I’m taking a break to celebrate the holidays with my family. So, I’m sharing a blog that originally ran in 2012. I tweaked it just a bit to reflect what’s happening right now, but the message is timeless. Happy holidays, everyone!
We have nine days until Christmas. Where has the time gone? Is it just me, or has this year flown by? It feels like it shouldn’t even be Halloween yet. Probably because Halloween came and went without even a carved jack-o-lantern or toasted pumpkinseed in our household (and I love toasted pumpkin seeds…). Halloween was preempted by deadlines and obligation. There was just no time. Missing that, we held on tight as we careened into November, which is birthday season in our family; then the birthdays gave way to Thanksgiving. Now, here we are sprinting toward the end of another year.
I realized the other day, I need to slow down and smell the Christmas cookies. Actually, I need to make time to bake some. I need to make time to enjoy my family and the meaning of the season before it’s over and we’re halfway through next year.
It’s time to take a deep breath and live in the moment.
I’m reading a great book called Ten Zen Seconds by Eric Maisel. Chapter nine, Embracing The Moment, really spoke to me. It’s about the difference between “passing the time” (or in my case, racing through it) and “being present.” Living in the moment. It’s really given me pause and made me think.
How is it that we get so busy that we don’t have time to enjoy life? We get so caught up in planning and scheduling and racing from one thing to the next that we neglect to live. Events that are supposed to be fun and memorable become burdens or worse yet, they slip by because we don’t have time or we’re present in body, but not in spirit as our mind wanders, planning what’s next .
The commitments and obligations won’t evaporate – and the truth is, we probably don’t want most of them to go away. I just finished back-to-back deadlines (and thank goodness for book contracts!). I’ve barely made a dent in my Christmas list (probably good for the budget). My daughter just got home from college and my father just returned for the holidays (one of the most important events I’ve been anticipating all year. I don’t want to take for granted a single moment with my family). I am determined to slow down and savor the rest of the month.
What’s your best tip for enjoying the spirit of the season? How do you keep up with family, friends, work, housework, decorating and all those holiday concerts, pageants, and parties and keep your sanity? How do you live in the moment during the holidays?
I’m on deadline working extra hard to finish my book before Thanksgiving. But I wanted to pop out of the writing cave today for some fun with my friends in the Jaunty Quills community.
How about we play a round of Five Things? I’ll tell you five things about me, and then you tell me five things about you. Here goes…
1. I have a corgi named Samantha. I call her the ambassador of all dogs because she made me love dogs. I was raised with cats and hadn’t had much experience with dogs – except for our neighbors’ dog, Missy, who bit me and pushed me firmly into the cat-lover camp. Then Sammy came along and changed everything. I still love cats, but it’s ridiculous how much I love my dog.
2. My favorite hobby is art journaling. Because I use a lot of found objects in my journal creations certain people close to me have accused me of being a hoarder. I am not. Yes, I need fifteen different shades of blue paint. And that ripped corrugated cardboard box? Don’t throw that away. I can make something beautiful out of it. Really, I can.
3. Oh, no, now you think I’m a hoarder, don’t you? Actually, one of my quirks is that I find cleaning very therapeutic. So, I’m a clean hoarder. And I won’t let you make me feel bad about it.
4. When I was young, I used to be able to lay on the floor, rise up into yoga cobra pose and touch my feet to the back of my head. Yeah, I can’t do that anymore.
5. Other than writing, my dream job would playing Eponine on Broadway in the musical Les Misérables. However, since I can’t sing I’ll stick to writing and torture my family with my heartfelt rendition of On My Own.
So, how about you? I’ll give a $5 Amazon gift card to one person who shares Five Facts about him- or herself.
RT Book Reviews gives Nancy Robards Thompson’s A CELEBRATION CHRISTMAS 4 stars and says, “Thompson takes us back to Celebration, Texas, to check on old friends and create new memories.” Harlequin Special Edition, November 2014
Halloween marks the start of the busiest time of year in our house. There are so many birthdays mixed in with the holidays we’re pretty much celebrating through Valentine’s Day. Still, no matter how busy we are, I always carve out time to do some baking. Birthday cakes, sugar cookies, gingerbread, and bourbon balls are standard holiday favorites in our house. My mother-in-law was the Queen of the Snickerdoodle cookie. My mom used to make these incredible seven layer cookies. But the thing that really signifies the start of the holiday season – or at least “fall” is my grandmother’s pumpkin bread.
In my latest release A CELEBRATION CHRISTMAS, Lily Palmer is a nanny for Dr. Cullen Dunlevy’s four foster kids. What better way to keep them occupied and out of trouble than to keep their hands busy baking holiday treats? She teaches them to make sugar cookies and her grandmother’s Christmas bread.
Even though I’ve been busy in the writing cave working hard to finish up deadlines before the festivities begin, Lily inspired me to pull out the mixer and whip up a batch of my grandma’s pumpkin bread.
Here’s her recipe:
Grandma’s Pumpkin Bread
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup fresh or canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Sift together the first eight ingredients.
In a separate large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add the sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, then beat in the pumpkin puree, vanilla and milk. Beat in the dry ingredients a little bit at a time and mix until smooth.
Pour the batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds (if desired). Bake for about 1 hour.
I guarantee you it will make your entire house smell like fall.
What says “fall” to you? I’ll give away a $5 Amazon gift card to one person who comments.
RT Book Reviews gives A CELEBRATION CHRISTMAS 4 Stars!
“Dr. Cullen Dunlevy is in need of a holiday nanny for his for grieving, misbehaving wards. What he gets is a curve a shares beauty who is making him all hot and bothered. Celebration schoolteacher Lily Palmer needs this temporary job and is prepared for everything these kids throw her way. What surprises her is how fast she falls for them and their guardian, Dr. Dreamy. Thompson takes us back to celebration, Texas, to check in on old friends and create new memories. It’s fun to watch her complicated commitment-phobic hero and nurturing nanny take the ultimate plunge, but it’s the four hurting little co-stars who add heart rending-poignancy.”
Lily Palmer is in for the Christmas of a lifetime! When the nanny signs up to watch Dr. Cullen Dunlevy’s four foster kids, she’s got her hands full. The Thomas clan is the most mischievous group of youngsters she’s ever had to wrangle, but Lily loves the job. After all, what girl wouldn’t adore spending the holidays with a warmhearted new family—and their irresistibly handsome foster dad?
Cullen doesn’t mind Christmas, but his Scrooge-like facade is there for a reason—to protect himself. His tough childhood caused him to hide behind his work and avoid entanglements at all costs. That includes avoiding falling for the deliciously tempting new nanny that Santa left for him this year…
* Where did you get the idea for A CELEBRATION CHRISTMAS?
The Sound of Music has always been one of my favorite movies. I saw it for the first time when I was very young. Later, I shared it with my daughter. I hope someday she’ll continue the chain. In the meantime, I wanted to write a book that was a nod to that classic story that shows that with love and family you can overcome just about anything.
Of course, I changed it up enough to make it my own. First, it’s set during the holidays. Cullen, the hero, is a doctor rather than a wealthy navy captain; and Lily, the heroine, is a teacher rather than an aspiring nun. There are four kids rather than seven. Actually, in the first incarnation of this book, I gave Cullen seven foster children, but then I came to my senses. He and Lily were grateful because as it turned out, four feisty Thomas children were more than enough.
* Tell us about the hero and heroine of the book? Why will we want them to fall in love?
We met both Cullen and Lily in previous books. I introduced you to Lily inCELEBRATION’S BRIDE (she was the woman who won the wedding of her dreams, only to have her fiancé back out on national television). Cullen first appeared inCELEBRATION’S FAMILY. He was the stern chief of staff at Celebration Memorial, who insisted that the hero of that book participate in the bachelor auction that raised money for the hospital’s pediatric wing.
Lily’s nurturing, never-give-up-on-love spirit softens Cullen’s hard exterior and together they realize that through love and family they can heal hurts of the past.
* Is there any particular significance in the setting?
I think Debbie Haupt of RT Book Reviews said it best, “Thompson takes us back to Celebration, Texas to check in on old friends and create new memories.”
* What was your favorite scene to write?
This book was so much fun to write, that it’s difficult to pick just one scene, but I guess the scenes with the kids were my favorite…or maybe the scenes at the Holiday market…or maybe when the hero and heroine go to the Christmas ball… Wow! Choosing is kind of like naming my favorite child.
* Were there any real-life inspirations for a particular scene or character in the book?
I infused several personal details into the book. Like Lily, I lost my mother and was exceptionally close to my grandmother. My grandmother’s recipes are very special to me. I cook her food when I’m missing her.
My father remarried a wonderful woman, who was first generation German American and my lovely step-mother shared her mother’s recipe for a German Christmas bread called stollen, a confection filled with dried fruits and marzipan. In the book, the stollen recipe came from Lily’s grandmother and to bring some holiday cheer into the house, she teaches the kids how to make it.
* Do any beloved characters from your previous books show up in this one?
Oh, yes! Sydney and Miles from CELEBRATION’S BRIDE and Pepper and A.J. from Celebrations, Inc. Catering Company among others. It was fun revisiting everyone.
* Any interesting tidbits of information you discovered while researching this book?
I wanted Lily to tell the children the story of Christmas stollen and when I was researching it, not only did I learn all about where stollen came from (Lily will tell you all about it in the book), I learned there used to be an annual stollen festival in Germany. They’ve recently revived it and now it’s called Stollenfest.
That makes me wonder about your holiday traditions. I know it’s a little early for some of you to talk about Christmas and Hanukkah, but we are getting close to Halloween and Thanksgiving. What are some of your fall/winter traditions?
I will give away an ARC of CELEBRATION CHRISTMAS to one person who posts on this blog.
If you’d like another chance to win, I’ve joined with a group of authors from Tule and we’re a prize package worth $500 in the Great Thanksgiving Giveaway. Follow the link for details on how you can win.
I can’t wait to hear about your fall/winter traditions!
First, thanks to Nancy for inviting me to join you today. I first met Nancy when her book, Reinventing Olivia first came out, when I was starting that ‘road to publication’ journey, and she has always been there for encouragement and advice.
[Nancy: I'm so glad you could join us today, Terry!]
I love series books. I’ve been known to read book 1 in a series and go to the bookstore and buy the next 14 books all at once. If I start a book and realize there were precursors, I’ll put it aside and read the earlier ones until I catch up. I want to meet the characters head-on in their first appearances.
In the mystery genre, series books feature a protagonist and a group of secondary characters that grow throughout the series. People may come and go, relationships may change, but the books build on each other. By my definition, the books in these series are sequels. The same protagonists come back as the “stars”, moving forward with their lives.
In romance, though, ‘series’ tend to be spin-offs, rather than sequels. There might be hints and references to what happened before, but the major players in book 2 were probably secondary characters in book 1.
(I did write a true sequel to a romance, primarily because I wasn’t “done” with the characters, and also because nobody told me it was against the “rules”—but that’s another story.)
The trick to series, sequels and connected books is a careful balance of back story. I read a sequel by a well-known, big-name author that revealed so much I never bothered to read book one. When I picked it up, I was unaware it was book two, or I probably wouldn’t have read it first.
My newest Blackthorne, Inc. book, Windswept Danger, is the 6th book in the series. It features Hotshot, who was—as a secondary character–injured in the 5th book. Since there wasn’t a lot on the page about any specifics of that incident, I saw no reason to stop the story to give details about what that mission had been about, or what had happened to him. Back story is about IV drips, not tube feeding.
So, this is the way I referenced what had happened to Hotshot – it should let readers who know what happened feel like insiders, but those who haven’t read the first book shouldn’t have to stop and wonder about all the back story details, or feel like they’re being left out of a private moment. In the opening chapter, this is the only mention:
Hotshot shifted, bracing his feet against the limb of the pine, stretching against the massive trunk, trying to keep the blood circulating. His torso protested, the aches reminding him of the recent op in Mexico, aches he suspected would be with him for a long time to come.
As with any back story, it’s important to know 1) Does the reader need to know this? And 2) Does the reader need to know this now? But with series and spin-offs, there are additional considerations: 3) Does this spoil the read for earlier books? And 4) Will this confuse the reader instead of moving the story forward.
The Stepford Wives meet Hotel California
Can a feisty security agent who hates taking orders and a covert ops specialist who has something to prove, put aside their own differences and their own agendas long enough to uncover the secrets of Windswept Heights?
(Hotshot and Olivia are working out their cover stories for their assignment to infiltrate Windswept Heights)
“So, you want to tell me what Nurse Livvy’s going to make me do?”
His smile, slow and lazy, made her think this assignment might not be so bad after all, even if he seemed to like pushing her buttons with that Nurse Livvy bit. She had to force herself to keep from smiling in return. This was a job. And she’d be damned if she was going to let him run things on the op. She’d spent most of her life trying to get away from males who thought having both an X and a Y chromosome made them superior and gave them the right to tell her what to do. Maybe Hotshot thought he was one great gift to women. Maybe that’s where his nickname came from.
She took her water and returned to her seat on the couch. “First, you will refer to me as either Miss Fairchild or Olivia.”
He did that smile thing again. “In public.”
“Better make it in private, too. For all we know, there will be people listening in. And, it’s too easy to slip.”
What about you? Do you read in order? Do you like sequels? Spin-offs? And what’s your take on spoilers?
Right now, Windswept Danger is available for pre-order at the introductory price of 99 cents. When it’s officially released on Oct. 27th, it will be $3.99, so you’re saving $3 if you pre-order. And also, because it’s a cause near and dear to me, I’m donating ALL (that’s 100%) of my pre-order royalties to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I hope you’ll take a chance on pre-ordering the book and know you’re helping a good cause. You can find more about the book, and buy links, here. And, because I know some people like to start at the beginning, I’ll offer a download of Book 1, When Danger Calls, to one commenter.