And the Winner Is . . .

Congratulations, JoAnn Durgin!! Thanks, JoAnn and Joi for entering our prompt contest. You’d think having only two entries would make it easier, but no! Since both stories were excellent, it was much harder to come to a decision.

And here is the winning entry:

Hayley couldn’t wait to open her present, the biggest box under the tree. When the moment finally came, she ripped it open to reveal . . . another box. Then another, and another, each gift smaller yet wrapped with exquisite paper and an elaborate bow. She held what she hoped was the last one on her lap, and dared not look at her family, warmth invading her cheeks. Why did I have to act so greedy, like the kid I haven’t been in years?

“Aren’t you going to open that one?” Lindsay’s lips curled. Her younger sister must harbor a delicious secret.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Hayley said, her smile nervous. From the expressions of those sitting around the room—her mom and dad, aunt and uncle, various cousins and her older brother Chase and his wife—they all shared the secret, privy to what lay nestled inside the tiny package. She turned it in her hands, pretending to study it from all angles. “It’s the most beautiful gift I’ve ever seen. How do I even know it’s for me? There was no tag, after all.”

“It’s yours.” Her mother sounded weary after the busyness of the last couple of days preparing the North Carolina mountain cabin for everyone’s arrival, airing out and cleaning the bedrooms, and cooking up a storm. The aromas of the feast they’d enjoyed still lingered. In her mother’s countenance, she glimpsed the deep contentment and joy stemming from her faith and love for her family. Hayley hoped her smile conveyed her gratitude, especially since she’d been chained to her Nashville desk and only arrived the night before. 

“It’s wrapped so pretty, I think I’ll just leave it under the tree.” As a reminder to accept each gift as a blessing, especially the ones that can’t be wrapped in a box with a pretty bow.

“Not if you want to take the next important step in your life.” The deep but quiet voice came from the man sitting beside her on the sofa.

Hayley’s eyes met Brandon’s—blue and clear as the stream running beside the cabin. His words apparently signaled the others. The room emptied in seconds, but her father paused with one hand on the swinging door leading into the kitchen. With a wink, he disappeared, and she overheard excited, muffled voices from behind the door. 

Brandon chuckled. “I thought they’d never leave.” 

“They seem pretty excited about what’s inside this box.” Hayley’s heart hopscotched when he moved closer and wrapped his hand over hers. How she loved this strong, handsome man. Glad she’d waited to find him, grateful he sat beside her now, thankful the Lord brought them together. 

“Open it.”

With a smile, Hayley unwrapped the gift. An empty jeweler’s box.

“This gift represents my heart. I love you, Hayley. We’ll pick out a ring together. Will you take life’s journey with me?”

She raised her eyes to Brandon’s, glimpsing their future as she leaned into his kiss. “Always, my love.”

Spring Holidays of Remembrance

Patriots’ Day April 15th

Armed Forces Day May 18th
Patriots’ Day. Armed Forces Day. Not widely celebrated holidays, but holidays honoring our servicemen and women, both past and present, nonetheless. As I scanned the list of possible spring holidays to write about, I noticed Patriots’ Day. What is that about? I wondered.  A quick scan of the internet produced interesting results.

Patriots’ Day is a civic holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War.
 This is an important day to remember in the history of our country. Prior to 1775, the area that is now the eastern part of the United States mainly consisted of British colonies controlled by the United Kingdom. The American Revolutionary War, also known as the American War of Independence, was a major step in the independence of the United States. The first battles in this war were fought in the areas of Lexington and Concord, near Boston, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775. For this reason, the third Monday in April is symbolic for the emerging independence of the new country.
This holiday is mainly observed in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin. Re-enactments of these battles take place on this day, with mounted re-enactors tracing the steps of Paul Revere and William Dawes, calling out warnings, complete with police escorts.
It is also a school holiday for many local colleges and universities, both public and private.
This holiday is not to be confused with Patriot Day, which is a day of remembrance for the tragedy of September 11, 2001.
Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May during Armed Forces Week. The day was created in 1949 to honor Americans serving in the five U.S. military branches – the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated on Saturday, May 20, 1950. The theme for that day was “Teamed for Defense”, which expressed the unification of all military forces under one government department. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the day was designed to expand public understanding of what type of job was performed and the role of the military in civilian life.
 The first Armed Forces Day was celebrated by parades, open houses, receptions and air shows. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy established Armed Forces Day as an official holiday. Because of their unique training schedules, National Guard and Reserve units may celebrate Armed Forces Day/Week over any period in the month of May.
Writing prompt of the week:  Deborah pushed through the dense underbrush, thorns gripping the edges of her sapphire gown. It didn’t matter. Her brother, Paul, had to be warned…

Spring Holidays and the Prompt Contest

Spring and the gift of Easter 

Spring begins with the vernal equinox on March 20. 

Public Domain Photo from Wikipedia
Modern Easter holidays include Palm Sunday,  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.The Easter holidays coincide with the Jewish holiday, Passover

Easter could easily be crowned as the most important of the Christian holidays. It is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. The name “Easter” is of Germanic origin and is said to be derived from the name of the goddess of spring. This is a “movable” holiday, because the date changes from year-to-year. Christian churches in the West celebrate the first Sunday after the vernal equinox.

For Protestant Christians, the celebration begins with Palm Sunday when Christ entered Jerusalem. He and His disciples were en route to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In that day, it was customary to cover the path of someone worthy of honor, which is how the day got its name. The people cast their coats on the ground, and cut branches from surrounding trees, probably palms.

The literal meaning of maundy is “foot-washing,” which refers to Christ’s act of service during the Last Supper as He washed the disciples’ feet. Of course it was an object lesson, as He encouraged them to serve others.

Good Friday is a day of remembrance. This was the day when Christ was crucified and laid to rest in the borrowed tomb. Though not a legal holiday, many Americans take this day off in order to attend religious services or travel to visit family.

Passover is one of the most important of the Jewish holidays. It is a weeklong festival celebrating the story of Exodus, when the Hebrew nation was freed from slavery in Egypt. They had a savior in the form of Moses. You may remember the famous story from the movie, The Ten Commandments.

The giving of eggs as gifts actually predates Christ. The egg represents life. Though it doesn’t seem to be alive, an ordinary fertilized egg is capable of producing a living thing. Why the egg? In the Christian view, the egg is a symbol of the resurrection, and Christ’s emergence from the tomb. New life. Eggs were once a forbidden food during Lent, so eggs laid during the Lenten period were boiled or otherwise preserved. Then, to celebrate the end of Lent, the eggs were decorated and given as gifts. These were a real treat for egg lovers who had just fasted.


Prompt Contest!! (See below for details)

Spring Holidays
Vernal Equinox (1st day of Spring) 20

Palm Sunday 24

Passover 26 

Maundy Thursday 28

Good Friday 29

Easter Sunday 31

April Fool’s Day 1
Patriot’s Day 15
Earth Day 22
Arbor Day 26
May Day 1
Cinco de Mayo 5
Mother’s Day 12
Armed Forces Day 18
Memorial Day 27
Flag Day 14
Father’s Day 16

Prompt Contest! Prompt Contest!
For this month’s prompt contest, I have chosen the prompt for the Christmas post (below). You choose the genre. You have until Sunday, July 29th to submit entries. The winning entry will be posted on July 31st — yes, posted, in place of our usual Tuesday blogpost. Of course the winner will also receive a $10 Amazon gift card. Get your thinking caps on and come up with a winning post! 

Contest Prompt: 
Hayley couldn’t wait to open her present, the biggest box under the tree. When the moment finally came, she ripped it open to reveal . . .


Queen Esther

The word holiday is derived from holy days, or more pointed, High Holy days, which is the term for the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, which just so happens to be my one of my favorites.

But I’m not writing today to talk about the Jewish New Year, rather to talk about Purim (in Hebrew) Purim.

On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them.

Esther 9:1 (NIV)

Have you ever read the Book of Esther from the Bible? It’s a rather charming story that captures the romantic imagination of the reader.Can you tell I’m a romance writer?
At one point in Jewish history they were taken into captivity by the Babylonians, those Babylonians were eventually overtaken by the Persians. Got it?

So, fast forward a few years and you have an interesting cast of players.

King Xerxes I- King of Persia
Queen Vashti- Xerxes queen
Esther- orphaned, exiled Jewish girl living with her cousin
Mordecai- Esther’s cousin
Haman-an honored royal official

So here is the dumbed down version. King Xerxes had a party. After he had a little too much to drink, he requested his queen attend him so he could show her off to all his royal officials. Whether it was pride or her sensibilities, she refused. The king’s officials feared their wives would rise up in disobedience too, causing discord within many a household. Vashti’s disobedience to the king caused her to become dethroned. OUCH! Talk about being made an example.

What was a king to do?

Find a new queen.

A bunch of virgins throughout the kingdom were gathered and taken to the king’s harem where they were beautified for twelve months. Seriously? I’d love to have a twelve month spa. Esther caught the eye of Hegai, the person in charge of the harem. This gained Esther seven personal maids. Wow! And the best place in the harem. With treatment like that, the other virgins didn’t have a chance, did they?

No, they didn’t because Xerxes chose Esther. The young, exiled, orphaned Jewish girl raised by her cousin.

Anyway, throw in a murder plot against the king, which was thwarted by Esther’s cousin, a prideful, jealous royal official plotting to annihilate the Jews and a bold, yet humble, beautiful young Jewish woman who found much favor with her new husband and you have a super duper romance that could only have been written by the hand of God.

Oh, I’m not supposed to be talking about romance, am I?

Anyway, Haman, that jealous official plotting to kill the Jews, cast lots in order to decide the day they’d be killed. This casting lots, or rolling of the dice, is called pur. Yeppers, you got it, PURIM.

To make a long story short, Esther was able to convince her husband to help her save her people. Xerxes gave the Jews permission to take up arms against those who attacked them.

The Jews prevailed! And the king and queen lived happily ever after.

So, why the holiday?

These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die among their descendants.

Esther 9:28 (NIV)

Purim is a day to remember the thwarting of a plot to annihilate the Jews. It’s celebrated by reading the Book of Esther (something we do at home) and by blotting out the villain’s name. It’s also celebrated by “. . .feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” (NIV 9:22)

Holidays – Winter


A Little History of Christmas

It is believed that the Christmas holiday observance originally sprang from a celebration of winter solstice, the turning point of winter. The shortest day of the year lay behind and as the days began to lengthen, the worst of winter was believed to be over. In many Northern European countries, winter was the time for slaughtering their animals, so food was plentiful, and summer’s wine and ale were coming of age. What a great time for a party.
A little further south, Romans also celebrated a holiday around the time of winter solstice; Saturnalia. In the warmer climate of Rome, Saturnalia was a harvest festival.
For early Christians, the most important holiday was Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. They did not celebrate his birth. Scholars argued that most likely, Christ’s actual birth was in the spring when the shepherds would be in the fields with the flocks. 

The Feast of the Nativity began to be celebrated in the fourth century, possibly as a way to unite the citizens, by combining the Christian celebration with the pagan Saturnalia. These early celebrations were loud and raucous, (a little like Mardi Gras). For this reason, religious leaders outlawed participation in the festivities. Many early Christians avoided the celebration completely. By the time the puritans made their voyage to the new world, Christmas was considered a pagan holiday. But in Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith related that the Christmas holiday was “enjoyed by all, and passed without incident.”

In the nineteenth century, the holiday’s character began to change. Many attribute that change to the efforts of two writers. Washington Irving’s The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Both books dealt with the class system in society and encouraged the “Christmas spirit of giving.” 
Out of this struggle, our modern-day celebration was born and in 1870, it was declared a national holiday. Today, the Christmas holiday is both religious and secular in nature. It is the crown of the year for retailers, beginning with “Black Friday,” and ending on Christmas Eve. 
For Christians, it is a time to celebrate the birth of their Savior, a reminder of God’s great love for his children. It is also a time for all families to come together and celebrate their love for one another.   
Disclaimer: There is no way to cover the entirety of Christmas in one short blogpost. I was very nearly sidetracked by a study of the traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas―so interesting, but a rabbit trail. I also avoided the mention of Santa Claus, aka St. Nicklaus, etc. So for those of you who may be interested in these subjects, I have imbedded the links throughout this article, and again in the “Research” section at the bottom of this post. 
“God bless us, everyone!”
This week’s story prompt: Hayley couldn’t wait to open her present, the biggest box under the tree. When the moment finally came, she ripped it open to reveal . . .


Winter Holidays
Winter Solstice 21 (Shortest Day of the Year)
Christmas 25
Kwanzaa 26 – Jan 1
New Years Eve 31
New Years Day 1
Inauguration Day 20
Martin Luther King Day 21
Chinese New Year 23
Groundhog Day 2
Chinese New Year 10
Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras 12
Lincoln’s Birthday 12
Ash Wednesday 13
Valentine’s Day 14
President’s Day 18
Washington’s Birthday 22
Purim 24
St. Patrick’s Day 17