Blogmas 2018 – Day 9 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

pinwheelcookiesMost of us have traditions we carry out every year for the holidays. Maybe it’s putting special ornaments on the tree or going caroling with friends or getting together with certain family members. A lot of traditions involve baking or cooking certain recipes. For me, that recipe is for pinwheel cookies.

My grandma used to make them when I was growing up, although hers weren’t the red-and-green cookies you see in the recipe or that I make. I put a new twist on mine by choosing to go with the festive colors. Unfortunately, I don’t have Grandma’s recipe (or the cookbook she used), but I found the recipe above and have made these neat-looking cookies for the past several Christmases.

What special foods do you make at Christmas?

 

 

Blogmas 2018 – Day 8 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

 

A Merry Christmas

Smiles frozen in time decorate ruddy faces1980
And stare back at me, all bundled and warm
In holiday sweaters and knitted hats.
My fingers gently grace the baby
Who was once me in the old Polaroid,
The white tree with the red bulbs
And our stockings with our names in the background.
Grandma gazes back at me with the kindest eyes,
Her knobby fingers carefully unwrapping a gift,
Her patience to save the paper for another year.
The turkey still looks fresh out of the oven,
And I can almost smell the pies on the dining room table,grandmaonxmas
As all the family is gathered ‘round,
Ready to bless each other and the food.
Pictures are our looking glasses into the past,
Along with cherished memories of loved ones.
But as I look around me now,
I see the same smiles with those rosy cheeks
And get to actually hear the laughter and tales
That come with them.
The baby is my own son,
In whose eyes I witness the magic again,
And there hangs his stocking from our fireplace.
My parents are the grandparents, so happy and proud,
Bringing with them their own traditions from times past.2016
The meal is prepared before us to enjoy,
And we are still a family, still thankful to be so blessed.
This is the present, ever-fleeting and ever-changing,
Which is what makes it so special.
Life’s circle continues to turn as I age,
But it is beautiful,
And every Christmas is another reminder
Of how precious every moment is.
But lest we forget there is Someone much bigger than all this,
Let me just remind myself and everyone here
That Jesus is the true reason for our celebration.
In Him is our past, present, and future,
And that is a merry Christmas, indeed.

–written in 2010

 

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Standing around the perimeter of the ballroom rented for the occasion, Hannah shifted uncomfortably in a deep red taffeta evening gown and in heels that were too high for her taste.  She lifted her right hand to her hair and smoothed it down. She wasn’t accustomed to such luxury, and without Maria’s help, she wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

Maria stepped into the room behind her, all smiles and glowing complexion.  

“Isn’t this just perfect?” Maria shouted over the live band music.  

“‘Perfect’ isn’t the first word I’d use,” Hannah murmured, her eyes raking the room for a familiar face.

“You need a drink.  You look about as at home as a pig in a slaughterhouse, ” Maria said as she grabbed Hannah’s clammy hand and took her to the refreshment table.

“Gee, thanks.”

Hannah didn’t enjoy feeling so uptight, but this outfit, this party, this whole charade wasn’t her.  Briefly, her mind drifted back to the days when she’d been swept up in attending parties with Kat, Will, and Harry… and how that had all ended in devastation.  Forcing down those memories, Hannah refocused on the moment. If she couldn’t be her natural self, she didn’t think her chances boded well that she would come away tonight with a fellow.

Before Hannah could protest, Maria pressed a glass of the ruby alcoholic punch into her hands.  

“Take the edge off,” Maria teased, taking a swig of her own punch.  “If I’m not careful, I’ll be knocking a few of these back before the night’s through.”  She laughed uproariously.

A weak smile played at Hannah’s red-lipsticked mouth.  “I count myself lucky to be employed by a company that can afford to throw such extravagant parties,” she said.  “Most people don’t even have the extra money to buy Christmas presents these days.”

“Aren’t you just the life of the party?” Maria said, an edge to her voice.  “Come on, Hannah! You’ve worked nearly your whole life doing jobs. Can’t you relax enough to enjoy yourself for one night?”

“Okay, okay,” Hannah said.  

Hannah sipped at the punch.  Well into the second glass, Hannah told herself that she would stop once she emptied it, but the heady feeling was pleasant.  Her eyes swept over the dance floor, the moving forms blending together. The band played a romantic number, the jazz clarinetist leading with his smooth, golden tones.

“Don’t look now, but someone’s got his peepers on you, babe,” Maria said, nudging Hannah’s side.

Hannah looked in the direction Maria indicated.  An attractive man of average height stood opposite the dance floor.  The man’s gaze locked with Hannah’s for several seconds, and he smiled slightly.

“Well, what are you waiting for?  He’s noticed you. You can’t very well back out now,” Maria said.

A confidence she didn’t usually possess took hold of Hannah and propelled her across the room.  She effortlessly dodged dancers and approached her admirer. Now that she was standing in front of him, she saw he was only a couple of inches taller than she was.  His dark brown hair was slicked back, and behind round spectacles blue eyes gazed into Hannah’s face.

“Hello,” Hannah said.

“Hello,” the man replied.  “I’m Edward… Edward Grunner.”

“Hannah Rechthart.  Do you work for Dependable Electric?”  

As soon as she asked the question, Hannah wished she could take the words back.  This was the company’s Christmas party. Of course he worked at the same establishment!

“In accounting,” Edward said, smiling in amusement.

A blush rose across Hannah’s face as a nervous laugh escaped.

“It’s a big company,” Hannah reasoned.  “I’ve worked here for a few years and never seen you.”

“I’m fairly new.  I was behind the grind for several years.”

“You went to college?” Hannah asked.

“Yes, Case University.  My step-father would have preferred I start working and not finish high school, but I suppose you could say I wanted something more.  He’s gone now, anyway.”

Hannah was surprised to hear Edward speak so openly about his family.

“My parents divorced before I can remember.  I never knew my father, but he was a drunk. My mother remarried when I was eight, but my step-father died ten years ago.”

Hannah blinked.  The mention of an alcoholic in the family sat too close to heart.  Recovering quickly, Hannah said, “In the past minute you’ve told me more about your history than most people who work around me have told me in years.”

“I’m sorry; does that offend?”

“No, actually.  I appreciate your honesty.”

“I’ve been told my honesty is both my best and my worst attribute.”  Edward chuckled. “Before I waste another moment of your time, I will simply tell you that I noticed you shining among the crowd.”

“You weren’t joking when you said you were honest,” Hannah said.

Edward took Hannah by the hand and ambled her toward the crowd on the ballroom floor.  If she was at all awkward, Edward’s confidence made up for it as he swept her across the dance floor to the big band music.

Several songs later, Hannah said, “I could use a break.  My feet are killing me in these shoes.”

Edward shrugged.  “Why not take them off?”

Hannah had the gall to look offended.  

Edward laughed outright.  “Are you too much of a lady?”

“I’ve worked in the freezing rain, in the mud, in chicken waste.  Do you think I’m a lady?”

“I’m impressed,” Edward said with genuine affection.  “You, Hannah Rechthart, are just the woman I need.”

“What kind of woman is that?”

“One who will keep me in line.”  Edward’s smile widened.

“Hmm…” Hannah pretended to mull over the events so far.  “Well, then I just might be your woman after all, Eddy.”

They continued dancing well into the night, and out of the corner of her eye, Hannah noticed Maria, in a man’s arms, giving her the thumbs up.  Soon the party was winding down, the music slowing.

A distinguished, well-dressed woman took the microphone and began softly chanting “Silent Night.”  Hannah relaxed into Edward’s arms, her head resting on his right shoulder as if they had known each other for years.  The comfort Hannah found with him was an unexpected gift, and as the song progressed, the two melted into one.

When the song ended, the president of the company stepped up and announced the conclusion of the party, wishing everyone a merry Christmas.

With some reluctance, Hannah pulled away from Edward, but they continued to hold hands, arms stretched out in front of them as they faced each other.

“Thank you for tonight,” Hannah said.  “I didn’t come here with any expectations, but if I had, I would have to say they were far exceeded.”

Hand-in-hand, they walked toward the exit after gathering their coats.  Stepping outside into the brisk air, Hannah’s face lit up as she looked at the heavens.

“It’s snowing,” she whispered.

“One surprise after another tonight,” Edward said, squeezing her hand gently.

“Mmm.”  Searching the crowd leaving around them, Hannah said, “I’ll need to find my friend.  I haven’t spoken with her since we arrived.”

“Before you go,” Edward said, pulling Hannah toward him again, “answer one question.”

“All right.”

“Would you be willing to see me again?”

“I think I just might.”  Hannah smiled teasingly.

“‘Might?’”

“Yes!” Hannah exclaimed, giggling like a child.

“Perfect.”  Edward kissed her sweetly on the lips.

With more resolve than she had experienced in ages, Hannah returned the kiss, her mind remembering Maria’s remark upon entering the ballroom that evening.

Yes, this… this was just perfect.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for $4.99 here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Blogmas 2018 – Day 6 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

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Our white tree with my brother and me – 1982

According to Wikipedia: “The modern Christmas tree was developed in medieval Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) and early modern Germany, where Protestant Germans brought decorated trees into their homes.[1][2] It acquired popularity beyond the Lutheran areas of Germany[1][3] and the Baltic countries during the second half of the 19th century, at first among the upper classes.”

The Christmas tree is the most popular secular decoration in homes across the United States. I say secular, but the star placed atop the tree represents the Star of Bethlehem. Or if you place an angel there, that would stand for the angels that visited the shepherds on the first Christmas night.

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My brother and me – 1986

The Christmas tree has pagan origins, when pagans would decorate evergreen trees during the winter solstice (just before Christmas), also know as Yule, to brighten the darkest day of the year. It’s easy to see how this tradition went on to have importance in Christianity, as Jesus being born brought light into a dark world. The evergreen tree, since it doesn’t lose its greenery like deciduous trees, symbolizes life everlasting, as promised by belief in Jesus.

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My grandma’s tree with my dad, brother, and me – 1984

When I was a child, we had a white Christmas tree. These were popular in the 1970s, when my parents bought theirs shortly after getting married. Most of my mom’s ornaments were red or white, and she always put white lights on the tree. Setting the tree up was a lengthy, often challenging process, as each branch needed to be added individually, and the lights came on circular strands (instead of the straight strands you always find now). It seemed like there was at least one strand of lights that wouldn’t light up, which meant checking each bulb to see if it was loose. I was always so excited when Mom would get the tree out and loved helping her decorate it year after year. My brother and I pulled it out when we were teenagers and put it up ourselves, as we just couldn’t wait! We had this tree until 1993, when my mom decided it was time to trade in that worn, old tree for a fuller, green one.

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My parents’ green tree – 2005

When we first got our cat, Cally, in 1988, she jumped into the tree a few times, knocking it down. Over the years, she just sat under the tree, but ornaments often went missing from the bottom, as she would hide them behind my dad’s workbench!

The 6-foot green tree lasted until just a few years ago after my parents moved from my childhood home. They still have a green tree, but it’s a pencil tree, holding fewer ornaments.

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Our first Christmas tree as a married couple – 2007

As for other trees that were special for me when growing up, my grandma had an artificial tree as well. Maybe none of these trees were especially stunning to others, but they were beautiful to me. Grandma kept all her Christmas decorations under the steps in her basement, which was a tight spot with a short door. I don’t think the ceiling was more than 4 feet tall at its highest! I would cram under there and remove the boxes, often setting up her tree when I was old enough.

My mom told me when she was growing up, her dad was very particular about the real tree he picked every year. My grandparents set up the entire tree, plus put all the presents under it on Christmas Eve after the kids went to bed. My mom said Santa brought their tree, decorated it, and delivered presents! My grandparents must have just gotten into bed, only to be woken by my mom and her brother on Christmas morning!

After getting married in 2003, I had the pleasure of getting my own tree for my own house. I should give a shout out to a couple of small trees I owned previously. As a teenager, I had a 2-foot tree that I kept in my room, and when I had my own apartment, I had a 3-foot tree. I kept the 3-foot tree for several years after getting the 7-foot tree for our house. The 7-foot tree was larger than the usual 6-foot ones we had when I was growing up. I remember having very few ornaments those first few years and buying lots of cheap plastic ones from Target just to have something to cover the tree with.

Over the years, I collected ornaments from our trips, a tradition my mom had started years earlier. Now that I have kids, I put ornaments with their pictures on the tree every year, so as you can imagine, I’ve filled my tree with lots of pictures of my kids! There are handmade ornaments from my kids and ornaments of some of my favorite characters from various books. I love personalizing the tree. It’s much better than the plastic Target ornaments I first had!

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Our current tree

When we moved into our current house three years ago, I decided it was time to get a pre-lit tree. I was tired of stringing all the lights on the tree. My current tree stands at 7 1/2 feet. My ceiling is high. I suppose I could have gone taller, but this one works well!

Tell me about your Christmas tree below and your traditions around it!

Blogmas 2018 – Day 3 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

grandmaonxmas
Grandma – 1980

The soft glow of candlelight illuminates the sanctuary while we sing “Silent Night.” A reverent awe flows through the atmosphere, seeming to carry everyone present to a higher, deeper level. After the service ends, stepping outside into the chill of the air as snow gently falls adds to that magical quality. It’s dark and the snow is fresh. The moonlight gleams off the white blanket, smiling back at the night sky. The stillness of the moment is encapsulated by once-naked branches coated in pure beauty, and not a sound permeates the heart, creating that inward peace the world finds fulfilled. I step inside and cozy up on the couch, a blanket hugging me and the warmth of the fire caressing my skin, its orange hues dancing on the ceiling as I lose myself staring at the twinkling lights on the tree. The evergreen is covered with ornamental family pictures and creations from years past, taking me back to when my

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My brother, me, and my dad at Grandma’s house in 1984

grandma spent Christmas Eve with us. I would wake in the morning, the excitement of the day vibrating through me like a thrilling sleigh ride. Grandma would wait patiently while the kids tore open our presents, our laughter joining the Christmas music in the background. We were sharing in something greater than us, something brought down through generations. Grandma would sit in the armchair with her comfy robe and slippers, a gift on her lap, the last to go. Her rosy cheeks and the glow in her eyes behind her glasses as she carefully undid the wrapping are still in my mind’s vision. She never wanted to ruin the wrapping paper, telling us that she reused it because it wouldn’t do to be wasteful. She wasted not a second hugging me for giving her a handmade calendar. Her elderly childlike voice thanks me, but I have to thank her for giving me these memories. I taste her gingerbread, her gelatin salad, her pinwheel cookies as I remember and carry the memory on, as I take the next batch of baking out of the oven.

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Family gathering at my childhood home in 1988

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful (Chapter 3)

While the summer of 1918 was rough because of one childhood illness after another, Hannah enjoyed the last two weeks outside before school resumed.  Ma had a piano in the living room, which she seldom played, but Hannah began taking lessons on it. The busyness of raising a family afforded her little time to devote to hobbies.  

Soon enough, the dexterity with which Hannah’s nimble fingers moved over the keys felt as natural as breathing.  She was a fast learner, and making magic with music was quickly becoming her favorite hobby. Notes printed on a piece of paper creating a song never failed to awe and inspire the young girl.  Ma often hummed along to the familiar tunes her daughter played as she dried dishes every evening.

By Christmas, the First World War ended.  The children had decorated the pine tree with a popcorn-strung garland, an assortment of handmade ornaments from school, and a few carefully placed candles.

Both Christmas Eve and Day had separate dinners that were planned to the point of perfection.  Other than Lucy’s mother, only the immediate family gathered to partake in both meals. Everyone dressed in their finest, shoes polished, and under Ma’s eagle eye, not a hair out of place.  It was the one time of year when Erik and Harry would allow their mother to dictate what they wore.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, the family attended church to hear the story of the birth of Jesus, the miracle of light that came into the world.

The service ended, and the family walked the short distance down Madison Avenue to their home.  Snow was falling lightly. It had a magical quality when Hannah looked upward and imagined the angels dusting their wings off.  She skipped ahead, kicking up the fresh thin layer of snow on the sidewalk. She was laughing, when an icy wetness suddenly hit her in the back of the head.

“Ow!”

Her mood evaporated as she spun around to glare daggers at her brothers.  

“Hey, how dare you!” she said.

Harry had the audacity to look innocent, while Erik couldn’t help but chuckle.  The adults and Amy hung back farther, lost in conversation.

Hannah quickly knelt down and grabbed a handful of snow, formed a ball, and chucked it at her brothers.  It missed, flying between them and ended up smacking Pa in the side of the face.

Both boys were briefly shocked, before dissolving into laughter.

“Oh, you’re in for it now, Hannah-panna,” Harry teased.

“Be quiet!” Hannah shouted.  “You started it!”

The adults were upon them a few seconds later.  Pa was wiping his cheek with his gloved hand, but it was Ma who was angry.

“Who threw that?” she demanded.

“It wasn’t us.  It was Hannah,” Erik said.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t aiming for you, Pa” Hannah said.  “One of them hit me in the back of the head.”

“A likely story,” Harry said coyly, smirking.

Ma’s eyes shifted to her younger son.  “Actually, it sounds about right. Come.  We will discuss this once we’re inside.”

Pa pretended to be stern, but when he walked past Hannah and the boys, he half-smiled.  He winked at Hannah, and then his face was impassive once more. As Hannah watched her parents retreating down the road, she grinned.  

Once back inside their small home, Pa worked at starting a fire in the grate, while Ma sat Erik, Harry, and Hannah on the sofa to give them a brief lecture on how to treat each other with more respect, “most especially on Christmas.”

“How is pelting each other with snow when it’s already freezing outside a Christ-like attitude?”

Pa, finished with the fire, came to his wife’s side, and wrapped an arm around her.

“I think, perhaps just this once, we might excuse the children.  It is Christmas, after all. There will be plenty of time for extra chores in a few days.”  He smirked knowingly.

“Hmm,” Ma murmured, although her eye twinkled as she exchanged a look with her husband.  

Walking into the living room, Amy said, “Why don’t we sing carols and hymns?  I’m sure Hannah’s just bursting to play for us.” She grinned at her little sister.

Hannah bounced up from the sofa and darted to the piano nestled between the fireplace and the Christmas tree.  She had been waiting all day to play. All those weeks of practice would finally pay off when her family heard how much she’d learned since September.

“I like ‘O Tannenbaum,’” Grossmutter said.  “Is good German song.”

“I don’t know all the words in German,” Harry said weakly.

“You can learn it with a few tries,” Ma said.  

Hannah found the music in one of her songbooks.  

A bit unsure, she said, “I haven’t really practiced this one a whole lot.”

“That’s all right, dear,” Pa said, pulling up a chair.  “The important thing is to enjoy ourselves.”

“Can I run through it once before you start singing?” she asked.

At her father’s nod of approval, Hannah’s fingers began moving across the keys, slowly at first, but then picking up the pace as she grew more comfortable with the tune.  Her grossmutter had been mouthing the words, perhaps even singing softly in German, during the practice run. Ma and Pa sang along in German, the song familiar from their childhood, and Grossmutter belted out the words with gusto.  Amy’s pretty voice lingered in the background, the words somewhat unsure but right all the same. The boys were embarrassed as they stumbled over the foreign words, but after a while, they joined in.

The family continued for the better part of the next hour singing songs of the season.  Turning off the lights, save the candles burning dimly on the tree, Ma suggested they end with “Silent Night,” in both German and English.  The children knew this song well in German, as they sang it every year at church on Christmas Eve. It was the perfect way to wind down the evening and usher in the night’s dreams of what tomorrow would bring.

“Well done, Hannah,” Pa said, smiling proudly and clapping his daughter gently on the shoulder.  “I think it’s high time we all retired for the evening.”

“Thanks, Pa,” Hannah replied, smiling from ear to ear.  She stood from the piano bench and went upstairs to her room.

After everyone was ready for bed, the parents worked on tucking each child in.  Before Hannah could turn in for the night, however, she ran downstairs to hug her grossmutter goodnight.

The old lady was sitting in the armchair nearest the piano, the light from a single lamp the only illumination.  An open book perched on her lap on top of a blanket.

Grossmutter smiled, the wrinkles on her face crinkling deeper.

“Is not time for bed, child?”

“I just came to say goodnight.  What were you reading?”

“The Bible.  First Christmas story.  Not all this nonsense about der Weihnachtsmann.”

“What?”

“Not what, child, who.  You call him Santa Claus.”

“Oh.”  Hannah giggled.  Hannah recalled being frightened by Grossmutter when she was smaller.  Perhaps it was the stern-sound of the German language or the way her face could turn as firm as a stiff board, the wrinkles hiding any youth left.  She knew better now. Coming to Grossmutter’s side, Hannah gazed inquiringly at the Bible. “I can’t read it.”

“Is German Bible.  You know Martin Luther made Bible into German from old Latin?”

“Yes, I learned about that in Sunday school.  I can’t imagine not understanding what was being read in church.”

“Yes.  If you like, I teach you some German.  You understand?”

“You want to read the story to me?” Hannah asked, her eyes lighting up like the candles on the tree.

“Not too much, but ja.”

Grossmutter patted the arm of the chair, and Hannah sat and listened.  The old woman’s knobby finger moved slowly across the yellowed, tattered page.  Hannah wondered if the Bible had been hers since she was a little girl. At the end of the passage, Grossmutter kissed Hannah and beckoned her to bed.

Upstairs, the family exchanged goodnights, kisses, and hugs. Filled with the joy and excitement of Christmas, Hannah lay awake for a while, posed on her right side, her gaze out the window.  The snowflakes continued their ballet just beyond the pane, and the lackadaisical whirl of white lulled her into sleep soon enough, the music from earlier in the evening the perfect companion to the dance.

* * *

“Your father would like your attention,” Ma said in a mock-stern voice on Christmas morning as the children tore open their presents.

“Huh?” Hannah asked, pulling her eyes away from a new pair of shoes she had been admiring on her feet.  “Why are you wearing your coat, Pa?”

Amy, Erik, and Harry looked up simultaneously, their fingers stopped mid-tear with the wrapping paper they each clutched.  An amused smile curled Pa’s lips.

“Is something wrong?” Erik asked.

“Pa looks like he’s up to something,” Harry said.  “I know that look because I’ve worn the same one.”

“Well, since you asked so kindly,” Pa said.  He reached into one of the deep front pockets of his long coat and withdrew a tiny black puppy.

Hannah was the first to rush forward, holding her hands out.  “Oh, he’s adorable! May I hold him?”

“Yes, you may, and she’s a girl.”  Pa laughed easily as he handed the puppy off to his youngest.  

Hannah cuddled the puppy close.  The dog licked her chin, and she giggled.  “She’s so soft.”

Her siblings gathered around her.  

“Is she ours?” Harry asked.

“She sure is,” Pa said.  “Ma and I decided it was high time for a dog.  She’s a Labrador. She’ll grow quite large.”

“Mitchell Woods down the way has a yellow Lab,” Erik said.  “He’s a good dog.”

Amy scooped the puppy up from her sister’s hands and smiled at the dog.  “Does she have a name?”

“Not yet,” Pa said.  “We were going to leave that up to you all to figure out.”

After a morning of debate, the children came up with the name Flossie.  By the end of the day, the new pet was curled up on Hannah’s bed, and from that day forward, Flossie spent many nights sleeping there.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for $4.99 here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

“I would like it very much if you were all here with me,” Hannah said, wheezing.  She coughed several times.

“Mom!” Abbi exclaimed, rushing to her side.

The coughing spell subsided, and Hannah shook her head, holding up a placating hand.  “No, no, it’s nothing.  Please don’t make a fuss.  There’s nothing to be done.  Just, please… be here with me.  And call my siblings, please.  They need to know.  Harry would be devastated if he couldn’t come in time…”

“I’ll make the calls,” Abbi said, trying to occupy herself.

Brenda exchanged a look with Abbi and nodded, drawing up a chair next to Glen.  Abbi left the room and made the calls she dreaded.  Irma said she’d be on the first plane out, but Abbi thought, with a sinking heart, that she would be too late.  Within the hour, Harry was at the door.

Abbi supposed she could have let Alan or Tom answer the door, but she was a bundle of nerves as she flitted about the house.  When she opened the front door and saw the pain etched in every line of her uncle’s face, she couldn’t compose herself to speak.  Harry entered and hugged his niece.

“Chin up, Abbi, child,” he said in his usual gentle manner he’d used with her since she had been small.

Abbi half-laughed, half-hiccupped.  “I’m not a child anymore, Uncle Harry, but thanks.”

“Ah, you’re a child to me, old fart that I am.  It’s okay to fall apart, to be like a child, especially right now.  Where is she?”

“This way.”  Abbi couldn’t help but smile.  Her uncle always knew how to make her laugh.

Harry fell silent as he followed his niece to his sister’s side.  He took Hannah’s hand in a similar manner as she’d held his all those years ago in the hospital after he had been in the accident.

“What’s this all about, then?” he asked.  “I always imagined the roles reserved here, sis.  What are you doing in this bed, hmmm?”

Hannah’s chuckle came as a rasp, then a cough, but her eyes shone with mirth.

Recovering, she said, “You never let up, do you, silly brother?  I guess the good Lord has use of you yet here.”

“Can’t imagine for what.”

“There you go again, selling yourself short.”

“You think you know what’s best for me, eh?  Leaving me ain’t it, Hannah-panna.”

“You never stop, do you?”

They exchanged their friendly banter for a little while longer before Hannah grew serious.  “But don’t ever stop, Harry.  Don’t ever stop making people laugh and smile.  It’s what you do, who you are.  You and that big heart of yours.”

Eyes shining with tears, Harry said, “There’s one person whose smile I haven’t seen in far too long.  You tell Kathy when you see her – you tell her I’m coming for her soon.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Then it’s settled.  Maybe you can leave after all.  Don’t let an old bugger like me keep you.”

Harry hugged Hannah one last time and said his farewells to her children.  After he left, Hannah’s eyes implored her youngest daughter, then her other children, to sit with her.  Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult, so she didn’t waste her words.  Each breath, each utterance, and each heartbeat were precious, now more than ever for Hannah.

Hannah’s eyes slipped shut, and her hands fell loose at her sides.  To her children, she appeared to be sleeping with difficulty, as every breath was labored, rattling through her chest and out again.

 

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