Thanksgiving Hangovers and All That Goes With It ~ by Darlene Kuncytes

This Thanksgiving was a relatively quiet one for me.

I hosted a small group with family and friends. It was nice. But I couldn’t help but find myself missing the days when my family was so much larger. The chaos and craziness of running all over town seemed endless. Nieces and nephews. Aunts and Uncles and cousins.

It’s inevitable that things change, and I’ve learned something that has become so important to me.

It’s okay.

Change is inevitable. People move away. Children grow up and start families of their own. We lose people we love. It’s a part of life.

What should never change is that we remember to be thankful each and every single day. Not just sitting around a table surrounded by turkey with all the fixings on Thanksgiving.

Although, who are we kidding? Wine always helps. lol

I have so much to be thankful for. We all do. We merely need to take the time, and sometimes put in that little bit of extra effort it takes to see it. Because, let’s face it, sometimes these things are harder to find than others.

The holidays can be crazy, and nothing is crazier than what comes the day after Thanksgiving!

Black Friday!

Dun dun dun…

Nursing a food hangover, all those brave souls swarm the stores in search of the perfect gifts.

I don’t do Black Friday. It scares me. A lot.

Ever since the time my nephew wanted nothing for Christmas except a certain, hot item... Mighty Morphin Power Ranger action figure... and my sister almost threw down with the woman who had nastily grabbed it right from her hands at the store.

We laugh about it now, but at the time, it was insane. That woman was ready to beat down my sister for – as we ended up calling it – that stinking Goldfart figure.

So, to those of you who recover from the food hangover and do it every year…I salute you!!

I stay home. I gorge myself on leftovers as I try to decide what to do with ALL this leftover turkey. How can I disguise it so that no one will know that we are having it for dinner for like the third day in a row! Lolol

And I am still thankful. I’m thankful for so much. Little things and big things. 

It’s so easy at this time of year to forget this. Forget that the holidays are a time of love and friendship. Of doing something for others. 

Enjoy them. Treasure the little ones while they are still little. Cherish those who are the keeper of holidays past. The ones who know all the stories. 

They are irreplaceable.

This season, enjoy the small stuff. Start a new tradition. Just don’t stress yourself out. Life is way too important.

And remember to be thankful every day!

Your Thanksgiving celebration ~ by Joanne Jaytanie

No matter the way you choose to celebrate, today is a day to give thanks. 

A day that you share with your friends and family.

A day to give thanks for all that you have.

A day to share with those that need a helping hand.

A day to reflect on all you have accomplished.

A day to have hope for the opportunities tomorrow may bring.

A day to bask in your success, both large and small.

We give thanks on this Thanksgiving Day for those we love and those who love us. For love is a precious thing and should be celebrated each and every day. It can be given with a smile, a hug, or a shoulder to cry on. 

Until next time...

A Tribute to Kera Pickle ~ by Jennifer Daniels

As I sit here staring at this screen, I’m desperately trying to figure out what to talk about. I’m not going to lie. The ending of November has been trying for me. 

I had surgery for a Ganglion Cyst on the palm of my hand and if you could see my attempt at typing you would all get quite a kick out of it. I’m attempting this, giggling at my typing “form.” You  certainly don’t realize how much you use your less dominate hand until you have to! Luckily, my sutures will be removed on Tuesday, and I can’t wait!

This week has been a difficult one for my husband, son and me. We lost our beautiful pup, Kera Pickle. Our girl was thirteen and was loved so much. It’s amazing how quiet the house is without her in it, and how much I look for her to be in her spot and she’s not. 

Grieving is such an odd thing even for our fur babies because they become a part of our family unit. It’s seems so selfish that I just wish she was still here, but then I remember she wouldn’t have wanted to be here the way she was on her last day with us.

I’m so thankful that we had our Kera Pickle and what joy she brought to our home: she loved to eat newly fallen snow, she greeted us at the door, she spoke without ever saying a thing, she snuggled up to one of us at night, and how she always laid near my son when he was sick. 

I will miss her staring patiently at me while I got her a treat. This year she is our family's Thanksgiving, because she gave us so much to be thankful for. We love and miss you so much our beautiful Kera Pickle.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and I look forward to December’s post because Christmas is my favorite Holiday of the year!

Recipe of the Month ~ by Grace Augustine

Don't you just love the cooler temperatures?  Sweater weather! The smell of hot spiced cider and the other fall aromas that fill our homes.  Today I will share 2 recipes with you that seem so appropriate for this chilly November morning.

Hot spiced cider
1 gallon apple juice
1 C granulated sugar
1Tbsp cloves (whole)
1 Tsp. allspice
7 cinnamon sticks broken into chunks
6-8 thin slices of oranges
In a heavy pan, pour apple juice and add spices. Bring to a boil. Cover pan and turn temperature to low and simmer at least one hour.  Uncover and add orange slices. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

One of my most favorite breakfasts on a cold morning is a warm pecan roll. I found this recipe in a magazine and over the years have added my own spin on it. It is the easiest and most delicious recipe I've found.
2pkg dry active yeast
2-1/2C lukewarm water
1 tsp sugar
1 pkg white cake mix
6 C all-purpose flour
1 egg
1/3 C canola oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C melted butter (no substitutes)
2/3 C sugar
4 tsp cinnamon
4 C powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3-4 Tbsp milk

1. In large mixing bowl, stir yeast into 1/2 C warm water and 1 tsp sugar. Let stand 5 minutes or until foamy.

2. Stir in cake mix, 1C flour, egg, oil, salt, and remaining water to the yeast mixture. Beat with electric mixer on high for 3 min, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Using wooden spoon, stir in remaining flour to form a moderately soft dough (dough will be sticky.)

3. Cover and let rise in refrigerator overnight or until double in size.

4. Lightly grease two 9 x 13 pans and set aside.

5. Remove dough from refrigerator and stir. Divide dough in half and turn one portion of dough onto well-floured surface. Turn to coat lightly with flour. Roll into 12 x 8 rectangle and brush with 1/2 of the melted butter.

6. In separate bowl, mix together 2/3 C sugar and 4 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle half of this mixture on dough and roll jelly roll style, beginning at one of the long sides. pinch edges to seal. Repeat with remaining dough, butter, and sugar mixture.

7. Cut each roll crosswise into 12 pieces (usually makes more) and arrange cut side down in prepared pans. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm place til nearly doubled...will take close to 60 minutes.

8. Uncover pans and place baking sheets under each. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned and rolls sound hollow when lightly tapped. Invert on serving plates and drizzle with icing.

Mix 4 C powdered sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, and 3-4 Tbsp of milk to drizzling consistency.

1. Prepare dough as for traditional, only use 1 pkg German Chocolate Cake mix instead of white cake mix.

2. Filling will be 2/3C sugar, 1-1/4C mini chocolate chips and 1C shredded coconut.

3. In saucepan melt 2/3 C butter (no substitutes) 1-1/3C packed brown sugar, 1/3C light corn syrup. Cook until sugar melts. 
Remove from heat and stir in 2C coarsely chopped pecans.

4. Divide sugar/pecan mixture between the two pans. Slice dough and place on top of mixture and bake as directed.

5. Cool 3-5 minutes before inverting onto serving plates.

Please check out my other blog posts by visiting my MEMBER PAGE .

An Unexpected Drift...Into Fiction Writing ~ by Burkely Hermann

For years, I have written academic papers, about my own personal family history, on blogs like Packed with Packards! and Milling ‘round Ireland, with others in the works, or any of the topics I focus on as part of my weekly newsletter. All that changed this summer when I turned the corner. I began writing fan fiction of my favorite shows on Archive Our Own (AO3). On June 25th, I published a simple, yet highly amateur, story on AO3, a time travel adventure between characters of Futurama and the 1990s cartoon series, Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? I almost feel embarrassed to link to it now, because I have progressed so far since then! 

In the months that followed, I brought together some of my other favorite characters, originally dividing the stories into two series, “Dimensional Drift: Samurai Jack in Etheria” and “The Unexpected Adventures of the Crystal Gems: Stranded in Etheria,” Later I combined them into a single ongoing series, “An Unlikely Alliance Against Evildoers.” Writing each new story brings its own challenges, and while I am still new to writing fictional pieces, I feel I am up to the task. My ultimate plan is to create a unified story which brings together the worlds and stories of characters who otherwise wouldn’t meet.

Perhaps this development wasn’t completely unexpected. After all, I tried my hand at storytelling as part of my posts about family history on my mom and dad’s side, which is still under development, as learning your family roots is a task that is never finished. Also, I have written some fictional works before, but they are either unfinished or underdeveloped in terms of story structure. The path toward fictional works has proven to be a creative avenue I had never fully explored in the past. Although I’m new to this and am learning more all the time, I feel that this type of writing is something I want to do in the months and years to come.

This brings me to why I am writing this post today. I recently published my first collection of these stories within a novella, Unexpected Dimensional Drift, which is freely available because it is a fan fiction. It includes diagrams for the cast of characters and an illustration at the beginning of every chapter. This is apart from the book’s cover shown above, which I created myself, first drawing it by hand, then later coloring it in Microsoft Paint, a painstaking process. The first few chapters of this novella bring together characters from different walks of life on the planet of Etheria:  a military captain who can turn into a magical princess and wields a powerful sword, Adora, a lost samurai who was stranded there, Jack, a master archer, and tech whizz, Bow. As they work together to fight evil and bring their world into balance, they visit family libraries, magical castles, and a polluted stronghold of evil. Some are whisked away through inter-dimensional portals by choice, while others are brought to Etheria by “accident.”

Later chapters focus on those in the latter category, as light-composed beings (Gems) warp to this unfamiliar world and meet elemental princesses. They end up traveling to a beacon of relaxation, a magical castle, a plant kingdom, a seaside kingdom, and an underwater archive, to name a few prominent locations. This culminates in a huge battle on Etheria, and another one in space, leaving certain characters to make choices about their future. Through all these stories, sorcery, swords, magic, relationships, friendships, and social awkwardness are explored. The importance of respecting other’s choices and accepting them for who they are, a key theme of some of these animated cartoons, is also strongly emphasized.

The second novella is on the way, with three of its chapters already written and published on AO3, bringing new characters into the mix. Although I don’t want to reveal about what is coming up next, as I have many stories and plots already planned, I can say that the story begins where the first one left off, involving unusual horrors, and preparations for another imminent face-off with evildoers. 

Like the other stories, I explore the intimacies of friendships and relationships. The latter not always heterosexual. This is manifested in the strong and growing bond between two seminal female characters, Lapis and Peridot, and between two new characters who live in Japan, Utena and Anthy. Additionally, there is the continuing bond of two light-composed beings who are fused together by choice, Garnet, and various other fusions between characters. Again, there are the same themes, like those of acceptance, understanding, tolerance, and friendship, while also focusing on struggles with trauma and emotional baggage.

While some writers do “self-inserts,” add themselves as characters in their stories, I tend to not go that route and have no plans to do so. Instead, I inform the characters I write about from my personal experiences and emotions. Sometimes, I add elements that have a deep personal understanding as a person who can be occasionally socially awkward and am hyper-aware of sounds and light.

Undoubtedly, this affects the stories I write, as anyone’s thoughts, experiences, culture, and socioeconomic standing affect their final published works. Of course, I am also influenced by what I listen to and watch, whether any of my favorite animated series like Samurai Jack, Steven Universe, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Revolutionary Girl Utena, or Adventure Time, any of the films I have seen, or what I have read in my specific field, Library and Information Science. As such, these ideas are often weaved into my works whether I do so consciously or unconsciously. 

In the future I hope to move onto fictional works that don’t derive from existing animated series. For the time being, since I am still new to this type of writing, fan fiction seems like the appropriate avenue until I fully find my footing. In the meantime, the creative juices can flow like a raging river through a series of rocks and obstacles until it reaches a waterfall.  Unexpected Dimensional Drift is available only through me, so if you'd like a copy, please contact me.   Thanks again to Grace Augustine and Joanne Jaytanie for letting me guest post on this blog.

Burkely Hermann
Burkely Hermann is a writer of magical fantasy and adventure fan fictions, which serve as crossovers between characters from many different animated series. Presently, he lives in the D.C. area and is finishing up his Master of Library and Information Science graduate degree at the University of Maryland. Apart from his fiction writing, he enjoys hiking, cycling, cooking simple meals, watching movies (and animated shows), and learning more about his family roots. You can connect with Burkely on any of the sites listed below.

All About Angelique ~ by Angelique Migliore

Greetings, Dearest Readers!

Thanks to Originality by Design for the invitation to chat with you today. Chat to you maybe? At any rate, I was asked how I decided to be a writer, but I have a better story for you: How I decided I am a Romance writer.

As Fate would have it—and Fate is a tricky lady, is she not?—my
mother and my nana love(d) Romances. While pregnant with me, my mother read out loud to me the epic Historical Romance series about “Angelique” by SergeAnne Golon (a husband and wife team, Serge and Anne). They wrote fourteen books about Angelique with the fifteenth book unfinished when Anne died. Serge preceded her in death. Yes, this is from whom I was named, but I’ll come back to this.

Romance novels were readily available for me to pull off the shelf (without proper permission), and my mother read the epic, great ones: “Dr. Zhivago,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The Thorn Birds,” just to name a few. I’m pretty sure I sneaked “Interview with The Vampire” into my room when I was about eight years old, and I was hooked on reading!

While in my third year of French at high school, I was forced to journal every day. Never the lover of my own personal diaries, I instead rewrote Romeo and Juliet, en Français. Except that Romeo was a duck-billed platypus, and Juliet was a strawberry. It was a doomed, albeit deliciously sweet, relationship from the start. Although I wrote long before that, thus began my passionate affair with writing Love Stories. To this day, Shakespeare remains one of my true loves.

I also write some poetry. I post a daily poem on Twitter, usually in either haiku or tank form. My poetry tends to have Romance, Cosmic, or some affirming theme to them. Once upon a time, when I lived in South Korea, I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night. I quickly scribbled down a three haiku stanza poem about having a broken heart, and promptly fell back to sleep forgetting all about it. It wasn’t until after I had risen and showered that I remembered it. Even then, I thought I was recalling a part of a dream, but there it was, on my nightstand. I even counted out the syllables and was shocked to have them perfectly in order.

In addition to poetry, matters of the heart have always obsessed me. Funny enough though, it took complaining to my critique partner about the characters in my first Mythological Fantasy trilogy (unpublished) for me to understand how very entwined with the Romance genre I was. The conversation went something like this:

Angelique threw up her hands in frustration. “What is wrong with my characters? All they want to do is kiss and ogle each other!”

“You mean like in a Romance novel?” Christy asked.

Angelique nodded her head vigorously. “Yes! Exactly like that!”

Christy stopped typing on her own manuscript. She cautiously reached for her chai, never breaking eye contact with Angelique. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe you’re a Romance writer?”

Angelique glared at her friend and critique partner. “Well, of course not. I’m writing a Fantasy.” Her eyes then searched the ceiling for invisible answers. “Where they just happen to fall in love and try not to kiss—Oh. My. Stars. I’m a Romance writer!”

Christy rolled her eyes. “I’ve been trying to tell you for ages. Maybe if you listened to me once in a while…”

I stopped my work on the Mythological Fantasy trilogy (which I will be going back to very soon to revamp them into Romances) and pursued the Contemporary Romance genre in full force.

“One Night in Portland,” my first Romance novella, published in
August of 2019 by Tirgearr publishing as part of their City Nights Series. “One Night in Tampa” is currently in the editing stages and should publish around January or February 2020. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m currently writing “One Night in Seoul,” and although it’s not under contract yet, I’m hopeful.

In addition to Romance novellas, I have also written two Op-eds for on Date Nights and Board Games. The first article was about the game “Parks,” and the second article was about the game “Fog of Love.” Stay tuned for more articles.

I believe I have found my place in the world as a Romance author. I have more Romances planned in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Contemporary (in various heat levels), and I truly can’t imagine doing anything else. Writing witty, charming, and resilient characters who find love in all the wrong places fulfills me more than anything else could.

And my ultimate dream in this landscape of love? I want to finish the fifteenth “Angelique” novel and bring closure to that series. Yes, it’s a pipe dream, but we all need something to strive for. You should be feeling very special right now, because I’ve never shared that pipe dream with anyone else. In the meantime, I will continue with my lovely characters.

Angelique Migliore
A bit more about me (also known as a bio): I’m ever the optimist. I
believe the best is yet to come, sharing a meal is the quickest route to peace, and love conquers all. Although I was born and raised in the paradise that is the Emerald Coast of the Florida Panhandle, not traveling has never been an option for me. I have lived in all of the cities for which I’ve written a “One Night” story. 

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the Conard N. Hilton College at the University of Houston, and my Master’s degree in Religious Studies from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Thank you for reading and spending a few of your precious moments with me. Cheers!

Lastly, I love hearing from my readers; it brings me great joy! You can reach me by clicking on the links below.

Schnauzer Splitsville by Ruth Ross Saucier

                           [As noted elsewhere, my family once included six schnauzers.]

Carting all six schnauzers around often approached clown-car pandemonium, but sometimes it seemed like the right thing to do. For example, when they all needed something at the vet, taking all six seemed like a time-saving choice.  So one day we headed off to the vet with six fifteen-pound dogs, all of them competing for either Mom’s lap or a spot at a window.

When you travel with six schnauzers, you get laughter. We once made a trip to Dick’s (a favorite Seattle burger drive-in) with the whole family, pulling in and throwing open the hatch.  The Schnau all lined up and behaved reasonably well, given the clear promise of cheeseburger treats. The spectacle entertained the entire parking lot for the duration of dinner time.

Our vet was located a few miles away in a beautiful building that had floor-to-ceiling windows in the waiting area.  We managed to acquire a parking space on the street directly in front of those windows, a Godsend really, since wrassling six schnauzers on leashes tends to be chaotic, even if they were calm and trained, which they were most definitely not.

Having put on a street side show for the entire lobby full of pet owners, we made our way inside and waited to be taken into an exam room. After making noisy friends with several patients, the techs did the only smart thing and swept us into a room with alacrity. Dad Shadow and Uncle Snickers needed exams, so they were first up.  When they were done, my husband and the vet quickly agreed that it would probably be good if I were to take the boys out and deposit them in the car while my husband stayed with the four girls.

           I hustled the boys out and made it to the car, attracting once again the attention of the pet parents still waiting.  When I opened the car door, I discovered that the deafening car alarm was engaged and was now blaring at a truly painful decibel level. By now, ALL the pet parents were watching the audible debacle and waiting impatiently for me to stop that Infernal Noise. But I didn’t have my alarm fob; handling the schnauzer herd had distracted me from that little necessity.

Amelia Peabody and Derry meet Santa. Nope, picture is not related
to story. . . it's just here so you can see why we decided to keep
these little marauders.  
But I knew there was a backup alarm release under the passenger side dashboard somewhere, so I threw the dogs inside, bent over and presented my posterior to the crowd, and began searching for the backup alarm release. The noise was worse under the dash and it was terribly hard to see anything there. The noise went on and on as I struggled futilely, bent over and bum-up to the audience.

Finally, my husband came racing around the corner with the four little girls and beeped the alarm into silence. The ride home was equally silent, particularly because I was half dead and wholly pissed; I had hated car alarms with a passion before this incident, but now I was ready to tear the damn thing out with my bare hands.

When we reached home, the dogs and my husband raced inside as I walked slowly up the garden stairs. My darling neighbor lady leaned over the fence and asked how I was doing, saying I looked stressed and a bit exhausted. I assured her I was just tired from wrangling the herd and trudged past her, up the walkway.

“Oh, Ruth,” she called out when I was past her. “Sorry, honey, but I thought you should know—your slacks are split up the back.”

My hand flew to my posterior.  Sure enough, my trousers were split wide open. Must have happened under cover of the alarm, when I was bending over to find the off switch.  I had just mooned a full waiting room.

Grateful for All I Have ~ Lexa Fisher

Grateful for All I Have

From a friend's FB post
Our current house is half the size of our previous one and has highly limited storage space. This means we no longer shop at warehouse stores--there simply isn't room for bulk purchases. 

Lack of space has also necessitated a new rule: one thing in, one thing out. I have to give a lot of thought to what I buy, because something has to go. In with the new, out with the old, as the saying goes.

This flowchart I recently saw on a friend's Facebook page depicts the decision process that helps my purchasing choices.

Gratitude turns what we have into enough. ~~ Anonymous

Though I purchase less, I'm grateful for so much. As we reflect on all that we are thankful for later this month, it's also the perfect time to consider what we need. No doubt our needs are far fewer on Thanksgiving Thursday than they are on Black Friday.

One day we give thanks and express gratitude for what we have, and the next day kicks off the biggest shopping spree of the year. If we're so grateful, why this need to have more or to give more?

"[There are] Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give." ~~ Edwin Arlington Robinson

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash
There are many reasons to give, and not all pertain to unnecessary excesses or filling voids in ourselves. Gifts are the most common form of expressing thanks and showing appreciation to the people we're thankful for.

As I've composed this post, I've found I can reconcile the opposing ideas of gratitude for enough versus needing to express it by buying more, with this quote:

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." ~~ William Arther Ward

I struggle to find the right gift for friends and family each year. But this year I'll focus on giving holiday gifts that express gratitude to the recipient--for their support, the knowledge they impart, the love they give, or the joy they bring to my life. And, of course, something small or consumable--space considerations, you know.😀

Card by Lexa Fisher

My Musical Journey ~ by Tobiah Thomas

I was given my first guitar at the age of 14 and it felt like an old
Tobiah Thomas
friend. Songs flowed and I began performing then in local folk clubs in the North of England. University intervened and I began writing in earnest in my late twenties.
Love and loss have long been a theme of my music, born out of difficult personal circumstances that saw me grow up not knowing my birth father and losing my first husband, Julian, at the age of 26.  

I’ve found the creative process – both writing and performing – to be very healing because it allows me to connect and express my feelings with others who have shared similar experiences. I always knew that I was helped through that difficult time, but it was only recently, when I wrote the title track of my latest album, Are We Angels, that I made sense of it all. 

This song speaks of those small, random acts of kindness, often from complete strangers, which helped me so much through my
bereavement. I had been married to Julian, who was also a musician, at the age of 21, for six years and we moved to London from Plymouth to break into the music business. But an undiscovered congenital heart problem led to his sudden and devastating death. He died in my arms.
Julian always bought me a dress at Christmas. It was our tradition and I wanted to continue it the Christmas following his death. I collected the dress from the shop on Christmas Eve then realised as I walked away that I hadn’t paid. I rushed back but the shop owner ushered me out and wouldn’t take payment. As I walked away it began to snow, big flakes like confetti, just as it had snowed on the day my husband died. It was then that I realised the dress was a gift and I had a smile on my face through the tears.

I wrote a song about this called Golden Christmas Time which I often include in my concerts, and will be releasing this year as a Christmas single on December 4th.  

 Golden Christmas Time

My songs are very visual, about experiences in my life or a story that has caught my imagination. Lyrics are important – I could never write a song that didn’t move me. Quite often, a complete song will just ‘arrive’ in my head, which always amazes me, and I think, ‘Where did that come from?’ Sometimes a song will take time to fully emerge and a good example of this is Apples- the Long Goodbye. Originally about the seasons and cycles of the year, it became about waiting with my beautiful and inspiring Mother who is in the final stages of dementia. She gave me the love of singing and telling stories and Are We Angels is dedicated to her.

Shoulder to Shoulder courtesy of YouTube

During my career I was signed to Chrysalis Music, where one of my songs became the subject of a tussle between Janet Jackson and Will Smith: both wanted to record it. He rang to plead for the track and called me a “happening up babe” – which was ironic as 30 minutes before the call I had been up to my eyes in jelly, helping at the local school’s Christmas party!  

I was signed earlier to a top manager Brian Freshwater (Joss Stone, Foy Vance), and also worked with talented and influential musicians and producers, including Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, Rod Argent, Derek Bramble( David Bowie/American idol) and Robin Black (Cat Stevens, Paul McCartney, June Tabor)
Are We Angels, mixed by the afore-mentioned Robin Black,
features a group of celebrated musicians including the cellist Caroline Lavelle (Loreena Mckennitt/De Dannan), twice All-Ireland award-winning piano accordionist Colette O’Leary, Rowan Piggott on fiddle and Simon Callow on keyboards who also play with me live.

The opening track Kiss Kiss celebrates those fragile uplifting moments that should be treasured and recounts the legend of Native American mothers forced to march from Georgia to Oklahoma, a poignant and plaintive track that resonates strongly with my audiences. Coldest Night of the Year captures my own sufferings in my 20s. People really connect with my songs. We have all felt like the girl in Coldest, the loneliest person in a crowded room as we struggle with grief or sadness. 

I love all animals especially bears and all profits from the album are being donated to the charity Animals Asia, which is committed to ending cruelty to (Asian) animals, a cause close to my heart.  I never knew my birth father but treasure his one gift to me, a teddy bear. I first heard about the terrible treatment of the moon bears through a Wiltshire artist was holding a charity auction of her pictures for Animals Asia. I was so moved by their plight that I immediately wrote a song called Moon Bear, which I sang at that event.

It is so lovely that every track on Are We Angels has been played across the BBC and FM stations and has been featured in the press and on TV including, The Irish Post and London Live TV. A track is also featured on the prestigious FATEA 2019 Winter Showcase Sessions album:Adventure, which is free to download. CLICK HERE

I love playing in wonderfully diverse venues that include ancient churches, medieval halls and historic houses and was recently invited by the National Trust to the ancient site of Avebury, 500 years older than the neighbouring Stonehenge in Wiltshire, to give the first- ever concert in their restored Chapel. It would be a dream to include some special American dates on our 2020: Secret Places Tour so, if you’d like us to come, please get in contact!

Are We Angels features nine original songs, written and produced by TOBIAH and recorded in her cottage studio overlooking the Sussex downs, with all profits going to charity.

Tobiah would love hearing from you. You may reach her at the links below.

Meet Our Members ~ Linda Boulanger

Linda Boulanger

Linda Boulanger is a retired graphic cover artist and Medieval and Fantasy Romance writer. To learn more about the author, her works, and to read her prior blog posts, please click HERE

Using Humor to Elevate Your Writing ~ by Kim Hunt Harris

I’ve learned something valuable about writing. About life in general, actually. If I can make people laugh, they’ll forgive a lot of other shortcomings.

Seriously. I don't have to be the smartest person in the room. I don’t have to be the prettiest or have the sharpest wardrobe. My jump shot can be complete rubbish. People will automatically like me more if I make them laugh. I mean, they still don’t want me on their basketball team, but they like me.

The same is true for writing. Please understand, I’m not advocating for sloppy writing. Plots still need to be tight, characters believable and three-dimensional, books edited and proofread. But if you’re looking for that little sumpin’-sumpin to make your book stand out, sparkle, be memorable...humor can do it. Like, a four-star review elevated to a five-star. Humor is a superpower that can strengthen everything else in your books. Here’s how:

1. You can convey the brutal truth without being brutal.
     Here's one of my favorite quotes about humor: "A joke is the truth wrapped in a smile." I don’t know who said this, but it’s true. If you need to get something painful out there, but don’t want your character looking bad for saying something unpleasant that needs to be said, a joke can be a powerful way to say it. What’s more, we humans recognize this and accept it.

2. Humor is engaging.
    Humor works the same part of our brains that recognizes a good metaphor. It makes the reader slow down and think. When your reader is amused, they are fully locked in to what you’re telling them. And (perhaps) even better, humor engages us as writers, and boosts our own creativity. In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor says that when we’re happy, amused, laughing, the blood is flowing to our brain better and we’re more likely to think of the answer to a sticky problem. You know how sometimes you’re stuck on a plot point and get frustrated, look for a distraction and end up laughing at YouTube cat videos? Then suddenly, the solution to your problem just comes to you, effortlessly? Turns out, that’s not slacking off—it's your brain’s response to lightening up a little. Watching cat videos is actually a method of boosting your creativity! Your YouTube rabbit trails are now sanctioned. Go in peace.

3. Humor provides punctuation and flow.     In movies, scenes are often closed with a joke, and books are no different. We’ve internalized and are comfortable with this rhythm. If you are writing a scene where tension is high and you need to give your readers a break but need to keep engagement high, a joke is one powerful way to do that.

A running joke is also a phenomenal thing to work into your story’s
climax. Remember the line, “You’ll shoot your eye out” in the movie A Christmas Story? Poor kid got that block every time he mentioned wanting a Red Rider BB Gun. Naturally, when he got his gun, he had to shoot his eye out. It was the perfect full-circle moment. (For those who haven’t seen the movie, he didn’t really shoot his eye out. That would have been what we in the humor business call “not funny.” Now, stop whatever you’re doing and watch A Christmas Story, because something fundamental is missing from your life until you do.)

4. Humor heightens every other emotion.
    Remember the funeral scene in Steel Magnolias? The shock of
Julia Roberts’ tragic death at such an early age? Everyone in the movie is grim-faced or crying, everyone in the theater is swallowing back the knot in their throat. Onscreen, Sally Field sobs about how unfair it is, how she is so furious, she wants to hit something—hit something hard! 
Then Olympia Dukakis grabs Shirley MacLaine, thrusts her up front and says, “Here! Hit her!”

The theater erupted into half-hysterical laughter.  The moment was surprising and amusing, but not exactly comedy genius. What made the moment so powerful was that the joke gave us a release from all that painful emotion we’d been working so hard to build a defense against. We have no defense against humor—we don’t need a defense against it.  Humor unlocks that door, all the bricks come tumbling down, and aaall that emotion is let loose to course through us. Powerful stuff. 

Okay, you’re probably thinking, humor is great. 
Obviously, only you can know what’s right for when and how to use humor in your work, but here are a few things to get the ideas flowing. 

First, keep in mind what, exactly, makes something funny. 
Dr. Peter McGraw at the Humor Research Lab (HuRL. Seriously? HuRL) developed the Benign Violation Theory. He says that in order to be funny, something needs to be a violation of an expected norm—a social norm, a moral norm, etc, and that violation must be benign—not ultimately harmful or offensive. 

Olympia Dukakis certainly violated a social norm; we don’t usually go around offering up our friends for physical abuse (usually), so there was a violation, but we all knew that Shirley MacLaine wasn’t in any danger. Sally Field probably doesn’t even hit that hard.  

In his book, How to Write Funny, Scott Dikkers says that all humor comes down to surprise. Without a surprise, you can’t really have any humor. That’s why jokes don’t make you laugh after hearing them a few times.  

Now, what about when it’s not really a surprise, like with Ralphie shooting his eye out with his new BB gun? Surely, we should have seen that coming. The foreshadowing was obvious. 

But Ralphie was surprised, and the moment was totally over the top; his shot ricocheted, came back and smacked right into his glasses. His immediate response was, “Oh no! I shot my eye out!” We felt his shock because it was handled so adeptly. 
In my book, The Trailer Park Princess and The Middle Finger of Fate, I wrote about a beat-up car with rust holes in the doors and a missing driver’s seat. The owner had put an overturned bucket in place of the seat. This was based, I admit, on my own father-in-law's car. The man had honestly used an upturned bucket in place of the driver’s seat. I do not know what happened to the seat. At the time, pretty much all my mental processing was taken up with the realization that I had married into this family. It all worked out, though, because I got a good scene out of it.  Here’s an excerpt, which opens with my amateur sleuth praying before she leaves, with her dog Stump, to go to her job at Flo’s Bow Wow Barbers:
     I started to pray again for a new car, but what was the point? “And please, don’t let my bucket turn over while I’m driving down Slide Road.” Surely that wasn’t asking too much. 
     Turns out, it was. I pulled onto Slide and the freaking thing tilted into the handbrake. I panicked and kicked my legs and succeeded in knocking the bucket completely over, with me sprawling into the back floorboard. I felt the car rolling across the middle of the street, saw my legs sticking straight up into the air. My muscles screamed, I screamed, and Stump jumped into the middle of my chest and growled.  
     I don’t think I’ve ever moved that fast in my life. I threw Stump back into the passenger seat and scrambled up as fast as I could. The bucket was still on its side, and I perched on it and steered the car away from the light pole it was headed toward. 
     My heart thundered in my chest as I looked around at the other cars. Fortunately there were only three others on the block, and all three drivers stared at me. I pretended like nothing was out of the ordinary and headed for Bow Wow Barbers.
This scene gets mentioned the most in reviews. To me, the bucket overturning was inevitable, and when she prayed that it wouldn’t happen, it was as if nothing else could possibly happen. There was no possibility of surprise. But I realized that if my character is surprised, that works for the reader, too. Plus I took advantage of the moment and used my other favorite tool—escalated absurdity—to keep pushing it to the point of hilarity. 

At the end of the book, the bad guys kidnap my sleuths in that rattletrap car to kill them and stage an accident, so my heroine kicks the bucket (so to speak) and brings an end to the kidnapping by sending them into a ditch. A full-circle moment there.  Satisfying (I hoped) to the reader, and satisfying as heck to the writer.   

Here’s another quote on humor, from Osho: "Fools laugh at others; wisdom laughs at itself." Have fun laughing at yourselves, dear writer friends, and let’s hope those readers are fools enough to laugh along with us!

Kim Hunt Harris

Kim Hunt Harris writes the Trailer Park Princess series and may be followed by clicking the links below.

Lessons I've Learned from Turkeys ~ Jacquolyn McMurray

Many folks think turkeys are stupid. And we've definitely observed some incidences of stupidity in the flock of turkeys that wander through our farm. More than one has drowned in the backyard reservoir by allegedly admiring his own reflection. At least that's hubby's theory.

Not to be a contrarian, but I think turkeys can teach us some valuable lessons about life. 

1) Find your happy place.

The wild turkeys that roam through our farm discovered the lanai of our wood shop. I know turkeys don't smile, per se, but they did seem especially content the day I took the photo.  They often stop and rest and just seem to soak up life.

I thought about places where I feel safe and happy and many locations came to mind.  Our farm is one of those places.  When I take a short view, I see a lot of work: mowing the yard, painting the lanai, and cleaning the chicken coop. But when I take a longer view and gaze toward the ocean, my perspective changes and I'm reminded to be thankful for what I have. 

I've learned my happy place doesn't need to be an actual place. It can be a state of mind like appreciating the opportunity to spend time with friends and family, to have a chunk of time to write, to chat with my kids and the grandboys.

2)  Stick together 

When turkeys sense danger--like an unleashed dog romping toward them--they run en masse.

We are not meant to be solitary beings. As much as I enjoy solitude, I love spending time with friends and family and sharing our ups and downs. As far back as I can remember I have relied on my family and friends in times of struggle. Likewise, when something amazing happens, I can't wait to share the news with those I love. 

3) Challenge yourself now and then. 

Okay, the gravel pile isn't a huge hill for a turkey to climb, but the idea is the same.  Wild turkeys, who rarely fly, can make it to a eucalyptus tree branch fifty feet in the air. 

If I do the same things all the time, I don't grow as a person. My goals for the year usually include taking some sort of coursework that will move me forward in my writing, sticking to some semblance of an exercise plan, and learning something new with technology. 

Challenge yourself. Drive a new route, learn a new skill, spread your wings and fly.

Making Decisions ~ by Joanne Jaytanie

Perseverance doesn’t always pay off, but sometimes it does.

I count myself fortunate that the last 30 days have been filled with firsts – in the best of ways. This story began three months ago. And, I thought long and hard over the decisions I faced and realized that if I were to accept the opportunities I was invited to partake in, it would mean sticking to a rigorous schedule, with little to no wiggle room. 

In late August, I was invited to write in a collection with nine other authors. I’ve mentioned this collection in my two latest posts, Never Say Never and An author’s life and as with most collections, that meant writing a story to a theme that was chosen by the group. I didn’t commit to the collection immediately. Instead, I mulled it over for a few days. I really wanted to take part, but I’m not a fast writer, and my process can often make for many a re-write. What if I couldn’t come up with an idea? What if I couldn’t get the book done by the deadline? I drug my feet for days trying to decide what to do. In the meantime, the group was tossing around different Christmas themes. Among the mix was an idea of having all the stories take place around an inn or a lodge. This type of theme gave us considerable latitude with our stories, and the decision was made to name the collection: Christmas at Mistletoe Lodge. 

I started to think about my Christmas collection Forever Christmas in Glenville. If I was going to write a Christmas story, I wanted it to also work as a book three in this collection for two reasons: First, we all agreed that after January 2020, Christmas at Mistletoe Lodge would be taken down. Each of us would then be able to publish our individual stories. When this time comes, I don’t want a standalone Christmas novella. I want a novella that I can incorporate into my existing collection. Secondly, I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Writing the new novella as book three of Forever Christmas in Glenville would provide me with a setting, backstory, and characters. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I’d wanted to write Gina’s story, and this theme was tailor-made for her. So, I committed to the collection.

Now I just had to come up with a plotline for this new novella, which I titled Christmas Chemistry. Two thoughts kept tugging at me: First, Gina, a character in Forever Christmas in Glenville, manages the main house that is the heart of the Christmas tree farm at Forever Christmas. The second was the antique reception desk at the main house at Forever Christmas. I can’t go into any more details without giving away too much of the story. I do find it peculiar that I tend to leave a few threads in nearly every story I write that I can later pick up and sew into an entirely new sequel.

Over the next two months, I wrote and promoted Christmas at Mistletoe Lodge. We promoted the collection in every way we could think of; a free cookbook - Christmas at Mistletoe Lodge Cookbook, media kits, blog tours, Facebook groups and parties, tons of book sites, teasers on all our social media sites, and postcards we handed out. Previously scheduled book signings and events featured our collection. We even had a book trailer. Within days of the collection’s release it became an Amazon bestseller. We dedicated a great deal of time and work to this collection, and in doing so, we achieved the goal that brought us all together to begin with – USA Today Best Selling Author!

Taking part in Christmas at Mistletoe Lodge has been an exhilarating ride and I’m thankful and honored to have been invited to be a part of this adventure. If you'd like to read more about the collection, including excerpts from all ten stories, click here.

Click here to read excepts and find out more about the authors.

Sabrina York – Cooped Up For Christmas — It was supposed to be an easy gig—working as a concierge at a luxury lodge for the super-rich over Christmas—but then he had to show up. The boy who broke my heart all those years ago. But former Navy SEAL Cameron Cooper isn't exactly a boy anymore.

Tamara Ferguson – A Kiss Under A Blue Christmas Moon — Blue Moon’s bandleader, Noah’s been crazy about Mia since the moment they met at a magical beach concert, but Mia’s father sabotages their romance before Noah goes to war. Six years after escaping her controlling father, Mia’s returned to Crystal Rock to find Lieutenant Noah Erikson’s never stopped loving her.

Jen Talty – Alaskan Christmas – Flynn Wagner sets off to the frozen tundra and the Mistletoe Lodge, prepared for endless stories about her mother. However, nothing can prepare her for coming face to face with the one man she couldn’t get out from under her skin. At the lodge, Colton Granger never expected to find the woman who had changed his life forever in high-heeled boots, a winter coat that wouldn’t keep a person warm, and a killer smile that would soon melt his heart.

Natalie Ann – Christmas Love – Former model, Noelle Bennett has decided she wants to be behind the camera instead of in front of it. Just her and the woods around her little home, snapping pictures of the winter landscape and historic Inns. Then how did sexy veterinarian Dr. Chase Martin talk her into adopting a puppy and wondering if the peaceful life wasn't what she wanted all along?

Pam Binder – Christmas Makeover — Mistaken as a wedding and events planner, the out-of-work dog walker, is hired to transform a rundown inn into a Medieval themed-wedding destination. But the owner’s handsome son, Owen, has other plans for the Inn.

Tammy L. Grace – Christmas in Snow Valley — Fifteen years ago, he broke her heart. She never moved on. Will a little Christmas magic bring them back together?

Jacki Delecki – Mission: Impossible to Wed — A wedding designer and a Special Ops soldier are thrown together for a country wedding that has them both thinking they’ll never get married.

Joanne Jaytanie – Christmas Chemistry — It's nothing but an old tavern. But to the Jamersons and Brocks, it's a treasured history, a precious legacy. Can Gina Jamerson and Owen Brock meet in the middle or will their families ruin any chance of compromise?

Kim Hornsby – The Christmas Challenge A hermit blogger attends a destination wedding as part of a Christmas challenge and meets someone who gets her heart racing again only to discover he has a game-changing secret—about her.

Lauren Gayle – A Southern Lights Christmas When a rare winter storm covers their Christmas getaway with bone-chilling snow and ice, two strangers are challenged with the reality of winter in a southern town.

Chemistry and Christmas draw them together, but family loyalty could keep them on opposing sides.

After the loss of Gina’s dad, her mom and siblings needed her more than ever. So Gina uprooted a life she loved and moved to Glenville, Washington. She’s become immersed in the charming town and its heartwarming people who accept and love her. Gina never imagined she’d find her forever career managing the main house at Forever Christmas tree farm. Now a popular overnight destination, the main house needs a proper name. Searching for the perfect name, Gina discovers that generations ago her family was quite prominent in Glenville.

Owen Brock has built a thriving law practice in Phoenix, where the weather is always perfect. Phoenix is also as far away as possible from the frigid winters of Glenville—and his overbearing family. His mother’s health is declining, so Owen decides to return home only long enough to assess mom’s condition and to help his family reclaim their history lost in a card game decades ago.

He never dreamed he’d be battling with Gina Jamerson over an old tavern worth nothing to anyone except the Jamersons and Brocks. 

Until next time...


  Foiled and hand-colored card   I continue to bring in cards to the food bank where I volunteer weekly. Since we are past Mother’s Day, I’v...