Posts Tagged ‘advent’

(advent) December 1

It’s December 1, and you guys know what that means! A new Advent story! Enjoy! – Val


What do you think this year will bring?

“I don’t know,” Molly McIntyre admitted, stirring a cup of walnut pieces in to the cranberry bread batter in her bowl. Her kitchen at CrossWinds Books was warm and bright, fragrant with the scent of hot tea and hot apple cider. Schrodinger, the CrossCat who lived with her, was perched on his customary stool, a large cappuccino mug full of Earl Grey tea steaming in front of him. “It will be fun, though,” she continued, considering the bowl thoughtfully. “It’s always fun, isn’t it?”

Especially since both Zoey and Gideon are here, the CrossCat agreed, his emerald eyes bright. I wonder if the Snow Queen will send us something.

                “I doubt it,” Molly said, putting a large pinch of orange zest into the batter. “She and Jack are super busy this year with the Ball. Rumor has it that she’s hosting a large delegation of dignitaries this season.”

Dignitaries? Schrodinger’s large tufted ears perked up. From where?

                “All over the Realms,” Molly said. “There’s something big going on, from what Pavel was saying the other night after you went to sleep. Someone is trying to get a big treaty signed, but there’s a lot of moving parts, and Jade is trying to bring all the sides together. She asked me to cater a dinner the week before the Ball, so that she can convince some of them who are on the fence to sign.”

Wow. Schrodinger looked impressed. What are you doing?

                “I’m not sure yet. Jade is coming over next week to plan with me. She’ll know by then who exactly will be there, and what allergies, etc, I need to worry about. Then I’ll be able to do a feast.” Molly finished with the batter and frowned at the bowl. “What do you think, Schrodinger? Should I do tea breads, or muffins? I’m indecisive.”

The CrossCat drank his tea while he considered the question. If you do tea breads, you can use them in sandwiches, he pointed out. But muffins are good too. It’s too bad you can’t make cranberry-walnut rolls. That would be perfect.

Molly’s hazel eyes went misty. “It would be, wouldn’t it?” she said, setting the bowl down and going to into her pantry.

But how would they keep their shape? Schrodinger asked her.

She came back out with several large pans that she’d almost forgotten she owned. “With these.”

What are they?

“Mini bun pans,” Molly said, reaching for the spray grease she used on all her pans. “I bought them on a whim a year ago, but then I decided bread was easier to make than buns. But now I’m glad I did!”

The batter went into the greased pans and then into her oven. “We’ll see how these come out,” Molly said, picking up her mug of tea and taking a sip. Her cup was full of the fragrant Christmas blend that she preferred, redolent with cinnamon, cloves, almond, and orange. “You might be on to something here, Schrodinger.”

She glanced at the clock. “And your compatriots will be here in time to taste them with you. Why don’t you go out and make sure everything’s set for them?”

I’m done with my tea, so I will! Schrodinger hopped down and headed out into the warm tea room, which was almost empty.

Molly watched him go with a fond smile. Schrodinger adored her two nieces and their best friends as much as he adored her and Drew. It was customary for CrossCats to go on a voyage of discovery when they became adults, but Schrodinger had only made it as far as Carter’s Cove, on the coast of Maine, before deciding to settle down. That had been six years ago.

And what a six years it’s been, Molly thought, looking around at the bright kitchen. The room itself hadn’t changed, but she had: from a single young woman unsure about her future to happily married, with a farm and part of a larger family than she’d expected. Complete with a faery grandmother, who was due to spend the last week of Christmas with them. She hadn’t told Schrodinger that yet. He would be over the moon. He loved it when Phoebe came.

The scent of warming cranberries, laced with sugar and the tang of orange, reached her nose, drawing her out of the past and back to the present.


                Out in the tea room, Schrodinger had paused to look around to see who was still there. DC, the senior clerk at CrossWinds Books, was at the counter at the front of the store, busy pricing a small display of homemade bookmarks for stocking stuffers. Over her shoulder, he could see the snowflakes falling outside: a white curtain of soft cotton that blurred everything into mist.

In the tea room, there were six tables, but only one was occupied, by Stephen and Lucille Dorr. They came in every day for afternoon tea: Stephen would read aloud to Lucille as she knit, and they would both enjoy a plate of whatever Molly happened to be baking that day. Today, it was apple cinnamon bread, spread with butter and a warm fig jam. A pot of herbal tea was set in between them.

Are you all set? Schrodinger asked politely, as he came up to their table. I can ask Molly for more tea, if you need.

Lucille smiled at him, her needles flashing in the light. “No, we’re fine, thank you, Schrodinger. How are you doing today?”

Good! Excited because it’s finally Christmas!

“Me too,” Stephen said, grinning. “I’m hoping for both my sons to be home this year for Christmas.”

Bob too? Schrodinger’s ears perked up again. They were easily his most expressive feature, although his tail was a close second. We haven’t met Bob yet!

Lucille and Stephen’s son Jeff worked at one of the hotels in Portland, keeping the books for them. But their other son Bob lived further away, and was an artist. He didn’t travel much, so Schrodinger had only heard about him, and seen pictures of the exquisite work he did.

“We’ll see,” Lucille said. “But we hope so.” She paused her knitting for a moment to sip her tea. “What about you? Are you doing another Advent adventure?”

I don’t know, Schrodinger admitted. Molly wouldn’t say if she knew, but the Snow Queen has been very busy, so maybe not.

“Maybe you’ll just have to make the adventure yourself,” Stephen said. “Sometimes, that can be more fun than having it delivered to you.”

Schrodinger considered that as he curled up in one of the cat beds next to the woodstove that gave the room a warm, inviting glow. For the last couple of years, the Snow Queen and Old Man Winter, the spirits that lived in a nearby Realm, had given them a magical item that counted down the days to Christmas. It had made them new friends, and helped them explore the Cove that was his home now. But perhaps this year would be different. He put his chin on his front paws and watched the front door for his friends to get out of school.

About ten minutes later, the door burst open, and they came tumbling in, shedding snowflakes and laughter in equal measure. Lily and Kaylee Barrett were sisters, and you could see it in their faces: Lily, the elder, with her long hair pulled back in neat braids; Kaylee’s short blonde hair tousled around her glowing cheeks. Their dog Jack, who was Schrodinger’s best friend, came in behind them and went for his bed.

Getting old, he said ruefully, sinking down and stretching his paws towards the wood stove. My joints ache.

                And they run a lot, Schrodinger agreed.

That was all he got to say, as Aurora, the young Husky that belonged to Zoey Allard, jumped in next to him and snuggled up. It’s snowing! She said excitedly. And it’s so lovely out!

                Agreed! Schrodinger said, giving her some room.

Zoey, with a single dark braid that went down to the middle of her back, shed her backpack with a sigh. “It’s cold out,” she said, her dark eyes sparkling. “I wonder if that means that Old Man Winter is coming to see us!”

“It could be, but maybe not,” Gideon Gable, the final member of the group, said doubtfully. “It’s time for it to snow anyways.”

Kaylee shook her head. “I think Gideon’s right. I don’t feel like I do when Old Man Winter comes around.”

Molly said they were very busy this year, Schrodinger said, as they all settled down. Kaylee and Gideon snuggled down in the pet beds and pulled out books, since they didn’t have any homework. Zoey and Lily weren’t so lucky, so they sat at the nearby table. We might not get anything this year.

“Well, we’ve been lucky so far,” Lily said. “They might need a year off too.”

Stephen’s words came back to Schrodinger then. What if we made our own adventure?

                They all stopped and looked at him. “What do you mean?” Gideon said finally.

Well, think about it, Schrodinger said. What did the Advent calendar and the castle do for us?

                “Gave us stuff to do,” Lily said. “We followed the magical snowflake from the calendar.”

“And the castle showed us rooms that gave us another thing to do,” Kaylee added.

All things that we can do, Jack said. We could do our own calendar and explore the Cove!

                Yes! Aurora agreed, thumping her tail. And think of how much fun we could have!

Lily and Zoey looked at each other. “And we could help people,” Zoey said softly. “That was the point of the Advent calendar, remember? To help us remember the point of the season.”

“There are a lot of things we can do,” Lily agreed. “Helping Father Christopher.”

“Going to the vet’s and helping with the animals,” Zoey said.

“Singing at the retirement home, and helping them decorate!” Kaylee said.

“Helping Molly with the bake sale!” Gideon added.

They all looked at each other, and then Lily pulled out a clean sheet of paper. “Let’s brainstorm,” she said. “Then we can present Molly and our parents with a plan. They can’t really argue with us if we have a coherent schedule. And this way, we know what we want to do.”


                The room was too quiet, Molly realized, when she stuck her head out into the tea room an hour later. To her surprise, the kids were all there, huddled together, murmuring among themselves. She’d brought out cider and cookies before, but they hadn’t come asking for refills. Now she wondered what they were up to.

“Are you guys okay?” she said. Lucille and Stephen had gone home, and DC wasn’t around either. The entire tea room was still.

“Yes,” Lily assured her, looking up and grinning. “We’re making up our plans for December.”

“Your plans, huh? Would you like some more cider or cookies while you plan?” Molly said.

They looked at each other, and, to her surprise, shook their heads. “Not right now, thank you,” Kaylee said politely.

Molly retreated to her kitchen, wondering what they were up to. And if she really wanted to know.


I wonder what this year will bring!

Thinking about changes

Most people think about changes this time of year. It’s the turning of the seasons, I guess: as the world settles down to renew itself during the cold winter months of the Northern Hemisphere, thoughts turn to what we could do better. I’m helping Dad adjust to the new hip (he’s a terrible patient, but he’s trying), and thinking about my own life.


I recently interviewed for a new position at my day job, and one of the questions that the interviewer asked me that struck a nerve was “Where do you see yourself in 6 months?”


My honest answer was “I don’t know.” A year ago, I could have told you guys exactly where I was going. I was going to continue writing, working at my day job, and saving for retirement. Brian and I were going to spend a year following the Red Sox after we both retired, and then we were going to buy a used bookstore and open a combination bookstore/gaming store to run in our twilight years.


And then Brian died. Now I have no idea what my plans are. I’m kind of adrift in a sea of possibilities, and not all of them are pleasant. While I’m lucky that I have an amazing roommate who is perfectly willing to fulfill the Red Sox/bookstore plan (and let’s be honest, I probably will run a bookstore, and I’ll probably call it CrossWinds Books), I’m not sure I’ll be wanting to do it the same way. A lot of those plans were tied up with doing it with Brian, and it hurts to think about them now.


I am working on the Advent story for this year, which will start going up on December 1. This year is a special treat as well, since my lovely friend Kiaya is working on something for you guys to enjoy. I’m not going to say more (yeah, I know, tease, tease), but I promise you, it’s going to be awesome.


And Winter’s Storm is in process, so yes, the second book should be out in time for Christmas! I’m working on the final stuff with that, and to celebrate, I’ll be doing a giveaway. A very special one.


More later. I’m still processing things.

Learning to live in a new normal

It’s been a difficult year. I feel like every time I sit down to write something on this blog, it’s a variation on that theme. I used to not understand how people who had lost someone could keep living in the past. Now, I’m finding it hard not to stop myself from saying things like “Oh, Brian would have…” or “I wonder what Brian would have thought of…” It’s like it’s not even consciously done. He’s a part of me, more than he’s ever been.


At the same time, I’m finding it hard to deal with my father doing the same thing. I’m not sure why, except that some of the things he’s sharing are things I don’t need to hear. My father’s filters are pretty much zero, and he doesn’t seem to understand that I really don’t want to discuss his and my mother’s sexual escapades. And before you guys say anything, I’ve told him this. He forgets on a regular basis.


So I found a caregivers support website this week, and I’m going to be exploring that over the next few weeks. I’ve also decided to go out on a limb and try for a new position at work. I’ve had the interview, and now we’ll see where it goes. It’s a change for me. I realized that I’ve been trying to figure out my new path for a while when the interviewer asked me what I thought I’d be doing in six months, and I said, “I don’t know anymore.” I’m not sure what I want to do. I know what I thought I would be doing this year. I know what I had planned on doing in the future. Now it’s all kind of up in the air.


Two things I do know I’ll be doing: I’m going to be a guest at both RavenCon and BaltiCon next year. I have at least one book coming out soon. And there’s a new Carter’s Cove story coming in December.


But after that? Your guess is as good as mine.

(writing) More Advent, of course

It’s getting to be that time of year again, after all. Yes, there WILL be a Carter’s Cove story this year. But I’m doing other things as well. I’ve just sent out a short story to a magazine for consideration, and I will be doing more short stories in the future. It’s an interesting exercise, and I think I need to hone those skills. First drafts will be posted to my Patreon, and then revised and sent out. And yes. I’ll be sure to announce if any of them get sold. 🙂


It’s my way of coping with depression. I’m realizing how unhealthy I’ve been lately, despite all my efforts. I need to concentrate on me. It needs to get better.


Christmas will be hard. I’m totally going to hide in Carter’s Cove for a lot of it. Besides, Molly has tea.

(writing/personal) Sunday updates

Today is the first day of October. This year has seemed to fly by, and yet it’s been the longest year of my life. I’m told that grief is like that.


Today is also the 10th day in a row that I’ve written on Advent. I’ve got an accountability buddy, and it’s really working. And taking a note from one of my favorite authors, I’ve loaded Word on my phone, and I’ve been writing on that. It’s surprisingly easy, and soothing. I actually wrote my words yesterday while I was seated at a bonfire, listening to bards tell stories, sing songs, and recite poetry. I even gave a poetic recital, of one of my favorite poems that I haven’t read in a long time: Siege Perilous, by EA Robinson.


This year’s Advent is off to a rocky start. I’ve already scrapped one outline. But it WILL be written. And this year, there’s going to be an actual calendar with it (as long as I get everything to Kiaya soon). Keep a look out for the information here soon.


I’m working my way through a lot of conflicting feelings. I need to write. I need to mope (to be perfectly honest). And I’m tired. I’m bone-tired, because of everything that’s going on. But I’ve survived this long, and I plan on surviving a lot longer. And yes, I’m doing NaNo again this year.


(advent/writing) The times they are a-changing…

The leaves are starting to change again. Normally, I hate the shorter days and longer nights, the cold of the mornings, the dying of the year. But I’m actually not hating it this year. While I’m not looking forward to the holidays as much as I used to, I’m still working on getting both a new Advent story out on this blog, as well as finally getting Winter’s Storms, the second Carter’s Cove book out. This year’s Advent takes us out of Carter’s Cove, at the moment, although that may change. The outline is fighting me, and I’m not sure why. But I do know that I need to get it done, so I might just start writing it and see how it goes.


I’ve finished my first short story in a while, titled “Requiem for an Unknown,” which is out to beta readers at the moment and then will be shopped around. I’m looking at getting some short stories into professional markets, so I can join SFWA. That’s the next career goal.


I’ve also restarted my 100 Days of Words. My 100 Days of A&S sputtered and died again, but this one I have a writing buddy that I am accountable for, and we have agreed to text each other each day. 100 words a day is something I can do.


So stay tuned. There will be more stuff coming soon, both to here and the Patreon.

(writing/personal) Updates of all kinds

 Today is a writing day, and that’s a good thing. I need to get back to a routine before I go back to work in a month, and I need to get this book done. I’ve also done a few housekeeping things that I wanted to let people know about.


I’m deleting my LiveJournal account as soon as I finish importing everything over to DreamWidth. I won’t agree to a TOS that is in a language I don’t read, especially when they specifically say the English translation is NOT binding. Um, no. No thank you. I’m vg_ford on DW if you want to follow me. I’ll be posting some different things there, I think. I really loved LJ because I could do almost a stream-of-consciousness thing, and I think I’m going to use that to kind of mind dump before I write. And all my old stuff will be there, once the import finishes.


I’m also getting ready to update my Patreon page again. While I’m writing my next project, I’m also going to be working on the next Sapph book, starting with some journal entries from her diary. I need to make a wiki for that world as well, so I’m updating it as I go and not six books in (cough*Advent*cough). My paying Patrons will be able to see that as it develops.


I’m settling into life without my husband. It’s weird, and it’s hard sometimes, and sometimes I can actually forget for a little while, enough to pull my phone out to text him or call him, and then I remember and I hurt all over again. I’m trying to get through it. I hear it gets better.


Today is hopefully finishing Winter Storms. I need to get this book out to my editor so I can start the next one. I won’t be posting a lot about it yet, as I can’t, but I will be giving you guys updates as I can. Suffice to say, this book will be amazing.

Writing and news


I’ve been thinking a lot about story, and life, and how our choices define us lately. I suppose it’s not surprising, given everything that’s happened lately. We’re coming up on the 1 year anniversary of my mother’s death, and I knew that was going to be hard. But I didn’t realize how hard it would be. I wonder now if it would be as hard if Brian was still here with me.


I’ve been accepted as an author guest at ConCarolinas in June, and we will be launching Winter’s Storms there. In addition, I have a new project that I need to start outlining this month (a 2-book project that I’m very excited about). I think  the next two months are going to be finishing Storms and then churning out the outlines for the next 4 books I want to write. The 2 book secret project, the next Advent book for December, and the next Sapph book.


I need to keep busy. If I don’t, then I start to stew and drop into a depressive spiral and then nothing gets done. Hopefully I can avoid that as I work through the spring.

(goals/writing/personal) Looking towards the future

Chateau Miranda, Celles, Belgium

It’s a new year. I’ve already started to do things a little differently – set up a new theme here on the blog, and added a button at the top of the page so you can follow me on Patreon if you’d like. There will be new stuff on the Patreon coming soon, as I’m planning on writing 3 new novels this year: the first Resonant Frequencies book, the first novel-length Pendragon Casefiles book, and the next Advent story for December. In addition, I’m going to start blogging regularly, both there and here, about my writing process, being a writer while having a day job, and anything else that happens to catch my fancy.


The goal is to blog here on Sundays and Wednesdays, and on the Patreon blog Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Patreon blogs will be set to Patrons only, so be aware that if you want to see those, it will cost you a minimum of $1 a month. But hey, that’s not a lot, and if you do, not only will you get the blog posts, but you’ll get new stories once a week! Because on Fridays, Patrons will get the next chapter of my new book.


I’m not abandoning this journal, so don’t worry about that. And the December Advent story will be held here as well. But it’s time for me to start expanding and taking this writing journey a bit more seriously, and that means getting organized. In fact, some of my first blog posts might be about that.


What are your plans for this year? Feel free to share in the comments!

(advent) Day 25 – Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 25

The snow was falling on the ocean outside the sitting room window as Caliban sat in one of the easy chairs and sipped a cup of steaming tea. It was late, very late, and the rest of the house was fast asleep, but he hadn’t been able to doze off. Santa’s question kept playing through his mind, and he knew that the only cure was to meet the old man himself when he came in.

So he sat in the light of the simple Christmas tree that the Captain and Mrs. Hoskins had set up in the sitting room, and waited. The tree was clad in simple white lights, with sailing ships, anchors, starfish, and other nautical items swimming through the green branches. An elegant angel stood atop the tree with a seahorse cradled in her arms.

As he waited, Caliban wondered what Santa would say when he saw him there. Would he be surprised?

Did anything surprise Santa?

In the distance, the bells of St. Michael’s tolled the hour, and as the last peal died, there was a slight pop by the fireplace, and Santa Claus himself came into the room.

“Merry Christmas, Caliban,” Santa said gravely, nodding at him as he pulled gifts out of his bag. “Or should I say, Perry?”

“Perry, if you please,” Caliban said, rising to bow to the old man. “I think it’s time that Prince Caliban followed his brother into death. I’m no longer interested in participating in that world any longer.”

Santa raised an eyebrow. “That’s a big decision,” he said. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, Santa,” Caliban said. “It’s time for a new start. There’s more to life that I need to see.”

“Then it’s time to give you this,” Santa said, and pulled a small box out of his sack. “Merry Christmas, Perry.”

Caliban accepted the box, a little surprised. He hadn’t expected anything, especially since he felt he would be on the naughty list forever.

“People can change, Perry,” Santa said kindly. “And what truly matters is your heart. Remember that.” His tasks done, he laid his finger on the side of his nose, nodded, and vanished.

Sitting back down in his chair, Caliban looked at the small, gaily wrapped box. It even said, “To Perry, from Santa and Mrs. Claus” on it in neat black letters, and there was a small golden bow on the top. He pulled the ribbon, and opened the box.

A sweet, light wind came out of the box, rich with the promise of spring flowers and magic. As it rushed over him, he felt the magic work through, changing him, molding him, and sighed happily.

And then Perry put the box aside, picked up his tea cup, and said quietly, “Thank you, Santa. Thank you.”


They’ll make it, right? They’ll still come, even in the snow?

“They will,” Molly reassured Schrodinger. “Old Man Winter is coming, remember? He’s promised to stop and pick them up. I promise you, Gideon will be here to open the last window on the castle!”

Schrodinger stroked his head against her leg in thanks and ran back into the front parlor, where he, Lily, Kaylee, and Jack were anxiously awaiting Gideon’s arrival (and eating most of the goodies from their stockings, she suspected). The Advent castle had been moved in there, since there was no room under the Christmas tree.

“Is it just me, or do we seem to have more people here every year for Christmas Day?” she said to Drew, who was sitting next to her.

He chuckled. “Well, that’s what happens when you buy a big house. Holidays grow to fill it.”

Molly couldn’t argue with that. Besides her parents, her brother and sister-in-law, the kids, and herself and Drew, they were expecting Kiaya, Zeke, Gideon, Old Man Winter, and Drew’s cousin Doug, his husband Tim, and their two-year-old son Ryan, who was adorable and into everything.

“Besides, it’s not like we’ll really have to babysit the kids,” Drew continued, getting up to refill their tea mugs. Everyone else was in the living room or the parlour, so they were enjoying some quiet time alone. “We’ll just hand Ryan to Old Man Winter, and then leave. He’ll be thrilled.”

“Ryan or Old Man Winter?” Molly said.

“Yes,” Drew said, and she laughed.

Then they both heard the familiar reindeer bells, moments before the shrieks of joy erupted from the front parlour, followed by pounding feet as two children, a CrossCat, and a large dog ran out into the snow.

It was Kiaya and Zeke who appeared in the doorway, however, carrying presents and covered in snow. “That was quite the ride!” Zeke said, as he shook off the flakes. “I don’t think I knew reindeer could move that fast!”

“Most can’t,” Nathan said, appearing behind his sister and taking the packages from Zeke’s hands. “Old Man Winter doesn’t believe in things like the laws of physics.”

“Laws like that were meant to be broken,” Old Man Winter said, coming in behind them with Gideon in one arm, Kaylee in the other, and Lily on his shoulders. “Human constructs are just suggestions, aren’t they?”

“We have to do the calendar!” Gideon shouted happily. “It’s the last day!”

“He’s been saying that since eight this morning,” Kiaya said to Molly. “I don’t know what we’re going to do tomorrow morning.”

Old Man Winter set the two in his arms down, and then tumbled Lily over his shoulders. “Go on,” he said gruffly. “I need some tea.”

“The water’s hot,” Molly said, and guided everyone in to the kitchen.

As she passed Old Man Winter a cup, he said quietly, “Jade said to tell you everything is all set. And thank you.”

“Good,” Molly said, and felt the knot of concern start to loosen. “That’s very good.”

Drew, however, was looking strangely at Old Man Winter. “Did you forget something?” he said, and everyone turned to look at him.

Old Man Winter frowned, then brightened. “Oh, that’s right! Molly’s present!” He put his tea cup down and, to Molly’s surprise, went back outside.

“And why is Old Man Winter bringing my…” The words died as Molly saw who was coming back in with him.

“Molly, darling!” Phoebe came floating into the kitchen and enfolded Molly in her arms. “Merry Christmas!”

“But I thought you couldn’t come?” Molly said, confused. “Drew said you couldn’t make it!”

Drew’s grandmother winked at her. “Because I told him to. We wanted to make it a surprise.” She held Molly at arm’s length and looked at her. “You are happy, aren’t you?”

“I am!” Molly threw her arms around Phoebe and hugged her back. “I’m just surprised! This is the best Christmas present ever!”

“Now, where are the children?” Phoebe said, looking around.

“In the front parlour, with the Advent castle.” Molly led her down the hall and into the room where the Snow Queen’s palace sat on a low table.

“Gramma Phoebe!” Kaylee shrieked when the faery came in. “Molly, were you surprised??!”

“Molly didn’t know what to say, Kaylee-love!” Phoebe said, gathering her for a big hug. “But what is this lovely thing? Is this the castle you were telling me about, Gideon?”

“Yes! Come help us find the last number!”

Phoebe joined them in looking, and she was the one who noticed the number 25 climbing up the side of the main door. “Now what?” she said.

Touch it with your fingertip, Schrodinger said.

She did, and the front doors opened to show the grand hall of the Snow Queen.

In the center of the room stood Jade and Jack, clad in all dark green, with crowns of holly and ivy on their heads. “Thank you so much for all your help this year,” Jade said, looking out at them. “I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you have a Merry Christmas!”

“This is the time to enjoy your families,” Jack added. “And one last gift. Take this castle outside into Molly and Drew’s back yard.”

The door closed and they all looked at Molly, who shrugged. “You heard the man. Get your coats this time, please, and we’ll bring it outside.”

Soon, everyone was out back, wearing coats and boots. Drew took the castle out with him and set it down in the snow at the edge of the woods. Then he backed up.

At first, nothing happened. Then the castle began to glow. It got brighter, and brighter, until everyone had to look away. When the light finally dimmed and they looked back…

“We have a play house!” Lily shouted in glee. “It became a play house!”

It had. The castle had grown, shifted, and now was a castle the size of a large shed. The children ran inside, and Molly could hear their happy shouts as they explored.

“Well, that’s that,” Zeke said, clapping Drew on the shoulder. “I assume we’ll see him when he’s 18 or so?”

They all laughed at that, and went back inside, leaving the children to explore this final present.

>Activity: Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you enjoyed this year’s Advent story. Today’s activity is easy – enjoy the day! May it be as magical as one in Carter’s Cove!