Morning Coffee: New Year’s Resolutions

ChristmasEvery year I, like many of you, admit it, make a list of resolutions for the coming year that rarely, if ever, succeed. Top of the list is the popular eat healthy / exercise / lose weight. It lasts for a while because by January I’m tired of all the sweets and rich foods that surrounded the previous holiday months, but then it ultimately fails. By the end of the now not-so-new year I’m back where I started, if not a little worse off, thus leading to a renewal of that same old resolution to eat healthy / exercise / lose weight.

This year I’m trying a different approach. Instead of calling them New Year’s Resolutions (almost guaranteeing failure), I’m calling it my Author’s Business Plan. The leader of my local chapter of Wisconsin Romance Writers of America (WisRWA) gave us a 4-page questionnaire to direct our thoughts as we determine our goals and how we plan to achieve them over the coming year. At the end it asks for our exit plan; that is, what is our plan should we not succeed in reaching one or all of our goals.

I already have a favorable start on one of mine, to reach 100+ followers for this blog. I’m up to 92 so it seems a reasonable assumption I can gain at least eight more over the next twelve months. But another goal (I listed six total) is going to be a tough one. I plan to have the revisions on my novel, “Mary Bishop”, completed by the end of February. You see, by that time my part-time day job will go full-time for a couple months while I fill in for a co-worker on maternity leave, making it the best time to have my manuscript out to Beta readers for further comments. Unfortunately, the holidays made writing almost impossible. So, here it is the end of December and I’m not where I wanted to be by now and my day job hours are already increasing as I train for my added responsibilities. Does this mean I throw up my hands and give up? It’s tempting, but I keep reminding myself I still have two months and the revisions for the first two-thirds of my novel are all hand-written so a solid couple of days of typing and tweaking should accomplish that step. The final third needs a much more thorough re-write to expand the current chapters and add some new ones in order to fill-in holes my critique group outlined.

Can I achieve that goal? Not if I decide it’s already hopeless. However, two months (8 weeks, 60 days) is a long enough time if I stick to it. Of course, my co-worker could easily go into labor early, or end up on mandatory bed rest. I will no doubt start my full-time schedule at some point in the last week or two of February, and very possibly with little notice. If that happens and I’m not done with my revisions I will just have to keep plugging along with what free time I do have. (Consider how much time we waste every day worrying about how we don’t have enough time.) And what better incentive than to write it down on paper and then share it with eight other women who are cheering for my success.

My ultimate goal for 2016 is, of course, a signed publishing contract. Or, at the very least, a publisher interested enough to want to read the entire manuscript and discuss a possible contract. Can I get there? Yes! Experts in how to be successful say believing in yourself, being able to visualize your own success, is a necessary part of achieving that success. My exit plan? Keep trying, obviously. Who knows what 2017 will bring? Hopefully a second book contract.

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Morning Coffee: Christmas Sonnet

Christmas Sonnet       by Jane Yunker

The shepherds sat among their sheep that night

and heard the angels voices raised in joy.

They saw the star that brightly shone, a light,

a guide to lead them to the baby boy.

Three wise men also saw the gleaming star

and followed endless day and night to bring

their gifts both rare and pure borne from afar,

most precious gifts to give the new-born king.

Found sleeping in a manger, in the hay

surrounded by the beasts His glory shone,

as they went down on bended knee to pray,

to honor Him on His most lowly throne.

Sing praises to the holy infant child

born to a blessed virgin mother mild.

Morning Coffee: Christmas Truce

ChristmasIt’s Christmas Eve 1914, a mud-filled foxhole in northern France. Not the place any young man expected to be spending this holiest of nights. Allied forces on one side, the Germans on the other, many of these young men expected to make quick work of the fighting and be home in time to celebrate Christmas with their families. Yet, here they were knee-deep in mud, drenched by the almost non-stop rain, staring down the barrels of their guns at each other across the blood-soaked Western Front.

A million lives had already been lost and there was no end in sight.

Charles Brewer, a 19-year-old British lieutenant with the Bedfordshire Regiment of the 2nd Battalion was glad to see the rain stop and the skies clear on this now moonlit Christmas Eve. All was quiet when a sentry spied a glistening light on one of the German parapets less than 100 yards away. Aware it might be a trap, Brewer slowly lifted his head to look over the sandbags and through the barbed wire to see that it was a Christmas tree. Along the German trenches was a line of lit trees, glimmering in the night like a string of beads. From behind that line rose the faint sound of singing – a Christmas carol. The words to “Stille Nacht” were not familiar to the British troops, but the melody certainly was. When the Germans finished singing the British responded with a round of cheering and sang the English version of the carol – “Silent Night.”

The dawn of Christmas Day brought something even more remarkable. In pockets all along the 500-mile Western Front, German and Allied forces laid down their arms and walked tentatively through the no-man’s land between their lines. They stepped around the burned trees, shell craters, and the trenches filled with the frozen bodies of their dead. They climbed over the sandbags and avoided the barbed wire to shake hands with the men who had been their enemies only the day before and wish them a Merry Christmas. Political leaders had ignored Pope Benedict XV’s call for a Christmas cease fire but these men did not, initiating their own spontaneous and unofficial armistice.

“We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years,” British Corporal John Ferguson wrote of that Christmas Day between his Seaforth Highlanders and German forces. “Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.”

“Almost always, it was the Germans who at least indirectly invited the truce,” writes Stanley Weintraub in his book “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce.” Many of the German soldiers had lived and worked in Great Britain before the war and spoke English.

The men exchanged gifts of cigarettes, chocolates, sausages, liquor and plum puddings. They shared stories of the hardships of war. German soldiers in Houplines rolled a barrel of beer they had seized from a near-by brewery across no-man’s land to share with their new Allied friends. It was unanimously agreed that “French beer was rotten stuff.”

There were pick-up soccer games in no-man’s land where players had to navigate around barbed wire and shell craters. They marked goals with their caps. Where there wasn’t a real leather ball to kick, tin cans and small sandbags worked just as well.

Not everyone was moved by the spirit of Christmas. Fighting continued along some areas of the Front. There were soldiers killed who, in the hopes of a Christmas cease fire of their own, attempted to cross the lines in an offer of peace. German leaders were concerned their men might lose the will to fight. One in particular, a young Adolph Hitler, scolded his fellow soldiers. “Such a thing should not happen in wartime! Have you no German sense of honor left?”

As Christmas Day 1914 came to an end the men parted ways. A few cease fires continued until New Year’s but most resumed fighting the next morning. At 8:30am on the 26th, in Houplines, Captain Charles Stockwell of the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers fired three shots into the air and raised a flag that read “Merry Christmas.” His German counterpart raised a flag that read “Thank you.” The two men mounted the parapets, saluted each other and returned to their trenches. Stockwell wrote that his counterpart then “fired two shots in the air—and the war was on again.”

British Expeditionary Force commander John French ordered that such a spontaneous grassroots cease fire should never happen again, and it did not. Millions of more lives would be lost before the guns would fall silent once more with the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918. The 1914 Christmas Truce, though, would not be forgotten. One British soldier wrote home the following day, “I wouldn’t have missed the experience of yesterday for the most gorgeous Christmas dinner in England.”

May Christmas 2015 be one to remember. A very Merry Christmas from my house to yours!

Morning Coffee: Santa Claus

ChristmasYou better not shout / you better not cry / you better not pout / I’m telling you why

He’s making a list / he’s checking it twice / gonna find out / who’s naughty and nice…

We all know who He is…Santa Claus, and he’s coming to town so you better behave. The legend of a jolly fat bearded man in red delivering toys to children in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer can be traced back to a 3rd century monk named St Nicholas from Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Nicholas was admired for his piety and kindness as he traveled the countryside giving away all his inherited wealth to help the poor and the sick. He became known as the protector of children and sailors. December 6th, the anniversary of his death, is still celebrated. Not even the Protestant Reformation could tarnish his image and he maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

St Nicholas found his way into American tradition toward the end of the 18th century, when a New York newspaper in December 1773, and again in 1774, reported a group of Dutch immigrants had gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the death of “Sinter Klaas.” As his popularity grew, Sinter Klaas’ image varied from a “rascal” wearing a blue tri-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man with a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”

The Christmas celebration of gift-giving to children began to grow in popularity in the early 18th century. By 1820 stores were advertising Christmas shopping and by the 1840s newspapers were devoting separate sections for holiday advertisements featuring images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. Thousands of children flocked to a Philadelphia store in 1841 to see a life-size Santa model and it wasn’t long after that stores began advertising the opportunity to see a “live” Santa.  The Salvation Army picked up on the idea in 1890 and started using unemployed men dressed as Santa Claus to ring bells and collect donations to pay for the free meals they provided to the needy.

Clement Clark Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1822, a long poem that later became known as “’Twas The Night Before Christmas”, for his three daughters. The modern image of Santa Claus was born. In 1881, Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, was inspired by Moore’s poem to draw the first modern day likeness of Santa for Harper’s Weekly. Nast is credited with giving Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and a wife named, of course, Mrs. Claus.

Other countries have their own versions of a St. Nicholas inspired gift-giver. There is Christkind or Kris Kringle for the Swiss and German children, and a jolly elf named Jultomten in Scandinavia. English parents tell their children stories of Father Christmas. Pere Noel visits French children. In Russia, an elderly woman named Babouschka is believed to have given the three wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem to purposely keep them from finding the baby Jesus. To this day, on January 5th a remorseful Babouschka leaves presents at the bedsides of little children in hopes that one will turn out to be the Christ child. La Befana, a kindly witch, is believed to ride her broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver gifts to lucky children.

As for that endearing ninth reindeer, Rudolph, he was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department store in 1939, over a hundred years after the original eight flying reindeer.

To learn more about the history of Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, or Christmas celebrations in general, visit www.history.com, the official website of The History Channel and a wealth of information.

Morning Coffee: The Christmas Tree

ChristmasPlants and trees that remain green all year have always held special meaning to people. Some believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition we know today back in the 16th century. The story goes it was Martin Luther who first lit a Christmas tree with candles. It is said he was walking home one night and was taken aback by the beauty of the stars shining through the evergreens. He went home and wired candles to the boughs of their tree so his family might experience that same sense of awe.

The first recorded Christmas tree in an American home was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Germans had public Christmas trees as early as 1747, but until the 1840s such things were still considered a pagan symbol by most Americans. Everything began to change in 1846 when Queen Victoria and her husband, the German Prince Albert, were sketched for the Illustrated London News standing with their children around their decorated Christmas tree. The popular royals were the trend setters of their time, not only in Britain but with fashion-conscious East Coast American society.

The practice soon spread throughout America and by the end of the 19th century German tree ornaments were regularly arriving on our shores. It must be noted, like everything else, Americans like their Christmas trees big. While Germans commonly used trees of only about four feet in height, Americans have always liked their trees to reach from floor to ceiling.

In the early 20th century most Americans decorated their trees with home-made ornaments while German-Americans continued to use their traditional decorations of apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Brightly-dyed popcorn was strung with berries and nuts. With the advent of electricity Christmas trees appeared in town squares. An American tradition was born.

In our home we have three trees. For many years we decorated just the one. Then, four years ago when we moved to a larger home we started decorating two trees, a traditional real tree in the living room and a small artificial table-top tree in the master bedroom. Last year we discovered the previous owner left a large artificial tree in a box under the basement stairs. It was a pre-lit leafless tree flocked in white. We set that up in the glass 3-season sunroom and decorated it with red and silver ornaments; simple and elegant when viewed against the snow-covered backyard. Sometimes I wonder why we go to all the work of decorating one tree, let alone three, only to have to take it all down again a month later. Then I sit and gaze up at the angel perched on top, the lights twinkling like the stars Martin Luther admired so many years ago, like the star that led the three wise men to the stable where the baby Jesus lay. Without a tree to remind me would this season of our Lord’s birth pass with a little less joy, a little less notice? I can’t say, but I do know I will continue to decorate a Christmas every year until I can no longer hold myself up to do so, even if it’s only one small tree.

A joyous Christmas season to you and yours!

Morning Coffee: Gift List

Christmas is approaching faster than any of us care to admit so I thought I’d help with a few ideas. Does someone on your list love to read a good romance on a cold snowy night? Or perhaps that is your secret passion? Either way, here are three suggestions from my personal library.

“The 12 Brides of Christmas” is a collection of Christian romances that takes place in the heartland of 19th century America. Read how Alma, Lucy, Esther, Melanie, Polly, Deborah, Annabelle, Sophie, Maddie, Karen, Arabella and Kate fall in love while you experience the old-fashioned Christmas traditions of our great-grandparents.  http://www.amazon.com/Brides-Christmas-Collection-Heartwarming-Historical/dp/1630584894/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449022772&sr=1-1&keywords=the+12+brides+of+christmas+collection

Best selling historical romance authors Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson bring us the stories of three women who find love in a country divided. “A Basket Brigade Christmas” is based on the true story of the Basket Brigade Women of Decatur, Illinois during the Civil War. These Christian women boarded the trains that were transporting injured Union soldiers to northern hospitals from overflowing hospitals in the south. Every day they would board the train as it made a brief half hour stop in Decatur and minister to these men by distributing a much appreciated home cooked meal, something many of these men had not enjoyed in a very long time. http://www.amazon.com/Basket-Brigade-Christmas-Stories-Country/dp/1630584509/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449022853&sr=1-1&keywords=a+basket+brigade+christmas

Now, if your friends’ tastes (or, admit it, yours) run to more daring stories of love, try “Sizzle In The Snow”. Just released December 2nd, this collection of 8 contemporary erotic romances is sure to heat up any cold winter night. My personal favorite is “Operation Santa” written by my good friend Tina Susedik. It’s both sexy and laugh-out-loud funny. This entire collection is almost too hot to handle! http://www.amazon.com/Sizzle-Snow-Soul-Christmas-Collection-ebook/dp/B0186SCT74/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449022927&sr=1-1&keywords=sizzle+in+the+snow

So, snuggle in and heat up the long cold winter nights ahead with a good romance. Who knows, you might even pick up an idea or two to capture your loved one’s attention.