Christmas is coming…

Our Jesse Tree. Each symbol recalls a Bible story.

We are made for festival and ritual, we human beings. We inherit traditions. We adapt them to our needs. We make up our own. Putting out grass for the reindeer on Christmas Eve is an innovation one year and by the next it has grown in the imaginations of our children to become an indelible part of how we do Christmas at our house.

When I was a child, Father Christmas used to get a can of beer as well as a Christmas mince pie. My staunch and determined eldest daughter declared that he could not drink and drive; in our house, Father Christmas got milk. Each of my daughters has now taken that ritual and made it over for her own children.

I grew up in the Christian tradition. Our father, who had rejected the Anglican faith of his devout mother in favour of scornful agnosticism, did not interfere with our own mother’s quiet determination to take us to church on the great festivals, properly garbed as befitted such an occasion. Christmas to us was matching gloves and hat (a shirt and tie for the boys), the familiar carols joyfully sung, and a treat given at the end of the service.

I learned to love the rhythms of the liturgical year before I counted my years in double figures: Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, Whitsunday and Harvest Festival. I love them yet, and when I became a Catholic in my late twenties, I enthusiastically adopted (and adapted) many new-to-me traditional practices that gave shape to the year.

2017 has been a hard year in our family for many reasons, and Christmas will be bitter-sweet. But I find myself buoyed with memories of delight and hope for 2018 as I sink into the familiar rituals of Advent.

Two candles lit for the second week of advent

Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas, so this year it was 3rd December. It is a time of preparation: prayer, charitable giving, self-denial — a little Lent. The priest wears purple, the colour of penance, and purple hangs in the church. We sing special hymns that belong to that time of waiting: O Come Divine Messiah, and O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

In our house, we put out the Advent candles on the 1st Sunday of Advent: one candle for each Sunday, and one for Christmas Day. We light them for our dinner meal: one candle for the first week of Advent, two for the second, three for the third, four for the fourth, and all five on Christmas Day. Three of the candles are purple; the one for the third Sunday of Advent is rose, the colour of joy, when our hope and delight can no longer be contained and overflows in the very first prayer of the mass, which begins with the Latin word Gaudete, which means ‘joy’.

We also put up the Jesse Tree on the first Sunday. Another old tradition we have made our own, the Jesse tree refers to Jesus, who was the promised tree that would branch forth from the root of Jesse, the father of King David of the Old Testament. (Yes, the one who fought Goliath.) Each day, we add a symbol to the tree and are reminded of the story behind it, from the star that recalls creation to the mother and child added on Christmas Day. The grandchildren and I collected or made the ornaments on our tree over many years, so each has a personal story as well as a Biblical one, and handling the ornaments I feel close to those who are far away.

The nativity set last year, on Christmas Eve

And the nativity set will go up this weekend. Just the stable at first, and the animals, with the other pieces in other parts of the house, slowly drawing nearer day by day, until by Christmas Eve the tableau awaits only the baby and the three wise men, who in my house arrive on the 26th instead of the traditional 6th January, because I can wait no longer.

On a more secular note, baking is another traditional activity I inherited from my mother: Christmas cake, gingerbread, Christmas sweet mince pies, shortbread. I usually have a couple of grandchildren to bake with, and they go home laden with treats, wrapped in cellophane to give as presents, along with crafts they’ve made and cherries and plums off our trees, which are laden at this point in the New Zealand summer.

Strawberries from the garden, ready to go in the berry salad with boysenberries, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, black and red currants, blueberries and cranberries

Christmas dinner changes year by year, but has always included a berry salad, since the day I first made it in Dunedin, when my children were all still at school. Christmas is in summer in New Zealand, so we may have a barbecued lamb roast, with luxurious salads and copious relishes and pickles and salads.

I started another tradition three years ago. This will be the fourth year in a row that I’ve published a book on or about the middle of December. The first was my first historical romance, Candle’s Christmas Chair, the story of a viscount who goes to commission an invalid’s chair to give the gift of mobility to his disabled mother, and stays to court the carriage maker’s daughter who designed the chair.

Candle is one of four novellas and two novelettes in this year’s book, If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales. It releases on Friday. The print book is already available and would make a great treat for a lover of historical romances and holiday stories. Pop by my website for the blurb and buy links.

The print book of If Mistletoe Could Tell Tales, open to show the lovely Christmas page divider. Two of the books alongside are included in the collection. And yes. Those are my toes.

May you and yours enjoy a very merry holiday time, whatever your season, traditions and beliefs. Best wishes from me and mine to you and yours for a prosperous and happy new year.

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Christmas Miracles

Do you believe in Christmas Miracles? In the month of December, they happen every day on the Hallmark Channel, but how about in real life? Your life? I’ve experienced two. The first one happened during the Christmas season following my mother’s death. I was fifteen.

On a cold and snowy night, I heard a kitten crying outside our front door. This seemed remarkable because we lived on a large piece of property and for any kitten, especially a  sick one, it would be a trek to the front porch. Plus, we had two dogs who lived outside. But despite the distance, the dogs, and his health, this poor, sick kitten found his way to our porch. His eyes were crusty and only partially open, his fur splotchy and missing in places, his legs weak and wobbly. I named him  Wenceslas in honor of the season. Nursing him back to health made a bleak and lonely Christmas bearable. He grew into a magnificent cat and lived for nearly 20 years. I wrote a short story about him. You can read it here: Magic Beneath the Huckleberries.

The second happened a few years ago.

They met at the university, ages 16 and 17. He was the top student in the engineering class her brother student taught and president of the ROTC. When he was 19 and she was 18, they told their parents they were going to marry and his mother fainted. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple.

Grandpa attended MIT, Cornell and received his masters degree from Stanford. For almost forty years he worked as a rocket scientist for Hughes Aircraft. All those smarts, all that education, and in the end he didn’t know the names of his seven children. Eventually, he forgot his wife.

It started small — confusion in the grocery store, misdealt cards, falling down. He fell down a lot. Repeatedly, he lost the dog. Sometimes he lost himself. He took to hiding in his office when company, even his children, came. He hid until he disappeared.

He died in the fall.

At the funeral the siblings shared lessons they’d learned from their dad, and I found it touching that the boys (analytical brainy types all) were more emotional than their sisters. Thirty of his grandchildren sang Love is Spoken Here. As I was sitting at the piano, I couldn’t see their faces, but I watched them come forward, tall, amazingly handsome and beautiful. Their song matched their beauty. Then the great grandchildren sang and I realized that even though we’d lost grandpa, we have a new crop of people to know and love. Grandpa has 149 posterity.

They buried Grandpa high on a hill in a cemetery in the Avenues of Salt Lake. After Uncle Richard’s dedicatory prayer the girls laid red roses and the boys placed red carnations on his casket. Our family stopped for ice-cream at the Hatch Family Chocolate Shop on our way back to the chapel. It seemed appropriate, because Grandpa ate ice-cream nearly every evening.

For years we shared the holidays with Grandpa and Grandma. Christmas afternoon, our family would pile into the van and drive up the San Bernardino Mountains. We’d pass the Cliffhanger restaurant and drive through Blue Jay Village. Aunts, uncles and cousins usually joined us and we’d party for days. Grandma supplied candy and food. Grandpa provided games and tucked little gold envelopes filled with money into the tree.

When the drive up and down the mountain became too difficult, Grandpa and Grandma sold their home in Lake Arrowhead and moved to Saint George. In the spring, when life became too difficult they moved to Salt Lake. In the summer, Grandpa moved to an assisted living facility.

Although it’s been a few months now, Grandma is slowly settling into her new home. She lives ten minutes away from two daughters and has a host of grandchildren nearby. A few days before Christmas, Grandma found a little gold envelope among Grandpa’s files. Without opening it, she tucked it into the Christmas tree and saved it for Christmas morning. She would spend the day with a daughter and her family, but the morning she would be alone, for the first time.

It must have been a very quiet Christmas morning for her, so different from the bustle of our holidays spent in Lake Arrowhead. The children and even the grandchildren are grown and gone, busy with their own lives. The candy, the games, the laughter – even Grandpa, gone. Except for the one gold envelope. She pulled it out, opened it, and found $100.

And felt Grandpa near.

How about you? Have you had a Christmas Miracle?  I consider every story idea a miracle, and I’m grateful for each and every one. Today, my novella Baby Blue Christmas is free! Get yours here!Baby Blue Christmas

But, if you want a real bargain, you can get it and eight other holiday stories in the latest Authors of Main Street Christmas box set.

004 websiteBUY IT NOW!

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Family Holiday Traditions

It is that time of year again…holidays with the family! Time for all the remembered foods. Time for all the remembered traditions. But…

Sometimes traditions have to change. People move away and it is harder to get together. Dinner that used to be at six o’clock has to move to brunch at noon or a late dinner at nine to accommodate work schedules. Opening presents has to happen on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning so that everyone can be there. Still…

The feelings. The happiness. The excitement remains the same. The family is together, hopefully, and the fun can commence.

My favorite part of Christmas is reminiscing of holidays past. Thinking of where you got a favorite ornament as you put it on the tree. Laughing about the Turkey Fiasco of ’87 as you are working in the kitchen. Baking cookies with mom’s recipe handed down from her grandmother. Sitting around the dinner table and talking about the shared memories of the past year.

My favorite memory: Every year my mom, my brother, and I would make Christmas cookies. Making cookies with kids is fun but messy. We made sugar cookies, butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and more.  My mom had numerous slips of paper from magazines and handwritten notes from relatives in her cookbook. Some years we tried new recipes and sometimes we just did the usual. Sometimes the new recipes worked and got added to the cookie making day. Sometimes they failed spectacularly and we laughed as we tried terrible tasting cookies and tossed them and moved on. Making cookies in our household was a day-long event. Meals were fitted in between putting cookies in, taking them out, and letting them cool.

But one thing was a guarantee each year. My mom would wear black pants. And by the time we were finished they would be covered with flour handprints. And every year she would swear to remember not to wear them next year. As I spend another Christmas missing my mom, I would give anything to be baking cookies and laughing at her flour-printed black pants.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Jill James, romance writer and lover of cookies!

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Peace on Earth and Spread Good Will

December is for giving. What most people don’t realize is that most writers give back all the time. Being this is the season for giving, I thought I’d share with you.

I give back. I run writers’ groups every Tuesday. I do classes on writing at the local libraries. Usually twice a year, and I try to help local and online friends realize their dreams as authors.

Anyone in this business will help. But be prepared. Most of us are busy. Don’t expect an answer that evening or the next day. Especially if you want us to read something! Most of the answers can be found in Kindle Direct Publishing or what we call K. D. P. Don’t understand that technical stuff? Check their FAQ. There are also some great online groups where you can ask questions. Learn what you are doing! Don’t expect us to spoon-feed you. You’re an adult.

Yes, many of us entered this indie publishing as it was just starting. We didn’t have anyone to hold our hands. We made mistakes. Kindle made mistakes. But we kept making changes as they did and we’ve all learned. I can remember my panic as I uploaded my first book. I sat and looked at the button that said publish for probably five minutes until I had the guts to click on it. It honestly felt like an hour.

Know something about what you are doing before you do it! Do not expect to put your book up and have it sell a gazillion copies right from the get-go. You’ll hear about books that want viral. That didn’t happen overnight. They did a few things before they posted that book online. I’ve known people who have put a book online and then they will ask me when will it start selling. Have they done anything to make it sell? Have they spent money advertising it? Do they belong to any groups online? The answer is sad. No, they haven’t. They expected that it would just take off. They want that $100,000 a year income from it. Don’t we all?

The other thing I hear is: I want to write and publish my memoirs. My first question is why? What has happened to you that is so compelling? It’s always the same story. There are dozens of those stories out there. How many books have you read with that theme? What will make your story stand out? They don’t know.

May I offer a suggestion? Write it. Get it out of your system. Let your children know that you have this manuscript that you’ve written about your crappy life with a dysfunctional family. Maybe one day those children might read it.

On the other hand, those who do have lives worth writing about seem to ignore it. Case in point, a local woman has been a missionary in the Middle East and in places further east almost her entire life. Her story of that time is amazing. She’ll read her old journal entries during our writer meetings and you can hear a pin drop. I’ve been trying to tell her that those journals of her time there are worth putting into a book. She ignores me and wants to write devotional stuff. What’s truly fascinating in those journals is her hopes and dreams for her own children growing up in third world countries and her beautiful descriptions of places untouched by civilization. Living without running water and carrying the water they needed from a stream that wasn’t even close to the shack where they lived. The political stuff that she has lived to tell about. OMG! The people who have awaken them in the middle of the night and made them leave with only what they could carry, and then later that morning discovering that the country was overthrown in a bloody carnage. Trying to get to civilization because her babies were due or trying to get home to the States because a family member was dying. That’s what glues us to her readings. It’s the human aspect of her life while under duress. We can lead the horse to water but we can’t make the creature drink. Maybe someday her grandchildren will pull those journals into a book, not the whole journal but lifting the best tidbits from them.

December is beyond all the gift giving and Christmas lights. It’s about giving more than that. Have you given of yourself? Tried to lift someone up or helped in way way? December has just begun, there’s plenty of time to do that. There’s also time to plan for next year. Can you share a bit of yourself? Give some time to help those who are just breaking into your career or maybe studying for your career. Are you an engineer? Can you give an afternoon to your local library to entice children especially those little females that they too can be engineers? STEM is serious there are less than 12%  of the engineers are female, and the engineering schools don’t have females even applying for those classes. It has dwindled to virtually no female attendance.  Call your local Girl Scout office and say hey, I can do this!

Give that little gift of yourself. There’s some little talent inside that you can share and as a result the world will be different because of what you’ve done. Time is your greatest gift.

Merry Christmas…..Happy Hanukkah

No matter what you celebrate, stay safe this season and spread a little good cheer!

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Happy Holidays y Que le Vaya Bien!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, filled with the people you care about most in the world. If you couldn’t be with them, I hope they were in your heart.

My youngest son, my partner, and I are far from our New Zealand home… in Fort Worth, Texas. We had quite a different Thanksgiving holiday. Matthew had never had one, being from the UK and then NZ, and my son Elliot has only had what I could cobble together in New Zealand for the traditional dinner. For me, this was my first one in a restaurant! 

Luckily we booked a few days in advance and actually found a restaurant with room for us which did a non-yuppie thanksgiving feast. I ate too much… once again. I could seriously have done without the pumpkin cheesecake.  I ate it like it was pie…but it was far from that… being mostly cream. A few miles’ walk back to our hotel helped considerably.


The dinner was spectacular and afterwards, the entertainment was hysterical…some people at the next table had their turkey hats on…complete with gobbling and wriggling legs.

Last week, we enjoyed some great Southern hospitality in San Antonio, where we exhibited our Equi-Still Portable Equine Stocks at the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) Convention last weekend.  6000 equine vets all in one place! This was just one lecture!

The stocks are pretty versatile….here’s our smallest visitor to the booth!   

We headed out east three times to eat at Taqueria Los Dos Laredos Mexican restaurant where few spoke English. The best kind.  Plus, I got to practice my rusty Español. 🙂

We stayed at the historic Menger Hotel, established and in operation since 1859. Carriage horses from the Lollypop Carriage Company waited right outside

and the Alamo is across the street! Right up my alley. 🙂

I’ve had a week off from writing, but after publishing three books so far this year, I guess that’s okay.  Plus, I’ve been accumulating new stories…

I hadn’t known the history of the Alamo before, but “Battle for Texas” in the mall nearby gave much more detail on it than was even present at the Alamo site itself.

I’m already ruminating on how to include it in one of my upcoming stories…maybe in one of the novellas I’d like to write about Krzysztof’s life!  We’ll have to work on that one. 🙂 It’ll have to be heresay, as the Alamo fell in 1836 and the Galician Slaughter, the stimulus for Aleksandra’s father and mother leaving Poland, occurred in 1846. :/  That’ll take some thinking.

Today we visited the historic Fort Worth Stockyard Station. It was pretty cool.

Instead of tearing the old stockyards down, as often happens, they transformed much of the site into a tourist attraction, full of stores, restaurants, and wedding venues, with some of the old stock areas still in evidence. It’s lucky for people like me, who want to see those too!

Billy Bob’s famous honkey tonk/ dance hall is there, but as it was Thanksgiving today… well, everyone was home with their families. Few places were open. But that, too, I liked. We got to see the place without hordes of people!

Have a wonderful holiday, talk with you next month!

Hasta luego y que le vaya bien from the travellers!

Thanks for coming by!




If you haven’t yet ordered your copy of Christmas Babies on Main Street, it’s available now!  Click here to get it now!

Hope you love the heartwarming stories therein. If you do, we’d love you to leave a review on Amazon!

Thanks again for visiting



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Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow! It’s hard to believe another year has gone by so quickly.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to the grocery three times this past week. I work from a list, but there was always something I’d forgotten, or decided on another dish or dessert to make and needed extra items.

The past few years have been easier. We spend Thanksgiving with my daughter-in-law’s family. We all pitch in, take a few dishes, add with multiple others, then the table is full. Wonderful day with extended family.

I used to make the entire dinner myself for anywhere from fifteen to twenty-something people. My home filled with family, love and way too much food. I loved every minute of the day! I also miss those times terribly.

Kids grew up and had their own families. They stayed home and prepared their own dinners. New families making their own traditions, yet still shared with family.

I am thankful for my family and friends.

I wish you a Wonderful Thanksgiving with family or friends. May the day be a blessing to you.

What are some of the ways you celebrate Thanksgiving?

If you haven’t gotten your copy of Christmas Babies on Main Street, please consider checking it out!
Please check out these links to my books, available at Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

I wish you Butterflies, Music and Love…

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Justice, Love, and being Thankful

blind-justiceI’ve been thinking a lot about justice while I’ve been writing: A Time to Kill (working title).  This is a story, a legal thriller, that deals with themes that are hard to tackle in real life. Even for those whose jobs require dealing with application of law to a particular set of circumstances.

Law, even the equal application of it, often has little to do with accomplishing a just result. Odd for a lawyer with twenty plus years of trying cases to admit, but there it is. It is a dichotomy a lawyer—an active one anyway—shouldn’t delve too deeply into.

But a novelist can.

Where law, the equal (or unequal) application of it, and a just result each diverge is visceral stuff. The kind of gut-wrenching stuff every good vigilante story, legal thriller, or under-dog super-hero story is woven from. Might means right is enough to get most people’s blood boiling and it’s all about the details from there. Details a novelist can turn and twist and revel in. Sometimes when there is little we can do as individual citizens, there is much we can accomplish by writing about injustice and making those who meet out injustice feel the blunt edge of our pens (or keyboard). It’s cathartic—hopefully for the reader as well when the bad-guys fall.


In, Black’s Law Dictionary, Fifth Edition, there are two entries for the word, ‘justice’. The second entry is a noun and refers to the title of judge, generally a title given to federal court and state supreme court judges. The first is a verb. The definition reads, “To do justice, to see justice done; to summon one to do justice.” Law, not moral theory. Consequently, no real definition here. It may be like Justice Potter Steward’s Supreme Court short concurrence in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) when he said he couldn’t define pornography, but, “I know it when I see it.”

I love that line. I think it can be said of love, self-sacrifice, honor, integrity and justice. I may not be able to define any of those things, but I know them when I see them. When a writer gets it right, the reader also experiences each of those things without the author ever having to define them.

Just one of the reasons I’m enthused about writing and I love to be enmeshed in great story-telling when I read a great novel—I get to add my own version of love, honor, duty, integrity and yes, what is a just and an unjust result to every word I write as well as every word I read.

I’ll have more about plot and less about themes next month. Suffice it to say the plot of A Time to Kill involves finding legal solutions to the very real issue of child victimization. When the law doesn’t have solution, those who can enact justice, will.

During this month of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the ability to write about these themes and conflicts. Especially love. Because without love of something or someone, a story just isn’t worth reading.05a4d20237c5652eb3dc7504a8c280c9

Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone. May love, family, great food and at least one good story find you this Holiday. For those of you doing NaNo—you Rock!








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