The importance of holiday traditions

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A seasonal Monday musing

by Raine Thomas

My love of the holidays started in my childhood. As busy as my mom was while working full time and running our household of six, she always managed to find the time to dig out the holiday decorations from their storage boxes in the garage and get them up so we could all enjoy them. For many years, we had the same disheveled artificial Christmas tree that she decorated with so many strands of lights you got a little shock if you pulled the plug the wrong way. That sad tree is a memory invoking notes of A Charlie Brown Christmas, another tradition in our household.

I also remember spending days in the kitchen with my mom. She had a variety of cookie recipes she made every year. Magic cookie bars, thumbprint cookies, butter balls, lemon squares, and iced sugar cookies were at the top of her list. She’d make enough cookies to put into pretty tins to give our teachers, our neighbors, the mailperson, the garbage collectors, and anyone else she wanted to recognize. Everyone loved them! It helped me and my brothers learn that gifts don’t always have to cost a lot of money to be appreciated. In fact, those gifts requiring time and thoughtfulness are usually among the most beloved!

When I got older, some of my best holiday memories involved going with my mom from store to store looking for bargains on gifts and new decorations to add to our individual households. We would stop for breakfast at the local diner (boy, do I miss their biscuits and gravy!), then venture around the malls and shops of south Atlanta. Once all the shopping was done, we set a day to get together, indulge in some alcoholic holiday cheer, and spend hours wrapping presents together while watching one Christmas movie or another.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

My mom passed away earlier this year. I can’t help but think about all of those traditions now as we venture into our first Christmas without her. My 13-year-old daughter was very close with her grandma, so I know memories of our many Christmases with mom are also at the forefront of her mind.

I’ve come to realize just how important those many holiday traditions were. They weren’t just “traditions.” They were memories in the making. They were moments that we can revisit now and feel joy when otherwise we might be mournful.

Rather than focus on our loss, we’ve decided to focus on happy traditions…those traditions I had with my mom and those we’re creating ourselves. We’ll be making fresh gingerbread cookies and decorating them together. We’re hunting for Christmas movies my daughter hasn’t seen and spending time watching them. We’re playing the Christmas carols we all love every chance we get, and we’ll read the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore on Christmas Eve.

This time of year invokes a lot of nostalgia, especially in light of my mother’s passing. I’ve been taking time to write about my thoughts and feelings in hopes I can infuse them into a future story, as all life experiences should guide us authors. For now, though, I’ve got cookies to bake…and more importantly, memories to make.

Raine Thomas

Raine Thomas, new adult, young adult and romance

is the award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination, Raine has signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen.

Raine is a proud indie author who is living the dream. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

Get to know more about Raine on

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Christmas in paradise: Palm Trees & Snowflakes

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The holiday shopping season is officially on. From now till the end of the year, Teaser Thursday will feature holiday-themed books and novellas for your holiday entertainment.

A Hawaiian holiday season teaser

By Scott Bury

When she opened her apartment door, her reflection in the hall mirror shocked her. Her shoulder-length, light brown hair was tangled from the night’s activity and frizzy from Hawaii’s humidity. Her large green eyes were dark with fatigue, with semi-circular shadows under them. Blood smeared the sleeve of her overpriced jogging jacket. The little bump on her nose still frustrated her, as it did every time she looked in a mirror.

Her black-and-white cat wound around her ankles, making “Brrr-rp” sounds. She bent to pat him. “Hello, Tux. Did you miss me?”

Photo by Mel Gardner on Unsplash

Tux purred in answer. She carried him into the kitchen, where she saw her answering machine flashing. After filling Tux’s bowl, she hit the button. Her mother’s attenuated voice came out. “Hello, Honey. I was hoping it wasn’t too early when I called. I can never remember what the time difference is over there.” Vanessa could hear her father in the background, explaining it. Her eyes went to the photo of her parents that hung on her kitchen wall, taken on their thirtieth anniversary. A pang of guilt shot through her. “Oh dear, you’re probably asleep right now. Okay, I’ll just remind you to let us know when you’re arriving so we can pick you up at the airport. You know what the roads can be like at Christmastime. Call us. Love you.”

Vanessa did not have the energy to disappoint her mother by telling her she did not know whether she could come home to Vermont for the holidays. As she kicked off her running shoes, her mobile phone chimed. She looked at the screen and thought I’m even more tired than I thought.

No, her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. Perry Boyd. I’m coming to Hawaii tomorrow. Wd lv 2 C U.

She hadn’t seen Perry for over two years, hadn’t even spoken to him or exchanged emails. Now he wanted to come all the way to Hawaii from Vermont, just to meet her?

Vanessa always found Alan King’s sad disappointment harder to take than the tough dressing-down her previous commanding officer had preferred. Sitting across his desk from King, she had to think about not fidgeting. She glanced at Alan Terakawa beside her, then focused on King’s receding hairline.

After two hours of sleep, Vanessa had returned to the FBI office dressed according to the Bureau dress code, plus a little added Vanessa Storm flair: grey linen pants, a silk blouse under a stylish cotton jacket that concealed her shoulder-holster yet didn’t get too hot in the tropical climate. Her moderate heels brought her almost to her partner’s height.

Terakawa was dressed, as always, in FBI standard dark suit, white shirt and perfectly knotted tie.

“How did this go so wrong?” King asked, his eyes filled with pain. “A body in the morgue, two people in the hospital with gunshot wounds, one of them a law enforcement officer. I have to make an official statement to the media. Of course, after a detailed report to Washington. So tell me everything you can. First, though …” King focused first on Terakawa until he shifted in his seat. Vanessa saw sweat on his brow. Then the SAIC turned to Vanessa. Time telescoped. Her mouth went dry. “Are you two all right?”

“We’re fine,” Vanessa stressed. “I’m anxious to question the suspect.”

King sat back in his chair. “What do we know about the snowflake case?”

“Not much more than before. We got a tip from an informant that a new shipment was coming in on 9 Pier, but they didn’t know which container. The pills we found were concealed in children’s toys that came from Shanghai via Manila. Which is baffling. Previous shipments of snowflake have come from other ports, including Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur. One came in a container from Seoul. The methods for smuggling are different every time, too. While this shipment was in a child’s toy, others have been in flat-screen TVs, tires, cutlery, you name it.”

“Maybe you can find some answers in Ferreira’s computer,” King said. “Thank you. That’s all for now.”

Alan left, but Vanessa waited for a moment. “There’s one more thing.” She took a deep breath. “I’d like to request some vacation time to visit my parents in Vermont at Christmas.”

Photo by Alasdair Elmes on Unsplash

King’s cheeks puffed out as he sighed. “Normally, I’d say no problem. But we’re up to our elbows with this flood of new drugs, plus we’re short-staffed .”

“I appreciate that, sir. But things slow down during the holidays, even for the FBI. I have more than a week of holidays coming to me. This would be the first year I’ll have been away from my parents for Christmas. I’m an only child—”

King’s tone changed. His posture straightened. “I can appreciate that, Special Agent Storm. But I need you to understand how critical the snowflake case is. It’s the newest designer drug, and it’s sweeping the mainland. There have been six snowflake-related deaths among teenagers in the past two months, and Washington has made it a priority. Our best intelligence shows Honolulu as its first point of entry into U.S. territory. I’m sorry, but we need you here.”

Son of a bitch. “All right. How about this—if I can make a breakthrough and an arrest in the snowflake case by the twenty-third, I can take a week off at Christmas.”

A tiny smile broke King’s command façade. “Okay, Vanessa. If you can make a significant arrest by the twenty-third, you can take time off. Consider it a reward for a job well done.”

Now you’ve done it, Storm.

Palm Trees & Snowflakes

In Honolulu, where the palm trees are strung with lights for the holidays, FBI Special Agents Vanessa Storm and Alan Terakawa have their hands full trying to stop the deadly flow of snowflake, the newest designer drug. Faulty intel brings the agents into a deadly firefight, which yields even more puzzles. Time is running out to stop this lethal flood.

Available exclusively in Kindle e-book format from Amazon.

Scott Bury

It turns out a farmers’ market is not the best place to sell books. Who knew?

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Monday Musings: My Bright Idea—Stocking Stuffers

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by Kathleen Valentine

Back in October I had this sudden realization that the holidays were fast approaching. This is nothing new for me—I tend to spend most holiday seasons in total denial and look forward with unbelievable longing for December 26th. It’s not really that I am terribly Scroogy, it’s just that, like many writers, I resent demands on my time when I’d rather be writing. We are selfish people.

2014 was not the best year I’ve ever had. I took on too many projects that turned into long, drawn-out, complex ones that ate up far too much of my time. I hope I learned from that and will know better in the future. So, as I contemplated the coming holiday season and idea came to me. Like every writer, what I longed to do was annoy the heck out of all my friends by continuously reminding them that books make excellent gifts—especially my books, but I know that is bad form. And then I had this bright idea—what would happen if I made a book specifically designed to be a “stocking stuffer” and priced it low enough that people would actually buy it? This would mean I wouldn’t make a profit on it, but it would be a good way to get my work out there in a cheery, holiday way.

I have a few series of books one of which is called Secrets of Marienstadt. All the tales in this series are loosely based in legends and folklore from the Pennsylvania Dutch community I grew up in. In 2011 I released the first Marienstadt story, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt’s Wood, based on the custom of Belsnickel practiced in my hometown. In 2012, I published another Marienstadt story, a novel, called The Christmas Daughter, about a big, tough biker guy who suddenly finds himself the father of a shy, fragile, and vulnerable little girl. Recently I wrote another Marienstadt story called Treeing, which I was saving for a possible future collection. Since all three stories have a Christmas theme, I thought about combining them in one volume. I called it A Very Marienstadt Christmas and it would only be available in paperback—not digital, simply because the purpose is to encourage people to give it as a gift. Would it be a good idea? It was worth a try.

As I startedAVMCpromo2 the design of the book I had another brain-storm. Throughout the Marienstadt stories, much of the action takes place in Lola’s Strudel Shop and descriptions of the delicious pastries Lola serves are often remarked on by readers. What, I thought, would happen if I “spoke” to Lola and requeste that she write a chapter for the book telling about strudel and her recipes. It seemed like a good idea.

By the end of November the paperback was ready and I uploaded it to CreateSpace. Within days it had sold enough copies to make me feel encouraged that this was a worthwhile effort. Plus, I bought a couple cartons of them myself to give as my Christmas gifts.

I don’t know how long I will keep the book available but I think at some point I will withdraw it from distribution—it remains to be seen. And it also remains to be seen what, if anything might come of it. But one thing being an indie writer has taught me is that we can be as creative as we like and that is half the fun. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Belsnickel, etc. I’ll keep you posted.

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