Christmas–Past and Present ~ by Guest Author, Patty MacFarlane

The first Christmas I can remember was in the house on Turin Street. I remember my mama’s upset because we did not have a Christmas tree; her upset was probably a result of me asking why we didn’t have a tree when Martha, my best friend who lived downstairs, and her family had a beautifully decorated tree in their front window. I also remember my daddy telling my mama not to worry about it. That’s when she told me Santa would bring the tree. I know I was excited about Christmas and was wondering what Santa would bring. I was so happy that Santa was bringing our tree since everyone else seemed to have to get one on their own.

I have to say that Christmas was my most favorite time of year. Christmas and the Fourth of July, but I didn’t get any presents on the Fourth of July, so Christmas was really the highlight of my year when I was young, and it still is.

This particular Christmas was not a disappointment for me. On Christmas morning when I woke up, there was the Christmas tree in our living room. It was beautifully trimmed, and I truly couldn’t understand how Santa could do such a wonderful job, not only for me but for all the children of the world, and all in one night. Our tree had the most beautiful angel on top that I have ever seen and some of the lights were called “bubblers” because the colored liquid in them bubbled once they warmed up. There was also some deep red and dark green garland that was thinner than most but beautiful because it was made out of velvet. I never have put garland on my trees as an adult and I think it’s because I’ve never found anything to compare with the elegant swooping strands I remember as a child.

What I didn’t know then was that there probably wasn’t any money to buy a tree and my daddy, along with one or more of his good friends, visited a local golf course and cut down a perfectly shaped Christmas tree in the middle of the night, dragged it home, and trimmed it just for us.

I remember one gift. There may have been others, but this one gift was one I have never forgotten. It was a hooded cape for my doll, in fact, I don't remember having the doll before Christmas, so it may have been a present too, but the cape was the best gift ever. It was a beige tweed woolen material with a light-yellow silk lining and pinned to it was a note personally written to me from Mrs. Santa Claus. In the note, she apologized for not having time to finish hemming my doll's cape, but she added, she was sure that my mother could finish it for me. I think I was more impressed with a real note from Mrs. Santa Claus than I was with the cape with no hem. It never mattered to me that it wasn't finished; it was the best present in the whole wide world.

We moved a lot, and by a lot I mean I had lived in 13 houses by the time I was twelve years old. So, I guess by now you know the next line of this story…we moved again. We didn’t move far actually, just around the corner into a house that had once been owned by a relative of my Grandma. It once belonged to a dead lady called Aunt Addie. It was kind of spooky and my brother and I often wondered if she died in that house, but she was long dead by the time we moved into the house which had stood empty for many years.

It was always thought that Aunt Addie left a lot of money hidden in the house. My brother and I looked for it in the dilapidated back shed, even crawling under the house which didn’t have a cellar, but we never found anything.  

It was a pitiful house with very old faded brown shingles and well-worn linoleum on the floors, but a place to live, nonetheless.  

There were five rooms in the downstairs of the house. There was a front door which we never used; we entered from a side porch into the kitchen. The house did not have central heating and most of the heat came from the ancient black iron stove in the kitchen that burned coal or wood and was also used for cooking. Off the kitchen was a pantry with cupboards with glass doors and another room that was my bedroom. It was a very tiny room, just enough space for a single bed and a dresser. I really liked the Birdseye Maple dresser as it had been my Grandma’s. It had four drawers and a large oval mirror. I even had a pretty dresser scarf for the top of it.

From the kitchen, you walked into my parent's bedroom, which was probably a dining room at one time. Given the slant of the floors, you could put a ball on the kitchen floor and it would roll, all by itself, right down to the living room. I always imagined that a dinner served in that room never could include peas as they would roll right off the plate, off the table and onto the floor. I often wondered why neither of my parents rolled right out of the bed and thought it was a good thing my baby sister, who was born when we lived here, slept in a crib or she would have rolled right out on to the floor. You could walk straight through to the living room (which my father also used as an office) or turn left and walk into the bedroom shared by my brother and my sister.

My sister was not well while we lived here. It is now thought that she had polio as she continued to fall down, and her legs didn’t work right. There were times when she couldn’t walk at all. A doctor came to the house; back then doctors did make house calls, and he gave my sister shots of some kind in her butt cheek. I’m sure it was very painful for her as she screamed bloody murder with each shot. I never liked that doctor and I thought he was cruel. She may have needed those shots, whatever they were, but just the way he held the needle so far up above her and jabbed it hard into her small butt cheek looked unnecessary to me even at my young age of about eight years. Even my Grandma said so. I made up my mind that if I ever felt sick, I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I didn’t want that doctor taking care of me so I would suffer in silence if ever I didn’t feel good. My brother and I made a pact and he wasn’t going to tell anyone if he didn’t feel good either.

Money was always in short supply; that’s a nice way of saying we were dirt poor. My brother and I always walked along what would one day become Erie Boulevard where all the construction was going on. We rummaged through the garbage behind all the stores looking for treasures. We mostly found comic books with the covers torn off which I guess were old issues that didn’t sell. Occasionally we found something worth taking home and one of those times it was a crate of fresh eggs. There were twelve dozen eggs in that wooden crate; it was heavy, and we had no idea how we were going to get it home. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. We pushed it; we pulled it a few feet at a time until we made it home, a distance of about four blocks. We were thrilled with our find, but mama said she was sure the eggs were stolen from one of the restaurants in the area. She called the closest one to the place we found the eggs, Ray's Coffee Shop, and sure enough, she was right. A delivery man took in one crate of eggs, got shooting the breeze with the owner, and when he went out for the second crate it was gone. They figured one of the local drunks pulled it away and hid it. He was very grateful that we found it and came to pick it up. He gave my mama some money for a reward and I thought that was very nice of him.

As luck would have it, I eventually did begin to feel sick and so did my brother. Neither of us said a word about it. The day before Christmas, both of us came down with Measles and we were peppered with the red spots. Mama moved me into my brother's bedroom, closed the door that opened onto her bedroom and nailed a sheet over the doorway of the bedroom that opened onto the living room. We could peek through and see the Christmas tree, but we couldn't leave the room and it had to be dark in the room too so we couldn't turn on the light. I remember having milk toast and poached eggs to eat. We felt real lucky that there wasn't anything that doctor could do for measles and that he was never called to jab us in the butt cheek. I think both of us got Christmas gifts that year but neither of us remembers exactly what we got. I remember that he got cap guns and a holster and while I was happy for him, my feelings were hurt that I didn’t get any cowgirl guns. The Lone Ranger was one of our favorite shows and my brother’s holster came with silver bullets in these slots on his gun belt and he even got a black mask. I probably got something stupid like panties with Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on them. I always thought they were stupid because it never failed that you were wearing your Sunday panties sometime during the week.

I know we got shoes because we got new shoes every Christmas. My Grandma’s cousin worked for a shoe store which was a couple blocks away, and every year she bought shoes for all of us. My mama took us in to pick out a pair of shoes just before Christmas. They were usually oxfords, usually sturdy and made by Buster Brown. My brother liked to get what he called the bloodshot color – they were actually called oxblood; I got plain brown. We got to stand with our feet in a machine and we could look into it and see the bones of our feet inside the shoes. I know now it was an x-ray machine but at the time it was more fun than actually getting new shoes because mama and I always fought over which shoes I could have. I always wanted pretty patent leather buckle shoes and she said they weren’t practical. Of course, Grandma’s cousin always went along with mama.

I really did appreciate the shoes and they were perfectly good shoes except for being ugly, but when you only get one pair of shoes and you wear them every day for everything you do, they don’t last from one Christmas to the next. If, when the soles wore out there was money to have the shoes resoled, we had that done by the shoemaker, but more often than not, a good sturdy piece of cardboard worked just as well, and it was free. When I had cardboard covering the hole in my shoes, I hated kneeling in church because the kids in the pew behind me could see it. I didn’t mind so much if it was only one shoe because I could twist the good shoe over the cardboard and no one would see it.

I’ve always believed to know a person it helps to know where they’ve come from, what they’ve experienced in their life. I could tell you many stories, but let’s just jump ahead to today.

I am a mother of six wonderful children, a grandmother of 18, and a great-grandmother of four. I am a widow. I put myself through college working many jobs. As a substance abuse counselor, I worked with the homeless, many of whom were Native American. I was given a Native American name Speaks Like Dancing Brook by the Chief of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, an honor few receive. I finally ended up as a crisis intervention counselor working mostly with women. I still volunteer once a week. I am the Founder and CEO of Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild; if you are interested in genealogy the website is I am an author and an editor. I am Patty MacFarlane and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished as I celebrate my 75th Christmas.

You can find Patty here:

How Did a Horror Loving Girl Grow Up to be a Romance Writer? ~by Darlene Kuncytes

In my very first blog post, I decided that I wanted to discuss this topic a little bit, because I have people ask me ALL the time who some of my favorite authors are, and when I tell them--King, Koontz, Saul--they usually just look at me with a blank stare for a moment before saying…"but, don’t you write romance?"

So just how does someone go from being a full-out horror loving enthusiast to an author who writes hard-core romance?

I swear I grew up with a book in my hand. I devoured every scary book I could find, and I revered those horror authors I thought to be the true masters. Not to mention, that I really wanted to be the next Stephen King.

I’m not ashamed to admit, that I even gave my sixth-grade teacher a bit of a shock when I proudly handed in a book report on “Suffer the Children” by John Saul. She learned fairly quickly not to let me pick my own books after that! And, I’m actually pretty surprised she didn’t tell my mother to have me tested!

It’s funny that I would finally achieve my life-long dream of becoming an author. Just not as the next master of the macabre.

Instead, I became a romance author.

Who would have thought? Certainly not my family. They always knew that I would write, but they figured it would be something along the lines of my favorites and I’d be killing off people left and right. How wrong they were!

I started writing my first romance novel not long after I read The Gamble by LaVryle Spencer. We had gone to my Aunt's house for a visit and there it was, just sitting there on her coffee table, and me, being without a book, decided to start reading it with the full intention of just passing some time. I figured I’d hate it, but at least it was something to do besides listening to the adults talk.

Needless to say, I was wrong.

I could not put that blasted book down. It had me on the edge of my seat, and my heart in my throat, just as The Shining had done to me not so many weeks before.

Again, in a slightly different way, but I remember thinking, Wow! Romance is crazy!

I think in order to write romance, you need to be able to get your readers to experience that exhilarating rush of adrenaline that can be scary as hell to the characters experiencing it. Whether they are trying to escape from an evil descending upon them, or they are experiencing that first intense explosion of passion between them when they finally come together.

Either way, it’s a rush that needs to be felt straight in the gut of the reader.

In both horror and romance, someone is usually being pursued by someone or something! The end result is just a little different. One can lose their head…the other their heart. Both genres take the reader on a wild ride of emotions that will make the heart pound and the pulse race, albeit in somewhat different ways.

If you really think about it, horror has ribbons of romance slithering through it at times. Take Dracula, for instance. He left the safety and solitude of his castle to go after the love of his life–Mina.

Nothing could separate them.

Eternal love.

Is there anything better?

Okay, so he may have caused a bit of trouble here and there along the way, but what’s love without a little heartache?

courtesy of

Then, of course, there’s Anne Rice. Her Vampire Chronicles are pure poetry, horror, and sexiness all wrapped into one. But, would you consider them romance? Or horror, with a romantic feel?

The answers are boundless.

After I finished The Gamble, my mind just went a bit romancey – if you will.

I found myself writing down bits of stories here and there, never quite finishing one before another popped into my head, and they were ALL romances! I still loved reading horror, but writing was a completely different story for me now.

I like being able to have the big bad villain threatening the demise of our star-crossed lovers. And, with also writing paranormal romance, I get to weave tales with versions of the monsters and things that go bump in the night that I love - yet having that happily ever after, if I so chose.

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for those.

And, that is where horror and romance differ most of the time. It’s hard to have a true, all around HEA (Happily Ever After) ending in a horror novel, what with so much death, dismemberment, and terror. Although, I will say, Dean Koontz is an absolute master at writing horror with a strong thread of love and happy endings. I never really gave it much thought as I devoured his books until I began writing romance myself.

In closing, I guess my point is, never pigeon-hole yourself into strictly one genre. Expand and give yourself the opportunity to explore different worlds, because in the end, they aren’t that different, really. And, who knows, I may just decide one day to dabble in a pure horror story. So, make sure you don’t tick me off, or you may just show up in it!! LOL

Thanks for taking the time to know a bit of what makes me tick!

Keep reading!


The Path of the Creative ~ by Chad Elliott #originalitybydesign


The “path of the creative” is filled with twists, turns, deadly pitfalls and glorious vantage points. I want you to understand it as such. It is not a hobby. It is not a business. Taken day by day, it is a chosen way of life.

Photo: wantitall
I was 6 years old when I started the creative journey. I gave up on my desire to be a ventriloquist, putting away my well-worn, scuffed-nosed Charlie McCarthy and Howdy Doody dummies, to become an “important” artist. I was a strange child, in a good way.

Photo: pinterest

I took my creative learning very seriously. Dead serious. I was very reserved around adults. It was my only lifeline to communicate on a deeper level with the outside world. I remember sitting on my grandparents’ living room floor sketching my own copies from a Leonardo Da Vinci figure studies book. I would hear my mom and all of my aunts and uncles praising my young blossoming artistic talent. The positive attention was exactly what I craved and I could receive it from my safe, inner world scribbling on the floor.

Photo: guitarstore

As I grew into my twenties, music became a similar thing for me. I taught myself guitar. I spent so many hours tenaciously fingerpicking my pawnshop six-string. It would not be an exaggeration to say I “played it ‘til my fingers bled.” I became obsessed with it. That same doggedness spilled over into songwriting. I wrote my first 20 songs in 5 days. I spent all day thinking of song ideas, learning the similarities and, more importantly, the differences between writing poetry and lyrics. Meanwhile, I kept drawing.

Why do I share this personal timeline? Short answer: the silver thread that weaves it all together...Inspiration. 

Photo: AthleteBiz

That is the mission. To live “in the spirit.” To be on fire. I am confident it makes the entire world a better place when people are inspired. Some people can choose to do one thing they love and sustain that fire their entire life. It just so happens, that my thing is finding a connection between many things. I am fueled by looking at the many angles of a  topic or story,  painting it onto canvas, singing it into a melody, or melting it down into a poem. I have learned that everything I’ve worked on tells the story...becomes the bread crumbs on the path to which others can follow. 

Through divorce, homelessness, and dropping out of grad school, I have fought to keep my spark ignited. I sculpt, paint, sing, and write. Each season I try to weave, metaphorically speaking, something beautiful from the thread I am given. All the while, hoping my little light is bright enough for others to follow.

I am often asked, “How do you juggle all of these things? Is there anything you can’t do?” My answer is: I am only doing one thing...staying inspired. And I hope others can do the same.

Photo: Pinterest

I am turning 45 in a couple months and I see the roots of this work slowly getting stronger and the picture is getting clearer, the finish smoother. As the years pass, I can only imagine what new branches will spring from taking this broad approach to creating. And that is the best part...the not knowing while imagining.

What I do know is that my footsteps have slowed to more fully take in the scenery, grateful for the path I am on.

This Land Is Your Land
Commissioned mural for the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center

-Chad Elliott
Artist, Songwriter, Author, Poet

It’s Just a dog…And that’s what makes them so extraordinary, Part 4 ~ by Joanne Jaytanie

I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Margaret Lehmberg. Margaret is one of the unsung heroes people call on when a dog is in dire need. Margaret picks up the pieces and tries her utter best to put the forgotten, abused, abandoned, body and heart of the dog back together. Once accomplished, she searches for the loving forever home. Margaret is the canine savior, otherwise known as a rescue person.
Margaret: Joanne and I met the “modern” way, online through Facebook, enjoying a friendship filled with Doberman stories and discussions and then, finding out she was a novelist and wrote the kind of books I enjoy. One thing has led to another and I’ve read many of her books and the friendship has bloomed.  It’s kinda nice having social media that allows us to stay in touch, see pictures, hear of day-to-day lives and enjoy how things twist and turn through life. I find that online friendships allow us to “travel” and to experience firsthand others’ lives without leaving home.
Me: Please share your history of the dogs in your life. 

Margaret: I was lucky enough to not only be born the middle child in a home with an established dog…a DOBERMAN at that. We always had a single Doberman growing up, never a question, the dog was inside in the thick of five children and an active life. Chasing squirrels, chipmunks and birds, sliding down the icy hills of NY and NH and MA. Dobermans were a large part of my childhood. We moved several times and leaving old friends and making new ones was terrifying for a kid and harder as we age. But the ONE constant was the Doberman…Someone to whisper my fears to, who would love me through the scary stuff, lick away the tears of sadness, frustration and fear, who would always be glad to see me and hear what I had to say…. Never “allowed” on the furniture, I’d sneak her into my bed, share the couch with her, slip her food from my plate, and through it all that unbreakable bond formed and we were the best of friends.

A skinny lonely kid, unsure of life and why we kept moving around, my one constant was a Doberman, and the love grew. Adding a second Doberman to the family doubled my comfort level. A second friend to count on and treasure, another “constant” in a life that was at times unsure and unpredictable. No matter the address, city or state, “they” would always be there. A comforting reminder waiting at the door, assuring me that I was loved and wanted.
Me: You dedicate your life to your dogs, so much so that you manage your own rescue. Could you please tell us about this?

Margaret: It wasn’t until adulthood I found that most people didn’t share my concept of the human and animal relationship and the joy it brings. While volunteering at a thrift store, a man came in with a Doberman and was looking to find a place for her to live. His wife was having a baby, the dog must go. It wasn’t a concept I could grasp. I questioned him, appalled that he would so callously hand a leash to a stranger, never once knowing the outcome of the dog he professed to love….HOW could one do that?  I’d make myself frantic wondering if my dogs were scared without me. I’d worry the new people wouldn’t understand what the dog needed or wanted. WHY, would anyone do that? I agreed to take the dog—and “rescue” was born for me.

Slowly I found a “secret” dirty little world where people had no real feelings and coldly handed the leash or rope and walked away—never to look back—never to wonder. Rescue was a hard journey for me. I learned people can walk away from love and devotion. They can turn on and off their emotions easily, they feel little to no guilt, they respect life very little, are content to let others clean up their messes—many have no ability to empathize.

I learned that animals still give unconditionally, have the ability to love and respect, even after being beaten, tortured, starved, neglected…Animals feel hope and joy despite having both ripped from them repeatedly. They harbor no resentment, carry very little “baggage,” forgive easily and love well. A dog will curl around and comfort the very person who beat them, starved them, abused them, and walked away from them…I have seen in their faces profound gratitude for being “saved” from a shelter. I’ve experienced the devotion of their gratitude for a bowl of fresh water, a bowl of food and a bath…Felt the trembling subside as I’ve comforted them. The biggest of them afraid of the dark, remembering being abandoned to the night and left on their own, sighing as they settled on a thick blanket, secure in the sounds of safety. I’ve seen those big dark eyes, huge with fear, slowly calm and close after a warm bath and food, safe at last.
I’ve been honored to pull seniors laying in their own urine and feces, still show dignity and the ability to portray a regal image. I bring them home, tenderly bathing them, laying them on a thick soft bed, speaking softly to them, and comforting them. I remain at their side and take their last walk with them. I hold them safely and securely as the needle slips in ending their pain. I’ve been blessed to pull beauties deformed by cancer and emaciated, with tufts of hair cropping up in places on their balding bodies, allowing them to enjoy good days in the sun and good food at night until they’re no longer able. I’ve lost count over the years how many beautiful souls I was blessed with in my life, however briefly and however painfully sad. I know I’ve cared for over 700 and am hopeful that God willing, there will always be room for “more.” 
Rescue is not “easy” when done right. The days of enjoying young puppies saved and playing in the sunlight are far too few. But this serves as a reminder on the nights I’m up with one who’s too restless to sleep, too afraid to close their eyes, and too unsure to move forward. Rescue is about dirty, filthy coats, emaciated frames, learning to walk on a leash, cleaning and challenge. It’s also filled with tentative kisses, hesitant tail wags, and the wonder and joy of newly discovered life. It’s watching a terrified dog escape the terrors and learn to run and play, exploring their new yard and family. It’s watching as they relax and are able to be “just a dog” once again. It’s about the joy of seeing them happy again, trusting again, and living again—and wondering where you can squeeze—just one more—it’s about the prayers that there’s “just enough” to feed, vet, and care, for them. Praying someone will love them almost as much as we do… 

Regina “Gina” was at a local shelter, a pretty girl with a nice crop on her ears and a pendulous tumor hanging on her chest between her front legs. It swung as she walked, literally scraping the ground with each movement. It was as ugly a diagnosis as it was a tumor, not long to live. For a year she lived and loved big, and one morning wasn't well. Five minutes from the vets, she put her paw on my hand and looked at me, gave a deep sigh and never taking her eyes from my face, she left. Here and then gone, ALWAYS my girl…

Rescue doesn’t always end in tragedy: holding a dog at the end, spending great amounts of money, and losing them anyway. GOOD rescue is taking the ones that are in need and loving them the best way through that need for a lifetime or short-time but “enough.”  We have many happy “tails” in our rescue, and friends we’ve made along the way, dogs that have made a difference in subtle and big ways, who are given their lifetime being loved and having the “bad” beginning be just a distant memory.

Rescue dogs aren’t “broken” or “ruined,” and they aren’t dogs with baggage. They are simply animals with more experience with the “bad” side of humans and made it out the best they could and are now getting the second chance they deserve. I’d encourage everyone to help rescue in some way. You can do that by fostering, adopting, volunteering in some capacity, or by donating. I would encourage people to COMMIT and honor your commitment. If your dog situation is not working, ask for help, try something different, don’t dump and give up…. Nothing is perfect, and dogs don’t give up as easily on us. 

Me: Without using the word, love, please describe what your dogs mean to you.

Margaret:  A comforting peaceful acceptance of me and a being that is happy to be with me…A soul that brings joy in all things, even in endings.
Margaret, I want to thank you for your insight and sharing your experiences. You are a special breed and without people like yourself, many more dogs would be lost.

Margaret's rescue: A Doberman Adoption Placement Team (ADAPT). Our motto: “We don’t lose sight of their souls.”

I have many friends, including Margaret, who dedicate their lives to rescue. It was because of them that I was inspired to write, Love’s Always Paws-Able. It’s about a woman leaving her corporate position and a man stepping away from his own company, both ending up at an animal shelter, but for very different reasons.

Like most of my stories, I incorporated my own dog and with this story, I included some of my friend’s dogs. My second Doberman, Misty, was my muse. She was not a rescue, but I did purchase her from an inexperienced breeder. I brought Misty home as a puppy. She grew to be lifelong buddies with my older girl, Taisha.

Misty would’ve been happy living out her life at home and sharing it with only us. But, like a Doberman, she was a trooper when I decided she was the one I was taking to obedience. She gave me her all and we worked as a team for years. One day during our run in the show ring, I left her on her sit-stay and walked across the ring for her recall. She did the most unexpected thing. Misty got up when I called her, but instead of coming to me she turned and left the ring. Although it was heartbreaking at the time, I knew deep in my gut that Misty had finished her last show. She was my most highly titled obedience dog. She’d done it with and for me, and I recognized her decision to be finished with that part of her life.

The dedication for Love’s Always Paws-Able expresses my gratitude and endless love to both, Misty and the others who helped bring this story to life.

The natural-ear red Doberman on the cover is my girl~ 

Jaytanie’s Misty Morning, AKC/CKC CD, AKC/CKC CDX, WAC 


Misty came into our lives two months after we purchased our house. She spent the first four years of her life hanging out at home and just being a dog. Her life changed the day I decided to get back into dog obedience and drafted Misty into training. It took her some time to feel comfortable out in the world, around dogs other than her companion, Taisha. I quickly discovered that Wendy’s fries were the way to her heart. She was an amazing girl full of compassion, patience, and love. You are deeply missed my floppy-eared Misty-Girl. 

Noel Ritter, owner of Guiding Hands Pet Obedience since 1992. 

Toshia Maund, Doberman Representative for Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue since 2007, actively involved since 2000. 

Thanks, ladies, for letting me bounce ideas off you. Your dedication to the betterment of dogs does not go unnoticed. 

To my multitude of amazing friends whose lives would seem incomplete if not for their canine companions. 

And to all who share in our love of dogs. For theirs is an unconditional love…it never waivers and will not fade.

Until next time…

What Are You Thankful For? ~ by Shannon Binegar-Foster

As I begin to reflect on the year, I find myself reminiscing on the things I am thankful for. Many people do this daily and often list 3-5 things each day. I am just not good at that. I might come up with a different list for a couple of days but by the 3rd day, I most often have run out of things to list. 

I am sure I am not alone in saying how much easier this task is when things are going well for us. I find that when things are not going well, or we are struggling financially I have a very hard time completing that list. 

Each year I pick a word for the year. For 2018 I chose “Limitless." I was so excited and hopeful. I launched some new products in February which were not as successful as I had hoped. I published my second book in April. I am currently finishing my third book. I have begun the time of a craft/vendor show every weekend from 11/11 through 12/15. Has my year been “Limitless,” not exactly. I had so many hopes for this year that were squashed by dismal sales. 

So when I sat down to begin to think of what I was thankful for this year the list is very short. As a 12-year Uterine Cancer survivor, I am always thankful for my health, even though arthritis keeps me from doing so many things. I know I could have it far worse. First and foremost I am thankful for my husband. He does so much for me I can’t even begin to put into words my gratitude for him. I have a great family and wonderful friends. I am grateful that I am able to brighten someone’s day with my art. My art is my happy place. That and the pool at the YW. 

So, there it is my very short list for the year. Five things. I encourage you to take the next few weeks and reflect on what you are thankful for. I will be taking the next few weeks to pick my word for 2019 and hoping I find many more things to be thankful for next year. 

The Hands ~ by Ralph Duncan

Although I am not a prolific blogger, I hope I can offer you some interesting thoughts and stories.  Most of what I'll write will be about my experiences and adventures that inspire and inform my art. Here’s a little bit about why I make art. Enjoy.

It was an interesting day that unexpectedly became a day of reflection and in some sense, a day of drawing a line in the sand. I know—what does this have to do with hands? Or what does this have to do with art for that matter?

It started with my afternoon trip to the Bellevue Arts Museum. I made a point of going because the exhibit of furniture maker John Cederquist was at the museum and I didn’t want to miss it. As I walked through his exhibit and the following sculptural exhibit of Wanxin Zhang, I kept wanting to put my hands on the pieces; to feel the shape and the texture. But—there was the sign—DO NOT TOUCH ART—I’m not sure why some of us feel the need to touch things. Perhaps it is this feeling that without touching something, without the feel of the shape, the texture, the softness, the harshness, the curves, and the sharp edges – one has not really engaged in the subject.

Ironically, as the day progressed, I was walking the streets of Seattle and came across an interesting bookstore.  Browsing the store, I found a wonderful book titled, “Hands at Work.”  

As I thumbed through the book, I read stories about people who work with their hands. My mind went back to the gallery and my thoughts about wanting to put my hands on the art. My thoughts drifted to my father when I said my last goodbye to him and touched his hands roughened by a life of working with his hands; of the things those hands taught me when I was young. 

I remembered the old tools I inherited and the feeling of self-worth and history when working with a tool that is decades old. I wondered what craftsman had his or her hands on this tool and of the intertwining of the oil and sweat from their hands and mine.

I read the stories and explanations of why these men and women chose to make a life by working with their hands.

“They talk of living in their hands and needing to get their hands dirty, cold, or wet. For them, the materials they use are alive and responsive; their hands teach them things they didn’t know and connect them to different times, places, and people.”

People are losing the ability to make things for themselves…We’re missing out on the incredible creative process that engages the mind and translates to the hands. why I must make art.

By Ralph Duncan

Thanksgiving ~ by Grace Augustine

Photo: Wikipedia

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states.

Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a public holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States. It has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington.

Photo: PinehurstResort

Long thought of as a celebration of harvest, in today's society it means different things to different people. To some, it is a four-day weekend. For others, it is the beginning of the holiday season--family gatherings, good food, football, and laughter. While others brave the crowds for the best shopping deals on Black Friday through the weekend.

Photo: WholeFoods

For me, it's all about the turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin pie! (Along with being grateful for all life blessings.)  And, what is Thanksgiving without a new recipe?  Below is one I found that seems like it could find its way to my oven this year...courtesy of Food Network. Click the underlined link and be taken to the recipe.

Photo: FoodNetwork

 From all of us here at Originality by Design, we wish all of you a very wonderful Thanksgiving!

Editing and Control: Musings ~ by R. R. Saucier, Editor, Writer, Observer

     Old School Control. Let’s talk control. As an editor, I can’t help but note that the job description for editing has morphed since self-publishing became a viable option for writers. In the ‘70’s, I was a grunt for the publishing wing of the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Manuscripts were scrupulously combed through. The attention to detail was superb: every word, every bit of punctuation was dealt with at least three times, sometimes more. Despite working with highly educated academics, the editor’s way was gospel. Sure, there were freelancers then and people who wrote term papers – but professional publications were subject to editorial control that was lodged firmly with the editor.

     Control in Free Fall. Today, I work with a lot of authors who are self-published. Some of them have been professionally published, some not. But the power equation has changed. If you hire me to edit your work, I will give you my very best effort and will let you know when the edit is a matter of grammar or opinion. You remain in charge, having relinquished no control at all. You can accept my work, ignore it, and ultimately, decide whether I’m the editor for you. 

     Professional publishing today still retains a high degree of control, however. Try enforcing how you are edited when you are dealing with a publishing house, and you better have good rationales for your choices or great sales! Curiously, many have argued that some famous, professionally-published writers are allowed too much leeway (read: control) over their works. Once their profits soar some readers feel their work suffers, seemingly from a lack of – you guessed it – editing. In other words, some writers can handle control and some cannot. 

Derry, Emily, Amelia at two weeks

     Diverting Uncontrolled Anecdote. I’ve always been a cynic. I gave up on Santa by the age of three and religion by the age of six. I have always believed that control is an illusion; the moment you feel you have it, you’ve got a surprise coming. Falls under the adage, tell God your plans if you want to hear him laugh. Or, as Leia said to Governor Tarkin, “The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” [Star Wars 4, if you’re counting.] 

     My husband and I had two miniature schnauzers. When one died early of Addison’s disease, we were utterly bereft. We went puppy hunting, having convinced ourselves that our surviving female schnauzer, Liesl, needed company… a ridiculous notion that I doubt either of us really believed. We adopted two male schnauzer puppies that summer; both were charming and a tad precocious.  

     When Liesl went into heat we consulted our vet, who averred unequivocally that the four-month-old boys were too young to father a litter, we were safe. As he was a professional and we were vulnerable, we believed him, but even so, we still kept the two of them separated. Ten days later we were sure the heat was over. And, after all, he was too young anyway, so we relaxed our control over Liesl. Shadow, who had not been informed he was too young, immediately proved the vet wrong. It took him about three seconds to figure it out, and that’s all it took. As Dr. Ian Malcolm would say, “…life, uh…finds a way.” (Jurassic Park, 1993)

     My husband wanted a little black female puppy; Liesl, ever his dog, produced three little black females. (Yes, schnauzer pups are born black and achieve their real color with time--but I’m convinced she did it just to please him, like everything else she did). And yes, you guessed it; we ended up keeping them all for a total of six: Mom, Dad, Uncle Snickers, and the three little girls, Emily, Amelia Peabody, and Derry.  

Derry, Emily, Amelia at one year.

     You need some.  Don’t misunderstand. We need control. Control throughout life is vitally important to success, personality, and self-fulfillment. Babies who lack control of language are utterly frustrated until someone figures it out for them. Seniors in nursing homes desperately strive for whatever tiny bit of control they can eke out of that environment; if they lack it utterly, despair is often the result. Children must be given choices and understand that they have control over their choices if they are to become functioning adults. A total lack of control is often cited by those who attempt suicide. Mid-level managers with little or no control who are surrounded by co-workers who are at loggerheads must be ingenious negotiators or risk total frustration.

  So, you gotta have it. Just don’t fool yourself about how much you really have, or you could end up being a schnauzer pack leader. Or just a member of the pack, because, after all, control is tricky--especially with schnauzers. 

Plugging Along ~ by Lori Roberts

I’ve been writing since 2011. Blogging isn’t something I enjoy doing, so for those of you who have a blog, my hat is tipped in your direction. When I’m writing a novel, there’s a good possibility I’m plugging along with a few other things.  
    Like all of you, I keep busy. I teach U.S. History during the day and write when home and on the weekends. The rest of my time is spent researching. It’s like the thrill of the hunt for me. I love going on location. My husband and I have a 5th wheel and during the summer and fall we try to plan our vacations around my time off from school and locations near my research sites.

    I can’t imagine writing a novel without first being where my characters will come to life.  I’m not knocking writers who aren’t able to put boots on the ground, so to speak.  It’s just how I roll.
    My parents were always traveling with my sister and me from the time I could walk. I credit my parents for instilling the love of American history in me.  
    Writing came about from characters wanting to tell their story.  It happened at the right time, as these things usually do.  I became a grandmother twice in two months, and it was for my grandchildren that the stories flew from my imagination to my computer.  It was my gift to them, should anything happen to me before they could know me. I even used family names, some centuries old, as characters in each of my books.
   Eight years, eight grandchildren, and five novels later, I’m still plugging along.

It’s Just a dog…And that’s what makes them so extraordinary, Part 3 ~ by Joanne Jaytanie

This series is about sharing a bit of my friend’s lives with their dogs. In conjunction with sharing with you the role my dogs have played in my life, and how they influenced my decision to become an author.
Mariko's boy Jet
I'd like to introduce you to one of my international friends, Mariko Kudo. While Mariko and I have yet to meet in person, our love of Dobermans created a friendship which has grown over the years. 

Mariko: We first met I think way back in 2011 through a Doberman group on Facebook! Before this, I had no idea that such communities of die-hard Doberman lovers even existed! I quickly became addicted to sharing my dobie experiences with other like-minded Doberman owners, and it has been wonderful to meet so many lovely people who share my passion for this amazing breed! Later, in 2012 I was a co-founder of a much smaller Doberman group called Dobie Family Forum, and this has been a wonderful way to connect with dobie friends in a more intimate, family style setting! I know each and every member of this group and they are truly like family! 

Me: Please share your history of the dogs in your life. 

Mariko: I am actually fairly new to dog ownership. Growing up in the UK and in Japan, the only pets I ever had were birds and fish! In fact, my ambition when I was younger was to become a vet who specialized solely on birds. I loved my parakeets! However, my father grew up with dogs so on visits to his home in Northern Japan over the holidays, I was always greeted by an Irish Setter or two plus several wonderful Yorkies! My parents promised my older sister a dog when she turned 11, but said dog never materialized! It was only in April 2004 when I was 29 that my partner Andrew and I welcomed a dog into our home! Even then, it was a spur of the moment decision!

Andrew had just bought a house in a beautiful but very rough part of Bradford, West Yorkshire. As soon as we moved in, we had a spate of thefts from the garden. The theft of a brand new lawnmower was the last straw and he decided he needed a guard dog! So he called the local shelter and asked if they had any dobies or rotties available! And lo and behold, they had a young red dobie called Max. Andrew drove there and got him! With hindsight, I know now that we got him for all the wrong reasons – a dobie is NOT an outside dog with the sole purpose of guarding property, and as a breed, they are definitely a challenge for first time dog owners like me! Andrew was more confident as he grew up with boxers, but I truly felt out of my depth in the first few months! 

On the first night with us, we were all out in the garden, when suddenly, Max went back into the house and stood in the patio doorway, growling and snapping his teeth and refusing to allow us back inside! Andrew finally managed to grab him and pull him outside, after which we were able to flee to the safety of the house! Max went back to the shelter that day, but over the next few days, we were wracked with guilt for not giving this beautiful boy a chance. So Andrew went back to the shelter and got him back – he tells me even today that the joy on Max’s face and in his little tail was wonderful to see! He was extremely hard work for a while, and constantly tested his boundaries, but he developed into a wonderful, gentle and loyal friend who worshipped Andrew! We were devastated when we lost him to a freak infection at just 7 and a half years, but he was my introduction to dogs and to the Doberman breed, and I have not looked back! 5 weeks after we lost Max, we welcomed 7-week-old Jet into our home and he has been my constant companion for over 8 years! 

Me: What part do your dogs play in your life, and how important is the dog in your life?

Mariko: My dog is my life! He is the reason I get up in the morning regardless of the weather, time or my general state of health! When things get too much at work or my three human boys are driving me insane, a Jet cuddle always makes things much better! He truly saved me in those dark days after we lost Max – and so I always refer to him as my saviour. I know for a sad fact that Jet will not go on forever, but I also know that I will always have a dobie in my life for as long as I am able!

Me: I’m fascinated with my international friends and their lives with their dogs. 

Here in the UK, dogs are allowed in most pubs, and on public transport. An afternoon spent at the pub with a beer and one’s best friend is a wonderful occasion, although you have to be prepared for lots of attention from other customers. A dobie never fails to impress in the looks department and so many people want to pet him and ask questions! Many mention how they never realised how sweet dobies can be! Max was far better at this PR business than Jet though – he had a wonderful gift with humans and loved to be petted, whereas Jet is more wary of strangers and extremely protective of me! 

When he was little, I used to carry him around on the buses and trains in London in a bag! It used to make me laugh as everyone who saw him thought he was a dachshund! 

There are also quite a few hotels that allow pets, although we have never stayed in one. There was a particularly beautiful one in London that I always wanted to stay in with Jet, but we never got around to it – I guess it didn’t make much sense as we lived in London at the time anyway! 

Me: Do you vacation or take trips with your dog?

Mariko: Sadly, I have to admit we have not gone on holiday with Jet. A part of this is due to me hating going anywhere on vacation! I love most of all to remain in the comfort of home! However, my sister recently bought a holiday cottage in Suffolk on the East coast, so we may consider taking a family holiday there as she has mentioned to me that the dog is welcome! I also have not gone anywhere on vacation ever since we got Jet, as I cannot bear the thought of leaving him! The only times I have been separated from him were for a few nights when I was in hospital having each of my three human boys, Lewis, 4, William, 2 and Guy, 4 months. Even then, I was terribly worried about my Number 1 Boy, as I call Jet! 

Me: Do you have any stories you’d like to share?

Mariko: I can’t really think if any specific story about Jet and me, but there are certain things about him that I love. For example, when he was a puppy, we took him to training classes. The lady who ran them was against Jet from the start because of his breed, and constantly set him up for failure. She had her class “pets” and Jet was certainly not one of them! However, this did not faze him, and he was able to complete all the tasks she set out for him with very little effort! He was miles ahead of his classmates in no time at all and in the end we stopped going to them as she was so against him and rarely praised him for doing anything right! She kept getting his name and my name wrong too, much to our frustration! He might not be the cleverest dobie around (his lines are known for being beautiful but dim!) but even then, he was the cleverest dog in the class! Typical dobie!

Another thing that comes to mind is an encounter that happened when we were in London. I was taking Jet out for a walk when we got stopped by a man walking past. I never really like people stopping to talk to me when I am out with Jet, as he is very protective of me and will bark at strangers. However, with this man, Jet behaved beautifully and allowed him to pet him and even hug him. It turned out that this man had recently lost his old dobie Jude and was missing him terribly. He had tears in his eyes as he stroked Jet. And Jet could sense that this man was a kindred spirit, and for once did not go into his usual protection mode! I was very proud of him that day! 

Me: What is your definition of the love you have for your dog?
Mariko: When things get tough, Jet makes me smile and everything seems so much better! I call him my Number 1 Boy and my Saviour, and I feel so blessed to have him in my life and to have the privilege of watching him grow old.
I was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1974 but moved to the United Kingdom when I was just 4 years old. My elder sister and I spent some of the most wonderful years of our childhood in a little coastal town called Dawlish in Devon, SW England. We returned to Japan several years later and apart from a year spent in England when I was 15, most of my education took place in an English-speaking international school in Tokyo. I moved back to the UK permanently after I graduated high school and over the following years, gained qualifications in natural sciences, forensic science and eventually a PhD in Forensic Toxicology. I also trained as a Police Officer with the Metropolitan Police and patrolled the streets of London in my spare time! I now work as a lecturer and course leader in forensic science at a university in London, although currently I am off for a year on my third maternity leave, having had my third son, Guy, in July. My days are now spent looking after Lewis (almost 5), William (2), Guy (4 months), and of course, Jet!

One person in particular played a pivotal role in bringing my first heroine, Victory Winters to life. If not for my friendship with Cindy Geisler, DVM, The Winters Sisters series would never have come to fruition. 

Cindy was an extraordinary individual, with a second sight when it came to animals. She could identify any issues they had just by her touch. She was the driving force behind providing my dogs with the best quality of life when they were young and later as health problems developed. Not only was her specialty acupuncture and chiropractic therapies, she practiced them like no other.

We would sit on the floor and discuss anything and everything about dogs and people. I remember like it was only yesterday, telling her about the book I was writing—Chasing Victory. As I watched her sitting with Tristan, I explained how I couldn’t develop the depth of character I wanted for Victory. It was that moment Victory came to life, through Cindy. Victory is not Cindy...but Victory's understanding of animals, the way she can communicate with them, the depth of her love and care for them in her unique and special way—that’s all Cindy.

If Cindy was in your life you could count yourself a blessed person. The night I lost Anya, I was home alone, and I called Cindy. She came over and she sat on the floor next to Anya and me for hours, until Ralph got home. 

Cindy was always joyful. She was an old soul. Giving of herself. But life can be brutally unfair at times and Cindy passed away much too soon.

I lost Tristan a month prior to Cindy’s passing. She loved all my dogs, but Tristan held a special place in her heart. She called the day he died and left me a voice message full of grief and love…I still have that message.

It's said the eyes are the windows
to the soul. 

Cindy's eyes were able to see to the very depths of others' souls. 

When she laid her hands on dogs, her touch was nothing less than magic. 

Being in her presence would lift you up even on your darkest days.

Cindy's heart overflowed with love. Her spirit will soar in the heavens eternally. There will never be another like her...

Until next time….

Sometimes Life Does Imitate Art

  The book I’m currently working on features a protagonist who is an assistant manager at a food bank. The idea came to me because I love vo...