December 2

Molly stood in the middle of her kitchen, surveying the various boxes spread out over the normally immaculate island. The day before the annual Craft Fair at Daughter of Stars Middle School was always busy, and it never seemed to get easier, she mused.

Maybe if you didn’t try to top yourself every year, it would get easier, Schrodinger suggested, from where he sat in the kitchen doorway.

“Probably, but what’s the fun in that?” Molly said, grinning in spite of herself. “Besides, I have a reputation to maintain.”

Let’s be honest. You could show up with just boxes of cookies and sell the boxes unopened and unseen, and everyone would buy them, the CrossCat said dryly. Your reputation speaks for itself.

Molly considered that. “You know, that’s not a bad idea, cat,” she said finally. “I’ve been wondering what to make my centerpiece, and now I think I know.”

Schrodinger tilted his head. What?

Instead of answering, she went into the pantry. “The kids will be here soon,” she called back. “Why don’t you go wait for them?”

That was as clear a dismissal as she’d ever given Schrodinger, and he took himself back to his cat bed beside the wood stove, giving her a bit a breathing room. Once she’d heard him settle down and sigh (he always sighed when getting into the big bed alone), Molly paused and pulled out her cell phone.

*Any news?* she texted, and waited for the reply.

It took a few minutes, during which she located the sleigh she’d ostensibly come into the pantry to find. When her phone beeped, she glanced over.

*None yet. We’re still looking. Keep an eye on them.*

As if we ever stopped, Molly thought to herself, and brought the sleigh out to the island.

<><>

“I wonder what we’ll do today!” Gideon said excitedly, as the four friends made their way to the bookstore.

“I bet we’re helping Molly again,” Kaylee said. “After all, the craft fair is tomorrow! And she’s been baking a storm.”

“I just hope we don’t have to package all those cookies we decorated,” Lily said, glancing at Zoey, who had been quiet most of the way. “That’s the worst.” When Zoey didn’t answer, Lily slowed and said “Hang on, Zoey, I’ve got to retie my shoe. Kaylee, Gideon, we’ll meet you there.”

Once the two younger kids had run off, Lily looked at her best friend. “More bad news?” she said gently.

Zoey sighed. “No, just not looking forward to the fifteenth. Mom was talking about it this morning, and how she hopes the magic of the Cove works for Chuck, and I’m just like, I don’t want to think about it.” She shook her head and gave Lily a crooked grin. “That’s all. Come on, let’s go catch up and see what fun we’ll have today! I’d rather think about that!”

When they got to the store, they found the others waiting impatiently for them, minus Jack and Aurora, who had stayed home today. Molly brought out the chest, and they all dove in, looking for the 2.

“I see it!” Kaylee’s finger brushed against an elegant curlicue where the number “2” floated in silver ink. There was a click, and another key fell out. She inserted it into the lock, which clicked promptly and opened. “What the heck?”

Inside the chest were scissors, tape, sheets of wrapping paper, and ribbon, along with brown paper tags. She looked at her companions. “Are we wrapping things today?”

Molly grinned. “I see the Advent calendar reads minds. We are! Schrodinger gave me a great idea for the centerpiece for tomorrow.” She brought out the boxes of cookies that she’d packaged up last night, along with some plain white boxes, the kind you’d get socks or clothing in, and explained.

“Do you remember when Aunt Margie and Lai did the Blind Date with a Book a few weeks ago?” she said, and they nodded. “I thought it would be fun to have that be for cookies! So instead of putting all of them out, we’re going to make some blind date boxes! On the card, we can put the ingredients, so that no one gets sick by accident, and then they’ll all go into the sleigh for the middle of the table. What do you think?”

“I think that’s great!” Zoey said, and the others nodded. “Let’s start!”

December 1

Are you kidding? Schrodinger Barrett raised his head, looking at his friend Jack with horrified eyes. The third member of their group, Aurora the husky, was out at daycare, as she was still young enough to want spend her days romping and playing, rather than settling next to the woodstove in the tea room at Crosswind Books with the older hound and the Crosscat.

Aurora said this cousin has always been a bit of a jerk, but yeah. She and Lily were talking about it last night after they thought Kaylee and I were asleep, Jack said, resting his greying muzzle on his paws. Apparently he spent the rest of the day making snide comments about Santa, and now she’s worried that the magic is broken somehow.

Well, I can kind of understand, Schrodinger said. If you haven’t grown up with the magic, maybe it does fade away.

Look at Caliban, or Jack Frost, before Molly got to him, Jack said. You can grow up with it and have it sour. The hound looked at the door to the kitchen, where Molly McIntyre was busy baking. They’d both been banished, as Molly was trying to catch up on her cookies for the town craft fair that was happening in two days. Both she and Drew had been sick over Thanksgiving, and it had set her back farther than she’d wished.

True, Schrodinger said. Then, to change the subject, he said, What do you think our calendar will be this year?

I have no idea, Jack admitted. There have been so many different ones!

Which was true. Schrodinger was undecided himself on which one he liked best, although having been a part of the one that Drew had given Molly the first year they were together was high on his list. I’ve been trying to think, he said. We’ve had a castle, and a painting, and —

He was interrupted by the front door to Crosswinds Books, which blew open with a crash, sending snowflakes and cold, sweet air roaring in. “Hello the bookstore!” shouted the giant of a man who stood there, black beard flecked with snow, his pirate hat (festively adorned with holly and a silver feather) tilted rakishly on his head, and his boots stained with salt. “Can a poor sailor get a cup of something hot to warm cold bones?”

Pavel! Both Schrodinger and Jack sprang up shouting the pirate captain’s name joyously. The noise, coupled with the wind, brought Molly out from her kitchen.

“You certainly know how to make an entrance,” she said wryly, as she looked pointedly at the open door behind him. “It’s too bad there was only us here to see it. School isn’t out for another hour.”

“Well, damn.” Pavel looked properly abashed as he closed the front door. “I must have gotten my times mixed up.”

“Must have,” Molly said, and then relented and laughed, enfolding him in a hug. “Come on back, you old rascal, and I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be off today?” Pavel asked, as the four of them went back into the kitchen and Molly pulled out mugs of hot water to set on the island. Schrodinger loved to watch her in her kitchen as she moved gracefully, choosing the right tea for everyone and then setting out a plate of tea bread slices. Jack declined tea, and chose to settle in the pet bed Molly kept in the corner in case anyone needed a quiet spot away from the hustle and bustle. Schrodinger looked over to see if he needed help, but Jack shook his head, so the Crosscat jumped up onto his favorite stool and let the steam from the mug of Earl Grey wreath around him.

“Normally, yes, but since the craft fair is Saturday, I’m working today instead, and Sarah will be in to take care of the tea room Saturday,” Molly said. “How were the southern seas?”

Pavel grimaced. “Wet. Rainy. Grumpy. I was half-tempted to come kidnap you to bring some joy to them. I think the crew was happier than I was to pull back in here.”

You would have taken me too, right? Schrodinger demanded.

“Of course! And Drew, if I could have managed it! You’re a package deal, aren’t you?” Pavel said, and mollified, Schrodinger settled back down.

He knew that somewhere inside the pirate captain’s voluminous coat was a present for them, waiting for the rest of their group to get there. He also knew that no amount of coaxing or teasing would get Pavel to give he and Jack any clues. So he sat, sipped his tea, and listened to Molly and Pavel talk about the pirate’s latest trip, and what he’d seen.

It didn’t seem long before the front door opened again and more voices filled the air. Lily, her little sister Kaylee, Zoey, and Kaylee’s best friend Gideon Fable, along with Aurora, piled into the kitchen, their faces bright with cold and excitement.

“We saw the sleigh outside, and knew you’d be here!” Kaylee shouted happily, throwing herself at Pavel. “Did you miss us?”

“Always!” he replied, laughing and sweeping all four of the children into his arms. “When are you shipping out with me?”

“As soon as Mom and Dad let me!” she said, and Molly chuckled at that.

“You have to finish school first, Kaylee-bug,” Molly said, and Kaylee stuck her tongue out at her.

Zoey looked hopefully up at Pavel. “Did you bring it?” she asked quietly, and Schrodinger caught the slight edge of fear in her voice. “Did you bring us an Advent calendar?”

Pavel settled down and looked shrewdly at her. “What day is it, Miss Allard?”

Schrodinger was surprised at the change in his voice. Looking around, he wasn’t the only one, but then he looked closer at Pavel, and saw the twinkle deep in the pirate’s eyes.

“December first,” Zoey said, after swallowing deeply.

“And, in your years here in the Cove, have I ever shown up on December first without an Advent calendar?” Pavel continued, setting his hands on his hips.

“No-oo,” she admitted, dropping her head.

“Indeed. And this year will continue that unbroken condition, no matter what you may have heard otherwise.” Pavel stood up and reached into a deep inner pocket. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Zoey. The magic will always work here.” When she looked up at him, he smiled gently at her. “I promise you.”

And he pulled a wrapped box about the size of an old-styled cash box from his coat, handing it to her. The others clustered around, looking at the words written on top of the brown paper.

“Merry Christmas to you all!” it read. “We hope you enjoy this! Jade and Jack” Two silver-tipped gold leaves were stamped below the names.

“So, open it!” Lily urged, and Zoey ripped the first shred of paper off. With everyone helping, the new Advent calendar was soon revealed.

“It’s a chest!” Gideon said, his eyes wide.

It was, a beautifully carved wooden chest with an intricate lock holding the lid shut. Zoey set it down on the floor and they all pored over it, looking for the first number that they were sure was hidden within it.

Oh, I see it! Down here! Aurora’s sharp eyes had found the little number, and she carefully nosed the spot. The carved number glowed, and with a sharp click, a small silver key fell to the ground.

Zoey picked up the key, and put it in the lock. It slid in and she turned it. Another click, and the lock opened. She pushed up the lid carefully.

Within the chest were new aprons, covered in snowflakes and autumn leaves, for each of them, and a small bag for each as well, with their names on them. Inside were all sorts of decorations for cookies.

“We’re helping Molly today!” Kaylee said, pulling her apron over her head. “Which means we get cookies for dinner!”

Once they were all attired, Zoey shut the lid of the chest. To their amazement, the lock clicked securely back in place, and a small number they hadn’t noticed on the dial slid to “2.”

“Are you ready to decorate?” Molly said, grinning at them. “I’ve got a lot of cookies to get ready for Saturday!”

November 30 – Advent Day 0

“But what if we really are too old?” Zoey Allard blurted suddenly, stopping and looking at her best friend.

“Too old for what?” Lily Barrett asked, also stopping. Zoey had been acting weird for the past few days, ever since she’d come back from her grandparents’ house from Thanksgiving. Now, Lily waited for her to say more.

It was snowing ever so slightly, the tiny flakes dancing around them in the still air, reminding Lily watching her aunt Molly dusting powdered sugar over one of her custom gingerbread houses. To be honest, half of her hometown of Carter’s Cove looked like a gingerbread house, especially during the Christmas season. Some people thought it was corny, old-fashioned, and or just boring.

Lily couldn’t imagine Christmas anywhere else.

“Too old for Christmas magic,” Zoey said, looking down and scuffing the toe of her winter boot through the fallen snow.

Lily stared at her, puzzled. “Explain, please,” she said. 

Zoey took a deep breath, obviously uncomfortable, and Lily was suddenly very glad it was just the two of them. Molly had sent them off to the Tin Shop to pick up some cookie box prototypes, but that could wait. This was way more important.

“I know it sounds weird,” Zoey said finally, still not looking at her best friend. “I mean, look at where we live.” She gestured vaguely at the town around them. “But we’re 16 now, Lil.”

“And?” Lily was rather honestly confused. “Molly and Drew are way older than us, and they believe.”

“Do they still get presents from Santa, though? Do they believe in him?” Zoey asked.

“Of course. Everyone in the Cove gets presents from Santa. Even Grandma and Grandpa.” Lily frowned. “I mean, come on, Zoey. You’ve MET Santa. He gave you a house. What does your age have to do with anything?” She looked closely at her friend. “What happened over Thanksgiving?”

“My cousin was a jerk. He said we were too old to believe in Santa, and that we need to grow up, and when I started to argue, my aunt got involved and told me I was too old for nonsense, and well, what if they broke the magic?” This all came out in one breath, and when Zoey finally looked at Lily, there were tears in her eyes.

“What??? Where were your parents? Never mind. They can’t break the magic.” Lily pulled Zoey into her arms, hugging her tightly. 

“They were with Grandma and didn’t find out until later, and then they yelled at my aunt,” Zoey mumbled. “But I’m so scared now.”

“Because they made you doubt?”

Zoey nodded, sniffing a bit.

Lily hugged her tighter. “Look, I can assure you, they didn’t break the magic. Do you remember when you moved here? I was totally sure that Santa wasn’t real after you told me he didn’t exist. And did that stop him from coming and giving gifts?”

“No,” Zoey mumbled.

“Then trust me. This is Carter’s Cove. Christmas is real here.” Lily grinned. “I just wish I could get your cousin here and show him the truth.”

Zoey heaved a sigh. “They’re coming the week before Christmas, and staying until New Year’s,” she said glumly. “So you’ll get your chance.”

“Oh good,” Lily said. She looked at her friend’s face. “You okay to continue?”

“Yeah, let’s go get boxes.” Zoey scrubbed a gloved hand across her face and then lifted her chin. “Do you think we’ll get an Advent calendar this year?”

“I hope so,” Lily said, as they started walking down towards Merchant’s Square. “Wouldn’t that be cool for your cousin to see?”

“I guess.” Zoey didn’t sound enthusiastic, but then she said, “Well, actually, I hope so. Maybe it would help him not be such a jerk.”

“How old is he?”

“Seventeen, and he’s been terrible since he got sick. So freaking mean to everyone.”

“What did he get?” Lily asked. “I mean, getting sick sucks, so I get it.”

“I’m not really sure, since they don’t talk much about it, but he’s had stomach problems since he was a kid, and he’s always been skinny, but now he’s gained a ton of weight, and he’s just nasty about everything.” Zoey shook her head. “Let’s talk about something else, because I don’t want to depress both of us. We’ll just have to deal with him when he gets here.”

<><>

When the two girls turned the corner and entered the Merchant’s Square, a shadow that had been following them at a discreet distance detached itself from a doorway and paused before turning away. That had been a very interesting conversation, and he wanted to make sure that certain people were aware of it.

Finally back in the saddle!

Medallion #1 for Karrah’s Coat

So the secret project that had consumed all of my free time is finally given – my amazing friend Karrah was elevated to the Order of the Pelican in the SCA on Labor Day weekend, and I’d volunteered to embroider the two medallions on the front of her Pelican coat. I decided to do them based on her three kitties. The one above is her boy kitty, and this picture is her two little girls.

Medallion #2 for Karrah’s Coat

They’re about a foot tall each, and it took me a lot longer than I thought it would, but seeing her face when she was presented with the coat was completely worth it. But that’s why I haven’t been around.

So today, I wrote! I sat down at Gibson’s and used The Busy Writer’s One Hour Plot by Marg McAlister to actually figure out the plot for Belladonna Dreams. It had been giving me such headaches, because I couldn’t figure out what the overall story plot WAS. WHAT was I trying to do? I had such a cool location (an abandoned mental asylum) and a really neat world idea (ghosts are real and the main character can move between the ghost plane and our plane), but no PLOT.

I now have a plot. I have a full book idea, and I’ve got enough to start writing the rough draft. I’m not trying to write every day, because I’ve got other things I’m doing as well, so Sundays are now my writing days. I’ll keep you all updated.

Oh, and btw? I’m working on several ideas. One of them involves a certain feline, a kitchen witch, and an upcoming season.

I’m not dead!

I’m sorry, folks. I’ve had a hard deadline about a project that I can’t talk about yet, but I promise that when I can, I’ll let you know. Suffice to say that my house is a mess, I haven’t written in over 2 weeks, and my WoW characters are certain I’ve abandoned them, but my #SuperSecretProject is in a spot where I don’t have to work on it until tomorrow. And it will be done on time. Hooray!

Other than that, I have been listening to some interesting podcasts on Audible (Marigold and Parkdale Haunt), and I’m working my way through Harrow the Ninth now. I’m working today on some of the background for Sapph, and I think my goal for #NaNoWriMo this year might be Belladonna Dreams. I’ve also had some realizations about writing in general that I’ll be digesting over the next few months.

Half-way there.

Beaver dam at Moss Glen Falls, Vermont

The year is half-over today (okay, technically tomorrow, but bear with me). How is that possible? It totally feels like time is just – I don’t know. Perhaps because I have some very important doctor appointments starting tomorrow, and I’m simultaneously looking forward to them and dreading them.

Tomorrow, I meet with my new doctor at the Catholic Medical Center Weight Management Program. Wednesday, I meet with my new nutritionist and my new exercise therapist. I’m sure it’s going to be hard. For all that I like planning things out in my writing, I hate logging my food, which I’m sure will be a part of it. I hate being told what I can and cannot eat. I hate having to monitor myself. But I have to do something, because my weight is too much for my frame, and my eating habits are, to be honest, shit. Ever since Brian died, I’ve pretty much stopped cooking for myself and am living on convenience foods, which sucks.

I have to relearn things. I’ve let my therapy slip too (I know, I know), and it’s not going to be easy. But I’m trying to be honest with myself and you folks, so we’ll see how it goes.

Writing-wise: I’m working on my #morningpages habit again. August is going to be the month of getting to bed on time and getting up to write my pages before work. I’m also starting the plot vomit for Dreams. This week, I need to figure out the overarching theme/question of the book, now that I’ve realized that the antagonist I thought was the focus is not. Which, I mean, I guess yay for figuring it out before the book is written?

Have a good week, folks. Take care of yourself.

Still plugging along

Look what came in! I’m very excited, and can’t wait to start reading it. My brain has been slightly mush all week (yay, heat wave!), but I’m still letting things stew, and I have some very interesting ideas for both Dreams and Falls. There are maps involved. Maps of the New England area, and of an asylum. I can’t really draw much, but I love straight lines, and maps are fun.

I’m also getting my home work station set up. My work studio does not have AC, and between the heat, the fact that it’s summer camp, so there are a LOT of people around, and my tea pot is at my house with all my tea, I needed to set things up. My monitor at home was starting to die (like, it was flickering in and out, and considering it’s a flat screen that I first got around when I got this laptop, it’s had a good life), so I went to Target and got a new setup.

My workstation at the house!

Yeah, because the laptop is older, and the video card is older, it will only run one other screen. But I have a brand-new laptop from work, so that shouldn’t be a problem. And if it is, I’ll deal with that when I need to.

Not a lot to update this week, but I wanted to make sure I was keeping up with my schedule. Also, I’m hoping to get writing morning pages this week again. It’s time.

Now, I’m going to go vacuum my living room, swap the laundry, and then start reading.

Alive, not dead

Yeah, sorry about last week. For those who follow me on Facebook, I spent last weekend and half of last week passing a kidney stone. Needless to say, there was no writing done. There was very little work done.

There was a LOT of sleeping done.

This past weekend, for the first time in 3 years (THREE YEARS) I went up to Maine for an SCA event, the Great Northeastern War. I didn’t camp (my knees and camp cots don’t work well at the moment), but I did go up for the day on Saturday, and even though I didn’t get very far into the event, I got to see people. I got to hang out in the Stonemarche camp and sew and listen to my friends talk and wear my garb and eat good food and smell campfires and just…yeah. I miss SCA. I miss being mobile enough to move around during the event, and I am DETERMINED that next year, I’m not only going to be able to move around, I might even fence. Because reasons, dammit.

There’s another reason I’m proud I went to the event. Since Covid, I’ve been having anxiety/panic attacks at being in large groups. Even outside. Even though I know my friends are vaccinated and boosted, and they are great at asking if I’m okay being hugged. It’s my brain and I’m working through it, and darnitall, I made it yesterday.

Today, I got to watch my friend Robert dance to Kate Bush on the front lawn of the State House in a red dress as a part of the Wuthering, which I had not heard of before, but was amazing. I’m hoping to join them next year. If you have a chance to do it, or even just watch it, I highly recommend it.

My writing is in kind of a dormant period. I’m reading The Ghosts of Borley Rectory as part of my Belladonna Dreams research, and I’ll be picking up Ghostology later this week as well. I’m still working on the timeline in the Horseman universe, but I definitely have some scene ideas popping into my head for the first Shanna book.

I’m starting to get creative again. Which is cool.

No independence today

I’m feeling evil right now, because as a uterus owner in America, this is NOT my Independence Day (fuck you, Supreme Court, and the right wing). So instead of “celebrating,” I’m writing ghost stories and enjoying iced tea at a lovely coffee/tea shop in my hometown (shoutout to Brothers’ Cortado!). I went up to Pittsburgh, NH, on Saturday – the only point in NH with an official crossing to Canada – and did some work on Sapph. I’ve got to go and pick up my copy of Ghostology from Gibson’s Bookstore this week, and I’m currently reading The Ghosts of Borley because ghosts are eating my brain this week. I’ve just had a breakthrough in something that’s been bothering me for a long time (let’s be honest, since I started fooling with this idea some ten years ago) – the ecology of the Ghostlands. And I’m kicking myself because in hindsight, it’s so obvious, and yet…it’s not. But it works soooo well. And yeah, that’s all I’m giving you.

I’m also starting July off with some changes to how I look at things. I’ve been very open with my struggles with depression over the years, and I’m pretty convinced that depression was part of what contributed to my husband’s early death. However, unlike him, I’m actively working with my doctor and my therapist to bring my symptoms under control. The fact that my knees are killing me (much like his sciatica was bothering him in the last year or so of his life) and that I’m gaining weight (which is adding to things) is making me worry that I too won’t make it to 50. Which I do not accept. I have appointments in August with a PT and a nutritionist and a specialist in weight loss, and while I won’t be getting surgery, there are some other options I’m exploring. But a lot of it is taking responsibility for my own life, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

In other news, my goals this week are to do morning pages every day (which will force me to get up before I have to run out the door, and actually have a cup of tea and wake up before work), finish up my coif, and make my bed every day. Small goals. I think I can do it.

What are your goals this week?

Coming out of hibernation

It kind of feels like that right now. I’m not going to get into the recent Roe v. Wade decision (if you follow me on Facebook, you saw the incandescent rage that is still coursing through me), but I’m going to talk about the future. About making plans. About writing.

About change.

I went to ConCarolinas the first weekend of June, and not only got to meet some amazing people, but I actually got the chance to attend some panels. I hung around with writers I hadn’t seen in a few years. I bought some new books from authors I just met, and I realized once again how much I enjoy writing. I also realized how I completely bought into the “well, if you don’t write every day and publish often and have a ton of followers on all social media, then you aren’t an author so shut up” bad ideas that I thought I’d moved beyond. It was a bit annoying to realize that the reason I hadn’t been writing was because subconsciously, I was telling myself that since I wasn’t writing every day, it didn’t matter, and well, yeah.

Bullshit.

My day job is writing and research heavy. In addition, my Crohn’s is acting up a bit, because yay stress-aggravated illness! And I’m worried about my dad. And others I know.

I’m human. I’m going to designate one weekend day a week (probably Sunday, but maybe Saturday) to be my writing/blogging day. My current goals are to have the StarChild Trilogy and the Belladonna Dreams duology (yeah, I know, I know) outlined out by the end of the year. The end goal is to be able to go part-time at my day job within 6 years, so I can write part-time. That’s what I’m working towards.

Chase your dreams, folks, but be smart about it. I can’t afford to lose my healthcare by losing my job. But I will write.