I know I owe you guys a chapter in The Sheriff and Mrs. Jannsen and I promise I'll get that to you next week. I bet you've been wondering about that Christmas project I've hinted at a few times, huh? What, you missed the hints? Gosh I'm good! Oh, you're teasing? That's cool too.
All right, I've done enough suspense building. So yes, I've been hard at work on my first Christmas novella: Holly & Mr. Ivy. Let me introduce you to the characters and if you're patient, you'll get to see the cover too.
The idea came when I was trying to think of what I could write for Christmas for my older audience. I love my illustrated children's books (and there's one of those in the works right now too) but I realized that my faithful teen and adult readers might want something more to their reading level. The obvious choice was a sweet romance. But there are tons of those at the holidays, so how could I make mine stand out?
Then this pretty girl loped into my head. She settled down and got comfortable before saying, "Hi. I'm Holly, Canine Matchmaker Second Class." That's quite a mouthful from a dog so we chatted for a bit and story came along next. Holly is an Irish Setter mix who was born at Fuzzy Hearts Animal Shelter. When she wasn't immediately adopted like her brothers and sisters, she was taken under the wing of Marmalade and Mitzy, a cat and dog duo who train matchmakers at the shelter. Once her training is complete, Marmalade searches for the perfect home for Holly. One which desperately needs her matchmaking skills. And that is when Tremayne Ivy came in.
Tremayne is an English teacher by day, author and illustrator by night and he looks an awful lot like one of my favorite actors, Denzel Washington. One of the first PG-13 movies my mom watched with me was The Pelican Brief. My little teen heart went pitter-patter and I've had a secret crush on Denzel for years. Anyway, Tremayne is waiting for that one story which will vault him into fame and fortune. Or at least fortune. He's not interested in dating or marriage and only goes to adopt a pet when his mother bewails his empty house. Afraid she might bring him a cat, he decides it's time for a dog. He sends an application to Fuzzy Hearts and has no idea when he receives an email that he's been approved to adopt how crazy his life is about to get.
Now, this next character came in as a surprise to me. Tremayne goes to the shelter and wouldn't you know it? Holly has a best friend who has been in the shelter too long. When Holly overhears that the scarred beagle is going to be put down if he's not adopted soon, she decides to take a chance. Between her big puppy eyes and Tremayne's instant connection to him, Kip finds himself going to a loving home for the first time in his life. Kip is an older dog, scarred from being used as bait in a dog fight. He's blind in one eye and walks with a bit of a limp, but he hasn't let the misfortunes in his life make him bitter. He's loving and encouraging and plays an important role in finding Tremayne's match, a math teacher and basketball coach named Victoria Claremont.
It took a while to determine what Victoria looked like and unfortunately I don't have a picture for you. It's considered rude to take random pictures of strangers when you're at a restaurant. So you'll just have to settle for a description. Victoria has long, wavy blond hair and dark blue eyes. Dark enough that they are almost violet. She's tall and slender with an infectious smile. (Seriously, this lady I saw was so pretty!) She's new in the district and did not get off to a good start with Tremayne by taking the coaching position he'd wanted. When he offered to volunteer time with the team, Victoria refused resulting in an argument that left them on the opposite side of friends. Imagine her surprise when a trip to the local bookstore introduces her to Kip, a beagle who has obviously seen better days and reminds her of her beloved Barkley who passed away a few years before. Even discovering that the dog belongs to Tremayne can't stop the lovable Kip from wriggling right into her heart.
Kip knows Victoria is the one and it's going to take all of Holly's training, plus a little Christmas magic, to make take these two rivals admit that maybe the sparks flying between them aren't all from anger.
And now, the big cover reveal. Many thanks to Perry Elizabeth and her husband Tyler for this beautiful cover. I knew I wanted the cover to feature Holly since she's such an integral part of the story. The winter landscape they showed me was almost perfect and they were able to add the twinkling Christmas lights I wanted to represent a scene in which Tremayne and Victoria walk around the softly lit park under the moonlight. They captured it beautifully, don't you think?
So now you know what I've been working on for the last couple months. It should be out the very end of October, and yes for those in the area, I do plan on having paperback copies available at the Country Quiltin' by Design Craft Show in November (more details about that event to come).
Tell me what you think in the comments and if you know someone who loves Christmas romance with fun pets, be sure to share the news. If you have questions for me or for the characters, just ask!
The price of trying something new is often a scary word: failure. Most of us don't do something perfectly the first time we try it. Some of us don't even do it perfectly the tenth or hundredth time we try it. For every successful attempt, there are plenty of failures. And more often than not, the failures far outnumber the successes. So, why keep trying?
My children reminded me why today.
I'm homeschooling my older two children right now and one of the things I love about it is the freedom I have to do things which would be impractical (if not impossible) in a traditional classroom. Since it is Talk Like a Pirate Day, I thought it would be fun if our learning today was centered around the theme of pirates. We drew pirates for journal time (and my son drew a rather impressive ship and crew considering he's five). We listened to Mama Hook Knows Best and talked about the lessons young James learned. Then it was time for a science experiment. It was one I was really excited for and have been planning since I saw it on Facebook over a month ago. We were going to make chocolate soda bottles and fill them with M&M's. Oh were we excited! I had planned several lessons that could go along with this and it fit right in with our theme because is there any greater treasure than candy to a five-year-old?
We melted the chocolate and I swirled it in the bottles. They watched me put them in the fridge to cool and harden. Then it was time to take the soda bottles off and that's where things went awry. First I couldn't find my craft knife and had to resort to a small, but sharp, kitchen knife. It worked okay and then I realized the knife had cut through the chocolate too. No biggie, I thought, I'll just leave the top of the bottle off. No big deal.
Then I started to pull the plastic away from the chocolate. Chunks of chocolate broke off while my children watched. I waited for the tantrums. Waited for them to shout that I'd done it on purpose and was ruining their lives (I have drama queens). I steeled myself for what I thought was inevitable: the demand to start over and try again right now.
But that didn't happen. My children smiled and giggled. "Oops," my son said, "guess it didn't quite work right, did it?"
I seized the moment to teach them a different lesson than I planned. "Nope, it sure didn't. What do you think we should have done differently?"
"It needs more chocolate," said my daughter (who is three).
"And you should have looked more for your craft knife. But look, Mommy, the bottom stayed together. Can we use that as a bowl instead of having a treasure chest?"
My son is a genius, in case I've never told you that. I poured some M&M's into the "bowl" and we took pictures of our failed experiment before enjoying our little treat.
But as I thought about it more, I realized we didn't really fail. My children learned about solids and liquids as they watched the chocolate melt, just like I had planned. Without realizing it, they learned about the scientific process and how scientists take "failures" and improve them. They learned that it's okay for things to not go the way we planned. And they learned that even failed experiments can bring sweet results.
We didn't get to estimate how many M&M's would fill a chocolate soda bottle this time. We didn't get to take pictures of our experiment succeeding in all it's chocolaty glory. But, they learned some great lessons and they had a lot of fun. And isn't that the best part of an experiment? Isn't that what makes trying something new so enjoyable? Don't be discouraged if you don't do it perfectly the first time, or the tenth time. Or even the hundredth time. Keep trying, keep learning, keep experimenting.
Someday we'll try to bottle experiment again. We'll use more chocolate and I'll make sure I know where my craft knife is ahead of time. And if it falls apart again, that's okay. We can always try, try again.
My wonderful readers, I first would like to thank you for the abundance of love, support and prayers you have offered during this difficult time for me. I have felt those prayers and thoughts so deeply and am so humbled by the response I have seen. Huge hugs to each of you wonderful readers, both men and women, who have offered your sympathy and hugs. And now that I've made us all mushy, it's time to start The Sheriff and Mrs. Jannsen! Here is the first chapter, which you may have already read if you've ordered Scarlett and Blizzard. If not, enjoy! I'm not sure when I'll be able to get this onto YouTube, but I will try *crosses fingers* to have that done before the next chapter goes up as well as catching up on Scarlett and Blizzard's chapters. Don't forget to voice your opinion on what should happen next. Because poll options are no longer available, I'll ask the question and give the options after the chapter. All you have to do is comment here to let me know what you want to see happen next! Also, last thing I promise before I give you the chapter, please take a moment to fill out this reader survey for me. It really will help me. And without further ado, The Sheriff and Mrs. Jannsen.
There’s nothing quite like a wedding to point out how lonely you are. Maybe that’s not exactly fair of me, but it’s true.
Sorry, I guess I should introduce myself. I’m Tabitha Jannsen. You’ve probably met my girls, Scarlett and Blizzard. They’re quite the pair aren’t they? Blizzard is preparing for her junior year in high school and Scarlett has finally married her knight in chaps and cowboy hat.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for her. I really am. But I can’t deny how much I’ll miss her. Granted, she was planning on leaving the nest anyway. She’s recently taken a work-study position at the University of Wyoming’s business school. It’s about time too. I could tell she was getting antsy here at Starwood Acres. Her dreams are elsewhere, though I certainly hope she’ll stay close enough for an easy visit. Maybe I can convince her that Pine Springs really does need its very own gourmet cocoa shop once she graduates from college.
Anyway, I’m rambling. I tend to do that when I’m nervous and this is something totally new to me. Blizzard is much better at these sorts of things than I am. But she told me after writing Scarlett’s story, she’s done writing for a while. We’ll see how long that lasts.
So, where to start? I guess right where I did. Scarlett’s wedding was perfect in every way. From her princess gown to the star-studded, cowgirl boots she wore under it. I guess you can take the girl from the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. We held the reception right here at Starwood. If you’ve never been to Wyoming in the summer, you need to plan a visit. It’s beautiful here with the Teton Mountains standing strong in the distance. Nights can get chilly and the wind out here is really something. But it’s home. At least it has been for the last thirty years. I moved here after marrying Paul. He met me at one of my rodeos and somehow convinced me that ranch-life was just the thing I needed. He was right, of course. He always was. For a long time everything was perfect. We were happy as could be and then Scarlett was born. Despite wanting a whole house-full of babies, it took ten years before Blizzard came. But Paul never complained, never worried. He always said things would happen in God’s time. I just didn’t know that God’s timing would take him away from me far too soon. It wasn’t long after Blizzard’s tenth birthday that he got suddenly sick and died.
My thoughts strayed to Paul often during the reception. Every first I watched Scarlett and Josiah accomplish reminded me of my firsts with Paul. Their first dance. Their ring ceremony. Josiah smearing frosting on Scarlett’s nose. All of it brought a flood of memories. I tried my best not to let Scarlett see how I felt. This was her special night and I wasn’t about to spoil it. Blizzard sang them an absolutely beautiful song and tears sprang in my eyes. I didn’t know what the DJ said to her as she was leaving the stage, but her teal eyes were as big as saucers and her grin put the sun to shame. She skipped over to me, her purple-streaked curls bouncing around her face. “Ohmigosh, Mom, you’ll never believe it! Mom, are you crying?”
I smiled. “Oh, I’m fine honey. That was a beautiful song and it really touched me, that’s all.”
Blizzard frowned. If there’s one thing she can’t stand, it’s secrets. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Positive. Now what am I never going to believe?”
“The DJ said he might have some connections to getting me into a recording studio! A real recording studio! How awesome would that be?”
“I’m proud of you, sweetheart,” I said. “When will you know?”
“He said it will probably take some time. I’m going to go tell Scarlett. You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Quit worrying about me,” I retorted with a smile. “Go on.”
As she was leaving, a familiar voice said, “That girl’s got more energy than any human being should be allowed.”
My heart leapt in my throat as I turned to see Sheriff William Henley leaning against a nearby tree. “I wouldn’t have her any other way. The world needs a little more light.”
He nodded and moved closer. “Yep, I suppose it does. Especially after all you ladies have been through.”
I didn’t need reminded. Starwood Acres had always been safe, until unrequited love drove one of our hands to do the unthinkable. A shiver raced up my spine as my thoughts turned to what might have happened if Josiah and Scarlett hadn’t acted as swiftly as they had. “But that’s all behind us now, right?”
William put a gentle hand over mine. “Yes, ma’am. None of them will be bothering you again, I guarantee it.”
My mother chose that particular moment to demand my attention. “There you are, Tabitha. If you don’t come soon you’ll miss seeing Scarlett off. That cowboy of hers has it in his head to run away with her.”
“He’s not exactly running away with her, Mom,” I pointed out with a sigh as William moved away. “Scarlett’s unlikely to tell Josiah no tonight.” I followed her to see that Josiah had indeed carried Scarlett to his truck and placed her in the truck bed where she stood to throw her bouquet. Girls squealed and giggled as it flew over their heads. A smile teased the corners of my mouth. I clapped with everyone else and waved as Josiah helped his bride into the truck and drove away. “Good luck, you two,” I called.
“How do you like that?” Mom grumped. “They didn’t even come over here to say goodbye!”
“They’re young and in love, Mom. Leave them be,” I replied. “Come help me get things taken down. It could rain overnight and I’d rather not have all these new tablecloths ruined.”
Thankfully between Mom, Blizzard and my dear friend, Amelia, we were able to get things cleaned up fairly quickly. Blizzard, though she claimed she was too excited to sleep, quickly disappeared to her room after everyone left. I can’t say I blame her. I love my mother dearly, I truly do. But she can be overbearing and once she starts hearing wedding bells, you may as well give it up. She won’t stop talking about them until everyone she comes in contact with is happily married. Unfortunately, that meant I got to be her target for the evening. As we were washing dishes, Mom said, “So, who was that talking to you earlier?”
“Sheriff Henley is just a friend, Mom.”
“He’s very handsome,” Mom observed.
Can’t argue that one, I thought. William was handsome. Silver at the temples with dark brown hair gave William a classic, yet rugged appeal. His brown eyes were warm and kind. He kept our town safe and volunteered first when anyone needed help. However, I wasn’t about to let my mother in on my thoughts. “Hmm.”
“Don’t you ‘hmmm’ me, Tabitha Ann. I saw how you were looking at him. Is he single?”
“Why don’t you try dating him? Paul’s been gone six years now. It’s time to move on.”
“Mother, if and when I ‘move on’ is strictly between me and God. You are not privy to that conversation,” I snapped. She was quiet and I sighed, “Look, Mom, there are a lot of factors to consider. You of all people should understand. At first, I was too busy here with Blizzard and Scarlett and keeping the ranch afloat and now,” I sighed again. “I don’t know, Mom. I guess I’m just not sure the time is right. And if it at all makes you feel better, William and I have seen each other casually a few times over the last year.”
She gave me a small smile. “Well, I suppose that’s progress in the right direction.”
I wasn’t sure I’d call it that. But if it got Mom off my back for a little while, I’d take it.
What Happens Next?
Fall is coming and Blizzard has decided they need to do something to celebrate and bring people out to Starwood. Which of the following options do you like best? Comment below!
A. Corn Maze/Corn Husking
B. Moonlit Trail Ride
C. Harvest Party
D. Why pick one? They should do it all!
It's part of life. That's what we tell ourselves. It happens to so many. I didn't even know, so I shouldn't feel so bad. It could have been so much worse...
These are all thoughts I've had over the last few hours since hearing from my doctor. I'll back up a little to the beginning and then try to express how I'm feeling. There will be tears. There will be sorrow and perhaps even a little anger. And most of all, this is for me. Writing soothes my troubled heart. It heals my broken soul. It's part of how I express myself to God and how I let Him into my life.
I'll start with Monday. It started as a perfectly normal day. My husband kissed me before he left for work and told me he loved me. My children woke up, they did their morning routine and I started school with my Kindergartener. We decided to have a cooking experiment for science: Pineapple Upside Down Cookies. They didn't turn out quite how expected, but were delicious anyway. Then at about 10:00 something changed. I started to feel pain in my abdomen, and thinking I just needed to use the bathroom, I left Gary with his phonics book and excused myself to the restroom. Relieving myself didn't make the pain go away. Instead, the pain escalated. I lay down on the floor in pain and being the stubborn woman I am, tried to convince myself to power through it. But a little voice said, "Jess, you can't power through this. Call Jonathan."
I called for Gary to bring me my cell phone, which he did. "Mommy are you okay?"
"I'm just not feeling well," I said with as much of a smile as I could manage. "Go do your next page, okay?"
I called Jonathan and left a message for him. He called back within a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I tried to get myself up, but nausea and dizziness forced me back down. When he arrived, he gave me a blessing and then called paramedics. I was taken to the nearer, but smaller and less equipped, hospital. One of the EMT's in the ambulance with me said, "Honey, I just want you to know what we're thinking. We think you might be having an ectopic pregnancy." My eyes glazed with tears and she added, "It could be your appendix, or your gall bladder. But I just thought you should know."
It was ridiculous to be thinking to myself that my appendix bursting or my gall bladder suddenly having issues out of nowhere sounded like much better options. I had heard some of my friends and acquaintances talk about losing a baby and each time an instinctive prayer was said: "Please, dear God, don't let it be me." Selfish perhaps. I've never believed myself strong enough to face that kind of heartbreak. I don't think my friends and acquaintances are all that much stronger than I am, which is perhaps why guilt always accompanied that prayer.
The hospital I was taken to was ill-equipped for my problems and within a few hours I was sent back home, still in agonizing pain. By midnight, the pain had built considerably and I felt a sharp pang from my abdomen through my right shoulder. I was horrified, but not nearly so as my husband who called 911 after I passed out on our couch and didn't respond to him. I was rushed to the farther hospital and after some tests and exams, it was determined I needed surgery. The ER doctor said the words I dreaded facing. Ectopic pregnancy. My OB came to talk to me about how surgery would proceed and did his best to reassure me.
Coming out of surgery is hard for me. I haven't had to often, but each time it's like being put back into my body and yet not at the same time. I caught bits of phrases. "Viable egg". "Internal bleed." Was it even possible? Dared I to hope? Yet, I clung to those words as I slipped back to sleep.
When I awoke, Jonathan was by my side. "How are you feeling?"
"Sore and tired," I rasped.
He filled me in on what the OB had told him after surgery. They couldn't find the baby, probably because I was at most two weeks along. But the OB was guessing that the baby implanting in the ovary was what had caused the internal bleeding which led to my severe pain.
"So, I could still be pregnant?"
"It's possible. But that could still mean the baby is in the tube, or maybe the baby did make it safely to the womb. We'll set up an appointment and do some tests before deciding how to proceed."
I clung to that hope. I needed it. When I came home, I did my best to smile and look positive for my children. They had been scared and worried, and it showed. We tried to do things as normally as possible. My wonderful mother-in-law came to help out and I spent several minutes calling my immediate family to let them know what was going on.
Wednesday night I was worried and desperate for answers. I prayed and felt peace. Not a definitive answer, but just peace. As my mother often says, "God is in His Heaven, and all is right with the world."
Thursday I went for the appointment and learned that I was supposed to go in early for the blood tests. Oops. I had the blood drawn and then went home, with instructions to call my doctor first thing in the morning.
This I did, still feeling at peace with whatever answer came. A sliver of hope remained that perhaps the bleed was an unrelated complication. But then I spoke with him and that hope was dashed. My hormone levels had dropped drastically. The bleed had indeed been caused by an ectopic pregnancy. I listened to his instructions numbly. Come back again in a week for another hormone test, just to be sure the levels go back to normal. Avoid becoming pregnant again for at least three months so the body can heal.
It hurt. It hurt so badly. Even though I kind of expected that answer. To be honest, I really expected it. I know that God is a God of miracles. But I also know that sometimes the miracle we need is not the same as the miracle we want.
It's easy to ask, what miracle could I possibly be receiving? When things are hard and we don't get the relief we want or expect, it can be easy to think God has forgotten us. But I can't think that now. These past couple of days, I would normally be in a frantic mess without the peace of God calming my heart. I didn't know on Wednesday what the answer would be. But I knew that God had heard me. I felt His love surround me in all its Light and Glory. I knew that whether this baby joined my family at this time or whether he returned to God, all would be well.
The pain is still there. I've cried today and I will doubtlessly cry again as I get in touch with more family members. I feel that sense of loss so sharply. To be told on Monday that I was pregnant to then be told Friday that the baby was lost would have been unbearable without the peace of God.
Perhaps that is the miracle I needed this time. I needed reminded that God is near. He is so near to us. He has heard me. He knows the aching of my heart. He knows the strength of my faith. He knew that I was stronger than I believed. He knew that as I leaned on Him, I could face this heartbreak with faith in His plan and peace that, "God is in His Heaven, and all is right with the world."
I've pondered today on why it is we consider miscarriage and loss of pregnancy to be a taboo subject and I wonder if that is more a personal reflection than a social one. If I hadn't already shared with many on Facebook that I had experienced internal bleeding and would hopefully have answers soon, I don't know that I would have shared this painful experience. It's not that I feel I can't or shouldn't. It's not that I don't need the uplifting messages and prayers I've already received because I certainly do. But pain and loss are often personal things. Even with my creative mind and seemingly limitless vocabulary, I can't adequately express how this feels. There just aren't words for it. And yet as I type this, I know there will be some who read it and connect with it because perhaps this has been their story as well. Perhaps as women we need to take the time to share these feelings, even though we feel there are not words to express them. It isn't because we are seeking pity. But because we need healing. We need someone to reach out and say, "Things will be all right." We need someone to say, "I know how that hurts. Let me grieve with you."
Perhaps that is the other miracle I'm being blessed with. We are not alone on this earth. And by expressing ourselves, maybe if only to get it off our chest, perhaps we give others a chance to reach out to us.
So through all of this, I am healing from my surgery. My heart will heal with time. I cannot thank God enough for the friends and acquaintances He has placed in my path at this time. Already I have had such an outpouring of love and support. I didn't get the miracle I wanted this time, but I'm beginning to see that I have received the miracles I needed.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius