I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, December 24, 2012

What Makes Christmas Special For You?

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Hi my friends,

It’s Alena Tauriainen.

If your life is anything like mine the shopping is still not done. (I only had 1.5 days to shop.)  We’ve been involved with activity after activity and I started feeling like I was running on a treadmill with no stop switch, I had to remember what really made Christmas so important.  Why was I doing this? What did it represent to me?  Hmm, seemed like a good time to ponder.

The birth of my Savior and acknowledging the blessings.  That's the answer I got when I pondered.  You see the Wise men went bearing gifts, He was our gift.  He brought so much.  Can you find any of these in your life?

The heavenly gifts.
  •   Salvation. No matter how dark, deep or black a sinner I am, He paid the price. 
  • Belief.  He believes in me when I do not.
  • Encouragement.  He left me an entire Bible that encourages me to press on, to run my race.  To let me know at the end, He’ll be awaiting me. 

 The earthly gifts. 
  • My Husband – My hubby and I will be married 21 years this January.  Like most marriage we had our ups and downs but he’s my knight in shining armor.  Sometimes a little tarnished, but still my knight. 
  • My Children – My mother died when I was eighteen months old.  As a result, I treasure time with my children.    I hug and kiss ‘em every chance I get, even the teenage boys.
  • My Siblings – Wow, we are passionate people.  We have our misunderstandings but when the going gets rough, we all gather together
  • My Friends – My friends encompass almost every state and some international waters.  I’ve been blessed with friends who are just like me with several who are the exact opposite. We have a common ground – the love of an Amazing Savior.  

Those are just some of the important things to remember at Christmas time, not the To Do List, the gifts, how clean the house is or how perfect the dinner has to be.  Christmas is so very valuable because we take the time to celebrate the birth of our Savior and spend time with the ones you love – the blessings from God. 

What about you?  This Christmas season when you take the time to sit back and ponder what’s important, what makes the Christmas season so special to you?

P.S.
The P’s are taking a break to celebrate Christmas.  We’ll be back January 2013, new and improved.

Merry Christmas!

Blessings,

Alena Tauriainen


Friday, December 21, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Fiction



I love Christmas stories. Obviously I love the original Luke 2 Christmas story, but I also enjoy any story that helps me to celebrate the love and generosity of the Christmas season. In a Christmas Past blog, I shared my feelings about Charles Dickens and my favorite movie version of his A Christmas Carol, “A Muppet Christmas Carol.” With just one last weekend shopping frenzy left before Christmas, I wanted to share the first Christmas novella I ever read, and recommend that you slow down long to read it for yourself (or to others). 

I received my first copy of The Birds’ Christmas Carol as part of my December Scholastic Book order nearly 35 years ago. (Scholastic printed it under the title Carol Bird's Christmas.) What an impact this little book had on me! More than three decades later, I can still remember spending Christmas at my grandparents’ house that year, and curling up near the Christmas tree to read this 1887 classic by Kate Douglas Wiggins (best known for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.) To this day, the smell of pine and the shadows of tree needle in rainbow twinkle lights take me back into the pages of this story. It moved my young heart then, and has become even more meaningful now that I am a mother.

The cover of my Scholastic version
The Birds’ Christmas Carol is the story of a wealthy family who welcomes a baby girl on Christmas morning, naming her Carol as a result of the sound of Christmas anthems being sung by a nearby choir.  Carol is beautiful and sweet, but very sick, and although the author never names the illness, she writes that “by and by it came to be all too sure that no physician save One could make Carol strong again.” When Carol is nearly eleven, her parents are told that she will probably not live much longer. As they discuss her imminent passing, her mother says, "I think we need not be over-anxious. I feel as if she did not belong altogether to us, and when she has done what God sent her for, He will take her back to Himself--and it may not be very long!"

Despite Carol’s terminal illness, she is cheerful and generous and brings much joy to her parents and three older brothers. And although she is mostly confined to her bedroom, when it's not too cold she spends time in a wheelchair out on her bedroom balcony. For some time, Carol has watched the nine rowdy, raggedy neighbor children play in the yard of the tiny house at the back of the Birds’ mansion. This year, Carol decides the best way for her “to really keep Christ’s birthday” is to give the impoverished Ruggles family the best Christmas ever.

I won’t say any more about the story because I know you will want to grab the 99 cent Kindle download of this treasure (or find the free ibiblio version online) to read for yourself, and I don’t want to spoil it for you! It is beautifully written—almost poetic—and I highly recommend reading it out loud. I will warn you to have tissues on hand because I know you will be moved by the Bird family, especially Carol, and their selfless desire to honor God in the season of His greatest gift to us.


Do you have a favorite Christmas read? How is it part of your Christmas traditions?


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Warmth of Marital Friendship


A week or so ago, Hubby asked me to email him copies of my book covers and please not to ask why. So like a dutiful wife, I complied. That didn't keep me from wondering though.

Last night Hubby handed me a package and said, "Belated congratulations on winning your Carol award."

I opened the package and blinked back tears at my husband's thoughtfulness. He had a blanket made with the Lakeside Reunion and the Lakeside Family book covers on it.


What warms my heart the most is this was something he did on his own without my prompting or hint dropping. I mean, he knows how much I'd love an iPhone, but this was totally unexpected. 

The warmth of our marital friendship isn't based on tangible gifts. It's way more than that. 

My relationship with Hubby started as a friendship that developed into loving relationship across the miles. Our courtship was unique--done through letters and phone calls as we spent 18 months apart while he was in the service. 


The past twenty-three years of our marriage haven't been without its challenges and heartaches. We weathered many storms, but he's my true real-life hero because he healed my internal wound (Remember--Susie May Warren teaches, "God heals the lie, the hero heals the wound.)

Hubby's my Voice of Reason. He's my security. He makes me laugh and dries my tears. He loves me unconditionally. I've become a better person by being his wife. 

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages. 
~Friedrich Nietzsche


If you're married, what qualities do you appreciate most about your spouse? If you're not married, what qualities are you looking for in a spouse? 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Memories Remind Us What's Important

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Ten stockings from our blended family wait to be filled.
Merry Christmas from Roxanne!
My 82-year-old mother hasn’t had all her children and grandchildren together to celebrate Christmas in 21 years, so we’re having a family reunion this holiday. My daughter, who works in retail, had to jump through hoops and beg her boss for two days off in order to attend. I’m praying the airlines cooperate with her late Christmas Eve flight.

So, guess who’s hosting this shindig? Yep. Me!

You can bet there are plenty of items on my to-do list. But nowhere on my agenda were the words “flu”, “sinus infection” or “bed rest.” Scheduled or not, illness robbed me of two weeks. So, I’m more than behind on my plans. Where are the checkmarks of all the tasks I should have accomplished by now? Where are all the clean rooms waiting for guests?  Whew! Makes me exhausted to think of all the hustle and bustle of things to do. Before I have a relapse, I need to prop up my feet and sip a cup of hot chocolate, while I ponder a few memories to get into the holiday spirit. 

Memories.
 Just before Christmas, Kara and Suzanne, my then four-year-old twins, picked out clothes from the dress-up box to enhance their imaginary play. Over Kara’s jeans and t-shirt, she donned a gray striped boy’s jacket and a pair of cowboy boots. In this outfit, she usually added a cowboy hat and pretended to be a cowboy named “Tan.” Sidekick Suzanne wore an ankle-length, blue prairie dress with a yellow scarf covering her long, blond hair. Kara, holding Suzanne’s hand and carrying a small, "going-to-grandma’s suitcase," announced, “We’re Mary and Joseph, and we’re going on a trip.” I wish I’d grabbed the camera. I can still see the vivid picture in my mind.

Another year, money was tight. Six kids. One income. You get the idea. Throughout the year, we gave our kids piano lessons, let them play on sports' teams and provided all we could. But that Christmas there was little leftover for gifts. We splurged on the two youngest boys, ages 2 and 4, with a Brio train table, which came with trains, track and accessories. (I only wish I’d gone to the Dollar Store so they had more than one box to unwrap.) Those boys are now 14 and 16 and we still have the train table, only it’s in their six-year-old brother’s room. Our four other children, who were 10-13, each received a book or game from an aunt and uncle. Their grandmother’s budget could afford only two Razor scooters—the rage that year. So they each got “half” a scooter. My husband and I gave them a trampoline with the big net enclosure, which couldn’t fit under the tree. Since we had so few gifts, we made a scavenger hunt to find the trampoline hidden in their daddy’s suburban. With the fun they had searching for clues, it didn't matter there were so few gifts. 

My friend, who had a bigger Christmas budget and parents who lavished their grandkids, asked Kara what she got for Christmas. After Kara quickly named the few items, the friend asked if she’d had a good Christmas. “Oh, yes. It was great!”

Lessons.
          1.  Don’t worry so much about presents. The number of gifts doesn’t matter as much as the amount of time spent together as a family.
       2.  Don’t worry so much about your to-do list. Somehow, everything gets done. Or doesn’t get done. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta let things go. ;-)

Before rushing back to your own crazy agenda, think about your own stories. What are your favorite Christmas memories? 

~ Roxanne Sherwood Gray

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blog Tour - Bonnie Grove

Happy Saturday! We interrupt this regularly scheduled weekend to bring you an interview from the author of Talking To The Dead--a unique and fascinating book. So, without further ado...

About Talking to the Dead

Twenty-something Kate Davis can’t seem to get this grieving widow thing right. She’s supposed to put on a brave face and get on with her life, right? Instead she’s camped out on her living room floor, unwashed, unkempt, and unable to sleep—because her husband Kevin keeps talking to her.

            Is she losing her mind?                  

            Kate’s attempts to find the source of the voice she hears are both humorous and humiliating, as she turns first to an “eclectically spiritual” counselor, then a shrink with a bad toupee, an exorcist, and finally group therapy. There she meets Jack, the warmhearted, unconventional pastor of a ramshackle church, and at last the voice subsides. But when she stumbles upon a secret Kevin was keeping, Kate’s fragile hold on the present threatens to implode under the weight of the past…and Kevin begins to shout.

            Will the voice ever stop? Kate must confront her grief to find the grace to go on, in this tender, quirky novel about embracing life.

Bonnie, tell us a little about your main character.

            Kate Davis is having the ultimate bad day, and is living out some intensely strange circumstances. My goal was to create a character that reflects real women – messing up, but stronger than she knows. Kate is a fighter deep down in her soul—she just doesn’t know it yet.

            She has her own, unique way of navigating through the world. It isn’t an easy way—but it is her way and she owns it. To me, that’s heroic. To bear tremendous loss and heartache, yet remain true to herself to the end.

Please tell us about yourself.

            I’m a happy Canadian. I’m married to a guy I love, and we have two children who are so well behaved I have to ask for I.D. when they come home from school each day. I just can’t believe they are mine. Our house is usually a mess, and one summer we lost our dog (Poppy the Pomeranian) twice in one day. We found her both times, she’s fine and forgave us.

            I think in stories, and have a hard time understanding the world without them. I have recently rediscovered how much I love poetry and am thumbing my nose at all those English teachers who told me I didn’t really understand what the poem meant.

            I’ve often thought about getting out of the publishing gig and just going to work for Taco Bell, but I’m too far gone, so write I must.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

            Wow, I’d love to say no. That I just make it all up based on something I saw on the bus one day.

            But.

            I recently wrote a list of images and ideas that reoccur in each of my novels. It was a long list that included things like forests, narrow paths, isolation, and mental illness. Cheerful, eh?

            At this point, I can’t pretend I’m not working out my issues via story. The plot in Talking to the Dead is fiction, and I’m not Kate Davis, but if there is such a thing as an emotional biography, I think that is what I write.

            The other item found in each of my novels? Humour. The day we can’t have a laugh in the middle of it all is the day we’ve just given up.

How did you come up with the story for Talking to the Dead?

            I’d love to say I was so savvy I plotted and wrote the novel in a few weeks—like those genius writers I hear so much about—but the truth is, I had a question nagging me, and I started writing out that question in story form.

            I used to work with at risk families (families that experience a host of social and economic disadvantages) and it dawned on me that I couldn’t judge what a person was trying to accomplish simply by watching their behavior. That, often, what I thought they were doing and what it was they were actually trying to do were very different things. In other words, that behavior doesn’t always match up with intention. So the question was, if behavior isn’t an indication of intention, then what is the best way to truly understand a person?

            Did I answer the question? Probably not, but this story is an attempt to explore that question. I’d love to hear from readers and have them tell me if I hit on any sort of answer.

What are you working on now?

            I’ve recently completed a novel entitled The Season In Between that is now in my agent’s hands. It’s the story of an East Coast island, a dying fishing community that is confronted with the lies of their past.

            I’ve started work on another novel, the working title is Trillium, about a woman who stumbles upon a magical town, and must fight to save it.

Where are people getting Talking to the Dead?

            Until December 17th, you can download the e-book version of Talking to the Dead for only $2.99!




CBD

            If you’re a fan, like I am, of books made out of paper, you can always order the paperback of Talking to the Dead at Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com , or your favorite brick and mortar bookshop.

            Thank you so much for letting me hang out with you today!
 
Bonnie Grove started writing when, as a teenager, her parents bought a typewriter (yes, durning the age of dinosaurs). She clacked out a terrible romance novel filled with typos and bad grammar that her mom loved, and she's been turning out improving prose ever since.
Her non-fiction, Your Best You: Discovering and Developing the Strengths God Gave You, came out of her experience working with families in crisis. She believes people have the knowledge and ability to make changes in their life without being told what to do or how to do it. And, oddly enough, has managed to write a book that helps people do just that.
Her novel, Talking to the Dead, came out of that crazy place inside her head that has more questions then answers. Questions about grief, love, sex, God, therapy, and how laughter can make everything seem okay--even if just for a moment or two. It has won a few awards, and has been internationally published in languages she doesn't speak.
Bonnie has completed several novels since Talking to the Dead, and is currently working her butt off to ensure they see they make their way into your hands.
Bonnie is married to a cute guy named Steve, they have two children, and they make their home in Saskatchewan.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Guest Post by Lindsay Harrel

Lindsay and Melissa...everybody say aww!
Note from Melissa: Earlier this year, I got an email with the subject line "Hello" from a gal named Lindsay Harrel. I had no idea then that Linds would become one of my closest friends. I think we "talk" almost every day now--text or email or Twitter or Facebook or phone. She's amazing. I asked her recently to be today's guest...and, yes, I might have teared up a little (or a lot) when I read what she sent me...enjoy!

The Best Surprise Gift Ever

I am a big fan of giving gifts, so it’s no surprise I love Christmas-time (for other reasons too, of course!). I love thinking about the perfect gift to give a friend or family member, especially when the gift is a surprise.

The look of joy on their face when they open it is priceless.

Well, this year, I received the best surprise gift ever.

And it—or rather, she—was straight from God.

I’m talking about my critique partner, Melissa Tagg.

(And no, she isn’t ghostwriting this post, LOL.)

Seriously, though, when I went looking for a CP, I wanted someone who would…well, critique my work. Help make me a better writer. Give me advice.

At the MBT Wild West Pizza Pary
I got that.

But in Melissa, I got so, so, SO much more.

Like someone I can email, text, tweet, or Facebook message with prayer requests. A lot.

Or who understands what I mean when I say, “This working full-time and writing thing ain’t so easy!”

Who talks me off ledges when I don’t think I can do this or when my scenes stink or when I think I’m the worst writer ever to walk the planet.

Who shares her own triumphs with me (and she’s had so many awesome ones this year!).

Who lets me whine and complain when I need to.

Who gives me godly advice.

Who will do the Charlie’s Angels pose with me in a cowgirl hat.

Who sends me awesome gifts that speak to me just when I need them to.

Who stays on the phone for three hours brainstorming MY book when she’s got her own to write.

Who sits up late with me at conferences and has a deep conversation about...life. Even though we’re both seriously tired.

Who totally and completely gets me because we’re like basically the same person.

Who I can’t imagine my writing life—or life otherwise—without, and who I hope will be my partner in crime for many, many more years to come.

So yeah, God pretty much rocks for putting Melissa in my life. She truly is one of the best gifts—and one I so didn’t expect, which makes it all the sweeter.

Your Turn: Do you have a CP or close writing friend who has been a gift? How?

Since the age of six, when she wrote the riveting tale “How to Eat Mud Pie,” Lindsay Harrel has passionately engaged the written word as a reader, writer, and editor. She holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication and an M.A. in English. In her current day job as a curriculum editor for a local university, Lindsay helps others improve their work and hones her skills for her night job—writing inspirational contemporary fiction. Lindsay lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband of six years and two golden retriever puppies in serious need of training.

Twitter: @Lindsay Harrel: https://twitter.com/LindsayHarrel