Friday, December 30, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . 2016

It's that time of year again. The calendar says there's only one more day left in the old year. Facebook keeps trying to show me my year in review. Friends on there are all posting about hopes for 2017, fresh starts, saying farewell to the old.

I've always loved to take a look back at the year that has just passed round about now. To reflect on any promises I made myself, or which God has made to me.

In 2016, when I prayed for a word to dwell on for the year, God gave me this:

It isn't the kind of word that issues me a big challenge--it isn't a reminder, really, of what He wants me to do. What it is is a reminder of who I ultimately am--His. A reminder that has carried me through what has been, all in all, a pretty amazing year.

In my personal life, it's been a year of fun with my kids. There was the usual homeschooling, of course. Learning together, laughing together. We traveled a good bit with them, taking them to Niagara Falls for the Fourth of July (because nothing says American Independence Day like going to Canada for fireworks, LOL) and then to Europe in September.

Photo Xoe took from the base of the Eiffel Tower--which now adorns our walls.

I got to see my daughter's face light up when she saw the Eiffel Tower. I got to watch my son jump from rock to rock at Land's End in Cornwall. I had the joy of actually finding some books that my reluctant-reader son wanted to read--and watch my little girl, who is growing up so fast, create some beautiful art that just amazes me.

David and I celebrated our 15th anniversary this year (hence the trip to Europe). Pretty cool to look back and be able to say, with some credibility now, LOL, that no, we weren't too young. We knew exactly what we were getting into. I don't have a moment's regret that I married that man when we were both 18. I just have exceeding joy that we've already had so many years together, and that God blessed us so much by leading us to each other so early in life. Another "mine" that I am so happy to claim.

And professionally . . . it's been quite a year.

I signed my second contract for a series with Bethany House. Can't wait for my "thief books" to come to life in 2017! I have second round edits coming on A Name Unknown next week, I'll turn in A Song Unheard a week after they arrive, and I'm ready to start writing An Hour Unspent as soon as my synopsis is approved.

I got the news that The Lost Heiress was a finalist in the Christy Awards. As someone who struggles with pride and so has sworn of any award I have to enter myself, this came as a shock and a joy I never expected. I have never won a writing award. And while I didn't win this year either, I honestly didn't even care. It was such an honor to be a finalist, beside some of my favorite authors. That's a wow I'm going to carry with me forever.

I got to visit my publishing house in Minnesota and see behind-the-scenes there, which was just awesome. I felt so authorly, LOL.

I got my first royalty checks from a publisher other than Whitefire--from two of the publishers I've worked with, actually. So great to actually earn out an advance!

I made the CBA bestseller list with The Lost Heiress just last month. Sure, only because it had been on sale, LOL, but STILL! I can now claim to be a bestselling author.

And I had three titles release in 2016, which I think is a record for me. The Reluctant Duchess and A Lady Unrivaled from Bethany House, and Giver of Wonders from WhiteFire.

All in all, I'm pretty darn amazed at what God has done for me. Yes, there have been sorrows too--my husband's grandfather passed away, good friends have had trials, and don't get me started on the mess of the political season. But through every grief and disappointment, every fear and question, I had a resting place.

Because I am His, and He is mine.

I'm looking forward to the year ahead. I'm praying for a word from the Lord to be my word for the year. I'm anxious to see where He's going to take us and what we're going to do. And mostly, I'm just so amazed at this life He's given me. One filled with family. One blessed by love. And one in which I actually get to do the things I love--writing, designing, teaching my kids.

Thank you, Lord, for another good year. Thank you for always being my Daddy-God. Thank you for claiming me as Your own.

Here's to 2016--may the year ahead be one that draws us ever closer to Him!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas!

With Christmas less than a week away, I figure no one has much time for blog reading anyway. ;-) So this will be my last post this week. We'll reconvene next week to reflect on 2016 and look forward to 2017.

What will I be working on in the coming week?

Well, aside from eating cookies and peanut clusters--and Cornish pasties we've decided we'll make for Christmas dinner--I'll be doing some design work, finishing the scarf I'm working on for my grandmother (by Friday, if all goes according to schedule).

And then I'll be settling down to work on something for YOU.

In the new year, as early as I can manage it, LOL, I'll be sending out a free bonus story to all newsletter subscribers. Existing subscribers will get a newsletter with the links, and new subscribers will get it as a welcome email. Thanks so much to all of you who took my one-question survey about what story you'd like to see! The masses were pretty evenly divided between wanting Lizzie and Whit's story (parents of Brook from The Lost Heiress) and something completely new. So if I get a brainstorm for an original in the next few days, awesome--otherwise, I'll get back to work on His Baroness, which I started a year ago, LOL. (Newsletter sign-up is here.)

I  hope everyone has a blessed Christmas, filled with the wonder of His love and sacrifice!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Word of the Week - Mistletoe

Today I'm not examining the etymology of the word itself so much as the history of the tradition of hanging mistletoe at Christmas. Is this part of your family's tradition?

I've never really taken part in it, but certainly we all know that if one pauses beneath mistletoe, one cannot refuse a kiss. In past centuries, this was believed to be good luck and to guarantee love, marriage, and children in the coming year (for those still unmarried). The ball of mistletoe would be burned after the Twelve Days of Christmas to seal the fates of those couples who had kissed beneath it.

But where did the tradition come from? Well it dates back far beyond the coming of Christianity to Europe. For millennia, mistletoe was revered as a sacred plant and thought to contain powers of fertility and good luck and the ability to ward off evil. The plant typically grows on apple trees, but once in a while can be found on oaks (also sacred), so the oak mistletoe is especially sacred and would be cut by Druids with a golden sickle.

The legend goes as follows: the goddess Frigga had a beloved son, Balder, who was the god of summer and hence all things growing and alive. Balder had a terrible dream that he was going to die, so his mother went to every part of nature, above the ground and below, asking them to promise not to kill her son. But she neglected to request this of the mistletoe, which neither had roots below ground nor grew on its own above. So the tricky god Loki, enemy of Balder, made a poison from the berries of the mistletoe and dipped an arrow in it, shooting and killing Balder. For three days, every element and plant tried to revive him, to no avail. Finally, his mother's own tears revived him, which then turned to little white berries on the mistletoe. She was so overjoyed that she kissed everyone who passed beneath the hanging plant.

You can see where this would easily become part of a tradition surrounding the birth of Christ, right? Someone who lay dead for three days and then was brought back to life, ultimate Love triumphing over Death. Especially since this plant was cut traditionally on the solstice already--and the winter solstice had long been established as the birth of Christ (read why here, if you haven't already). It was easily incorporated into new traditions and became a lasting one--though still tinged with superstition.

So where do you come down on mistletoe and kissing beneath it? Fun custom? Good luck? Or something to be avoided at all costs? ;-)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . What a Day

I had planned to have something brilliant and insightful to blog about today. I intended to think about this yesterday. Instead I . . .

* Took my cat to the vet and ended up leaving her there overnight. Poor kitty has an impacted bowel and needed an enema. =(

* Spent much of the day making a super-giant pan of lasagna for dinner at church, including simmering my own sauce for it

* Finished a batch of baking that had to sit in the fridge all night

* Did school with the kids (mostly...)

* Printed, and cut by hand, 50 inserts for little coin cases for a project (see below)

* Prepared a contract for WhiteFire

* Created an image for my church's Facebook page

* Left at 3 (with dishes undone--hey, I'd just do them when I got home! No biggie!) to head out in search of gift cards for a community project we're spearheading. (Any idea how long it takes McDonalds to ring up 50 gift cards? LOL. I now know...)

* Realized en route to church that the oven there is malfunctioning, so I in fact could not bake the giant lasagna

* Detoured to our old house that is currently between renters (and 2 minutes from the church--we now live 30 minutes away) to pop the lasagna into the oven

* Arrived 15 minutes late to knitting, and proceeded to spend the entire class prepping dinner, LOL. Though I completed 2 knitting projects last week, so I was between projects anyway!

* Drove over to fetch the lasagna, which I was none too convinced was done

* Had a quick (but tasty, if I do say so myself) dinner between would-be knitting and the time we'd set aside to prepare this community project for which we'd fetched gift cards (mini stockings we'll be giving to every resident of a local senior's apartment building)

* Spent an hour and a half with a great and dedicated team of church friends and homeschool friends, putting those stockings together

* Got home 5 minutes after kids' bedtime with a headache so bad I wanted to cry/throw up, and realized my kitchen still had lasagna-making dishes covering every surface (my brilliant plan to do them later is suddenly looking quite foolish), my fridge had no room for the super-giant leftovers, and this had to be dealt with at least in part then and there

* Took 2 Aleve, put the kids to bed, and tackled the need-room-in-the-fridge problem.

* Went to sit on the bed while hubby watched hockey and whimpered over the headache. Decided some mint tea was order to settle the headache-induced nausea

* Felt the Aleve kick in in a blessed wave of relief. Finished tea. Went to sleep.

* Awoke a million times to the sound of incredibly intense wind whistling through the eaves

* Got up at 5:30 today.

My kitchen is still a mess, I still have a bit of a headache, I'll have to go and fetch the cat from the vet this morning, etc. But you know what? That's okay. It's a new day. It's frigid outside. Still dark as of when I'm writing this. But I have a new coffee pot that filled my cup with the most delicious coffee in the world (seriously), my kids are smiling, I have a giant bag full of finished stockings to give, and included in today's plan is picking up a Christmas tree.

So I shall optimistically declare, "Today's going to be a good day." And with any luck, a little less busy than yesterday was. ;-)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Word of the Week - Pet

Because my blog is sadly lacking in cat pictures, which we all know is the primary purpose of the internet...

We have two cats in our family; Lilly is without question our daughter's, and Ivy is more apt to hang out with the rest of us. She's especially fond of sitting on my stomach while I'm watching TV and getting as close to my face as I'll let her--which isn't all that close, or my eyes get pretty itchy. ;-) The other night as my husband was petting her, he said, "Okay, so, which came first? Pet the noun, or pet the verb?" (Yes, our whole family asks these kinds of questions, LOL.)

I wasn't sure, but suspected that the noun came first. Which indeed it did.

The origins of the word are a bit misty. An exact date of its first use isn't known, but it was likely in the 1400s or perhaps earlier. We do know it was used almost exclusively in Scotland and northern England until the mid 1700s. The first recorded instance that could be found, it's actually referring to an indulged child (around 1500), though etymologists suspect "tamed animal" is still the primary meaning back then.

Both actually derive from the adjective petty, which just means "small," from French petit. (It wasn't originally a disparaging word, though had taken on meanings of "of little importance" and "small-minded" by the later 1500s.)

As for the verb to pet, that's surprisingly new! Didn't come into use until about 1818 in the sense we think of most, "to stroke." From the 1620s until then, it was a verb, but it meant "to treat as a pet."

Hope everyone has a wonderful week!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . Our Voices

If this autumn has hammered anything home in the United States, it's that everyone has an opinion. Not that I didn't already know this, but seriously. I heard more opinions this election cycle than I can ever recall witnessing before. Every time we touched a toe into the waters of social media, wham! There they were. The opinions of every. Single. Person we know.

I know very well I wasn't the only one overwhelmed by it.

And it isn't over.

There are protests. Speeches given at the end of plays. Countless shows on TV and the internet dedicated to talking heads.

Everyone, in 2016, has a voice. And everyone, in 2016, has the means of making it heard.

I certainly can't sit here on my blog, having tabbed over from the books I'm writing, and say there's anything wrong with that. I have a voice. I have somehow managed to convince thousands of people to listen to me, at least for a few hours while they have my stories in their hands. And so, I've been pondering for weeks why it bothers me so much to be bombarded with other people's opinions every time I emerge into the world of communications.

Then it struck me. And it's two-fold.

America was founded on the idea of individuals having a voice, having a God-given right to it. But it was also founded on the idea of giving those people particular means of expressing it--the vote, and a free press. In centuries past, if you wanted your voice to be heard other than through whom you voted for, you had to go out and seek someone willing not only to listen to it, but to publish it for you.

Today, you need only have an account on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

In centuries past, you had the RIGHT to be heard--but you had to WORK for the PRIVILEGE of having people LISTEN.

Because it comes down to this.

This is what many people I've seen on social media seem to forget. That, yes, they can say whatever they want--but people aren't being cruel or bigoted or stupid or careless or [insert derogatory adjective here] if they don't immediately change their own view to match and applaud the speaker for their brilliance and sound reasoning and excellent point and [insert praise of their intellectual prowess here].

Because there are too many voices. It's become a cacophony. It's deafening and confusing and, worse, focused all too often on destruction rather than edifying. Most of the voices hammering their way to the forefront aren't trying to build anyone up--they're trying to tear down whoever doesn't agree with them.

By all means, America and the world, exercise your voice. It's your God-given right to have it and use it. But remember that it is not everyone else's God-given obligation to listen. We can't. And let's also keep in mind that just because an opinion is OURS doesn't mean it is RIGHT or that anyone who disagrees is STUPID. This is another all-too-familiar refrain these days, isn't it? That if you don't agree with me, you must be an idiot.

Well, I mean, sure, but... ;-)

We don't live in a humble society. But I think we could use a dose of it. We could all benefit from the reminder that we are not by default right. And more:

One of the things we have to teach our toddlers, who are just finding their voice, is that they can't always use it, right? That it's okay to jabber at us at home or in the car, but not while we're on the phone. Or while the baby's napping. Or in church. There's a correct time and place. And volume. And way to share what they're thinking, with manners and concern for those around them. It's not okay to throw down the gift someone has given them and proclaim it stupid and say they don't want it.

But that's exactly how society today behaves. We're all a bunch of toddlers throwing a tantrum on the floor, proclaiming that this is the way it is, and you need to listen now, now, now.

That famed passage in Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is

A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;

I posit that it's a truly wise person who knows the difference.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Remember When . . . the Date of Christmas Was Chosen?

I don't know how many times I've heard over the years that Constantine is the one who decided Christmas would be celebrated on December 25, because it was already a pagan holiday, and this would make it easier on his people to convert to Christianity. I pretty much believed this for years . . . until I looked it up for myself.

I had to look into this when I began my research for Giver of Wonders. There are two different major holidays celebrated by Rome, which Constantine is accused of trying to integrate into Christmas, or vice versa. One of these holidays actually wasn't even celebrated until after the days of Constantine, when the date of Christmas was definitely set. So that rules that one out.

The other is Saturnalia, which had been celebrated in Roman culture for centuries. It was a festival of lights (does sound familiar...) and one of gift-giving (also familiar). So is there truth to that accusation? Did Constantine choose that date for Christmas and then integrate our holy day into a pagan festival?


In reality, Constantine didn't do anything but legalize what was already custom. The church had been observing the birth of Christ on December 25 for many years already by the time the emperor converted, and even by the time that date was canonized by the Council.

Why December 25th then? Those who study history and the Jewish calendar are pretty sure Christ could not have been born in winter. There were shepherds in the hills, after all, which wouldn't have been the case in December. So what gives?

Well, I don't know why those in the know ignored some very sound logic when determining the date. But here's what I do know: they had a reason for selecting December 25 that had nothing to do with any pagan holidays. See, at that time in history, Dec 25 was the winter solstice (did you know the date of the solstice had moved??). That's why the pagans celebrated on that day--it's why pretty much every religion had a celebration on that day.

But Christians? Why did we?

Well, it's because the Christian scholars and priests of that era (educated, it may be worth noting, in Greek and Roman schools--there were no Christian-only schools at the time) believed that the God who created the universe created it with order and symmetry. They believed, for example (as did their Greek and Roman compatriots) that important men had a star appear to herald their birth. (So it would have been odd if the Gospels hadn't included this for Jesus!) They believed their lives and births were written in the very cosmos--which is pretty cool, really. Right?

Well they also believed that this symmetry extended to the length of their life as well, and that the best and most important men in history lived in a full number of years.

Um . . . huh?

It's weird. I know. This belief certainly didn't survive the millennia, LOL. But that's honestly what they thought. That Jesus, as the greatest man ever, would have lived a whole number of years, no random months and days added on.

So that would mean born and died on the same day, right? And we know he died on Passover--which was, as it happened, the Spring Equinox. So he must have been born on it . . . right?

Wrong. Life was not counted from the date of birth--it was counted from the supposed date of conception. So the belief was that the Holy Spirit must have conceived Jesus in Mary on the Spring Equinox (March 25). Which meant that He would have been born 9 months later.

So our quick math scrolls that calendar ahead 9 months to . . . voila! December 25.

This, my friends, is the honest-to-goodness reason why Christmas was set on December 25, way back in the 200s, well before Constantine took power and converted to Christianity.

Now, did some of the pagan traditions--candlelight and gift-giving--work their way into the day? Perhaps. Though gift-giving on Christmas wasn't actually that prevalent until centuries later. Gift-giving, in the 3rd and 4th centuries, was actually done on Dec 6--the Feast Day of St. Nicholas (yesterday!), to remember the saint who gave so generously of his wealth, and anonymously. Dec 6 was a day to give and have no one know who gave. But it was close to Christmas. And over the years, the traditions blurred together. Especially, honestly, after the Protestant Revolution, when Luther declared "No more feast days of saints!" The people weren't willing to give up their St. Nicholas Day . . . so they began saying it was the Christ Child who gave gifts on his birthday instead (Christ-kindl in German, which is where Kris Kringle came from!).

So there we have it. It may not be the actual date on which Jesus was born--probably isn't--but it was a date selected because the people doing the selecting believed that the greatest Man in history would have been conceived and died on the same day.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Announcing the Stocking Full of Wonder Giveaway

To celebrate the release of Giver of Wonders ~ and the season of giving and sacrifice and love that it celebrates through our Lord and Savior ~ I'm giving away a stocking full of special treats!

What will it contain?

Well, that's a secret. But I'll tell you that a copy of Giver of Wonders will be tucked inside, along with some treats for you ~ and some to give away.

The giveaway will run from December 2-20, 2016. Open to both US and international readers, though the stocking can only be shipped to US addresses; in the event of an international winner, she will be given a digital copy of the book and a special gift courtesy of Amazon. ;-)

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