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!

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Blogmas 2018 – Day 7 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

In the spirit of the 12 Days of Christmas, I’m giving you 12 Acts of Kindness you can do in the season of giving!

  1. Support a friend’s or a local small business by buying gifts from them instead of big chains.
  2. Donate to a charity that’s close to heart
  3. Donate old clothes, toys, and other household objects to the Salvation Army (NOT Goodwill–do a Google search and see why)…and clean out your stuff!
  4. Donate to a stranger’s GoFundMe or something similar.
  5. Leave a note of encouragement and a $5 Starbucks gift card in a public restroom
  6. Bake cookies for your hairdresser, insurance agent, cleaning person, etc.
  7. Send a “thinking of you” card to a friend.
  8. Put a little note saying you love them in your loved one’s lunch box.
  9. Hold the door, smile and say hello to strangers, etc., even when you don’t feel like it.
  10. Put money in someone’s parking meter that’s low.
  11. Leave your shopping cart with the quarter in it at Aldi.
  12. Give a homeless person food or serve at a soup kitchen.

 

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 5 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

‘Tis the season…

To be jolly?

To go into debt?

To give.

Because God first gave to us His son, Jesus.

In the midst of the craziness of shopping, stressing, overspending, and stressing some more, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters.  Whether you’re Christian or not, whatever reason you celebrate Christmas–whether religious, secular, or both–I believe that this season can bring out the very best in people.

Goodwill toward men, indeed.

I went into this holiday season trying to not overspend on gifts.  Having three young kids, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying them things they just don’t need, especially when they’re inundated with commercials for the latest hot toys.  What five-year-old doesn’t tell their mom at least once an hour, “I want that, Mom?”

It’s a trap.

Seriously.

No joke.

I kid you not.

Kid.  Ha, I was talking about kids and wanting stuff.  Anyway, pardon my bad sense of humor.  I digress…

I fell into the same money pit this year by spending too much on my family, and I was torn between wanting to give, give, give and wanting to take some of the things back.  In the end, a mom’s desire to see her kids’ excitement on Christmas morning when it came time to open the gifts won out.

However, I am vowing to go about this insanity differently next year.  I want to donate or give to charity the same amount that I spend in gifts on my family.  That’s not an original idea, but I heard it somewhere, and it stuck with me.  I’m up for the challenge, and I’m not all talk. (Update: This was written in 2016. Now it’s 2018, and I am happy to say I lived up to this challenge of giving equally to charity what I spent on gifts, as well as having done so in 2017.)

See, when I put my mind and heart to something, I can accomplish it.  Case in point: Almost two years ago, I sat down and said I was serious about writing an original story.  I would write at least fifteen minutes a day.  If I missed a day, okay, but I wouldn’t let more than two days pass without writing.  Ten months later, I had my first draft completed.  That was almost a year ago.  Now, I have the first draft of a second novel completed that’s currently being read and edited by a writers group at the library.  I have self-published my first novel after going through the arduous process of querying a hundred literary agents and getting many rejections, but I kept at it.  I am well into writing my third novel.  I have the first chapter written of my fourth and have an idea for a fifth. (2017 update: I have finished drafts of novels three and four.  I am well into my fifth.  I self-published novel number two.  I have ideas for six and seven.) (2018 update: I published my third novel, have finished drafts of novels four, five, and six, and am well underway in seven.)

pablo (13)So, if I can write and be dedicated to it, I can be more generous next Christmas.  I can give more to those who really are in need and give less to my own family, who already has plenty of things.  We don’t need more stuff.

You might think, “Okay, that’s all well and good to make plans about what you’re going to do next year, but what are you doing about it right now?”

I do regularly give to charity.  I sponsor two children through Children International, but for me, that wasn’t enough this Christmas.  I became aware of a family in need.  The father had just lost his job, and having a kid to support, you can understand why I wanted to help out.  Also, this family is close to heart, so if there was something I could do to help them, it would be all the more important to me.

I didn’t have the means to personally give them much as far as money goes, so I organized a Go Fund Me campaign and rallied my friends and family for several days to give to this family.  It was a beautiful thing to see the response.  Many gave, and it’s not a matter of how much you give, but giving what you can.  In the end, I was so happy to be able to give them a sizable amount of money to help them pay their bills and put food on the table, and while I was a part of that, I cannot and do not take full credit.  So many people stepped up, and I love that.

Another friend told me about the local Elk’s Club wanting to give a large box of food and gifts to local families in need, and she thought of the family I was supporting.  Needless to say, I got in touch with the Elk’s Club, and they were so generous and kind to deliver such a box to this family. (2017 update: This family is doing well this Christmas, although her sister lost a child and doesn’t have the money to pay for much of a Christmas for her other kids because of funeral costs. Not only did the family I helped last year help this devastated family, but I was also moved to send them some gifts. There is always someone in need who you can bless.)

In the midst of all this, I have my own troubles, but to help others lifts the burden of my problems.  I firmly believe that reaching out and helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.  Everyone benefits.  There is nothing lost, for, you see, love has no end.  It’s funny how the more love you give, the more love grows.  The more love you receive.

So, I did my little part in paying it forward.  I had no expectation of getting anything in return from those I helped, so you can imagine how moved I was to be on the receiving end of the generosity of others who felt they wished to help my family.  I never asked for it, nor expected it.

A Christmas card arrived from my church a couple of weeks ago with a hundred dollars in gift cards to a grocery store!  The card was simply signed “From your friends at church.”  I have recently expressed my heartache to some friends at church about the struggles my autistic son and my family are going through, so I can only guess that someone did this kind deed because of that.  I cannot be sure.

As if that weren’t enough, on Christmas Eve, my husband and I dressed to play Mary and Joseph and were waiting in a classroom for our entrance into the sanctuary when a friend approached me and handed me an envelope.  “It’s not really a Christmas gift,” she said, “but a couple of us from our ChristCare group (a Bible study group of sorts) wanted to help you out.”  I smiled, thanked her, and tucked the envelope in my purse.  Hours later, after the service was over, the kids were in bed, and the presents were under the tree, I opened the envelope to find three hundred dollars inside and a note that said, “For your son’s therapies.”  Tears streamed down my face for the second time this Christmas season because of the kindness of others.

So, as another year winds down, I am thankful.  It started around Thanksgiving with the extra intention of choosing kindness.  As Christmas came upon us, I made the extra effort to pay it forward in terms of generosity, just one form of kindness.  And it certainly came back around to touch me.

If you don’t believe that what goes around comes around, maybe you’ll think my story is just that–a nice little story.  To me and many others, it’s more.  Much more.  May we all go into the New Year with a sense of wanting to reach outside ourselves, and you’ll see.  It will come back to you.

Merry Christmas!

(I felt it was worth reposting this, even though it was written two years ago. The message is still the same: pay it forward.)

Blogmas 2018 – Day 4 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

Many of us have fond memories of driving around looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music…and still continue that tradition today. Today I’m sharing a video my dad took in 1989 with our (at the time) new video camera. The camera took the full-size VHS tapes and weighed a lot! It’s hard to believe this is also 30 years ago! This neighborhood was visited by tons of cars (as you can see in the video) because of their amazing light display. It started back in the 1960s and went well into the 1990s-early 2000s.

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

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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

Blogmas 2018 – Day 2 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

Ode to Christmas Insanity!

Shopping is done,
And presents are wrapped.christmastree
Wasn’t that fun?
More like whacked?!
Staying up late
Addressing the cards;
Now, wait,
What’s in my front yard?!
The mail truck is here;
Let’s run like a fool!
Oh, dear, oh, dear!
All this for Yule?!
Covered in flour up to each elbow,
More cookies to bake,
Stack and frost in a row.
Oh, for Pete’s sake,
What is that smell?
I forget one batch.
Oh, well, oh, well.
Start again from scratch!
I swear, if I get one more email
Begging for my business –
This is why I hate retail!
Nothing but a mess!
Pull out the tree
And untangle the lights,
Oh, whee, oh, whee!
This gives me the frights!
Here comes the cat
To knock it all down.
Now what do you think of that?
Maybe next year I’ll just go out of town.
Now, I think myself generous,
But how many a charity
Must ask for my Ebay bonus?
Do you want me to live in poverty?
Elf on a shelf
Can take the plunge in the lake;
I’m beside myself
With dancing in the snowflakes!