Trying Something New

Those of you  who have been following my blog for a while are probably aware of the struggle I have had with insecurity when it comes to showing pictures of myself. I am overweight and over fifty and would never have won a beauty contest even on my best days. And when you add in the fact that I am not even the slightest bit photogenic, I’m one of those people who would be a lot more comfortable using a picture of my cat as a profile picture.

It was a huge step for me to post my first selfie here a few years ago. And other than one slightly batty piece of fruitcake with over-the-top negative reaction, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Since then, I’ve gotten more comfortable about sharing pictures of myself. I still think my smile makes me look like a serial killer in pictures, but I guess I can learn to live with that. I can color the gray hairs and layer on the makeup to hid the wrinkles, but I have yet to discover a filter that shaves off eighty pounds or gives me better cleavage.

I am, however, working on what I call the Popeye chapter of my life. It’s the chapter where I look at myself, shrug, and say “I  yam what I yam.”

Of course, the thought of yams makes me hungry for sweet potato fries, which tempts me to make a run to Red’s Drive-in in Paw Paw for a double olive burger to go with the fries. And suddenly I am reminded of just why I have to worry about the extra eighty pounds (not to mention acne at the ripe old age of fifty-one).

It’s life, guys. It is what it is. Like my mom used to say, there are better ways to go through life than to be dragged, kicking and screaming.

At any rate, I am slowly working up the nerve to do a video blog post someday. Eventually. Maybe to celebrate my 55th birthday. My older children both shook their heads and said, “no, Mother,” when I suggested it, but I rarely listen to their suggestions.

If I did listen to my daughter’s suggestions, I probably wouldn’t have worn the lavender t-shirt with the silver butterfly on the boobs that makes it look like I’m wearing a bustier. Pictures of me in that shirt should be in the back pages of Glamour magazine with a black bar across my eyes and a caption that says “Fashion DON’T.”

But I’m going to take a leap and put myself out there in a video this coming weekend. Sort of. I have decided to do a Facebook Live Q&A on Sunday, April 30, at 1 p.m. EST to help celebrate the release of my newest book. I don’t know if it will do anything for sales and I strongly doubt I’ll get enough viewers to even mildly dent the internet, but I think it will be fun.

I’ve got lots of coffee on hand for before, and lots of wine for after. If it doesn’t go well, I may hit some of the wine during.

I even did a little test run with Facebook Live last weekend to see how it works. For the record, I was wearing the lavender butterfly/bustier shirt that day, which is how I figured out how awful it is.  Check it out here.

So please stop by this coming Sunday and ask any questions you might have about my books or my blog, or even about those fabulous double olive burgers and sweet potato fries at Red’s Drive-In. Anyone who comments will be entered into a random drawing to win a free digital copy of Victoria’s Promise.

Click on the link below for more information. I hope to see you then!

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Facebook Live Q&A with A.J. Goode, April 30 2017 at 1:00 p.m. EST

Victoria’s Promise Pre-Order

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Victoria’s Promise is now available. The bad news is that it’s only available for pre-order at this time.

I really wanted to have the book ready to go by the end of March, but I don’t want to cheat anyone by pushing it out before it’s completely ready.  I learned that I had made a slight mistake about some of the history mentioned in my book, and I just wanted a couple of extra weeks to clean it up before I release it on April 30.

As a way of apologizing for keeping you all waiting, I’ve listed it at .99 cents during the pre-order and will keep it at that price for a limited time before bumping it up to its regular price of $2.99.

Thank you all for your patience. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure this book is worth the wait!

victoria

Weekend Coffee Share: God?

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d tell you that it’s been an ugly week here. On the positive side, I managed to pass my apartment inspection; on the negative side, I’ve been sort of stewing about something.

Grab yourself a fresh, hot cup, because we’re going to talk about God today and it may take a while.

About a year ago, I was approached by someone who was a friend a long, long time ago. Confronted, really. She said she sampled one of my books and was sad to see that God is not in my work. She wanted to know why I have turned away from my faith. I blogged about it at the time, and I felt pretty good about my response to her. I thought I did a good job of explaining that I haven’t turned away at all.

I spoke with her again this week. Again, she expressed sympathy for what she sees as my straying and turning away from God. She condemned me in the kindest, most condescending way possible, letting me know that she’ll pray for me to find my way back. She mourned my lost faith and told me how sad she is that I’ve become callous, that I’ve hardened my heart.

I’m not going to lie; that hurts. I feel judged.

I am a Christian. I do my best to be a good one, but I am human and therefore I am flawed. The fact that I see faith as a private and personal matter doesn’t make me any less of a Christian than those who are more vocal about it. I may not be able to quote random Bible passages at will or show up at every Sunday service like my friend, but that doesn’t mean I’m going straight to Hell.

Folks, Christianity is NOT a competition sport.

You see, God IS in my work, because He is the One who gave me this gift of storytelling. He is the One who changed my life and gave me this opportunity. I thank Him every time I pour a little bit of my heart and soul into a story.

God is in my work because God is in ME.

He is the One who gives me courage and strength on the bad days. I have leaned on Him through pain, through heartache, through everything. And you know what? He’s always there for me. He’s never shamed me for not living up to His standards. He loves me, no matter what, and He forgives me when I screw up.

My books aren’t Christian fiction, even though I like to think that my sweet historical romances are somewhat inspirational. People in my contemporary romances have sex before they are married and they swear once in a while. Some of the stuff I say in my humor collections can get pretty raunchy at times.

I’ll be the first to tell you that not everything I write is appropriate for every audience.

But my characters always find love. There is always a commitment that comes with the sex. I try to write them as basically good people who grow and become better people by the end of the book. It is my goal to inject at least a little bit of hope into everything I write.

A little bit of love.

A little bit of joy.

That’s my version of Happily Ever After, in romance novels and in real life.

If my friend insists that God is not in stories about hope, love, and joy, then one of us doesn’t understand Him at all.

Inspect THIS

I am not a good housekeeper. I’m not proud of that fact, but I’ll own it.

I’d like to be like my sisters. They both have homes that are perfect. Perfectly decorated, perfectly organized, perfectly clean and maintained. At any given moment, I could drop in for a surprise visit at either home and I wouldn’t find so much as a dirty dish in the sink.

We grew up in the same house, so I don’t get it. Mom’s idea of cleaning was to basically hide any mess during the week and then power-clean all day Saturday to catch up. She just wasn’t good at it. I swear I was in my thirties before I knew that people are actually supposed to dust the top of doors and picture frames. And the whole matter of cleaning baseboards was a revelation of epic proportions for me just a few years ago.

Still, it’s not that bad in my home. Messy, yes. Dirty, no. There’s a difference. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

No one’s ever died from the mess in my home. If they have, I’ve never found a body. Then again, I haven’t made it all the way to the bottom of the laundry pile or dirty dishes in a long time, so perhaps I should be concerned.

Come to think of it, I haven’t seen my cat in a while.

I live in a government-subsidized apartment building, which means my apartment has to be inspected once each year. That’s all well and good, but somewhere along the line I managed to get on the wrong side of someone (hard to believe, I know, what with my exemplary levels of self-control and ability to keep my mouth shut) and now I seem to be in line for an inspection about every 6-8 weeks. And unfortunately, I failed the last one.

Now, just to put this into perspective, let me tell you a little bit about my neighbors. One fellow brings a charcoal grill into his living room so he can enjoy a nice grilled burger even in the dead of winter. Some folks resort to using an indoor grill that’s actually made for such circumstances, but this hardy fellow sees no need to resort to anything so silly.

Another neighbor has nine cats. Nine. Count ’em. In a two-bedroom apartment. In a pet-free building.

Another person has a dog that no one has actually seen. We hear him barking and whimpering when she goes to work or away for the weekend. Either he goes outside to do his business in the middle of the night or she’s trained him to use a litter box like a cat. Or maybe he’s some obscure breed of dog that’s specially bred to go its entire life without pooping.

The mind reels at that possibility, doesn’t it?

At least five of the tenants at my end of the building are marijuana users. Which, even with a medical marijuana card, is not allowed in a government-subsidized building. Not judging. Just observing. And trying not to inhale.

You know, I suddenly understand why I keep waking up at four in the morning with the munchies. Too bad I also wake up too paranoid to snack.

The point I am trying to make here is that it boggles my mind to realize that I alone managed to fail an inspection when surrounded by all of this. I swear, some people are so picky about the silliest things. Just because some leftovers in my fridge have recently become self-aware, there’s no reason to get nasty and say that my refrigerator presents a “health hazard.”

I’ve named the leftovers George and Gracie and I hope they’ll be very happy together. Now I’m just hoping they don’t reproduce.

Or revolt.

Maybe George and Gracie are holding my cat hostage in there. That would explain a lot.

I guess my standards are too low when it comes to keeping my home neat. If I can find a place to sit, I’m good. If there are clean dishes to eat out of, I’m happy. Even if that means eating soup with a fork out of sippy cup.

I keep waiting for the cleaning fairy, but I think she showed up once and fainted in sheer terror, after which George and Gracie probably absorbed her and made her part of their community.

So here I am on a nice, sunny Sunday afternoon, waiting for the inspectors to show up. The dishes are washed and put away, the laundry is folded and tucked into dresser drawers, and the floor has been vacuumed. I even mopped the kitchen floor.

I didn’t even realize I owned a mop. It was quite a shock to find it at the bottom of the laundry pile.

I have a roast with potatoes and carrots in the slow cooker, and the kitchen table has been cleared and set for supper, which will probably confuse the heck out of my son. Picture frames have been dusted and windows have been washed. The top of the stove is nice and shiny. I’m pretty sure I’ll pass today’s inspection.

I just hope George and Gracie behave.

 

Enough

I don’t like Donald Trump.

I don’t like Hillary Clinton, either.

This election was the worst. I know we say that after every election, amid jokes about having to choose the lesser of two evils, but this one went to an extreme that I hope to never see again in my lifetime. I vowed not to discuss politics on social media or here on my blog, and I’ve done my best to uphold that vow.

So this isn’t about politics.

It’s about something I saw on Facebook early this morning, posted by a man I have always respected. Until now.

Let me just go back for a minute and say that I think it is ridiculous to end friendships over differing political beliefs. So what if you liked Bernie or you voted for Trump or you thought Hillary was your personal savior? Big deal. I don’t care. Different strokes for different folks and all that stuff. I may think you’re an idiot from time to time, but you’ll probably think the same of me once in a while too. Good friendships can weather the occasional bouts of idiocy.

But today, I ended a friendship over something indirectly political, and I want to explain my reasoning.

This man posted a long diatribe on Facebook about the Obamas leaving the White House, and most of his vitriol was aimed at Michelle Obama. He called her a “he/she” and a “shemale” while comparing her to an ape. He said the only way she and Barack should have been allowed in the White House at all was through the servants’ entrance as slaves back in the “good old days” before the Civil War.

This is an educated man. He used impeccable grammar and punctuation as he went on to talk about getting some class and dignity in the White House. He spoke of his hopes that the new administration will punish “faggots” and deport “terrorists” and “camel-jockeys.”

No.

I didn’t know what to say.

I don’t want to believe that people like this actually exist. I can’t even begin to comprehend that I counted this man as my friend.

Looking back over our friendship, I can remember now that he has made similar comments that I took to be jokes. Bad jokes, inappropriate and unfunny, but I excused them because I didn’t want to believe that anyone really thought those things. Felt that way.

And you know what? That makes me part of the problem.

I despise those sensitive snowflakes who take offense at every little thing and actively look for reasons to get their feelings hurt. But damn it, sometimes we have to take offense. Not because of political affiliation or because we want to be some kind of Social Justice Warriors, but because we are human beings.

I should have told my friend that his jokes were offensive and unfunny. I shouldn’t have excused him. At the very least, I should have re-evaluated our friendship. As a parent, I’ve often told my kids that “right or wrong, you are judged by the people you surround yourself with.” But I feel sick now when I realize just exactly what I have chosen to surround myself with. My silence implied approval, whether I intended it to or not.

This election has changed me. It doesn’t matter how you voted or what you believe in politically. I don’t care if you voted for Trump or Clinton because, let’s be honest, neither one was a great choice.

But if you spew hatred, you will no longer be a part of my life. Even if that hatred is part of a joke, followed by your suggestion that people need to lighten up.

Go ahead and tell me that you think about religion or sexual orientation. Talk to me about politics. Sing your praises of whichever political party you think is going to save our world. I welcome intelligent, opinionated discussion whether I agree with you or not.

But I do not welcome hate.

I don’t use the word “hate” lightly. I think it has lost its power in recent years. People whine about “haters” and make jokes about “hater-ade” and basically toss the word around until it means little more than “dislike.” But Webster’s defines it as:

intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury

Think about that. Intense hostility . . . deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.

I’m done excusing people like my former friend who is so full of hate for anyone who isn’t white, Christian, and conservative. I’m done looking the other way and staying silent when I hear unfunny jokes that try to mask hatred behind a so-called sense of humor.

Folks, this is the world we live in. Black, white. Gay, straight. Christian, Muslim.

Human.

Deal with it.

C’mon, enough is enough. It has to be.

Love wins, love always wins.– Mitch Albom

 

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Victoria’s Promise

Work is coming along nicely on Victoria’s Promise, the second book in my Brides of Serenity series. I am aiming for a Valentine’s Day release, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

Victoria’s Promise is the story of a grieving young widow who comes to Serenity to start a new life as the town rebuilds after the tragic fire that swept through the state the previous fall. She meets Will Baxter, the shopkeeper who is appalled to discover that the new schoolteacher is not at all what he was expecting.

If you’ve read Letters to Caroline, you’ll be happy to know that Caroline, Adam, and the others will be back for more adventures this time around. And if you haven’t read it yet, it’s only $2.99 on Amazon. (Hint, hint.)

Just to whet your appetite for my next book, here is a little preview of the opening chapter of Victoria’s Promise. I hope you all enjoy it!

 


“Promise, Victoria,” the man wheezed.

Victoria Dawson brushed her fingers across his warm face. “Shh, Matthew, I’m here. Everything is going to be all right. Just rest.”

Matthew turned his face toward her. His blue eyes were bright with fever, but she saw awareness in his gaze. For the moment, at least, he knew what was happening.

“Promise me,” he repeated.

“Anything,” she whispered.  “What do you need, my love?”

“Marry again . . . after. Find a man who will love you as much . . . as I did.”

“Don’t be silly, Matthew.” She laughed without a trace a humor in her voice. “You’re going to be just fine in a few days.”

“Victoria.”

“Stop it!” Victoria rose from her chair beside their bed and stalked to the window. The St. Clair River sparkled in the rising sun on what promised to be another hot, steamy day, and she ached for the touch of a cool breeze on her skin. She wondered idly if autumn was drawing near; she had lost count of how many days and weeks she had spent in this bedroom tending to her husband in his illness.

Dr. Winslow had told her that it was only a matter of days at this point. The disease that ravaged Matthew’s body was slowly taking his life, and there was nothing anyone could do to save him.

“I want you to leave Port Huron . . . start a new life away from . . . memories of me.”

She whirled and stared at him. Surely he was delirious again. No sane man would suggest that she leave the cozy little home they had made for themselves here.

But his eyes were still clear as he stared at her. “I wrote . . . letters,” he said, and began coughing.

She hurried back to his side and held him as the coughs racked his body. When the spasms finally eased, she wiped the flecks of blood from his lips and helped him take small sips of water. “Rest,” she whispered, kissing his cheek.

“I wrote letters,” he said again. “Forgive me.”

“What – what kind of letters, Matthew?”

“They need a teacher in Serenity,” he told her. “I said you’d . . . take the job. When I – when I am gone . . . sell the house and go. Start over.”

She gasped. She hadn’t taught since she married him nearly two years ago, and even then she’d been one of a handful of teachers at a big-city school. Serenity was a backwoods lumber town on the other side of the state. She wasn’t prepared to teach at under those conditions. Besides . . .

“But I want to stay and take care of you,” she protested.

“I’ll be gone soon,” her husband said. “Promise me, Victoria. . . you’ll start over in Serenity . . . you’ll marry again. Please. Give me your word.”

She opened her mouth to protest again, but stopped when she saw the haunted look in his eyes. In that moment, she realized that it was time to believe both her husband and the doctor. Matthew was not long for this world. He needed peace of mind in his final moments.

“I promise,” she said slowly, choking back tears.

He smiled and closed his eyes, drifting into a fitful sleep. Victoria stayed with him through the night, holding his hand and wiping his face with a damp cloth from time to time. And when he slipped away sometime near morning, she kissed his forehead one more time.

“I promise,” she told him again. “I promise to make a fresh start, and I promise to marry again. But I will never love anyone again, Matthew. Never.”

Real?

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There’s a picture going around on social media right now of an attractive young couple walking together on a city sidewalk. The man is dressed in long pants, t-shirt, and warm jacket. The woman wears stilettos and a sleeveless, lightweight dress with a high slit up one thigh. She is obviously cold and miserable, but he seems happy and comfortable.

The caption says “Any real man will spot the problem in this picture.”

Okay. I’m not a man, but I like to think I’m somewhat real. On good days, anyway. I looked at the picture and saw the problem right away: The woman is an idiot who has no idea how to dress appropriately for the weather.

As I read the comments below the picture, however, I realized that this was not the answer they were looking for. Almost every person answered that the man should have given his coat to the woman.

Folks, I think I just figured out why I’m still single.

As several people suggested, we don’t know what took place before the picture was snapped. Perhaps she forgot her coat. Perhaps the weather changed after she left the house. If we’re looking at real-life possibilities, it’s also possible that the man told her they were going out somewhere nice for dinner but his idea of “nice” turned out to be hot dogs and beer at a hockey game. We don’t know.

What I do know is that my sisters and I were raised by a single mom and our father’s four unmarried sisters. There were few men in our lives, “real” or not. If we dressed stupidly, there were no men around to gallantly offer us their coats. We shivered, complained a lot, and remembered to wear a coat the next time out.

Well, that’s what my sisters did. My learning curve has always been more of a straight line, so I don’t have a great track record or learning from my mistakes.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand why any man, “real” or not, should be expected to freeze his biscuits because he had to give his coat to a woman who was just too stupid to wear one of her own. Sure, a true gentleman might offer her his coat, but I don’t believe he should be required to do so simply because of his gender.

I guess I’m just too logical on things like this. I was married for almost eighteen years, and my ex-husband is still a really good guy. So let’s say, just for snicks, that it was him and me walking down the street in that picture. First, he would have been laughing at me for trying to stumble along in stilettos, so let’s not even discuss the shoes.

But if I were all hunched over and shivering like that, I like to think he’s the kind of guy who would offer me his coat. He’d make fun of me first, but he’d offer. And you know what? I’d say no.  Not out of pride or stubbornness, but because I cared about him enough to not want to see him suffer. I wouldn’t want to be nice and warm and toasty while someone I love is cold and miserable.

Good heavens, I think I just realized I might be a man.

I like it when a man treats me like a lady. I like it when he opens a door for me or pulls out my chair for me. I love it when he offers to carry my bags for me if they are too heavy. And yes, I’d be thrilled if he offered me his coat on a cold and blustery day when I was too dumb to wear my own jacket.

But I don’t expect a man to do any of those things. It’s not any man’s job or responsibility to do so.

I don’t think that makes me a  militant feminist or whatever. I think it makes me a grown-up.

I have two sons and a daughter. I have tried to teach my sons to treat women with respect as equals, not as fragile little flowers. I hope my boys would both offer their coat or open the door or hold out the chair, but not because they think a woman can’t do any of those things for herself. I hope they do it because they are kind young men who treat all other human beings with respect and dignity.

Of course, these are the same boys who laugh at their own farts, so I have my concerns.

My daughter, on the other hand, has been taught to do all those things for herself as well as for anyone whomight need help, male or female. If a man offers her his coat or opens the door, she’s been taught to say “thank you” rather than simply accept it as her due simply because of her gender.

She, of course, laughs at her own belches, so I have some concerns there as well.

So if you see me walking down the street some winter day in a sleeveless, lightweight dress and I look cold and miserable, please don’t assume that some cad didn’t give me his coat. Assume that I’m a dummy who forgot to watch the weather report.

And then, if you feel like it, go ahead and offer me your coat. I’ll probably say no.

Unless it’s my size and dark purple. I’ve always wanted a purple coat.

 

Cat’s Crazy

I think my daughter has begun to worry about my sanity.

That’s really not anything new, to be perfectly honest. Most people who have known me for more than thirty minutes generally have a few questions about my state of mental health. It might be my habit of blurting out random words that have nothing to do with the words that I think I’m saying. Or perhaps it’s the way I make obscure jokes and references to 1970’s British television programs and then laugh alone at what I just said.

My habit of trying to say multiple sentences at the same time probably doesn’t do much to allay their concerns, either.

At any rate, the moment that really tipped the scale in my daughter’s mind took place yesterday during a shopping trip to the Bent-n-Dent, which is run by our local Amish Community. She commented on the multiple cans of cheap New England clam chowder I was stacking in our cart.

“My cat likes it,” I explained.

“You’re buying soup for your cat?”

“I like it too. We share it for supper sometimes.”

“Mother. No.”

“What, do you think I should buy him his own can?”

Let me explain. In the past three years, I left my husband and watched my two oldest children go away to college. My youngest child spends every other week at his father’s house, which means that I spend every other week alone. Completely alone. I went from being part of a family of five to living alone, and as a result I recently got permission to have a cat as an Emotional Support Animal.

My cat, however, needs more support than he gives. His name is Mr. Twinkletoes (named by my son), but I call him Nimrod. And he doesn’t like me.

I bought him a scratching post and a bunch of little toys, but to no avail. I bribe him with canned cat food and bags of little kitty treats. I clean his litter box multiple times each day. I’m telling you, this creature is more high maintenance than all three of my children combined. And still, he will not allow me to pet him.

He likes to steal my desk chair. He won’t sit on my lap, but he’ll climb the back of my chair and wriggle his way in between the chair back and my butt, where he promptly goes to sleep after giving me a few well-placed puncture wounds on one cheek or the other.

The only time Nimrod seems to like me at all is on those nights when I open a can of New England clam chowder for supper when I’m home alone. Then he goes into a frenzied routine of twining himself around my ankles and crying until he eventually falls over and just lays there, twitching. I think he may be part possum, actually, because he then plays dead for a while, and the only way to “revive” him is to scoop a little bit of my soup into a dish for him.

Do you know what’s more pathetic than a middle-aged divorcee eating canned soup alone for supper?  That middle-aged divorcee sharing her canned soup with a cat. And then telling people about it.

I think Nimrod starting to warm up to me, though. When he thinks I’m asleep, he jumps up on my bed and curls up to sleep near my feet. If I happen to reach down and pet him, he hisses and snarls before drawing blood from at least one of my extremities and then hides himself away in the closet, probably to poop in my shoes.

He also likes to climb in between the shower curtain and the clear plastic liner while I’m taking my shower. I wouldn’t mind it so much if he didn’t insist turning his unblinking gaze upon my body and yowling throughout the entire process.

I really can’t help but take that a little bit personally.

Nimrod has a Christmas stocking because my son insisted on it. I bought some catnip and a little stuffed mousie with a bell in its belly, as well as his very own can of clam chowder. But I’m not putting the chowder in his stocking because I may be crazy but I’m not that crazy.

Merry Christmas from me and Mr. Twinkletoes!

crazycat

 

Happy Holidays

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d start out by wishing you Happy Holidays. There might be an awkward moment after that while I try to figure out if that was a mistake; after all, you might not celebrate Christmas and it might have been a safer bet to greet you with something about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Solstice.

Maybe I should have just said “Here, take your coffee.”

You know, I think we just make things too hard for ourselves this time of year. There’s no need to take a stand or defend your beliefs or even worry about political correctness. Fighting over whether it’s okay to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is just pointless because, you see, I’ve got it all figured out.

That’s right, folks, I know exactly what we need to do to get along this holiday season.

We just need to be nice.

Look, I know all about “The Reason for The Season.” I’m a Christian, and I celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. I put the star on my tree and I listen to countless versions of Mark Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know” and I get chills at the reminders that my Savior was born in a quiet stable on that Holy Night. I believe. I believe in all of it. I draw strength from that belief throughout the year.

But I also have fun with Christmas and all of the traditions that come along with it that have nothing to do with religion. Decorating the tree with ornaments that have been in my family for years. Plucking my cat out of said tree when he tries to play with those ornaments. I love hiding that stupid Elf on the Shelf and telling lies about having Santa Claus on speed dial, and I adore all the giggling and sneaking around to find just the right gift for the people I love.

I also love it when the school band plays “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” at their Christmas concert. I think the Menorah in my neighbor’s window is just lovely.

I look forward to being invited to my friend’s annual Solstice Bonfire every year.

I say “Happy Holidays” not because I’m trying to be politically correct or because my Christian beliefs are being suppressed in any way. I say it because the traditions surrounding this time of year are fun and beautiful regardless of how you celebrate. I say it out of a genuine desire to wish you happy holidays, period.

When I was in high school, I was confirmed into the Presbyterian Church after several weeks’ worth of confirmation classes. There were perhaps a half-dozen of us who attended class every week before church on Sundays, and most of us were pretty grumpy about having to get up that early.

As part of our confirmation class, our pastor required us to attend church services for different denominations and beliefs before we were allowed to officially join our Presbyterian church. We went to Catholic Mass and a Baptist service; we visited a Synagogue where the boys in our group were instructed to don yarmulkes as a sign of respect.

What’s my point here? We were welcomed into all those houses of worship even though we didn’t technically belong. And we behaved with respect and courtesy during our visits. Our beliefs, our traditions, were not challenged or diminished in any way by opening ourselves up to beliefs and traditions that were different from ours.

It’s been more than thirty years since I was confirmed into my Presbyterian Church back in Portage, Michigan. I can’t speak for the others in my class, but I’m still a Christian. I probably lean a bit more toward a non-denominational type of Christianity at this point, but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned back then.

A little kindness goes a long way. A little understanding goes even further. And a little respect can mean the world.

So wish me a Merry Christmas. Tell me to have a Happy Hanukkah or a Joyous Solstice. Say what’s in your heart and mean it when you say it, and everything else will take care of itself. I promise not to be offended because we worship in different ways.

Because when I say “Happy Holidays” to you, I am not being politically correct or having my Christian beliefs suppressed in any way. I am saying, “However you celebrate, whatever you celebrate, I wish for you to feel all the joy and love and peace that you can possibly feel all through the year. May you be surrounded by those you love; may your heart be full of happiness.”

Happy holidays, y’all.

 

Of Quests and Walmart

Not too long ago, in the midst of an online discussion among writers, someone asked the question: “How do you define success as a writer?”

People came up with all kinds of wonderfully artsy-fartsy answers that ranged from heartfelt (“when I get my first nice review from a complete stranger”) to the practical (“when I can pay my rent on what I earn from writing”) to the downright silly (“When I can buy my own jet”).

My answer? “When I can see one of my books on the shelf at Walmart.”

Yeah, they gave me a hard time about that. What can I say? I live in the middle of nowhere, and WalMart is about the only place around to buy books. We may be rednecks and hillbillies out here, but some of us are well read rednecks and hillbillies, and there just aren’t a lot of places around here to shop.

For anything.

Well, we have a Mr. Grocery and a Pick-A-Liquor nearby, but I strongly doubt I’m going to find any good reading material at either of those.

A great bottle of cheap wine, yes. The newest treasure from Shanna Hatfield? Not so much.

So now that I have a story appearing in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles®, I am on a quest.  It is my new goal in life to take a selfie standing in front of the bookshelves at the local Walmart with my edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul on the shelf beside me. Doesn’t seem like that should be such a difficult task, now does it?

But my local Walmart doesn’t have it.

Neither does the Walmart in Paw Paw. Or the Walmart on 9th Street in Kalamazoo. I’ve even expanded my quest a bit to the local Meijer’s, but no luck.  They all carry Chicken Soup for the Soul in all kinds of varieties, but none of my edition.

Think about it for a moment. What could possibly be more ridiculous than having a major quest in life that involves Walmart?

Not being able to fulfill that quest at Walmart.

I can see it now. I have a long future ahead of me as some sort of crazed creeper in book departments of Walmarts of the world. I’ll devote my days to searching out a copy of my edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul so I can take a selfie with it. By the time it finally happens (and it will happen eventually), I’ll be a gray-haired old crazy woman who runs around Walmart with my cell phone in hand, murmuring to myself about selfies and chicken soup.

Of course, since it’s Walmart, no one will notice.

On second thought, it might just be easier to find a different way of defining success for myself.

Then again, I’ve never been one to do anything the easy way.