A Lesson in Living Mindfully: Right here. Right now.
By Joanna Campbell Slan
The Friday after Thanksgiving kicks off the selling season for all sorts of merchants. Pianos are no exception. My husband couldn’t leave his music store to travel with me to Florida, where my mother and two sisters lived. To be honest, I couldn’t take time off. Not really. I was working for a newspaper, and since the news is published every day, holidays didn’t really exist. When you work for a daily newspaper, you live for tomorrow, the next day when the paper will come out. You are trained not to live in the here and now. As an advertising rep, I was always thinking ahead and never stopping to evaluate the present. My income came from thinking ahead, and not looking behind.
The Alternative to Family Time
I told myself that eating at a nice restaurant would be fine. The appetizers were plentiful, the wine flowing, and a glass of champagne was in order. The turkey was moist, the gravy rich, and the pecan pie was syrupy good. But with every morsel, I wished myself somewhere else. I pictured my mother tossing celery and onions in a bread stuffing that scented the air with sage. I watched my sister making a yucky face as she cut up giblets and dropped the pieces in chicken broth to make the gravy. I could hear my other sister clanking the silverware as she set the table. Nothing that fancy restaurant could cook would taste as good as the food served by my family. Nothing.
I didn’t pout through our Thanksgiving feast, but after the meal when we were home, I escaped into the shower and cried quietly, feeling very sorry for myself. The hunger inside was the realization that life was changing. The days of being a nuclear family–me, my mom, and my sisters–was over. We’d pulled together after my father left us. We’d gone on welfare. We’d struggled. We knew how far we’d come, and no one else would ever share that particular memory or the grit that came along with it.
Reality versus My Fantasies
That evening after the phone rates went down, I called my sister Meg and reported that I’d had a nice Thanksgiving. With trepidation in my voice, I asked, “How about you? Tell me all about it.” I steeled myself for hearing about the traditional green bean casserole, the special pumpkin cake, and that giblet-based gravy. I waited and tried not to feel sad.
“We decided not to make dinner today. It was too much work. We ate at Cracker Barrel,” she said.
“What?” I was sure that I’d misunderstood her. “Cracker Barrel?”
“Yeah. It was fine, actually. I got some of my Christmas shopping done early.”
The Lesson I Learned
Then it hit me that I’d wasted a perfectly good Thanksgiving by wishing it away. I’d mourned for something that hadn’t happened, and in doing so, I’d missed the chance to be grateful for what I had.
Every Thanksgiving since that, I hear the words, “We ate at Cracker Barrel” in my head. No matter where I am, no matter who I’m with, I’ve learned to give thanks for what I have. Right here. Right now.
And today’s a perfect day to read a short story about Thanksgiving: “Cara Mia Delgatto and the Thanks giving Gift” https://www.amazon.com/Cara-Delgatto-Thanksgiving-Short-Story-ebook/dp/B00PSJ6QTC/
Update on my life late August 2018
Hi, My Sweeties—
I’m feeling swamped. Sigh. As always. But here goes…
1. I’m working on The Best of British Scrapbooking and Cardmaking to get it ready to re-publish. It’s not up yet on Amazon, because we still have some formatting issues, but when it’s up, I’d appreciate you posting a review.
2. I had to stop everything and re-edit Tear Down and Die because someone complained to Amazon about the “quality.” What exactly did that mean? It means that I had two words missing and one phrase repeated. Yeah. That’s it. I laughed like crazy because I’ve read traditionally published books with bigger errors. In fact, I just finished reading The Ghost War by Alex Berenson where he says that Aldrich Ames didn’t have any children. He did. A son. That’s a pretty big and pretty easily checked mistake. So I went back, re-edited the entire Cara Mia book because I couldn’t help myself. Now I have to have a formatting specialist look at it because I cannot get the page numbers to show up. That’s kind of okay because I have all new covers for the Cara Mia books. They are gorgeous.
3. Today I’ll tackle corrections/edits on How to Write a Letter.
4. After that, I’ll work on Bad Memory Album, which will be a special gift for people on my newsletter.
5. Then back to the new Kiki book, which I’m behind on writing.
What have I learned this week? I hate formatting, and I want to pay a formatter to do more. It’s just a huge pain in the butt.
Also, I’ve been dogsitting for my dear friend and neighbor, Lori. Chief is an older dog, so he has special needs. We had a huge thunderstorm that caused the poor boy to shiver with fright. I decided we (Chief, Jax, and I) should camp out in the laundry room until it passed. Fortunately, Chief is Jax’s best friend. Jax even “herds” Chief. If I say, “Go get Chief,” Jax runs to his pal and directs him toward me.
Jax and Chief
On a really sad note, my son and daughter-in-law have learned that their dog, Juice, has terminal bladder cancer. I really love that big sweet lunk. Every time I think about him dying, I get all weepy…that’s making me sad and grumpy.
Juice, the world’s sweetest pit bull.
This week I started going to Orange Theory Fitness. My husband, David, had a heart attack scare a year and a half ago. After that, he became Mr. Uber Fit. I finally bit the proverbial bullet and decided I am not going to get fit on my own. Hence, Orange Theory Fitness where I’m literally working my butt off. Oy! I have to say that the staff is really, really nice. They aren’t like the usual gym bunnies I’ve known.
When I take breaks from editing or writing, I work on my new dollhouse project. Translation: I cut or paint myself. Yes, I’ve taken to sawing my fingers and slicing a craft knife blade into my thumb. I dripped blood all over the project. I now have blood on the applicator tip of the Super Glue container. What a mess! But as long as I can type, we’re good, right?
That’s it from here,
The Revenge of AOL/Lessons I learned about my computer
By Joanna Campbell Slan
As with most crises, this one began simply enough. My AOL inbox showed 20,000+ messages. The number had built up over time. In a surge of energy, I decided to clean out the inbox. Four hours later, I’d winnowed the mess down to 3,000+ emails. Some of you might have even gotten an email from me, because if I had any questions about whether an email had been responded to, I sent a new email to double-check.
That night, I went to bed feeling incredibly organized. Yes, I was taming my email habit at last. My friend Marla had shown me how to use the rules function. Aaron, my computer guru, told me how to block offending domains. The number in my inbox had shrunken considerably. The leftovers could be dealt with the next morning. All was well in my soul.
The next day, I opened my computer to find…40,000+ emails. I called Aaron. He did a remote session (oh, the computer gods have ways of controlling our machines from afar!), and reset the AOL account. He deduced that AOL wanted to save all my emails for 30 days. When I tried to destroy them, AOL thoughtfully replaced all of them. We thought we had the problem fixed, although Aaron’s last pronouncement proved prescient, “I hate AOL.”
“You told me that.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll say it again. I hate AOL. You get what you pay for.”
“Right, but I still use that account. Mainly for sites that force me to sign up or for when I make purchases.”
“Yeah, but I’m just sayin’…I hate AOL.”
Later that day, a warning popped up in the lower right hand corner of my screen. It told me that I was running out of disk space. I hit the Crap Cleaner button. I did the Malware cleaning. Usually that’s all I need to do. Of course, cleaning the disk space is a hassle because as you do, you clean out all the “cookies,” which are really bread crumbs that lead you back to places you’ve been. When the cookies are gone, you have to manually re-enter passwords. A pain in the backside. However, I was being a good little scout. I did it. And I kept writing on my newest Kiki book and a short story.
The next day…Armageddon. AOL decided I could NOT do without the emails I’d deleted and repopulated them AGAIN. I now had 220,000+ emails in my inbox. I also had 50,000+ emails in my trash folder. I couldn’t send or receive any emails. A big yellow caution sign covered my enterprise server, the joannaslan.com site.
So I decided to take out the trash (in the computer). I needed to hurry because I was catching a plane up to DC. From there I was flying to Seattle, Washington, for a family wedding. I hit the right buttons. Hit them again. Nothing happened.
In a panic I called Aaron.
As it happened, between the emails in my inbox and the emails in my trash, I’d used up ALL the available space on my computer. In fact, between the manuscripts on my laptop, the photos, the covers, and everything else, I’d used up 60% of my disk space. My emails ate the rest, the remaining 30%.
Fortunately, there was a fix. I could physically drop off my computer with Aaron, and he could install a bigger hard drive. A much, much bigger hard drive. So I did.
Now my computer is slicker than owl snot. (As if I’d know how slick owl snot is!) And faster than a speeding bullet. (Ditto.) Aaron kindly worked overtime to get the machine back to me. Between his efforts and the wedding and traveling, I took a semi-forced vacation from my laptop. Yesterday I actually floated around in my son’s pool for an hour. It was heaven, watching the clouds float overhead in a blue, blue sky. Here in Winter Park, Florida, the temperature soared into the 90s, and the water was perfect! I actually fell asleep while drifting in the plastic doughnut.
And you know what? Despite the hassle, and the cost, and the exasperation…I’m kinda/sorta glad this happened. I now have more storage space. I feel refreshed. I really needed to take a break from technology. My mind feels much clearer, and I’m ready to get back to work.
What did I learn from all this?
- I’m recommitted to cleaning my email inbox more frequently–and immediately dumping the “trash.”
- I’m going to be more pro-active about using external back-up drives. I’ll keep one up in DC at our business and one in Florida.
- I’ll be putting more of my finished manuscripts in the cloud from now on as a way to keep things organized and to better manage storage.
- I’ll always get the largest hard drive I can afford. When we bought this new laptop, it never occurred to us to see if we could get a bigger hard drive. This one is four times the size I had.
- I’m so glad I keep a little notebook with all my passwords written down. Another computer guru, not Aaron, told me that he spends a lot of his time working with people who put all their passwords on their computer only to have a computer problem and lose all access.
- I need to take a break from my computer once in a while. It’s positively addicting. I need to clear my thinking and detach.
- I really appreciate Aaron. He’s a girl’s best friend when it comes to my computer. Everyone needs a computer whiz as a pal.
Oh… and Aaron still hates AOL.
Why I’ve Changed My Thoughts about Recycling Glass
A friend who is in the waste management business gave me some tips about recycling. I was astonished to hear that glass is of very little value and might not even get recycled at all, even if you put it in the bin. That got me thinking about new ways I can use glass bottles. Maybe you’ll want to do the same?
Here’s a list of cool ideas: IDEAS
I’m constantly finding glass bottles on the beach. Here’s an example of how I reused a bottle I found.
Upcycled Glass Bottle
All it took was a bit of twine, a flat rock, a seashell and my trusty glue gun.
I’d like to encourage more of you to find interesting ways to reuse glass bottles. Toward that end, I’m giving away a bottle cutter.
Enter to win here http://gvwy.io/neeu0s3
Here’s the link to enter to win it: CUTTER The contest ends May 31, 2018.
Kiki Lowenstein and the Cheery, Cherry Blossoms — Comment to win your own cheery, cherry blossoms
Note from Joanna: On Friday, March 23, at midnight, I’ll choose one lucky commenter from this blog to win a cherry blossom set (mouse pad, drawer scent, pencil and postcard).
Anya sat slumped to the right as her fingers pranced over the keyboard. Her headphones looked weird, tilted as they were. I didn’t want to disturb her or scare her, so I called her name. She didn’t respond. I tried again, and then my eyes flickered to the screen. She was playing Forge of the Ages, and her character was negotiating for a necklace.
I glanced at my cell phone. The bus would be leaving in an hour and a half. Her suitcase was sitting empty on her bed. She needed to finish her packing.
“Anya?” I prompted her again, but this time I went to tap her shoulder. That’s when I noticed the lumps running down the side of her throat. At first, I thought I was dreaming. The knots that covered her typically smooth neck were as big as large jawbreakers. How could that be real?
“Honey? Anya? Let me see you, sweetie.” This time I did touch her shoulder, gently, interrupting her concentration. She startled. Her hands flew up.
“Mom! You scared me.” She yanked down the headphones in a motion suitable for pulling off earmuffs.
“Come here.” I took her by the shoulder and guided her to the window. Maybe those lumps had been a trick of the light. No, there they were. Knots positioned the length of her throat from under her jaw to her collarbone. If her blouse hadn’t been buttoned, I would have probably seen more on their way to her chest. I pressed the back of my hand to her forehead. She whined, “Mooo-ooom.”
I turned her so that she was facing away from me. Kissing the skin on the back of her neck, I realized she was burning up. “Stay right there. I’m getting the thermometer.”
Detweiler sat across from six-year-old Erik at the dining room table. Between them sat a series of dominoes and the empty tin case with the logo “Mexican Train.” My husband looked up. “I’ll be ready to take Anya to school in twenty minutes.”
One foot on the lowest step and my hand on the rail, I hesitated. “That might not be happening. She’s running a fever. There are lumps on her neck.”
“Sounds like mono.” He shook his head sadly. “Mononucleosis is extremely transmittable. Even if she gets on antibiotics today, she wouldn’t be clear in time for the school trip to DC.”
“I know it. Let me take her temperature and then we’ll figure out what to do next.”
“Totally unfair and crappy.” Anya rested her forehead against the door window while she sat in the passenger’s side of the car. “This was supposed to be the best cherry blossom display in years. We had reservations to take tea at the Willard. I can’t believe it! Are you sure we can’t tell the teacher that I’ve been on meds for two days? I feel fine, Mom. Really I do.”
Reaching over with my free hand, I rubbed her shoulder gently. “Wouldn’t that be nice? We could just lie to Mr. Harmann, eh? No one would need to know about your fever. When all your classmates get sick, you could just pretend that’s surprise. You could go on and visit DC. Oh, maybe you could avoid little old ladies and old men and babies and anyone with a compromised immune system. If you wore a mask, carrying Lysol, wore white gloves, and went to bed earlier than everyone else, who would notice? It wouldn’t hurt anyone, would it? I mean, if someone climbed into your bus seat after you, well, gosh that’s the problem with public transportation, isn’t it?”
With an angry harrumph of her shoulders, Anya refused to face me. I could guess what she was thinking, and it wasn’t very pleasant. I turned up the radio.
Five minutes later, she pointed at a pair of golden arches. “Could we at least stop at McDonald’s? One of those shamrock milk shakes would taste great.”
“Of course we can.” I dreaded walking into the house and admitting to everyone that Anya was staying home. She had saved and saved her money for a seat on the bus going to DC. Taking photos of the monuments and the cherry blossoms was a high priority on her bucket list. Not that it mattered. All her plans would have to wait. Fortunately, we had a bottle of aspirin, antibiotics, and a coloring book that we’d picked up at CVS to keep her occupied. Unfortunately, those items were no substitute for a trip to our nation’s capital.
Anya was pretty good that evening. She hadn’t been looking forward to the long ride, because the school had decided to let two drivers alternate shifts and keep driving all night long. I could imagine how tired the sophomores would be as they drove through Virginia. But the long ride would practically guarantee the civics students that they would arrive as the sun rose on the proud marble markers. The photos should be glorious, which was why the civics and arts class decided to take the trip together. They’d been watching weather reports nonstop since the last week of January.
For Anya, the trip would be a non-starter. She slept all night and didn’t wake up until 10 the next morning. When she remembered that she would have been spending this morning in DC, she groaned and pulled her pillow over her face.
“Tell us about DC and flowers,” I suggested as a way to help her focus on things that were cool. “Come on, sweetie. I want to know.” I plucked the pillow off her face.
She rolled her eyes “Today is the peak day, which means that 70% of them will be in bloom. It varies every year, according to the weather. The majority of the trees line the Tidal Basin, near the monuments to FDR, Martin Luther King, and the Jefferson Monument. It’s illegal to pick a blossom.”
“How did they get there?”
“Teddy Roosevelt decided the nation’s capital needed sprucing up, but nothing was done until Helen Taft, President Taft’s wife, saw the monochromatic nature of the city as an opportunity to get involved in diplomacy. We’d had an ongoing trade and immigration imbalance with Japan, but a few wealthy Japanese businessmen actively sought a way to thank our country. Cherry blossoms are highly prized in Japan, but the first shipment of trees was teeming with bugs and had to be destroyed.”
I shook my head. “Wow. Talk about a rocky start.”
“The mayor of Tokyo was very embarrassed. The next shipment was bug-free. Because the trees only live to be about 30 years old, the ones blooming today are offspring. The blossoms are white and pink. Thanks to the efforts of the National Park Service, today there are 3,750-some trees that flower each spring, but I won’t be able to see them!” With that, she dissolved into tears.
“Why is Anya so sad?” Erik asked. “Because she feels bad?”
I explained about the cherry blossoms. “They’re only in bloom a few days. She’ll miss them.”
Erik pulled out his iPad and scrolled through several pages. “Look, Mama-Kiki. We can make cherry blossoms. See? Here are the directions, CHERRY BLOSSOMS. s
I glanced at them. “One problem, buddy. We don’t have tissue paper.”
“You always say, ‘Be creative.’ We have to be creative, right?” His chocolate brown eyes challenged me to live up to my own motto.
“That’s right. Tell you what. I think we have coffee filters in the pantry. Let’s go see.”
I was right. We found a package of the white circles. I sent Erik to get his watercolors. We spent a happy hour or so, coloring flowers and leaves. Because we didn’t have filaments to use for stamens, we dipped yellow embroidery floss into Elmer’s glue and frayed one end. The colorful mix dried on a dish rack set upside down. An hour later, we cut out the blossoms and assembled the branches. We also found an app that would put cherry blossoms on Anya’s DESKTOP. Then I discovered a 99 cent app that would create STICKERS.
While Erik finished arranging the branches, I made Anya a cherry milkshake. I put a handful of frozen cherries in the blender, added chocolate syrup, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and 8 ounces of milk. After blending it, I served it in a tall glass with a squirt of whipped cream on top.
Anya sat in her bed, sipping her milkshake and admiring the spray of cherry blossoms that Erik made for her. “Do you know what the cherry blossoms mean?” she asked her little brother.
“They mean spring is coming.”
“Yes, but they’re also a reminder to enjoy every day.” She put a dab of whipped cream on the tip of his nose. “Especially those days when I get to be with my brother.”
Have you ever seen the cherry blossoms? What does spring mean to you?
The Greatest Gift: A Kiki Lowenstein Short Story
Our blended family headed into the holiday season full of high hopes and great expectations. I’m a huge believer in traditions, especially those that occur seasonally. Traditions create memories, and memories are the glue that holds us close when tough times inevitably come. Of course, I also admit that I have an ulterior motive for loving memories. As the owner of Time in a Bottle, a scrapbook and craft store, I’ve turned making and saving memories into a business.
“What do you do with your kids’ outgrown toys, Kiki?” Vanessa Johnson asked me. She was working on a fun project, crocheting matching hats for everyone in her family. “I ask because I’m trying to figure out what to do with the toys my son has outgrown. I hate to see them thrown into the trash.”
“Don’t do that!” Clancy Whitehead, my second in command and my BFF, gave a furious shake of her head. “There are so many needy kids in this world. Think of how thrilled they’d be to get those things.”
I agreed wholeheartedly. “Last Sunday we went through all of Anya’s old things and outgrown clothes. I can’t believe how quickly her teen years are flying by. We packed up an entire box. Then I tried to get Erik to do likewise.”
“How did that go?” Clancy raised an impeccably groomed eyebrow curiously. With a tiny shrug, she added, “I know that moving here has been hard on him. He’s probably not ready to give anything up.”
Her years as a teacher have served her well, because Clancy understands children very well. As usual, she’d nailed it in one. Erik had refused to let go of anything he’d brought here, to St. Louis, from California. The prospect of saying goodbye to his belongings overwhelmed the little guy. He burst into noisy tears and threw himself onto his bed. Watching her brother cry, Anya had slipped an arm around my waist. She whispered in my ear, “This is just too much for him, isn’t it?”
I hugged my oldest child and planted a kiss on her forehead. “You’re so right, honey. I’d hoped to make space in his room so when Santa visits, there’ll be room for more presents.”
“Not working.” Anya’s smile was one of compassion.
“Sooo not working.” I sighed, taking a place next to Erik on his bed. “Come here, buddy.”
Reluctantly, he let me hold him.
Erik came to live with us after Detweiler’s first wife, Gina, died in a car crash. Because she was legally married to Detweiler when she had Erik, he’s legally Detweiler’s child. Biologically he isn’t. As the teenagers say, “It’s complicated.”
Over the past year, Erik has settled in, although the birth of Ty, our youngest, caused a bit of a regression for the five-year-old. We’ve been patient and understanding. I’ve done my best to explain why babies need so much attention, and I’ve emphasized their fragility and neediness. At the same time, I’ve explained to Erik that he’s a big brother. He likes that. He’s naturally a sweet and loving child, so taking care of the baby has become a point of honor for him.
In fact, Erik can be quite the little martinet, demanding that we change Ty’s diaper or pick him up or pay attention. From time to time, I’ll ask Erik to watch Ty, which is code for retrieving the baby’s toys and reading to him. Being in charge of someone else has given Erik a sense of pride, a certain glow.
Slowly we’ve noticed that he no longer talks like a toddler. He’s becoming increasingly independent. But, as I admitted to Anya, “He’s not ready to give up his toys.”
“Or his blankie.” Anya pointed to the ratty square of blanket that Erik has slept with as long as I’ve known him. Over time, the red plaid had faded to a dull pink. The edges of the blanket had been worn so thin that Brawny, our live-in nanny, had cut them off and trimmed blankie to a more manageable size.
“Or his blankie. That’s okay, honey.” I stroked Erik’s curls and planted a kiss on his forehead. “Even if you have to take blankie to college with you, that’s cool, sweetheart.”
Anya came over to join us. Kneeling carefully beside her younger brother, she whispered loudly, “I’m going with Mom to take my things to the Salvation Army. Why don’t you come with? That way you can see what we’re doing. Maybe she’ll even take us by Bread Co. to get pumpkin muffies for a treat.”
The old “pumpkin muffie” trick worked like a charm. Erik was willing to ride along with us in return for a “muffie,” which is the top slice of an oversized muffin. Once we arrived at the Salvation Army, he agreed to help us carry bags inside the drop-off area.
“What do they do with Anya’s things?” he asked.
Anya leaned close and explained, “People come here to shop. They don’t have much money, so they buy gifts here rather than going to other stores. Come on and I’ll show you.”
She took him by the hand, marched him out the front door, and around to the other entrance. I followed but I didn’t say a word. I wanted to see how they would handle the situation. Not surprisingly, Erik’s eyes were huge as he watched people make their selections. Anya took him for a quick tour of the place while I spoke to the manager. She helped me find several old wool sweaters that I hoped to turn into felt for future projects.
“In the car on the way home, Erik was quiet. Thoughtful even. I believe that was his first brush with poverty,” I told Clancy and Vanessa. “He’s lived a privileged existence. His step-father was incredibly wealthy.”
Shortly thereafter, we said goodbye to Vanessa. The sign in our front window read that we were closing at three on Christmas Eve. At five after, I locked the front door. Clancy and I hugged, wishing each other Merry Christmas. For me, the holiday had finally arrived.
Later that evening, after our family had dinner, we bundled up to spend time outside in the cold. Each year the church in our neighborhood hosts a Christmas pageant, a live reenactment of the birth of Christ. Although Anya is Jewish, we all enjoy seeing the nativity come to life. Part of the attraction is that the church borrows Monroe, the donkey owned by our former landlord, Leighton Haversham. When Leighton is traveling, as he often is during the holidays, we take care of Monroe. That means that walking him to and from the pageant is our responsibility. Yet another reason for us to attend and watch the pageantry.
This year Erik took Monroe by the halter. My husband, Detweiler, winked at me over the little boy’s head. Unbeknownst to Erik, Detweiler also had a grip on the donkey’s bridle. Just in case. However, Monroe adores Erik and the feeling is mutual. Last year, Erik was both beguiled and scared of Monroe. Many apples and tummy rubs later they are fast friends. I couldn’t contain the smile that bubbled up inside me as I pushed Ty’s stroller. Anya chatted happily with Brawny, who’s more a part of our family than a nanny. In the space of twelve months, we’d truly become a united front. A family, en route to see the birth of another family, one that promised peace for all mankind.
As we walked, I tried to ignore the stinging slap of cold air against my skin. The weatherman predicted a drop in the temperature, and he’d been spot on. While Erik and Detweiler delivered the donkey, Brawny, Anya, and I took our places in the crowd, using the stroller to secure a bit of real estate. Erik and Detweiler returned, and we huddled together for warmth. I pulled Ty’s blanket up around his face for extra protection. He seemed fine, but I guess the worry showed on my face.
Brawny had been watching me. She shook her head. “It’s getting colder by the minute. I best take young master home. ‘Tis too brutal for a wee tyke.”
Detweiler and I agreed. Reluctantly, I told my littlest one that we’d meet him back at the house. The ever resourceful Brawny guided the stroller through the crowd and headed for our snug home.
Thanks to the nip in the air, the pageant moved along swiftly. Detweiler hoisted Erik onto his shoulders so the boy could get a good look at the event. Erik was fascinated by the show. His bright blue coat stood out in stark contrast to the gray of the winter sky. His little face was intensely interested in every aspect of the Christmas story. We’d been reading books explaining why the couple had taken shelter in a manger. We’d talked about the shepherds and the star. We’d been pointing at angels for six weeks now. But seeing the timeless tale was different. Erik was totally focused on the unfolding drama.
In fact, he was reluctant to leave when the pageantry ended. “I want to see that baby,” he told Detweiler, as he tugged at his father’s hand. We waited until most of the crowd had cleared. Then we made our way to the crèche. Although actors had played the part of Mary, Joseph, and others, the church had wisely decided to substitute a doll for baby Jesus. I knew from experience that they would leave the toy in the manger until they took the makeshift manger scene down for the year. The people would be replaced with statues. The holy family would decorate the lawn of the church for weeks to come while we took our donkey and went home.
Christmas morning dawned bright and frigid. I awoke to the tantalizing scent of bacon and pancakes. Brawny always gets up before the rest of the household and cooks our breakfast. However, I’d expected Erik to be our alarm clock on this special day. Detweiler rolled over and hugged me. “Merry Christmas.”
I returned the greeting. “I guess the pageant tired Erik out, huh?”
“I guess.” Detweiler chuckled. “But I heard water running in Anya’s bathroom. Squeals of happiness can’t be far behind.”
However, he was wrong. We managed to pull on clothes in silence. I even ran a brush through my hair. Anya knocked politely at our door, and I opened it, expecting to give her a hug—but I froze at the look on her face.
“Erik’s gone! He’s missing. I’ve looked everywhere!”
“What?” I thought I’d heard her wrong.
“He’s probably playing with one of the toys that Santa brought.” Detweiler moved past my daughter and me. His feet galloped down the stairs. “Erik? Erik!”
I raced after him. Brawny and Anya joined us in the family room. The tree was dark. The presents hadn’t been touched. I ran back upstairs to Erik’s room. It was empty.
“He’s probably taken an apple to Monroe.” Anya suggested, breathlessly.
“I’ll go get him.” I heard the back door slam behind Detweiler. Anya and I pounded our way down the stairs.
“I’ll look in the garage,” Brawny said.
That’s when I realized our dog was missing, too. “Anya? Have you seen Gracie?”
“Huh-uh.” Her blue eyes were wet and her voice trembled. Turning away from me, she yelled, “Gracie! Here girl!”
With a sudden flash of insight, I went to the front door. It was unlocked. That meant that Erik had voluntarily left the property. I checked the wall-mounted hanger where we keep our dog’s leash. Empty.
“He must have taken Gracie for a walk. I’ll go get Detweiler. We’ll drive around the block.”
Anya’s mouth had sunken into a deep frown. “Hurry, Mom. It’s cold out there. He’s just a little guy.” With that, she wiped away a tear.
In less than a minute, my husband and I were in his police cruiser with the windows down. He pulled cautiously out of the driveway, doing his best to control his panic. I swallowed my own fears. How could this have happened? We should be opening gifts and celebrating! What if this turned out to be the worst day of our lives? Had someone taken Erik? Had he gone with a stranger? If so, how hand someone convinced him to leave on this particular day when wrapped gifts had such a magnetic pull? I sniffled.
Detweiler took my hand. “Stay calm. We need to think this through. Let’s not freak out.”
But I was freaking out. I was scared spitless. Detweiler cranked up the defroster. The weather outside was viciously cold. Where was our little boy? My husband drove slowly up the block. He stopped at the corner. Looked left and right. Decided to go straight. “I figure we should start where we were last night.”
That made sense to me, although I was too upset to really focus.
“Is that Gracie?” Detweiler spotted the black and white giant dog first. I leaned forward, sticking my head out my window so I could see better.
“I think so.” But my response was slower than Detweiler’s reflexes. He’d already pulled into the circular drive in front of the church. Throwing the police cruiser into park, he bolted out of the door. I was fast on his heels.
Gracie barked a greeting at us, but we looked past her. A small figure in a blue coat was hunched over the manger.
“Erik? Honey?” Detweiler dropped to his knees beside our son. Slowly, the little boy turned. His chocolate brown eyes were wide with surprise.
“Are you okay?” I joined Detweiler on the cold earth. I had to see Erik for myself.
“Buddy, what are you doing here?” Detweiler snatched up the boy, hugging him tightly. “We were worried about you. You know you shouldn’t leave the house without telling us.”
“I was worried about that baby.” Erik pointed a mitten finger at the Jesus doll. “He was cold. I didn’t want him to be cold. See?”
Following his direction, I bent closer to the manger. Neatly tucked around the statue of the baby was a tattered piece of cloth. Erik’s blankie.
Note: I hope you’ve enjoyed this short story, and I hope you’ll take time to share a little Kiki with a friend. Right now, you can send a pal a copy of “Kiki and Cara Mia’s Christmas Collection” for only 99 cents. That’s cheaper than you can send a greeting card! Go to https://www.amazon.com/Kiki-Christmas-Collection-Lowenstein-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01MFC9THX/ On the right is a button that allows you to give as a gift. How easy is that? Ho-ho-ho, and Happy Holidays from your friend — Joanna
PS: Here are all the Kiki books in order with links:
- Love, Die, Neighbor (The Prequel) – http://bit.ly/LoveDieN
- Paper, Scissors, Death — http://bit.ly/PSDKL1
- Cut, Crop & Die — http://bit.ly/CutCropD
- Ink, Red, Dead — http://bit.ly/IRDead3
- Photo, Snap, Shot — http://bit.ly/PSSKL4
- Make, Take, Murder — http://bit.ly/MTMKikiL5
- Ready, Scrap, Shoot — http://bit.ly/RSSBook6
- Picture, Perfect, Corpse — http://bit.ly/PPCorpse7
- Group, Photo, Grave — http://bit.ly/GPGrave8
- Killer, Paper, Cut — http://bit.ly/KillPC9
- Handmade, Holiday, Homicide — http://bit.ly/KikiHHH10
- Shotgun, Wedding, Bells — http://bit.ly/SWBKiki11
- Glue, Baby, Gone — http://bit.ly/GBG12
- Fatal, Family, Album — http://bit.ly/KLFFA13
Meet Larissa Reinhart
Note from Joanna: Once or twice a month, I want to introduce you to my author friends. I hope you enjoy learning about them. I also learn something, even when I’ve known them a long, long time!
Comment on Larissa’s visit and you could win a digital copy of 15 MINUTES. I’ll chose a winner next Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.
Name: Larissa Reinhart
Facebook info: Official Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/RisWrites
Friend Me Here: https://www.facebook.com/larissareinhartwriter
Name of Your Series: Maizie Albright Star Detective (My other series is the Cherry Tucker Mysteries)
One Line That Describes Your Series: A former star of a hit teen detective show, Maizie Albright, returns to Georgia (by judge’s orders) to pursue her dream of becoming a private detective and finds Hollywood has followed her to Georgia.
Name of Most Recent Book: 15 MINUTES (but 16 MILLIMETERS launches 10/17 which is why 15 MINUTES is on sale!)
Buy links: Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks
- What Gave You the Idea For This Series? I live in Peachtree City, Georgia. Four miles from my house is Senoia, where The Walking Dead film. Six miles in the other direction is Pinewood Studios where major movies (like the Marvel series) are now made. This area is quaint, so movies like Fried Green Tomatoes have been filmed here, but the TV and movie industry has grown like gangbusters in the last five years. It’s all pretty weird for we locals. My friend saw Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones in a restaurant the other night. The most famous person we might’ve hoped to see when I moved here 18 years ago was Alan Jackson, because he’s from nearby Newnan. But I’ve never seen him. I haven’t seen anybody famous!
- Which character is most like you? I’d like to say Maizie Albright because she’s optimistic, earnest, and beautiful. She’s also young (26) and I’m not and I have teenagers… So I’m more like Lamar who owns the donut shop below Nash Security Solutions. He’s tired and likes to sit with his feet up on a La-Z-Boy while he listens to Nash and Maizie talk about their case. But Lamar is much wiser than me. And he doesn’t eat donuts, whereas I’d have a hard time controlling myself. But I guess when you own a donut shop, you’d get tired of donuts.
- What’s the hardest part of writing? I have the attention of a Jack Russell Terrier (probably why they’re in the books). Getting myself to sit and focus is difficult. Once I do, I’m okay but I tend to bounce around (not literally) before I can get settled back into the story.
- What inspires you to keep writing? My readers who ask for more stories. How can I refuse? Also I have constant story ideas popping in my head (part of my Jack Russell qualities). I’ve got to get them down. I’m not sure why but I just have to do it.
- What would you say to other would-be writers who have yet to get published? Keep writing and submitting!
Thank you so much for introducing me to your readers, Joanna! It’s such a treat for me, since I’m a fan of yours!
P. S. Joanna’s note: Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have shared this…but it made my day! Don’t forget to comment!
Kiki Lowenstein and the Watermelon Festival, Part IV
Part I- Recap: In an attempt to repair their friendship, Kiki and Mert decide to take a road trip. But hurt feelings don’t mend easily, and the two women get off to a rocky road start. http://joannacampbellslan.com/kiki-lowenstein-and-the-watermelon-festival/
Part II – Recap: The sight of the Arch in the rear view window changes their moods for the better, but it’s a long ride. Will the two friends be able to paper over their problems and move on? http://joannacampbellslan.com/kiki-lowenstein-and-the-watermelon-festival-part-ii/
Part III – Recap: After an hour and a half of being awkward with each other, Kiki and Mert stop at a Walmart. Mert buys a lot of staples to give to her friend Corva. Kiki learns that Corva is down on her luck and raising a grandchild. http://joannacampbellslan.com/kiki-lowenstein-and-the-watermelon-festival-part-iii/
We both seemed more at ease when we got back into Mert’s truck after our shopping spree at Walmart. Hoping to build on the good feelings, I asked my friend, “How did you meet Corva?”
“She and I were in foster care together. I guess you could say we bonded. She’s older than I am, so she looked out after me.” Mert paused.
I glanced over and saw her swallowing furiously. Tears had gathered along her lower lashes. Mert doesn’t often get choked up, but she was definitely on the verge of crying. I could hear it in her voice as she continued, “Matter of fact, I don’t think I’d be here today if it wasn’t for Corva. She took a beating that’d been meant for me, and she did it because she knew it would have broken my spirit. I couldn’t have survived it. That whooping nearly killed her, and she’s a tough cookie. Our foster dad, Elmer Dolby, finally manned up and called an ambulance to come and tend to Corva, or she wouldn’t be alive today. See, his wife Alma Gene got her jollies by smacking us with whatever came to hand and then locking us in an old outhouse for days at a time. Corva was bleeding internally after Alma Gene got done with her. Old Elmer went out to the shed to get a tool from his toolbox and he spotted a trail of fresh blood on the grass. He followed it to the old outhouse. Alma Gene had locked it by sticking a two-by-four through the wrought iron door handle. Something made Elmer stop and look around, close like. He realized the blood was actually flowing out from under the walls of the outhouse. His curiosity got the better of him, and he opened the door, and
She stopped. I opened a bottle of water and handed it to her.
“When he done opened up that door, and Corva tumbled out onto the ground. She was white as a piece of toilet paper and just about as limp. If she hadn’t kept groaning, he wouldn’t have been sure she was alive.”
“But he called 911 and she lived,” I said, trying to find a positive spin.
“She did. They had to remove her spleen and one of her kidneys, but Corva made it.” Mert gulped half the bottle and jammed it between her thighs to keep it steady as she drove. “I wouldn’t have made it. She always says I would have, but I wouldn’t have, and we both know it. I was thinking seriously about tying a rope around my neck and ending it all. Another beating would have made hanging myself like the easy way out, for sure.”
“Wow. That’s some story.”
“Yeah, it is. Them groceries and all that stuff I bought? It ain’t nothing compared to what I owe her.”
“I know what it feels like to owe somebody,” I said, and I reached over and grabbed Mert’s hand on the steering wheel.
She gave my fingers a quick squeeze, let them go, and sent me a weak smile. “So do I.”
Using the back of her hand, she wiped her nose. “Okay, now. Let me tell you a little bit about Vincennes.”
~To Be Continued~
Mert tells Kiki about Vincennes, and especially about the watermelon festival. Of course, a visit with Corva is in order, and Mert tells Kiki what to expect.
Meet Maria Grazia Swan–and win one of her books!
Note: Once a month, I’ll introduce you to one of my author friends, and we’ll give away one digital copy of the author’s books. This month’s guest is Maria Grazia Swan.
Facebook info: https://www.facebook.com/MariaGraziaSwan/
Name of your series: Mina’s Adventures
One line that describes your series:
Name of most recent book: Sniffing Out Murder — and we’re giving away one copy to a lucky commenter. You have until Monday, Sept. 18 to comment.
Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0741Q35CH?ref_=pe_870760_118561140
- What gave you the idea for this series? My divorce. It was a long and messy divorce. I couldn’t sleep and was taking Creative Writing at Saddleback College, (O.C, California) so I made good use of my sleepless nights and the anger brewing inside. I cannot describe the satisfaction of killing off on paper a few of the real life main culprits.
- Which character is most like you? Mina a little. Paola a lot. I could have been a Mina, but I was born too early. Different lifestyle.
- What’s the hardest part of writing? In my case is the language. At time I’m talking Italian in my head. Other times I know the word, but not sure about the spelling.
- What inspires you to keep writing? It’s in my blood. I won my first literary award at the age of fourteen. The old fourteen, before computers, cell phones and social media. Heck, we didn’t even had television until I was seventeen. And when I write I forget all my troubles. And in the morning, no hangover.
- What would you say to other would-be writers who have yet to get published? Never give up. Slow and steady will get you there.
Excerpt from PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH
Get an enhanced version of PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH for only 99 cents on 8/23/2017 (Wed.) and 8/24/2017 (Thurs.) only! https://www.amazon.com/Paper-Scissors-Death-Lowenstein-M…/…/
And here’s a short version: http://bit.ly/PSDKL1 Why not “gift” a copy to a friend? Don’t you know someone who could use a little Kiki in her life?
You like paper? We’ve got paper for you! Go to https://www.createspace.com/6922517 Use this code: H2WRCAFM and get $3 off
EXCERPT FROM PAPER, SCISSORS, DEATH
by Joanna Campbell Slan
Author’s Note: Kiki and her daughter Anya were at an event to teach kids how to scrapbook when a policeman arrives and asks Kiki to come with him to the police station. When she arrives, she’s greeted by this horrifying news.
“My husband is dead? Are you sure? Sure it’s George? I mean, you could have made a mistake. Right?” I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard.
Detective Chad Detweiler of the St. Louis County Police Department shook his head solemnly. “No, Mrs. Lowenstein. I’m sorry. There’s no mistake. A housekeeper found his body in a room at the Regal Chalet. We’re sure it is — was — your husband. His clothes were hanging over a chair, and his wallet was in his pants pocket.”
I swallowed hard. I’d managed to keep calm on the ride to the police station. I kept reassuring my daughter there must have been a misunderstanding. Now I felt like I was coming apart at the seams. I couldn’t focus. I kept repeating, “Dead? My husband is dead? There must be some mistake.”
“I sincerely doubt it.”
The room swam and turned flips. I tried to process what the detective told me. In my struggle, I focused on the trivial. It seemed more manageable than the big picture. “I, uh, don’t understand. Why were his clothes over a chair? You mean he … he didn’t have them on? Did he … uh … have on any of his clothes?”
The detective shook his head, his eyes never leaving my face. He seemed to be taking my measure, sizing me up.
The large mirror on the adjacent wall of the interview room bounced my image back to me. My hair was always curly, but today it had turned into ringlets. My skin looked blotchy from the cold. And I’d chewed my lips until I could taste the blood in my mouth.
I took tiny sips from the glass of water the detective had offered and swallowed repeatedly to dislodge the lump in my throat. I tried to focus on a far-off object, as I blinked back tears. There were so many questions. Part of me didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to know. But a voice inside reasoned it was better to hear the worst of it here, from an impartial officer of the law, than in a public place from a “friend.” I thought about the mothers I’d left at the scrapbook store and shuddered.
Detweiler sat across from me patiently, silently.
Obviously, someone had made a mistake. That was all there was to it. This man couldn’t be talking about George. Not my George.
“How can you be so sure? I mean … don’t you need someone to identify the body? You probably just think it’s George. As soon as he answers my call, we’ll get this straightened out.” I reached for my cell phone and punched in his number one more time.
The phone rang and rang.
Suddenly, my whole body grew heavy, and I was incredibly tired. All I wanted was to go home and sleep for a million years.
Maybe this had all been a bad dream.
Detweiler sighed. “We got hold of your husband’s business partner, Mr. Ballard. I was there when he made the ID. If you’d like to see the body …”
I shook my head vehemently.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lowenstein.” He didn’t press the issue. He could tell I was queasy. Or maybe he worried I’d make a scene.
Poor Bill. A part of me felt guilty that I hadn’t been the one to take on this intimate and final task of marital life. It seemed, in some way, the least I could have done for George. And Bill had done it for him. For me. For us. It seemed wrong. It felt like one more failure. I put a hand to my stomach and pressed hard to control the revolt within.
A strand of chestnut hair fell over Detweiler’s eyebrow, a dark accent mark to his unwavering gaze. “There’ll have to be an autopsy. The law requires one in these circumstances.” Detweiler took a sip of his coffee and set the mug down gently on the battered Formica tabletop. A circle of brown indicated the depleted level of the liquid. It reminded me of George’s wedding ring.
I fingered my own gold band. I was trying desperately to take in what the detective was saying. George. Was. Dead. What was I going to tell Sheila, my mother-in-law?
“Does George’s mother know?”
I did not want to be the one to tell Sheila her son was dead.
“Mr. Lowenstein’s mother has been notified.” The detective cleared his throat. “Evidently our police chief is an old friend.”
Thank God, I thought. She didn’t have to hear the news from a stranger.
“A woman at your house,” he turned to a page in his steno pad, “Mert Chambers told us where to find you.”
A thought flittered across the tickertape of my mind and fell on the floor in a pile of other ideas. How could we have Thanksgiving? George always carved the turkey. And what about Hanukkah? He loved shopping for his daughter. How would Anya learn about her Jewish heritage? Who would teach her golf? Take her to Cardinal baseball games? Help her cheer on the Rams on Monday Night Football?
An endless stream of problems presented themselves.
“You brought us here? Rather than talking to me at home? Why?”
“We have a few questions.”
I was afraid to guess what that might mean. Time stood still. I was at the top of the roller coaster looking down, suspended, waiting.
In my peripheral vision, I saw Detweiler rub his mouth. He was struggling, trying to decide what to say. I did not look up. I was bracing myself for what was to come.
But I got it wrong.
“Mrs. Lowenstein, did your husband’s partner tell you money was missing from the business?”
My head snapped up. “What?” Stars danced in my field of vision.
Saliva flooded my mouth. I struggled not to bolt from my seat. I looked around desperately for the nearest trash can. Any second now, I’d heave my guts all over the floor. Where was the ladies’ restroom? I swallowed hard.
“Money? Missing? How much?”
“A half a million dollars.”
I jumped up and ran, praying I’d make it to the john.
Remember: The 99 cent price is good for two days only, Aug. 23 (Wed.) and Aug. 24 (Thurs.)