Hot Cocoa Recipe!

When I was in high school, our youth group was one of the best social outlets for me in that small town. We met every week, of course, but that was where friendships were formed – relationships that are still strong today.

Several couples co-lead the group with Mom and Dad through the years. Belva and Mel Hollingsworth were the first to jump on board and they embraced us kids with so much love.

Belva also gave us this hot cocoa recipe – unbelievably simple, but it tastes so great that a five-quart bucket of this was always open whenever the group met. Christmas caroling? Hot cocoa. New Year’s Eve party? Hot cocoa. Three people just getting together to meet at the church? Hot cocoa.

I’m going to post her original recipe quantities. You can tell it was made to share. Fill jars for friends and family and make up a pretty recipe card to hang off the side. Polly’s big family will go through this in a single winter, don’t you think? It keeps really well in a sealed container.

Belva’s Hot Chocolate Mix

8 qt. box dry milk
6 oz. dry creamer
1 lb. box Nestles Quik
2 C. powdered sugar

To make one cup of hot cocoa, add 1/4 C. mix to 3/4 C. hot water. Stir and enjoy.

Bellingwood Vignette Book 20, #3

I love Bec Schrieber’s sketches of my kitties! It’s going to be cold here soon and my babies love nothing more than snuggling up close to me. Life is pretty perfect!

We’re getting so close to the release of Book 20 – Love’s Surprises. Things are right on schedule for December 25th. And don’t forget, there will be a Christmas short story released on January 1st, too!

It’s strange to be caught up in the wondrous craziness that is the Christmas season when the book that I’ve been focusing on is set at the end of October / early November. But I can push through – especially when I get to also play with Polly and her friends at Christmastime.

This little vignette is the first anniversary of Rachel and Billy Endicott. They were married on Halloween last year. Billy works with Doug Randall as an electrician and Rachel is taking over more and more responsibilities with Sycamore House Catering with Sylvie working in the bakery at Sweet Beans.

These two kids are so young, but they have so much ahead of them.

Happy Anniversary

Rachel woke up to a cold wet nose nudging her cheek.

“Nudge her again,” she heard Billy whisper.

“What time is it?”

The dog pushed at her again and Rachel opened one eye to peer at him. He was sitting on the floor beside her, his head on her pillow.

“What are you doing, you goofy dog?”

Big Jack put his paw up beside his face and she realized that he had something tied around his neck.

“What is this?”

“Untie it,” Billy whispered.

Rachel pushed the blankets back and pulled herself upright, then looked around the room. Billy had brought in several lit candles and stood in the doorway holding another candle.

He smiled at her. “Happy Anniversary. Untie the note.”

“Happy Anniversary,” she said and reached around Big Jack’s neck until she found the bow, then untied it. “Good boy.” Rachel patted his head and he wagged his tail.

“Come here, boy,” Billy said, and bent down to give the dog a treat. “We’ve been practicing this all month.”

“Practicing?”

“Yeah. I knew he was smart enough to do what I asked. We just had to figure out how to get him to wake you up. Whenever we were here alone, I had him push at your pillow. I wasn’t sure if he’d actually nose your face. I guess he thinks you smell good, too.”

“What is this?” she asked, holding up the envelope. Billy had sealed the back of the envelope over a long ribbon which he’d then tied around Big Jack’s neck. “That was kind of clever.”

“It’s our first anniversary. Mom said it’s supposed to be paper. I didn’t know what kind of paper thing you’d want, so I wrote you a letter.”

That got Rachel’s attention. “You wrote me a letter?”

“Yeah. It’s nothing. No big deal. It’s on paper, though.” He’d come over to stand beside her and put the candle on the bedstand.

“You wrote me a letter?” she asked again, rather surprised. Of all the things she expected Billy to do on their anniversary, a handwritten letter to her was the last that would have come up. Rachel began to carefully unseal the letter. She didn’t want to mess this up.

Billy reached out and took the letter out of her hand. “It was a dumb idea, wasn’t it. I should have spent more time thinking of a better present. I’m sorry.”

“No, this is amazing.” Rachel snatched the letter back and unfolded it. “I’m just surprised. She patted the bed beside her. When Billy sat down, she leaned into him, then looked up. With a quick move, she kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”

“You haven’t even read it yet. I made coffee and bought some of your favorite cinnamon rolls from the bakery yesterday. You read and I’ll bring those in for you. It’s okay if we have breakfast in bed, today, isn’t it?”

“Oh Billy.” Rachel couldn’t believe she was about to cry. He never did things like this.

“Do you want some coffee and a roll?” he asked, standing up. He rubbed Big Jack’s head again and pulled another treat out of a pocket in his pants for the dog.

She nodded and leaned toward the candle so she could read the letter.

“Dear Rachel,

Can you believe it’s been a whole year since we got married? I can’t. I can’t believe you ever agreed to marry me. You are the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. I always thought that I’d end up as some old man, living alone. You know, like one of those guys who everybody feels sorry for? But I won’t ever be that old guy because you said yes a year ago.

I was so nervous that day. You made it as easy as it could be and didn’t have a lot of weird expectations that I had to live up to. You just let me be who I am. When I saw you that day, instead of getting more nervous, I felt myself calm down. That’s what you do for me. Whenever I worry about something, all I have to do is look at you and I settle down because I know that I’m never alone.

I know I’m probably not the best husband. We don’t like the same movies or read the same books and I know I drive you crazy because I still like to hang out with Doug and play video games, but I am so glad that you put up with all of that and I am glad that you always tell me I can be better and do big things. I don’t know what those will ever be, but I’m glad that you’re on my side.

Just so you know, I will always be on your side, too. I’ve never really said it, but I’m proud of you. I know how much you love your job and it’s way cool to see you so excited about going to work every day, even when the hours are crazy and clients are mean.

Our life is just starting. I never thought that I’d be lucky enough to have such a wonderful person standing beside me.

I love you, Rachel Endicott. This has been the best year of my life and it’s all because of you.

Your husband,
Billy”

“Is it okay?” he asked, standing in the doorway again, this time carrying a tray with mugs and plates on it.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I love you, too. I can’t believe you wrote all of this down. I want to frame it.”

The look of shock that passed across his face made her laugh. “No,” he said. “You can’t do that. I don’t want anyone else to ever read that letter. You can burn it.” He put the tray on a desk in their room, then held his hand out. “Give it to me and I’ll burn it.”

Rachel clutched the letter to her chest. “You’ll do no such thing. This is the sweetest thing I’ve ever gotten in my life. I’m keeping it forever. When we have kids and they think you’re an old fuddy duddy because you won’t play video games with them, I’ll show them this letter and tell them what a cool guy you used to be.”

“They won’t believe it.” He held out a mug of coffee. “Are we talking about having babies now?”

This time it was Rachel’s turn to look at him in shock. “Right now? No! I’m just getting started with the catering business. I don’t have time for that. Besides, we’re really young. Aren’t we? Are you ready for babies? We’ve never really talked about this.”

“I’m not ready. You’re the one who brought it up.”

She shook her head furiously. “I was just talking about someday in the far future when we had kids. Remember? I said you would be an old fuddy duddy. That means you’d have to be in your forties or something.”

Billy breathed a sigh of relief. “I think it would be awesome to have kids with you, but yeah, we’re still young.” He held out the mug to her again.

“Maybe we should get a cat.” Rachel sat up and took it from him. It was still too hot to drink, so she put it beside the candle.

“I don’t know if Big Jack would like having a cat around,” Billy said. “He’s kinda possessive.”

“He did great with Obiwan and when Doug got a dog, he was great then, too.”

“But those were dogs. Why do you want a cat?”

“Just because. Can we?”

“I don’t know, boy,” Billy said, rubbing Big Jack’s head. “What do you think about having a feline around here?” He looked up. “He’s pretty set in his ways.”

Rachel smiled at him. “I think you’re the one who’s set in his ways.” She picked up the letter again. “Except for this. You really outdid yourself with this present.”

“It was really okay? You didn’t have something else in mind that I should have done for you?”

“Not at all. This is really the sweetest thing. I love it. And you brought me breakfast and you’re sitting here talking to me.” Rachel scooted over in the bed. “I’m so lucky to have you. Come snuggle with me for a few minutes before you have to get in the shower.”

He looked at the coffee and rolls on the desk, then moved over to the bed and lifted the blankets to crawl in with her. “You aren’t going to make me late, are you?”

“Who knows?”

 

Christmas Card Postcards

Have I told you how much I love Bec Schreiber and the way she draws my cats? My nammynools are so much fun and she ‘gets’ them. This is as close as any of them will get to a Christmas tree. That’s Grey climbing up the side of it. She would hardly be able to contain herself.

This year’s Christmas card has been drawn and delivered. I love it.

Would you like to receive a physical postcard from me this holiday season? I would love to send one to you.

Even if you don’t live in the US, this is absolutely one of those things that I can send out to you, though I will only hope that the international postal systems will get them delivered before Christmas.

Send your mailing address to me using the Contact Form on the website or to nammynools (@) gmail (dot) com. Please do NOT send a message through Facebook.

Please let me know by December 15th. However, if you see this after that date, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll have plenty.

By the way, if you’d like to send me a card, I’d love to hear from you! You can mail them to me at PO Box 441, Stratford, IA 50249.

Five Years of Writing About Polly

Things got a little chilly in here one evening. Blankets were everywhere! Grey wonders why I never leave them alone.

As I wrote the final chapter in Book 20 last night (yeah – I thought I’d just lead with that – voila! I’m right on target), I flashed back to November, 2012. I was eight months from finishing my Master’s Degree and had spent the previous four months trying to figure out what was. I had given myself some runway. The last thing I wanted to do was go to work for someone else, especially after twenty years of owning my own business.

There were options in front of me and I was considering all of them, but self-publishing was quite tantalizing. I read book after book about this wonderful new way to get your stories published without fighting with big publishers and facing rejection letters in the mail on a regular basis. I read and absorbed everything from why I should write and self-publish to the actual nitty gritty processes of doing the work.

That all began for me in June of 2012. While I was in the middle of writing more papers for my coursework than I’d ever written in my life, I hashed out a story line that grew more and more interesting to me.

Polly showed up in a very different story setting than we know now that June. She was twenty-one years old, her last name was Mason and she’d just moved out of her parents home to a new apartment about four hours from them. Her parents were both still alive and four sisters and brothers still lived at home.

On November 2nd, I recognized that time was running out and I had to either start doing something or give up my dream. A friend pressed me to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which happens during the month of November. I didn’t want to, knowing that so many other things would demand my writing time, but I had to begin somewhere.

I wrote my first chapter that night and Polly came alive for me. On November 28th, I wrote the last chapter of “All Roads Lead Home.” I was exhilarated. For the first time, I’d started and finished something that came from my heart.

Then I wrote the first Christmas short story. This was really happening.

In January of 2013, I hit the button to publish All Roads Lead Home and it was suddenly live on Amazon. I panicked. What had I done? I still can’t believe I took that leap, but thank goodness I did.

During these last five years, I’ve had ups and downs and worried myself sick over every single aspect of the publishing process. I’ve met incredible people and poured more of myself out on paper than i could have ever expected. The only thing I wish I would have done differently was to have started much earlier. I can’t believe the fun I’m having.

~~~

While I was looking back through Evernote (which holds all of my notes, thoughts, stories – everything), I came across these two little bits.

The first I sketched out on November 2, 2012 – just before I wrote Chapter 1:

Now, the mystery is cool stuff. Polly is my main character. She has left New York City to come back to rural life. Everyone thinks she’s nuts, but she’s just done with the craziness. She’s meeting great people and it’s not her fault there’s a damned dead body that washed up on her land from the river. But, it brings a lot of activity and she’s just that snoopy. Since she’s new, no one really knows her, but now when she goes into town, people recognize her and just start talking to her. It’s freaking her out because, living in NYC, she was always keeping to herself, never making eye contact. No one just talked to her. Now, she has to know people and talk to them and answer questions … and crap, the guy who died was a local veterinarian that everyone knew because he was always in their barns and taking care of the animals.

His wife is a terrible bitch. They have three kids and those kids are tied up in knots because the old hag has run them around all their lives. The two oldest boys have long since left home, but the youngest went to college at a local university and has come back to help his dad with the practice. The bitch has decided that she now hates Polly, simply because of the circumstances, so she is making up stories about Polly and spreading rumors.

Polly – cozy mystery

It will be a ‘cozy’ mystery. Polly opened a cute little shop in the small town, selling crafting and knitting materials as well as having a little bookstore / library and a wifi coffeeshop. Kind of a one stop place for the women. She only sells coffee and some baked goods, but it’s enough for people to come in and settle in to unwind. She sells a few books and some supplies every once in a while and she is doing some writing, too.

~~~

The second I wrote on November 3, 2012 – just after finishing Chapter 1. My mind was working through the entire story. You can see some of my original character development. And then? Then they took off and decided to tell the story by themselves. They didn’t need me any longer.

Polly – some thoughts

Quite some time ago, I had an idea about a story set here in Iowa. It was pretty undeveloped, until last night – or maybe Thursday night late when I started thinking about the story again. Yah. Because last night I emailed a little bit of what I had in my head to Rebecca and then it began exploding. I drove past the school house in Luther and realized that would make a great location for the story. I really need to think about the town’s name. I don’t want it to be Stratford, but I want it to be a lot like Stratford. I don’t want it to be Luther, because there really isn’t anything going on there. I do want it to be in this neck of the woods because I want to have access to all of the larger communities … ok, probably some of the smaller communities as well. I know these roads and I know the towns and I know what Iowa people are like. How can I possibly go wrong?

I’ve been in enough little town schools, I think I can pull off the redecorating. And yes, I believe that it will be a school rather than a re-claimed church. I just can’t make that happen in my head.

The school will be far out on the edge of town, almost in the country. Because of this, there will be a lot of land around it. Polly will buy up a bunch of the unusable land. She’s going to put a barn out there and probably have some livestock of some sort. Goats, maybe. A couple of sheep. Maybe not. Maybe horses. Alice can help me with that … and so can other friends that I have.

The first death of the series will actually happen in her unfinished house. I think she’s going to have to get a dog. It will either be a Great Dane or a German Shepherd mix. Maybe a lab / shepherd mix. That would be awesome. The dog will come home with her from the shelter and when they get there, it will be on a Saturday. She’ll walk in and find the body hanging in one of the downstairs rooms. Oh yeah … that’s going to go over really well in the town when she tries to promote it. It will be not only the murder house, but the murder room.

I’m going to have to think about what Polly will do with that room. She’s going to take advantage of it, that’s for sure. I think it might be the little cafe. Yeah. People are going to have to eat there.

Of course, there will be a kitten that shows up. No, I think the dog will bring it home some night in its mouth. Mewling little thing, all in a mess with fleas and stuff. A lot like TB. We’ll slowly but surely build up animals around Polly. She had lots of pets when she was growing up on the farm, but they were always outside pets.

She’s going to need a fence around the property and then a fence for a pasture for her animals. She might have to hire a farmhand type of guy. A young kid – maybe one of the kids of the girls. He’ll do the chores and take care of the outside of her school, mowing and moving the animals between the pastures, etc.

She’ll meet the veterinarian once – when she takes the kitten in to get all of its shots, etc. He’s the one who will be dead in her house.

I’ve barely touched on Sylvie. We’re going to save her story for another book. Her husband just took off one day and left her with two kids. That happened about eight years ago. Her kids are now twelve and fifteen. She’s only forty years old, but the stress makes her look older.

Speaking of … I think that I’m going to make Polly be 31 years old. I’m going to have to think about former boyfriends. Maybe there was an engagement that broke up and that’s why she left Boston. He’s going to probably show up at some point, trying to find her, especially now that she has money. Lydia will absolutely hate him. And, by the way, so will the dogs. He’ll move into her house just as things are getting crazy, telling her how much he loves her and wants her to come back to Boston … toss everything out that is here.

He’s a dentist.

That will be part of the plot, her questioning her decision to be in Iowa. Maybe she made it too quickly and it was a bad decision. She said she had enough money to recover from a mistake and maybe she will be able to find someone to buy the schoolhouse for less than she bought it for and invested in it, so that she can go back to Boston where she belongs.

~~~

Thank you!

You can see how things changed and transformed as the story spun itself out. That is the great joy of being creative for me – allowing what I think should happen to be molded and re-formed into a story that wants to be told.

Thank you for being part of this crazy life I lead. I’m thankful that you have given me so much along the way, making it easy to keep telling my stories.

Five years has passed more quickly than I ever expected and it’s only the beginning. I’m just getting started and so is Polly. Who knows where it’s heading next!

~~~

Publication Dates

Book 20 will publish on Christmas Day, December 25th. The Christmas short story will publish on January 1st, 2018.

Now I just need titles and cover art, but that comes together when I focus.

~~~

Christmas cards

I’m getting artwork together for my Nammynools Christmas card. Bec Schreiber has been at it again – showing off my cats in all their glory. After Thanksgiving, I will ask you to send me your mailing address if you’re interested in receiving one of these. Not yet, but soon! I can’t wait.

~~~

Creativity Friday

This Friday, November 17th is Creativity Friday! Watch for a post on the Facebook Bellingwood page. It will be a fun day of celebrating what we’re grateful for together. We’ll do one more in December

Me Too

Being posted on social media right now

Me too.
.………
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

Copy/paste.

I’ve been uncomfortable since I posted “Me Too” on my Facebook page. Really uncomfortable.

There are many reasons for my discomfort.
– This is something I don’t talk about
– This is not how I want to be identified
– I’m not looking for pity
– I don’t want people wondering ‘who’ did ‘what’
– I don’t want any attention for this

It took several days of seeing the “Me Too” Posts before I chose to respond. Then I nearly took it down.

But this is a big deal. If the fact that I need to face my discomfort for a day or two helps expose how immense this problem is, I can do that. Because right now … right this minute … today … tomorrow … there are too many women whose “Me Too” is spoken silently while they live in abuse and pain. There are also too many others who aren’t able to post for reasons too numerous to list.

Comments I’ve seen on other posts break my heart. “Mine wasn’t that big of a deal, I don’t want to draw attention to something that isn’t as bad as what others have dealt with.” Oh yes it was. If you still remember it, it’s a big deal to you. No one should ever take advantage of you.

There is so much more I could … maybe should … say about harassment and assault, but for now, this is enough.

~~~

Last night Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, posted this and it’s the right thing. (Jenny writes hilariously funny and deeply honest books as well as a hilariously funny and deeply honest blog. She’s got more courage than I can even describe. Follow her Facebook page or her blog site.)

My timeline is full of men and women proclaiming “me too” regarding being the target of sexual harassment and assault.

If you are one of those and are speaking out I am proud of you.

If you are one of those but don’t want to share your story publicly I am proud of you for setting boundaries that are safe for you.

If you are surprised by how widespread it all is and take this opportunity to examine how you can help I am proud of you.

If you are having hard talks with your children about this to ensure they are less likely to become victims or victimizers I am proud of you.

If all of this is too much and you decide to leave social media until it’s a safer place for you I am proud of you for taking care of yourself.

No matter your story, and no matter how or whether you share it, you are far from alone.

~~~

You are not alone. I am not alone. We are all in this together, no matter our stories.

Thank You

TB is posing for me. This picture was taken two years ago – just before the kittens came into our lives. He had no idea what was about to happen to him. (Neither did I.)

This has been a terrific week.

Now, to be honest, most weeks are pretty awesome, but the week after I publish a new book is filled with generous words from you and it fills my heart.

One difficult thing for me, though, is responding in kind to your outpouring of love. ‘Thank you’ never seems to be enough when you tell me how my books have affected you in such personal ways. And yet … those are the times when you bring this mouthy girl to silence. I absorb it all and find that all I have are those two imperfectly perfect words – thank you.

I was very young when my mother spoke with me about this type of experience. As the daughter of a United Methodist minister who also played the piano and sang, I spent a lot of time performing in front of people. My sister and I sang together from an early age. People always stopped us to tell us how wonderful we sounded. As little girls, learning how to take compliments gracefully and gratefully was something that needed to be learned. It wasn’t innate. One Sunday, after I’d evidently not been gracious enough, Mom sat with me and discussed the relationship that was built between a performer and her audience. For those few minutes, that person connected with me. If they wanted to acknowledge how it made them feel, I needed to put myself in their place and ask what my expectation might be. I needed to change my perspective. The performance wasn’t about me – it was about them.

That discussion changed everything for me.

Writing and publishing these books is my job. This life is my passion and I am privileged in ways I can not describe that I can do this. I work hard and live through frustrations, fear, rejection … oh, and fear. LOL. The thing is – the end result isn’t about the published books. It’s about you. For the first time in my life, I’ve been able to be creative and establish relationships that last longer than the creative moment.

The snippets of life you share with me along the way are treasures that I hold close. I will often screw up and forget that you’ve already told me something or that your name is Donna, not Marie, or that you’ve given me your address three times already. Trust me, as soon as it happens, I feel horrible. I’m so danged human – it frustrates me more than you know. A little bit of superhero stuff would be helpful some days. But you mean the world to me.

So as I continue to do my job and you continue to respond, hopefully we will all recognize what an amazing relationship is being built here.

Sometimes all I can say is ‘thank you.’ My heart is so filled with wonder at your generosity it overwhelms my mind and I have no other words.

Thank you.

A Teacher’s Impact

Earl and TB snuggle because Earl wants to. TB only complains when he runs out of room.

For the last two days, you all have been commenting with stories of teachers who made an impact on your lives. (Facebook post on the Bellingwood page found here). What an extraordinary thing it has been to read through those stories. I found myself with tears in my eyes as I read stories of kindness, love, and generosity.

While a few of you were impacted negatively by a teacher, the overwhelming majority of you focused on those teachers who had touched your life in beautiful and wondrous ways. Two things leaped out at me.

The first was that the teachers who impacted you the most were those who made you (me, us) feel special, unique, and loved.

The second was that overwhelmingly, the one thing teachers gave to you that you’ve never forgotten was a love of reading. There were many other things teachers taught to you that you’ve carried throughout your lives, but reading and a love of the written word was predominant.

My sister is a fifth grade teacher, a job that she loves, no matter how difficult it gets. She read through the comments and told me that she came away inspired to do even better with the kids that she has in her classroom.

I was one of those kids who moved several times when I was in school and there was always a teacher there who was ready to lift me out of obscurity and allow me to shine. Mrs. Hill, my elementary music teacher, was the one whose caring still resounds within me. I was bullied by the cool kids because I was new, I was the preacher’s kid (horrors) and I was a nice girl who was fairly intelligent. But Mrs. Hill sat me at the piano when she needed to walk around the classroom and made me feel special when she asked me to play things that she wanted the class to hear. Other teachers allowed me to help slow readers when I finished my work early.

Until I read through your comments yesterday, it had never occurred to me that those teachers probably made the other children feel just as special and important, giving them different tasks suited to their own talents. Of course they did. That’s what made them such great teachers.

Teachers today are required to focus on content standards which takes up a huge amount of class time, leaving very little time to do extra things – like reading to the kids or teaching them how to knit or allowing them to explore their own curiosities. We don’t have a perfect system by any means, but our teachers still care for the children as those who cared for us did. They will go to great lengths to ensure that the kids have what they need to learn, whether it’s a pencil or a hug.

I do the silliest things for Carol’s classroom. On March 14th, they get Whoopie Pies to celebrate Pi Day. On May 4th, they get Star Wars bookmarks to celebrate May the Fourth Be With You. She’s reading “Wrinkle in Time” to them this year. I am going to do my best to find a way to celebrate that and I figure that once the movie comes out, there will be fun and inexpensive things to access. When I read about a fun book that has just come out for kids, I ask Carol if she could use it in her classroom – or even if it is something that would be fun to put in the school library. At the beginning of each year, I sew up little treat bags that she and I fill with pencils, fun erasers, a bit of candy, and other silly things for each kid. You all are creative – you have your own great ideas.

I can’t encourage you enough to care for the teachers who work in the schools around you. Honor the memory of that teacher who gave you so much by paying it forward to these teachers who hold our future in their hands. When they go home exhausted after a day of dealing with kids who face emotional, mental and physical challenges, imagine how different they would feel knowing there are people out there who support them. Adopt a teacher – adopt a classroom. It doesn’t have to be much, sometimes it’s a kind word or a note of encouragement – a reminder that they are doing something amazing and you are grateful. We all know teachers – don’t wait for them to ask for help – don’t ask them what they need – get creative. It doesn’t have to be huge, it just needs to be.

Teachers impacted your lives – you can impact a teacher’s life. Tell them thank you for doing a job that very few of us could handle.

~~~

Book 19 – Boundless Dreams will be here Monday, September 25th! The email newsletter that arrives in your inbox at six o’clock that morning will have the link and as always, another vignette! I can hardly wait!

Bellingwood Vignette, Book 19, #3

Earl’s favorite place in the whole world is snuggled up to someone. Mostly TB, but the rest of us will do. TB is tolerant – generally only for the short term. He doesn’t really want anyone to know how much he likes being loved.

There are only a few more days until Book 19 – Boundless Dreams is released. I’m excited to have this one out and the find my way back to Bellingwood for Book 20.

My publication dates are always the 25th of March, June, September, and December.

To ensure you never miss any exciting news from Bellingwood, be sure you sign up for the monthly newsletter. It comes out on the 25th of every month and includes a vignette and other bits and pieces of information. Sign up here.

Make sure you check out this post on the Facebook Bellingwood page and comment there with a memory about one of the first teachers who impacted your life. I’ll be giving away copies of the Book 19 ebook. The giveaway ends tonight (Thursday) at 8 pm.

This little vignette is a few moments between Marie Sturtz, Noah, and Elijah. They’ve had a busy day and it’s time for bed.

Boys and Their Toys

   “Will you tell us a story?” Elijah asked Marie. He scooted across the bed, coming to rest practically on top of Noah.
  Marie Sturtz sat on the edge of the bed near the headboard, Noah nestled in her arms. She reached out and rubbed Elijah’s shoulder. “What story do you want to hear?”
  “Tell us about the storm again,” Elijah said.
  “You’ve heard that one before. Let’s see.” Marie looked up at the ceiling. “What would be a good story to tell two little boys who should be going to sleep.”
  “A long one,” Noah said, his eyes twinkling.
  “Did you have fun today?” she asked them. The boys were glad to do anything and today they’d helped her can tomatoes, make tomato sauce and put up frozen corn.
  Noah nodded. “I liked the corn the best.”
  “Yes you did,” Marie said with a laugh. He loved eating corn on the cob. Both boys had gotten their fill today and she still managed to put plenty of it in the freezer.
  “I like tomatoes,” Elijah said. He held up his index finger. “That pan was hot, though.”
  “That wasn’t a fun lesson to learn, was it?” she asked.
  Elijah shook his head, looked down and then brightened up. “At least it was only one finger, right? It could have been much worse.”
  Those were the exact words she’d use when he’d burned himself by reaching out to touch a jar after she pulled it out of the boiling water bath. He knew better. She’d told him to be careful, but hadn’t been surprise when he had to try it for himself. Marie nodded and brushed her finger along his cheek.
  He bounced up and away and ran over to the dresser where they’d made room for extra sets of clothes for him and Noah. Polly had dropped fresh clothes off for them earlier this evening with a couple of extra items so they could establish their own territory here.
  Elijah opened the drawer and took out a t-shirt. “Is this a good shirt to wear tomorrow when we go pick raspberries?”
  “It will be fine,” Marie said. “Why don’t you put it on the chair over there so it’s ready for you in the morning.”
  “Should I take out socks, too?”
  “Maybe just the shirt for now,” she said. “Come on back to bed. It’s time for you to wind down so you can sleep. You don’t want to stay awake all night.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she knew she’d made a mistake.
  “Yes I do,” Elijah countered. “I could, too. I’ve done it before.”
  Marie patted the pillow. “Come on back up here beside your brother.”
  When Elijah jumped back on the bed, he bounced a couple of times and then climbed across Noah to get close to Marie. Noah, ever-obliging, just moved to make room for his brother.
  Giving him a snuggle and a kiss, Marie pointed to the other side of Noah. “Climb back over to where you belong,” she said.
  Elijah gave her a quick look to see if she was serious, then clambered across his brother and scooted up close to Noah’s back. “Where’s Grandpa?” he asked, looking pointedly toward the bedroom door.
  “Right where we left him,” Marie replied.
  “Watching TV?”
  Marie nodded and grinned. “Yes.”
  “Do you think he misses us? Maybe we should keep him company.”
  She laughed out loud. It had been years since she’d had children this age. Too smart for their own good, yet still so innocent. She had never wanted to pressure Lonnie and Henry to have babies. They had their own lives to live. She wasn’t sure if Lonnie would ever settle down and have a family. If that’s what her daughter wanted, then Marie was thrilled to support her. When Henry met Polly, Marie knew right away that babies were either out of the question or would be a long time coming. Those two were so happy with their lives, how could she even begin to pressure them just because she loved having little ones around. Who would have thought that her life would be filled with children of all ages within just a couple of years of meeting Polly, though. Marie’s life was so full right now, she went to bed exhausted and satisfied every night.
  Bill had found Henry’s old red wagon a couple of weeks ago and this afternoon, when he brought it out for the boys to play with, it was like brand-new. Noah had been over the moon. The boys took turns pulling each other and Bill even pulled the two of them a couple of times around the parking lot in front of the shop.
  Then, Noah discovered that he could be helpful and after securing an old tarp from Bill to keep the wagon bed clean, he’d helped pick up branches and sticks around the yard, then helped Bill transfer some river rock from the back of the shop to spots around the house. Elijah ran alongside, asking a million questions of Bill. The boy never ran out of questions.
  Bill loved spending time with these two little boys. He’d been so busy trying to make a living when Henry and Lonnie were children that he’d missed out on some of these wonderful moments. She couldn’t wait to sit with him tonight and listen as he went on about their day. Every time the boys spent a night with them, Bill turned into a kid himself. He had just started talking about a dream he’d had ever since he was a young man – setting up a model railroad in the basement where they’d once had all of the cars and race tracks. When Henry was young, they couldn’t afford the time or the money to build out a railroad, so he’d done the plastic track and cars, winding racetrack all over the place. Once Henry was out of school, Bill hadn’t wanted to do it alone. Then when he had time and the money to work on it, he figured he was getting too old and no one would be around to enjoy it anyway.
  Now he was dreaming about it again and Marie was thrilled. They’d taken the boys down to the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad twice this summer. She was sure that if Bill had his way, he’d take them down every weekend. They were the perfect excuse for him to ride that train. Maybe she needed to ask more questions and find out which scale train he would like to start working with. That would make a fun Christmas gift for him.
  She looked at Elijah, who yawned as he leaned on his brother. “You two have had a busy day, haven’t you?”
  “It was a fun day,” Noah said. “I like coming over.”
  “Me too,” Elijah said, yawning again. “I miss Obiwan and Han. You should get a dog.”
  Marie chuckled. Bill had been talking about getting a puppy. She didn’t know if she could handle one more animal in her life, but if she was honest with herself, it sounded like a lot of fun. “Maybe someday,” she said quietly as Elijah’s eyes fluttered.
  He opened them wide and shook his head, refusing to accept that he was falling asleep. “You were going to tell us a story,” he said.
  “I was, wasn’t I?” Marie yawned. “What if I tell you a story tomorrow while we’re making raspberry jam? I’m awfully tired.”
  Elijah nodded in understanding.
  She looked down at Noah, who just watched her with a smile. “What are you thinking about, Noah?” she asked.
  “I love you,” he said so quietly she wasn’t sure she heard him.
  Marie leaned down and kissed his forehead. “I love you, Noah.” She stood up and bent over to kiss Elijah’s forehead. “And I love you, Elijah.”
  He reached up with both arms and wrapped them around her neck, then kissed her cheek. She couldn’t help the tears that sprang to her eyes as she held on to him in a tight hug.
  “Go to sleep, now,” she said, releasing him.
  Elijah dropped back down and scooted away from Noah, snuggling his face in his own pillow.
  Marie walked to the doorway, flipped the overhead light off, and stood watching the boys in the warm glow of the  nightlights on either side of the bed. She was thankful they were comfortable enough here to sleep on their own. Polly and Henry had been worried the first night the boys spent with Marie and Bill since it had taken them so long to feel safe again. Marie had stayed in their room that night until they fell asleep. She hadn’t slept well, waking with every sound, worrying that they would be frightened. The second time had been easier and each time they’d stayed, all of them grew more comfortable.
  A noise on the stairway caught Marie’s attention and she smiled at Bill who came to stand beside her. He put his arm around her waist as she put a finger up to her lip.
  He whispered in her ear. “The house is all closed up. Are you ready to be finished with the day?”
  Nodding, she took his hand and they walked into their bedroom. Once the door was closed, he grinned. “They wore me out today. How about you?”
  “I’m exhausted,” Marie agreed. “This is really early, but I’m ready to lie down and read for a while.”
  “That’s what I figured.”
  She sat down on the edge of the bed and removed her shoes, rubbing her feet as she did. “That feels good.” Smiling at him, she said, “I think you should consider building a model railroad. Those boys would love to do that with you.”
  “Really?” he asked, taken aback.
  “We could clear out the basement again. There’s no reason to keep all of that junk. Lonnie can take her boxes home. She’s never moving back. Henry has a huge house now and he can haul his own boxes around from now on.”
  “You don’t think I’m too old for this?”
  Marie waggled her eyes at him. “I don’t think you’re too old for anything.”
  “Honey, I’m awfully tired.”
  “I was just talking about model railroads,” she protested with a laugh. “But I think this might be the perfect time for you to start building them. I’ll bet you could get quite a bit of help from all your buddies.”
  Bill took a catalog off the bottom of a pile in the nightstand beside the bed. “I’ve been waiting to show this to you.” He opened it to the first page. “Look at everything that is available nowadays. They make it so easy for you to be creative. And I’ve been looking at videos on YouTube. There are guys out there who will teach me how to do it all.”
  “I’m not surprised,” Marie said, laughing out loud. “And if I’m honest, I can’t wait. This sounds like a lot of fun.”
  “You’ll help me?”
  “Absolutely. Which train gauge do you want to work with?”
  He sat beside her and the two lay back on the bed, turning on their sides to look through the catalog together. “I think HO. It’s the most common and I want to be able to easily find the things we need to work with.”
  Bill flipped a couple of pages and Marie stopped him, pointing at a river scene. “I want to build a campground.”
  “Honey, you can build anything you want. I will start clearing out that basement on Monday. Before you know it, we’ll have train track running all throughout the basement.”
  “Henry’s going to laugh at us.”
  “Let him.” Bill leaned over and kissed her. “I feel like a kid.”

Birthdays and Trivia and a Release Date, Oh My!

Here we are … two and a half weeks out from the release of Book 19 – Boundless Dreams. Sometimes It seems like that date is far, far away, and yet, it also feels like time is rushing forward so fast I can hardly catch my breath.

A few things will happen between now and September 25th and I don’t want you to miss out.

1. September 8th (Friday) is my birthday. Whee! Nope … not telling you how old I am. My life is filled with too much fun for me to concentrate on a number. Besides, most of the time, I’d probably be mistaken. I can never remember.

To celebrate my birthday, I think I want to give away a couple of mugs. To enter this giveaway, all you have to do is post a comment on Facebook (under this post) or here on the website as a response to this post. Tell me one place (one place only) on this earth that you dream of visiting. Just one place. Your biggest and wildest dream vacation place.

You have until Sunday evening (September 10) to respond. I’ll choose winners and reply to your comment as well as post names on the Facebook Bellingwood page.

2. September 15th (Friday) is our last Wine & Trivia Night of the year. I won’t host one prior to the December 25th release because the holiday season is so overwhelming. More information will come next week, but join us on the Facebook Bellingwood page between six o’clock and eleven o’clock central time for a lot of fun, trivia questions about Bellingwood and prizes!

3. September 18th – 20th. The Bellingwood Boxed Set: Books 1-3 will be FREE on Amazon. More notification will come regarding that, but if you have friends or family who should be part of this community, let them know!

4. September 20th (Wednesday). Keep an eye out on the Facebook Bellingwood page that day because it is Polly Giller’s birthday! I will post a fun question for you to respond to and then choose winners who will receive an eBook copy of Book 19 – Boundless Dreams.

5. September 25th (Monday) is release day! Make sure you’ve signed up for the email newsletter (you can do so here). At six o’clock in the morning, the newsletter will land in the email boxes of all the good little girls and boys (seriously, Diane – you should have saved that for the Christmas release).

I can hardly wait for you to get to this next chapter in Polly’s life. Things never slow down for that poor girl, but she loves her life and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Book 20 is already in process, so my next target is December 25th. Hopefully there will be one more surprise between now and then. (The teasing will never end.)

Thank you all for being part of this wonderful community!

Editing, Cats, and Some Eclipse Pics

I’m in the middle of the first week of re-writes, proofreading, editing, etc. This is great fun for me. As much as I love writing, I love going through the book over and over – hashing out problems I created for myself, remembering things I wrote two months ago and being thrilled that I actually maintained continuity for most of them. As odd as it sounds, I do love the editing process. I have learned so much in the last five years and five years from now, I’ll have learned that much more. The English language might feel frustrating at times, but it is absolutely glorious.

This morning (hah – morning for me starts at 12:05 pm) it was time to print out the manuscript. Doing so requires a great deal of preparation. Why? Because … cats.

Every flat surface needs to be clear around the printer because my three cats will come flying in from all over the house. They are also skittish and freaked out. I don’t dare touch them during this process because they jump. TB’s first inclination is to bite me. If I go near him at all (to take papers out of the hopper, anything), I move slowly and talk quietly.

He hates watching the paper go into the printer – or loves it – or something. He will only bat at the paper a couple of times. He’s jammed the thing up with his antics before and I’m not a fan. Earl tries to crawl into the paper feed area – there just has to be something in there he can play with. Grey finally got bored with the whole about halfway through.

The next bit of excitement comes when I pull out the red pen to actually begin editing during this phase. The cats like to play with that thing that skitters across my pages as I work. No matter what pen or pencil, Earl believes its only purpose is for his entertainment and will sit beside me and attempt to chew on the end. It makes writing quite interesting.

But I adore them and will put up with most anything.

~~~

This week I am also focused on the title, cover and a vignette. These and other fun things are coming out in Friday’s newsletter! Make sure you’ve signed up HERE to receive it!

The newsletters arrive in your email inboxes on the 25th of every month. The September newsletter will announce the publication of Book 19! We’re getting close.

~~~

Max was in western Nebraska this weekend in anticipation of the Eclipse. He captured some beautiful photos. I have two to show you right now. He got home late last night and only had time to process these. More will be coming and I’ll let you know that they’re up.

The first is that beautiful diamond ring image. Isn’t it incredible that something like this is predictable? We know what to look for and the sun / moon always come through for us.

The second is just gorgeous! What wild excitement I feel when I see these images!