25 Days of Christmas: New Traditions and the White Elephant with Shannon Mackay

Today, we have Shannon Mackay, author of the upcoming Raenara Bradley series, visiting with us! Welcome Shannon!

New Traditions and the White Elephant

Some traditions are from our childhood, and some are made out of accident (like when our favorite restaurant closes early and we have to go somewhere else) or necessity.

My favorite new tradition was started two Christmasses ago, and I look forward to it the most this year. Its unfortunate that this tradition started because of ecoconomic downturn. My dad lost his job soon after my step-mom quit hers to go back to school, and they got married. My husband and I had a second child, and I quit my job to stay home because daycare expenses would have been more than my monthly paycheck. Its a little needless to say that Christmasses since then have been strained.

My step-mom’s brother (Is there such a thing as a step-uncle?) loves Christmas. Like, he loves, Loves, LOVES Christmas and he hated the idea that no one was able to afford presents to give like we had done in past years, plus my family was officially IN the family now, and that meant more kids, and more people to buy for.

This man is a creative genius and is constantly thinking of different ways to do something entertaining. He currently has old broken dolls dressed up in kids clothing sledding and skiing down a ramp from the roof of his house as his Christmas display. Instead of doing a Secret Santa, or a pick a name, or spend less than such and such amount, he thought of something so much more fun. He decided that we should do a White Elephant Christmas. Each year, we bring something that we no longer care for but is still in good shape all wrapped up so no one can see what it is. Then we draw numbers from a hat and the first person picks whichever package they want and unwraps it. Then the next person either picks a new present and unwraps it, or takes what the first person chose. If they do that, then the first person picks something new, and the third person goes. We continue like this until everyone has something, and then the first person gets one last chance to trade what they have with something else because they’re the only person who didn’t get the swap option. It really pays to draw the number one!

Last year, my husband and I added a light up cottage to our ceramic village from the White Elephant Christmas. My dad got another bird house for his collection (complete with a fake ‘dead bird’ in the bottom) and my son even joined in the usually all adult event and auctioned off two of his Hot Wheels for five bucks (the kids still get a regular Christmas). 

I can’t even choose which present was the funniest, though. One year we had the entire inside of a gift duct taped with the sticky side up and a bazillion pennies stuck to it, along with a piggy bank; there was a tailgater’s gift basket complete with a six pack of beer, six pack of batteries, six pack of frozen buffalo wings, and a six pack of ketchup (don’t ask). The point of the White Elephant isn’t to save money, even though that was the catalyst to starting this tradition, but its to have fun and be creative with your giving.

At first, I hated this tradition. It felt more like a reminder of how much we don’t have than of being able to give. Its so much fun though, that I don’t care anymore. I enjoy watching people trade the same gift over and over and scouring my house for something that I don’t love or need and can give it to somebody who will want it. I have no idea what I’m going to give this year, but there’s still a little time and I’m sure I can find something. My daughter does have a few pairs of shoes that she’s outgrown…they could make the toes of those sledding dolls nice and toasty…hmm.

25 Days of Christmas: A Non-traditional Traditional Christmas with Tamar Hela

25 Days of Christmas continues! Today, my good friend and aspiring author Tamar Hela is sharing with us her “non-traditional” traditions:

“A Non-traditional Traditional Christmas”
by Tamar Hela
Okay, don’t freak out, but I really abhor the majority of holiday traditions—at least those made up by the retail industry to get us to indulge in ourselves. For example, I’m not big on Thanksgiving food. I know, cardinal sin right? My ideal Thanksgiving meal would actually be all the best quality meat I could find, cooked to perfection and chopped into bite sized pieces in order to dip into the made-from-scratch cheese fondue I would have bubbling on the table. And I’d have some vegetables to dip too—can’t forget that.
I become very agitated with Black Friday and even Cyber Monday. Do we need to buy all those “goodies”? I mean, does Mom really need another food processor? Would Aunt Mable truly appreciate that quilted leather jacket just because it was half off? And will Grandma’s garden look better with all those plastic gnomes? Maybe I sound like the Grinch, but when I hear stories of how people are held at gunpoint outside Best Buy on Black Friday and are told to give up that new PlayStation they bought, it brings a great feeling of anger to my spirit. Is this where “tradition” has brought us?
I get the whole décor bit for Christmas time and other holidays too, but honestly, I don’t think we need to have a winter wonderland in Macy’s in October. What ever happened to enjoying each season for what it is? What is the reason or meaning behind what many of us repeat thoughtlessly year after year? What is the meaning of Christmas?
Growing up, we didn’t always have the endless stream of presents that each child dreams of, but we always had enough—more than enough, actually. There were years that Christmastime may have appeared sparse to other onlookers, but I never knew the difference. My mom made sure that Christmas was special for my sister and I. One particular tradition comes to mind when I think of my childhood Christmases. There were these yummy coconut ice cream cake things that Mom would purchase. I think they came four in a box. When we were close to Christmas Eve—perhaps during our break from school—Mom would pop one out for each of us and place a candle in the middle. She then lit the candles, turned off the lights in the kitchen and we sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. We’d blow out our candles and eat our little cakes while Mom reminded us of the meaning and reason behind Christmas—the birth of Christ. See, she wanted to make sure that we never forgot why we celebrated the season. This tradition my mom carried on for quite a few years has stuck with me because it made a huge impact on my life—an impact that helped my perspective stay true to the real meaning of the holiday.
Something else Mom would do with us, which I’m sure many people still participate in, was drive us around for an hour or so to see Christmas lights at night. We would try to find the BEST house and made our votes for the top candidates. Just spending that time together was magical. We didn’t receive anything tangible but instead had one of the most precious commodities anyone could want—TIME. Having our mom spend time with us was the best gift I could have received. I believe there really is no price you can place on time spent with loved ones. Sometimes giving of yourself is the most lasting gift you can give to anyone. Out of the many gifts I’ve received over the years, the ones that I still “have” are gifts of time—presence—from loved ones. I probably have about five actual presents from past Christmases and the rest are forever forgotten. But I will never forget the time my family has spent together over the years.
One more tradition that comes to mind is that of gingerbread house building with my sister and one of our close family friends. For about ten years now, a tradition we’ve kept up is building houses from scratch. Some years, they’ve turned out pretty sketchy…
Other years, they’ve turned out great!
The point is: we do this to spend time together—again, the whole presence theme. So ask yourself, what does Christmas mean for you? Is it a stressful time where you bust your budget to get things that your receiver is going to sell on eBay December 26th, or is it a peaceful time where you get a chance to spend time with loved ones and pour into their lives? Are you rushing around, ignoring the people right in front of you just to impress guests or are you present in the moment? This Christmas, I encourage you to take a non-traditional approach and do something different.
What if you chose to skip out on presents this year and donated money to those less fortunate? What if you cancelled that Christmas Eve extravaganza at your house and instead took your family driving around town to find the best lit house? Happiness doesn’t have to cost a lot of money but it will cost you something—time. Taking the time to remember the meaning of Christmas and pressing pause on your busy, hectic life to enjoy what you already have is something that will never go out of fashion. So have a very merry, non-traditional traditional Christmas!
Tamar Hela is an aspiring author in the process of completing her first teen fantasy novel, Feast Island. Her book is the first in a series of eight and is about seven teenagers who are transported to a parallel universe where they must save the inhabitants of the planet Cantelia from an evil and oppressive ruler.
Tamar lives with her family in California and currently teaches junior high Bible classes. Stay tuned for announcements on her nearly finished novel and public debut in the social media world. For now, she can be reached at t.hela.books@gmail.com

25 Days of Christmas: "Written for Christmas" by S.G. Rogers

Today we have S. G. Rogers, author of The Last Great Wizard of Yden, visiting with us on the blog! She’s sharing a flash fiction Christmas piece titled “Written for Christmas”.

Written For Christmas
Diva hesitated a moment before pulling the gift-wrap from Lorelei’s Larceny. As she gazed at the author photo on the dust jacket, the corners of her mouth turned up in a wistful smile. The lights on the Christmas tree in the corner winked at her and the window beyond revealed a light snow flurry falling outside. She turned the novel over in her hands, wondering if she should brave the elements to walk to the corner coffeehouse. While nursing a couple of peppermint mochas, she could make a pretty good dent in the book. Besides which, she didn’t want to spend Christmas Eve alone.
“I can’t believe you opened that now,” Captain Westerly scolded. “Didn’t you promise Brandon Forster you’d wait until Christmas?”
Diva’s eyes slid over to the miniature pirate as he emerged from the pages of her recently released romance novel, Captain Westerly’s Conquest. The book rested on the table in front of the sofa, next to a Yule candle. “Nobody asked you,” she said. “And besides, Brandon won’t know.”
The dashing captain tilted his head as he examined the dust jacket. “Hey, he resembles me…or perhaps I resemble him.”
A crease of annoyance marred Diva’s brow. “Do you have to leap off the page like that? It’s kind of disconcerting.”
“It’s the way you wrote me, my lady,” Westerly said, with a courtly bow. “Why didn’t you give Brandon a copy of my book? I mean, your book. He would have enjoyed Captain Westerly’s Conquest.”
“Are you kidding? He’s a man. Men don’t read romance,” Diva said.
“I don’t see why not? Brandon’s a handsome devil, even if I say so myself—secure in his masculinity.”
“And furthermore, we’re just friends. There’s simply no way a man like him would be interested in me,” she finished.
Westerly stroked his chin, covered with manly stubble. “I thought we were talking about books.”
“Behave, Captain, or your next story will involve a wife and kids.”
Her decision made, Diva launched herself off the sofa and disappeared into her bedroom. A few moments later, she emerged with her coat and scarf in hand. She stopped short, gaping, as Westerly helped a miniature cat burglar step out of the pages of Lorelei’s Larceny. Clad in a sexy black unitard, the woman bore an uncanny resemblance to Diva.
“You look like me!” Diva exclaimed, wide-eyed.
“It’s the way Brandon Forster wrote me,” Lorelei replied, tossing her glossy sable locks over one shoulder.
Captain Westerly kissed Lorelei’s hand. “Would you care for a tour of my ship, my lady?” he asked. “We’ll toast the season with a glass of rum punch.”
Lorelei raised an eyebrow as she gave the pirate an appraising glance. “Lead on.”
“Wait a minute, you can’t—” Diva began, but the two main characters disappeared into the pages of Captain Westerly’s Conquest without so much as a backward glance.
A knock on the apartment door caused Diva to blanch. She draped her coat and scarf over a chair and went to answer it. Brandon Forster stood there, clutching Captain Westerly’s Conquest. “I hope you don’t mind me s-stopping by,” he stammered. “I, um, had to tell you how much I loved your book.”
Diva’s mouth opened, but no sound would come out. Brandon flushed pink and ran his fingers through his closely cropped hair. “I’m sorry, that was lame. What I mean to say is…do you, er, want to get a cup of coffee?”
“I’d love some coffee,” she said with a slow smile.
Brandon let his breath out in a gust. He glanced at the sprig of mistletoe hung over the door and returned her smile with one of his own.
“How did that get there?” she exclaimed, startled.
A distant foghorn sounded from the vicinity of Captain Westerly’s Conquest, on the table behind her.
“I don’t know, but who am I to buck tradition?” Brandon asked. He leaned forward, his lips hovering over hers.
“Merry Christmas,” she said, before she sealed it with a kiss.
~ S.G. Rogers

The Last Great Wizard of Yden

After his father is kidnapped, sixteen-year-old Jon stumbles across a closely guarded family secret–one that will challenge everything he has ever believed about his father and himself. A magical ring his father leaves behind unlocks a portal to another dimension, but in using it, Jon unwittingly unchains the forces of evil. A crisis develops when a malevolent wizard transports to Earth to kidnap Jon’s would-be girlfriend. With the help of some unlikely schoolmates, and a warrior princess from Yden, Jon embarks on a dangerous quest to free his friend and his father from the most vicious wizard the magical world has ever known. In the end, Jon will be forced to fight for his life as he attempts to rescue the last great wizard of Yden.
To follow S.G. Rogers, visit her blog at www.childofyden.com, Twitter @suzannegrogers, or visit her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SuzanneGRogers

25 Days of Christmas: My Tradition with Lindsay Downs

Today we have Lindsay Downs, author of Emily Dahill, CID and the new A Dog Gone Christmas, with us. Welcome, Lindsay!


Starting with Thanksgiving and running all way through to New Year’s the holidays are a special time for family and friend. Families come together from not only the four corners if this country, USA, but from possible around the world.
Over the years families develop their own traditions. Some continue when the children grow, marry and set up their own households.
Then, there are those within the family that might set up their own tradition even while with the parents. I am one of those.
For more than twenty years I’ve gone Christmas shopping, but not for my family, but for those who might not have a Christmas. I’m not so much talking about presents but Christmas dinner.
No, I don’t select a family but let the local food bank or Salvation Army do the selecting for me. The only condition I make is the family isn’t to know who has given them the food. And when I say food I’m talking everything: turkey, sweet and white potatoes, broccoli, coleslaw, marshmallows for the baked sweet potatoes, apple and pumpkin pie.
After I get all that I then go to the baby food aisle and get the equivalent for the babies and toddlers.
My last stop in the pet food aisle for dog and cat food; canned and bagged. This I instruct the receiving agency to donate to the local animal shelter if the family doesn’t have a pet.
So, folks that’s my Christmas tradition.
In keeping with that tradition but expanding it year around, for every copy of my Christmas book, A Dog Gone Christmas, I will be making a donation to my local collie rescue group.
Click in the links below to by your copy and help save a collie.
To request an autograph on your kindle (my author page)

Buy links for A Dog Gone Christmas

25 Days of Christmas: A Historical Christmas with Stephy Smith

25 Days of Christmas continues with Stephy Smith! Have you ever imagined what Christmas used to be like?

Stephy Smith:

Christmas and winter stirs my imagination. I cherish the moments I can sit inside and watch the beautiful snow flutter to the ground. The wind howls outside my home reminding me of many years before my time…a time when the people didn’t have luxuries as we do. I have often wondered if these are a few reasons they seemed to have appreciated what they had more than people now days.
Hard work, less money and desperate times took its toll on many families way back then. Handmade gifts were given because most of the families couldn’t afford anything they may have had at the local mercantile. In my opinion, these items would have made Christmas a sentimental time of the year. Not only in giving, but also in socializing to celebrate the glorious season.
Sleigh rides and Christmas carolers braved the threats of the environment to bring joy into someone else’s life. Doesn’t it sound romantic? Sitting next to the boy or girl of your dreams, dressed in your Sunday best and hoping a lasting relationship emerged.
Looking at the scenario above from a historical writer’s point of view makes my mind work overtime. Have you ever traded in your car with a heater to bundle up in blankets for an innocent, romantic sleigh ride? If by chance there happened to be that bell ringing kiss, was it caused by the electrifying jingle of emotions or from ‘Bob’s’ tail as he swished at the snow? We would love to have you share your story with us.
Here’s wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season.
Excerpt from Gentry’s Gallery of Angels, now available from Astraea Press!

Nick glanced at the wagon. Maggie, Robert and Amanda Gentry sat on the buckboard. His heart picked up a beat. He left the table of sales items and walked to the door of the mercantile. The wagon rolled to a stop in front and he stepped out to greet the family.

“Good morning. How’s everything out at your place?” he waited for Robert to assist the women to the ground.

“Can’t complain. I’m heading to the hardware store, I’ll return for supplies after lunch.” Robert extended his hand and Nick shook it.

“I’m off to pick up some sewing.” Maggie nodded at him.

Amanda stood at his side. “And you, my beautiful bride to be, what are your plans for the day?” Turning his attention to her, he gazed at her full luscious lips. Chitter-chatter up and down the streets stopped him from kissing her. He linked elbows with her and led her into the store. In the shadows of the back corner of the building, he lightly kissed her.

“I am getting a few odds and ends for the holidays, and our wedding.” Her hands held onto his forearms as she took a step back. The tingle she left behind when she released her hold lingered on his skin.

“Would you care to have lunch with me at the hotel? They have a daily special of roast beef and gravy today.” He lifted his arm and caressed her soft face. Bright twinkles illuminated the blueness of her eyes, pulling him into their depths. His breath caught at the beauty surrounding her angelic face.  

“I would love to. I have a few errands to run first then I’ll meet you back here.” With a swish of her skirt, she pivoted on her heels and headed to the door. He let his gaze wash over her body and rest on the sway of her hips. The heat of desire flowed through his body.

Following her to the door, he watched as her slender frame entered into the newspaper office. In a week, he would be able to quench his need to take her in his arms. He shifted to the work in the store, but his thoughts remained on his true love.

Automatically, he placed items from his new shipment on the shelf. Amanda took over his mind every time he caught even the slightest glimpse of her. His knees grew weak when she was near and his heart thundered prolifically within the walls of his chest. Her touch lingered on his skin for days after the initial contact. He shivered as another round of excitement poured over his defenseless body.

She was his and that was all that mattered. He worked for a few hours, and then glanced out the window. Amanda strolled down the wooden walk across the street. Deputy Cody Lansing stepped out in front of her. Taking a side step to avoid a collision, he once again stepped into her path. Heat scorched through Nick’s veins.

He tossed down the merchandise and exited through the door. Amanda straightened her shoulders and took a step back. With hurried steps, Nick crossed the street.

“There you are my dear. Are you ready for some lunch?” Brazenly he reached for her hand and she took his.

“Yes I am, Nick. I’m starving, shall we go?” she wound her way around the deputy and joined Nick.

“Then by all means, I will lock up the store and we shall be on our way.” He glared at Cody a few seconds and then led his sweetheart across the dirt street.

Entering the hotel restaurant, they picked a table by the window. Mrs. Donner took their order and disappeared. “I’m glad you stopped Cody in his quest to corner me. I despise that man and the way he treats women. Why do you suppose he acts the way he does? There is no need for him to push his advances when he has more than one woman begging his attention?”

“I don’t know Amanda. Seems he has always wanted what everyone else has and little confidence to take the ones who would welcome his overtures.”

Her hand jutted across the table and came to rest on his arm. “Oh, let’s not talk of his deceitfulness. I have found the prettiest table setting for our wedding. I was at Hannah Lou’s having tea and she asked me if I wanted to use it. Well, of course I said yes, and she said she would have it packed up within an hour.”

Nick chuckled at her excitement. The innocence in her soft voice took on an unexpected rush coming from her mouth. Those precious lips he gazed at seemed to call him to ravish them with all his being. He shifted in his chair.

“Are you sure Mrs. Sanders is up to this?” Nick leaned back so Mrs. Donner could set the plate of food in front of him.

“You know Grandmother wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides, Mother has her hands full with the other girls. They do nothing but scream and fight amongst themselves anyway.”

“Where are your sisters? They weren’t in the wagon when your father pulled up at the store.” He took a bite of roast.

“Nancy, Mary and Celeste are at Grandmother’s. Bessie, Susan and the twins all went to their friends’ houses for the afternoon.”

His heart lurched as he watched the fork slide into her mouth. He forced himself to look out the window. Cody Lansing was escorting two young ladies down the walkway. Nick’s blood heated. That man is indiscriminate using women the way he does, preying upon all the girls in town. Well, he won’t be stalking Amanda any longer. He basked in the knowledge Cody could no longer lay claim to his Amanda.

“At the newspaper office they told me our announcement will run tomorrow. Isn’t it exciting Nick? The whole world will know we are getting married Christmas Eve at Grandmother’s.”

Nick chuckled. “The whole world you say? News will have to travel pretty fast to reach everyone.” He winked at her.

“You know what I mean. Our world, not the whole earth.” She giggled.

25 Days of Christmas: The Christmas Phoenix by Patricia Kiyono

Today we have Patricia Kiyono on the blog with us, talking about her new Christmas release, The Christmas Phoenix!


I’ve never considered myself a physically strong woman, but I work hard. That’s why I’ve always admired strong female characters, women who do what they need to do despite the hardships. Movie characters like Norma Rae and Fanny Bryce shaped my younger years, and later I came to read the news about women like Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi.
I never expect to be famous like these women, but I hope to have the same strength of determination. Each one had a focus, and their passion and unwavering energy toward doing what needed to be done is truly inspirational.
That’s why I like to write about strong women. Women who, when faced with a tough situation, simply roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done. Jess Tate is such a woman. She’s a widow and the mother of a teenage son. She works two jobs to pay the bills, but finds the time and energy to give to people who are important to her. Despite her exhaustion, she’s determined to give her son a merry Christmas. And she can’t help offering a helping hand to her handsome neighbor, whose scars include more than the wounds he received in war.
The Christmas Phoenix is Jess’ story. It’s available now at Astraea Press. Here’s the blurb:
Jess Tate is trying to make a life for herself and her teenage son after her husband’s sudden death. Running the family’s struggling landscape business in Northern Michigan has been hard work, and her son hasn’t been much help. She’s managed to get by, learning to run the big equipment herself, but between snowplowing early in the mornings and working her daytime job in town, she often wonders if there will ever be more to life than endless work.
Talented ice sculptor Jake Thompson had fame and fortune in St. Louis, but he’s been forced to start over after a disastrous relationship left him embittered and in deeply debt. His sister’s remote vacation home in Northern Michigan is the ideal retreat to lick his wounds and rebuild his career in peace and quiet—except a certain feisty redhead and her teenage son have a penchant for disturbing his solitude.
In the snowy winter, Jake and Jess unexpectedly find their lives and attitudes begin to change. Will family involvements and ghosts from the past keep them apart, or are they strong enough to risk rising from the ashes of their lives like the mythical phoenix?
The Christmas Phoenix can be purchased at Astraea Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Bookstrand!
Buy links:
Read more of Patricia Kiyono’s work at her blog: www.creativehodgepodge.blogspot.com
Visit her website: patriciakiyono.com

25 Days of Christmas: The Christmas Bell by Chynna Laird

25 Days of Christmas continues with Chynna Laird, author of Blackbird Flies! Today she is sharing a short story she wrote, called The Christmas Bell.

The Christmas Bell

by Chynna Laird
I’ve always loved Christmas: the smells snaking out from the kitchen hinting to the wonderful dinner to come; the buzz of voices catching up on all the past year’s events; and devouring Grandma’s melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies (Grandma would never divulge her shortbread secret nor could we find the recipe). But my fondest memories swirl around a beautiful bell that hung from its designated hook on the right side of my grandparents’ fireplace.
It was brass with a thick woven golden rope tied into a sparkly tassel on the end. There were three angels on its body: their wings spread wide with each holding a harp at their waists. I always believed they were singing Christmas songs to God. The best part was winding the music key and hearing “Silent Night”, fast at first then gradually slowing down until the winding key stood still. The golden flames of the fire roaring in the fireplace waved across the angels making it appear as though they were dancing in time to the music. I rewound it over and over until my grandfather said, “Make that the last one, Dumplin’. Or you’ll tire ‘em out before Christmas Day.”
Grandpa bought it for Grandma for their first Christmas together. I never heard the story behind the bell but every year when it came out of its box and was hung from its hook, my grandparents shared a look between them, a movie playing a scene from their past only they could see. It was beautiful.
Many years later, after they’d both gone, my Uncles were assigned the onus task of going through their estate, deciding what to do with all their knickknacks. Each grandchild received a letter asking what, if anything, we’d like to remind us of our grandparents. I was very close to my grandparents and their death was excruciating for me. Choosing one special item of theirs when they hadn’t been gone very long wasn’t a task I wanted to think about. But, in my heart, I already knew the one thing I needed: the bell.
It was a symbol of their love for each other as well as a symbol of what Christmas meant to each of them. The year I’d asked for the bell was the first without either of them. I knew it was going to take some time before I’d receive the beautiful ornament, but I was patient. I hadn’t seen it since the last Christmas we had at my grandparents’ house when I was in my early twenties. Having to wait gave me some time to prepare myself for the emotions I wasn’t quite ready to deal with.
By the time fall blew in, I’d completely forgotten about my request. It seemed like just as I was putting the Halloween stuff away, Christmas was nipping at our heels. My daughter, Jaimie, was almost three by then. She was old enough to understand and be more interested in the holidays. She just loved helping me decorate—even if it meant all the decorations were at the lower three feet of the tree.
A couple of days before Christmas Eve, the doorbell interrupted our masterpiece gingerbread house creation. Because we were several hundreds of miles away from family during the holidays, we received a lot of packages.
“Merry Christmas,” said our cheery postman. It was his second trip to our house that day. “Here’s another one from home. Enjoy.”
“Thanks, Joe,” I closed the door, preventing any more snow from sneaking in the door. The brown package was small and reeked like gasoline from its long truck ride. When I recognized the handwriting as my Uncle’s, my heart fluttered.
Could it be?
I ripped the package open like a child on her birthday and under all the paper and foam chips there were a few small jewelry boxes, a clay jug my grandmother had made and a small object suffocating in bubble wrap. The letter stuffed on top read:
Dear Tam:
Here are some items of Grandma and Grandpa’s we thought you’d like. The most precious of which, to you and them, is wrapped up tight.
I hope it arrives by Christmas.
Love, Uncle Rick
I stared down at the lumpy object left in the box. Part of me wanted to just grab it and rip it open. But another part of me was too nervous. My arms hung at my sides like heavy lead pipes, preventing me from touching it.
“Mama,” Jaimie whispered. “I see package?” She stood on her tiptoes and strained to see over the flaps of the box.
My nervousness turned to excitement when I realized I could share this experience with my daughter as joy instead of dwelling in sadness of the loss.
“Yes, of course, sweetie,” I brought the bubble wrapped treasure down to her level. “Why don’t we open it together, okay?”
She helped me remove the tape and slowly unwrap it. As the bell spun out of the packaging, I swore I heard each angel breath a sigh of relief. It was just as I’d remembered it—a little less shiny maybe, but just as beautiful. Heavenly.
As I wound it up I said to Jaimie, “Wait until you hear this, sweetie. You’re gonna love it.”
When I let go of the key, the music surrounded us. I closed my eyes and was taken back for a moment to my grandparents’ living room when I was the same age as Jaimie. I smelled the turkey in the oven, I heard the laughter of my family, I tasted the melt-in-your-mouth shortbread cookies, and I saw the angels dancing to the music as the flames of the fire shone across them.
The key stopped moving and I opened my eyes to see Jaimie staring, mouth agape, at the bell—just as I had all those years ago.
“Gen, Mama,” she squealed. “Music gen?” She reached up and ran her tiny fingers over one of the angels. “She sing dat, Mama?”
Tears pooled in my lower lids as I re-wound the bell. “Yes, hun. She’s singing the song. Let’s go hang it up so Daddy can see it when he gets home, okay?”
Months earlier, I’d stuck a little hook under the right side of our mantle, just in case. We hung our bell up on the hook, listening to the music over and over until I said, “This is the last one, hun. We don’t want to wear out the angels before Christmas morning.”
On top of welcoming the bell into my home, the recipe for Grandma’s shortbread was tucked into one of the jewelry boxes. It was the best Christmas ever.
Merry Christmas, Gram and Gramps. Thank you.

25 Days of Christmas: The Purdy Family Christmas (and Giveaway) with Rebekah Purdy

25 Days of Christmas continues with Rebekah Purdy! The search for the perfect Christmas can sometimes be more…eventful…than you think it would be! Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of her YA paranormal romance novel My Dad’s a Paranormal Investigator: Seeking Shapeshifters!

The Griswold Family Christmas…Er, I mean Purdy Family Christmas
First of all I want to thank Brea for having me on her blog! Okay, so when she asked us to talk about Christmas or traditions etc. the first thing that came to mind is our yearly tradition of cutting down the PURDY FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE…
So I should start off by saying, we have a big family. I’m talking 6 kids big! Every December we load up into the Expedition to go cut down our tree. Imagine frigid temps, thigh deep snow, frozen appendages, 6 kids, and well, you get the idea. We traipse through the woods, looking for that perfect tree. And of course we all have a different idea of what size tree we’re searching for.
A couple of years ago, I got it in my head that I wanted a really BIG tree. We have 14 ft ceilings in my living room, so I thought hey, why not go big. Er…big mistake (LOL). We spent several hours searching for said tree. Our feet were numb, it was getting dark, and all I kept picturing was the Griswolds out looking for their tree (you know the movie with Chevy Chase National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation).
At last, we found it and holy crap was it huge. It took all of us to get it tied down to the top of the truck. When we got home we had to move furniture out of the way so we could bring it in. We got pine needles everywhere, and the sap ugh! Then, it ended up being too tall (grr). So we had to cut some off the top. At last we got it stabilized and decorated it. A couple hours later, we were all downstairs when we heard a loud CRASH.
Yep, you guessed it. The tree had tipped over (OMG). We hefted it back up and ended up having to put a large hook in the wall and tie rope around the trunk to keep it upright. But yeah it looked really pretty. Needless to say, we decided to downsize after that year. What about you? Do you have any traditions?
In the spirit of Christmas, I’d love to give away an ebook copy of my YA Paranormal Romance: My Dad’s a Paranormal Investigator: Seeking Shapeshifters to one lucky commenter! Make sure to leave an email address…
Sixteen year old Ima Berry (pronounced I’m a) leads anything but a normal life. For starters, the ridiculous name her eccentric dad gave her is always the opening for a good joke. Not to mention the fact he makes his living as a supernatural investigator, which has them moving around every few months. It’s hard to hang out with new friends when she spends all her time trying to prove the existence of Bigfoot, ghosts, fairies and any other number of paranormal creatures. Unfortunately, the cases always end in disaster. That is until now.

On a whim, Ima’s father decides to move them to Point Hope, Alaska. Here, he plans to investigate the possibility of shifters amongst the Inuit tribes. Ima isn’t thrilled with the move, until she meets an Inuit guy named Carsen. Not only is he hot, but he’s also a star basketball player, and he’s interested in her. Too bad his best friend, Talon, doesn’t like her and takes every opportunity he can to discourage the relationship. Ima has no idea what she’s done to make him mad, but there’s no denying the strange connection between them.

As things grow more serious with Carsen, Ima uncovers a secret about him and some of the residents of Point Hope. A secret that will force her to choose between her father’s already dwindling career and her new found love. And with the knowledge of this secret comes danger…a danger that could cost them their lives.

25 Days of Christmas: Secret Santa by Kristine Cheney-Free First Chapter and Giveaway!

25 Days of Christmas continues with Kristine Cheney! Here’s an excerpt from her Christmas novella, Secret Santa, as well as a chance to win a copy for yourself!



Holly Gordon’s estrangement from her family makes loneliness of the Christmas season hit close to home. Volunteering for the annual Ashton Falls Secret Santa Program is more than a comfort, it’s a blessing. Just knowing she’s able to help another hurting soul experience the joy of a heartfelt Christmas makes her own reality a tiny bit sweeter, that is, until Marcus Jenner ends up on her list.
Marcus Jenner is more than a bronze, muscled looker. This Chickasaw loner isn’t happy being placed on the town’s Secret Santa list. Suffering from the blow of a devastating loss, he has chosen to withdraw from living almost completely. For the life of him, he can’t figure why this pretty little blonde keeps bumping into him, calling him by name, and insisting on giving him presents. Unfortunately for Marcus, every time she does, a billowing cloud of havoc seems to ensue. Why can’t this uninvited vixen leave him alone?
They say time and fate have all of the answers. Holly, in all of her innocence, is drawn to Marcus like a moth to the flame. But Marcus has no intentions of submitting to the threat of his newfound feelings. A painful exchange pushes their lives into a pendulum chaos. His demand for privacy is granted by Holly’s hidden illness. Her sudden absence hits him hard, especially when the arrival of a stranger delivers the rest of his gifts. Right away, he knows something’s horribly wrong.
Love and selfless giving can rouse a wounded, sleeping heart. But sometimes a Secret Santa gets a few unexpected gifts of her own.
*reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or
mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.*

Holly scanned the list of checked off names, straining to decipher her own scribbled prose by the awkward red glow of Volkswagen dashboard lights. Shoving the list back into the gut of her purse, the crisp folded papers crackled loud in protest between her fingertips. In only two more strokes, it would be midnight. Time would soon pay its annual homage to the start of the beloved countdown, ushering in the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Her spirits remained cheerful despite several hours delivering nine of her ten secret packages. In a few short hours, every unsuspecting recipient would open their front door to behold a surprise. Every gift had been meticulously wrapped, bowed, and tagged with love, waiting for discovery in the morning.
Holly refused to submit to exhaustion, but her tired eyes struggled to keep a clear view in focus. Constant growls and rumbles of hunger drifted from the pit of her neglected stomach, which threatened to digest itself in a staged revolt. All seven and a half inches of her pedicured feet, including her red painted toes, throbbed with the persistent ache of pins and needles. But with the tenth delivery left to go, she refused to rest until her task was finished. Marcus Jenner’s house would be the final stop this snowy, frigid December eve. Turning a left onto Hibiscus Street, the radial tires of her salsa red Beetle sloshed through another mottled puddle of dirty, sleet-drenched powder.
A glimpse of the lovely suburban house filled her otherwise empty belly with the sweetest swirls of butterfly tickles. Energized by another burst of child-like excitement, Holly decided the quaint, cottage-like home was her kind of perfect.
Despite the ample bite of winter, the front landscaping was meticulously maintained and attractive. Sculpted points of snow-capped hedges offered walls of privacy from view of the neighbors. The huge expanse of lawn was tucked in winter’s slumber beneath a virginal blanket of glistening white. Flower beds were everywhere, even surrounding every tree trunk. All of them were filled with frosty kissed roses and adorable, hibernating bushes. Each garden was illuminated with stakes of bright decorative lighting, and surrounded by curves of costly stone edging. Sturdy, thick arms of tall, boisterous trees hung skeletal and bare, completely void of their leaves. The abundance of their size boasted its promise to bring the luxury of a lazy, shade-filled summer.
Pulling up to the curb, Holly silenced the idling of the engine with the swift turn of her large VW key. Aware of the need for stealth, she was careful to close her door with only the slightest latching sound. Even without a sleigh, it was difficult to contain her jolly little snicker. It was only because she did feel a bit like Santa Claus.
This was her seventh year participating in the Ashton Falls Secret Santa Program. Callers to the town’s charity hotline knew the annual holiday drill. Day after day, several residents left pleading messages, volunteering the names of precious spirits they felt in desperate need of cheer. Every story tugged at Holly’s insides, their tales oftentimes sad and devastating: a disabled homeless veteran, a single mother struggling to survive on her own, a group of orphaned children growing up in foster care.
The calls trickled in until the last deciding moment. Casting final votes for the ones who would receive the gifts was every board member’s uneasy burden. Every Secret Santa would be given an assigned list that bore the names of their chosen. Just like every year before, Holly would deliver packages to her ten coveted souls. But every Santa knew the rules. Out of those who would receive a single, solitary gift, she would have to decide which one of them would receive an additional present for all Twelve Days of Christmas.
With delicate care, each name had been written on a stiff sheet of pink construction paper, cut into little neat squares, and folded twice before being dropped and shaken in the flared bowl of her floral-lined burgundy hat. The tips of her fingers had fumbled in search through the snaps of entries. It was almost as if each of them were crying out to her heart, begging to be favored. Privy to the revelation of her of victor, Holly had discovered her champion. Marcus Jenner’s moniker had been the one staring back at her.
Estranged from her family, the seasons hit a little close to home. Just knowing she helped another lonely soul experience the joy of a heartfelt Christmas, made her own reality just a tiny bit sweeter. It mattered not if anyone knew of this secret role she played. The blessing of giving was what made her satisfaction run so deep, especially when no one expected to receive anything.
The weight of her black, heeled boots crunched with every step, sinking deeper through the newest layer of snow. Her hand bore the weight of a small, foil-wrapped package. Barely able to contain her excitement, Holly almost crushed the bow held tight against her chest. A glance at the large, storybook windows revealed shimmers of light escaping the scalloped edges of thick tapestry curtains. Up on the rooftop, radiations of heat battled brisk, chilly air, forming billowing puffs of steam rising from the chimney in victory.
It took two steps to breach the lovely, raised front porch. Easily half the length of the house, the patio’s bright, festive timber was made of redwood. While the jubilant glow of the carriage wall light seemed to welcome her, a delicious woodsy scent enveloped all of her senses in agreement. Decorative wicker chairs and tables were lush and fancy. Padded rocking chairs were idle and empty, waiting for visitors.

Stapled lines of cording graced the edges of the eaves. Bulbous strands of unlit, holiday lighting hugged the crown of roof in shadowed desolation. The absence of colorful illumination made Holly ponder with surprise. Why would anyone think of hanging Christmas lights and not turn them on?
With the shrug of her shoulders, she found the perfect location to set down her gift. Bending over and reaching forward, she carefully balanced the box upon the reflective glass top of a close wicker table. She squealed in alarm when someone grabbed her from behind. Engulfed by a grip that could rival any beam of steel, Holly couldn’t mistake the feel of a masculine arm wrapped tight around her waist.
With a whooshed pull, she was lifted off the ground and swept into the house like a limp rag doll. The warmth of her backside melted into the front of the one who held her too close. She grunted at being handled rough and then set down abrupt. Holly endured the whirling half-spin turn of her captor’s confrontation and inhaled a gasped breath of shock. The angry man standing before her was not what she expected. Instead of facing some old wrinkled, Ebenezer Scrooge, the sight she beheld made her knees liquefy like heated jelly. If this man wasn’t latched on to her, surely she would have fallen to the ground.
The only words swirling throughout her mind were tall, dark, and please-kiss-me handsome. Easily thirty-something, this muscled hunk had to be the sweetest blend of Caucasian and proud Native American ever. For the first time in her life, Holly decided she didn’t mind a two-day shadow on a man’s face. His fine sculpted nose and pretty-boy cheekbones were certainly higher than the glorious star atop her Christmas tree. Mythological height allowed him the privilege of towering over her. In her wildest estimation, he must have been at least six-foot-seven.
The glow of his light, amber eyes seemed to scorch her from beneath the arches of his smooth, ebony brows. The vivid impact of his stare created a jaw-dropping contrast to the depth of his medium, mocha complexion. Wet spikes of his cropped, raven hair seemed to beckon for the lingering stroke of her touch. Were the fibers of his missing shirt crying out in anguish to be kept from covering every rippled chord of his flexed muscles? Button-fly Levi’s hugged his every curve. Denim never looked so good. A thorough examination over the broad expanse of his bare strong shoulders was enough to make Holly swoon. To make matters worse, his golden skin was covered with rolling beads of water. Wanton images of him naked in the shower made her squirm, so she bit her bottom lip to dispel the naughty thoughts.
Who are you? What are you doing on my porch?”
Shaking her head, Holly struggled to find the words. Despite her best intentions, it was impossible not to stare. Ogling the wall instead would have only made it more obvious. The bottom line: that idea was just plain stupid. She couldn’t help her stutter. “I-I’m sorry, I wasn’t stealing! To be honest, I was just…”
The purse of his plump, angel lips couldn’t hide the delicious bounty of his pout. He quickly cut her off. “You’re presence here is uninvited. Don’t you know you’re trespassing?”
I was only delivering a package.”
The narrow of his beautiful stare promised he wasn’t convinced. The heated twitch of his fingers made her realize their exact location. His massive hands were embedded on the bare crest of her hips, just over the waistband of her designer blue jeans.
I don’t mean any trouble! I’m Holly, and your name is on my Christmas list.” Great! She’d spilled the beans. Now she would have to explain she was his Secret Santa!
Holly, huh? Seasonably ironic, but I’m not expecting any package. Whatever it is, I don’t want it. Take it back to whoever sent it!”

“But, I can’t take it back!” It was true. She didn’t know who requested his name be placed on her list. “Please, just keep the gift and I’ll be on my way.”
The sudden press of his washboard abs against her belly forced Holly to take a few instinctive steps backward. Moving in an awkward two-step motion, her palms suffered every glorious twitch of the muscles flexing in his chest. Tiny spheres of moisture seemed to burst in explosion against the flat of her palm, igniting the chill of excitement that raced down her spine. Jolted back to reality, Holly snapped out of her lust induced stupor and realized what he was doing. In a blur of hurried motion, he was forcing her back toward the door.
Then donate it to charity. Thank you for your visit, but it’s time for you to go.”
She didn’t miss the thick coat of sarcasm in his voice. The heels of her boots dug in as a last resort and skidded noisily across the tiles before getting caught on the raised hump of threshold. Teetering unsteadily, Holly was about to lose her balance. Crying out in distress, she instinctively looped her arms around the masculine bounty of his neck. Any distance between them was instantly negated. The tempting curve of his mouth was only a pucker away from her lips. Her cheek brushed against the rough scruff of his chiseled, handsome face. For a brief moment, she caught a glimpse of his concern. His eyes softened and filled with light. The furrow of his brow made a liar of his rough exterior expression.
Was the echo of his breathing just as ragged as her own? His voice resonated low, like the flashes of tiny pulses. But even in her innocence, she recognized his tone was husky, as if laced with passion. “Are you all right? I didn’t mean to push you so hard. It’s just that I haven’t, well, I mean…it’s been a while since…never mind!”
Holly didn’t miss the wilted cluster of blackened berries nestled among the dead, cracked leaves of mistletoe. Surely they were from last Christmas? Regardless, the menace was hanging directly above them in the doorway, just past the raven pitch of his hair. He must have realized she was staring at something, because he caught her gaze and quickly followed it to the target, locating her distraction. With a smug, knowing chuckle, the intensity of his amber stare was again searing the back of her eye sockets.
I’m okay, Marcus,” she offered almost breathless, as if lost in some kind of enchanted spell. Oh, but she could smell him. Clean and tropical fresh, his man scent reminded her of some sexy, exotic shower of the islands. Even the Old Spice Guy would have sobbed in the corner in shame. The solid feel of his warm, bare chest should have melted the soft angora sweater right off her body. But as quick as she had found his sympathy, he made a full recovery. His face was once again a disappointing palette of stone. The pertness of his interrogating shake was completely unexpected.
How do you know my name?”
She tried to explain, but this time, very carefully. “The list…”
What list am I on?”
I can’t tell you.”
Then tell me who placed me on the list.”
I don’t know.”
With a loud growl, Marcus lifted her over his shoulder like a five pound sack of flour. Stepping over the threshold in a rush, he set her down hard on her feet, the click of her heels thumping hollow upon contact with the fine, redwood porch. His long body leaned toward the table and with a foiled ripple, snatched up her present. Her jaw dropped in horror when he shoved it into her hands, crushing the pretty gift box. “Save it, woman! I don’t care about your list, or your present. Goodbye, Holly.” With a large step backward, he breached the safety of his house. The blurred flash of his swinging red door slammed directly in her face.
Tears stung Holly’s eyes and blurred her vision. The solid lump forming within her gut was nothing short of nauseating. Every muscle in her body trembled with grief, while her soul filled to the brim with a heavy burden of sadness. Giving the package a careless, disgruntled toss, she watched the box tumble several times before coming to a tilted stop within the dimple of a fancy bench cushion.
Stomping her boots, Holly hit every wood step on purpose. If she were lucky, the echo of every hollow knock would rock that jerk right where he stood. But deep inside her heart, she truly wasn’t angry. Why did she find it so difficult to blame him? Raw, exposed emotions got the best of her. Every cell in her body throbbed with the sting of being wounded. All of her willpower reduced to calamity and waste, she ran crying to her car. How could anyone refuse the joy of a present?
Kristine Cheney is an award-winning author of paranormal and contemporary romance and is an Arizona native, living in Surprise. She’s been married twenty-two years to her high school sweetheart, Brett, and is the mother of Taryn, Brett Tyler, and Zackary, and is Grammy to Parker, Ivy, and Evely’nn. A huge labrador lover, she is mom to yellow lab Magnus and to the very naughty (and huge) white Labra-doodle puppy Brody.

Hobbies include writing passionate love stories that involve chivalrous characters, dashing adventure, forked humor, and the ever-true good vs. evil dilemma. Her favorite place to relax is anywhere within close proximity to a beach or wooded lake. A huge history buff, she plans to one day make a trek across the US to get her fill of American wonder (with hubby, labs, and lap top in tow).
She loves a good hot cup of coffee with Crème Brule liquid creamer and sugar. A maestro with a bag of frosting, Wilton cake decorating lessons only fueled her artistic fire. She’s pretty darn awesome at creating a deluxe wedding, baby shower, or themed birthday cake that will make your toes curl.
SPARTAN HEART, PART ONE (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, iBooks)
SPARTAN HEART, PART TWO (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, iBooks)
SPARTAN HEART (PAPERBACK) [contains both SH1 and SH2] (Amazon)
SECRET SANTA (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, iBooks)
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Mom’s Christmas Cookie Tray with Meg Mims

25 Days of Christmas continues with Meg Mims, author of Double Crossing, sharing one of her favorite memories: helping her mom make Christmas cookies and fill her famous tray!

Mom’s Famous Christmas Cookies
Some of my fondest Christmas memories are usually food-related, no surprise there. Four of the neighbor moms would exchange their favorite home-made Christmas treats – so we’d have Italian cannoli with chocolate chunks nestled in the cream filling, Syrian stuffed grape leaves and meat pies chock full of pine nuts, a delicious three-layer chocolate buttercream-frosted cake, and my mother’s famous cookies. Those ladies were fabulous bakers and cooks.
My mom started after Thanksgiving on her cookie recipes. She would make a variety – one huge batch for several days – of jam-filled Thumbprints, Almond Shortbread, Russian Teacakes (also known as Snowballs), powdered-sugar-covered Brownies, Toffee Nut Squares, and the infamous sugar-sprinkled Spritz cookies using a cookie press in tree, candy cane and poinsettia shapes. Green sugar coated the trees and red sugar coated the others.
When my older sisters grew up, they helped Mom at Christmas time. Then it was my turn, being the middle child, and Mom’s crippling arthritis meant I had to learn the tricky cookie press. Argh! It took a while but I managed. I added colored nonpareils on top of the green sugared trees to resemble “lights,” after Mom approved. We’d box up plenty for the neighbors and then stored the rest in tall airtight tins with waxed paper between the layers. But my favorite way to help was filling the cookie tray for holiday visits with “Company.”
The pewter tray (I’d always thought it was silver, until I received silver items for my own wedding — Mom never had to polish her tray!) was a large rectangle with wavy sides, two handles in the shapes of leaves, and an etched pattern in the bottom. I can’t recall if it was a scene or grapes now. One of my older sisters chose it after Mom passed away – and rightly so, because she makes the hand-pressed cookies with far more success than I ever had. My daughter likes making press cookies, but she prefers gingerbread. We never made frosted sugar cookies, though. And our tray, while adorable with a Santa on it, can’t hold a candle to that pewter tray.
I would cover it with plastic wrap, line up Mom’s cookies in rows from top to bottom like little delicious soldiers marching their way to grateful stomachs. Thumbprints were the prettiest, with their nutty shells and raspberry jam filling, flanked by two rows of white snowballs. On either side, I’d line up trees, poinsettias and candy canes. The nut squares, brownies and shortbread filled up the spaces left. The tray had to be at least 10 by 14 inches, not including the sides!
And “Company” always looked forward to eating Mom’s cookies. You can’t beat that home-made flavor and the obvious love she put into those hours and hours of baking. Dad’s favorite were the Russian Teacakes. Mine too, with that melt-in-your mouth taste of buttery cookie, tiny chopped bits of pecans and almond flavoring and that powder sugar that ends up showering your clothes. They had to be rolled in powdered sugar hot out of the oven, and then again when cool.
Granted, who has time to make hundreds of cookies nowadays? But in the 60s and 70s, those stay-at-home moms sure beat any store-bought cookie. I believe they’d probably beat any Food Network cookie today too. My mom added a secret ingredient – love of family – to her cookies, and that pewter tray is still in the family. Traditions are important.
After all, isn’t family a big part of what Christmas is about?