The Sugarplum Table ~ by Kristine Raymond

I have boatloads of favorite memories from my childhood and most of them revolve around food.  Mom was a stay-at-home mom who embraced, with open arms, her profession as homemaker.  Every meal was homemade; every dessert baked in her own kitchen, not store-bought.  (I remember trading freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies for my classmates' Chips Ahoy.  But that's a different story.)

Mom was, and is, a great cook.  I swear, every time I call her to chat, she's in the kitchen.  So, I have many stories that I could tell that relate to some feast or another, or a cooking mishap, but what I'd like to share today, in the spirit of the season, is a most-cherished memory that began each year on December first.


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Though she excelled at cooking, baking was Mom's passion.  From birthday and wedding cakes, to pies and creme puffs and strudel, the woman is a master with flour, sugar, butter, and eggs.  It was those ingredients, among others, that lined the counter after the dinner dishes were washed and put away.  With Christmas music playing merrily in the background, Mom would open her well-worn copy of the Betty Crocker cookbook and begin measuring.

Each night, from the first day of the month until a few days before Christmas, Mom would bake a different variety of cookie.  Sometimes she had help in the form of little hands that made more of a mess than any sort of actual baking but she was patient as she taught my sisters and me how to measure and mix and roll out dough to just the right thickness.  And on the nights she made sugar or gingerbread cookies, we had the extra excitement of decorating them.  

With weeks to go before Christmas, the only way for the cookies to stay fresh was to freeze them.  She'd line shirt gift boxes with tinfoil and waxed paper and layer the treats gently until they reached the top.  Then she'd lower the lid, taping the boxes shut - to discourage any early sampling - and store them in the huge chest freezer we kept in the basement.   Hmmm...looking back, I guess that was also to discourage us from getting into the cookies.  Nicely played, Mom.  Nicely played.

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So, night after night, Mom labored in the hot kitchen while carols played and the aroma of freshly-baked cookies filled the house until, finally, it was Christmas Eve.  Now, there was no way she was going to open those boxes and let us kids stick our grubby hands in.  Oh, no.  Her hard work deserved the proper presentation and that's when the fun started.

At six pm on the dot - I know this because, as the youngest of my siblings, I was tasked with watching the clock, usually beginning at 4 pm...lol - Mom would unveil the Sugarplum Table.  What, for the other fifty-one weeks out of the year, was merely a brown, wooden coffee table, it had been transformed into a confectionery buffet.   Plates piled high with iced and decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread men, thumbprint cookies, peanut butter 'Kiss' cookies, chocolate chip cookies, meringue cookies, Spritz cookies, and my absolute favorite - bon bon cookies. For as many times as I used the word 'cookies' in the previous sentence, there at least twice that many varieties laid out in front of four, eager young children.  After all, we'd waited a month for this moment.  Now our patience was to be rewarded.  Well, sort of.

There was no way Mom was going to allow us to gorge ourselves, not to mention this 'feast' had to last until New Year's, so we were each permitted to choose one cookie - two, if we pleaded hard enough - to mark the beginning of our Christmas festivities.  As our eyes moved from plate to plate, mouths watering, we weighed our options, debating, reasoning, making our choice, then changing our minds.  

Chocolate chip cookies are yummy, but Mom makes those all of the time.  No reason to start off with one of those.  Oooh...I decorated that gingerbread man.  Maybe I should eat him first.  Nah, he's too cute.

Spritz cookies!  I wait all year for those.  But wait!  How about a chewy coconut meringue cookie?  Or a thumbprint cookie?  I know, a bon bon!

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Choice made, that first bite was heavenly.  The second bite wasn't too shabby, either.  And the best part?  The same spread awaited us every day for a solid week.  Our cookie limit was also lifted, though we knew better than to over-indulge.  No one wants a stomachache during Christmas vacation.





There are a lot of family traditions that I wanted to pass down if I'd had kids, and the Sugarplum Table was at the top of the list.  As it turned out, life had other plans for me but, today, I'm passing it on to you.  Maybe you already incorporate something similar into your holiday traditions or maybe it's the first you've ever heard of such a thing.  Either way, remember to always make time to make memories.  They're sweeter than any treat on the Sugarplum Table.

Oh, and by the way, I'm the proud owner of that Betty Crocker cookbook.  The cover is falling off and there are smudges on the pages but the recipes - and my love for them - are the same as they were back in that kitchen all those Decembers while I was growing up.

Copyright © Kristine Raymond

Imagine Changing the World One Baby at a Time ~ by Dar Batrowny

Did you know that many children enter school with developmental
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and behavioral delays that could have been found and treated much sooner? When delays are not identified early, more significant delays may occur and opportunities for treatment could be lost. Throughout my career as a child development specialist I have witnessed the heart wrenching stories of children who have shown up at school with multiple serious delays that could have been detected and treated much earlier and the heartwarming stories of early detection and treatment of delays.

Here is what some of the experts have to say about early development.

· The CDC’s website: “In the United States, about 1 in 6 children aged 3 to 17 years have one or more developmental or behavioral disabilities, such as autism, a learning disorder, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder1. In addition, many children have delays in language or other areas that can affect how well they do in school. However, many children with developmental disabilities are not identified until they are in school, by which time significant delays might have occurred and opportunities for treatment might have been missed.” https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/screening.html

*Harvard University Center on the Developing Child’s website: “Healthy development in the early years (particularly birth to three) provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities, and successful parenting of the next generation.” https://developingchild.harvard.edu/guide/what-is-early-childhood-development-a-guide-to-the-science/

* The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website: “With as many as 1 in 4 children at risk for developmental delay, universal early childhood screening provides an opportunity to identify delays early and intervene during the most critical period of development.”

https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Screening/Pages/The-Importance-of-Screening.aspx

Parents and caregivers can change the statistics while providing a solid foundation for children to build later successes. The first years of life are the most important years, and everyone can spread this simple message.

Now that I’ve shared some statistics, please allow me to tell you a
bit about my background and why I created The Art of Early Learning children’s book series, a series which helps parents explore the true beauty of child development and learn how to help their child grow.

I’ve always had many interests throughout my life and often joked that I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but then I realized that was a good thing. To wonder, explore, and be curious is a part of life and everyone should try it! My life path led me right to the challenge of informing EVERY parent about how they can change the world one baby at a time, what I like to call “baby steps to success”.

Thinking about my love for books, I remember getting a special
book from my kindergarten teacher, which I treasured. I recently found it in an old box and it brought back many warm memories.

I continued reading and began writing stories for fun when I was in middle school. I had a notebook that I wrote in at night in my bedroom. That notebook is long gone but I would love to read those stories now!

Fast forward a bit… I graduated with degrees in Nursing and Business Administration. My first professional job was as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. I worked there for many years and really loved it. I married, had a daughter, then a son. We loved to read Dr. Seuss books together and I continued to write in my free time.

At that point in my life, I decided that I wanted a job that allowed me to be home for the holidays. That is when I became a Nurse Home Visitor, working with pregnant and parenting teens. I would visit the same teens during their pregnancy and continue until their children were two years old. Modeling literacy, providing developmental screenings, and sharing information about children’s growth and development were a part of the visits.

It was amazing to watch young parents soak up the knowledge,
apply it and see their children thrive. I once worked with a struggling mother with a severe mental health diagnosis whose only support was from two professionals she was involved with. She loved to sing, hold and talk to her baby. I noticed that despite her major struggles, her baby was thriving. That was my first clue that the simple information about early development could help every parent regardless of developmental, educational or socioeconomic experiences!
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As part of my job, I became a research interviewer for a widely known longitudinal study on the long-term benefits of nurse home visitation. I was fortunate to interview the mothers, and the “babies”, who were then grown. From there I became the Program Director of several programs including a home visiting program aimed at affecting children’s school readiness through home visits from birth. It was offered to every parent in the county. I continued to notice that every parent could benefit in different ways from crucial information regarding brain development research and identification of developmental milestones.

When I noticed how much the parents and children in the programs
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 loved the children’s books that they received, I had an “aha” moment. That’s when my interest in writing and the challenge of getting developmental information to very busy parents inspired me to create the five book Art of Early Learning Series, which provides a fun and highly engaging way for parents to familiarize themselves with developmental milestones in the time it takes to enjoy a children’s story. The unique format integrates fun children’s stories with parental information about the importance of a child’s first years, developmental milestones and activities to promote development. 

This knowledge can empower parents, prevent further delay, lower overall health care costs, decrease the need for longer and more costly treatment, and help children begin school at their optimal level of readiness. What parent doesn’t want that! I’m happy to share that so far, I have been able to spread the word by sharing my books with families in the U.S., Serbia, Algeria, Panama, Brazil, Columbia, Nicaragua, Canada and the UK.

The added bonus is that parents can have fun, help their child AND change the world, one baby at a time! 

Go to http://www.darbatrowny.com to learn more and spread the word. Information is the key that unlocks the door to your child’s future!

More About the Series
The Art of Early Learning series offers parents and caregivers a fun way to familiarize themselves with age-related developmental milestones in the life of their child. Consisting of a milestone and activity list in the back of each book, this series follows Supertot Smart Art, as he navigates his first three years of life. In the Art of Early Learning series, we bring you an effective way to nurture pre-literacy skills, growth and development and fun!

Meet Supertot Smart Art
Supertot Smart Art is the Art of Early Learning! He’s a cute little guy with extraordinary powers. His powers include his amazing ability to perform skills of a much older child, his incredible kindness and the wonderful ways in which he helps others. There’s just one twist! His ideas and actions often cause a bit of silly mischief.

The Power of Moms With Dreams is a success book that guides busy moms as they create their dream lives, get results and introduce some of the same success tips to their children. It includes worksheets and exercises. Excitement is already building as this book prepares for a spring 2020 release. So, stay tuned and join in the unveiling!


Darlene Batrowny is an author and child development
Dar Batrowny
specialist. 
She has authored 16 children’s books and two baby journals. She develops and distributes innovative educational materials. She worked with major universities as part of a research team that looked at the long-term effects of new parents and nurse home visiting. Darlene was also the Director of developmental screening, school readiness, nurse home visiting and parent education programs. Darlene’s passion is to uncover developmental challenges early, to create a positive outcome for all children. 

You may contact Darlene at any of the following links:

darbatrowny@buffdon.com 

Fun Facts for Absolutely No Reason ~ by Andi Lawrencovna

Fact No. 1: in the event that your pen decides to explode,
disgorging the contents of its inkwell onto your hands, DON’T PANIC! While washing your hands is a good start, surprisingly, nail polish remover or alcohol swabs will also do the trick of getting the ink off your skin too. (Alcohol swabs are particularly good at removing ink stains from fake plastic looking wooden desks as well!)

Fact No. 2: in the event that you use nail polish remover to remove ink from your skin, do not put the implement with the wet liquid remover soaked/soaking through it onto a painted surface. If wood, the paint on the wooden surface might begin to molt a bit and there is definitely a good chance that you will ruin the paint job and strip the color from it.

Fact No. 3: in the event that the nail polish remover begins to erode
the paint job on a “wooden” surface, do not keep an open water bottle/glass on said surface where it might be easily tipped over. And if you DO tip over said glass, make sure to clean up the spill quickly before it seeps into/under the wood and causes the wood to expand or form a bump.

And finally…

Fact No. 4: in the event that your wooden desk/nightstand/whatever should warp from water absorption caused by alcohol seepage predicated by an ink spill, don’t pick at the now deformed surface, because it’s just not going to go well. And don’t try to hide it, because that bubble that has formed is not going away anywhere, and do not try to sell it, because no one wants to buy a ruined warped nightstand with chipped paint unless they’re in the refinishing business, and then they’re only gonna offer a very slim
amount to take that piece off your hands, namely an amount that won’t even cover the cost of a new replacement for yourself. 

This has been a segment of fun facts for absolutely no reason. I hope you have enjoyed, and I hope that you will keep these little tidbits in mind for your future adventures!

The Year in Review ~ by Bou Kitteh

Well, while Mom is busy, I thought I’d give you an update on 2019 from my perspective. You know I see things differently because I’m only inches from the floor—even though I can jump on certain high surfaces, on others when no one is looking. **paw to mouth snickers.

January, February, and March were dreadful! All that white stuff out there, no one to watch, and the birds weren’t cooperating, either! You’d think with a tree strung with yummy popcorn and berries outside, they’d be grateful. I guess the weather kept them under wraps, too.

April came and it was a breath of fresh air! There were chipmunks! Holy moly…those little things can move so fast! Darting back and forth on the patio. I felt like I was watching one of those tennis things mom watches. My neck hurt by the end of that day! A few squirrels came by, one even up to the door, brazen little brat. Not sure what that one thought, but there was no way I’d be letting it inside. Not on my watch!

My boy surprised my mom one Sunday. He put together the most

amazing urban garden. He painted the bricks and placed them just so and helped plant them. It was cool. They didn’t know I watched, but I did. My boy is a good boy. **eye blinks.

The summer was icky, only because that noisy wall thing was running all the time! There was no fresh air, only the cool stuff coming out of the wall. Scared me when it turned on and off. I was thankful I could hide under the couch or under the beds! Some of the summer storms had me running, too.

September and October were unremarkable, for me at least. I sat
and did some editing, listened to some good music, and took a lot of naps on mom’s lap, of course! **kitteh grins.

Here we are in December. Mom’s been busy editing and writing. My boy leaves every morning and comes home late. I don’t like that much. I like it better when he is here. He gives the best head and whisker rubs. **kitteh sigh.

Now, I’m sure that the pine cones are in the vase and the fancy
wreath is on the door, it won’t be long until that prickly green thing with all those lights and ornaments goes up…and I will be told countless times
 to leave it alone. Yeah, well, it bores me. Give me the patio door and the critters outside. That’s more my style. Although, that cute little mouse on the tree fascinates me.

It’s been a good year for this kitteh. I’m with two people who love me. I have lots of toys, although a girl could use more **Christmas present hint**, I’m warm, not hungry or thirsty, and I wish all kittehs could have this luxury.

Please, if you’re thinking your home needs a new kitteh, go to your local animal shelter and adopt. You won’t be sorry. Whomever you choose to love will love you back a hundredfold, I guarantee.

Happy holidays, everyone. Eat and drink responsibly and keep Uber on speed dial. (No Uber's needed here, but maybe a wee bit of the nip every now and again. **paw to mouth snicker)

Kitteh hugs and kisses to all.

Bou  =^.^=


Connecting Through Stories ~ by Author Shawn Burgess

I think everyone is born with an innate desire to tell stories. It’s one of the universals that binds humankind, lacing generation to generation. Culture to culture. A need to connect to one another through stories is fundamentally human and as old as language itself.


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My love of storytelling started in elementary school. Even from that young age, I gravitated to the dark, the mysterious and the unusual. Perhaps it was from my regular intake of Scooby Doo. Perhaps it was my parents open-armed embrace of the Halloween holiday. Whatever it was, it took root.

The first story I remember writing was about a haunted house with a pit of maggots, pretty dark stuff for a young child. I gravitated to horror because of the infinite possibilities, building worlds that didn’t necessarily abide by the same rules as the world we all live in. A place where my imagination could flourish. I wrote about monsters, mysteries, murder and mayhem.

By high school, I was churning out notebooks of dark poetry and
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song lyrics, experimenting with language. Due to the dark nature of the writing, I raised a teacher’s eyebrow or two along the way; but honestly, I wasn’t a troubled kid. I picked up on their non-verbal cues. After assessing the situation, realizing I wasn’t a threat to myself or others, they encouraged my writing. I’m very grateful for that. They could’ve just as easily tried to dissuade me. I often wonder if in today’s climate, it might have been made into a bigger deal than it was, just a kid who liked writing dark stories.

I completed my first full-length novel around the age of twenty, and in the process, fell in love with the idea of ultimately becoming a novelist. I didn’t do anything with that first book. Only one person read it. But it didn’t feel like wasted effort. In writing, you take something away from every project, whether it be a success or failure. Though it was a deeply flawed novel, the success of that first project was knowing that I could take a book from start to finish, which lent me the confidence I would need years later to pursue writing another book and publishing.

I continued writing creatively throughout college and graduate school. My first real writing success was seeing a one-act play I had written open for four nights at the University of North Florida. That was a thrill like I had never felt, getting to see the impact my words and story had on a live audience.

The plan was always to be a novelist, but life happened. I started a

career, met my wonderful wife, and we started a family together.

It’s peculiar how life comes full circle sometimes. How reasons I told myself I didn’t write, became the primary reason I did again. It’s easy to push aside dreams when you’re raising children, excusing away procrastination. I don’t have enough time or I’ll get to it when the kids are older. Sometimes life gives you a little nudge, or in this case, my oldest son did.

While reading a Goosebumps novel with him, I mentioned that I had written a book, and how I loved to write. He paused, looked up at me with innocent eyes and asked, “Will you write me a book, Daddy?” He was completely na├»ve to what that ask entailed, but I agreed, and my writing journey began anew.

It took a couple of days to shake off the rust, but ten months later,

the first draft of my debut novel, The Tear Collector, was completed. It’s gone through quite a few revisions since that first draft, but right away, I felt I had something in this story. The novel blends mystery, suspense intrigue and horror and sets it at the pace of a thriller while weaving in a beautiful coming-of-age story. But I think its biggest strength of all is the characters. The dynamic between the boys, how they interact with one another and how relateable and authentic they are. It was hard to say goodbye to them, but as I’m now working on a sequel, I didn’t have to for long.

My goal was to write something similar to some of the stories I loved growing up, like a Goonies, though admittedly with a bit more horror. While The Tear Collector and Goonies are wildly different, I do think this story hits the mark on conjuring up the nostalgia I was aiming for. And it’s something that I think makes this novel appeal to younger generations as well as my own and beyond. It’s also why I’m not shocked, despite the story being substantially different, that Advance Readers have mentioned that it reminds them of Stephen King’s The Body, better known as its film adaptation, Stand by Me.

I couldn’t be more excited about my release on December 2, 2019. For me, it’s a fulfillment of a lifelong goal—publishing a novel—which I hope is the first of many to come. And I can’t wait to share this exciting story with readers.

Dreams can be an elusive thing, but I will always be grateful to my oldest son for setting me on a path of chasing my own and pursuing a career as a novelist. I’m currently working on the sequel to The Tear Collector and a standalone urban fantasy novel tentatively titled, Deity.



Shawn Burgess is a speculative fiction author, with a love for the
Shawn Burgess
unusual, whether that be in his own writing, or in his reading of the works of others. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife and two sons. You can connect with Shawn by clicking on the links below.

Unwanted by Linda Boulanger

When I first started writing again after so many years of not picking up a pen, I thought Christian Fiction was the way I would go, especially after my friend, Pat Sipperly, pulled me into a writing group called FaithWriters. They had weekly challenges with different levels and, low and behold, the first story I entered won in its level. I was shocked but elated as well. I was also hooked and continued on, working my way up with a win here and there until I received the highest honor... an Editor's Choice.

Looking back, those wins may not have been that great to most people, but to me... I may as well have won the lottery. They gave me faith in my stories and my ability to write, and they pushed me to explore where I wanted to go as a author.

It took me several years to come to the realization that my heart is in Historical Romance. I've dabbled in a lot of genres along the way... including that time in Christian Fiction. That's a time that will always be near and dear to my heart and I'd like to share my Editor's Choice winning story with you. It's an idea that I think I'll eventually work into one of my Historical Romances, because I really like it. It touches the heart. It's called Unwanted. Enjoy!



Betrayal. Is there a more justifiable reason to be angry? I had every reason in the world to be bitter. I was swallowed up in the deepest, darkest time of my life, but God wasn’t giving me any slack.

I had done nothing wrong!

I was still seething as I looked down at the tiny bundle wrapped in soft pink. She returned my gaze, her eyes filled with trust. They were the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Sweet. She looked so sweet.

I picked her up, feeling her tiny nose against my cheek, soft yet firm, like nothing I had ever felt before. She nestled against me as I held her in my arms. I breathed deeply, the aroma of baby lotion, powder, and her distinctive scent filled my head. She smelled like him, her father…. my husband.

I didn’t want to love her, vowed I would not the day he told me about her and that he wanted to bring her home. To our home! His child with another woman… brought into this world by a chance encounter… and I was supposed to take her in and love her as my own.

Preposterous!

I had resolved to harden my heart toward her. Bitterness had tried to creep in.

I’d already made my peace with my husband… with an awful lot of help from God. I had come to terms with the fact that, perhaps, it had even been my obsession with the need for a baby that had driven him away for a time. It had been difficult enough but we’d gotten through it. And then he’d learned of this child, his child, to be given away without a care from her real mother.

And now, here she was, so small, so helpless. She was soft within my arms, looking to me to take care of her, to show her a world where someone cared.

“God, how could you do this to me? How can I do for her what is needed when my heart is hurting so?”

I’d been denied my own child in life. Years of trying had left me with nothing but a hardened heart, wounded pride, and a taste of bitterness in my mouth. The barren woman… and now this child.

She began to fuss. I laid her back and she looked at me again. I was touched by the total lack of judgment in her eyes. She had no idea how tormented I was or that I had planned not to love her, only that she needed someone to take care of her and that I seemed to be doing a pretty good job at that very moment. Her own mother didn’t care, didn’t love her; had not even loved my husband as I did.

I brushed the palm of my hand across the soft down that covered the top of her head. She liked it. Her eyes took on that dreamy look and I smiled. The realization of how much she needed me washed over me with great cleansing waves.

I leaned down and kissed her forehead. Her eyes fluttered, and then shut. I could feel her breath. Soft sweet whispers caressed my face as I rubbed her cheek with my own.

In her sleep, she smiled. It was an angel’s smile.

I couldn’t hate her.

My bitterness faded away. She was the answer to my prayer for a child.

I resolved right then to be her mother, to be that someone who would love her no matter what. I thanked God for giving me the chance to make certain she never felt unwanted.







The Sugarplum Table ~ by Kristine Raymond

I have boatloads of favorite memories from my childhood and most of them revolve around food.  Mom was a stay-at-home mom who embraced, with...