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Advent 2021 – December 2

December 2 – Jack Frost

Molly blinked, and she was back in the town square. Jade’s snowflake glimmered at the top of the tree, just like it had in the…memory? Molly shook her head. Maybe I was just caught up in the story.

You and me both, Schrodinger said, pressing against her leg as if he needed help standing. Did you see the feast too?

Yes. Molly looked around at the crowd, but if anyone else had shared the experience, she couldn’t tell. The faces turned to the dias were shining with happiness, clearly enjoying the scene. Maybe because we’re closer to Jade?

Maybe. He shrugged. Here comes Jack.

Indeed, as Jade stepped back, Jack Frost stepped forward to take her place. “While I did not come to the colony for that first Christmas, I did have the pleasure of several Christmases with Captain Carter, and for that, I am glad. The founder of the town was a great man, and his spirit lives on in all of you.” He held his hand up, and a red maple leaf shimmered into view, silver frost highlighting the delicate tracing of veins throughout it. “The year I remember best, the snows were late, so the harvests had continued long after they should have stopped. It was a good year for the Cove, but not for some of their neighbors…”

The crowd swam in front of Molly’s eyes again. When the mist cleared, she and Schrodinger (she could feel his warmth pressing into her leg) were still in the town square, but instead of snowbanks, the ground was packed dirt, swept clean by the brisk sea breeze that tugged at her hair. The tree was in front of them, the Snow Queen’s snowflake shining on the top. Behind her, Molly heard a familiar voice, and she turned around.

“Are you certain you want to allow them in, Captain?” Jack Frost leaned back against one of the rough-hewn tables, stretching his legs out before him. Rather than robes, he was dressed in dark green pants and vest, leaving his arms bare to the shoulder. His skin was not so much pale as it was grey, the faintest hint of bark peeling away from trees, and his long hair was reddish in the light of the setting sun. “After all, you hardly know them.”

“I know that they are hungry,” Captain Carter said. “That’s all I need to know. This town will never turn away those in need.”

“And if they betray you?” Jack plucked an autumn leaf as it flew by on the breeze. “If they try to take control of this town you’ve nurtured, once they see what you have?”

Captain Carter shrugged. “They have already seen it. If they want to fight, then we will defend ourselves. Hopefully it won’t come to that.”

Jack stood up. “I hope so too. I will let them know.” And he vanished in a swirl of leaves, leaving Captain Carter standing alone in the square.

Do you know who they are talking about? Schrodinger asked her.

Molly shook her head. Not a clue. This is obviously after the first Christmas, but still early. There were several other settlements that were nearby, and not all of them survived.

And then, in another swirl of leaves, Jack was back, with another man who looked slightly discomforted by their mode of transport. This newcomer was dressed, not in leather and wool like the Captain and Jack, but in a long robe of dark blue, and his white hair was intricately braided with a leather thong and beautiful glass beads. His dark, weathered face was kind, and once he regained his balance, he held out a huge hand to Captain Carter. “Greetings, Captain.”

“Greetings, Logan!” Captain Carter clasped the hand warmly. “How are you settling in?”

The other man’s eyes clouded. “It has not been an easy year,” he admitted, and Molly could feel the pain in his voice. “The crops did not do well, and I do not know if we will be able to carry all our people through the winter.”

“Would you reconsider my offer, then?” Captain Carter said. “Please? We have more than enough room, and if we pool our stores, no one needs to go hungry.”

“But who will guard our lands through the winter if we move to the Cove, James? We may survive the winter only to be homeless when the snow melts.”

“That too, we can help with,” Captain Carter said. “With the crops gathered, our young people will be looking for things to help keep them occupied. The hunting parties can make sure no one else moves into your land, and your people will be warm and safe here in the Cove.” He put his other hand on top of the hand he still held. “Please, Logan. This will be the best for both of us, and I will not have to worry about finding your stubborn corpse frozen to the ground.” He paused and added, “Maria would never forgive either of us.”

Logan looked sharply at him, and Captain Carter winked. The big man laughed. “That is true! And to be honest, I am more afraid of her than I am of the winter.”

“You should be,” Jack said dryly. “Your wife is a force of nature.”

Logan and Captain Carter both laughed at that, and Logan added his free hand to their handshake. “That she is,” Logan said. “I shall go now and let my people know what we have agreed. But before I do…” He released Captain Carter’s hands, and reached into his robe. He withdrew a dark red leaf that he broke in half and handed one piece to Captain Carter. “As a gift,” he said. “To bind our groups together. As long as both of these parts are kept safe, our people will be as one.” He turned to Jack. “Will you witness?”

“Gladly.” Jack came to stand next to them, and he reached out and touched the pieces. Each leaf became a whole leaf, threaded with silvery frost. “Now these leaves will never wilt,” Jack said. “Until and unless the compact is broken. Witnessed.”

“Witnessed,” Logan and Captain Carter said in unison. Logan put his leaf back into his coat, and Captain Carter tucked his leaf into the tree next to him.

“Now, I shall go and get my people together,” Logan said. He squinted at the sky. “There will be snow soon. If I hurry, we can be back here within a week.”

“Do you need help? Carts?” Captain Carter asked.

“I will let you know once I get back,” Logan said.  “But I shall walk,” he added, as Jack reached out to him. “It is not far. And I will not vomit all over my wife’s clean floor if I walk.” He strode out of the square, his robes billowing around his long legs.

Jack and Captain Carter watched in silence as Logan disappeared between houses, heading for the outskirts of the town. Once he was out of sight, Captain Carter looked at Jack. “You still think he will cause trouble?”

“Him? No.” Jack shook his head. “But Logan is not the only member of his group.” He shrugged. “But perhaps I am a cynic.”

Advent 2021- December 1

December 1: The Snow Queen

Jade lifted her right hand, and a beautiful snowflake glimmered into existence. “I have given out one of these every year at the Ball, to a person who I feel needs it. But the very first snowflake I created for a tree was not given to a person. It was given to a town…”

Molly felt as if she were falling. The world swirled, and when it cleared, she looked around the town square as it must have been: a circle of snug houses, barely finished before the winter storms had tucked them into insulating blankets of snow. Beside her, the tree was straight and proud, barely five feet tall, the only tree left standing when the area was cleared. Instead of glowing LED bulbs, spheres that glowed with magical colors were nestled in the tree’s branches.

Next to the tree was the Snow Queen, and an older man who Molly recognized instantly from school. Captain James Carter looked out over the square, where the remnants of his colony were busy setting up tables and benches. While it was cold outside the square, Jade must have raised a clear bubble of magic that encased them in a warm atmosphere that left the snow unmelted. “I can’t believe we made it to Christmas,” Captain Carter rumbled. “I thought for certain that we’d never last past the first snow.”

“You’re far too pessimistic, Captain,” Jade said. “Your people believe in you, and you believe in them.”

“Belief only gets you so far, though, Jade.”

“But without it, you’ll get nowhere,” she replied. “You have good people here, James, and they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.”

“And beyond, if I let them.” Captain Carter shook his head, unable to stop the smile from peeking through his grey-streaked beard. “Thank you again, Jade, for helping me protect them.”

“It was my pleasure.” Jade looked out over the small town again. “Neighbors like you are hard to find. You were the first to ask if you could settle here, rather than just taking what you wanted. You protected those who were already here. You integrated, rather than taking over.” She held out her hand, and he took it. “I will be happy to help protect your town, as long as it remembers the truth of being good neighbors.”

“As long as I am able to influence that, we will only be good neighbors.” Captain Carter laid his own hand over their clasped hands. “Sit next to me?”

“Of course.”

The food and drink were simple, but plentiful: roasted venison from the nearby woods, apples and squash and other vegetables that had been harvested during the waning golden days of fall, breads both sweet and savory. The ship’s cook, who was now helping to run a small general store, had even made sweets from honey that melted on the tongue and brought her back to the early summer when the large ships had first entered the harbor. They washed down the food with apple cider and tea and wine that the dwarves from the nearby mine had brought as their contribution. Molly’s mouth watered, and she wondered how many of the dishes she could recreate.

At the end, Jade reached out and placed a hand on Captain Carter’s arm. “I have a gift for you.”

“Another one?” He smiled at her. “I thought this was enough.”

“This will only last until the end of the night,” Jade said. “This gift, though, is one that will remain with you as long as the town stands.”

She held her right hand out in front of her, palm up. A slight breeze swirled around her, blowing piles of snowflakes into the air. As the cloud of snowflakes danced over her hand, one single snowflake dropped out of the crowd and remained. The entire village fell silent as the snowflake grew, looking more like a star by the time it settled into a gleaming silver. She sent it floating over to the tree with a flick of her wrist.

As it landed on the top of the tree, white streams of snowflakes burst from it and wrapped the tree in garlands of snowflakes and ships.

“This is the symbol of our treaty,” Jade said. “As long as we are in accord, there will be a snowflake to go on this tree every Christmas. This I swear.”

Advent 2021 – Day Zero

November 30

“What’s this?”

Molly McIntyre stepped into the kitchen, shaking snow from her hair as she did so. It had been snowing for a few hours, but that hadn’t stopped Zette from dropping off the mail. Now, she showed her husband Drew the elegant white and silver envelope that had come with the other letters and bills.

He took the envelope and turned it over in his hands. “It almost looks like a wedding invitation, but do we have any weddings coming up?”

“Not that I know of,” Molly said, slipping her feet out of her boots and into the warm slippers she’d left beside the door. “Unless Sue and Luke finally just decided to elope and this is the party invitation.”

Sue and Luke are eloping? Really? Do you think they’ll still do a fancy dress party to celebrate if they are already married? Schrodinger Barrett came barreling out to the kitchen, whiskers and ears alert. He loved fancy dress parties.

“I don’t know that,” Molly replied, laughing. “But they’re the only ones I know of who might be getting married.”

Drew held the envelope out to Schrodinger, and the Cross Cat sniffed it. Not Sue and Luke, he said finally. I smell Zette, obviously, but there’s another scent…familiar, but it’s a little muddled. It’s snowing outside still. Maybe that’s my problem.

“Well, let’s put an end to our misery.” Drew opened the envelope, pulling out a pale green card. There were silver snowflakes and colorful autumn leaves intertwined around the edge, framing the following words:

“This is an invitation to a special party. Please bring an ornament that symbolizes the spirit of Christmas to you to the tree in Captain Carter’s Square this Saturday. We look forward to seeing you there.

Fondly,

The Snow Queen, Jack Frost, and Old Man Winter”

A party! Schrodinger danced around the kitchen, acting more like his best friend Jack than a Cross Cat. Molly could almost see the excitement rising off him. And ornaments! And friends!

“I guess we’ll have to find ornaments,” Molly said.

That Saturday, they joined the large crowd of people in Captain Carter’s Square in downtown Carter’s Cove, where a massive spruce tree had been decorated every year that Molly could remember. There were still lights glowing amid the dark green needles, but the normal garlands of starfish, dolphins, ships, and anchors were not evident. Molly looked around at all her friends and neighbors, and smiled. Christmas was definitely one of Carter Cove’s favorite holidays.

There was a small raised dias next to the tree, and standing on it were three of Carter Cove’s nontraditional residents. Jade, the Snow Queen, radiant in her silvery-white robes and with a small diamond tiara nestled among her blonde braids, stood next to Jack Frost, her hand in his. He was dressed in dark green robes, with autumn leaves and silver snowflakes dancing along the edges of the fabric. And behind them loomed the tall figure of Old Man Winter, ice in his grey beard, his blue eyes bright. To think we used to fear him, Molly thought. It seems so long ago.

The Snow Queen stepped forward and raised her hands. Instantly the crowd quieted.

“Welcome, my friends,” she said, her clear voice floating on the chill air. “I know this tree normally holds tributes to Captain Carter and his voyage here to found this town. But this year is a special year for Jack and I, and in the spirit of that, we’d like to share a tradition that Captain Carter introduced us to.” She laid a hand on the branch nearest to her. “That first year, everyone in the town hung an ornament that held a memory sacred to each of them, and told the story of why the ornament meant so much to them. We,” and she looked back at Jack and Old Man Winter, “thought that it was time to revisit this. And we are so very happy that so many of you decided to join us. So we will start.”

Contemplating the future

I started my morning pages today. I actually woke up, went downstairs, and did my pages with a steaming cup of tea and the sounds of my Deep Focus playlist. The only thing missing was a candle, but that’s fine. As I clean, I’m going to be putting all the candles together so that I know where they all are.

It’s weird, but I’m actually feeling like spring really is coming. I’ve been in the fog of grief and fear and indecision for the last 4+ years, but this year, for some reason, I’m ready to move forward. Perhaps Covid has been good for something: giving me the space I needed to move to a better mental place.

So I’m starting my own writing spreadsheet, and I’m going to be tracking my word counts. I’m going to be writing blog posts again, and working on the plot vomit portion of Dreams.

I’ve also realized that I’m not sure if I’m ever going to submit a book for traditional publishing again. Not because I don’t think my writing is good enough, or anything like that. But I have a day job that I enjoy, especially now, and that pays my bills. I write the stories I want to read, and while I do want to continue to share those stories with you all, it might not be as a paperback novel. I’m still mulling things over, so keep checking this space for updates.

Also, exciting news! Spence and I are in the process of opening an Etsy store for Fibermancers4Hire! More to follow on that too! Right now, you can check out our page on Facebook.

Coming out of Covid sleep

I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve been here – a long time. But Covid has left me isolated and feeling too…off to write. And let’s be honest – it wasn’t just Covid. It was the entire world sort of falling apart on me for a while. I retreated into myself. I worked on fiber crafts, I colored, I did a lot of thinking. A lot of thinking.

It’s nearly March, and Spring is coming back into the northern hemisphere, and I’m finally, finally ready to pick up my writing again. I’ve pulled up the file with Belladonna Dreams in it and read it through, and I can feel the words starting to prickle through my fingertips.

So I think today, I’ll grab my notebook and a pen, and drive somewhere to park and write. My new goal is 250 words a day. They don’t have to be good words. They just have to be words. It’s hard to edit a blank page.

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?”