Natalee was a high school student who traveled to Aruba.) While at a party, we each met a guy and wound up separated from each other on different sides of the city. That’s a long story that I won’t fully tell here. (Sorry.) Obviously, this story ended differently than Natalee’s. When I heard what happened to Natalee back in 2005, I felt chilled to the bone, knowing that the same thing could have happened to me. (This is not a story any mom likes to hear.)

Mother’s Day reminds me to say thanks to all of the women who were surrogate moms to me—women who cared enough to reprimand me whenever I behaved in an idiotic fashion (which, growing up, happened a lot). In a day when some parents yell at you for reprimanding their kids—“Yeah, he broke that window. But you can’t tell my kid what to do”—I’m grateful that someone cared enough to tell me when I was wrong. Teachers, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, advisors, and authors through their wonderful books—fabulous surrogates all. It really does take a village to raise a child.

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On Mother’s Day, after we ate a meal that my brother and his father-in-law helped prepare, two of my sisters-in-law, their mom, and I sat two teenage nieces down and asked them what they would do if they found themselves in difficult situations. For example, “If you’re at a party and your friend has been drinking and wants to drive, what will you do?” Perhaps our questions might have prompted some eye rolling (like I used to do when I was a teen and my mom, grandmother, and aunts talked to me about life). But maybe, just maybe, we might save them from a bad situation (like some of the ones I went through). That’s all a mom can hope to do.

Thanks, again, Mom. I’m grateful to God for you.

Mother’s Day image from fun-gall.blogspot.com. Flowers from sprout-flowers.com. Village sign from jeannie-ology.com.

Making Friends with Winter

017After waking up to witness the aftermath of an overnight snowfall (above), I groaned, totally not in the mood for snow. We’d dodged the snow bullet at Christmas, though everyone I know was disappointed, having desired to frolic in the snow.

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Sometimes Winter seems to loom large . . .

Usually when snow falls, my mind dwells on the state of the roads. You get that way when you have dodgy tires and lack the money to replace them. So, I muttered to myself as I brushed the snow off my car windows: “Why couldn’t the snow fall when I didn’t have somewhere to go (i.e., at 3 or 4 a.m.)? If only winter could be more subdued.”

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Jordie tries to subdue Winter. I suspect that his plan is doomed to failure.

As I brushed the snow and scraped the ice off my windshield, I quickly grew tired of my bad attitude. Grumbling didn’t solve anything. I needed to embrace the season since, like it or not, it’s here to stay. But my mind required “winterizing” just like my car. For the car, I usually make sure the fluid levels are on par (particularly antifreeze and water in the radiator). To get myself in the winter mood, I need a constant supply of fluids too, namely, hot beverages like coffee, cocoa, tea, and apple cider.

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Jordie attempts to make friends with Winter.

One thing that helped my mood today, besides a warm cup of coffee, was the gladsome sight of freshly plowed roads. And the trees along the roads were beautifully laced with snow. I can’t imagine a wedding dress more beautiful than those snow-laden trees. That’s one of the perks of living in an area where winter makes its presence felt through snow and ice and iron-gray skies.

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These are not the trees I saw, but they have a snow-laced appearance, albeit with less snow than the ones I saw.

The Frozen-themed birthday party I attended on Saturday in honor of a newly minted three-year-old seems all the more appropriate now with snow on the ground. Alas, I don’t have an ice-blue gown as beautiful as Elsa’s. I’m forced to make do with a fun winter hat.

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This is not my hat. I made it for a little boy. But you can bet I’ll soon make myself a puppy hat.

Some cool good things have happened in this winter season—another reason to be joyful, rather than annoyed. I had a great Christmas and celebrated New Year’s day—my nephew’s birthday—with my family. And two days before the new year, some dear friends celebrated the birth of their second son. Oddly enough, he was born on the same day as the son of some other dear friends. In a season where life seems dormant or brittle, it’s great to hold a brand-new life in your arms. But I digress. . . .

Another way I can winterize my mind, besides having fun building a snowman or sledding (excellent choices), is to reread stories set in winter: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis just to name a few. I love curling up under a warm blanket while reading a book featuring a frozen landscape with snow I don’t have to shovel. And I have all of these on my bookshelf.

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Happy New Year! And welcome to Winter 2015!

What’s your favorite way to winterize?

Central Park trees from hqworld.net. Elsa film poster from filmpopper.com.