A long slow wakening to another year

February and March are hard months for me. There’s reminders all around of the people I’ve lost, and the fact that those months in New Hampshire are usually cold, dark, and either dripping grey or spitting snow doesn’t help. We sprang ahead today, and the sun is shining, and I’m feeling a little more optimistic.

I’ve been absent from a lot of things lately – my father was diagnosed with early onset dementia in the fall, and there’s so much that needs to be done to take care of him. He’s passed from the denial stage to the “I feel the need to tell EVERYONE that I have this,” so that’s good, but it still means that I’m feeling stretched. We have a great support network, and I’m thankful to my siblings (both blood and heart) who are helping us move into a new normal.

I’m doing two cons so far this year: Ravencon in Williamsburg, VA, in April and Balticon in Baltimore, MD, in May. I won’t have anything super new (except for Paradise Found, which I will have copies with me), but I’m not letting another year slide by on me. I’m working on the outline/rough draft of Belladonna Dreams as we speak, and I’m planning to have both that rough draft and the edited draft of Carter’s Cove 3 done by the end of the year.

I’m also contemplating other things, but I don’t want to make more promises that I can’t keep, either to myself or my readers.

A new year

I’ve been very quiet here lately. The holidays are rough now – between the deaths of my mother (who adored Christmas) and my husband (who didn’t like commercial aspects of Christmas but loved the family aspects), I’m not really in the mood to celebrate anymore. It was a quiet Christmas and Thanksgiving, and that’s what I needed.

Now, though, it’s a new year. 2020. A new decade, even. A time to look forward, not back, and to figure out what the next 10 years of my life will look like.

Which is why there’s a new theme on the website. I’m not the person I was when I first set up this page, and while sometimes I miss her (especially the carefree nature of her life, back when the only thing that she had to worry about was getting to work on time), I’m enjoying this new Val as well. I’ll be 50 this decade. A milestone my husband didn’t get to. I’m moving from Mother to Crone in terms of my mindset, and that’s not something I’m dreading.

Odd to think that 10 years ago, I was still thinking of having children, of buying a house near my folks, of enjoying their retirement and the adventures they wanted to go on. Now, I’m thinking about the cleaning out of the detritus of my old life, redoing the interior of the duplex I rent, helping my dad through the rest of his life. And my writing is changing too.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to Carter’s Cove. Every time I’ve tried, it seems to veer off the wrong way. I will be rewriting and releasing the stories that are already written, but I don’t know if there will be any new ones. We’ll see. I am also finally working on the first Pendragon novel, and I’ve got some really good ideas for Resonant Frequencies.

This year, I’m doing 2 cons (RavenCon in April, and Balticon in May), and contemplating 2 weeks at Pennsic. I’m going to have books with me at both, but probably not a table. The goal this year is to write out Belladonna Dreams and Resonant Frequencies in rough draft. I’m not sure about NaNo, but we’ll see.

(writing) Pondering

I’ve taken the year off from writing cons. Not because I don’t like them (let’s be honest, I adore cons), but because I have other things that my vacation time is going towards, and because really, lately, I’m feeling like I’m not doing enough to justify the expense of going to cons.

And yes, I know, impostor syndrome is totally a thing. It’s not that. It’s that I look at what I’ve accomplished in the past, and how I’m feeling like I’m just treading water now.

I’ve been collecting Writer’s Digest every other month from the bookstore, but I haven’t been really reading it, until the May/June 2019 caught my eye. The 5-minute memoir, entitled “Time to Finish,” made me stop and think, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s actually hanging up in my cube at work, right next to my computer monitor, so I can keep it within my line of sight.

The jist of the story is that life is uncertain, and how many of us can truly know that we will be given time to finish what we want to do? And that got me thinking about Mom, and Brian, and Daithi, and PG, and Jesse, and everyone else I know who didn’t get that long, and certainly wasn’t given time to finish. The narrator at one point talks about time wasted “dilly-dallying” and how there’s no way to get that time back, and how you need to use the time you have now. And I thought about what I’ve not been doing, and started to think about WHY I haven’t been doing it.

I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I look at my writing and I love a lot of it, but I’m also well aware that I’m writing in worlds that are comfort worlds. I’ve been writing Molly for over 7 years now, and Shanna since college. Sapph has been through several iterations over the years. Perhaps that’s why I’m having such issues with the last Carter’s Cove story (I really don’t want to finish it, because it’s NOT what I wanted it to be). So perhaps it’s time for me to move on to projects that I haven’t been so steeped in. Maybe I’m feeling stale?

That could be it. I’ve been retreating to comfort for the past 3 years. I think it might be time to stretch my legs a little. I want to write Belladonna Dreams, but even Sapph is feeling stale. So I think I’ll put her aside, work on my poetry, and perhaps Blue, since there’s been a lot of Irish music poking at my brain. I’m removing her from the Appalachians and putting her gran in the White Mountains, because that feels right. And since I’m no longer playing in anyone else’s sandbox, I can create my own rules. I also do want to work on Abby, since her story is kind of intertwined with my own grieving process.

So yeah, deep thoughts over the past few days.

(writing/personal) Finding Time to Finish

PG Holyfield

Today is PG Holyfield’s birthday. It’s also a day that I’m at my day job, the day after taxes were due, and I’m reading my newest Writer’s Digest on my breaks. I adore Writer’s Digest. I read through them eagerly and there’s usually a lot of good information in them.

Today, though, one article hits me in the gut. There’s a section called 5-Minute Memoir, and this one is titled simply “Time to Finish.” And it talks about not having the time to finish writing, and how none of us know how much longer we have. How if you are going to do something, you need to do it. And I thought of PG. And my mother. And Brian. And everyone else that thought they had the time, and didn’t.

It’s a scary thought. I don’t like to think of the stuff I’ve left unfinished because “I’ll get to it someday.” What happens if today is my last someday? Or tomorrow? Can we live as if we weren’t sure we were going to see the next dawn? No, not really, because unfortunately, most of us have things like bills and other obligations. But maybe we can write like we don’t have any promise of tomorrow, because at least then, we know (who am I kidding? It’s all about me) that I’ve done my best.

I pull out a tarot card every morning, just to see how the morning will go. Today’s card was the Queen of Wands, reversed. That message is rather clear: take care of yourself, and stop frittering things away. Once I’d read the memoir, I remembered that card.

So yeah, the universe is definitely telling me something. I just hope I do have enough time to work on it.

Happy birthday, PG. I still miss you.

(advent) Tuesday, December 18

The cold persisted through the night and the next day, making it very difficult for Molly to find the enthusiasm to get out of bed. It was her day off, after all, and the bed was warm. Schrodinger had snuggled in next to her when Drew had gotten up, putting his head on the pillow and purring in his sleep. Molly lay in the semi-darkness of the bedroom, content to simply be.


In the end, though, her bladder demanded that she get up. Her slippers were icy when she slid her feet into them, despite the warmth of the room, and she was shivering by the time she got downstairs. Even the warm kitchen seemed cold.


Oh man, I can’t be sick, she thought, leaning against the counter as she waited for the tea water to boil. Molly could have heated the water with a thought, but that seemed like way too much work. I have too much to do to be sick now.


She took her tea into the living room, sitting on the couch with a blanket around her, her mug cupped in her hands. Outside the window, it was snowing fitfully, little spurts of flakes that came and went, but inside, the tea and the blanket began to seep through the chill. Molly snuggled back on to the couch and contemplated what they would do today.


Before he’d left for work, Drew had brought out the red and green Christmas tree stand from the basement, along with the three boxes of ornaments that they had collected. This afternoon, on his way home, he’d stop at the tree farm and get the tree they’d picked out a few weeks ago. He’d left early so that he could be here to decorate it with them.


Are you okay?


Schrodinger had come in and was looking at her oddly, his head cocked to one side, and for a moment, she couldn’t figure out why he looked weird, almost sideways. Then Molly realized that at some point, she’d slid down to lie on the couch, her mug on its side on the floor, dangling limply from her fingers.


“I must have fallen asleep again,” she murmured, trying to sit up. “What time is it?”


Schrodinger looked over at the clock on the mantle. Almost noon, he said, jumping up onto the couch next to her as she pulled herself into a sitting position. I woke up and realized I didn’t hear anything, so I came looking. Are you okay?


Molly put her hand to her forehead, and sighed in relief when it came back normal. “I’m okay, just sleepy, apparently,” she said. “Would you like some lunch, since we both slept through breakfast?”


After a hearty omelet and another cup of tea, Molly actually felt better, although she decided a quiet afternoon was what she needed. She and Schrodinger hung out on the couch and watched several Christmas movies until she heard Drew’s truck come into the yard.


And right behind him was Kiaya’s big SUV with the kids. Molly was glad she’d gotten the sleep she had.


“Who’s hungry?” she asked, as they all trooped into the kitchen.


“We can’t eat now, we need to help Drew set up the tree!” Gideon said excitedly. “And then we get to do the Advent calendar! We stopped at the bookstore to get it!”


Molly laughed. “Okay, you guys do that, and I’ll make tea!”


When she brought in the tray of tea and hot cocoa mugs and plates of shortbread cookies, they had set up the magnificent Douglas Fir in front of the window. Drew was holding up two separate strands of lights, one clear and one colored. “What should we do this year?” he asked.


“Colors!” the kids said, and Lily added, “You did white last year. And the year before.”


“Well, then we can’t repeat it again,” Drew said, winking at Molly and Kiaya. “The last thing we need to be is predictable.” He wound the strands of lights carefully around the tree.


“Before we decorate, let’s do the calendar!” Kaylee said, bouncing until Molly handed her a cup full of hot cocoa and homemade marshmallows. Then she sat carefully, and added, “The kitten needs to see the tree decorating too!”


Once everyone had a mug, Drew opened the tube that they’d brought the calendar in and hung it on the mantel. The little cat was still in the back parlor, looking at the birds, but when he realized that they were looking at him, he hopped off the chair he’d been on and sauntered into the next room. This was also a parlor, but they could see neat box flowerbeds covered in snow, and a driveway leading off into the distance. In this room, there was a small tree set up on a table, and a large fireplace that held a battalion of nutcrackers dominated one wall. Instead of flames in the fireplace, there was a pile of presents.


The kitten went into the fireplace and pulled out a box, and then opened it. The smoke puffed out and formed the words, “New traditions are as good as old ones if they are done with love.” Then it swirled out of the calendar and went, not to the children waiting, but to the top of the Christmas tree.


It coalesced into a tight ball, growing brighter and brighter, until Molly had to avert her eyes. Then it flashed, and when the after-glow cleared, they saw a beautiful star atop the tree.


“Well, I guess we’re not doing the angel,” she said, a little awed.


Drew smiled at her. “Time for a new tradition?”

(personal/writing) Heading back into my life

It’s been a weird couple of months. On the one hand, it’s full of awful anniversaries, and I think I would be happier if I could just skip February and March every year, and go directly into April. However, that’s not a superpower I have, so I guess I’m going to have to learn to live with it.

On the other hand, other than a few crises that were managed, February didn’t TOTALLY suck. I’ve continued my poetry every day on my Facebook page, and I’m still picking away at Molly. I’m also working on a secret project that I’ll be able to post more about soon, and looking forward to writing something other than Carter’s Cove for a bit.

Tomorrow I start my second successful round of Whole30, in preparation for the very busy spring, summer, and fall that I have planned. No cons, which is weird (I don’t remember the last time I didn’t go to ANY cons in a year), but I’ve got a bunch of SCA events coming up, including Pennsic!! And then in the fall, I’m headed over to England and Ireland and Scotland for 2 weeks.

I need to lose more weight and get back into shape. Otherwise I’ll never be able to do what I want to this year. I want to fence at Pennsic. I want to be able to walk all around London and Edinburgh and Cork. And I really, really, really want my knees to stop hurting.

So yeah, that’s the state of the Val right now.

(personal) Well, it’s been a while

I haven’t been doing much in the blogging way for a while, simply because I didn’t feel I had that much to say. I’m surviving. I’m writing in bits and pieces lately, mostly snippets of poetry that I’ve been posting to my Facebook page. I’ve never really considered myself a poet, but that’s where my writing is going lately.

I’m still working on the Advent story for 2018, and I’m going to finish it. Then there will be a break from Advent for a while. There are other stories that I think I might finally be ready to write.

I’m sewing a lot, though. I’m crocheting and hand-sewing and cross-stitching, and making garb (finally). My mother used to threaten to take scissors to my garb at the next event she saw me at in my old garb, so I’d have to make new garb. I think she’d be proud that I’m finally getting off my old crutch of pirate shirts and skirts, and venturing into new garb territory. There will be pictures later.

I’m also getting ready to start my second Whole30 round on Monday, so today is getting my meal plan together so I can cook tomorrow afternoon. The sad thing is that I’m really tired today, and I’ve got a Mardi Gras party tonight, and so I’m really just not wanting to do anything.

So yeah, that’s the state of the Val right now. I’m going to be working on some more things coming up in the spring, but I wanted to let people know I wasn’t quite dead.

(advent) Monday, December 17

Monday had dawned gloriously clear and very, very cold. So cold that it felt like she was inhaling shards of ice instead of air when Molly stepped out of the warm kitchen, and even Schrodinger bounded directly to the Jeep rather than exploring around. He still refused to wear the woolen boots that her mother had knit him, but Molly realized how very few steps it took him to get to the Jeep.

The cold persisted all day, and Molly refilled tea pots, not just cups, in between building the last few gingerbread houses she had. Thursday, the first day of winter break, was the day she planned to deliver them. Hopefully the deep freeze would break by then.

“I don’t mind cold,” she said to Lai, who had stopped in for lunch. “But this is ridiculous. I don’t want to keep the kids out in the cold in this weather.”

“Isn’t Old Man Winter going to help you?” Lai said, sipping from the mug in her hands.

“I think so. He’s been out doing something else for the past week, but he adores it,” Molly said.

“Maybe that’s why it’s cold? Because he’s been in the Cove?”

Molly pondered that. “No one’s seen him, though,” she said finally. “And it’s not like he’s not recognizable.”

“Not necessarily,” Lai said. “He’s the personification of Winter, isn’t he? He can probably pass completely unnoticed if he wanted to.”

Molly had to concede the point. “But why?” she said. “Why would he be sneaking around the Cove?”

Lai turned and looked at the Advent calendar. “Maybe he’s still looking to see who took that?”

<><>

Old Man Winter was, in fact, in the Cove, but not to find out about who had taken the Advent calendar. Jade and Jack had decided that trying to find the culprit was a waste of time, especially as the Snow Queen’s Ball was approaching. Left to his own devices, Old Man Winter had decided to see what else was going on.

He’d toyed with the idea of looking Pavel up, and taking the pirate out for a night of drinking, but when he’d stopped by his house, Brynna told him that Pavel had headed out on a short sail, and wouldn’t be back for a few days. She’d offered him a hot toddy, but he’d declined politely.

The children were still in school, and he decided against going and taking them on an adventure. While they would be thrilled, their parents would not be. And he didn’t feel like tea, or coffee. So he found himself wandering through the streets, invisible, just soaking up the feelings in the town. Ever since Molly had freed him from the Eidolon who had taken him over, he’d realized how much he liked Carter’s Cove. It was a town that you could be yourself in, no matter who yourself really was. They were accepting like that.

Which is why the older man standing in the middle of the street and glowering at a new building was enough to halt his progress. And as Old Man Winter looked closer at him, he realized something else.

The man stared angrily – no, not angrily, Old Man Winter corrected himself. Hungrily. As if the shop held something he wanted so much that he would take the building apart at the seams to get it.

He turned his attention from the man to the building. It was a large stone building, looking slightly like a barn and a business had had a child, and there was no sign on it yet. There was a spot for one, though. The building itself was shuttered up, but there was smoke coming from one of the chimneys. Forgetting the man, Old Man Winter walked forward, fully intending to go through the wall and snoop a bit. For him, it was normal.

Which is why when he hit the stone wall and bounced backwards onto his behind, he was more startled than hurt.

The front door opened while he was still sitting in the snowbank, and someone he hadn’t seen in a very long time came out. Kris put her hands on her ample hips and glared down at him.

“Sure, and what are you doing here?” she demanded, obviously able to see him, even though he hadn’t take off his invisibility. “I’ve no time for your foolishness, Old Man.”

He let the glamour drop. “Just passing through,” he said, getting up slowly. “I’d no idea you’d come to the Cove.” Old Man Winter held out his hand. “You staying?”

Kris looked at him suspiciously. “What is it to you?”

“I’m not the same as the last time you saw me, Kris,” Old Man Winter said, knowing full well where her hostility came from. “I promise you.”

“Promises from you are worth less than the ice on your beard,” she retorted. “Especially as you just tried to invade my new home.”

“That was a mistake,” he admitted. “I didn’t realize it was yours. I just wanted to see who had moved in.”

“You haven’t claimed this town,” she said, but he could hear curiosity as well as anger in her voice. “This is neutral territory.”

“Yes,” he said. “I just got used to be one of the few beings who could wander where I wanted here. It’s a bad habit.” He smiled. “Can I come in?”

She glowered a bit more, but then she relented. “Might as well,” she said, gesturing him through the door. “I don’t want to have this conversation in the street.”

<><>

“Molly, it’s so cold out!” Kaylee said, as the children piled into the kitchen. “We need to warm up!”

“I’ve got plenty of cocoa and tea for you!” Molly promised. “And hot sandwiches!” She’d made more cranberry walnut bread earlier in the day, and when she’d heard Jack and Aurora barking, she’d put ham and cheese between the slices of bread and toasted them in the oven. Now, she set out the sandwiches on a big plate and put it on the island, then she put out the tea and cocoa.

Once they were fed and warm, they clustered around the Advent calendar. The little cat was waiting for them in the music room, where he’d been the day before, listening to records on the old gramaphone. Now, he jumped down from the sofa and padded out into a small room with easy chairs around a large, low table. There was a tea service gleaming silver on the wood, with holly berries and ivy leaves on the tray. There were little cakes that had sugared berries and leaves sculpted out of marzipan or fondant, Molly wasn’t sure which. There was a window behind everything that looked out to a tree dripping with bird feeders.

“Wow, that looks like a fun place!” Zoey said wistfully. “I wish we could go in.”

The little cat jumped into a chair and then leaned out and nosed the top of the teapot off. The white smoke puffed up and formed the words “It’s not just Christmas for you.”

“What does that mean?” Kaylee asked, looking at her companions.

They all shrugged, confused. Then the smoke drifted out to them and wound around them, a silvery snake that became a thin thread, laying across their hands.

“What are we supposed to do with thread?” Lily said, puzzled, as she started to wind it back up from the spool she’d discovered in her hand. “Did the Advent calendar break?”

The little cat shook his head, as if he was astounded that they didn’t understand. He turned and hooked his tail through the teapot’s handle, lifted it up, and went to the window. He nosed up one of the window panes, and poured the contents of the pot into the snow. Birds flocked down to peck at popcorn kernels that had come from the teapot.

“Oh, I get it! We’re going to make popcorn strings for the birds!” Lily and Kaylee said at the same time. “Molly, do you have cranberries too?”

“Of course I do,” she said, pulling a large bowl of cranberries from the pantry. She handed it to Zoey, and then pulled a big bag of fluffy popcorn. “And if you guys want to go near the wood stove to string these, Peter is coming from the Humane Society to put them on the trees near some of the farms. So make as many as you want!”

(advent) Sunday, December 16

“Wow, look at all the people here!” Zoey paused in the doorway to the second floor of CrossWinds Books. “It’s packed!”

“Why are you surprised?” Lily said from behind her. “Santa’s coming today! Of course it’s busy!” She nudged her friend forward. “We need to get moving. The others are right behind us, and these trays are heavy.”

“Well, they won’t be when we carry them back down later,” Zoey said, moving into the crowded room. “Excuse me, folks!”

The two girls took their trays loaded with Molly’s Christmas shortbread and chocolate chip cookies over to the table on the far side of the room, almost immediately across from the large wooden chair that Nathan and Drew had pulled up earlier in the day. Molly had told them that the chair was specially set up for this every year, and had been since she could remember. There were pictures in Mrs. Barrett’s house of Molly and Nathan back when they were Lily and Kaylee’s age, sitting on Santa’s lap. Other towns claimed to have Santa visit them, but Lily knew that the real Santa came to Carter’s Cove. He was on very good terms with Aunt Margie.

They set the trays down with the others they had already brought up and then settled themselves behind the table. Gideon and Kaylee were soon with them, with Molly’s precious box of teas and her box of mismatched mugs. The large carafes of hot water, hot cider, and the one labeled “Mulled Wine,” watched over by DC, were already there.

“This is going to be cool,” Gideon said, looking out at the crowd.

“What is?” Kaylee asked him.

“Helping Molly like this,” he answered. “I like to help, and this means that she doesn’t have to do it all herself.”

“Yeah, I guess.”
He looked at her. “What’s wrong?”

“I just hope Santa doesn’t leave before we get to talk to him,” Kaylee said.

“We will,” Gideon reassured her. “Molly promised.”

And Santa was told you would be helping, Schrodinger said, coming over to them. He put his front paws on the table so he could see everything. Wow, this is amazing, even for Molly!

In addition to the trays of shortbread and chocolate chip cookies, there were slices of dark, fragrant fruitcake, the candied fruits in it glowing like rare jewels; sugar cookies frosted to look like snowflakes; rows of gingerbread soldiers; and cranberry orange tea bread slices. If anyone was going to go home unsatisfied, it wouldn’t be because there wasn’t enough food.

“And after Santa is gone, we can do the Advent calendar,” Zoey said, as the room continued to fill. There wasn’t just kids and parents either. Everyone in Carter’s Cove wanted to talk to Santa. “I wonder when he’ll arrive?”

As if he’d been waiting for those words, the air in the room changed, becoming almost electrified as whispers spread in ever-expanding ripples. “Santa’s here! Santa’s here!”

Indeed, he was. Every year he dressed a little differently, but always the blue eyes and long snowy white beard were the same. This year, his long coat was bright red, like a cardinal, and trimmed in fur so white and soft that it seemed made of snowflakes. A large, wide black leather belt wrapped around his midsection, and his boots gleamed in the light of the lamps. “Good afternoon, Carter’s Cove!” he boomed, as the crowd parted before him, opening up a path to the great wooden chair. Two elves, dressed in miniature versions of his outfit, followed him, and took up positions to either side.

The queue formed quickly, and for the next three hours, people waited to sit on Santa’s knee, even the adults. And then they thronged around the refreshment table. Lily and Zoey kept busy running up and down the stairs to get refills for the cookies, cake, and bread. Molly’s gift of kitchen witchery meant that she could keep the carafes full, for which Lily was grateful. Carrying the trays were hard enough!

On one of her trips, she paused to catch her breath and glanced over at the Advent calendar. The little cat was still in the dining room, but he was prowling around the table, looking anxiously out at the room every so often.

“Don’t worry,” Lily said. “We’re just busy right now. Once Santa is gone, we’ll be back down. We haven’t forgotten you.”

That perked him up. He jumped up onto one of the dining room chairs, curled up, and went to sleep.

I wonder how they managed to put him in there, she thought, as she carried her tray back up the stairs. Is he actually a real cat? Or is he just magic?

Did they tell him what they were doing? She hoped so. It would be cruel to think of a creature trapped in the spell, and sternly shook her head. Jade and Jack wouldn’t do that, silly. But still, I wonder what will happen to him at the end of Advent.

Finally, the line thinned out, and the happy talking died down. Molly sent the four children and three animals over to see Santa, who was talking to the elf on his right.

“You have been very busy!” Santa boomed, smiling at them. “Do you want to tell me what you would like for Christmas?”

Lily gestured to the others. “You guys go first,” she said. “I need a bit to think.”

As she waited her turn, her thoughts again turned back to the cat in the calendar. When Schrodinger had jumped down, she climbed up onto Santa’s lap.

“And have you been good this year, Lily?” he asked her, his deep voice full of jollity.

“Pretty good,” Lily said honestly. “I did fight with Kaylee a bit.” There was no use lying to Santa, after all.

“That’s good,” Santa agreed. “What would you like for Christmas?”

Lily leaned over and whispered into his ear. His face became still as he listened.

“That’s a very specific wish,” he said at last. “Are you sure that’s all you want?”

Lily nodded. “It’s the only thing that is important.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Santa said. “But it may be beyond even me.”

“Really?” Her eyes widened. “But you’re SANTA CLAUS.”

“Everyone has a limit, even me,” Santa told her. “But in this case, perhaps I can help.” He smiled at her. “Merry Christmas, Lily.”

“Thank you, Santa!” Lily jumped down from his lap and ran to help the others carry things down stairs. If Santa could grant this wish, she decided, she would be even better next year than she had been this year.

(advent) Saturday, December 15

The snow had finally ended around noon on Friday, and to Kaylee and Gideon’s delight, Old Man Winter himself had brought his massive sledge to bring them back to their car, then to the library to drop off the box (which turned out to be full of books wrapped in brown paper, mysterious packages of delight that the librarian, Mr. Staphert, took with effusive thanks), and then back to the bookstore. The calendar had been waiting for them, the kitten looking very concerned, his tail lashing back and forth. He’d been in a room that looked an awful lot like Molly’s pantry back home, if her pantry had been decorated, and the package he’d opened had given a puff of smoke that said “Good things happen when you have friends to help!” and then had dropped pieces of gingerbread into their hands. Gingerbread studded with candied fruits, like rich jewels, that melted in their mouths, and which they shared with everyone else.

Now, Schrodinger was curled up on his bed beside the wood stove with Aurora and Zoey, who was looking MUCH better but was grumpy at missing the sleepover.

“Man, I always seem to miss the fun stuff!” she complained. “Did Brynna cook for you?”

She and Molly put their heads together and made gingerbread pancakes and maple bacon, Schrodinger admitted. It was yummy. Then he laid a soft paw on her lap. But don’t worry – Brynna said she had so much fun that we need to do it again! So you can come the next time!

That cheered Zoey up, as did the eruption of sound as Lily, Kaylee, and Jack came through the front door. The next few minutes were spent in bringing Zoey up to speed, and waiting impatiently for Gideon to come in.

“You’re late!” Kaylee said to him, as he and Kiaya came through the door.

Gideon looked at his watch and frowned. “No, we’re not,” he said. “We said 10 am, and it’s 9:55. We’re early.”

“You came last,” Kaylee said. “That means you’re late.”

“No, it means we’re later than you,” Gideon corrected her, as Kiaya tried and failed to hide a smile. “Are you feeling better, Zoey?”

“Loads! And I hope whatever the calendar gives us to do today is outside. I’m sick of being inside!”

“Well, let’s go see,” Kiaya said, leading the way to the kitchen, where Molly was cutting out gingerbread walls for the houses she was constructing.

“That smells like breakfast from yesterday!” Lily said, inhaling deeply. “I love gingerbread.”

“Me too,” Molly said, putting her knife down. “I think one of the new teas I get will be gingerbread flavored.”

That caught all their attention. “How are you going to do that, Molly?” Kiaya asked.

“Yava and I are working on some new teas together,” Molly admitted. “I’m not ready to sell them yet, but by mid-January, they should be available.”

“Ooh, that’s so cool!” Lily said excitedly. “What other flavors are you doing?”

“The Christmas tea, of course,” Molly said. “And a decaf version that I’m testing now.” She indicated the steaming mug by her elbow. “And we’re working on an Earl Grey for Schrodinger.”

Really? That’s awesome! The CrossCat bounced. I love Earl Grey!

Molly smiled down at him. “I know.” Then she stretched, trying to get the kinks out of her back. “So if you can think of any other flavors you’d like to see, I’ll be happy to talk to Yava about it. But now, let’s see what your calendar has in store for you today.”

They all clustered around the calendar. “Good morning, kitten!” Zoey said. “What is up today?”

The little cat had been sitting in the pantry’s doorway, obviously ready to get things underway. As he trotted into the next room, his tail caught the ribbons from the package from the other day, giving him a long trail of red ribbon that had all of them giggling.

The next room was the grand dining room, and to Schrodinger, it looked very much like the table at Molly’s parents’ house, especially since it was set for the Christmas dinner. In the center of the table was a small tree, covered in what looked like beaded ornaments in all different colors. The plates were white with gold edging, and each setting had a red linen napkin, intricately folded to resemble trees. The feast wasn’t on the table yet, but Schrodinger could imagine what would be there: turkey and stuffing, Molly’s fluffy rolls, green beans and mushrooms and squash and so much more, they’d be eating leftovers for days. And that didn’t even start to count the desserts…

The kitten didn’t go straight to a chair, but ducked his head under the dark green tablecloth, obviously looking for something. To their surprise, he pulled out a picnic basket, edged with green and red ribbon. He nosed up one side, and the expected smoke rose. “Time to make sure others are happy too!” it said, and then came out of the calendar, formed an arrow, and went out towards the front door.

“Wait for us!” Gideon said, and they all ran out, shouting goodbyes over their shoulders.

The arrow led them down the freshly-plowed sidewalks towards Merchant Square, which was one of the hearts of Carter’s Cove. It was an area they knew well, and Schrodinger wondered what was up now. As they followed it along, they called out greetings to the shopkeepers they knew. The square was alive with music, not from radios, but from performers who were set up outside of the shops.

“I love Christmas in the Cove,” Lily said, as they entered The Chocolate Bean, the coffee shop run by Katarina and Mick. “It always sounds so nice.”

“It smells nice too,” Zoey said, inhaling deeply. Katarina, who was frosting a chocolate cake, smiled at them from the counter.

“Good morning!” she said in her musical Austrian accent. “Are you here to help us then?”

The smoke arrow turned into the words “Yes we are!” and then burst into sparkles and faded out.

“I guess so!” Gideon said. “What are we doing?”

Katarina lifted the counter-top to allow them to go into the back room, where her husband Mick was busy. “Go see him,” she said. “He’s got everything for you!”

Mick did have everything: two large thermoses full of hot cocoa and cider, and wrapped packages of butcher’s paper that were warm to the touch, and contained meat hand pies. “You have an important mission today,” he told them, his Scottish brogue a deep counterpoint to Katarina’s lighter voice. “All those musicians out there need to be fed for lunch. Think you can handle it?”

“We can!” Lily said. “But we should have borrowed Molly’s little wagon. Those will be heavy to carry.”

“That’s not a problem,” Mick said, and opened the back door. “Think you can handle this?”

“This” was a little sleigh, although the back was covered with a lid, rather than having seats. It was painted in blue and green with silver accents. Mick picked up the lid, and showed them what he’d built inside: a warming box, well insulated, which would keep the hand pies warm. The two thermoses went on the back of the sleigh.

“And we can pull it!” Gideon said.

Not you, me! Aurora bounced into the area between the traces, and she was right. It fit her perfectly, and there was even a harness that Mick put on her.

“I made this for the goats,” he admitted. “Well, are you guys set?”

Let’s go! Schrodinger said, and they headed out into the square.