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Tinsel Giveaway!

Oh, my–I really haven’t done a very good job keeping up with this blog, have I? Part of the reason for this is because I’m trying to devote more time to my WIP. I’d looooove to have it available for the 2020 Christmas season…which requires a whole lotta work before then (*whispers: because I’m only on draft #2).

The other reason is that with my oldest daughter in high school, a lot of my focus is geared toward helping her navigate being a Christian in a pubic high school system that is increasingly hostile to a person of faith, in a society that seems to have gone loco. There will likely come a time when I share my opinions and frustrations on this blog, but for now, they keep building up in my Notes app on my phone. 😉

So…what’s the occasion for this post?

It’s Christmas in July, folks! 😀

And this week I’m hanging out with Amanda Wen, a talented writer and professional cellist I met at the 2017 ACFW conference. One commenter on her site will win their choice of a paperback or ebook copy of my book, Tinsel in a Tangle. So whether you’ve hemmed and hawed on grabbing a copy for yourself, or you want to give a copy to someone you know would enjoy it, head on over to Amanda’s corner of cyber space and leave us a comment, even if it’s just to say hello! 🙂

I pray everyone is having a blessed summer!

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The Wait is Over

So…it’s been a while since I’ve posted. From my experience as a mom of 15+ years, we mothers seem to go from one busy season to the next busier season as our children grow, and my blog has taken a backseat to other priorities. But I thought I’d take a quick moment to share with you the latest in the life of this author.

As most of you know, last year, I entered my debut novel, Tinsel in a Tangle, in five different contests, and the last of which finally announced its winners a couple of weeks ago. Overall, my book baby did very well, as it finaled in the Selah Awards 2018 for First Novel, and The Wishing Shelf Awards 2018 for Young Adult Novel; and it won in the Royal Dragonfly Awards 2018 for Best Holiday Novel, and in the Literary Classics Awards 2018 for Best Holiday Novel and Best First Book.

This past weekend, Literary Classics held an award banquet for their winners in Rapid City, South Dakota. As it was “just” a nine-hour drive from our home, Hubby and I figured we’d take our daughters on a road trip. Of course, we had to visit Mount Rushmore and drive through Bear Country. 😉

I met some wonderful fellow authors while there, and learned a lot about what it means to promote oneself, as opposed to promoting one’s book, as many of these authors have a magnetic way about themselves that draws people to them…and ultimately to their books. I envy (in a good way) their seeming inhibitions when it comes to the promotional & marketing aspect a writer must handle these days, and I pray I can take some of what I witnessed and apply it to my own writing career moving forward.

So what’s next for me as an author? At the end of this month, I’ll be teaching a class on creative writing to a group of grade school students here in Helena, focusing on infusing life into our characters–and how that, in turn, helps with description and “show, don’t tell” in the narrative. I’m also still plodding my way through my sequel’s second draft, a frustration for me as I’d hoped to be on to draft #3 by now. But God has gently reminded me that writing is not my only calling in life, and my roles as wife and mother require as much–if not more–purposeful (and cheerful) attention right now. 😀

On that note, I will leave you with a few more shameless pics and go switch out the laundry–haha! I hope all you creatives out there are rocking it in your individual crafts!

DIY North Pole

I know, I know. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Ever since my kids entered school (over nine years ago now), doing much writing outside of the bare minimum between Halloween and early January has proven difficult. It’s bad enough to have Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and all four of our birthdays mashed into seven weeks. But when you add all the school-related activities during and after school hours (especially now that our oldest is in high school), it becomes a burden. And when writing becomes a burden, the words get blocked.

Plus, this year I was determined to work on—and finish!—a book-related project that I’d wanted to start on last year and never did. And then, once January rolled around, I wanted to focus on my sequel because I was “this close” to finishing the first draft. I completed said draft last week (yay!), thus I can now focus on a blogpost…

…In which I’m sharing the project I just mentioned. 🙂 So, before we get any closer to Valentine’s Day, here is my North Pole sign post, à la Flitterndorf. (For those who don’t know, Flitterndorf is the name of my village in Tinsel in a Tangle where the elves and Kringles live.)

I created it with storage in mind. In other words, I can remove all place names but the top one from the pole (you can see in the pic that I used cup and eye hooks to hang them) and remove the pole from its base, should I want to pack it away down in my crawl space. But methinks it will hang out somewhere in the house for a long while after the other Christmas decorations are gone. Having it around helps fuel my motivation to continue progress on the sequel. Second draft, here I come!

The 12” X 3.25” wooden boards I found at Hobby Lobby. They started out as rectangles until I sheared off the two corners at one end. I found the 4’ pole at Lowe’s, 2” in diameter. And the splice of log for the base came from our own pile of firewood in the backyard (thanks, Hubby!).

I thought I could simply drill a 2” hole in the base and move on to creating the signs, but 1) the 2” drill bit needed for our drill press cost more than we wanted to spend during the holiday season, and then, when I settled for using the 1” drill bit, 2) the log base was too thick to fit between the base of the drill press and the drill bit, and 3) Hubby wasn’t around to help cut the base thinner and I was tired of waiting on this project, so…yeah. 

Doing what any other impatient crafter would do, I improvised. Using the 1” bit and my hand-held drill, I drilled out as much of the 2” hole as possible and chiseled out the rest.

Ah, such an easy thing to say—“chisel out the rest.” Not an easy thing to do. 😐

And yet, that wasn’t even the hardest part of the project.

The lettering proved the hardest.

I’d never worked with a paint marker before, so inexperience was against me. And I’m a leftie. Lefties aren’t typically known for our beautiful penmanship, since the lettering system in America is right-hand biased. Thus, the direction of the swirls and the slant of the letters in the font I chose (found on Pinterest) are done in the opposite direction a leftie would naturally choose, if given the option. Which we’re not, so we adapt. 😉

To get the look of the letters just right, I had to first write the words on paper (lots of erasing involved!), then I taped the paper to the piece of wood, and traced the lines with a pencil and heavy hand to make an impression in the wood surface. Once I had a faint outline to follow, I took the paint marker in hand, said a prayer (no joke), and slowly traced my impressions with the marker, working from right to left so my hand didn’t mar the lettering.

It’s hard to see in the pictures, but I also stapled a length of garland to the pole and draped battery-operated LED lights along the garland. I’m still on the lookout for some wooden ball or small lantern I can attach to the top of the pole, but for this Christmas, I called it good.

So, there’s my little Flitterndorf flair for the holidays. And if any of you were also crazy enough to tackle a new project in the month of December, I’d love for you to share in the comments! 😀

Black Friday Freebie

Before we get to the freebie, I want to say, “Happy Thanksgiving!” I hope you had a wonderful day, no matter if you celebrated with a full-fledged turkey, “like Grandma used to make it,” or you cooked up some tofurkey, like my sister-in-law, or if turkey-something wasn’t even on the menu. 🙂

As much as I love Christmas, it’s Thanksgiving when I miss being with extended family. When I was growing up, three sets of spouses and eight kids would all converge at my grandparents’ house on the side of Mt. Kearsarge in New Hampshire and milk an entire long weekend out of the holiday. Sledding down the hillside; hiding among the boulders bordering the driveway; tromping through the woods; card games at the kitchen table; movies in the living room; imaginative play down in the finished half of the basement and/or upstairs in the painting room; raiding our grandmother’s closet for shoes, hats, outer garments; rummaging through her huuuuge stash of nail polish for just the right color…. I remember lots of love, laughter, squabbles, zealous discussions, and did I mention laughter? 😉

I know not everyone has fond memories of Thanksgiving, but I pray this year, you were able to find several things you could lift to God in praise. Earlier this week, I shared over on Storyteller Squad how we should even thank God for the less-pleasant things that happen in our lives—not an easy feat, no. Go here if you want to read the whole post.

I do, however, have some wonderful news for which I’m extremely thankful. At the beginning of November, I learned that Tinsel in a Tangle was a finalist in the Literary Classics International Book Awards, and last week, I found out it won in both the Holiday and Best First Book categories! *squeals and throws confetti* I will definitely will be riding high on that announcement for a while. 🙂

Now for those eager for the freebie…there’s a Kindle copy of Tinsel waiting for you here on Amazon! It will be free from now through November 27th, so if you know other Christmas-loving people—adults or youth—who would enjoy this tale, help me spread the word, and happy reading! I’m thankful to all of you who have encouraged me and supported me over the years, whether in the comment field below or in person or via a text message. ❤ May the rest of your holiday season be merry—and don’t forget to take time to relax!

Celebrate Good Times…With a Giveaway

I’m part of a small group of published and pre-published writers through ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), and we recently started a group blog called Storytellersquad.com, where I will be contributing a post about once a month. Today is my first day over there—and it’s also my book birthday! *throws confetti*

new-years-eve-1040633_1280To celebrate, I’m giving away a signed paperback copy of Tinsel in a Tangle to one random winner who leaves a comment below my post at Storyteller Squad (even a simple “I’m interested!” will suffice). I hope you’ll swing by, check out the site, and leave a comment. Note: you need NOT follow the blog in order to comment. 🙂 Here’s the link. The giveaway will remain open for two weeks and I’ll make a quick announcement of the winner on Oct 18th. Even if you already own a copy (thank you, btw!), books make great Christmas presents!

And if you’ve read it and enjoyed it, I would be thrilled if you could leave a brief review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Reviews make wonderful (and free!) gifts for authors. 😉 😉

Have a blessed day!

Too Much To Ask

Twenty years ago, I spent the summer before my senior year of college working with missionaries in Austria, after which I traveled to Heidelberg, Germany, where I studied for a semester at the university. God asked something of me during that time that has had a long-lasting impact on my life. It’s His question–and the results of my answer–that I wrote about in my entry to the Guideposts contest. I now share it with you. While it’s longer than my usual posts, I hope my story will encourage and maybe even challenge you in your own relationship with God.

***

Too Much To Ask

 

I cross my arms, my fingers digging into my biceps. “You’re joking, right, Lord?”

A valley unfolds down the slope before me, most of it in Austria, but a piece of it belongs to Germany. The grassy carpet rolls over the gentle hills, dotted with a house here, a barn there, a road winding along the edge of the mountains in the distance.

Since childhood, I’ve longed to take my place here in Europe. For the past three years of college, I’ve worked with that goal in mind; anticipated that sense of “home” in stepping upon foreign soil. And now God’s threatening to take it away?

My stomach twists and the ache grows in my heart.

I blame the missionary couple I’m staying with for the summer. Or maybe I blame their son, Josh. Maybe all three. They just had to tell me about Josh’s decision to pursue God instead of girls during his freshman year of college. Noble, right? More noble than I could have been as a frosh. I mean, I’m a good girl, but guys pose a definite distraction. Can you fault me? Trailing behind my dream of living in Europe is that of being a wife and stay-home mom—two roles that require a husband.

I’m hoping to find that husband in Europe. Preferably Germany, where I’ll be headed in a couple weeks’ time to study in Heidelberg.

“Yet You want me to date You instead?” I glare into the bright blue sky overhead. “For how long?”

Six months.

My jaw drops and tears bite my eyes. “That will take me all the way through February! I’ll have returned to the States by then.” I kick a clump of grass at my feet then turn from the view that had given me solace these last few weeks. “No way, God. You’re asking too much of me.”

***

Three days later, I’m still arguing with Him.

I’d like to pretend I hadn’t heard his voice, but you know what happens when you ignore God—you get swallowed by a whale.

What are you afraid of?

His gentle prodding comes as I push the mop across the dining room floorboards of the Schwaigmühle, a retreat house in northern Austria for family and church groups. Late morning sunlight slants through the windows, and I bat at the dust motes in the air with a scowl.

“I’m afraid this is going to kill any chances I have for finding my future husband.”

Don’t you trust Me?

The words ping my heart. Of course, I trust Him. But this is my love life we’re talking about. Sure, His mere breath put the universe in motion…and He orchestrated to perfection the fulfillment of history’s most prophesied events surrounding His Son…and He stands victorious already…and—

Okay, so He wouldn’t find a love life that hard to manage. Worse-case scenario, if I cross paths with my future husband during the months I’m dating God, He’ll arrange a meet-cute when I’m available again. Right?

“Fine, God.” Dirty water swirls in the bucket as I rewet the mop. “I still say You’re asking a lot, but I’m less PO’d now than I was before. Let’s do this.”

The next time I’m in Salzburg for my day off, I head to the little flea market, browse through the jewelry kiosks, and come away with a tiny purchase hugging my ring finger. The wedding band look-alike will remind me I’m “taken” for the next six months—and if it allows me a casual way to share my faith with others, so much the better.

***

Shortly thereafter, I leave Austria for Germany to meet up with the other American students in the Junior Year Abroad program. Some of them are seniors in college, like me. Plenty of cute guys abound, but a new peace resides in my chest rather than anxiety, and I enjoy getting to know them on a level that doesn’t include potential for romance. This is a type of freedom all its own. A God-given contentment.

I’m issued my living quarters and a smile spreads across my face. Rather than moving into a dorm room on the University campus, I’m given my own space in a large house along the Neckar River. My eyes widen when I behold the French doors in my room. Operational? You bet. And it leads to my own private balcony. Not only does it overlook the river right across the street, but I’ve got the perfect view of Schloss Heidelberg (the castle!) atop the hill on the opposite bank.

Best. Room. Ever.

One of the other American students, a lively girl named Vera, stays in a room above me in the renovated attic. We become fast friends and together end up exploring Germany’s culture and many of the surrounding towns.

Days stretch into weeks stretch into months. I hang out with God in the mornings, memorizing scripture and praying with more focus, and on Friday and Saturday nights, I spend time with either Vera and friends, or on a “date” with God. I journal. I listen. I bask in a calm and relief I’d never known in my previous boy-crazy state. My “wedding” ring draws questions, which lead to skeptical looks from some, but interest and further conversations from others. Snow starts falling by mid-October, almost two months earlier than my hometown in New England, and given I love the white stuff, I count it as another blessing.

I head to the local movie theater a few times, once to catch a German-made film and twice to watch movies from the US. In the darkened theater to view The Horse Whisperer, starring Robert Redford, I sit with mouth agape at the large-ness of the Montana landscape. That one state is easily the size of some smaller European countries.

The United States is huge. And beautiful. And I’m a citizen. My chest swells with…American pride? Weird.

At the same time, something else nudges its way beside my dream to live in Europe.

It’s small. Fragile. And stubborn.

A desire to see the American West for myself.

I nearly snort out loud.

Me? Visit Colorado? Wyoming? Utah? Me, the girl who’s spent as much time aching for Europe as she has spurning talk of cowboys and Stetsons and John Deere tractors?

Yeah, that’s asking too much, God.

***

I travel with the local Campus für Christus—Campus Crusades—for a weekend retreat, where we join other groups from nearby towns and universities. I’m the only American, which makes me intriguing for that reason alone, and I catch the eye of an über cute German guy. Boy-crazy me would have responded to his flirtations with some of my own, but I’m already taken…and he seems to be, as well, if the wary vibes I receive from the girl at his side are any indication. Instead of focusing on him, God-dating me focuses on befriending the girl and in an unspoken way, easing any anxieties she might have that I’m after her man. My heart is light. Happy. Complete.

Christmas break comes all too soon—and with it the realization that Germany/Europe might not factor into my future as much as I’d always believed. That silly American pride keeps growing, as well as that idea of maaaaybe taking a trip out West after I graduate. Don’t know what that will look like, but the fact I’m even considering crossing the Mississippi River is cause for celebration…or alarm.

Still wearing my ring and seeing no prospective German husband on the horizon (I never did get that sense of “home”), I return to the States in time for the New Year then head into my last semester of college. Funny—the guys at college don’t hold the same fascination for me as they once did.

February 28th arrives, marking the end to my six months. Such a small span of time, really, yet dating God has strengthened me with new insight and confidence where my future love life is concerned. I decide I’m done chasing boys. It’s beyond time they chased me, instead.

Too much to ask? Nah.

On March 1st, I slip off my ring. Tarnish and corrosion have begun to set in along the cheap metal (hello, penny-pinching college student here), but I tuck the ring among my costlier pieces of jewelry for safe-keeping and sentimental value.

Several days later, I return home to spend spring break with my parents. On Sunday, I greet friends at church I haven’t seen in ten months, lingering in the foyer to catch up on their news and share my own. As the first chords of the worship team signal a start to the service, I step into the sanctuary and glance around for my folks.

Instead, I see him.

Alone in the front row, eyes closed and face lifted as he sings, stands one of the pastor’s sons. A few years older than me, he and I barely ran in the same circles in the high school youth group. I don’t even remember his name. And is that…? My gaze zeroes in on his hands.

He’s holding a black Stetson.

Six months ago, I would have wrinkled my nose in disgust.

But God’s done strange things in me over the last few months, and there’s an even stranger tug on my heart. I wonder—

No! Ugh. I can’t make it one week after I stop dating God before my boy-crazies kick in!

And yet…

My gaze wanders back to the pastor’s son.

It’s Your call, Lord. I slide along the row of chairs to join my parents as my prayer slides upward to Heaven. I’m not doing the chasing. Help me be content and wait for Your timing. I want Your best for me, not what I think is the best. Help me be patient.

The familiar hymn we’re singing drifts about me in a hug, and with renewed determination, I shift my focus from the pastor’s son to the backlit wooden cross at the front of the sanctuary.

***

Alice Walker once wrote, “Time moves slowly but passes quickly.” In a few blinks of an eye, twenty years separate me from those months I dated God. Half my life. Yet, the older I get, the more I appreciate the silver lining in having chosen Him over guys:

Regret-free memories of an amazing time in my life, memories that sweeten with the passing years.

As opposed to the cringe-worthy, boy-focused flashbacks from my high school and college days, remembrances of my time in Germany only ever generate a smile. Never does the face of an ex-boyfriend or an unrequited crush get in the way to smudge the mental images. My recollections remain warm, airy, positive. And as I have yet to return to Germany, the ability to cherish that unique period in my life means more to me now as an adult than it did when I lived it.

That pastor’s son I noticed from a distance? Poor guy had to jump through hurdles when chasing me, but we got married in May of 2000, a year after I graduated college. Two years later, we ended up making that trip to the American West—and by “trip,” I mean “move.” First to Colorado for several months, then Nebraska for several years, then Montana…where, as I drove over the state border in a car laden with moving boxes and two sleeping toddlers, that long-anticipated word pulsed in my heart: Home.

I was coming “home” to a part of the country that used to make me cringe.

Ten years later, we’re still here.

Who would’ve guessed?

Not me. Never me.

But God knew.

He knew, and He beckoned me, and I’m grateful I listened. I still have a soft spot for Austria, Germany, and the German language, but I don’t regret where life—God—has taken me. With the benefit of hindsight, I can reflect on the last two decades and testify that He is faithful “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Eph 3:20) All it requires is a little surrender on our part.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

***

IMG_2142

On a hill overlooking Grossgmain, Austria. That is not a fake view. The grass really looks that amazing.

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In case you can’t read my writing, the pic on the left, taken from the Alte Brücke, is the view of the house in which I stayed. The pic on the right is a closeup of said house.

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Greetings from my balcony!

IMG_2149

Although this is a postcard, it’s pretty much spot-on as to the view I had from my balcony. I walked across that bridge, the Alte Brücke, every day to attend classes.

***

It’s difficult to convey the depth of emotion I had to struggle through during this time in my life, as I’d spent many a childhood and teenage night crying into my pillow, my heart physically aching, despairing I would never make it to Europe. And then to have that dream realized…only to discover the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean…. Sigh. Lots of feels.

Despite knowing I’m where God wants me, despite the contentment I feel here in Montana, there are still times when I tear up, thinking of what never was, a BA in German that was never used. But then I wonder if God has some plans yet to come in that area. Time will tell.

Has God ever asked you to surrender a dream over to Him? Maybe He then gave it back to You, merely wanting to make sure you were willing to put Him first. Or maybe He took it and gave you something even better in return. Or perhaps you’re going through such a situation now, and you have no clue how it’s going to turn out. If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it in the comments. 🙂

A Little Knit of This and a Little Knit of That

But first, an update!

I can now share two more contest results with you: I didn’t win. 😛

After I have a chance to read over my entry for the Guideposts’ short story contest and retweak some things (cuz that’s what writers love to do—tweak, tweak, and more tweak), I’ll share it here. A part of me was disappointed I wasn’t chosen, but in reality, learning more about how to write short stories doesn’t hugely interest me. I was open to the idea, if God had wanted me to go in that direction, but at the moment, it seems He’s good with me plodding along on my novel-length WIP (work-in-progress). So plod-along I shall go.

The second contest was for my book, Tinsel in a Tangle. It was an international contest with no cap on the copyright date, so who knows how many entries I was up against, but some tears were definitely shed when I learned I didn’t make the cut. That said, I’m happy to report the results didn’t plunge me into a depression. They didn’t make me question my ability to write or even if I should be writing–two things that might have happened as little as six months ago. I’d like to think this means I’m growing. Growing in self-confidence, growing out of self-doubt, growing in my relationship with and understanding of God. He’s slowly helping me to grasp on a deeper level that though a part of me craves validation from the writing community as an author, the amount I receive—whether a lot or a little—will never be enough for my human nature. Just gaining that bit of insight is extremely freeing, odd as that may sound. It allows me to mentally unclasp my fingers from the world, turn on my heel, and cling, instead, to God. It’s His validation that only matters in the end, and He’s already given it many times in both big and little ways. It’s time to rest in that assurance, absorb it, own it, so that on days when life and the enemy try to strip me of confidence, try to push me back into the waters of doubt…they won’t succeed for long.

Okay, on to what you really came to see. Pictures! 😉

img_e1081.jpgI had mentioned a few months ago I wanted to try a smaller version of the Ravenna Satchel by Marta McCall. But this time, rather than using her flower pattern, I transferred this picture I found on Pinterest to graph paper and used it as a template. Knitting the template into reality, however, became quite the frustrating mess at times, as I had to deal with so many different colors and make sure not to tangle all the strands at the back. Several rows found me switching between colors as many as fifteen times, which sloooows down the knitting process. I also changed how the handles would connect to the bag. In a sense, they don’t connect, except as an anchor point in four places near the top. Instead, they travel around, behind, and under the bag, to give it support without pulling on the felted yarn itself. (Going under would have been so helpful on my original bag, considering how much I load it up when traveling. :)) The one thing I wish I’d done differently on this second bag was to cover the straps with fabric, as I’d done on the original one. But I plan to felt some flowers (a first for me) and attach them over the few anchor stitches, so maybe that will offset the lackluster look of the straps.

img_6203Two years ago, I had knit a Tinsel carrier for my iPhone 5. Since then, my phone went kaput thanks to a software update, and I now have an iPhone 6. Which is too big for Tinsel. 😦 In making a new carrier last year, I had used fabric for the skirt instead of felting the whole thing, thinking it might look better.

It didn’t.

IMG_2081So this summer, I knit another one, but instead of a reindeer, the girl is holding a wreath. These patterns are found in Sue Stratford’s Mini Christmas Knits, though I changed the size of the inside wire frame because I needed it larger than the one the pattern calls for.

But as I was scrolling through Pinterest pics for the Christmas tree idea on the skirt, I came across some of the cutest snowmen faces…and another idea was born.

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Close-up of the wreath.

IMG_2116So, here’s my snowman carrier. 🙂 By far the quickest one I’ve knit & felted to date. I was going to sew a string of tiny Christmas lights between his hands, but it looked too cluttered against his buttons, so I decided less was more in his case (er, pun not intended).

And there you have it. The visible results of a summer in which I got less writing done than expected. But now that the kids are back in school, I hope it’s a while before I share more knitting projects…because that means I’m writing more.

How about you? Were you able to accomplish all your summer projects this year? Technically, autumn hasn’t started yet, so you still have time to wraps things up before the colder weather blows in. Way more time, if you’re like my older sister who lives in Florida. 😉

Have a great week and stay creative!

 

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