Category Archives: Bellingwood

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!

Mid-Month Catch-Up

Where in the world is Polly?

In the June newsletter, I announced a contest – Where in the World is Polly? I’m not ready for you to do anything yet, but you should be taking pictures this month of a Bellingwood cover in the world.

Pull a cover up on your e-reader or use a paperback. It can be any of the Bellingwood books. Hold it up at the beach or a concert, your back yard, a garden, in your favorite chair, from a mountain top, at a restaurant, with your best buddies. All I want is to see Bellingwood in your world.

Be sure it’s the COVER of a Bellingwood book, not content or text.

Hold on to that picture, because in the July newsletter, I will set everything in motion for the contest.

~~~

Reviews.

Oh, how I hate asking you to write reviews for me, but they help so much, both in increasing the rank so others are made aware of Bellingwood and when I attempt to do advertising outside of Amazon. Everybody wants to know how many reviews you have.

Anyway, I need you and I’m not very good at asking for help. You don’t have to write a lot of words, but you certainly can.

If you’ve written a review that you want me to see, please copy it and post it as a reply or send it directly to me in an email. I’m very careful of reading reviews on Amazon because the bad ones literally spiral me down into a blithering puddle and I spend the next two days questioning why I even bother to write. Now I get myself out of that faster than when I first started writing, but it is still painful to read such terrible things about my heart’s passion. No matter how I try to avoid reading the bad reviews (because I know they’re not good for me), it’s like watching a train wreck – I can’t look away.

I appreciate you so much and that you take the time to read my books and hang out with me, means the world!

Here’s the link to Book 18 – Just Around the Bend. If you’ve read the Prequel, I’m desperate for reviews on that as well, so click on this link to write a quick one.

Thank you!

~~~

Newsletter and Facebook

If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, you want to do that today. I’ve got a LIST of things to tell you in the next one. Click here to stay in touch with what’s going on.

Newsletters go out once a month on the twenty-fifth. Every quarter, I announce the new book, but there is so much more – contests, a fifteen-hundred-word vignette, cover reveals, more short story announcements (oh, I have a new one coming in July – you’re gonna love it), and other fun things.

If you haven’t joined the Facebook Bellingwood page, you should. It truly is becoming a bit of Bellingwood online. Wonderful people from all over the world hang out and it is so much fun watching you all start to interact with each other. You’re amazing! If I have fewer words than a blog post – that’s where I put them. I also have a terrible tendency to tease the story while I’m writing the next book.

~~~

Earl adores TB, who barely tolerates all of the attention Earl wants to shower him with. So when I see TB allowing Earl to rest his big ole head on the belly, I smile.

Finally …

Book 19 is being written. My crazy brain is telling me about stories that aren’t even supposed to be in this book, too! I’m building up a list of characters who are planning to show up in Bellingwood in the next few books. Do you have any idea how worn out my brain is from pushing them back until it’s the right time? Imagine having all of these people talking to you whenever you slow down enough to listen.

By the way, if you DO have that many people talking to you, you might want to consider writing stories. Evidently, there are characters desperate to have their tales told to the world and you’re the only person who can do it. No … I’m not kidding.

That’s enough for today. I love you all and am so grateful for you being part of what I’m doing here.

Bellingwood Vignette, Book 18, #4

Rare is the time one of the cats isn’t sleeping in my arms while I work. Earl is the most patient. I move around and snuggle on him and he just goes with the flow.

It always seems as if the moment I have a million things to accomplish, my brain insists that I write one more new story. Crazy brain. Sometimes it’s easier to just acquiesce.

My mind is consumed with Bellingwood characters. Right now, while I’m editing and formatting Book 18 – Just Around the Bend, I have more short stories in process and evidently, multiple vignettes chasing me. As much as I love Polly, the other characters in town sometimes want to be sure you know them just as well.

Just a couple of bits of information you need to know:

Book 18, Just Around the Bend will be published on Sunday, June 25th. My publication dates are always the 25th of March, June, September, and December. Anything that is published in between those dates is just icing on the cake.

If you want to ensure you never miss out on any exciting news from Bellingwood, be sure you sign up for the monthly newsletter. It also comes out on the 25th – but every month. There is always a vignette and you never know what else I’m going to come up with for you. Sign up here.

Pre-publication Trivia Party – Friday, June 16 from 6-11 pm (CDT). Facebook Bellingwood page. There are prizes and fun conversations happening throughout the evening. I do these to have fun chatting with you, but the questions will help trigger memories about characters and events you might have forgotten.

Okay – this vignette is a sweet moment with Dr. Mark Ogden, Bellingwood’s gorgeous veterinarian. There was a post on the Facebook Bellingwood page about possible vignette ideas. I’ll dig back through and contact you if Mark was your suggestion. If you did and I miss that – let me know.

While You Sleep

Mark kissed Alexander’s cheek before putting him in the playpen, then bent over to kiss his wife.

Sal was not a morning person and it looked like Alexander was going to be more like his father – up at the crack of dawn, ready to greet the day.

Now that the boy was older, Mark enjoyed spending these early morning hours with him. Sal was thrilled when Mark started taking this shift. He made sure Alexander was fed and clean, played with him in the living room and now that the weather was warmer, took him outside while the dogs played and ran in the back yard.

The two dachshunds had already climbed back up on the bed with Sal and were doing their best impressions of slugs, burrowing into the blanket beside their mother.

He knew Sal was mostly awake, though she’d pulled the blanket up to her shoulders and buried her face in the pillow. Alexander would give her another twenty minutes or so before his playing became too noisy even for her.

Mark stood in the doorway of their bedroom, something he did nearly every morning. His wife was even more beautiful when she slept and their son was pure perfection. He was such a lucky man.

The first time he met Sal, he knew that he wanted to know her better – whatever it took. She’d been such a surprise. From Polly’s description, he expected to meet a wealthy, spoiled princess who had little time for the slow, laid-back lifestyle he loved here in Iowa. That had been far from her reality.

Now, Sal knew what she liked and was intent on getting it. She was focused and driven, but she was also generous and kind. The woman was an absolute live-wire. He assumed that at least forty percent of her blood consisted of one hundred percent caffeine. When she was awake, she moved ninety miles an hour in every direction, but once she wound down, she became easygoing and snuggly, even. She also deliberately slowed her actions whenever Alexander was in her arms and sometimes Mark caught her gazing at her son with a face that radiated love and adoration.

It was all of these moments that still surprised him. These were some of the many reasons he loved this woman. Sometimes he couldn’t believe she had chosen to give up her cosmopolitan life in Boston for him. They’d gone back and forth about how to make a relationship work across country. She hadn’t been prepared to leave her job and he couldn’t imagine giving up his practice. Mark didn’t want to ask her to give up the life she loved and had begun researching veterinary positions in Massachusetts, but he could barely stomach the thought of living in a big city again.

Then out of the blue, Sal told him she was done fighting it – she wanted to come to Bellingwood. He chuckled to himself. If Polly hadn’t been living here, he wasn’t sure Sal would have been so ready for the move. But then, if Polly wasn’t here, he’d never have met this amazing woman. His deepest darkest fear was that she would wake up someday and realize that her life with him wasn’t enough.

When she invested in the coffee shop downtown, his heart settled some. That seemed to be the thing she missed the most. He knew the hustle and bustle of activity stirred her to life, even if Sal insisted that she was becoming accustomed to the slower pace of Bellingwood.

Mark’s family had been hesitant about him marrying Sal. He gave his head a quick shake. That wasn’t it. They were worried that she wouldn’t make the transition to rural Iowa life well. A smile crossed his face. Bellingwood really wasn’t all that rural. It could be if that’s what you wanted, but there wasn’t a single community in this state that didn’t have access to theaters, museums and excellent restaurants and shopping. It might require a short drive, but even when he’d lived in the Twin Cities, things that were important required you to leave your neighborhood and drive. You just traveled on city streets rather than peaceful country roads for forty-five minutes.

They’d talked about finding an acreage in the country so he could have horses and maybe even a few goats. Looking at Sal sleeping so peacefully he thought she’d make a great country mother. No, he couldn’t even think that with a straight face. When he first brought it up, the look of terror and shock on her face was priceless. He’d backed far away from that conversation as soon as he understood what she would lose. No one else knew, though, that she had returned to the conversation the next night, apologizing for letting her fears stop her from trying something new. If he really wanted to move out of town, she’d support him. He loved her too much to ask that of her again. Maybe someday she would seriously consider a move to the country, but that would surprise him.

The first time Sal’s mother came to Bellingwood, she was aghast at how simply they lived. Where was the nanny to take care of Alexander or the housekeeper to help Sal around the house? Mark joked about hiring a cook because of Sal’s less-than-stellar kitchen skills and received a swift kick under the table. If Mark hadn’t met Sal’s father, he would have had to assume she was adopted. That old biddy was a shrew. She’d criticized everything about their life, couching her nastiness in polite conversation, as if the entire world didn’t understand exactly what she was saying. The only person she was kidding was herself.

Now that he thought about it, Iowa was probably an escape for Sal from an interminable lifetime of torture with that woman in charge of the rack. Sal didn’t say much about her life in Boston any longer. When they’d first gotten to know each other, she told him more than he cared to know about the woman who raised his wife. How she’d grown into such a self-confident young woman, he didn’t know.

Sal had told him that a lot changed the day she met Polly. After years of living to please her mother, she discovered that she could be her own best self without any regrets. He wondered if she’d ever told Polly how much her life changed because they lived together throughout college and continued their friendship through the years. It had nearly killed Sal when Polly moved back to Iowa. The one person she trusted to show her what normal looked like was gone and Sal had done her best to stay out of her mother’s clutches, but it hadn’t been easy.

He smiled again, wanting to lie back down beside her and gather that strong confident woman into his arms. She had so many broken bits and pieces within her, but Sal was determined to find her way. She wanted to love freely and exuberantly, without fear of rejection. Polly showed her every day what that looked like and sometimes Sal would talk about her friend for hours in the evenings. The funny thing was, Mark watched the two of those girls when they were together and saw how envious Polly was of her tall, brilliant, gorgeous friend. If only Polly knew. Both girls would be surprised at how they perceived each other.

“What are you doing over there?” Sal mumbled, lifting herself up on the bed. She turned over and dropped her hand into the playpen beside her to stroke Alexander’s hair.

“Just watching you sleep.”

“That’s creepy. Aren’t you going to be late to remove an abscess or castrate some poor pig?” She blinked her eyes, trying to come awake. “My friends at home think you play with cute puppies and kitties all day long. I hate to tell them what you actually do.”

“I run into cute puppies and kitties out on the farms,” he said.

She worked to untangle herself from the sheets and the two dachshunds, who refused to move away from her. “I keep telling these dogs they’re going to be the death of me. So really, why are you still here?”

“I wasn’t joking. Just watching you sleep. Do you know how much I love you?”

Sal peered at him and pushed her long black hair back, tucking it behind her ears. “It’s a good thing. Otherwise what we’ve been doing around here would be quite scandalous.” She sat up on the edge of the bed and stretched her arms, yawning. “I’m feeling awfully sexy right now. Wanna get you some of this?”

Mark walked over, slid between the bed and playpen and sat beside her. He pulled her into his arms, crushing her against him. “I’d take you any time. You are every dream of mine come true. I love you, Sal.”

“I love you, too.” Sal pushed back from him and blinked again, then rubbed her eyes. “What brought all of this on?”

“Just watching you sleep. You make me happy.”

Reaching down to pick Alexander up, Sal leaned toward him. “I’m not a normal wife.”

“I wouldn’t want anything different. You’re perfect for me.”

“I think we’re pretty perfect together.” She bounced Alexander in her arms. “We make pretty babies, that’s for sure.”

“Didn’t mean to wake you up,” Mark said. “I’ll go to work.”

Sal lifted her face so he could kiss her. He held her for just a few more momeents and then got up and headed back for the door.

“How often do you do that?” Sal asked.

“What?”

“Watch me sleep?”

“Every once in a while.”

She shook her head. “You go to work and be good today. We’ll talk about this later.”

“I can’t wait.”

Bellingwood Vignette, Book 18, #3

I’m going through a terrific course on self-publishing and they asked for a picture of my work space. Of course, what’s a work space without a cat in it? This is Grey, who is a little offended that I backed away to take the photo. Poor spoiled kitty.

I love writing these short vignettes. Even though they aren’t long drawn-out stories about the characters that surround Polly and her family, they are wonderful glimpses into the moments of people who are just living their lives in Bellingwood.

Vignettes are published in the newsletters which arrive in your email inbox on the 25th of every month, but I spend way too much time in Bellingwood to not write a few more while we wait for the next book to be published.

Speaking of the next book – Book 18, Just Around the Bend – will be published on June 25th. 

Our pre-publication Trivia party will be on Friday, June 16th from 6-11 pm (CDT) on the Facebook Bellingwood page. There are always great prizes and you’ll have fun while remembering silly bits and pieces about the early books. Don’t miss it.

This vignette is just a quick look at Eliseo’s sister, Elva, and her four children as the kids get ready for school. I had fun reading your ideas on the FB page about who should get a vignette. Some ideas, though awesome, will have to wait for a book. Just because you haven’t learned all about the characters that you want to know doesn’t mean that it won’t show up. Hah. And even though I’m publishing the 18th book in this series, it feels like we’ve only just begun getting to know these people. There is so much more to come, so be patient. It will all come out, I promise.

However, if you expressed an interest in Elva and her little family as a comment to the FB post, I’ll be in contact with you. And there is more to come! Thank you all for participating!

Back to Normal

“Polly’s going to take you up to the ball fields after school today,” Elva said. She put a bowl of cereal in front of her oldest son, Sammy. “Show me your numbers.”

He held the meter out so she could read it.

“Good job,” Elva said. She bent over and kissed his forehead. “I’m proud of you.”

Sammy worked hard to stay ahead of his diabetes. It wasn’t easy – he wanted to do what every other boy in his class did, but of all her children, he was the one who took responsibility for himself. On the other hand, Ana hated managing her asthma. It infuriated her when she had to slow down because she had trouble breathing. But they managed.

Her three oldest played soccer after school. She and Polly traded moving them around. Noah played soccer with Sammy, and Elijah played baseball. Luckily the practices and games were all held in the same location.

Little Matty wasn’t interested in either soccer or baseball. He couldn’t get enough of the horses at his Uncle Eliseo’s barn. When the kids discovered that there were going to be horse barns going up out here, Matty was the most excited. Gabby and Ana thought it would be fun – especially if they could bring their friends out. Sammy thought it was cool, but Matty wanted a horse all his own. He was a boy after Elva’s passion.

She did her best not to spend much time with the big Percherons at Sycamore House. She didn’t want to fall in love with them. They weren’t hers. Besides, Eliseo had them so well trained, they didn’t need anything she had to offer.

At this point, Elva wasn’t even sure that she remembered what it took to spend time with problem horses. Those days on her father’s farm were in the past. Far in the past. So much had happened in her life between the day she left home and today.

“Can I have some more cereal for my milk?” Gabby asked, interrupting Elva’s train of thought.

“We aren’t starting that this morning.”

“Then I’ll have to do this.” Gabby brought the bowl up to her lips, daring her mother to scold her.

“Do it,” Ana whispered. She patted the table. “Do it. Do it.”

The boys picked up the chant. “Do it. Do it.”

Elva crossed her arms and looked down at Gabby. Her daughter lifted her eyebrows to look up, lowered them and put the bowl back down on the table.

“Chicken,” Ana said.

Elva put a firm hand on Ana’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t encourage bad behavior in anyone, especially when I’m standing right here. You know what that means, don’t you?”

Ana slumped in her seat. “Fine.” She picked up the dirty dishes from the table and scuffed her feet across the floor as she carried them to the dishwasher. “Hey. You didn’t put these away. There are still clean dishes in here.”

“Hmm,” Elva said. “Guess that’s what happens when you are in trouble.”

Sammy giggled until Elva put her hand on his shoulder. “Since you and your brother were part of the problem, you can help your sister clean out the dishwasher. Now go.”

“Aw. Come on. We didn’t start it,” Sammy whined.

Elva just stood there, saying nothing. The kids were pretty good most of the time. She didn’t have any complaints. She’d raised them by herself – their father had rarely been at home, much less taken time to interact with them. At least now, with Eliseo in the house, there was another adult around who bothered to pay attention to them. They loved their uncle. She couldn’t believe how easily they’d accepted him, scars and all. None of them were afraid to touch him or give him a quick kiss on his cheek.

The boys picked up their bowls and walked across the room to help their sister. Then, Gabby giggled. She opened her mouth to say something, took one look at her mother and closed her mouth just as quickly.

“Good girl,” Elva said. “But since you tried to get away with something you know I don’t like right in front of me, I think you should help, too. Go on.”

The kids all had plenty of chores to do around the house, both inside and out. Elva was glad to take on responsibility for the kitchen. She was teaching all four how to cook. None of her kids would go out into the world without knowing their way around spices and flavors. With Sammy’s diabetes, they’d all learned more about healthy eating. The younger three paid more attention to what was safe for him than he did some days.

While they ran around the kitchen putting things away, Elva rinsed out a dishrag and cleaned the counter and then the kitchen table. She couldn’t wait to get them off to school today. As nervous as she was about training horses again, she couldn’t wait. Every day she didn’t have to wait tables at the Alehouse downtown, she cleared more brush off the land where they were planning to build the barns.

Eliseo and his friend, Ralph Bedford, had brought two of the Percherons out to pull trees down. Then she and Eliseo had spent several days with chainsaws cutting them into pieces. He’d brought the bobcat out from Sycamore House and taught her how to use it. The logs that could be cut into firewood went in one section of the property and the rest she dumped out back. Things had been so wet lately they hadn’t burned the pile, but Eliseo promised the kids it would happen soon.

Every day that Elva traversed the land with that bobcat or walked through it picking up stray branches and sticks, she felt herself relax. Sometimes it felt like a calm before the storm because of the excitement building inside her. At night she slept better than she had in years. Her kids were happy and she was preparing to do something that she never dreamed she’d be able to do.

“Get your backpacks,” she said. “Gabby, put your shoes on, please. I’ll meet you at the back door in …” Elva pointed at the clock above the kitchen cabinets. “…eight minutes. The last one there sits on the hump in the back seat.”

They had worked out a plan for who got to ride shotgun to school. Each kid had their own day of the week and on Fridays, the one with the most checkmarks beside their chores list got the honor. There was a lot of catch-up cleaning and work on Thursday nights before bedtime which was just fine with Elva. She worked the evening shift on Fridays and Saturdays and appreciated having all of the work done so Eliseo didn’t have to manage the kids.

“Can I go see the horses after school?” Matty was at the kitchen door, backpack hanging down beside him. It was his standard question every morning.

“That’s up to Polly,” Elva said. If his sisters and brother didn’t have ball practice, they all walked down to the barn. Those were his favorite afternoons. “You really are my boy, aren’t you.”

Matty gave her a confused look. “Of course I am. Who else would be my mommy?”

“No one. No one at all. It’s just that you love those horses so much, just like your mother.”

“I like Tom and Huck, too. They’re short like me.”

She chuckled. “We might have to get a donkey or two out here when the barns are built.”

“But I want a horse.”

“Oh you’ll have a horse, sweet boy. I promise. You might have to share it with your sisters until we can afford more than one, but you will have your own.”

“Will you have one, too?”

She nodded as she thought back to the horses she’d loved. She never fell in love with the easily tamed, passive horses. Her favorites were always the ones who fought and fought for control. It was almost as if they wanted to make sure that she earned their trust – they weren’t giving it up easily. But once they’d broken through together, those horses were hers.

A tear fell from one eye as she wondered what had happened to those animals after her parents died. Elva had taken off as soon as she could, tired of being under her parents control. She wanted to make her own life, to live the way she wanted to live.

She was as bad as some of those rebellious horses, but no one had ever spent time trying to gain her trust. She married her husband, Larry, because she’d gotten pregnant. He was a nice enough man, but he was too much like those easily tamed horses that she never respected. When he had an affair and let her and the kids go, it hurt, but not as much as some might think. The only thing she had to come to grips with was that she’d given up her whole self to that fake life she’d lived with him.

It was Eliseo … her brother … who had finally given her the time she needed to trust again. They fought a lot in those first few weeks she’d been in Bellingwood, but he never pushed her harder than she could handle. People in town thought he was a quiet, nice person. They didn’t know the steel that was inside that man. She was so proud of him and now she wanted to make him proud of her. She’d work hard for that.

Today was Matty’s day to be in the front seat, so she sent him on out to the car. Elva put her hand on the back door handle when she heard the other three come running through the house. First Ana, then Sammy and then Gabriela.

“Matty’s already in the car,” Elva said, pushing the door open. “Go on.”

“Do I have to?” Gabby asked, whining.

“You had eight minutes to get here. After an entire year of this, I don’t know why you’re whining now.”

“Because I hate that bump.”

“You’ll live.” Elva pulled the main door shut behind her and let the screen door close on its own. “You all have everything you need?”

Crazy Days

I like to think that Earl loves me best, but the truth is – he’ll do anything for TB’s attention. How cute are they?

I love my life. I love it so much. I’m a lucky girl.

But wow, this crazy schedule that I’ve set for myself wears me completely out a few weeks every quarter. I’m in the middle of a big push to finish Book 18, get the title and cover worked out and the book off to initial proofreaders and editors. All of that, plus a vignette and the newsletter by May 25th. Yep … Hauling some serious tushie around here.

Because there have been several other projects that dropped into the mix since January 1st, the only way for me to achieve all of my goals (and seriously, I keep adding to the list), I’ve really had to step up my word count for each day. Last year, I liked to kick into gear within a week after publishing a book, giving me plenty of leeway for the next book. If I only wrote fifteen hundred to two thousand words in a day, that was still fine, though I usually pushed to about three thousand words at the end of the writing cycle.

Lately I’ve been regularly writing around four thousand words per day to get this book out on time. The Abiding Grace story took time to write and a *secret* project (yeah, I hate that too, but you’ll know within a couple of months, I promise) took up writing time.

Then it hit me. Book 18 needed to move through my fingers right now! This is the best part about Bellingwood. I truly live there in my head. Yeah, yeah, yeah … it’s not that weird.

Okay, maybe it is. All I had to do was tell the characters that we were on location again and they stepped up. Strangers drop in, everyone starts telling me their secrets, their dreams and hopes, children dig out their best behavior. It’s pretty cool.

Tomorrow night (Thursday), I’ll hit the three-quarter mark of my targeted word count goal. The stories are starting to come together and find their end. It’s fun to see things slow down. This is going to be a strange summer in Polly’s life. Lots of changes are ahead for her family. But first we need to get her through some endings. Nothing tragic – it’s all very exciting. But you know how moms can be.

I plan to finish the very rough first draft Sunday night then spend an intense number of hours re-writing, fixing, adjust, destroying, reconstructing and putting the manuscript into good order. When Memorial Day weekend gets here, there might have to be a few glasses of wine that find their way to my lips.

I’m so glad that you are part of this life with me. Thanks for hanging out.

Bellingwood Boxed Set 1 – FREE

April 25 – 29

The Kindle Version of the Boxed set containing the first three books in the Bellingwood series is free right now.

“Delightful … charming … captivating … addictive.”

Meet Polly Giller, a young woman who comes home to Iowa after living in Boston, to renovate and restore an old school building and start a new life.

She meets extraordinary people in Bellingwood. While it seems impossible to many that these wonderful folks actually exist, that’s only because they haven’t spent enough time in small communities found throughout the world, but especially in this author’s favorite state – Iowa.

Iowa-nice is a real thing and it permeates the pages of these stories as Polly discovers mysteries and an exciting life with new friends that soon become family.

“These books are my favorite books this year.”

“Heartwarming and charming.”

“Best series I’ve read in a long time.”

“I feel like I’m one of the family.”

Download the first boxed set today and join thousands of readers who have fallen in love with this small Iowa town and its characters. These heartwarming stories will captivate you, making you wish you could move to Bellingwood and be part of the excitement.

Click on the cover image or HERE to get your Kindle copy today!

Bellingwood Boxed Set: Books 4-6

The second boxed set of Bellingwood books was released on Wednesday for the Amazon Kindle and includes books 4-6, plus the short story, Room at the Inn. I had the best time going back through those stories; remembering the fun I had as Polly’s life unfolded in my mind. It hit me as I was working through them again that these three books (and the short) are pivotal times for her. Gone was the newness of moving to Bellingwood. Big decisions for her life are made and wonderful people find their way into her heart.

With this release, though, I need your help. Positive reviews on Amazon push books up in rankings and also allow the author to market the books to other readers.

You have to know that this stuff is so far outside of my box. It’s never easy asking people to do things for me. But it’s even more difficult to ask you to do something like this. Marketing myself goes against everything I ever learned from my parents. I’m not saying they were right – it’s just the way things are.

Sometimes you just have to let the cat be in the picture.

Since the world is what it is and I couldn’t self-publish without self-marketing, I just do it. Without marketing, I would never have met you and I’m incredibly grateful for that opportunity.

Most of the time, reviews are organic. You read the books and some of you leave reviews and I’m thrilled. With this release, most everyone has already read these books, written their reviews and moved on, so I am asking for your help.

Here’s the deal: I need positive reviews on the Bellingwood Boxed Set: Books 4-6.

Let’s have a giveaway and make those happen.

How this works:

  1. Click on the book cover above (or HERE) and go to Amazon. Write a review.
  2. Return to the Facebook Bellingwood page (preferable) and leave a comment under this post. All you have to do is write “Done” or something like that. If you truly aren’t on Facebook, you can leave a comment here, but I will warn you, that many people don’t return here to see my response.
  3. I will add a giveaway for every 25 comments.
  4. We’ll start with a set of Max’s flower notecards in an embroidered Bellingwood envelope. Then, a Sycamore House mug at 50 comments. At 75, one of Julie’s pewter Bellingwood charms is added to the mix. At 100 comments, I’ll add a $10 Amazon gift certificate. For every 25 after that, I will repeat these prizes. If we get ridiculous, I will add other crazy things.
  5. Write the review and leave a comment before Sunday (January 29, 2017) at midnight central time. (I appreciate reviews any time … you’re wonderful.)
  6. I will randomly choose winners on Monday, then alert you as a reply to your comment and in a separate post as well.
  7. Winners will send me your email address or mailing address as the case may be – in a private message.
  8. International readers – I appreciate your reviews. Though I can’t send you a physical reward, if your name is chosen, you will receive a $10 (USD) Amazon gift card.

The winner has a choice of mugs.

Yay! Gift Cards!

This is just the coolest thing. I love this charm.

All I Want for Christmas – Short Story

December 31 is such a strange day of the year. It signifies so much for many of us … an opportunity to look forward and make transformational decisions in the new year, an opportunity to look back over the last 365 days of the year and consider all that happened.

Yet, truthfully, it’s just another twenty-four hour span not unlike any other twenty-four hour period.

I always land on this day with a sense of dread and excited anticipation. It’s a roiling bubble of insanity inside me, let me tell you. Because I know what can happen in a year’s time, my little amygdala (that fear center of the brain) shoots off all sorts of warnings to me regarding things I should worry about and be afraid of.

However, the normal part of me – the part that loves this life I have been given – is excited at the possibilities and potential for the year. And that’s where I tend to focus. Possibilities … potential … hope … joy … excitement. I can hardly wait for what’s to come. And the best part, I can hardly wait for things that I don’t even know are possible! Life is filled with excitement and it is so much fun to find new surprises around corners.

I wish for all of you a joyous and exciting 2017. No matter what comes at us, we are stronger together, we are loved and treasured. We are created beings filled with hope. I take great joy in all of that. And I am thankful for the many friends that I’ve made. You all fill my life with so much goodness. Thank you.

The Christmas short story is here! (Link to Amazon)

A day early.

This story is so much fun and filled with a few surprises of its own. The only thing I ask is that you do not make comments about the content of this story. I know you’re going to want to and you have to refrain. Don’t spoil it for anyone else (I will delete any comment on Facebook or here on the website that contains any HINT of a spoiler). So many things happen here and you are going to love them!

Now that all of my publishing duties are managed, I’m taking the night off. There’s a bottle of pinot grigio in my refrigerator and a batch of Fred Astaire / Esther Williams / Ginger Rogers / Gene Kelly / whoever on and on … movies waiting for me to watch them. It’s going to be a great way to ring in 2017!

While the link on this page takes you to the Kindle version, this story will be published at the end of the paperback – which should go live by Monday, January 2.

Happy New Year!

(P.S. I added a sketch of the Bell House – click HERE to see it)

Save

Save

Save

Save