Thursday, December 27, 2012

Are You Quality, or Are You Discount?

How much do you, as a reader, value “free?” That seems to be the buzz question within many author groups. I cannot count the number of times I have heard the question in various forms, the most common being, “Do you think I should release the book as free for X number of days?”

My answer is no. No, I do not think books should be released as free for any amount of time. Why? I have the perfect analogy that I heard from a man with a MBA I used to work with several years ago.

Let’s say you are going to buy a t-shirt. You find the t-shirt that you want at two big box retailers; Wal-Mart and Target. Which do you value more? The t-shirts are identical, from the same vendor and made by the same company. The only difference between the two shirts is the price. The ultimate decision does not come down to the price tag. The psychology behind the purchase has nothing to do with how much the t-shirt costs. It comes down to which store you think has the better product. Wal-Mart holds to the low, low prices marketing campaign, whereas Target promotes quality. Without conscious thought you buy the t-shirt at Target, paying a few cents or dollars more. Why? Because it is engrained in your mind that somehow the t-shirt at Target is of better quality, even though the t-shirts are exactly the same.

Now, let’s apply the theory to the free book phenomenon that is sweeping the e-book publishing industry. The most common reasoning behind the free book release is, ‘I have to get my name out there.’ Ok, I can understand that. It’s true an author wants as many people as possible knowing their name, and their work. However, they may have promoted their product value right into the discount bin. To the avid reader, free equates to of lesser quality. The general thought behind it seems to be the author has to give their books away to get anyone to read them. That’s not necessarily the case, but in many instances it is the perception. The author’s persona is now in line with Wal-Mart’s low, low prices marketing campaign. If they do this long enough, readers will equate the author name with low quality based on promotion of the price. I’ve often been in Wal-Mart and assailed by the free sample ladies in every aisle. I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at Target. The question is: is the author Wal-Mart or are they Target?

Free e-books are flooding the on-line retailers at break-neck speed. In fact, it seems there are so many free books that it’s starting to have a reverse effect. The free book the author worked so hard to create is now buried under thousands of other free books.

What happens to all the free book downloads? The buzz on the web is they tend to stay unread in the bottom of the e-reader for someday.  All the effort the author put into promoting the book for free is most likely sitting at the bottom of the e-readers of the world, right along with the manuscript they spent so much energy in creating. Initially the author will see a spike in sales, just like Wal-Mart does on free sample Saturday. Then the sales of the product plummet or even out to what they were before. Freebies are a short term solution to a long term marketing strategy.

The big publishing houses do not offer freebies for a reason. It’s all about perception of the author. Is the author a quality commodity, or are they not? Are they quality or are they discount? It’s all about branding of the author. How an author presents themselves to the world is exactly how the world will see them. How the world sees them is how they will place value on the author’s work.

I learned this from my own experience in publishing Sticks and Bones. I devalued my own work by dropping the price to 99 cents. I sold more copies of Sticks and Bones at the $2.99 price than I ever have at the 99 cent price point. I also learned a few more things by publishing Sticks and Bones, and I will be blogging more about those lessons in future posts.

Note: There is nothing wrong with shopping at Wal-Mart. I shop there all the time. This is about common public perception.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from Butterfly Phoenix

Frank Finlay as Marley Source Wikipedia

“Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” ~ Jacob Marley, 
from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Oh the words of that infamous ghost of Jacob Marley, ringing truth still on Christmas Eve 2012.

So many times we forget that Ignorance and Want applies to more than just human necessities such as the ability to read and write, or the common needs of food, shelter, and water. Ignorance and Want are clamoring to be alleviated of their thirst at the capped wells of spiritual wholeness.

This isn’t about how long are our individual chains in the great hereafter. It’s about what we are doing in the great here-right-now.

Are we reaching out to those who need reaching out to? If you have a guest in your house do you not say, “Welcome to my home,” or do you first wait for them to say, “Oh thank you, thank you so much for letting me come to your home?” If you wait for the gratitude, you might be waiting an awful long time. Most likely your guest list will dwindle to zero based on, what I’m certain at the very least Miss Manners would consider, gauche behavior on your part. I’m pretty sure that God would like us to use our manners on his behalf as well.

Let’s say you have a friend whom you haven’t seen in quite a while. Do you wait for them to contact you, or do you contact them to find out the reason you haven’t seen them? If you wait for the desperate pleas for your friendship you might find yourself waiting for quite a long time. Perhaps they were waiting to see if you actually cared enough to call. I’m pretty sure that although God checks in on our friends, he’d like us to do the same on his behalf.

If you have a friend who is living through hell, do you stand by and watch? Or, do you say, “How can I help?” Perhaps you can’t help at all. Maybe the situation is so bad, so unbelievably heartbreaking, it is beyond your ability to help, but is it not better to ask than not ask? What if you could have helped and chose not to? (Think Tiny Tim) I’m pretty sure that God always asks.

It’s kind of surreal to watch people become demoralized. We never think that person will be us, but sometimes it is. When demoralization happens, the first reaction on the part of the demoralized is to seek hope. What happens when the light of hope has been willfully turned out? When the common welfare of mankind is no longer the business of those entrusted with the light of hope? When the business of hope is nothing more than a money changer’s table?

In the words of the Christmas carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, written by Longfellow, God is not dead, nor does he sleep. That is a certainty to those who hold to the Christian belief, at least that’s the way I understand it. I think it’s time we start acting like it – individually and in groups.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens holds so many lessons of life within its pages. Did you know that Dickens wrote this infamous timeless classic in six weeks? How can that happen? How can such a profound story of the human condition be written so fantastically, so perfectly in six weeks? Perhaps…just perhaps, there was something more. Something that the world needed to hear and Charles, bless his soul, was good enough to share it.

Have a Merry Christmas one and all. May your business always be the common welfare of mankind.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Koda Christmas: Author Linda Bowers Bolton

Christmas at Linda’s

Christmas is my favorite holiday. Its starts with decorating the weekend after Thanksgiving. No Black Friday sales for me, I hate the crowds. I’d rather put up my tree and take out the Nativity.

Spare time on the weekends are filled with Christmas movies - my favorites are White Christmas and The Holiday. I love the Hallmark Christmas specials too. They really put me in the mood since we don’t get much cold weather here in Texas.

Christmas eve is family day which usually includes adopted family - friends with no family near. I usually cook something from a different culture for the evening meal, German one year, Spanish the next, Italian the year after, etc. Then we watch more Christmas movies and open our gifts at midnight. We take pictures with our gifts then go to bed.

Christmas day is sleeping in and having a yummy brunch of eggs, bacon, hash browns and leftovers! Come join us!
Take 2

Take 2 is a story of love, loss and loving again. There are travels, roadblocks, and struggles. 

Alexandra Daniels is a forty-something, hard-working mom, wife and employee. Her life has been plodding along at a snails pace and she’s longing for excitement. She wins a trip to her favorite talk show in New York, the Veronica Becker Show, and it just so happens the actor of her dreams is a guest, Derek Dunbar! Is Alex’s life about to change?

Derek Dunbar is Scottish, an actor and a hunk! Every woman in America drools after him. He has his pick of women but stinks at relationships. At forty, is he longing for a more meaningful relationship? Does he even know how to have one? Is he willing to make the effort or will it just be too complicated?

Chapter 1

Alex sat in her chair, her eyes wide, staring at the screen. She loved the Veronica Becker Show and was a faithful viewer. During her lunch hour at work she would rush to the break room to turn it on. Veronica had viewer contests every week.  Alex had never won anything but that didn’t prevent her from signing up each week in hopes, knowing full well the likelihood of winning was minimal at best.
            “Today one lucky viewer will win a trip for two to visit New York and my show.  An all-expense-paid weekend!” announced Veronica Becker, touted as the ‘“Every Woman’s Woman’” by national magazines. 
            Veronica Becker had become a household name, a chef for the everyday woman: quick, inexpensive meals that were tasty, too. Veronica had taken her love of cooking to television and added a bit of fashion, some down to earth chat with the audience, and interviews with the latest stars. She was health conscious and wanted the women in her audience to look their best at any age. She also loved to give things away. Coming from a modest family, she believed in giving back. Generous to a fault, if there was an earthquake somewhere, a typhoon, or tornado, Veronica was there to help out.  
            “Our winner is Alexandra Daniels of Plano, Texas! Congratulations! We’ll be giving Alexandra a call today!”
            Her co-workers were staring at her. Had she really won?
            “Alex! That’s you! You won!” they all shouted.
            “! I can’t believe it! I won!”
            Alex had the hardest time concentrating the rest of the afternoon. As a customer service rep for a marketing company, she was usually swamped with work but couldn’t concentrate. Two o’clock rolled around and Alex’s cell rang, a number she didn’t recognize.
            “Is this Alexandra Daniels?”
            “Yes, it is”
            “Alexandra, this is the Veronica Becker show. I am pleased to tell you that you are the winner of a trip for two to New York City and tickets for the show.”
            “I can’t believe it! Are you sure?” Alex was still in shock. She wanted to make sure there was no mistake. Josh would never believe her.
            “Yes, you’ve won! We will send your tickets out next week. Your trip is for April 15th to 17th. Can you make it those dates?”
             “Oh yes!  I’ll make it work! Thank you so much!”
 “We’ll get back to you Monday to finalize the details. Have a great weekend!”
            “Oh, I will now!” Alex was amazed! It was true, she actually won! She was already mentally packing when reality hit. Josh would never take off work to go. Maybe Mattie could go with, she had school. She could ask Kathleen, her best friend and co-worker, but they couldn’t take off at the same time. Kathleen was her back up so one of them had to be there. No, she’d have to go alone. Well, it was about time she did something adventurous. This was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to Alex in a very long time.

 Take 2 is Linda Bolton’s first release due out  December 29 in ebook on Amazon. When she’s not writing she is a new GiGi, playing with her new granddaughter Z, working full-time and writing. While working on a future projects Linda can be found:

Thank you, Linda for sharing your Christmas with us, and also a sneak peek at your new novel, Take 2. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Merry Koda Christmas: Author Cody Martin

Christmas In Translation

Flashing Christmas lights decorate the store windows. Malls and restaurants are playing Christmas music and snow will soon be falling in the northern climes. Presents are wrapped and greeting cards signed, and the KFC dinner is on the table for the big feast. (Insert screeching record sound here). Kentucky Fried Chicken? For Christmas dinner?! What's going on? Turkey and pumpkin pie may be staples of Christmas dinner in America, but it's KFC and Christmas cake in Japan.

I'm an expatriate living in Japan. I've been here just over five years, and I tell you, living overseas can be tough. Even when things are similar, like McDonald's, supermarkets, and Christmas, sometimes the little differences between what you’re use to and what the custom is, are the hardest to deal with.

Christmas in Japan is not a religious holiday. While Christianity is present in Japan, Buddhism and Shinto are the two dominant religions. Christmas came to Japan in the 1800s by missionaries and the first recorded Christmas was celebrated in my home prefecture of Yamaguchi, at the southern end of the big island. That being said, Christmas is looked on as a romantic holiday, more akin to America’s Valentine’s Day.

Couples often have romantic dinners, take walks to enjoy the light displays, and give each other a gift of affection. Romance is in the cold winter air, there’s a reason WHAM’s Last Christmas and Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You are among the most popular Christmas songs. Christmas is somewhat romantic in America also. It’s a time for friends and family, visiting each other’s relatives, maybe even popping the question on that perfect sleigh ride. I spent my first Christmas in Japan alone, with my two feet tall fake tree and some DVDs. But it didn’t get me down. I decorated the tree just like I use to in America, listening to Amy Grant Christmas music and putting the presents mom had mailed me under the tree. Sure, I was alone. But by doing the same holiday traditions in Japan I had done in America, I brought a little piece of home with me. Was it a bad Christmas? No. Just different.

Presents are another staple of Christmas and here in Japan, even this is different. There is no Black Friday or Cyber Monday here; in fact, my wife (who is Japanese) had never heard of these terms before. There are Christmas sales at the store but there is no loud push for you to buy, buy, buy and get that last-minute shopping done. Most people, even children, get one or two presents. That’s it. Sure, some get more, but the norm seems to be one or two. And Santa (whom Japanese kids think lives in Finland or Norway, maybe Greenland) doesn’t put their presents under the tree, which is typically three feet high; he puts them beside their pillow or on the floor at the head of their bed.

When it comes to food, that may be the biggest difference. Turkey is almost non-existent in Japan, and even if they did live here, there is no way they would fit in an average sized oven. Most Japanese people I have met have never eaten turkey in their life; for them, chicken is close enough. KFC runs specials on absolutely gorgeous Christmas dinners for the family and eating KFC on Christmas is usual. But if an American can’t live without turkey or pumpkin pie on Christmas, the Japanese can’t live without their Christmas cake. Often white with strawberries on top (sometimes chocolate or buttercream flavored as well) these are a holiday staple everyone eats every year. Every store, food shop, and convenience store sells these cakes and most of the time you have to order them.

But what is truly missing from Christmas in Japan is the rush: the madness to shop, shop, shop, the stress of getting every family member a gift, driving from store to store looking for the best deal. Christmas is just another holiday here, slightly more important that others, but not the biggest. It’s for the couples, for the romantics, for the parents to show some love to their kids.

That’s what I love most about Christmas: love. Christmas is more about love than Valentine’s Day. It’s the love of Christians for Jesus Christ. It’s the love Santa has for children, wanting to make boys and girls happy. It’s the love of humanity helping each other. It’s a season to love and be loved. And the slowness the Japanese have about the season, the emphasis on romance, is what made me like Christmas even more.

Teaching junior high students about Christmas and discussing differing customs with Japanese people made me realize I can make my own Christmas. Here in Japan, I got to introduce Christmas the way I wanted it to be. I don’t look at my waist high tree as puny, I look at it as the tree my wife and I bought together. She enjoys American music and I was able to introduce my tradition of listening to Amy Grant while we decorate. Her parents are delighted that I give them gifts for Christmas. I’ve eaten Japanese Christmas cake and looked at the Christmas lights while holding hands with my wife. I’ve made my own Christmas here. And when you’re living apart from everything familiar and comforting to you, that’s what you have to do. Make it your own. No matter where you are, Christmas is where you make it.
Cody Martin: Cody is an author living in Iwakuni-Shi, Yamaguchi, Japan. Cody teaches English to junior high students in Japan, as part of the JET Programme. Cody is originally from Cody, WY, USA. He graduated from Kansai Gaidai University in 2005, and the University of Alabama in 2006. 

Cody is the author of Adventure Hunters - Artorius, Regina, and Lisa, are three adventurers who explore ruins and ancient buildings looking for treasures. Most of the time, they're just trying to make ends meet. But when they explore a town rampaged by goblins, they get more than they bargained for. They uncover a cache of ancient war golems, powerful weapons of destruction once thought to be only myths. Soon,they are in a quest for the Lambda Driver, the key to the golems's activation. But they aren't the only ones, and they will have to defy their own king to find it first. If King Ryvas has his way, he will unleash the golems's destructive power on the neighbouring kingdom. The adventurers's quest will take them from mountains to poisoned valleys and enchanted forests but they must hurry. Where is the Lambda Driver? What secret do the golems hold? And why does their friend Regina seem to be in the midst of it all?

Thank you for sharing the amazing customs and traditions of Christmas in Japan. It all sounds so delicious and romantic. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Merry Koda Christmas: Author RaeAnn Hadley

What I Love About Christmas

            There are so many things that I love about Christmas that bring forth the warm fuzzy feelings and moment of believing that everything is right with the world.

            My first and foremost happiness is that people tend to be a little gentler with each other and go out of their way to help others. My daughter’s expression is to “fill someone’s bucket” so that they feel good about themselves. Such a profound statement from someone who’s earthly body is only 8 tender years old. Because of this we try to fill someone’s bucket every day. Not everyone else thinks to do this every day or even every month with life’s busy schedule but around Christmas people seem to remember and offer that courtesy. I am hopeful that maybe some of them realize how great it feels and start to do it more often throughout the year.

            The second thing I love SO much about Christmas is being able to be a child again. Being the mother of two young girls, I’m transported back to my magical and whimsical holiday seasons where Santa was watching my every move and elves were busy making my perfect gift. The smell of cookies filled the house daily, hot chocolate was always ready when chilly hands and tummies needed warming and the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree filled me with excitement and anticipation. My husband and I are both child-like during the holidays and enjoy creating the fantastic, magical world that offers a special time and place in the hearts of our young. We bake our cookies, decorate our tree, make our snowmen and revel in the fact that we are healthy, blessed and together as a family.

            The third thing that I love so much is being able to share within our community. Our girls donate their time in the retirement homes where they read to the elderly, sing to them and bring them cards. We also become a Secret Santa to a family in need and buy a large amount of food items that we drop off, ringing the bell and running away before the intended family can see who it was. Granted, we like to anonymously donate throughout the year but there is something special about surprising a family at Christmas time and being able to bring them closer to the magical realm that I had growing up as a child.

            I have so many more things that I love about this time of year but I will end it here and leave you with this thought. We all know how wonderful it feels to receive, whether it is gifts, a compliment, love or support. Imagine how greater that feeling is when we fill someone else’s bucket. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and remember, life is meant to be fun; enjoy the journey.

RaeAnne Hadley: RaeAnne is an author from Craig, CO, USA. RaeAnne writes mystery and paranormal romance. Her works include, Mechanics of Murder (2004), WithLove; Now & Forever (2011), - From outward appearances, Anastasia Cassadine has the perfect life; a very successful company and handsome men vying to be her companion. But the appearance she projects is terribly misleading. Ana is haunted by a dark secret from her past, one that involved her first love, Austin Troy. Shadows (2011), and Love’s Everlasting Song (Dec. 2011) - The physical attraction between the two is immediate but Rebecca struggles with her pending divorce and need to be successful in her career. As Rebecca begins to open her heart and believe in her future, her past won't leave her alone and threatens to destroy everything she has worked for. Can she fight to put her past to rest and begin a new life or will this be her swan song?

Thank you RaeAnne for sharing with us today! It seems your kind and generous heart will be a tradition handed down for many generations. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Koda Christmas: Author, Arlene R. O'Neil

Christmas Memories-Precious Love

What we experience in the past is either brought forward with us in life or banished and forgotten. It is the memories of previous Christmases that I love now. Those years when I was a child, when my son was a child, his first Christmas and those that followed, are what I now hold dear to my heart. Times and circumstances have changed, yet every year I pull out the memories of Christmases Past.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were always filed with family, food, presents, music, laughter, and relatives. Those two days of the year were amazing, a time when everything came to life! Prior to the actual event, Dad would string the lights outside, in the snow and ice, perched precariously on a ladder, while Mom made cookies and hot chocolate. Excitement built as Christmas Eve arrived.

Those memories can be called to mind quickly for me, and then blended with the first Christmas Eve at my house after my only son Tanner, was born. I carried on the traditions set forth by my parents, of a tree surrounded by presents, of tables filled with food, and of carols bursting forth from the stereo. My house was abundant with love. My living room overflowed with a tree way too full and much too tall! One year I bought my tree late and all that was available on the lot were the frozen ones - still tied with bale twine. I stood one up. In comparison to the sky, I thought, “Yes…this will fit nicely in the living room.” Lo and behold I ended up with a tree like the Griswold’s in “Christmas Vacation!” Lop a little off the bottom, a little more off the top, and after a few hours it stood nicely in its stand, nailed to the floor. It wasn’t however, until it thawed and grew from the living room into the dining room that I realized I needed to shop for a lot more ornaments!

Then of course there were the years when Christmas dinner took on an entirely new meaning. I had my husband’s family as well as my own for a sit-down dinner at 1 o’clock for about 30-35 people. There were a few friends who had nowhere to go and were invited also, which made the count vary from holiday to holiday, so I always made more food than I first planned. As the years passed away so did some of the guests, and I found it difficult to cook for only eight or ten people. Thus the “drop in” holidays were born. I still had the traditional family dinner, but now it was followed by a full buffet for my son’s friends, from 5 o’clock until whenever. Teenagers would drop by, eat, play Nintendo, watch TV, or just hang out. This tradition lasted until my son joined the Army. Then life took a drastic change.

Alone… my first Christmas without my son. My husband had passed years ago, and while those years were difficult, somehow as long as Tanner and I were together, we were strong. Now my son would be in the desert for Christmas wearing Camouflage instead of Dr. Dentons.  This is a point where memories collide – the good with the bad. It must have been the end of November when reality actually set in. My son would be in a war zone and there was nothing I could do…or was there?

There were 189 Soldiers in Tanner’s unit and I set out to make certain that each had at least one gift to unwrap Christmas morning. This was the start of “Operation Tanner Claus.” By sending a few emails, putting a box at the local coffee shop, and a lot of help from online friends, I managed to collect over 600 gifts for the troops! There were Christmas trees and lights, toys and candies, cookies and energy bars! All were shipped to Iraq by December 10th and arrived in time for the holiday!  A few years later, “Operation Tanner Claus” would be reborn and sent to Afghanistan, this time with over 1,000 presents – each tagged “Thank you, Soldier!” The joy of having friends over for a “wrapping” party every Sunday, of sharing pizza and soda while listening to Christmas music, of packing the car filled with boxes for the post office, are the memories I have now of Christmases past. This year, the first one in seven years, I will meet my son in Connecticut during the holidays. Unfortunately it won’t be until a few days after the actual day of Christmas, but I will hold on tight to my memories until I arrive and make new ones!

Holidays are hard especially when you are alone. You don’t want to go to parties just in case you get emotional, and of course, you don’t want to put a damper on anyone else’s good time. You don’t really want to stay home either, for you fear the walls will begin to close in around you. Last year as well as this year, I will spend the days with my animals – my five pet goats and two Labradors.  I will also be online, talking to others who are alone. The afternoon of Christmas Eve I will chill a pound of shrimp and cocktail sauce and make a huge antipasto, a tradition I started last year. The dogs and goats will receive their share and will open their presents – a fresh square bale of hay for the goats, and new toys for the dogs. Christmas Day will be spent much the same way, adding in a quick dinner with some friends. Then I will come home to relive the memories of the past as I curl up in bed with my Labradors, Holly and Bruno, and watch Christmas movies.

I look forward to seeing my family a few days after Christmas, but until then I have a lifetime of glowing memories to relive!

Arlene R. O’Neil
All Rights Reserved

 Biography of Arlene R. O’Neil:

“Writing is what lights me up,” states Arlene R. O’Neil. “Being a visual writer, I love seeing my work come to life: to take the reader with me on a journey word by word: to touch a reader whether through laughter or tears.” Her current book, “Broken Spokes,” refers to broken bones, broken bike, and broken spirit. It speaks to the reader of determination, of survival, of inspiration.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Mrs. O’Neil moved to South Carolina to work on her second novel, which will relate the roller coaster life of being the parent of a Soldier on active duty. O’Neil says, “My son, SGT Tanner O’Neil, is a member of the United States Army and the joy, pride, and love of my life. After five tours of duty to active war zones, I feel the need to share my experience with other parents in hope of lessening their fears.” SGT O'Neil has just recently returned from his 5th tour.

Currently Arlene lives with her two Labradors, Holly and Bruno, and her adorable pet goats, Paxton, JaeJay, Rupert, Patches, and Frosty. “These amazing characters have helped me through some incredibly difficult times and I love them dearly.”

Aside from writing, supporting her son while deployed, and caring for her animals, Arlene recently moved into her new home where she has three acres of land for her and her beloved animals to enjoy.

An author, editor and proofreader, Arlene R. O’Neil may be contacted at
Thank you, Arlene for sharing your very personal thoughts and memories of Christmas. I, and I'm sure the Butterfly Phoenix readers, would like to send a personal note of thanks and gratitude to your son and his fellow soldiers for their service. THANK YOU and Merry Christmas. May you be safe, warm, and loved this holiday season.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Merry Koda Christmas: Author, DeEtte Beckstead

What I Love About Christmas

When I read the theme, I thought “Gee, I haven’t written an essay for school in… well, decades!” I decided to approach it as such and see what happened.

I love Christmas. I love the lights and the music, the specials on television.  I love how people seem to cheer up during the season. I’m one who loves a white Christmas. I love to go to Dickens festivals or, as is the case this year, Mystic Village. It’s a time when I can slip into a fantasy world of love and cheer, even when circumstances that bombard me are of a different opinion. It’s a time when seeing people in costumes of other times, even if they weren’t easier, still have an appeal toward that simpler life ideal.

I love the traditions. I love decorating the Christmas tree. Years ago, I used to spend hours wrapping the strings of lights meticulously around the branches to be sure the lights were evenly distributed and the wires wouldn’t interfere with the ornaments. The most cherished ornament is a glass bell that was on my mother’s first Christmas tree in 1915. In three years, it will be a hundred years old. It goes near the top of the tree to protect it from inquisitive little hands (and dogs and cats). Our family tradition was that the ornament stayed on the tree as long as the kids got along. If they fought with one another, the bell would come off the tree. There was one year it did come off. I don’t think they will ever forget that. This year, the bell will be visiting the tree at my son’s, where I will be celebrating.

Other traditions I love:
·         Eggnog 
·         Musical oranges made by pushing a candy cane into an orange and sucking till the juice comes through the candy.
·         Our traditional family hot cocoa made with evaporated milk (this also appears in my novel Victory)
·         Going to the Nutcracker with my grandson. We missed it last year, and will again this year (I am 2000 miles away this year). Maybe I will be able to take him again soon…
·         Watching It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street
·         Celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 5th
·         Going out for a Christmas light tour somewhere in the city
·         Midnight church services

Judging from my list, it’s easy to see I love spending time with family and friends. I love all the warmth and fun that comes from baking and decorating cookies with my grandchildren, watching their sparkling eyes and beautiful smiles as we create something special together.

I love to make gifts for my family. It doesn’t matter if they would win prizes; it matters because there is love built into it.

When my children were small, my father-in-law had lots of money, especially compared to my own dad. Their paternal grandfather spent way more than was necessary on the kids (he wanted to), but my dad, who was retired and didn’t have much money, spent hours in his workshop, sawing, gluing, nailing, painting. He made wooden cars and animals, rocking horses, cupboards, nightstands and rocking chairs. The monetary investment was small, but those handmade gifts were the items my now-grown children still treasure.  Some have even been passed down to the next generation. They knew Grandpa Beckstead had built love into them. Yes, their other grandparents loved them, and had taken time to buy something for them. They appreciated that and love them for it. But those small pieces of painted wood were extra special! The love was tangible; they were like hugs from their beloved grandpa. Now that he is gone, they treasure those items even more.

I love seeing my children giving from their hearts: their talents, their time. If there is one thing I did right as a mother, it was to teach my children that “building love into” a gift makes it so much more than what it appears on the outside. Even if it is a purchased gift, I know my kids take time to really think about the person the gift is for. When I crochet a doll or stuffed animal for one of my grandkids, I pray over it, asking God to bless the child who will love it. Gifts to me? I prefer drawings from my grandchildren to paintings by the Masters. I would rather have a macaroni necklace made by a 3 year old than diamonds; a tissue paper flower than a dozen long-stemmed roses.

But the thing I think I love most about Christmas is that it is the time of year we remember God’s most wondrous gift to us: Jesus. It doesn’t matter if we have the right date or not. What matters is that we celebrate and thank God for His love. A quote from my book Victory sums up my feelings

I am not going to let one man, or even a group of men, stop me from celebrating the birth of Jesus. If I have to do it alone, I will. But no matter what label man puts on it, or whether or not this is the ‘right’ date, this season is still when we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior. He is always faithful to us, and wants us to be faithful to Him. He wants us to trust Him and be full of faith.

That means I will celebrate Him. No one can stop me. It’s truly my God-given right. If others want to share the joy of Christmas, all the better. But with or without others, there will be joy in my heart and I will celebrate the birth of my Lord!

And with that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas!
DeEtte Beckstead Anderton: DeEtte is an author from Salt Lake City, UT, USA. DeEtte’s first work, The Christmas Visitorswas published November 25, 2012; and her first novel, Victory, - Victory, a town where the people love their country and their neighbors, but what happens when two visitors come to town? One comes with fear and control, slowly taking away the freedoms the people love. The other comes with faith. When darkness overtakes the town who will have Victory? - was just released on Friday, December 7, 2012. 

Thank you, DeEtte for sharing your thoughts on, and memories of, Christmas!!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Merry Koda Christmas: Author, Roxane B. Salonen

What I love about Christmas:
“Waiting in Joyful Hope”
Roxane B. Salonen, Fargo, ND

What I love most about Christmas happens well before Dec. 25.

Let me explain. The other day I visited the online calendar of the parochial school my youngest sons attend, and was met with these words: “Waiting in Joyful Hope.”

Those four words exemplify what I love about Christmas.

When I was young, Christmas often was about accumulating as many presents as possible. My sister and I would have contests to see who had the most gifts under the tree. Who would be the victor?

But even as we played this little game, I have to believe we felt the shallowness of it all. I have reflected back on this empty endeavor many times through the years while contemplating what Christmas really means.

To be fair, back then I was caught up in the consumerism of the season like everyone else I knew. But over time, I’ve become more mindful of the most treasured gift for which we await this time each year.

What could be a better present than that of unconditional love; the kind of love we can only receive in full from the one who is God, the one who loved us into being?

Now in my post-greed days, my Christmas season tends to builds slowly leading up to Dec. 25 and reaching a crescendo at Christmas Eve Mass, when I am reminded, anew, of the most important gift of all. And because I’ve trained myself to peek behind the flashing lights to discover that deeper meaning, I hold on to Christmas as long as possible. After all, is there any reason to let go of hope? Do we really need to toss it out like yesterday’s Christmas tree on Dec. 26?

Even as we succumb to the exorbitant measures our culture pushes pre-Christmas in order to reach its financial goals, I really believe that underlying all of that, every human heart understands on some level that there’s something more.

The child who has become greedy through commercials and ads promising material things can fulfill understands at bottom that the pleasure of receiving a new toy is fleeting.

I don’t want to belittle the joy of wrapping a gift and giving it to a loved one or someone in need. But in the end, what we all long for the very most – each and every one of us – is what I mentioned at the start: unconditional love.

Christmas, to me, is the promise of that, both in the build-up and lead-in and follow-through. It was never meant to be one big event that ends in an anticlimactic thud. Rather, it is a waiting, in joyful hope, for something that is coming. The moment our hearts grasp this, they will have no choice but to leap for joy!

No matter the excess of glitz and glitter that sometimes falsely presents this hope, I believe every human heart can grasp the loveliness of the joy of hopeful expectation.

This is what keeps Christmas in our hearts after the snow melts. It is what keeps us living and loving into January and beyond.

God bless your Advent and Merry Christmas to All!

Roxane Salonen has been my friend for several years. She is the author of  P is for Peace Garden, and First Salmon, both great children's books. In addition to her writing, Roxane is a wife and the mother of five beautiful children. She never ceases to amaze me in her courage and conviction in all that she does.  Thank you, Roxane, for sharing your thoughts on Christmas with us today!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Merry Koda Christmas: Author Alycia Neighbours

As I pull out of my driveway, I notice the house across the street has lined their yard with impressive holiday lighting, just like last year. This year they have added twinkly lights around their door and a beautiful red bow on the mailbox. Down the street a little, another home has a stag standing proudly while a doe grazes beside him outlined in lights in the front yard next to a nativity scene lit by a spotlight.

Halfway into town, I have passed houses outlined in elegant white lights and wreaths on every window. I have seen colorful bulbs on the bushes and lit trees inside front windows that have been opened wide. Gated communities, farm houses, and apartment buildings all with the same electrical candles glowing from windows.

Stretched across the street entering the city is a banner wishing “Happy Holidays” in sparkling green foil. There are signs pointing the way to fresh Christmas trees and “Merry Christmas” scrolls across the bank marquee along with the time and temperature. Cardboard signs advertise the annual parade in big block letters with the promise of Santa’s appearance.

Everywhere I drive the decorations come into view. Strangers smile easier and stories of kindness, generosity and holiday spirit are shared more often. Traditions are followed precisely and loved ones begin the trek across the town or country to share in memories and create new tales. Cards begin to show up in the mail bearing the faces of family and friends along with the wishes of the Season.

Then I pass a plot of land dotted with stone memorials, where the air is mostly met with tears and prayers. My eye catches the glimmer of something shiny and I have just enough time before it leaves my field of view as I continue my journey to see a small Christmas tree erected beside one monument.

This is what I love about Christmas.

The decorations assure me that we have a passion that supersedes our pain. It is the thing that unites us no matter our circumstance. No matter how we might feel alone in our world, Christmas decorations put out for all to see shows us that we are here all together.

The child that carries a plate of homemade cookies in the shapes of trees and stars into their classroom for all to enjoy.

A dad that spent hours getting the strands perfect on the gutters of his home and gathers the family in the lawn to witness the “lighting.”

The employee who hangs the tinsel on the tree in the lobby and greets everyone who comes in with a hearty “Happy Holidays.”

The woman who stands beside a stone marker smiling at the little tree and the memories in her heart.

This time of year, no matter who you are, what you have endured, or what you will encounter; you only have to look around at the Christmas decorations to see that you aren’t alone. Regardless of the stories that have dominated the news of hurt, anger and injustice; stories will emerge of acts of kindness that give us hope again.

We know that as we wake on Christmas morning and watch our children, friends and family unwrap the gifts we agonized to pick, that it is more blessed to give than receive. There will be a moment of heartache as we know that not everyone had our blessings, and there are some down the road who are suffering, but we will see our own with a better clarity.

There will be many alone this year. Countless will be almost too busy, but they haven’t forgotten. Thousands will be away to sacrifice all they have for the ones left behind. Thousands of letters to Santa that aren’t asking for a toy, but rather something more heartbreaking.

There will be empty chairs around Christmas dinner, reminding us of those we lost. There will be stories from Christmas’ past that make us laugh. There will be the one gift you didn’t expect that assures you that you are important. There will be the smile across the room that reminds you that you are loved. There will be many watching the same timeless classics on the television that recalls the importance of beliefs.

Yet, every year as I drive I see the wreaths, the trees and the lights that unite us. Our hearts, our hopes and our dreams are not at all unique, and one only has to look down the road a little to see the Spirit of Christmas set up for all to enjoy.

Alycia Neighbours - Hendersonville, Tennesseee

Author of "Deciding To Dance" and "Wake Up In The Mourning"
Blog - "Diary of '...and frankly.'"
Twitter - @and_frankly
FaceBook - "Diary of '...and frankly.'"

Thank you, Alycia Neighbours for sharing your favorite things about Christmas!!!

All week authors will be sharing their thoughts and memories of Christmas! Join us in our Holiday Celebration!