Sunday, December 8, 2019

Santa Pictures – Part 1


I have noticed many encounters with Santa no longer offer formal photos. I keep seeing signs for “Selfies with Santa,” where you can take your own pictures on your phone.

When I was a child, the formal photo with Santa was a required ritual of the season.


My mother loved these photos. My dad and grandfather both worked at the Broadway Department Store in downtown Los Angeles, so our Santa photos were always taken there. My first one was taken when I was sixteen months old.

I look at this photo and can’t believe I was this age when my grandfather stood me up on my grandparents’ dining room table on Christmas Day, where I recited A Visit From St. Nicholas. You probably know it better from its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas. I raced through the whole thing, taking a deep breath following each couplet. Sixteen months old! And I know it happened since my mother recorded it in my baby book and often told the story. Besides, I actually remember looking down at my patent leather Mary Janes throughout the whole thing.

The next one is when I was twenty-eight months old.

My grandfather died two months earlier. He was the most important person in my life. In November, the month before, we moved into our new house in Alhambra, California, so my whole world had recently changed. I don’t look too thrilled, do I?

When I was three, my younger brother was a baby. He isn’t in this photo because he was too little (just over six months old).

I am always surprised to see photos of myself at this age because my hair was quite light. It was dark when I was little. It lightened until I was three. Then it grew dark again. I look as though I was forced to get the photo taken and was trying to escape.

By four, I was a veteran at taking these photos.

My hair was growing darker again. Note the curls. Not natural. Mom believed in permanent waves. They probably made dealing with my thick hair easier for her. I had a sensitive scalp, so it hurt every time she tried to brush or comb it. This is about as short as I ever wore it. (Note the skinned knee. It was a semi-permanent condition of my childhood.)

Ron would have been about a year-and-a-half, and I think he had his photo taken, too—by himself.

Next week, more Santa memories.

Did you have your photo taken with Santa? Do you still have yours?

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Holiday Traditions


Most families have holiday traditions. Often these have been passed down from generation to generation. We are no exception.

In our family, one special tradition began several years ago when decorating the tree became a chore. When Kim was little, I looked forward to doing it. I have hundreds of ornaments, and each one has a story. We have no plain or generic decorations. Each one represents memories.

For many years, our daughter invited a friend or two to help put them on the tree. We had hot chocolate and cookies as a reward. Of course, the best part was spending time with Kim and her friends.

Even when we moved here to Dana Point, Kim still came over to help. But when she moved to Texas fourteen years ago, it became more and more daunting.

For a few years, I hired our friend’s teenage kids to help, but they grew up and had lives of their own.

Enter our neighbors and their kids. Their property adjoined ours in the back yard. We first met them when their little boy—aged six—broke our window. Before long, we fell in love with the whole family. Since we have no grandchildren, we became surrogate grandparents—even though they have four wonderful grandparents already.

About eight years ago, I asked their mother if I could “rent” the kids (at the time there were five) to help decorate our tree. They were excited to do it. The first year, I learned to put the most fragile ones on the tree before they arrived. I wasn’t as concerned about broken decorations (things are to use and enjoy) as I was about one of them being hurt.

Now there are six of them, and yesterday, the tradition continued. Their mother brought all but one, who had a game, and they swarmed in to finish the job for us.

I took me two days to put on about a third of the ornaments. They put on the rest in less than an hour. Thank goodness.

Over the years, I have given them some of my ornaments each year. Now all the duplicates are gone as well as the ones without an emotional attachment. I have also given them most of my Christmas books. Several of them went again this year, including a new copy of my favorite, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Another part of the tradition is cookies. Ahead of time I bake several batches of cut sugar cookies. Once the tree is completed, the kids sit down and decorate them.

I put out icing and sprinkles and turn them loose. This year, Larry found eyeballs, and he couldn’t resist. The kids loved them! The youngest child decided to make “monsters” with multiple eyeballs.

Once they have decorated all of the cookies, each one chooses their three favorites to take home. (Of course, they eat few along the way.)

Before they leave, they always have to climb the back stairs and play in the back yard. They have now moved away, so one of their “jobs” is to check out their yard to see what has changed. (The family still owns the house.)

I know that some day in the not-too-distant future, they won’t want to come and do this every year. The oldest will graduate from high school in June, and the rest will follow behind.

But for Christmas 2019, we have a beautiful tree and cookies to serve during the holidays—along with the story of how they were decorated.

What special holiday traditions does your family observe?

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Giving Thanks



 A few years ago, I began a practice of gratitude. I’ve always been aware of my blessings, but this was different. Each day, I looked for something specific to be grateful for. And I have posted this on Facebook each day—with very few exceptions.

After all this time, I can assure you it makes a difference.

Sure, I get frustrated and angry just like everyone else. But by forcing myself to “count my blessings,” as the song says, I am able to find the balance in life. No matter how bleak things look, there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for.

I believe we humans are stewards of all the earth. What is a steward? According to the dictionary: someone who manages or looks after (another's property). Whose property is the universe? Bottom line, I believe EVERYTHING belongs to God. We are only temporary caretakers.

How does this play out in real life?

In 1984, we purchased a condo in San Juan Capistrano. We used it on the weekends, but for the first year, it sat empty during the week. (After her high school graduation, Kim lived there and attended Saddleback College. We still came down for the weekend.)

One of the first things we did after we moved in was to invite our friends in the area for brunch and a “house blessing.” How did it work? The pastor went from room to room and asked God’s blessing on all those who visited there, slept in the beds, ate at the table, cooked in the kitchen, etc.

It truly became a place of peace and rest for manyincluding us.

  • ·         My mother and her sister and a couple of her friends spent days there enjoying each other’s company and exploring the area.
  • ·         A young couple (friends of Kim’s) became pregnant and married suddenly. They had no money for a honeymoon, so we handed them the keys. They spend several days enjoying a real honeymoon they never expected.
  • ·         Several friends needed a place to get away, and the condo became their retreat.
  • ·         The choir director needed a place to shower and change his clothes after he ran. He lived too far away to go home. We gave him a key.
  • ·         Our neighbors in Arcadia had their parents here for a visit. They had never seen the ocean, so, of course, it was on their agenda. We invited them to take the family to the condo. They were able to go to the beach every day. One evening the grandparents babysat, and the parents went to Swallows Inn for dancing. They had a ball!


In 1987 we bought our current house in Dana Point. Of course, we had a house blessing here as well. Our friend, Tony, grew up in Japan. Buddhists believe salt repels evil spirits. The same in the Shinto religion. During their housewarming ritual, salt is usually sprinkled in front of the house to keep evil spirits away. So, Tony spread salt on the threshold and repeated some words of blessing in Japanese.

Then we entered, and the pastor repeated his blessing of every room. Afterward, we enjoyed brunch.

In 2007, we tore out our whole yard and redid it—including adding a waterfall.

Once again, we held a blessing ceremony. The yard is now overgrown, but the sound of the waterfall is still soothing and joyful.

I have always loved the idea of a mezuzah, the Jewish holder for a blessing placed on the doorpost. It serves as a reminder of the blessing of home. I found one with and angel. (My house is filled with them. I have collected them since I was a child.) When we replaced the front doors, I forgot to remove it. But a few years ago, I found another. It is back in its place next to the door.

Once again, as we approach Thanksgiving, I am convinced we should give thanks every day. We have much to be thankful for.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving Day.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Joys of Republishing


I am currently in the process of republishing the six Aspen Grove Romance Anthologies, co-written with Sherry Derr-Wille, Luanna Rugh, Christie Shary, and Cheryl Gardarian. Along with re-editing each of them and adding new covers (which Larry created—and they are gorgeous), I have had to create new video trailers.

I do these myself using PowerPoint and Moviemaker. These aren’t the slick productions some authors create for their books. We don’t have the budget. I like to think they are homey and appealing. And they might draw interest to the books. (I hope)

The first one republished was An Aspen Grove Christmas, number four in the series.

This one is Len Rugh’s favorite of the six anthologies. Larry also likes my novella, “Mistletoe Magic.” (He has reread it several times.) Here’s a link to the new video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTPxAgXH2r8

Next, I tackled the first book in the series, Snowflake Secrets. I have always loved this story since it takes the reader from 1958 to 2007, the year it was published.

This is the new video for this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW449L67E2g. I had to redo it three times. For some reason, the first one looked fuzzy. Don’t know why. The music I chose for this one is a guitar piece by our good friend Dan Gilson. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Jean Ruda Habrukowich, the same producer who recorded …And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe, is currently recording this one. So far, we are thrilled with the results.


I just finished republishing …And A Silver Sixpence in her Shoe, the last of the six in the series.
This morning, I uploaded the new video for this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lFxeYSB0UE.

Jean Ruda Habrukowich did a great job recording this one when the first edition came out. https://www.amazon.com/Silver-Sixpence-Her-Shoe-Aspen/dp/B013V6RNF4/ref=sr_1_5?keywords=and+a+silver+sixpence+collins&qid=1574095934&s=books&sr=1-5. I sent ACX the new cover art, and they will replace the old cover on the audiobook soon. (If you would like to hear this one, let me know. I have a few free codes.)

My novella, “Something Old” features a story inspired by the wedding dress my mother wore. She was married during WWII, and she borrowed it from a friend. I have always loved it. (The photo at the beginning of the novella is actually my mother in the dress which inspired the story.)

If you love romance, please check these out. And if you love Christmas stories, the first two are perfect!

I am now starting on another in the series and hope to have all six completed very soon.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Audiobooks




I just finished working with the producer (voice actor) on the audiobook of our book, Murder...They Wrote (Agapé Jones Mysteries). We are awaiting approval from ACX on the release. It should be available soon.

Now, nine of our books are completed. The producers (voice actors) don’t just read the books. Instead, they act out the characters to bring them to life.

I worked with Paul Janes-Brown on a Hawaiian anthology I edited several years ago, Paradise, Passion, Murder: 10 Tales of Mystery from Hawaii. He did a great job on that one, and I was thrilled when he agreed to do this one. He lives in Hawaii and knows the Hawaiian pronunciations. He also enjoyed Agapé. All proceeds for Paradise, Passion, Murder go to Read Aloud America.

I also worked with Tracy Arlene on the audiobook for Savannah Angel’s A Wolf's Magic, published on Savannah’s twelfth birthday. Tracy had the perfect young voice for this YA fantasy.

I just started working with Jean Ruda Habrakovich on the romance anthology Snowflake Secrets, the first book in the Aspen Grove Romance Anthologies series.

She recorded ...And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe (Book 6 in the series). I loved her voice on this one, and the sample she recorded for Snowflake Secrets is dynamite.

We have some codes for free audiobooks on Audible. If you’d like to know more, let us know.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Guest Blogger - Marilyn Meredith


Today my dear friend and favorite mystery writer, Marilyn Meredith, is my guest. We met at EPICon in San Antonio, Texas in 2006 when our first book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park was one of two nonfiction finalists. We arrived a day early. The gal who was supposed to be in charge of the book room had emergency surgery, so they asked for volunteers. This was where Larry and I met Marilyn and her husband, Hap. We hit it off right away and spent several hours getting to know them. We attended other EPICons in Portland, OR, Las Vegas, NV, and a couple of others in San Antonio in addition to the ones Marilyn mentions below. When our mutual publisher died, Larry and I re-edited an republished twelve of Marilyn's books--including a couple she had forgotten about (like her cookbook). When the publisher of her Deputy Tempe Crabtree series closed its doors this summer, we again re-edited and re-published all new editions. She now owns them all and will never lose her rights again. She and Hap are very dear friends, and I am pleased to have her here as my guest.

FRIENDSHIPS

Today is my 68th wedding anniversary. If you find that hard to believe, so do I. My husband has not only been the love of my life, he’s also been my best friend. We’ve been through all sorts of problems and wonderful experiences. The secret to the longevity of our marriage? Never giving up.

Today, I want to expound on another friendship, the one I have with the hostess of this blog, Lorna Collins. I have no idea how long we’ve been friends but I have some great memories shared with her and her husband.

An early one was at an EPICon in Virginia Beach in the dead of winter. We were in a great resort hotel with no one there but the members of our group.

Many of our times together were spent at EPICons, and I remember two special ones in San Antonio Texas, as well as in Oklahoma and other places. We had a wonderful time in Monterey for a Left Coast Crime.

However, my favorite memory is when my husband and I traveled to visit Lorna and her husband, Larry, at their home in Dana Point. It was a most special time.

Lorna and her husband are the ones who rescued my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series when the publishing house closed its doors. Lorna re-edited each one and put them up on Amazon, and her husband redid the covers.  I can’t thank them enough.

One other big link between Lorna and me is the fact that we celebrate our birthdays on the same day. Over the years, we’ve discovered we share many traits. Often I’ve called her my daughter from a different mother. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have a friend like Lorna.

In my latest book, Bones in the Attic, which Lorna edited for me, there are many important friendships—those between the police officers who work together, and the ongoing friendship of two teens, who both have seen trauma in their lives.

I bet Lorna can remember other places we’ve been together.

Marilyn

The discovery of a skeleton, a welfare check on a senior citizen, and a wildfire challenge the Rocky Bluff P.D.


Marilyn Meredith, who writes the RBPD mystery series as F.M. Meredith, is the author of over 40 published books. She once lived in a small beach town much like Rocky Bluff, and has many relatives and friends in law enforcement.

And she’s a regular on these blogs:
4th Monday of the month: https://ladiesofmystery.com/

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Remembering Emily


We arrived in Osaka, Japan on August 1, 1998. Before long, we began to meet some of the Americans already there. (We were the first of the USJ team to settle there, but other expats were in the area already.) Among the first were members of the US Consulate, including Paul Yeskoo. We were pleased to find they attended the same church we went to. (There was on only one English-speaking Christian church in the area.)

Paul and his wife, Lindsey, had three children: son, Chris, daughter, Emily, and baby Madeleine. Emily, the middle child, was cute, and bright, so sweet.
We were there with them for over two years, and we got to know all of them. My favorite memory of Emily at the time was a weekend in October of 2000 when the entire church decamped to Camp Sengari, a Japanese onsen or hot springs. Larry took his movie camera, and we have film of all the kids running by our cabin laughing together. There is film of everyone eating, playing games, and worshiping. And Emily is in most of them.

A couple of months before we left, the Yeskoos returned to Washington for cultural and language classes before being sent to Shanghai, China.

We returned home shortly thereafter.

About two years later, we heard some disturbing news. Emily was exhibiting some strange behavior. In December of 2002, nine-year-old Emily began to lose mobility. The doctors in China were at a loss to figure out what was happening. So, in March 2003, Emily and Lindsey were medically evacuated back to North America. Emily, now ten-years-old, underwent extensive testing.

The chief pediatric neurologist sadly relayed her diagnosis. Emily was suffering from a rare, fatal disease called MLD, which had in two years almost destroyed the white matter in her brain. No known treatment. No known cure. She was given a prognosis of no more than three years.

Since then, Lindsey has kept all of their friends updated on Emily’s condition through a CaringBridge site: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/emilyy, where you can read her whole story.

Since Emily’s condition was caused by a recessive gene, her siblings were also tested. Fortunately, they did not have the disease.

The family moved to Toronto, Canada, where Paul was assigned.

Soon, Emily stopped walking, talking, eating. She could do nothing for herself. She remained bedridden and under palliative care. Fortunately, she was able to be at home with Lindsey as her primary caregiver. Despite her limitations, Emily remained aware and responsive.

She came very close to death at least five times. Yet, each time she miraculously recovered. Occasionally, she was able to sit upright in a wheelchair.

Her siblings grew up and moved away. Chris married and is living in Colorado. Madeleine attends college. Through the years, Paul has moved to several posts overseas because of his job. Lindsey and Emily remained in Toronto.

In March of this year, she turned twenty-six—far exceeding all expectations. During the past couple of years, she began art therapy. Her paintings are fabulous. (I hope to work with Lindsey to publish Emily’s art in a book.)
Emily inspired so many people that Emily’s House, the first hospice for children in the world, located in Toronto, was named for her. https://www.emilyshouse.ca/

Last year, Lindsey was awarded the Heroes in the Home Caregiver Recognition Award, from the Central Community Care Access Centre (CCAC).

On Wednesday, I opened Facebook to this post from Lindsey.
The sun rose golden on her still-warm body this morning...but her spirit had been finally set free, released directly from the warmth from my arms to those of the Greatest Eternal CareGiver that ever was. My precious Emily. A beautiful life. A beautiful death, if one can even say that. Our hearts are absolutely broken. But tucked in there is also the immense privilege of having known and loved her and had her as our own (yet not)...and being forever transformed. There is so much more to say. Now is our time of weeping...and her time of leaping…The family is all gathering from various corners of the earth, with the request that our privacy be respected over these coming days. Details will eventually emerge.

I, too, am heartbroken. At the same, I feel so blessed to have had these precious people in my life.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Fifty-four Years And Still Counting


I have repeated some of what I wrote four years ago on our 50th anniversary.

On September 4, Larry and I celebrated our 54th wedding anniversary. It sounds like a long time, even though it seems like yesterday.
Through the years, we’ve been asked how we’ve managed to stay together all these years and still like each other. We usually quote Lorenzo Music. You may remember him as the voice of ‘Carleton, your doorman’ on the Rhoda show or the voice of Garfield, the cat. Years ago, he and his wife were interviewed on a talk show, When they were asked the same question, their answer was, “Low expectations.”

Of course, everyone laughed. But the more we thought about it, the more truth we heard in it. Our expectations often get us in trouble. We set them too high, and then we’re disappointed when they aren’t met. By keeping them lower, we are pleasantly surprised when things work out better than we expected.

Another quote we loved on long marriages came from Robert Mitchum. When asked about his long marriage, he attributed it to “lack of imagination.” We always thought this statement contained an element of truth.

Our low expectations or lack of imagination or the great modeling we had in our families, with many members demonstrating the value of long marriages, may have contributed to our own. Or perhaps we just managed to find the right partner early in life.

We continue to travel and write together. Larry still makes me laugh. So we’ve renewed the contract for another year.
We’re both grateful to have had this time together. I can’t imagine being with anyone else. He’s still a surfer, and sometimes I think of the ocean (and his board) as his mistress. But I knew what I was getting into all those years ago.

And I wouldn’t change a thing!