Friday, December 30, 2011

I Am Suffering . . .

 . . . from post-Christmas-mortem.

My decorations that once looked festive, cheery, and quixotic, now look drab and jejune. (Do you know why I know that word? Jejune? Because I have been lying around watching Frasier reruns instead of doing all the organizational things I was going to do over the holidays. And instead of skiing, because it is freaking raining in the mountains. And because I just feel like it.) (Jejune means dull and insipid, if you must know. And even if you mustn't.)

All that food on my counter from my lovely neighbors that once looked exciting and thrilling (the food, not the neighbors. Although most of my neighbors do look exciting and thrilling. Not to be weird, but you know, sometimes people just look exciting and thrill . . . oh, never mind) now just looks old and fattening (once again, the food, not the neighbors.)

Weird how that happens, isn't it? Leading up to an event, everything that surrounds it seems wondrous and bright. But once it's over? Eh.

So what to do?

Well, I'm going to put up a gold glitter tree after I take down my good-for-kindling-Christmas-tree. I will hang it with icicles and call it my January Tree.

I'm going to have my kids make snowflakes and hang them all over the mantle. Along with whatever I can find that looks all crystal-y at our local crafts store that is going out of business and now everything is 70% off. (Which gives me an odd feeling-mix of sadness and I-FOUND-A-DEAL joy).

I am going to eat a lot of salads containing winter fruit for lunch. And I'm making a giant garbage bag-sized load of homemade granola, with pecans, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut, brown sugar, and cinnamon in it for us to eat at breakfast.

Then I'm going to write each day. And read each day. And hug my people each day.

I don't know why this stuff makes me feel better. It just does. Possibly because my house needs the cheer and the smells of something festive in winter. And without Christmas, I've gotta make up some lovely January traditions instead. These are the start of mine.

Oh, I can't stand it! I have to take just one last nostalgic look (with a bow to Maegan for putting me back onto Big Bang Theory):

Awww. Now I feel all festive again!

Happy New Year, peeps!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Embrace the Suck

Sometimes life just doesn't go our way. On Christmas day I came down with a nasty cold and lemme tell you, I am not good with sick. I blow my nose like a moose in mating season.

As I sniffled through the Muppet's Christmas Carol my step dad, who was once in the military, whispered in my ear, "Sometimes you have to embrace the suck."

I had never heard that military slogan before and all night I kept thinking of it's meaning. My dear friends, some day's are not going to go our way. The battle toward our dream is a hard but rewarding fight. While there are beautiful moments that recharge our drive there are also going to be rough days.

Maybe we should start thinking like the men and woman in the armed forces.
They are strong and brave. These warriors know how to embrace the suck. And they are better for it. Let's keep going, keep moving. Let's fight for our dream.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays

All of us here at Challenging the Gnome wish you a safe and Merry Christmas.

May you have loads of eggnog, yummy food and dear people surrounding you.

We are grateful to have you as friends.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tour de Tree - Welcome to My Evergreen

This is my Christmas tree for 2011:
Kinda looks like an A.D.D. elf threw up on it.

I have several friends with impeccable taste whose trees look like they could be department store window displays. They're gorgeous. And organized. And Feng Shui'ed.
Mine is not. 
But, what I like about mine, despite its unorganized elf-vomit-ness, is that it is unique. And it represents my family.

Would you like a tour? 
I hope so. Because otherwise I just wasted a whole lot of space on my iPhone

Dear People: Voilá, Le Tour de Tree de Famille Miller! I'll try to keep it short.

Fasten your eyes upon that angel-topper. It's the only domestic thing I've ever done in my life. It took me four hours to make. It took my friends 1. I had a headache all the way down to my ankles by the end of it all. I carry it with me everywhere I go.

This little dude is from Germany. I bought him there myself when I was a mere 24 years old. It was the second time I'd been there. I was retrieving my brother from a 2-year stint in Austria, and we detoured to our former German stomping grounds near Kaiserslautern. I bought the little archer (who appears to be eating his bow) at a store called "Harry's" that catered to Americans.
That wasn't short. I promised to make this short. I'll do better.

Homemade by my kid. A billion years ago when she was in elementary school. I heart it.

Another homemade-by-my-kid there in the background. I have two of those glittery paper-plate doves. I like to tuck them into big empty spaces.
The chimney sweep is one of the first ornaments our family bought when we moved to Germany in 1975. I loved his tiny-ness. The stars are one of the first I bought when I married and settled in the Rockies. I loved their hangy-ness.

Cute little angel riding a deer delivering a tree. Another from 1975. It's very petite. 
The fan is from my sister, who felt sorry for my lack of Christmas decorations when I first married, and made me some cute ornaments. She's the artistic one. She'd have made the angel-topper in 15 minutes flat. With a 5 minute break in the middle.
This is still not short.

My little bro just sent me this plaid fisherman. It's a Steinbach, from Germany. All these little red-nosed guys are Steinbach. I hearty-heart-heart Steinbach.

I have a series of these little flat angels on the tree. They were the second set of ornaments my mom bought for our first European Christmas, lo those many years ago.
That gorgeous Waterford Crystal tree in the background was given to me by my best childhood friend shortly after I married. (Hey, Cappy!)

Hand-melted glass nativity. I think we bought it at the Christkindelsmarkt in Nuremberg. We always hang it near a light so it will glow. My 2nd daughter-child insists. 

One of the Three Kings. I have two of him, one of the other, and none of the last. Wha?

Love this guy. He's from East Germany. I think. Might have been Romania. I was a kid. What do I know? I love how the wood is stained rather than painted up.

Candy Cane Santa is one of the first ornaments I bought after having my 3rd child (I accidentally typed "34th child." Sometimes I think that's true.) Note the king in the background. He and another king were also bought at the Christkindelsmarkt. We only have two. Someday I'll tell you why my sister only bought two. Someday. Note the blob of glue on his hand where his gift should be. Breaks off every year. This year he's giving a blob of glue, because I'm tired of fixing it.

This is my oldest girl-child when she was just a few days old. Notice her wicked awesome eyebrows. She still has those. Also her freaking scalp-load of hair. Still has that too. My step-father ran out and had this made at K-Mart right after I gave birth to her. She's pretty cool. So is my step-father. 

Original art by the wife of my son's former percussion teacher. Her name is Lynde Mott, and she is brilliant. Her house is a work of art. Her porch is a work of art. Someday I'll hire her to paint some of my walls. When I'm rich. Next Friday. (I have goals.)

Original art by my kid. Its a matched set. And I think it is really cool. We got us some future famous pasta artists in our house. They already do my walls.

Germany juxtaposed with the Wild West.

See the other Pasta Tree in the upper left corner? Told you it was a matched set. There's also a little popsicle-stick Santa one of my kidlets made on the right. 
But the real focus here is the origami crane. My fabulously talented and lovely friend Robin (of Rurification) made it. She sends me a new one every year. They're all on my tree. It's totally cool.

Aw. This brings a tear to my eye. I bought this about 5 months after we moved to our village of Katzenbach. I was 10 years old. I remember taking my meager money, gathering up my courage and my older sister, and walking to the next village (Hutchenhausen) to a toy store. There I found some little pinecone angels and walnut Santas. I bought them. I think they cost 3 or 4 Deutschmarks all together. (So like, $1.50 or $2.00) *weep*

Robin of Rurification Alert! Yep. She made me a set of gorgeous little stuffed hearts when we were just about to move away from Indiana at the end of graduate school. I love them. Also note the flat angel, and the German mushroom, and the American Santa that looks like it is sinking into Quick-Fir-Tree-Sand. Yep. No pattern at all to my decorating. 

Are you sick of this yet? German dude on the left, Rocky Mountain dude on the right. Costco icicle in the middle. Beads from Idon'trememberwhere in the back.

Rrrrright! Wee li'tle Santa grippin' a tree and a wooden thingy. Bein' watched over by a Scottish Clothespin Reindeer made by a kid. Probably mine. They have them near Glasgow, don't you know. Clothespin Reindeer, not my kid. I made that up.

Second King in the series of two.

Hahahaha! Funny memory. At least to me. This one is from Florida. My hub and I were with our fabu friends, the Macfarlanes. We had left the Rockies for graduate school in Indiana. We hadn't seen the Macs in ages. So, we met in Florida for the new year, and partayed hartay. One day we found a Mall. I mean a MALL! WE'D NEVER SEEN A MALL BEFORE! And it had bookstores and Christmas stores! AND EVERYTHING! So we spent a million dollars on books SO WE COULD BRING THEM HOME AND, SAINTS BE PRAISED, READ! And then we bought ornaments. I bought a series of Terra Cotta St. Nicks.
(So. It's possible that we were high on friendship and giddy on being young, in love, and on our own, and we went overboard on the shopping-thing. I don't know why we thought it was such an amazing thing to find a mall in Florida.)

Are you still with me? Because I would totally understand if you weren't. I'd be hurt, but I'd understand. This is the last ornament. Well, the last one I took a picture of. Mostly because dinner was done, and I'm so a.d.d. that I put down the phone, then lost it because I couldn't' remember where I put it, and then I didn't feel like taking any more pictures. Aren't you lucky?

This is a German Christmas Witch.
I don't know why.
She just is.
And she's adorable. Love her and her little crow. She probably brings good luck.
See? It works! I'm lucky that you're still reading this thing!

Well. Thank you for being here. And I hope you, and yours, and your tree, will have a lovely, marvelous, happy holiday this year.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Never forget, you are gifted beyond measure

When I think of all my friends, I am amazed. Some are writers who are honest with their thoughts and make people laugh, others are great with nature and some can write a review for a romance novel that makes me get on Amazon pronto. And if you wondered if I'm chatting about you, chances are I am.

My friends, each and every one of you have been gifted beyond measure. You have an extraordinary talent and it's remarkable.

I do not know about you but there are moments that I wonder why I have been given a certain set of problems. I see where my road has lead me. I shared a room with my mom until the age of 12. We are tight. I have a father who I wish I got along with and yes, I'll be the first to admit, I am a recovering pill popping addict-10 years and 4 months sober.

The fact of the matter is- our struggles make us, well, us.

Everything that you have been through is not in vain. You have learned a lesson and in turn that lesson feeds your talent. Cherish your struggles because they make you stronger.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Batman and Writing. It All Works Out In The End. Pretty Much.

I've been working on my book for, like, ever now. And not to whine, but, *whine* I thought it would be easier than this. *end whine* I mean does anyone appreciate, when they pick up a little paperback to throw away a weekend on (er, but since I'm a writer I know that that sentence should actually be structured such that it doesn't end on a preposition. Like this: "when they pick up a little paperback upon which to throw away a weekend." This is why I will be published soon), what it took to write the thing?

Well, I'll tell you so you know, if you don't already: It took blood. Sweat. Tears. 87 metric tons of chocolate dipped oreos with little peppermint sprinkles, $5,000 in therapy, a new wardrobe (oh it's necessary, trust me), a new laptop because the first one slipped in the diet coke puddle on your desk falling almost to the floor where you instinctively reached to grab it but ended up batting it through the window onto the garden flagstones instead, a gym membership (which has nothing to do with the chocolate dipped oreos), physical therapy for writer's elbow, and a pair of new prescription glasses. Also a new wardrobe. Can't emphasize that one enough.

That's what it took.

Yet half the time what the writer started out to write was not what they ended up with. You know, you had this vision, right? And it was golden! It was going to be beautiful. So you wrote and wrote, and instead of coming off like a superhero, what you got was, well . . . something like this:

Yep. Something that was a bit dorkier and chubbier than you had hoped for. And several times it even tried to slink away and turn into something else when you weren't looking. But you sighed and turned away to do a little self-talk, a little "hey, I'm doing the best I can. And it's not too bad. I mean, it gets the job done, right?" And then you kept going.

I suppose it's all about the process anyway. What we learn along the way.

Which is a good thing. Because most of the time when I get things right, I don't even know why. I just know it ended up being okay. Kind of like . . . 

Yeah. There's hope for us all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Keep going, keep climbing

Some days just don't go as planned. I wanted to jet my lil toukus over to my writing group on Thursday. After spilling soda all over my white lacy dress, I get a phone call from someone dear to me. This year has been a struggle for him, he is losing his eye sight.

So , instead of doing what I want, I pop a U-turn, get cussed at from a HOTT driver in a grey truck and trek on over to my friend's house. He needs a shoulder to lean on, I am there.

My friends, we are in the fight for our dream. It's a long, hard battle but the fact of the matter is- we have people in our lives who need us. Sometimes we have to forgo our needs for theirs. And that's okay because being a pillar of strength to someone can refresh and inspire you for your own dream.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Beckstrand - Author of Amish Romance, "Kate's Song"

Dudes! Did you know there is an entire Amish Romance genre out there waiting to be read? I did not. But my friend Jennifer Beckstrand does. And she has written a wonderful Amish Romance series, the first of which will be published in Spring 2012. I've asked her about her journey to publication, and she was kind enough to respond. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: JENNIFER BECKSTRAND!

You know how about four kids into your life you suffer from chronic insomnia because you can’t stop wondering what you forgot to do that day—like hug your child or go to the bathroom?

That is basically how I started my writing career. One night, a few months after the birth of my fourth daughter, I lingered on my pillow unable to sleep and decided to make up a story. A romantic story, because, really, it’s the only kind worth reading. My story had a sinewy hero and a very nice looking heroine and I liked it quite a bit. I started looking forward to bedtime (technically this is not true—I have always looked forward to bedtime) so I could further explore my Western romance in the still of the night.

One day, I decided to put the story on paper and fourteen years later, I had a 130,000-word Western historical romance, Rachel’s Angel, which won best novel in the League of Utah Writers Contest (2008) and first place in the Inspirational category at the Utah Romance Writers Conference (2009). A beautiful woman and her brother appear on the CW ranch with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the marks of violence on their faces. Despite his misgivings the foreman takes them in and trips off a chain of events that will change their lives forever. I love it, and hopefully, someday it will be read by the masses.

One agent wasn’t interested in my book because she said it wasn’t “steamy” enough (okay, not steamy at all). Another agent judged my manuscript in a contest, and I could tell without her having to spell it out for me that she hated my story with a white-hot passion. Oh, well. The first thing all aspiring writers must make peace with is that not everyone is going to like their work. This is a very difficult and painful realization.

Finally, Mary Sue Seymour of The Seymour Agency showed some interest. After looking at my manuscript for several months, she emailed me and asked me to call her. Note: If an agent asks you to call her, this is usually a very, very good thing. She said she thought I was a good writer but that Western romances weren’t selling well. Was I interested in writing an inspirational? She wanted me to try my hand at writing an Amish romance—a huge category in the Christian fiction market right now.

Amish? I knew nothing about Amish except they rode around in buggies and wore little white hats. “That’s what research is for,” Mary Sue said.

When an agent requests that you write something, in most cases, you do not in a million years decline the offer. I decided to go with an entirely different story than my Western, and acquired several published Amish romances to get feel for the category. Beverly Lewis is a must for any Amish romance reader. She is a wonderful writer and has an amazing grasp of the culture. I also read some Beth Wiseman, Cindy Woodsmall, and Shelly Shepard Gray. I loved Cindy Woodsmall’s “Sisters of the Quilt” series. Very sad and very romantic.

I was understandably anxious writing about an unfamiliar culture but felt confident that since I love romance and a good story, I could come up with both in this unusual setting. I sent out a call for help and my relatives showered me with suggestions and plot ideas. My older sister, Allison, who is a Phd., was and is a great help to me. She points out my lapses in logic, which, unfortunately, happen frequently.

Ideas don’t come easily to me, but I have found that if I ponder and think and contemplate and stew, my muse will wake up and a great plot or character will speak out. But I have to spend the time. This is hard since I am task oriented to the extreme. Luckily, it is not too hard to ruminate while puffing on the treadmill or running a vacuum over my carpet or taking a shower. I am notorious for long, indulgent showers. They are my guilty pleasure. I do my best thinking in there.

After reading lots of fiction and even more non-fiction, ideas germinated, characters demanded my attention, and storylines popped into my head like dandelions. Some had to be plucked, others I gleaned. Along the way, I came to a deep appreciation and affection for the Amish people and their simple, humble way of life.

Any story worth its salt is going to have conflict at its heart. I can’t remember who said that a story doesn’t begin until something bad happens. This is a challenge when writing Amish fiction because the people are so nice. A divorce in the family peppers a story with instant conflict, but the Amish do not divorce. A school bully creates tension, but Amish children are taught to treat others with charity.

For Kate’s Song I evaluated what kinds of conflicts the Amish would struggle with. Since my daughters are singers, I thought of how heart-rending it would be if they had to give up music because their faith required it. The Amish do group singing, but baptized members reject solo singing and the playing of musical instruments. As my story begins, Kate, an Amish girl, has left her community to pursue a singing career. One summer she returns home to decide how God would have her use her voice. Should she leave her community for the glamour of the opera or be baptized and silence her unique talent forever?

Six weeks after my life-altering visit with Mary Sue, I sent her three synopses along with the first fifty pages of Kate’s Song. Soon thereafter, ON MY BIRTHDAY, Mary Sue called with an offer to represent me—and a charge to “hurry and finish that book.”

I am a hopelessly poky writer. I interrupt myself and go back and reread and edit and sit for minutes at a time trying to construct the perfect sentence. And then there is my personal commitment to my family. So, the kids would leave for school and the frantic writing would begin until the bus dropped them off down the street. I have it easier than some. My youngest is now fourteen. Writing with young ones at home would be virtually impossible for me. Thus the fourteen years it took to write my first book.

Nevertheless, five months later, I finished the book, whisked it off to my agent, and signed a three-book deal with Guideposts Books within a couple of weeks for my series, Forever After in Apple Lake. My Amish romance, Kate’s Song, comes out on May 1, 2012.

The other two books in the series are completed, and I am starting on a new Amish series that I hope to have plotted by the first of the year. Time to hop in the shower!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My twilight loving sister knocked out a Harry Potter fan

Before I forget, we are pleased to announce that Jennifer Beckstrand, (Amish romance author) will be guest posting for Janiel on Friday. I personally cannot wait!

This winter season has been all about moving. My parents moved into a charming cottage with a winding driveway over Thanksgiving. Of course a Holiday in my family cannot be met without drama. And the major scuffle was between my two sister-in-laws.

I mean the holidays are stressful enough but when you add moving into the mix something horrid happens between clashing personalities. Okay, so here's the dirt.

One of my sister-in-laws is a MAJOR Twilight fan and the other prefers Harry Potter. She even named her pet bird Dumbledore.

So, while I am helping my brother move the sofa, the Harry Potter lover begins dissing Twilight and how it's a book about finding a boyfriend and not a real novel-blah, blah. The Twilight lover goes postal. She begins flicking her nails in the air and cussing.

My brother drops his end of the sofa as I go careening to the wood floor. The fight is on. All I hear is a mash-up of words between the two, "Kristin Stewart, goblins, J.K.--shut the crap up."

My Harry-Potter-loving-sister lunges at Mrs. Twilight. This is the clash of two fandoms. One has a bloody nose, the other a ripped shirt.

Sadly, neither of them won because they ended of breaking my mom's beloved Santa candy dish. And a fight between Harry Potter and Twilight now means nothing because no one messes with my mom and her Santa decorations.

The good news- the dish was salvaved and so was Mrs. Twilight and H.P. Lover's sisterly bond. The two had to take a glass making class together to salvage the sucker and I got to be their referee. JOY to the world.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas, James Bond, and Death By Snowball.

December COM: Christmas Magic

This picture has nothing to do with James Bond or snowballs. It is, however, the inside of my brother's Christmas tree. So, you know, it's seasonal. And stuff.

We idled behind a rotting hay stack, peering through the fog and snow. Waiting. I had a
pile of snowballs on the snowmobile in front of me. My husband let the engine splutter
off so we wouldn't give our position away. But he kept one hand on the key, the other on
the accelerator so we could leap out the minute his little sister and her husband peeled
into view, and pile-drive them with snowballs. It was just after Christmas, and we were
in the middle of a wicked snowball fight in the field between my husband's parent's and grandparent's houses. It was one in the morning and we were winning.

Bruce had that psychotic glint in his eye; the one he gets when someone challenges
him to something on his own turf and makes the naive assertion that they might win.
Mwa haha! Bruce will wear them down into tiny little nubs of their former selves. It was,
after all, only by his sheer determination that the rattle-trap blue-light-special snowmobiles on which we had been schussing the snow were even running. Those babies weren't snowmobiles so much as 10 billion rust molecules holding hands. Whose solidarity was fueled by a middle-aged man reliving his glory days as a James Bondian ice-ball sharp-shooter and driver of sexy vehicles. (You can see why I became his little Bond-girl.)

We waited, then waited some more. Somewhere out there Bruce's sister and her
lawyerly husband--whose plotting skills are legendary (I used to pick my kids up from
playing with their cousins and find them painted red and white--the enemy football
team's colors. A team my evil lawyer brother-in-law heartily supports in the face of
everyone else in the family. But that's another post and possibly a law-suit)--were
skulking. Oh yes. They were skulking. That's what you do in the fog and snow in the
middle of the night.

And then raoooowwwwrrrrrrr! There they were. Oozing out of the mist like some sort
of two-headed nightmare wraith. On motorized skis. Wearing parkas. The little one on the back screaming at the big one on the front not to kill them. My husband cackled (he does that) and simultaneously turned the key, slammed the accelerator forward, and howled a battle cry. I nearly fell off as we leapt right across their wake, startling the living shortcake out of them as well (a very satisfying thing for me, as I never manage to startle so much as a cookie crumb out of anyone most of the time.) 

Bruce gave the order to fire, and I launched our entire supply of snowballs at them, hitting Angie smack on the back of the head. (You have no idea how shocking that was. Ordinarily I can't hit the broad side of pretty much anything. And Angie didn't then, and doesn't now, have anything resembling a broad side.)

We made a few more passes until our nemeses gave up. And I'm sure it had nothing to
do with the way my husband was standing in the snowmobile beating his chest.

Okay, okay. They got us pretty good too. But I still think we won. In the end though,
it didn't matter. It was Christmas holiday. We were at grandma's house with all the
cousins and in-laws. There was fresh pie on the counter (nestled in my father-in-law's
epic pie crust) and kids snuggled and sugar-plum'ed in their wee beds. Magical? Oh

I sure wish I knew what power it is that Christmas has to transform life into something
beautiful and peaceful and warm, no matter what is actually going on. We need to
bottle it and sell it so we can pull it out of our pocket and take a whiff whenever we start feeling stressed and bothered. I mean a little christmas-tree-cinnamon-mulled-cider-chestnuts-roasting-on-an-open-fire-wicked-awesome-snowball-fight washing over me always smiles me right up, no matter what. The Spirit of Christmas is a palpable thing.

How 'bout you? What Christmas memories do you have that you'd like to bottle and
keep forever?