2008 Christmas Story Contest Winners

As with last year, Publisher’s Choice winners were selected based on originality, how well it captured the spirit of the season, and how close it was to publication quality. I will make comments on each of these stories during this week, giving you my opinion on what was done well and what needed a little more polish. If you’re not a winner and you’d like to take credit for your story, you may do so in the comments section.

Readers Choice Published Author Category: Christmas Story #9—Too Old for Santa by Janice Sperry

Publisher’s Choice Published Author Category: Christmas Story #21—A Real Baby in the Manger by Christine Thackeray

Readers Choice Unpublished Author Category: Christmas Story #11—A Lesson for Sylvester by Lori Labrum

It was hard for me to select a winner in the Unpublished Author category. In my opinion, while many of them were very close, none of them were quite ready for publication. All would need a little more tweaking. There were four that I felt had a lot of potential: #4 Cricket’s Gift, #7 The Choir Practice, #10 Untitled (The Animals Knew) and #13 Santa’s Gift Card. But I could only choose one as a winner. . .

Publisher’s Choice Unpublished Author Category:
Christmas Story #10—Untitled (The Animals Knew) by Rachel Jensen

Winners, please send me an e-mail with your mailing address ASAP.

And thanks again to the Christmas Story Contest Sponsors.

2008 Christmas Story Contest Sponsors

A huge thank you to the following authors whose books are sponsoring the 2008 Christmas Story Contest.

Publisher’s Choice, Published Author Category Prize: The Spirit of Christmas by Jennie Hansen, Betsy Brannon Green, Michele Ashman Bell

Rekindle the spirit of Christmas with this touching trio of timeless stories told by some of the finest LDS storytellers — each with a heartwarming message for the Season.

Will Sophie really be able to get what she needs by spending the holidays alone? Will Miss Eugenia be able to give a struggling family the Christmas they want? Has five-year-old Janie’s visit from Santa really been canceled because she was bad?

Take a journey into the minds and hearts of three engaging characters who each need to believe in their version of Christmas — and discover that believing in people is what the spirit of Christmas is all about. A perfect assortment for sharing and celebrating the holiday season.

Jennie Hansen was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She lived in many farming and ranching communities in Idaho and Montana. Her family moved more than 20 times as she grew up. Born the fifth of eight children, Jennie had a ready supply of playmates during her childhood. Her brothers and sisters are still among her closest friends. She married Boyd Hansen of Rexburg, Idaho, and over the next ten years they became the parents of five children. They have made their home in Utah since their marriage.

Jennie graduated from Ricks College in Idaho then continued her education at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has been a receptionist, a model, a Utah House page, freelance magazine writer, newspaper reporter, editor, library circulation specialist, mother and grandmother.

She has nineteen published books to her credit, three stories in compilations, and has two more books currently under contract. Her published books include: Run Away Home, Journey Home, Coming Home, When Tomorrow Comes, Macady, The River Path, Beyond, Summer Dreams, Chance Encounter, All I Hold Dear, Abandoned, Breaking Point, Some Sweet Day, Code Red, High Stakes, Wild Card, The Bracelet, The Emerald, The Topaz, and The Ruby. She is one of three contributors to The Spirit of Christmas along with Betsy Brannon Green and Michele Ashman Bell. Jennie also writes a monthly review column for Meridian Magazine.

Betsy Brannon Green was born on June 1, 1958 in Salt Lake where her father was attending the University of Utah. After he finished his undergraduate work, the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama for medical school. When her father graduated from medical school he joined the Army so over the next few years her family had the opportunity to live in several different cities, including Honolulu, Ft. Knox, San Antonio, and Colorado Springs. They finally settled in Decatur, Alabama where she met and in 1979 married Robert (Butch) Green.

She has always loved to write but decided to make a serious attempt at writing a novel during the fall of 1999. It took her 8 months to complete her first book which was later rejected by publishers. Her second attempt, Hearts in Hiding, was published in May of 2001.

Michele Ashman Bell—What can I say, I’m a middle-aged mother of four, who, after ten years of hard work, perserverance and a lot (and I mean A LOT!) of rejection letters, finally got a book published.

As a young girl I was a devoted journal keeper. I would express my most personal thoughts and feelings in my journal in a way I could never express them verbally. Coupled with my great love for reading it only seemed natural to become a writer.

During the course of having and raising my children, as a beginning writer, I spent any free time I had writing and learning the craft. I attended workshops and conferences, joined critique groups (I have the scars to prove it) and sent many of my stories and novels off to magazines and publisher, only to receive rejection after rejection. I came close a few times, but something wasn’t quite right.

Still to this day I wonder why I didn’t give up. You’d think after ten years of rejections I’d finally get the message. Actually I know why I kept writing, I couldn’t not write. It’s in my blood. When I get cut, ink comes out. There’s something so wonderful and fulfilling about the creative process of developing characters and storylines and pouring your heart out on paper that can’t be matched by anything else. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to write. And I want to encourage anyone who has the desire to write to never give up on their dream. If you want it bad enough and are willing to work hard enough, you will become published. I believe that with all my heart because that’s exactly how it worked for me.

I grew up in St. George, Utah, where a lot of my family still lives, but now reside with my husband and family in the Salt Lake City area. My favorite thing to do is support my kids in their many interests. Between basketball, ballet and piano lessons we squeeze a lot into a week, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Readers’ Choice, Published Author Category Prize: Brick of Mormon Stories by Steven Van Wagenen

Brick of Mormon Stories is a collection of scripture stories from the Book of Mormon, with LEGO bricks and character illustrations.

Parents and children now have a resource for reading actual Book of Mormon scripture text with illustrations that bring the scripture stories to life. What a better way for children to become familiar with the scriptures than by combining them with the toys and characters children use during play?

Twenty-six illustrated LDS scripture stories from the Book of Mormon are presented in an easy to read format for parents who are reading to their children, or young readers who are becoming familiar with the scriptures.

The purpose of Brick of Mormon Stories is to acquaint children with the passages from the Book of Mormon, provide illustrations that will help them remember the stories, and motivate them to include discussions of people and events from the scriptures in their playtime activities.

Steven Van WagenenI wondered how playing out some of the Book of Mormon stories with my boys using LEGOs would compare with all of the other ways we can teach our children the stories from the Book of Mormon. The thought came into my mind that there should be a children’s book that uses actual scripture verses to tell the story, illustrated in such a way that children could find a way to bring the stories to life. I wanted something that would help my boys learn how to read the scripture text and still have the fun illustrations.

I am not sure who had more fun in building the LEGO sets, me or the boys, but I think it was a great experience for us to spend all of that time together. Regardless of whatever happened with the book, I wanted to put together the book for our family as a reminder of that time and all that work and the experience overall.

Publisher’s Choice, Unpublished Author Category Prize: Counting Blessings by Kerry Blair (d0nated by Taffy Lovell)

Spiritual refreshment is only pages away in this down-to-earth collection of inspiring stories and essays.

Like a wise and witty friend, Kerry Blair leads you through the rough spots of life by poking gentle fun at herself in such a vivacious way that you’ll be smiling at your own foibles.

You’ll laugh out loud — and occasionally be moved to tears — as you discover some of life’s greatest truths hidden within these simple pages.

Reclaim your sanity and enrich your soul with this humorous and poignant anthology that celebrates the joy of being alive and shows how greatly each of us is blessed.

Kerry Blair wrote her first novel when she was eight years old and promised herself that she would do it again when she “grew up.” She makes her home in West Jordan, Utah, with her husband, Gary, and four children.

Kerry says, “I’d always said I wanted to be an author when I grew up—and forty is pretty darn grown up by anybody’s standards. The Heart Has Its Reasons was released in 1999 and I’ve since published 8 more books (one was a collaboration) and been included in a compilation of inspirational essays for mothers. I’ve edged from LDS romance into romantic mystery into murder mystery with romantic overtones into romantic comedy into the new Nightshade series— books one reviewer said is what you’d expect ‘if you watched Buffy join CSI on the Romance Channel.'”

Readers’ Choice, Unpublished Author Category Prize: Sharing Through Song: My Eternal Family by Alison Palmer

Music can teach when word fail. Combining words and music creates beautiful opportunities for children to learn things they will always remember. When music and gospel lessons are combined, young minds are enlightened and better able to understand gospel messages.

Combine music and gospel principles with the help of these 24 easy-to-prepare sharing and music time lessons. Each lesson includes a list of materials, necessary preparations, teaching suggestions, and relevant songs to help children learn the gospel principles about, “My Eternal Family.” Perfect for choristers, leaders, and parents. Make teaching children more effective and fun with Sharing Through Song: My Eternal Family. Also available on CD-ROM!

Alison Palmer is a life-long member of the LDS Church. Born in Mesa, Arizona, she grew up in West Virginia and holds a bachelors degree in Nursing. She currently lives in Michigan.

Over the years, Alison has held many callings in the Church, including several that have helped develop her great love for the Primary children. She has served as nursery leader, pianist, chorister, teacher, den leader and Primary president. She has also been spotted teaching Sunday school, and serving as a teacher or leader in Relief Society and in Young Womens.

Writing is Alison’s favorite past time, but you can also frequently find her reading, playing piano, cooking, attending the temple, taking long walks, sewing, or playing with her family.

Other works by Alison Palmer include: multiple volumes of Sharing Through Song, Planting Seeds of Faith: Fun Character-building Activities for LDS Children and Walking the Path of Faith: More Fun Character-building Activities for LDS Children.

Time to Vote!

I apologize for being a tad late getting the last of the Christmas contest stories up here on the blog. I had/have a close family member with a serious illness and I got behind. However. All the stories are now up.

Votes timestamped before 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, December 14th, will not be counted. If you voted too early, you may come back and vote again.

Voting Rules:

  • VOTE any time from 12:01 a.m. on December 14th through 11:59 p.m. on December 20th. Time stamp on the voting comment determines whether or not your vote will count.
  • Anyone who visits this blog may vote.
  • You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING COMMENTS must clearly indicate that it is a vote. (Ex: I’m voting for this one…)
  • You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished. You may only vote once per story. We’re on the honor system here.

    Easiest way to read and vote:
    To read the stories by Published Authors, click THIS Link, read the stories and vote for two.
    To read the stories by Unpublished Authors, click on THIS Link, read the stories and vote for two.

  • You MAY vote for yourself.
  • You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don’t make it a popularity contest.

All stories have been posted anonymously. You may take credit for your story after the winners have been announced. Authors, please let your friends know that you’ve entered this contest and encourage them to come vote, but don’t tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win on merit, not the popularity of the author.

Due to the previously mentioned personal issue, I will announce the winners on Monday, December 22nd. I will post comments on the stories beginning December 22nd and continue until I’ve commented on every story. Then I will take a break until the new year.

Good luck everyone!


Christmas #24: Shrimp

“Whoa! Hello up there!” Jed is usually taller than I am, but only by a couple of inches. He gave me an appraising look. Jed works in the accounting department, so most of his looks—at anything—are appraising.

“Like my new shoes?” I took a step back and twirled. It had taken me a while to find a black skirt that was both slinky and swirly. Christmas lights glinted off the subtle sparkles in my red sweater—also slinky, but not too slinky. I kicked a foot up behind me so he could appraise my new shoes.

“Whoa! Don’t point those heels at me! You’re dangerous.”

I sniffed and grabbed my jacket. “They don’t call them killer high heels for nothing, you know.”

“Just don’t try them out on me. Seriously, Miri, you look gorgeous.” He walked me to his car and opened the door for me.

“You really think so?” I’d been so busy glorying in my new Christmas finery that I’d managed to ignore the sinking pit in the bottom of my stomach. Until now.

Jed smiled. “You’re a knock-out. A pretty knockout, and at these parties, those are scarce as frog-hairs.”

“Um, thanks, if that’s a compliment.” Sometimes you couldn’t tell with the country-boy accountant. He just kept smiling Jed continued to smile at me, so I quickly turned to face forward. “Do you think he’ll notice?”

Now This time, Jed turned forward with a snort. “Only if he can manage to disengage one of his four available brain cells from thinking about himself long enough to notice.” The car made an awful noise as he started it up with more violence than necessary.

“Come on, Jed. Trevor’s sweet.”

“So is antifreeze, but dogs die if they drink it.”

“Uh…yeah.” I was pretty sure that wasn’t a compliment, so I changed the subject. “Thanks for driving tonight, Jed. It means a lot to me.” Jed had been patiently listeninged to me talk about Trevor for the last six months, and he’d volunteered—I had NOT said a word—to take me to the work party tonight, for moral support.

“No problem.” He patted his pocket. “It should be entertaining to watch, but I’ve got my book, just in case.”

I bonked [awkward] him lightly on the shoulder. “That’s what you call my desperate, so-far-unrequited passion? Entertainment?”

“It, the party, not it, your unrequited passion.” I could see him smirking at me out of the corner of my eye.

[Need a transition]
At the door, Cindy, my boss from the art department, greeted me with a hug. “See if you can find where I hung the mistletoe,” she whispered in my ear, with a meaningful flick of her eyes toward her living room.

I followed her gaze. Trevor. Gesturing as he told an apparently hilarious story to a crowd of admiring women. The pit in my stomach sank somewhere under the front porch, and I followed Jed as he made the absolute minimum social conversations, grabbed a soda, and headed for the kitchen.

He was already settled in a chair with his feet up on another, opening his book. “Miri! What are you doing in here?”

I grabbed his footrest chair and sank down on it. “Chickening out. Did you see how Ashley Owens was falling all over him?”

“No more than she usually does in staff meeting.” He Jed held his book in front of his nose. “Stop bothering me and go away. I’m trying to read.”

“No, you’re trying to make me mad on purpose.”

He didn’t look up. “Seems to be working great.”

“Fine!” Secretly grateful for the rush of adrenalin, I dropped my purse on the table for him to watch and stomped out of the brightly-lit kitchen, into the dim living room. Then [I] almost fell off my killer heels as I ran right into Trevor.

“Whoa! Careful.” He grabbed my shoulders to steady me, sending tingling electricity all through my body. I knew my one big chance when I saw it, so I looked up at him from under my extra-thick eyelashes.

He didn’t let go of Trevor kept his hands on my shoulders as he looked down at me. Even with the killer heels, I still stood a good head shorter than he did. “Miri?” I didn’t know whether to feel flattered or annoyed at the look of surprise on his face. I’d known I was invisible, but I didn’t know I’d been nonexistent in his mind.

That just meant it was time to get to work. “Trevor.” I tried to sound surprised, and glad, and enticing, all at once.

It, or the heels, or the Christmas magic must have worked. “Would you like a drink?” he asked, releasing my shoulders but taking my elbow. My previously leaden stomach was suddenly leaping and dancing for agitated joy.

When we’d chosen some snacks, he led me passed past the kitchen. Behind Trevor’s back, Jed stuck his head out [of the kitchen] and, grinning, gave me a thumbs-up. I scowled at him. If he messed this up for me, he’d find out the real meaning of “killer shoes”! Still grinning, he Jed saluted me with his book and disappeared back into the kitchen.

Ashley Owens glared. Jessica Frampton pouted. I glowed, and giggled, and snuggled. Halfway through the evening, Trevor’s arm was around me. An hour later, we were standing under Cindy’s well-concealed mistletoe, in a secluded doorway toward the back of the house.

“Miri.” Trevor was a man of few words, it seemed, but his arms around me, and his deep, fervent brown eyes said all sorts of things I liked to hear.

“Trevor.” I tipped my head up, and his lips touched mine.

A warm, enticing tingle ran through me. Then my lips started swelling up. [Lead into this just a bit more slowly. Have her notice the tingle in her lips getting stronger, hotter, etc.]

I took a step back from him, shrugging his hands off, and clamped my hands to my mouth as my tongue suddenly ballooned to twice its normal size.

“Miri, wha—?”

“Shrimp,” I gasped, as my throat and neck started to block off my air. “Did you eat shrimp?”

“Shrimp?” I was dying, and he was rubbing those four brain cells together, trying to make a spark. “Well, that one salad, I guess…”

“Help,” I squeaked, grabbing the doorframe behind me.

That, he understood. As I struggled for air and sank to the floor, he dashed toward the living room, unsubtly yelling, “Help! Help!”

At least Trevor’s long legs were good for something. Cindy arrived a moment later, skidding to her knees beside me on the floor. But Jed was right behind her, frantically digging in my black, beaded purse.

He met my eye as he triumphantly produced a bright-yellow tube and flipped off the cap with one hand.

“Hurry,” I croaked. My vision was turning dark and swirly around the edges. All I could see was Jed’s face, swimming in the darkness.

“Stand back!” he cried to the crowd [.] [It would be better to include this earlier, have her hearing then] of coworkers who’d gathered to exclaim, “Allergies!” and then tell each other stories about their relatives’ dire bee stings.]

Tube clutched in his fist, he Jed raised it high in the air. A collective gasp went up [from who? Identify] as he whammed the needle into the side of my thigh, right through the swirly black skirt.

Jed held the needle, which stung like crazy, in the side of my leg until long after all the medicine had drained from the tube. He didn’t let go until I’d drawn a long, shaky breath.

Everyone else must have been holding their breaths, too, because they all sighed at once. People started crowding in, asking what they could do to help.

I struggled [to] find enough breath to ask them to please all go away.

Then I threw up. That did the trick. I didn’t miss the look of shocked disgust on Trevor’s face as he beat a hasty retreat, Ashley Owens already clinging to his arm.

By the time the paramedics arrived, I was sitting up and breathing after a fashion, but I thought some other party guests might need medical care if one more person asked, “Are you sure you’re OK?” The paramedics didn’t make me ride in the ambulance, but they extracted a firm promise—from Jed—that I would go straight to the emergency room to get checked over.

Dressed in a pair of Cindy’s pajamas, I leaned gratefully on Jed as we walked slowly to his car. He opened the door for me, but then he grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face him, his face [change one] stern, almost angry.

“Miri, didn’t you promise yourself never to go out with anyone until you told him about your shrimp allergy?”

“Well,” I stammered, “it wasn’t exactly a date, and it’s not very romantic, and—” I clamped my mouth shut and met his eye. “Quit yelling at me. I almost died just now!”

I’d never seen Jed so deadly serious before, and it scared me almost as much as my swelling throat had scared me. “Exactly.” He folded me into his arms, my favorite Jed hug, and we stood there shaking in the cold as the enormity of what almost happened washed over us.

I pulled away first, my teeth chattering. “Come on. We promised you’d take me to the emergency room.”

He didn’t let me go, and I suddenly realized how close his face was to mine—and how warm his breath was, and how nice he smelled, and how glad I was that he’d come with me this evening.

He leaned even closer, but I jerked my head back. “Hold on! There was shrimp in one of the salads.”

“Didn’t eat any,” he murmured, gently putting his hand on the back of my head and pulling me in again. “I never eat shrimp when I’m with you, Miri.”

Our lips touched as he whispered, “Just in case.”

What I liked best: I liked the twist with the lips swelling up. Funny.

Magazine ready: Close enough, although I agree with the commenter who said this felt like part of a longer work. Could be expanded to be part of a novel.

Christmas #23: The Perfect Gift

It was Christmas Eve. Ten more minutes and Matt Parker could close up the store. It had been a long day. A busy one, but long. He was the sole owner of Parker’s Jewelry and Fine Silver store. It had been built by his grandfather after they had [watch out for passive voice] arrived here in the United States in the early 1900’s. He Grandpa had been a silversmith in the old country, and had brought his talent with him. He’d also taught his son, who was Matt’s father, the business. His Matt’s father had in turn taught him. He Matt loved the work and was grateful when his father had passed the business onto on to him. He had done well over the past five years. Working hard had allowed him to give his family a good life.

Matt glanced at his watch. It was now In five more minutes and he could close. The day had been busy. He couldn’t believe how many people waited until the last minute to get gifts. He was glad he’d had made up several pieces ahead of time. As he looked in the case where he’d kept them, he noticed there was only one piece left. A delicate silver heart necklace. Maybe he should save that one for his daughter, Annie. He reached inside the case, pulled the necklace out and placed it inside a red satin box, then placed it in his pocket.

He looked out the window. and noticed it was now beginning to watching the snow. Then he remembered. This morning his daughter had reminded him, for the umpteenth time, about her singing in the pageant at church tonight. Seven o’clock, she’d said, and don’t be late. He was just about to go to the door when he noticed a car pull up in front of the store.

A few moments later, a woman walked into the store.

“Matt, I’m so glad you are still open.”

“What can I help you with Martha?” Matt’s grandmother had come over from Europe with Martha Johnson’s grandmother. Their families had been friends ever since. Martha now lived just a block over from where he and his wife, Tracy, lived with their daughter Annie.

“I’m looking for something for my grandmother. I’ve been all over town, but have found nothing she’d like.”

Matt understood. He knew Martha’s grandmother had to be in her mid-nineties by now. His grandmother had also been hard to buy for too, when she was still alive.

“Any idea what she would like?”

Martha shook her head. “No. I’ve racked my brain and can’t think of anything she’d like. I really need your help on this.”

Matt looked at each of the glass topped cases as he walked along the counters. He tried suggesting several items, but couldn’t come up with anything either. Just then, he remembered something.

“I do have something. Just a moment.” Matt walked into the back room where he did most of his work. He reached up on a shelf and pulled down the box, then returned to the front.

“I’d almost forgotten about this. Your grandmother came in with your mother a few months ago. She told me about a music box she’d had when she was a little girl.” He lifted the silver music box out of the box, then opened the top. The music playing was Blue Danube.

Martha sucked her breath in, then reached for the box. “Matt, it is beautiful. I’d forgotten about the story she’d told. The music box actually belonged to her mother. She told us she was supposed to have gotten the music box, but was unable to before they had to leave.”

“I had my grandmother’s music box, and your grandmother said it was just like hers. I had no trouble making this one. But, your grandmother fell shortly after that and didn’t come back in. I guess I should have brought it over to her.”

“No, don’t worry about it. This will make a perfect gift for grandmother.” She hugged it to her. “What a wonderful gift this will be.”

It was fifteen minutes later before Matt was finally able to lock the front door. He finished closing the store, then went to the back door. He glanced at his watch. It was now six thirty, and snowing hard, as he turned the light off and shut the back door. He got in the car and pulled out onto the road. If he hurried, he could still make it to the church in time to see his daughter sing in the pageant.

He turned on the radio and listened to Christmas music as he drove. The snow plows were out, but traffic was light. And the roads were a bit slick. He knew he’d have to be careful. As he drove, his mind went back to the silver music box. He smiled when he thought of what Martha’s grandmother was going to say when she opened the music box. Yes, it was the perfect gift. And, the necklace in his pocket was the perfect gift for Annie.

Matt was five minutes away from the church. He was making good time, despite the fact he could hardly see where he was going. Just then, the song ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ came on the radio. Suddenly, he saw an SUV come up quickly behind him. He had no where to go, so he sucked in his breath, waiting for the SUV to hit him, but it pulled over to go around him. He let his breath out in relief, but just as the SUV was almost around him, it began to fishtail, slamming into the front of his car. He lost control, his car spinning and sliding on the road. No matter what he did, he couldn’t get it under control. He couldn’t see where he was going. Suddenly, something large loomed in front of the car, but he couldn’t stop. The last thing he heard was a loud crash.

[This is a new story. It’s a little confusing at times. Needs more work.]

When Matt opened his eyes, it was dark. He was sitting on the ground next to a wagon. His head hurt. When he touched his head, he found a large knot in of his forehead. As he stood up, he found he was a little dizzy, so he leaned against the wagon for a few moments. He felt a broken wagon wheel next to his feet. A wagon? he wondered.

He could barely see, but ahead of him, was a town. There was a nearby bonfire, but most of the houses were dark. Just a few houses had faint lights showing in the windows. He remembered something had happened. His car, of course. His car had slid off the road and he had hit something. Maybe if I go into town I can get some help, he thought.

As he began walking he realized, he stopped. There was no snow. Something was wrong. Where am I? Suddenly, there was a bright light overhead. It lit up the area enough so he could see what was ahead of him. It was a small town, nestled near a mountainside. When he looked up, he saw a star. A very bright star. A star whose tail began lengthening towards the earth. It settled somewhere on the other side of town.

A few moments later, a group of men in robes and sandals walked quickly passed him. As he watched, he saw they were heading towards where the light had settled. Matt followed the men. The star was bright enough to clearly see the road they were on. They walked to the other side of town, stopping in front of a barn. The light of the star ended here.

“What is going on?” Matt asked the men. They turned towards him.

“You didn’t see?” one man asked.

Matt shook his head. “See what?”

“The man who talked to us.”

“No. What did he say?”

“He said the son of God had been born.”

A chill ran down Matt’s spine. “What is this town?”


Matt looked at the barn. He now understood. Opening the wooden door, he walked in. In silence, the other men followed him. Inside, there were wooden posts and beams. Stalls had been built in, and cattle and other animals were secured inside them. His eyes scanned the inside. A long trough ran across the back wall of the barn. There was a small trough sitting separated next to the longer one. It was filled with straw and there was a cloth laying on top. A large pile of straw was in the corner of the barn. Bags of feed were to his right in the other corner.

Behind the smaller trough was a wooden bench. Sitting on the bench was a young woman holding a baby, her husband standing next to her. They looked surprised to see the men walking in, then the woman’s face softened and she smiled. She stood up, placing her newborn baby in the makeshift cradle, then sat down again.

Matt walked up to the cradle. The baby was laying quietly, his arms stretched out, and his eyes open. He knew this just wasn’t any baby, this was the Savior. A baby so powerless now, he knew would have all power later. Without thinking, he got down on his knees, tears running down his face. Father, forgive me, he prayed. He looked up at the young mother. She smiled at him, as he stood up. He looked again at the baby. The baby was looking at him, smiling. The Savior looked at him. Feelings flooded over him. Peace, comfort. Most of all, a feeling of overpowering love.

As Matt walked back out into the night, he was numb from the feelings running through him. He now understood why he was here, and what he was supposed to learn. It brought him comfort. As he walked along the road, he pondered what he had seen and heard. Suddenly, he tripped over a broken wagon wheel, hitting his head on the wagon.


Matt slowly opened his eyes, and looked into the face of his wife, Tracy. He felt his daughter’s hand in his.

“Are you alright?” Tracy asked.

“Yes. I think so.”

Tracy leaned over and kissed him. “Good to have you back,” she said.

He looked out the window of his hospital room. It was still night.

“I didn’t miss it.”

“Didn’t miss what? Annie’s concert is over.”

“I didn’t miss Christmas.”

“No, you didn’t miss it.”

Matt closed his eyes. “It was beautiful. The most beautiful scene I’ve ever seen.”

The room was quiet for a moment. Then, Annie leaned over the side rail of the bed.

“You saw the baby Jesus, didn’t you?” she asked.

He looked over at her. “Yes, I did.”

A big smile came across Annie’s face. “I prayed you’d learn the true meaning of Christmas.”

He nodded. “I sure did.” He squeezed her hand. He looked over at his wife. “I’m taking a week off from work. We are going to talk about some changes.”

Tracy shook her head. “If I’d known it was going to be that easy, I’d have hit you in the head instead of you running into that semi.”

“Is that what I hit?”

She nodded. “Yes. I don’t know what happened to change your mind, but we will talk about it.”

“Yes. You know, tonight I sold Martha Johnson a gift for her grandmother. She said it was the perfect gift. A silver music box. But, tonight, I found the perfect gift.” He looked up at Tracy. “Honey, I know I haven’t been home much lately, but that’s going to change. Tonight taught me there is only one perfect gift.”

You’ve got two stories here. One which is the storekeeper helping his friend find a gift for her mother. The other is the trip back to Bethelehem. Make them into two stories.

Watch out for passive voice. You’ve got a lot of it. Also, identify the he’s and her’s more frequently so your reader doesn’t get lost.

What I liked most: The music box part of the story.

Magazine ready? No.

Christmas #22: Angel Tree

“Will that be all?” Caroline asked hopefully.

“Yes!” The customer snapped—at the two sticky, whining children in her stroller.

Dang. Caroline handed the woman her receipt. “Merry Christmas.”

Paper angels fluttered on the angel tree as mother, children, and stroller whisked by.

Caroline turned resolutely back to her post. There were still customers in the bookstore, and still forty-five minutes until closing time.

“Good evening. Did you find what you needed?” she recited, sizing up the next customer.

“Yes, thank you dear.”

Polite, elderly, well-dressed—tidily dressed, Caroline corrected herself. Purchasing a dictionary and an unabridged Les Miserables. “Would you like to donate to our angel tree? Each angel shows a disadvantaged child’s Christmas book wish.”

She wasn’t supposed to solicit for the angel tree, but her boss Judy was in the storeroom, and this customer would obviously want to donate, as soon as she knew. To Ellen.

Caroline had Ellen’s paper angel ready. Ellen wanted the latest teenage paranormal romance, but Caroline had penciled in some additional ideas.

“What’s this?” The customer picked up the angel. “Ellen, age 14,” she read. “Wants…” Her voice trailed off into a frown, until she reached Caroline’s suggestions. “Oh! Pride and Prejudice! Of course!”

Of course. “There on the back wall, top shelf.” Caroline pointed. She didn’t know any more about Ellen, or the other children, than what was written on the angels, but she had imagined stories for them all. Caroline felt certain that Ellen, who’d requested Book Four in the romance series, was ready to move on to something meatier. She could always check out the romance from the library.

Caroline watched the elderly woman’s back as she hurried to Aisle 14. Was this the One? Someone had to be, and soon. She had thirty-nine minutes until closing time, and nineteen angels to go, if the nice old woman really did choose a book for Ellen.

A woman using a diaper bag for a purse—or perhaps a purse for a diaper bag—bought angel books for the three remaining toddlers on the tree. On her way out she [who?] passed the old lady, who purchased an upscale, hardcover Pride and Prejudice.

“Merry Christmas!” The lady had a nice smile, too. [which lady?]

Caroline’s reply was sincere [what reply], as she added the lovely book to her growing angel pile. But sixteen angels still remained.

“Am I too late?” A man laid a copy of Goodnight Moon on the counter.

“No. Certainly not too late.” Even before she looked at him, Caroline knew he had to be the One, whether he liked it or not. The store closed in eighteen minutes.

The Goodnight Moon man had lots of hair, white evenly mingled with darker brown [this sounds like he’s old. Two elderly people?]. His collar was frayed along the edges, but a glance at his keys revealed a new-looking key fob for a quality auto make. It might hurt a little—Caroline’s seven angel books had hurt her student budget more than a little—but she thought he’d manage.

Goodnight Moon! That’s one of my favorites.” Caroline’s fellow English students teased her about the piles of children’s books she checked out at the library.

He nodded, green eyes softening. “Yeah. The baby’s crib is secondhand, but he really needs his own, new copy of Goodnight Moon. The other kids went through one apiece.”

Seventeen minutes left, and the One had finally arrived! Judy hurried down Aisle 12, straightening books and whistling her nearly-closing-time song. Caroline racked her brain. Even if Judy hadn’t been close enough to hear, Caroline couldn’t just suggest that this man purchase every single angel. She had to think of a way to help him figure that out for himself.

“‘Went through’?” she inquired brightly, stalling for time.

The man chuckled. “Wore ‘em right out. It’s not easy to be a favorite book in our house.”

“That’s a lot of reading.” She slowly turned the book over, praying for help. She was starting to scan the UPC when inspiration hit. “By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off,” she murmured.

The man’s battered wallet matched his frayed collar, not his car keys. His Visa said George Schaeffer.

Now [delete] Mr. Schaeffer’s hands stopped moving. “Shoot. What’s that from?” His brow creased. “It doesn’t happen to people who break easily…something-something…all the hair’s worn off…” He looked at Caroline. “What’s that from?”

Caroline blinked innocently and made a noncommittal noise.

Judy was bending over in Aisle 11. Caroline quickly murmured, “Would you like to donate to our angel tree?” She pushed Eddie’s angel toward Mr. Schaeffer.

“‘Age seven. A book about love’,” he read, frowning.

“There are more on the tree.” She cocked her head that direction.

“Huh.” His brow wrinkled as he wandered over to the tree. “It doesn’t often happen to people with sharp edges…your eyes fall out…What is that from?”

You’re the One! Take them all! But he took only four, in addition to Eddie.

While he shopped, Caroline mentally rearranged her own budget half a dozen times, failing each time to fit in another eleven books.

He returned to the counter with four books at 9:59. “That’s about all I have time for, I guess,” he said as Judy slid the iron gate shut and lights went out in the mall. “Too bad…” He laid Eddie’s angel on the counter.

“Oh, don’t worry. No one else can come in, but we can wait until you finish.” Caroline pretended not to notice Judy’s exasperated glance. Maybe she’d be looking for a new job after Christmas vacation.

“That’s OK. I’ll try to come back tomorrow.”

“The angel tree ends tonight,” Caroline replied without looking at him.

“Oh.” Judy stepped briskly to the back of the store and turned out the lights in Nonfiction. “Hold on.” He pulled out a cell phone and stepped into Aisle 11.

Caroline’s heart sank. It hadn’t occurred to her that the One might have to consult with someone else—like his wife.

She straightened the bookmark display, trying and not trying at the same time to hear his conversation. At last he emerged again, smiling broadly. “I’m buying them all!”

“OK, sir!” She wanted to hug him around the neck, but instead she hurried out from behind the counter to help him pull the remaining angels off the tree. Judy rounded the counter with a red face, but she stopped short when she saw what they were doing.

Like most book lovers, Mr. Schaeffer had strong opinions about books. He called home to consult with his older children twice. Caroline did talk him out of Agatha Christie for Zach, who wanted a mystery, steering him instead toward The Westing Game. And Judy nearly got into an argument with him over Narnia vs. The Hobbit, for Lexie. Before long, Mr. Schaeffer had a pile of sixteen books—fifteen angels, plus his original Goodnight Moon.

“There!” he said again.


Mr. Schaeffer paused while opening his wallet.

“What about Eddie?” The last paper angel lay alone on the counter.

Mr. Schaeffer and Judy let out simultaneous sighs—his troubled, hers frustrated. He picked up the angel and frowned at it. “Do you have any suggestions for ‘A book about love’?”

Caroline hadn’t had any good ideas, not ones that sounded exactly right, until tonight, so Eddie’s angel had no penciled notes. Now she knew the perfect book, but she also knew that Mr. Schaeffer had to think of it himself. “When a child loves you,” she whispered, “really loves you…”

“…then…” Mr. Schaeffer was staring toward Aisle 11, but Caroline could tell his thoughts were much farther away than that—maybe back in his own childhood. Suddenly, his eyes popped wide open. “…you are Real! That’s The Velveteen Rabbit!

Judy hurried back to the children’s section to find the book—and turn out more lights. A minute later she brought it back.

Caroline tucked Eddie’s angel under the front cover, rang up the book, and handed it to Mr. Schaeffer.

He flipped through it, scanning text. “Here we go.” Upside down, Caroline could see a picture of the old Skin Horse talking to the Rabbit in the nursery. She nodded encouragement.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” he read, “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you…” His voice trailed off. His white hairs glinted in the darkness, and Caroline noticed that the cuffs on his shirt were frayed like the collar. “…then you become Real.” He read silently for a moment. “Once you are Real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” He pulled out Eddie’s angel, nodding back as if it had spoken to him. The cash register blinked Christmas red in the half-light. “Yeah, it does.”

What I liked best: The idea of stretching a little to help others have a Christmas.

Magazine ready? Yes.

Christmas #21: A Real Baby in the Manger

“They’re at it again.” Brother Fortner adjusted his royal robes and rolled his eyes.

I huffed, putting down my clipboard. “Those darn shepherds, what is it this time?”

The entire cast of almost one hundred people was shivering under their sewn up sheets at the dress rehearsal of our live nativity. This event had become a wonderful tradition for over twenty years running, and the entire town looked forward to coming on the Saturday before Christmas to watch the Mormon pageant. It was a great missionary tool, using the talents and resources from all three wards in our building. The angels sang in perfect harmony and the three kings wore lavish costumes with gifts of real myrrh and frankincense. We even had a real donkey that behaved beautifully– if only I could say the same thing about the shepherds.

In the past it had always been an ‘adults only’ experience, but for some reason this year the Bishop had gotten the idea to use the sixteen-year-old priests as shepherds. It was a huge mistake. Everyone else took their parts seriously, but the shepherds had spent most of their time joking around or pulling pranks. They had sort of devolved into their own shepherd gang with my son as the ringleader.

As I quickly rounded the corner where the boys were supposed to be waiting for their cue, I nearly fell on my face. Josh had been holding his crook out to intentionally trip me. I barely caught myself and turned to face him, “What are you thinking? This isn’t funny.”

The three other boys held in their snickers while Josh shook his head, “It wasn’t supposed to be for you. Ty had asked Bro. Fortner to come over…”

“Listen, you guys, I am serious. This play is important and I want to see you change your attitudes.”

“Mom, we don’t even want to be here. You can fire us and we won’t mind.” The other boys nodded their heads in agreement.

I looked at them and took a deep breath. “The pageant is tomorrow. Please, I beg of you, just behave for one more day.”

Ty shook his head, “This is stupid.”

“It is so sad you can’t see what we are doing here. [comma]” I said to him and then turned to all the boys. “If you try to feel the spirit of this event and remember what we are celebrating, you might get something out of this.”

I walked away feeling hopeless. When the shepherds started poking fun at the ugly doll in the manger, I let them go home early and we finished the dress rehearsal without them.

The next day the weather was not cooperating. It rained all day. The cold gray added to the dread that filled my heart every time I thought about the manger scene and those darn shepherds. As we started loading everyone in the car to head over for the performance, I cornered Josh in the garage.

“Honey, please, can you…”

“Mom, stop,” Josh shook his head. “I’m going to this stupid thing for you but the truth is I don’t even want to be part of it. All the guys feel that way.”

“But, Josh, we are celebrating Christ’s birth. This is important.”

“Is it?” My son clamped his mouth shut.

I looked at him seriously. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Josh ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just not feeling it this year. Don’t you ever wonder if all this crap really happened or if it ‘s like some myth.”

“What are you saying?”

He shook his head, “Oh forget it. I’m doing it, aren’t I?”

My son’s words struck me with fear. He always attended church and seminary and had never mentioned doubting before. I looked at my watch and was already later than I should have been. I would have to deal with this later. Maybe this was the reason the Bishop had felt so impressed to include the boys, so I could face my son’s feelings. As I drove I said a silent prayer that somehow I could help to touch my son’s heart.

We pulled into the church parking lot as the sun was going down. With many willing hands, the costumes and makeup were complete and everyone was in place at the right time. My stomach was doing flip-flops and I wasn’t sure if it was more from the anticipation of the pageant or from my son’s words. I could see him laughing with his friends in the dim light and didn’t know what to do or say to him.

At that moment a young mother walked up to me. She held her infant in her arms. “Sister Adams? I don’t know why, but I want to ask if you would like to use my baby for the baby Jesus.”

“Usually we don’t use a real baby because of the cold and fear that they might cry.”

“I know.” The young mother bowed her head. “But are you sure? Sammy is a good baby and the night is so warm.”

She was right. I hadn’t noticed that the weather had turned. The sky was clear and I guessed it was probably in almost sixty degrees, warmer than it had been all day. Suddenly I doubted my original reaction and took the small bundle. “Thank you.”

I gave the baby to the sister portraying Mary just moments before the performance began and stood on the sidelines watching the story unfold, while the shepherds seemed oblivious to what was happening under the floodlights on the lawn before hundreds of people watching on blankets and lawn chairs.

Mary rode on the donkey with a caring Joseph. The couple were turned away over and over again until one kind innkeeper led them to the stable. There amid the animals, Mary held her new baby and laid him in a manger.

The lights cut out and suddenly a spotlight danced across the shepherds who were swaggering around at the back of the lawn. When the light shone on the angel, they pantomimed extreme shock with a comical attitude that brought chuckles from the audience. Once the full choir appeared, they stole the show by one of them full out fainting. I shook my head in frustration.

The angels finished their musical number which was beautiful and Josh stood and said, “Let us go and see where the child lay.” He said it with a flat meaningless tone that made me cringe. The boys walked in unison across the lawn as though they were in a music video, moving their shoulders and hips from side to side. I covered my face and didn’t want to look but peeked through two of my fingers.

As they came to the stable, they each looked and then did a double take. Josh fell to his knees, followed by his friends. They bowed their heads in rapt silence and the angels began to sing. I lowered my hands and felt the Spirit fill my heart. The sudden change seemed to affect the entire audience and the power of that scene made the reality of Christ’s birth and life once again shine in my heart.

The pageant ended and people flocked forward to congratulate everyone in the cast. Many said it was the best one we had done and more than one person mentioned the shepherds and how they had been so touched by their performance.

Late that night I finally got in the car where Josh was waiting for me. Before I turned the key in the ignition, he reached out and touched my arm. “Mom?”

“Yes.” I turned to him and couldn’t read the look on his face.

“That was awesome.”

“You did an incredible job, by the way. When you knelt before the manger, people said they felt like they were there. I never knew what an incredible actor you were.”

“I wasn’t acting.” Josh swallowed. “No one told me it was a real baby. I was expecting that dumb doll. When I walked up and saw the real baby- it totally caught me off guard and I fell to the ground. I realized that was how I was looking at the church. I was thinking it was something plastic and fake, not real. As I looked at the baby, I knew there was a real baby in Bethlehem all those years ago. There was a real Christ who died for me. It is real, you know?”

I looked at my teenage son smiling, “I know.”

What I liked best: Everything. This one makes me cry every single time I read it. It’s perfect. I can’t find a single negative thing to say about it.

Magazine ready? Absolutely! It would be the lead story.

Christmas #20: Ya better watch out

It was the 24th of December. Black clouds, undoubtedly carrying tomorrow’s dream of a White [not capitalized] Christmas hung low in the sky. On my way to pick up a lay away [lay-a-way] I gazed across four lanes of traffic and noticed the store parking lot packed to overflowing still trying to accommodate dozens of additional cars swarming around a few empty spaces like honey bee’s [no apostrophe] around their hive. Without hesitation I took an open spot on the street and gladly walked the extra block to the entrance.

Inside a frantic crowd of last minute shoppers mirroring the vehicular mayhem in the parking lot outside jammed every isle. Standing tall, I boldly began to pick my way through the maze of harried customers angling for the lay away desk at the back. As the desk came into view I noticed two lines one moving and one not moving. Obviously, I took a place in the line that was moving and was soon at the cash register.

“Wow, that was fast”, [comma inside quote] I remarked to the young clerk behind the register.

She smiled curtly and asked for my lay away card in a distinctly mechanical manner. I obligingly handed over the card and a $20.00 bill. She raced through a practiced routine pushing several buttons then announced in a disinterested flat tone, “that’ll [capitalize] be $17.79″. I smiled and pointed out that she already had my $20 bill in her hand. As if on auto pilot, she pushed several more buttons then dropped some change, my card and a cash register receipt that had THANK YOU, PLEASE COME AGAIN printed across the top into my extended hand. I smiled and she excused me with “step to the line to the left; Next?”

I turned around in search of the end of the line to the left which wound around women’s apparel, through the toy department and ended in sporting goods. A bit dejected, I took a spot at the end of the line, adjusted my hips and proceeded to wait.

After a reasonable 20 minute wait, I inquired of those in front of me how long they had been in line. One person said she had been in line for about half an hour. Another said he had been there over an hour. Soon the entire line was engaged in a lively conversation consisting of hours and minutes expressions [awkward]. As the odd conversation subsided, a person several spaces ahead turned around and offered, “I heard that the person who just got to [at] the front of the line has been here since the store opened this morning a 7am [at 7:00 a.m.]”.

“7:00 am”, I mumbled in disbelief. I left my coveted last place in line and walked up to the lady at the front and casually ventured,
[move to previous paragraph]
so I heard you came in six hours ago [No ellipses here. “So, I heard you came in six hours ago?”]

“Yup”, was her disinterested reply.

“…and you paid for your lay away…”


“…and you’ve been waiting in this line ever since…”

“And still haven’t gotten my lay away”, she added very matter-of-factly completing my obvious question.

I expected some additional verbal banter from the lady and when none came I wandered back to my spot in sporting goods, set my hips and continued to wait.

For the next 45 minutes I watched the mechanical clerk at the cash register take in a small fortune in admission fee’s [no apostrophe; plural, not possessive] to the line to the left which had now extended beyond sporting goods into home improvement. While the clerk took in cash several store employees walked by and engaged her in casual conversation. Numerous calls for ‘help in the lay away department’ were announced over the intercom. But the line to the left refused to move and just grew longer.

A very frumpy looking store manager dressed in a dingy white shirt, crooked tie and baggy trousers appeared from a room behind the clerk and asked how things were going.

“Fine, I guess”, she said in her flat absent tone. “We do need to start retrieving again though, I guess. The line is getting pretty long.”

The manager eyed the long line, shook [nodded] his head in agreement then walked over to a popcorn machine on the candy isle and watched the freshly popped kernels fall into a big tub. Obviously no help was coming soon.

My patience, like the heated popcorn corn kernels, then burst without warning. I stormed up to a silver swinging door just beyond the lady at the front of the line and cautiously eased through to the other side. On the other side, a wooden staircase lead [led] up to a crudely built loft lined with plywood shelves, loaded down with hundreds of shopping bags. With my destination easily marked, I began to quietly climb the stairs. I was about half way up when the mechanical clerk surprised me by actually yelling, “Hey; [comma] what do you think you’re doing?”

Turning, I calmly replied, “I thought I would help you out by getting my own lay away”.

“Well, you can’t do that, she said, her concern increasing. Only store staff can retrieve your lay away”.

“Unfortunately, I reacted with a chuckle and a smile, I bought these gifts for Christmas this year not for next year”.

It was obvious from her irritated look that I was not winning her over with my charm and humor. After a quick standoff marked by narrowed eyes and a deep sigh from the clerk, I shrugged my shoulders and continued up the stairs. By the time I was at the top of the stairs the clerk was frantically yelling into the intercom phone, “security to lay away, security to lay away”.

I figured it wouldn’t take long before my chance to retrieve my packages was over so I started jogging down the center isle of the loft. Not to my surprise, store security turned out to be the frumpy manager with the popcorn fetish [not the right word]. He scurried up the stairs as I was jogging past the rows of package laden shelves.

“You know, he said in a labored voice, you can’t come back here.”

“I didn’t see any signs telling me to specifically not come back here, I said. I got to thinking that maybe Lay Away is self service.”

Like the mechanical clerk, the manager didn’t like my humor. He motioned for me to follow him back down the stairs.

“Unfortunately, I replied, I can’t. [can’t what?] “I am not prepared to spend the night”.

“You know there are others who’ve been in line long before you got here, the manager snorted, “you [capitalize] could be more considerate of their feelings“.

“You’ve got to be kidding?”, I shot back.

Lt is our busy season, and the law says I have to provide lunch breaks to employees“.

“Yea, and I hear that the popcorn diet is real effective for the manager on the move“, I added pointing to a popcorn kernel stuck to his tie.

The manager pushed me towards the silver door and said he would get some help. I watched him slide behind the mechanical clerk at the cash register pointing my way with his finger.

“Nice try“, the lady at the front of the line said.

“Oh I am not done yet, I replied with raised eyes. If I don’t see this line moving in a few minutes I am going to get really ugly.”

I sauntered back to my place now in men’s wear and began to count backwards from 500. Soon an overdressed security guard passed by to receive orders from the manager. With their command session complete, the manager stared me down on his way back to the popcorn machine. When I reach one, I left my place in line and headed for the silver door again.

My second attempt at freeing my packages was easier than my first. The clerk was so busy mechanically taking admissions for the line to the left that she didn’t see me sneak through the silver door. The security guard was so busy watching the clerk he had no idea I was on the stairs. And I can only assume that the manager was so mesmerized by the popcorn machine he hadn’t noticed I was no longer in line.

I got to the platform without interruption and raced down the center isle looking for the shelf with my package. I was at more than half way across the loft when the security guard yelled in gruff security guy language, “Hey you“.

I glanced over my shoulder once then resumed scanning for my shelf. As expected, the manager came huffing and puffing around the security guard demanding to know why I was disobeying his instructions.

“I told you to be patient and I would get this problem resolved“, he barked.

Turing I answered very methodically, “look [capitalize], I paid your clerk at the cash register almost 3 hours ago for my packages and it is clear that you aren’t going to get things moving. I am pretty sure my packages are right there, I said pointing to the first shelf at my right.If you let me get my packages, the line to the left will have one less person in it and you can go back to managing your lay away problem from the popcorn machine”.

My intelligence did not impress the manager or the security guard, although the mechanical clerk now standing at the bottom of the stairs was snickering at my managing from the popcorn machine remark.

Hiking up his trousers the manager authoritatively announced, “you [capitalize] will have to leave or I will call the police“.

With out hesitation I quickly replied, “not if I call them first”.

The manager brushed popcorn residue from his mouth. “Why would you call the police first”, [?”] he asked confused“? [.]

“This receipt says I bought and paid for $135.00 dollars worth of merchandise from your store and that you will surrender said merchandise when paid in full. Since I paid my bill in full over three hours ago I can only assume that you are holding my packages hostage. So, I demand that you surrender my goods at once or I will call the police“!

The manager and the security guard were taken back [aback] by my logic and didn’t immediately respond. By this time a small crowd of folks from the line to the left had taken positions at the bottom of the stairs behind the mechanical clerk.

“I think he’s right, [.] I’m going to call the police to” [, too,”] a customer yelled.

Another person started chanting ‘free [, “Free] our gifts, free our gifts’. Soon, others joined in the chant. It didn’t take long before the customers waiting in line to the left were all joining in.

After an exceptionally menacing exchange of dirty looks, the manager grabbed my ticket, retrieved my package and seething with disdain said, “Leave. Now“.

I smiled as the chanting grew louder. “Not so fast, I said coyly, [said. “] I can’t leave my supporters sitting in the lurch. Why don’t you and Deputy Fife there take a minute and pull some more packages“. [?”]

The crowd was electrified. The manager was soundly licked. He looked over his shoulder and barked for the security guard and the mechanical clerk to gather receipts. The chanting turned to a full scale stadium roar.

Moments later as I was loading my packages into my car, people driving by honked and waved. I felt pretty good. Winning on the holiday field of battle with a crowd of worthy shoppers was indeed satisfying. As I pulled away from the curb the radio began to play, ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ [“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”] and I smiled hoping he would judge my recent antics as nice and not naughty.

Brush up on your grammar and punctuation rules. Punch up the humor. It gets a little confusing trying to imagine where things are here. You mention stairs and a silver door sometimes, and just the door at other times. Be very clear about place descriptions. Also, is this a man or a woman? I suppose it doesn’t matter, but readers usually like to know. I’d like to see more interaction with those around him/her in the line. Also a little more contrast between expected Christmas cheer and the reality of the store.

What I liked best: We’ve all been there. Good to see someone finally doing what we all wish we had the nerve to do. I also like the last paragraph, bringing Santa in.

Magazine ready? No. Needs some work. FYI, an editor would reject this after the first few paragraphs. It needs too much clean up work. They don’t have time to sit and correct for you, like I did.

Christmas #19: A Sunday Suit for Christmas

“Children, today is the first of December. What wonderful holiday is coming up?” Shayna asked her first grade students.

“Hanukah! Kwanza! Christmas!” the children shouted.

“And what do all of these holidays have in common?” she bit her lip, hoping for a good response.

Nathan raised his hand as high as he could. Waving it so hard he kept hitting Daniel on the head [why? insert where Daniel is in relation to Nathan so that this makes sense]. “Nathan, what?”

“Presents!” he said, exposing his missing front tooth with a proud grin. As soon as the word hit the air, all the other children latched agreed.

She [who? Need to identify] walked over to the dusty chalkboard. “Class, today we are going to make a wish list. I want everyone to think very seriously about what they want for the upcoming holiday. Then we will go around the room and write or draw it on the board.”

Keisha threw her hand in the air while calling out, “Miss Wright, can it be anything? Anything in the world?”

“Well, what do you think, class?”

Suddenly Brian raised his hand. Shayna remembered meeting Brian’s haggard mother for the first time at parent-teacher conference a few months ago with a child on her hip, two in the stroller and another son ready to start kindergarten. The young teacher knew right away that they must be Mormon. Since moving away from Utah, Shayna had yet to look up where the church building was. This was her second year teaching and she was amazed how easy it was to let go of that part of her life.

Brian looked very serious, “I think we should only write what we really need, Miss Wright.”

“That is a great idea. There are things that each of us need.” She looked at the cruise tickets sitting on her desk. There was no doubt in her mind that she needed this vacation, but why was her mother making such a big deal of her not coming home for Christmas? Her mom had called over a dozen times, since she had found out. Finally, Shayna had hung up on her. Why couldn’t her mother understand?

“You know, maybe if we wish hard enough,” the young teacher added, “we will get what we want.”

They went around the room with each child taking turns writing and drawing his wish, which included various games and game systems, sports equipment and a new Plasma TV with HD. Then it was little Brian’s turn. He wrote the word “suit” and sat down.

Daniel yelled, “What kind of suit? A spaceman suit?”

Brian passed the chalk to his neighbor, “No, a suit for church.”

Riley crinkled up his nose, “Like with a tie? Why would you want that?”

“Well, my dad wears one, the missionaries wear one and the boys who pass the sacrament. I only have plain pants and I want to be like them.”

His answer was lost to the other children, but Shayna heard every word. It tugged at her heart. She envisioned this little boy going to church on Sunday, wanting so badly to have a nice suit and having to wear hand-me-downs from the thrift store. As the class lined up for lunch, Shayna knew what she had to do. Even though she wasn’t going to church anymore, there was something she could do to make this Christmas special for him. She could make this boy’s Christmas wish come true.

The next two weeks whizzed by in a flurry of excitement. Shayna went to the teacher’s lounge during lunch and told the sad story of the little boy whose only wish for Christmas was clothes to wear to church. She told about his poor family that barely had enough money to put food on the table. [How does she know this?]

The kindergarten teacher who taught Brian’s younger brother listened in fascination and her mouth dropped open, “I never would have guessed it. They put up such a good front, but he does bring his lunch and often has leftovers- how sad!”

On the last day of school before Christmas vacation, everything was finally ready. Shayna proudly licked the envelope containing a check for $1250, money from the teachers’ own pockets. Looking at the huge pile of gifts waiting behind her desk, Shayna hugged herself. This was the true meaning of Christmas, the essence of giving, she thought.

At precisely three o’clock a stylish lady stuck her head in the door. Her brown hair was in a sporty cut and she wore a smart tan jacket with straight jeans and neat leather shoes. “Can I help you?” Shayna asked.

“Hi, I’m Amy Pratt, Brian’s mom.”

This wasn’t the over-stressed housewife she had remembered meeting. Unsure of herself, Shayna went behind the desk to her place of safety and invited the woman to sit.

Amy sat and smiled softly, eager to find out the reason for the visit, “Is anything wrong?” she asked.

Trying to sound as professional as possible, Shayna began, “Mrs. Pratt, recently we had an activity where children were asked what they wanted for Christmas and Brian’s answer had us a little concerned.”

“Really?” the mother pulled up to the edge of her seat.

“He said he wanted a suit to wear on Sunday. So we started…”

The mother’s eyes glistened with tears, “That is so sweet. What a great guy he is.” She beamed at the thought of her son.

Shayna tried to continue, “Yes, we thought so too, so we decided to take up a…”

“No, you see,” she lifted her hand to explain, “about three weeks ago I found this wonderful suit that seemed just Brian’s size at the thrift shop in town. It looked like it had never been worn. That boy is so hard to fit, being so small, and they won’t take anything back. I mean, the suit was thirty five dollars. So I blindfolded him and had him try it on. I knew he knew what it was, but at least the color would be a surprise for Christmas.”

Shayna was frustrated. Nothing was going as planned, “Then why would he have said he wanted a suit if he knew he was getting one?” she snapped.

The mother shook her head, obviously proud of her oldest boy, “Because, we’ve taught our children that they should want most what they already have. Our focus should be on the blessings around us, not beyond them. I know it may sound funny to you, but I have very strong feelings about this. I mean, we could afford a new car, but why would we when the one we own fits our family and is paid for. I probably lecture the children too much about it, but I get so tired of children wanting and wanting things they don’t need or shouldn’t even have. Our focus needs to be more on giving, especially at this time of year, don’t you think?”

An expression of sheer joy bubbled from the mother’s lips again, “I can’t believe that Brian totally gets it. Isn’t it awesome when one of them actually listens to you?”

Shayna stood up defensively, feeling like her Christmas surprise was completely ruined, “Well, we started a collection for your family- and I can’t give it to anyone else.” She pushed the envelope toward the young mother angrily who stared at it in surprise and then looked at her son’s teacher across the table with kindness.

“Thank you, I’m so sorry about the misunderstanding.”

“That’s fine… and we have these,” Shayna couldn’t understand why her eyes were edging with tears of disappointment as she handed the packages to this woman who was trying her best to be gracious but obviously wasn’t in need at all. Stiffening her jaw, Shayna decided she would just go through the motions and get this over with- there was no way she could back out now.

She helped the mother carry the mound of packages to her van and after closing the door, the woman turned around, “The children will love these things. Thank you. It must have taken a lot of your time and energy to do this. What a wonderful gift. It means a lot to me that you would make such a remarkable effort for one of your students. I am really grateful that Brian has you as his teacher.”

Shayna looked in this woman’s eyes and saw sincere gratitude. This was not how it was supposed to be, she was supposed to be thrilled to get the presents. The gifts were supposed to change their whole Christmas. Instead, it wasn’t even the gifts she cared about, but the fact that her son’s teacher had spent her personal time thinking about him.

As the mother got in her dented van and pulled away, she waved out her open window and shouted happily, “Merry Christmas.”

Shayna looked at the scene with new eyes. This woman wasn’t forced to drive that car; it was a choice- a gift, in a way. Walking back through the hall alone, Shayna felt confused. Christmas was supposed to be about cool presents, incredible surprises, just plain fun, and, well, wanting stuff, wasn’t it? But what had made the last two weeks so wonderful was the hope of giving something important, something that mattered. She had looked forward to telling all the other teachers the happy ending, but what would she say now that it was all a stupid mistake?

Looking around the empty room, Shayna shuddered. She felt cold and alone. She had a nagging suspicion that she was missing something, but she knew if she let the idea in that it would change everything. Why couldn’t Christmas just be fun? Why couldn’t she do what she wanted without feeling guilty?

As she turned to reach for her coat, Shayna caught sight of a little card on the edge of her desk where Mrs. Pratt had been sitting. Curiously, she ripped open the envelope and held the card in her hand.

It was a picture of a beautiful baby Jesus in the manger, staring warmly at her. She laughed to herself as she remembered the wild nativity plays her family used to put on with her dad as the donkey, wearing construction paper ears taped to a baseball cap. She thought about going to Temple Square at Christmas and feeling the Spirit of that sacred place. Then she thought of rounding the stairs at the visitor’s center and walking up to the large white statue of the Savior and knowing he was real. He was born in Bethlehem and died for our mistakes. And Christmas was His birthday. This was the real story of Christmas, not the silly story she had made up about little Brian’s family.

She opened the card and the message read, “What will you give Him?” Inside was a snapshot of the Pratt family wrestling around on a bright green lawn in a pretzel of arms, legs and smiles. For a long time she stood there in silence, and somewhere in the silence her guilt melted away as a feeling of peace gently spread over her. She knew she wanted to give Him- something real.

The tinny sound of “Jingle bells” pulled her from her thoughts and she looked at her cell phone. It was her mother, again. Well, she thought, this would be a good start.

“Mom, I changed my mind. I’m coming home for Christmas.”

We need some explanation of why Shayna jumps to the conclusion that Brian’s family is in such need. A boy wanting a suit doesn’t seem to be quite enough to me. Also, why such a difference in the way the mother looked before and now? Need some type of explanation. And I’m a little confused about the mother just taking the stuff and saying thank you. I’d rather see her involve Shayna in giving it to others who needed it more? Or something.

What I liked best: With the exception of the few wholes pointed out above, the story is told fairly well. I like the twist that the family doesn’t really need the money or gifts.

Magazine ready? Not quite.

Christmas #17: A 13th Century Village in Wiltshire, England

“Why, Arthur, what is this?”

[move up to previous paragraph] Marriot stared down in surprise at the large, thickly wrapped bundle her husband placed in her lap.

The Christmas season was drawing to its close on this, the twelfth day following the nativity of the Lord. The extra rents of eggs, bread and a fine speckled hen they’d been forced to pay to help supply the baron’s Christmas feast had been somewhat offset by Lord Beckford having selected her husband as one of two peasants he traditionally invited to the castle on Christmas day. Arthur, representing the poorest of Beckford’s poor serfs, had carried away as much food and ale as he could balance in one cloth, a cup, and a wooden trencher, while the second tenant, a free farmer on the manor, had been allowed to take two friends and feast for two days at the baron’s own table. Arthur had returned all a-grumble at Beckford’s “stinginess”, claiming he’d heard that on many another manor, the lord or abbot invited all his serfs to a Christmas feast.
Still, he’d managed to return with enough good food to make a fine, if modest, Christmas dinner for their family

The food was long gone now, along with the merry games played by the villagers to keep warm in the winter snows. The ivy and holly so gleefully gathered and hung by the children to brighten their tiny thatched cottage, had grown dry and crisp, crackling off their garlands and crushed by shoes to form a fine, fragrant dust on the earth beaten floor. Today, Epiphany, the day the Magi had presented their gifts to the Christ Child, was the last day of respite her family would have from the backbreaking work in the baron’s fields.

“What foolish thing have you done?” Marriot demanded of her husband.

Gifts were only given to small children on Epiphany, especially among the poor.

Her husband’s dark eyes danced with that mischievous gleam that had won her heart ten years ago. “Sometimes a bit of foolishness is just what a man needs to bestow on the woman he loves.”

She heard a trio of high-pitched giggles from the children.

“Open it, Ma, open it!” little four-year old Lottie trilled.

“Aye, Ma. Da’s been ready to bust for days, waiting for you to see it.” [need to identify speaker–assuming it’s Robin?]

She [Marriot] cast a suspicious gaze at her middle child. He bounced excitedly on the balls of his feet, the exact image of his father at the same age with his black hair and bright dark eyes.

“Do you know what this is, Robin?”

Robin smiled slyly, but neither shook nor nodded his head.


Her eldest son grinned but refused to speak.

Marriot slowly drew the cloth wrapping away. “A lute? Good heavens, Arthur, you’re as mad as milord says you are! We cannot afford something like this! Unless… Tell me you didn’t…”

“I didn’t buy it,” Arthur said, quelling her sudden fear. “I made it, with some help from that minstrel who wandered through the village last spring.”

“But the wood… Where did you find so much wood?”

He shrugged. “The minstrel was a game fellow and helped me gather it deep in the woods late at night, when there was no one about to see. He’s long gone now so his tongue won’t wag. Beckford will never know I’ve taken more than my daily quota.”

“And I went with them, Ma, and helped,” Robin said earnestly, “so the gift is a little from me, too. Will you teach me how to play it? Please?”

Also like his father, seven-year old Robin had a restless, curious mind, always eager to learn something new. Marriot feared for him when he grew older…old enough to balk, as Arthur still did, at the limitations placed on a serf who’s sole purpose in life was to work his own narrow strips of land along with the lord’s demesne.

“And what will milord think when he sees me with this?” she demanded. “He’ll want to know how one of his serfs came to possess such a thing.”

“I’ll tell him I’ve been saving for years to buy it,” Arthur said. “He knows I raise and sell excess grain at market. He must wonder what I do with the extra money I earn.”

Their eyes met for a meaningful moment of silence. They both knew exactly where that extra money went.

“What about me?” little Lottie squealed. “Did you make me something this year, Da?”

“Indeed I did, Lottie.”

Thanks to her husband’s clever hands, this day of gift giving never went unfulfilled for their children, as it did for so many others. Arthur could carve nearly any wonder from a piece of wood.

Arthur scooped his daughter up in his arms and carelessly mussed her tangled red locks with one of his large, calloused hands, then perched her atop their trestle table. Marriot, despite her misgivings about her own gift, began plucking gently at the strings. She had never played a lute before, but she was as gifted at music as her husband was with carving. She would soon discover the right combinations of sounds to accompany the lullabies she sang at night.

She smiled and glanced briefly up at the coo of glee her daughter gave as Arthur placed the new wooden doll he’d made into her plump little hands. Gilbert’s gift came next. Marriot nearly laughed at the delight on his face when his father handed him a fresh-made spade, just sized for a sturdy boy of nine. Only her practical minded older son—a trait she reluctantly admitted he’d inherited from herself—could possibly have glowed with pride to receive such a utilitarian tool for his very own.

“What about Robin?” Lottie piped. “What’d you make him, Da?”

“Ah, Robin.”

Marriot tried to catch her husband’s eye, as curious as her daughter. Robin’s was the one gift, besides her own, that Arthur had insisted on concealing from her. She watched him reach around Lottie to pick up the threadbare cloak he’d dropped on the table when he’d come in earlier from the winter’s cold. Until now, she hadn’t wondered about why he’d rolled it up, instead of hanging it on the peg inside the doorway.

He unfolded it now and removed the object it concealed. A dull green cloth, fraying a bit at the edges, stretched tightly over a stiff rectangular frame.

Arthur placed it in his younger son’s hands. Lottie jumped off the table and ran to her brother’s side to look. Gilbert drew near, too.

“What is it?” they echoed together.

Marriot had only seen such an object once before, much, much larger, chained to the altar in the village church. By the flush of excitement that ruddied Robin’s cheeks, she realized that he, too, knew exactly what it was.

“A book!” Robin whispered the words almost reverently. Marriot set the lute aside and approached her son as he flipped the object open. “It’s a book, like the big Bible in the church! Da, is it really mine?”

Marriot gazed at the meaningless scratches of ink on the parchment pages. She could not make heads or tails of the marks. Why would Arthur give Robin such a thing?

“Nay, Rob,” Arthur said, “Father Elias only let me borrow it. Would you like to learn to read it, though? Would you like to study half-days with Father Elias?”

“That would make Robin a priest, too” Gilbert said, “wouldn’t it?”

“Eventually,” his father answered. “Well, Rob? What do you think?”

A small fire sputtered and smoked on an iron plate in the middle of the room, inadequately keeping the cold at bay, but the chill that smote Marriot had nothing to do with the drafty cracks in the cottage walls. She whirled and dashed into the bedroom.

Scattered about another iron plate, this one covered with a pile of dead ashes, were the thin pallets they slept on at night. Once one of the wealthier serfs on the manor, Arthur had given up nearly everything he’d owned, including his much larger house, to marry her, the daughter of a drunken, money-squandering cottar. He’d sold everything, his father’s bed along with his house, to raise the marriage price the baron had set for her hand, leaving them to raise their children in her father’s two-room hovel.

Aside from the pallets, only a large wooden chest that held the family’s clothing occupied the room. Marriot shoved at it desperately, but it was too heavy—intentionally so—for any but a strong man to move.

“Here, let me,” her husband spoke from behind her. “I think you know what you’ll find, though.”

Marriot’s heart hammered. Or not find.

“It’s gone, isn’t it?” she whispered. When he’d sold nearly all for her hand, he’d saved a single coin and buried it deep beneath this chest. A symbol of all he had fought so hard to achieve before they’d fallen in love. A symbol of what he’d yet sworn to achieve for them all. But now—
“Our emancipation money. You said you were starting over for us—for all of us. You slave in the fields, plowing by moonlight to raise more crops than other men. You sit by our precious kindling on moonless nights carving items to sell to our neighbors for extra coins. And I’ve seen how you count and count and count before you bury them here—” she pointed at the base of the chest— “each coin bringing you closer to your dream.”

“A dream I will never reach,” he said quietly. “Not for all of us.”

Her tears fell freely, her emotions a mixture of guilt and relief. “Because of me. Because of the children. There are too many of us to ever raise enough…but oh, how I feared you might kill yourself trying!”

He took her in his arms. “If we had a fairer lord…but Beckford never intended to let me go, with or without you. He proved that when he demanded so high a marriage price for you. And our entire family? No. I could never raise enough to persuade him to give up the labor he would lose from us all.”

“But why Robin?

“Gilbert is like you, content with the security of the manor despite the cursed rents and services. And Charlotte is too valuable for the future serfs she will one day bear.”

“But he agreed to lose Rob’s half-day labor, and if you have your way, he will lose him entirely when he is twelve. How did you persuade milord of that?”

“He agreed to the half-days’ labor because he knows I will make it up myself. And five years is a long time. He undoubtedly trusts that I’ll find I need our second son fulltime to meet all the week works and boon works he lays upon us. Or that I won’t scrape together enough money to purchase his permission for Robin’s vows when he turns twelve. Either way, Beckford will keep the money I’ve paid him for this day’s benevolence. He’s the richer for it either way.”

“But you will scrape the money together, won’t you? If it kills you, you’re determined to set at least one of us free. You’ll work twice as hard to sell more crops than ever. You’ll carve yourself blind by the fire.”

“And when I do, I’ll have your nimble fingers on the strings of your lute to bring peace to my restless soul. Five years is all I need to see Robin free.”

Free. What was it she’d heard her husband repeat so often? When Adam and Eve first walked the earth, who then was lord and who was serf?

Her husband was right. The security of manor life contented her. But even she knew that Robin’s quick, bright mind required more. Free. One day a priest. Teaching peasants like herself the story of the Magi and the gifts laid before the Christ child on this day.

What I liked best: Pretty much all of it. This is a good story.

Magazine ready? Yes. But you need to add a few more dialog markers during that last long discussion. Once or twice I had to look back to see whose turn it was to talk.

Christmas #16: Untitled

[Every story must have a title, even if it’s not a good one.]

Early on Christmas Eve morning if 1944, Martje’s momma put the largest pan on the makeshift wood-stove her father had crafted out of the toy galvanized bucket. It took a very long time to cook anything on this tiny stove so her mom had to start early in the day to have something hot by nighttime. Martje was very hungry, something she was accustomed to by now.

“What are you cooking for Christmas dinner, Momma?”

“You will see.”

It had been a very hard winter. Most of the ponds were frozen over with snow on top. Her [Martje’s] papa made a straw pit in the back yard where he stored some carrots, potatoes and rutabagas—but that was empty now. All they had left was some sugar beet pulp, a couple hands full of flour and a smidgeon of oil.

Martje was curious about what was going to happen this Christmas Eve. They had a tiny tree from their own back yard. Her mother had allowed Martje to place the nativity underneath scrub they kept in a bucket. She noticed her mother set the table as she always did for special occasions and every Christmas Eve Dinner. She used her nice linen tablecloth and her finest china and polished silverware. Her mother picked some holly that grew by their front bay window and decorated each plate with a tiny branch of holly and a candle with a red ribbon tied around it.

That night, the main thing that was missing was the usual holiday aromas from the delicious meals her mother cooked. Martje’s mother brought in the soup terrine [is this a regional word? or do you mean tureen?] and placed it on the table. Her father gathered everyone around the table,[–] Martje, her sister Greet, and her mother. The only one missing was her brother, Ton, whom she missed fiercely. He was fighting for the resistance and she hadn’t seen him since the day he mysteriously showed up and rescued her from her school before it was bombed.

Her father said a prayer. He thanked the Lord for blessings of health and safety. He thanked God for sending the wonderful gift of His only begotten Son. He pleaded [personal peeve; use “pled”–also pled to whom?] to guard his son and bring him safely home. After the amen her [Martje’s] mother placed one beef bouillon cube in each of their soup plates. “I’ve saved these so we could have something special.” Then, as if she were serving a most exquisite cuisine she ladled out hot water from the soup terrine and poured it over the top of each cube. “Stir your bullion.” And so they did. The soup plates were deep so nothing spilled.

The family sat slurping up their “soup” without comment. All of them had participated on [in; not sure this is the best phrase] hunger walks trying to gather food from outlying farm areas over the past few years. But as the war raged on, there was less food to be obtained and greater danger anytime [two words] they wandered that far from home.

After the soup was gone; [comma] each had a thin slice of tasteless sugar beet loaf. It was not enough to assuage the hunger, but eleven year old Martje knew it would do no good to complain. She did wonder why her mother went through all the trouble to set a fancy table, when they could have easily drunk the bullion from cups.

When dinner was finished, her father read the Christmas story out of the Bible. Then they all sang Silent Night. That would have to do this year as the usual live nativity at their church was not allowed due to the German occupation.

That night when Martje got ready for bed she asked her mother, “Why the fancy table?”

“What day is it?”

“It’s the night Jesus was born.”

Her mother looked her in the eye. “Christmas, [no comma] hasn’t changed. We can still celebrate the birth of Christ, and honor him [capitalize]. We can thank God for the birth of His son. It does not require fancy food. It does require a nice looking table, even for only a bouillon cube. We should show proper respect and so we always use the best and look out nicest. That way we can be ready to invite Him to be our guest.”

It was a meal Martje never forgot. Throughout her 75 years she has shared the story with many people so that they can know that we should always remember the reason for Christmas, and give thanks for what we have, no matter how little or humble it may be. We don’t need this. Instead, have Martje think and react to her mother’s words and end it there.

What I liked best: The idea that war and/or poverty does not change what Christmas is.

Magazine ready? Close. Needs a new ending and a title.

Christmas #15: Christmas Elf

Need a hand around the house this holiday season? Someone to clean, wrap presents, and cook Christmas dinner? At my house, I have a Christmas elf- a magical guy infused with the season’s spirit. With his help, I manage to make my way through tinsel and trappings, finding peace and meaning despite December’s maddening pace.

My elf first appears at Thanksgiving. He helps bundle my two girls in jackets and mittens, and then holds them on a wagon ride deep into the snow- covered Western Pennsylvania woods.

“Let’s go pick out some greens for our wreath!” he gushes [nor really a gush; even it it was, don’t label it that way], jumping off the wooden wagon as it stops deep in an evergreen forest. As the girls gather pine bows from the forest floor, the elf dashes about, bounding through the snow like an excited young fawn. “Look over here!” he gleefully announces, “Some holly berries!” The girls’ faces shine like holiday lights, glowing and ruby red.

“Can I help make our wreath this year?” my eldest asks, knowing full well the elf’s standard response to all things Christmas: “Why, of course!”

Later in my uncle’s barn shed, the elf sets to work helping my aunts and cousins thread pine bows though metal wreath forms. “You can help make one, too” he assures my daughter, helping her add crimson berries and bright red felt bows to each creation. Smiling easily, he seems at home in this workshop, accepting the season with skillful, open arms. An hour later, my wreath is finished: a circle of Christmas love intertwined in fragrant, fresh pine.

By the first of December, our holiday helper kicks into high gear.

“Time to get out the decorations!” he announces, ascending from our basement storage rooms with bins labeled “Ornaments”, “Holiday Books and Music,” and “Christmas Crafts.” Magically, the CD player, which I cannot ever get to work properly, starts playing Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and “Anne Murray’s Christmas Favorites.”

“Hurray! It’s time to get out all the stuff!” the girls chorus, then instantly start rummaging through candy-cane scented candles and tangled tree lights. Soon, they unearth treasure: Plastic Santa face stampers with red and green ink pads, golden jingle bell necklaces, and an oversized, stuffed gingerbread man. I stand back, feeling stress rise from the bins to my already aching head. As I reach for a Tylenol, the elf whistles a tune, already having strung half the banister with imitation pine garland. (How did he hide those green twisty ties? Though he used them to secure the garland, they are mysteriously gone from sight, vanished under bows of plastic pine.)

“There! Looks nice, right?” I nod, amazed at his good cheer.

“Want to take a break?” I ask, hopeful for a bit of eggnog to ward off my throbbing headache. (Pounding more than ever now that I think of what’s left to do: Christmas cards, shopping, meal planning, four recitals, three parties, and at least one cookie exchange.)

“I want to get the outside lights on before it gets dark,” he suggests.

[move up to previous paragraph] “Why don’t you just come out after a few minutes and see how I’m doing?”

A half hour later, the front porch twinkles. The doorframe, outlined in pine garland and glittery white lights, makes the perfect backdrop for my homemade wreath. A mechanical deer, complete with glowing red nose, softly paws the snow-covered yard. Two small evergreens, runty stumps guarding the front steps, now seem majestic, even proud. Like a teenager illuminated by a little makeup, these trees seem to smile, glowing with newfound importance. I smile as well, my Scrooge-like attitude melting under the season’s radiance.

A few days later, I am handed a gift-giving list, outlining possible purchases and shopping locales. “I think three presents per person is fine for this year,” the elf says, nodding toward the troubled economy. “I’ll shop for your mother, so you don’t have to worry about that.” A week later, a Simple Abundance devotional arrives from Amazon- a perfect fit for my spiritually minded mom.

“Look what I found for the girls,” he says the next afternoon, crinkling open several plastic bags filled with miniature-sized doll clothing.

“Take a look at this dude hat!” he laughs, unwrapping a small black beanie with the words “Dude” inscribed on the front. “This will fit perfectly on either the Webkinz Gecko or the Cheeky Monkey!”

My girls, avid collectors of Webkinz stuffed animals, will be thrilled. I feel light and almost giddy, the burden of long lines and crowded shopping malls magically lifted from my shoulders.

One evening after the girls are in bed, the elf cranks up the radio, pours each of us a glass of Christmas cheer (Merlot, it turns out, helps gift wrapping speed), and sets up shop: a rainbow of ribbons, six tubes of festive wrapping paper, and eight rolls of Scotch tape.

“I’ll wrap everything if you’ll do the bow and labels,” he suggests, already cutting a piece of red Elmo paper for my nephew’s new Matchbox cars.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” I write on the tags, amazed at my revelry. Maybe it’s the Merlot, or the carols playing on the kitchen radio. Despite the snowstorm raging outside, I feel warm and surprisingly settled. I take another sip of wine and soak up this Norman Rockwell-like moment. At my core, I am grateful- for this evening, this season, and my exuberant elfin assistant.

To me, an elf is worlds better than Santa. Santa does not address Christmas cards, print ink jet, alphabetized labels, or purchase postage stamps. (“I wasn’t sure if you wanted Madonna and Child or Snowmen, so I got plenty of both,” the elf says, avoiding any possible hassles.) Santa does not shop, wrap, and mail packages to far-flung relatives, weeks ahead of the big day. (“I’ll just stop by the post office during lunch,” my able assistant smiles, throwing two boxes in the back of the SUV.) And, I am pretty sure Santa does not agree to walk miles upon miles through the snow-covered woods to select and chop down the perfect Christmas tree. (Blue Spruce, over six feet tall, with a pointy, angel-worthy top branch.) Even if Santa does chop down a fresh tree, I am pretty sure he has help with the decorating phase. My elf, donning white surgical gloves for protection from prickly pine branches, insists on stringing the lights himself. I join him for the fun part- ornament and tinsel hanging. As I hang a glitter-covered Popsicle stick star, I think about my children. How lucky they are to be exposed to the elf’s selfless giving.

As I sit down to Christmas Eve dinner- sautéed scallops and jumbo shrimp atop a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, I feel a little guilty. As usual, my holiday helper cooked a delectable feast. My contribution, a bag of pre-washed salad greens tossed with cranberries and pecans, looks sophomoric next to the artistically designed seafood. Fresh carrots jut out from the potatoes- a tower of goodness, presented with flair. “You outdid yourself again this year,” my mom raves. I smile, but I am not fooling anyone. My secret is out: Elfin magic, delivered by a generous guy I deeply love.

Wearing khaki Dockers and a brown wool sweater, my elf looks surprisingly ordinary. No green tights or pointy shoes for this guy. Standing just over six feet tall, he doesn’t fit the image of a munchkin or diminutive sprite. In fact, he looks like a middle-aged dad. As I spy a few wispy white hairs on top of his head, I make a holiday wish: May we grow old together, sharing Christmas cheer for many years to come.

Years ago, I made the wisest decision of all: I married an elf.

I couldn’t survive the season without his boundless energy and loving heart.

You know, don’t you, that every woman who reads this story hates you now and secretly hopes in their green-with-envy hearts that this is all fiction. 🙂 I like the story but I have to wonder what’s the point? It’s a great description of a wonderful husband/father/elf and your family will love it, but I’m not sure there’s a good readership for it. Now, if you changed the focus to the overstressed wife who doesn’t have the Christmas spirit, and have the husband/elf start small and have her notice it, and then maybe be overcome by his joy that her heart joins in…? Also consider your audience. This is an LDS site, and although I didn’t state it was an LDS magazine, you should still assume those values apply and switch the drink from Merlot to cocoa.

What I liked best: Some of your descriptions were really good.

Magazine ready? Technically, yes, but will get bumped for another story that will appeal to a larger group of readers.

Christmas #14: The Cat Who Ate the Quiche

The cat had never been spry. Not in all the years she had lived with the family had she been spry. The kids had long since learned to leave the cat alone. They didn’t even try to pet her anymore—especially near her hindquarters—because, even though she had no front claws, the cat was a biter and a scratcher. Every now and again one of the kids would wake up to find the cat snuggled up and snoring next to them in bed. They’d have to climb gingerly around her to get out or else the cat would turn into a snarling flurry of pure fur fury.

The cat had shown up one snowy November evening. The family was eating mushroom-broccoli quiche for dinner. Or, more correctly, the family was not eating mushroom-broccoli quiche for dinner. Well, the father was eating it. He always ate it, whatever it was. The mother would have been eating it had she not been telling the children (she always called them children because, after all, they were not a herd of goats) to eat it regardless of what they thought of the smell. And the kids, they were, well, they were prodding it.

Just as the mother warmed herself up for a round of “you-don’t- always-get-what-you-want-and-sometimes-you-just-have-to-try-new-things-because-I-am-your-mother-and-I-said-so-and-what-about-the-starving-children-in-Africa?” they all heard the sound. The kids stopped their prodding. The mother closed her mouth. The father swallowed.

It definitely wasn’t a meowing sound. If it had been, the family would have recognized it and opened the door immediately. It wasn’t a purring either. The wind would have drown out purring. In later years, after the cat died, the family decided the noise could only be described as a demand—if a demand could be wordless and completely other-worldly and animalistic.

At the sound the family all rushed to the back door and jostled it open. (It was a sticky and temperamental door, especially in wet weather.) As soon as the knob turned and the latch freed itself from the frame, the wind pushed the door open and the family discovered they had opened the wrong door.

So the family rushed to the front door and also jostled it open. (It refused to be bested by the back door. Especially in wet weather.) Again, they found nothing. But the noise—the demand—was louder. So the boy, the quintessential middle child who was always running ahead, walked out into the snow and peered into the juniper bushes that lined the front of the house. He was still holding his fork and began to prod the bushes—apparently prodding the quiche had not been enough for him.

That was how he found the cat. Or, more correctly, how the cat found him. He peered and prodded and the cat bit and scratched. Undeterred, the boy announced his discovery and the quick thinking oldest sister brought out their dinner to see if it would lure the cat closer. The father suggested it was the eggs. The mother insisted it was the mushrooms and broccoli (such a combination!). But the kids knew it was near-starvation that brought the cat out of the bushes to wolf down the quiche and they gave up a sigh of relief and a high five as their “what-about-the-starving-children-in-Africa?” dinner disappeared.

The cat stayed in the bushes for another week or so. The kids conjectured that she had been there for a week before she made any noise. The had all agreed that something had been watching them from those bushes for at least a week. Maybe even a month. The youngest, a girl who was prone to dramatics, said she remembered the eyes from her nightmares. The family took that with a grain of salt.

It was the next snowstorm that drove the cat indoors. It was the day after Thanksgiving and the wind was whipping snow in and out of the bushes as the kids took the cat her dinner. The moment the door opened the cat hurried inside. Or, more correctly, tried to hurry inside. Because, of course, the cat was not spry. Something in her hips or legs didn’t move like other cats. There was no feline fluidity or elegance to her gait. Her movements were heavy and awkward and as the family watched her entrance the cat snarled as if to say, “I’ll kill you if you ever mention this again. I know where you sleep.”

Indoors was cozy enough. The family had been putting up Christmas decorations all day and there were boxes laying about. The cat, slowly, gracelessly, inspected it all. She sniffed the stockings that had yet to be hung. She pawed at the garland. She sneered at the wreath. But it was the artificial Christmas tree that caught her eye. She walked around it in ungainly circles, her eyes scanning it up and down. She lifted a single front paw and batted a branch. She sniffed it and then she scorned it. Turning her head, lifting her tail, the cat lumbered away and fell asleep in the tree’s coffin-like box.

The cat repeated this process every year. It was the same inspection of the Christmas tree. The same laborious trip around and around it and the same scorn in her eyes as she curled up in the box. In fact, the cat was so repetitive in its ritual that the family took it for granted. And it was because they took it for granted that Christmas changed that year.

The mother had always longed for a real tree. Christmas, no matter how well coordinated and planned, always felt wrong with a plastic one. The synthetic nature of the thing seemed to infect everything. That year, since the children were old enough to avoid knocking it over, the mother decided to buy a real Christmas tree.

It was a warm-ish Christmas Eve afternoon and the smell of hot chocolate and cinnamon buns wafted across the grocery store parking lot (the mother had been picking up a few last minute doodads). It was intoxicating. In a haze of tis-the-season glee the mother selected a decadent, eight foot balsam fir. Sipping cocoa and planning the location of each ornament, the mother watched the men saw the stump and tie the tree to her station wagon. This was a Christmas tree to remember and it would make a Christmas to remember.

After driving the thing home, muscling it off the top of her car, lugging it inside, and wrestling it into the stand the mother began decorating the tree. The family had already decorated their puny plastic tree and as the mother removed the decorations she looked at it in scorn. How had they lived with such a thing all these years? She hummed as she went and slowed down only when she discovered the real tree was too tall to fit the star on top. The mother went to the kitchen and grabbed her kitchen shears. Surely, she reasoned, if they could cut up a chicken they could snip off the top of a tree. She angled a chair as close as she could to the tree and reached up. As she began to gnaw away at the top of tree it began to shift in its stand, but, no matter, the mother succeeded and placed the star on top. The tree wasn’t as stable as it had been before she mangled its top but it still looked good. When the father and the kids returned home from sledding, they oohed and aahed over the tree so much that the mother agreed, just this once, to let them eat dinner in front of it.

Perhaps it was because of the surprise of the tree that no one stopped to think of the cat. Perhaps it was the excitement of opening new Christmas Eve jammies and reading aloud the Christmas story that no one realized the cat had not eaten her dinner. Perhaps it was the visions of sugarplums and ipods that danced in their heads that made the family completely forget the cat. Whatever it was, no one remembered the cat and no one remembered the cat’s feelings about coniferous plants.

The cat, who was admittedly getting on in years, had been asleep in the laundry room. It was quieter down there in the basement and she liked the baskets of clothes sitting around the dryer. It warm and nobody but the mother, who was adept at ignoring the cat, ever came in. Not to mention it was where her litter box was and convenience was of paramount importance to the cat.

Most days cat usually awoke when the house settled down for the night. The older she got, the more set her in ways she got and the less often she was awake when the family was. It simply wasn’t her prerogative and if she had learned anything in her old age, besides the importance of convenience, it was to follow her prerogative.

As she heaved her haunches out of the laundry basket the cat smelled something. Something musky. Something woody. Something . . . Her nose twitched and her eyes closed. Her back seemed to straighten and firm up. Opening her eyes the cat carefully, deliberately, and almost nimbly worked her way up the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the front room. There, sparkling and winking in front of her, was the source of the smell.

The tree was indeed spectacular. The mother had chosen well and the star covered any disfigurement her hacking had caused. The gold of the garland combined with gumdrop colored lights and classic glass bulb ornaments gave the tree a heavenly glow. Surrounded by presents with perfectly coordinated wrapping paper and bows, the tree was the ideal of every Christmas card and cheesy holiday album.

The cat began to circle the tree. Slowly she made one round of the tree taking in its height and depth. She made another round, working her way closer to the tree, taking in its scent. She made a third round and batted it. The branch sprang back toward her paw, sending a shiver of excitement down her aged and crooked spine. The cat backed away and settled, sphinx-like, on the floor and stared at the tree.

It was when the sun was just beginning to come up that the cat made her decision. She reached her front paws forward, pushed her hindquarters back and stretched—purring in anticipation. She stood on all fours and licked her lips and cheeks, never taking her eyes off the tree. She leaned back into her haunches and sprang, running like she had in her kitten years. As she neared the tree the cat, aiming for the star, leapt.

The sound that woke the family was most definitely a crash. But there was something else too, something that reminded them of that November night, years before, when the cat had come to them. But this time the sound wasn’t a demand or a snarl. It was something like a meow, but more. Like a meow that was also a triumph and a laugh and a “see ya later.” And it was that sound the family remembered when they found the cat pinned under the tree. It was that sound they remembered when they buried her in the yard that day, under the juniper bushes, not a single one of them shedding a tear—except for the youngest, who was still prone to dramatics. And, well, the family took her with a grain of salt.

What I liked best: Uhmm, this is one of those really quirky stories that is so unexpected and weird that I actually like it. I like the writing. The omniscient POV works here. I like the anonymity of the family and the cat. I like the little parenthetical asides. It’s sort of warped at the end and it’s not really what you’d expect for a Christmas story, but it works for me.

Magazine ready? I’m gonna’ say yes. 🙂

Christmas 13: Santa’s Gift Card

Christmas was not on my mind when I decided I needed to go back to college to get a better job. I applied for financial help and received a grant to college in another state. Jennifer and I prayed about our decision and knew it was the right one.

The move was hard. It was hard to leave family and friends. But the move was harder on us financially. We moved during the summer to get settled before I started school. I also had to start over with a new job. We watched our small savings dwindle. Jennifer and I looked over our finances when school started and I needed to buy textbooks. We decided we would need to drop our cell phone, internet and cable service. We would barely have enough money for food and diapers. We knew we were in the right place doing the right thing, it was just going to be tight.

A few weeks before Christmas my company downsized and I lost my job. I went home to tell my wife. She was putting in a pizza when the phone rang. I watched Jennifer paint Jordan’s hand red and press it to a paper wreath while I listened to her end the conversation. [She was painting a toddler’s hand while putting pizza in the oven and talking on the phone?]

“Yes, I had heard the Wallace’s baby was still in NICU.” She painted Jordan’s other hand green and pressed it to the paper. “We’ll be happy to bring in a dinner.” She hung up and looked at me. I nodded. Jennifer packed up our pizza, garlic bread and salad and left. We ate Jordan’s favorite dinner when she got back: PB&J. [not everyone will know what this is.] Over dinner, Jennifer told of the Wallace’s bare apartment.

I looked at our own little tree. We bought it when we were first married. It had one present under it. At Enrichment, Jennifer had made an etching on glass of the temple we were sealed in. I looked at Jordan. I knew he wouldn’t know if he got anything for Christmas. But at two-years-old he made the best car sounds a father could hope for.

I looked around our little one room apartment. Jennifer and Jordan had colored Christmas and Nativity scenes and hung them around the living room. Paper snowflakes adorned the windows. I went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. It looked like we had a choice of PB&J or tomato soup for Christmas dinner. If the food lasted that long.

That night, I decided it was time to swallow my pride and talk to our bishop. Jennifer had loving suggested I make an appointment with him but I said no, we are fine. I called the bishop’s secretary. He told me the bishop could see me tonight.

“Welcome, Brother Whitlock!” Bishop Draper shook my hand and motioned for me to sit in the chair across from him at his desk. “What can I do for you? Or sometimes I like to ask, what can the Lord do for you?”

“Well, Bishop, I came today because there is too much month at the end of my money. Our cupboards are bare and I have no job.” I tried to smile.

Bishop Draper sat back in his chair, steepled his fingers under his chin and looked at me. He asked about Jordan and our medical bills. He asked me about school, my skills and previous jobs. His next question surprised me.

“Have you been paying your tithing?” he asked, quietly.

“Yes!” I replied, emphatically. It was always the first check written after I got paid.

He nodded and smiled.

“Then all will be well, Brother Whitlock. All will be well.” He stood and walked around the desk to me. “Do you have enough faith?”

I hesitated while I thought about his question. I slowly nodded.

Bishop Draper extended his hand to me and I stood up to shake it.

He put a hand on my shoulder. “The Lord knows your needs. He loves you.”

As I drove home, I wondered what I would tell my wife over another PB&J dinner. There was a knock on the door. One of the local youth held out a manila envelope, requesting a small donation to help a local family who lost their husband and baby to a house fire. The rest of the family were living with grandparents until they could get on their own feet again. I put all the money in the envelope I had on me: $1. Now I had no money for a toy car, but I knew I had given the widows mite.

The next day, I grabbed the mail. I had sent my resume to several organizations and was waiting for a phone call or a letter. All I found was the usual credit card applications and last minute Christmas shopping ads. I threw the mail on the table. A red envelope caught my eye. I picked it up and looked at the return address. “Santa Claus, North Pole.” I looked at the postmark. “North Pole.”

“Jennifer! We got a letter from Santa!” I opened the letter with Jennifer looking over my shoulder. The letter told us that Santa has helpers around the world who gave to those in need. One such helper wanted to help us. Jennifer and I looked at the gift card in her hand with big eyes. Arms around each other and tears flowing down our cheeks, we knelt in humble prayer to thank our Heavenly Father for his tender mercies.

We bundled Jordan up and went Christmas shopping. We bought Jordan a ball and a toy car. I bought Jennifer perfume and she bought me a robe. She said she was tired of seeing my holey pajamas. We also bought food for our cupboards and Christmas dinner.

When we checked out we were surprised to see the amount of money left on the card. Our Santa Helper had given us enough money to cover our purchases and more. Jennifer and I looked at each other and smiled. We took our purchases to the car and went back inside.

We went to the card aisle and found a big card with Santa on it. We went home and found the address of a family who needed a Santa Helper. We put the gift card inside the card and mailed it the next day. Now we were one of Santa’s Helpers.

The feeling of this Christmas are indescribable on all levels. The joy of giving and receiving this season will not be forgotten.

What I liked best: Good story. Gives you that warm fuzzy Christmas feeling. Needs a tad more zing to it. Not sure what to suggest. It’s good. It’s nice. It’s not spectacular. Maybe it needs a little more personality. ??

Magazine ready? Yes, but might get bumped for something more original.

Christmas #12: Christmas in Littleton a la A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Christmas was magical in those days. [what days? even though it’s in the title, you need to establish the time and place within the story.] We would rise around eight, the sun out but hovering beneath a layer of clouds, the snow glimmering dimly in the pale light. The children were easier to wake than when they were smaller and after rousing Daddy we would all troop into the living room, Christmas carols playing in the background, the children’s faces awash in the glow of tree lights and the sure, pure knowledge that Santa exists.

Sometimes Santa would leave brother a train or a car and then there was the year that jovial elf left a dragon complete with expectorated fireball and a plastic knight which was, as brother observed, “too statued” to allow proper placement on the dragon’s back making it a flawed toy, but the favorite, none-the-less. And after fully inspecting the toy of his dearest wishes he would become the Christmas Elf, passing out parcels and presents, his cry of “See, I told you this would be a fun day!” filling the air.

In the days of Colorado, sister was finally old enough to appreciate the promise of Santa. There were houses for her Barbie dolls, whistles and dollies, doll clothes and doll beds, doll cars and doll sleds. She, being young and blessed with an uncarnal [is this really the word you want to use?] mind, was happy to receive just one or two little gifts, enjoying the proceeding ones with greater and greater pleasure, pulling the red and white sweaters from the wrappings with oohs and ahs and drawing the soft mittens and hats and stockings along her cheek in fondest appreciation until she had had so many presents to open that she became quite querulous and demanding, stamping her little foot in a fury designed to produce more presents when there were simply no more to be had. [long sentence] She could only be induced, in those days, to calm down when the various boxes and wrappings were opened to free her dolls from their moorings, whereupon she would often be heard to say, “It is beautiful and I am beautiful and Mommy is beautiful!”

After all had opened their gifts; the children their toys, Daddy, one jewel box after another containing not jewelry but money and checks, and Mother, her silver and house wares and books, we would go to the kitchen and rummage around in the fridge and the cupboards, where it was known that ham, eggs, bread, bacon, hash browns and juice could be found. Daddy would set himself to the task of cooking, assigning mother the chore of timing the toast, just so, while the children scampered downstairs in their pajamaed feet, sliding and bumping down the dark narrow stairs to the basement, their arms full of the morning’s loot, to while away the time until breakfast with a showing of a favorite holiday movie. Then we would all have a long, lazy breakfast in front of the television.

It always came as a surprise when Mother would announce, with no sign, no warning, that it was time to go, to hurry, to get dressed, to get cleaned up, to put on our boots, to find our mittens and hats, and then to go! We would scamper up the stairs, our startlement lending wings to our feet, zoom past the windowed door leading out to the garage where the dog, could be seen at the back door, Christmas bone in his mouth, then on through the kitchen, past the Christmas tree, where papers, bows and boxes would fly from our precarious path, and on into our rooms. Hurriedly we dressed for no other reason than Mother told us so, then presented ourselves, never missing anything more important than a pair of socks or even a shirt, in front of our mother who would scold and hound, whisking the gloves and hats and boots from unknown origins onto our rarely cooperative hands and feet.

Daddy would back the car out of the garage and warm it up while loading the trunk with water and blankets, apples and oranges and whatever else he thought we might need if we were stranded somewhere in the white wilderness. Then we were off to places unknown. The journey itself was an exciting one, to be abroad on Christmas day, when all the world seemed to stop and stand still and listen. The mountains to the west beckoned us on into their snow-draped folds, the branches of the trees, bare except for an ancient bird’s nest here and there, would articulate, with their snow-white fingers, the way we should go and that is where we went, always; past the snow bleached field dotted with the black tracks of incipient geese, over the hill and past the white-frozen pond, then down under the train tracks and onto the open road.

A few cars would whirl past us but we took our time, rolling past houses and barns, their cake-icinged roofs boasting icicles jutting out over doorways which were gaily foil-papered, green-wreathed and red-bowed, waiting for someone to come Christmas-knocking.

Even the hills knew how to decorate for Christmas, it seemed, being bearded, here and there, with waterfalled icicles, frozen in place, skipping and dripping down the unmoving rock and onto a large lake dotted with motionless white caps that seemed to scud along the glassy surface amongst the ice fisherman sitting on crates and their dogs. Snow could be seen falling in the distance to meet the already white-capped mountains, which rose, in their turn, into the misty snowfall so that one could hardly tell where the sky ended and the mountain began.

Entering a tunnel, we would Hallooh! and scream until, reaching the other side, we would emerge into a sea of green firs, towering and white-capped or dusted with snow while tiny snowflakes flew into our windshield like aged dandelion seeds, as if God were making a wish. Drifting snow smoked across the black road while, up on the hill, red and blue skiers slogged down the long length of white, always with one or two black shapes sprawled, skis askew, in the powder-soft, cold, wet snow.

One town often arrived at in our Christmas travels was a real Victorian survivor, close to the skiing and filled with all the delights for which even a Floridian tourist could wish. We would ride the city transit system, a red and green trolley, up and down the main street for free and slide along the wide wooden benches into various other passengers who would smile and nod because it was Christmas.

Sometimes, if it were open, which it often was, on a Christmas Day, we would go into a little shop for cocoa and cinnamon buns. You opened the door and were met with the choice of going downstairs to stand in a long queue or up, up the narrow stairs to the fourth floor, the ski-chaleted, coffee-warmed, table-crowded room where one could watch from over the railing the tea-sippers on the tiny third floor below and the fat flakes floating forever eastward past the window in one direction and due south past the windows in the other. At the top, you could sit for many amusing hours watching the die-away-light in the eyes of numerous customers who, upon gaining the fourth floor, juggling coats and hats and mittens and sunglasses whereupon balanced precarious trays filled with doughnuts and rolls, coffees, cocoas, plastic forks and spoons –paper napkins–only to find there were no empty chairs, just as there had not been anyplace along their trek up the wooden-stepped, narrow-pitched, stair-wayed mountain.

Most usually we guzzled our cocoa and bun and then it was back on with the snow gear and out to find that it was still snowing in large, lazy spirals towards the ground and the air had warmed and the once gray sky had turned to a quilted cottonball white. The snowflakes fell so slowly, so densely, so perfectly for catching them on one’s tongue, it was easy for one to wonder why the entire population of sidewalk walkers and shopworn shoppers didn’t stop what they were doing to stick out their tongues and invite the snowflakes inside. We always did, halting just where we were in the middle of the pavement, arms flapping in delight whilst our tongues flapped in time, delving for just the right flake at just the right moment. Then we stuck our tongues to a nearby tree, trying our mightiest to hold them there while tilting our heads to sideways-smile in shared delight at the passers-by who pointed and laughingly shook their heads and who had doubtless seen the same Christmas movie we had in which a child is warned not to stick his tongue to a frozen metal pole, and who does and gets stuck.

Then, invariably, Mother and Daddy would return us to the car where we would be buckled into our seats and the doors closed behind us while they walked a pace or two down the sidewalk holding hands like a pair of teenagers with no cares in the world only to turn and come back and stand, kissing, with red noses and snow-whitened hair. Finally, they would open their doors and charge into the car on a fresh blast of arctic wind, whereupon Daddy started up the motor while Mother complained about the cold and the chill and the future puddle on the floor sure to form under her snow encrusted boots.

We would drive for awhile around the town’s neighborhoods and imagine what they would be like a month from that day when the unstopping-snow would pile up to the tops of the steps or to the bottoms of the windows until finally, the oft-shoveled drift-piled snow would tower, in our imaginations, to brush the icicle-strewn eaves. Then we would drive north into the teeth of the storm, the snow flying into our windshield and zooming past the windows with such urgency that their silent striking upon the glass made one think of deafness, or of cotton wadding. Finally, we would be heading home, past a whirling dervish of a snow-devil, funneled and flowing towards the sky as if, perhaps, in a former life, it had been a snowman even then on its way to the angels. The mountains and lakes and icicle waterfalls would all look different and new, watching them, as we were, from the opposite direction, yet, tired and warm, our heads would nod and some of us would slip into sleep.

Those who stayed awake would often be rewarded with the sight of a setting sun celebrating Christmas—an orange-pink, light-filled cloud would rise from behind a green-fringed mountain with such luminescent, glowing shine that one could not help but wonder if no Christmas tree, however gaily strung, could ever inspire such magic.

Eventually, we would be jostled out of our reverie by the sound of tires crunching along the ice-filmed drive in front of our house and we would stir and yawn and drift soundlessly from the car, trailing our possessions into the cold, dark house. Weaving our way around the wrappings and boxes still littering the floor around the tree and spilling on into the hallway and other rooms, we would pick up one treasure after another to re-inspect it in the bright lamplight whereupon, settling on one or the other, we would quietly play until, lids drooping, we grew tired.

The children went first–soft cuddly toys tucked under their chins or held in their fat little fists–without a murmur or complaint to be washed, brushed and pajamaed and finally to be blanketed over and folded up into instant slumber, never to see, or know, or care, how Mother and Daddy staggered down the never-longer hall to their own room where they collapsed into bed with the sheer exhaustion of the utterly replete. Outside, the Christmas-lighted houses glowed like candied gingerbread under their layer of snow. Their winking and blinking, as far as I knew, went on and on far into the dreaming night.

What I liked best: The language. Some of this is quite beautiful, painting a very lovely image. We are so accustomed to a fast-paced story, with action and dialogoue and something IMPORTANT happening, that we forget that its sometimes good to just slow down and be in the moment. This story captures that.

Magazine ready? Yep. But it needs a better title.

Christmas #11: A Lesson from Sylvester

Sitting at the foothills of the mountains, life in the small town was
very laid-back and unhurried. Neighbors visited in the streets,
discussing the events of the world happening so far away. Children
played kickball on summer evenings, and the park was always filled with
young boys playing baseball. Everyone was concerned about their
neighbors and willingly helped them when any need arose. Neighbors
waited for neighbors as they crossed the only bridge into town. If a
car had already entered the small, one-lane bridge, other vehicles had
to wait. [Cut and combine.]
Such neighborly kindness was evident everywhere in town.
Well, almost everywhere.

At the top of one street lived an old gentleman with a full head of
white hair. He had lived there by himself for as long as anyone could
remember. He was known as “old Sylvester”. [capitalize the Old and you don’t need to use quote marks, which are sometimes awkward.] The adults in town
tried teaching [taught] their children to be polite to him, but never invited him
to their homes for Sunday dinner. Sylvester was a loner.

Children were known to be “mean” to him. Some of the big boys
might even throw rocks at him, just to hear him yell. He suspected the
boys in town of being the cause of his troubles. If a window was
broken, it was “the boys”. If something was missing, it was surely
“the boys.” Sylvester sometimes walked to the boys’ homes and had
a little visit with their parents. Trouble stopped for a little while,
then a new group of “boys” took their place and the cycle started

Sylvester had an old, bent bike which he rode everywhere. He rode
downhill to the small grocery store where he picked up meager supplies–
a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, and sometimes a few other items. He
reached into his pocket and pulled out a few coins to pay for his
purchases. Most of the time the coins were not enough and the grocer
told him he could pay later when he had more change, knowing that he
would never see the money.

Sylvester continued on to the post office where he checked his mail for
any sign of friendship, but all he received were the monthly electricity
bill, water bill, and a few advertisements. “Good morning” he said
to anyone who stopped to nod at him. But it seemed that no one ever had
time to really talk to Sylvester. Waving his hand, he put his mail
alongside his groceries into the basket, and pedaled uphill this time,
to his ramshackled home.

Sylvester rode that bike during all kinds of weather. The streets of
the town were not paved, just gravel and dirt. This created many
problems for Sylvester, for the weather changed the road conditions
continually. During the hot, dry summers the road was dry and dusty,
settling on his clothes. In spring and fall the road turned to thick mud
during sudden rainstorms, making it very difficult to ride his bike.
After a storm, cars splashed mud as they passed him. Winter brought its
own problems. The snow froze on the road, turning it to a sheet of ice,
nearly impossible for riding a bike uphill, and so easy to lose control
going downhill to the store. So during the winter, Sylvester would walk
in the cold.

Sylvester’s clothes were old and worn. He wore an old pair of blue
woolen pants and a frayed white shirt. His shoes were loose and worn.
His coat was a size too big, with patches on the elbows, repaired by one
of the nicer ladies in town. He always had an old dusty top hat on his
white hair and fingerless gloves on his hands.

Sylvester walked with a shuffle, bent as though he walked
against the wind. His head was bend and his tousled hair shaggy in his
face as he passed everyone on the streets. Sylvester was quite the
“odd” character in town.

Sylvester could always be found in church on Sunday morning. His
clothes were the same that he had worn during the week. His
transportation was the same, that old bike, or his own two feet. But
there was something different about him on a Sunday. Every Sunday he
carried his violin case with him to the church house. He walked up the
flight of stairs to the chapel carrying his old tattered case with his
precious violin tucked lovingly inside. The congregation shook their
heads as they watched him slide into the pew at the back of the chapel.
People turned and whispered to each other, no doubt asking the same
question, “Will he do it today or not?” and secretly hoping the
answer would be “no.”

Sylvester had one problem that was very obvious to everyone in town.
He had a difficult time speaking. His words came out mumbled, making it
very difficult to understand. He tried to speak during the church
services, sometimes standing and expounding for a very long time, or so
it seemed. Children snickered and laughed behind their hands, following
the examples of their parents and church leaders who tried to shush the
children at the same time. Many times Sylvester then walked to the
front of the chapel, pulled out his violin and proceeded to play hymns.
The boys laughed at him, ducked their heads and chortled in their hands.
Girls giggled behind their paper fans. Adults rolled their eyes as
they listened, praying he would soon end and allow the meeting to
continue. It was obvious that he had musical talent because he made
that violin speak in a way no one else could, but everyone felt
ill-at-ease because it was not the appropriate thing to do at that time.

One cold, snowy Sunday afternoon, while eating dinner with his family,
a newly-ordained church leader made a surprise announcement. The next
night the family would be going on an adventure to spread Christmas
cheer to several of the needy families around the town. The three young
daughters rolled their eyes, knowing that they were being involved
because of their father’s position, not because they could actually
spread Christmas cheer. They would rather stay home and complete their
homework, or do some other household chore, simply because they really
didn’t want to go. But their father insisted, not telling them
exactly where they would be spreading this fabulous cheer.

Monday evening arrived. Following their father’s lead, they climbed
into the car. The first two stops were at homes of widows, friends of
their grandmother. The visits were friendly, the ladies happy to see
the girls and their parents out visiting on such a cold night. While
climbing into the car after leaving the home of the second widow, they
learned the destination of their last visit for the night.
Sylvester’s home.

The house at the top of the street was a scary thought to the young
girls. It was a place they had never been and was not on their list of
places they wished to ever visit. Their father assured them he would
protect them, and everything would be fine. He told them if they
approached this visit, looking through understanding eyes, they just
might learn a lesson that they would never learn elsewhere.

The father led the way with their mother following and the girls,
youngest to oldest, walking behind. They walked up the squeaky, wobbly
steps to the side door where the father knocked loudly so the old man
inside would hear.

Sylvester was excited to see the family at his doorstep. He quickly
invited them into his home. As the girls walked in, the lesson
immediately began. They entered into the dark and cold kitchen of this
humble home. The cupboards had no doors so it was easy to see they were
empty and bare. An old plate and cup sat in the dirty sink, along with a
dented tin saucepan, a coffee-pot sat on the counter. The coal-burning
stove had a small fire, not large enough to warm the house, but with
enough smoke pouring out to create a smoky haze throughout.

The family followed Sylvester into his living room. They passed a
small Christmas tree empty of decorations except for a few cards that
had been saved from past years. Sylvester picked up a small pillow
sitting on his couch. He pounded it against his leg, sending billows of
dust and smoke into the air. Apologizing for not cleaning up his place,
he invited them to sit on the couch. The girls looked around and
noticed bits of food left on the floor where he obviously ate his last
few meager meals. The room was cold, dirty, and smelly and the girls
were amazed that someone in their town actually lived in this type of

Sylvester was telling the father about his own children living in
California. This was the first time the girls realized he had children. He said they were planning on coming to visit him, but they wouldn’t
be able to make it this year. He rushed over to the Christmas tree.
Reaching behind, he pulled out a picture frame, wiped off the dirt, and
showed the photograph to the family. With pride in his voice, he
explained this was his daughter, his pride and joy. He couldn’t wait
to see her again; after all it had been more than 15 years since he had
last seen her.

He spoke of his years in California where he played the violin during
the silent movie era. The girls learned that he once had a wonderful
life, a life that he lost because of his own choices, a life he would
never get back. He said he learned from his mistakes and was trying to
be the best person he could with what little he had.

Sylvester was humbled when the mother gave him a loaf of bread and a
dozen of her famous raisin-filled cookies. He explained that he
didn’t keep gifts on hand to give out to his friends because people
did not visit him during the Christmas season and it was very difficult
for him to travel around town to deliver gifts. Continuing to make
excuses for this lack of gifts, he suddenly stopped. Turning around, he
said “Excuse me just a moment,” and disappeared down the hall.

He returned carrying his violin case. Wiping off the dust, he opened
the case and pulled out his precious violin. Turning a few of the
tuning pegs, he tuned the violin with the expertise of a master
musician. Then, in that cold, dusty room, he gave the young girls a
concert of the most beautiful Christmas music they had ever heard.
Sylvester closed his eyes as his fingers warmed with the notes of music
learned long ago. He played song after song, never stopping. He
connected the carols together in a way that made the songs flow one
after the other, like a bow wrapped around a present. All too soon, the
music slowed to the end of “Silent Night”. With tears in his eyes,
he bowed his head and said a prayer, thanking God for bringing these new
friends into his home, and for letting him share with them his precious
gift, the talent of his music.

Humbled, the family quietly shook his hands, knowing they were
shaking hands with a master. They thanked them for this wonderful gift
and quietly returned to their car.

Words could not express the lesson the girls learned that evening.
Sylvester was now a different person in their eyes. Not someone to be
laughed at and ridiculed, but a person of worth, someone who had paid
the price for his choices, and still had so much to give.

What I liked best: The theme of not judging, of being willing to see with your heart and not your eyes.

Magazine ready? Not yet. But this has potential. It’s a lot of telling, not enough showing. I’d like to see this played out in real time from the point of view of one of the girls, maybe a teenage girl, or a boy from the town.

Christmas #10: Untitled

You have to have a title. Even thought it might be changed, never submit without a title.

“Did you just hear what I just heard?” The chickens clucked to each other as they scrabbled in the yard for bits of food.
“It’s going to happen tonight just down the lane at that old stable,” a matronly hen announced.
“I just wish we could go,” a younger hen sighed.
“You’re all so silly,” the gamey cock proclaimed. “Can you just imagine all of us marching down the street to a barnyard? What would people think?”
“But this is such a special time…” [who said this?]
“I know, I know. And at least, we do know that.” [who said this?]

[need some type of connecting sentence]

“I wish we would stop for a little while. I wish I could stop all these people hurrying by and tell them just what will soon be happening. But everyone is going by in such a rush and no one is even looking. Doesn’t anyone see? Doesn’t anyone care? I know, I am just a donkey that has been given this most important task of all. I hope I’m doing all right. If only someone would say something. Doesn’t anyone know?” [who says this? Needs to be broken into shorter sentences said by various animals.]

“Move over a little more. There. That’s much better.” The older cow said to her companion.
“You do know who this is, don’t you?” she replied. [who is she? another cow? baby cow?]
“Of course. And what an honor it is to think they have come here to our stable at this most important time.” A third cow spoke up.
“You would think our owner would have provided a better place. I mean, after all, look who this is…”
“Ah, but you know how people are. They just don’t get it.”
[Each speaker above needs to be identified]

“I wish they would just hurry up, so we can get there.” The camel looked across at his partner.
“Be patient, my friend. This is, of course, royalty.”
“But at this rate, it will take ever so long to get there,” the third camel exclaimed.
“I know it will,” the older, wiser one answered.
“But we will, eventually, get there. And along the way, think of all the others we will see and share this great event with.”
The other two nodded knowingly.
[Identify each speaker a little more clearly.]

“Oh, my. Do you think they really know where they’re going and who they’re going to see?” The sheep huddled together and wondered.
“Probably not,” spoke the gruff dog to his mate.
“I don’t understand.” She turned to look at him with a puzzled expression. “This is about the most important thing ever and they leave us behind.”
“But you know,” he added. “They are only human and they just don’t know…”

For unto us a child is born; the Savior of the world.

And the animals knew…

What I liked best: The idea that the animals know and the people are too busy with the hustle and bustle.

Magazine ready? Despite all the red, this one is closer than you think. It would make a great picture book. Remember the rule of three–have three groups of animals. I’d also like to see the animals make more specific comments about what the people are doing that causes them to miss the event.

Christmas #9: Too Old For Santa

“Michael? That thing of yours is broken.”

Michael looked down at his little brother. Usually it was cute, the way Trent said his name. My Coal. It wasn’t so cute now.

“What’s broken?” He kept everything that Trent could break up on his bunk bed. What could Trent have gotten his little hands on?

“That thing…of yours…that’s broken.”

“What’s broken?” Michael struggled to keep his voice calm, especially with Mom listening. Nine-year-olds are too old to believe in Santa. Michael knew that Mom was Santa. The magic of Christmas was dead, but getting presents was still fun. Even Dad behaved himself at this time of year.

“That thing.” Trent said.

“Mom!” Michael said. This conversation was going nowhere.

“Calm down, Michael.” She got down on her knees and made Trent look at her. “Trent, honey, can you show Mommy what’s broken?”

Trent nodded and took Mom’s hand. Michael followed, wishing Trent could move his little legs a bit faster. After an eternity they entered the crime scene. There sat his favorite airplane – minus one wing.

“My airplane!” Michael cried. He and Dad had worked for weeks on the plane. “You ruined it.”

“Michael,” Mom said. “Calm down. Did you put the airplane away? How did Trent get to it?”

“I had it on my bed.” Michael knelt by the plane and gathered the pieces in his arms.

“Oh.” Mom’s cheeks turned pink. Michael folded his arms and glared at her. She felt guilty about something. “Michael, I forgot to tell you. Trent managed to climb to the top bunk bed yesterday while you were at school.”

A sick feeling settled in Michael’s stomach. His bed was his last refuge. The last place he could go to get away from his little brother. The last place where his stuff was safe from Captain Destructo. He was too old to cry so he blinked away the tears that were threatening to fall.

“Sorry,” Trent said.

“Maybe we could glue it back together?” Mom said.

Michael ran his finger over the splintered wood and shook his head. “I don’t think so, Mom.”

Mom scooted over and put her arm around Michael. “Maybe Daddy can do something with it.”

Dad could do some amazing things, but fixing the airplane was impossible. “Sure, Mom.”

Mom squeezed his shoulders. “I really am sorry, sweetheart. He climbed up yesterday but couldn’t get down. I thought he’d learned his lesson.”

“Michael, look at me!” Trent called from the top bunk bed. “I’m big!”

“Get off my bed, Trent,” Michael yelled. “It’s bad enough you ruined my plane.”

“Michael, don’t yell at your brother.” Mom grabbed Trent and pulled him off the top bed. “Don’t forget, Santa is watching.”

“Mom, I’m nine years old. I’m too old for Santa. And, if there is any justice, Trent won’t get anything for Christmas because all he does is break stuff.” Michael knew he’d just made a huge mistake when he looked in Mom’s eyes. She looked like she was ready to shoot laser beams with her eyes.

Mom put Trent down. “Trent, why don’t you go see where your sister is?”

“Okay, Mom,” Trent said. “Linda!” [Maybe “Minda”] he yelled. It wasn’t fair. He never got in trouble. He couldn’t even pronounce their sister’s name right. Me-lin-da.

Mom sat on the bottom bunk bed and took Michaels hand. “You don’t believe in Santa?”

Michael shook his head, too scared to open his big fat mouth.

“Then I guess it’s time for you to be Santa.”

Michael almost dropped the sad remains of his airplane. “What?”

“There are two sides to Santa. You’ve experienced receiving from him. Now you get to be him.” Mom explained this like she explained how he should make his bed after he slept in it. Both were beyond his comprehension.

She had to be kidding. He only got a dollar a week in allowance and that was only when he actually did his chores. There was no way he could be Santa. “I may need a raise in my allowance.”

Mom laughed. “That’s not what I mean. I want you to find out what your brother and sister want for Christmas. Report back to me and then we’ll go to the store and pick out their presents. You can help stuff the stockings on Christmas Eve too.”

Michael smiled. That was more like it. This year there would be no nasty candy canes in his stocking. Nothing but chocolate.

When Dad got home from work, Michael couldn’t wait to tell him the plan, but Dad wasn’t smiling. “I don’t know,” he said. “Christmas is going to be lean this year. We aren’t going to get our Christmas bonus.”

Mom’s cheerful smile faded and was replaced by worry. “But we depend on that bonus for Christmas presents,” she said. “What will we do?”

Michael felt his excitement drain. Not only was he not going to be Santa, there wasn’t going to be much of a Christmas this year.

“We have enough for the clothes the kids need,” Mom said.

Clothes for Christmas?

“We can give our parents some of those peaches you bottled,” Dad said.

Mom nodded. “And our brothers and sisters too.”

Even worse. “We’ll still have some peaches left, won’t we?” Michael asked.

“Of course. Our trees gave us more peaches than we could eat in a year.” Mom mussed Michael’s hair. “We’ll have plenty for us.”

“Oh, good.” Michael let out a sigh of relief. “But what about our presents? I don’t think that Trent or Melinda want peaches in their stockings.” He thought of his own Christmas list. He hadn’t really expected to get a Wii, but now there was no chance.

“We have a little bit of money,” Mom said. “We’ll just have to keep it simple. Do you still want to play Santa?”

With a little bit of money, they’d still get candy in their stockings. “Sure.”

Mom smiled. “Then I guess you’d better go find out what Trent and Melinda want Santa to bring them.”

“What about my plane?” Michael asked.

“Your plane?” Dad asked.

“Trent climbed on my bed.” Michael took Dad to his room and showed him the remnants of the once proud plane. “It’s ruined.”

Dad examined the plane. “It does look pretty bad. I’ll take it to my shop and see what we can do.”

“Play with me!” Trent yelled from the doorway.

Michael didn’t want to play with Trent. He was still mad that he [Ternt] had gotten away with breaking his plane.

“Good idea,” Mom said. “You two play while I finish making dinner.”

“May I help you make dinner?” Melinda asked. She was pulling the polite card. Michael grinned. This year Santa didn’t care about the polite card.

“Oh, thank you, Melinda. I still need someone to set the table.”

Michael found some memory cards and opened the box to play a game with Trent. Two of the cards were ripped in half and several were chewed on. Trent snatched a card from his hand and held the picture up.

“Monkey!” He put his hands in his armpits and jumped up on the couch.

“Don’t jump on the couch, Trent,” Michael said.

“I’m not Trent,” Trent said. “I’m a monkey!” He jumped off the couch and grabbed another card. “Lion! Roar.”

“That’s a tiger, but you can’t tell because the head’s been chewed off.” Michael pointed to the stripes.

Trent put the card in his mouth and shook his head. “Rrrrr!”

“Trent, you’ve ruined these cards. Now we can’t even play the game.”

Trent took the card out of his mouth. “Play!”

“Dinner,” Mom called.

“Come on, Trent.” Michael put the soggy card back in the box. No wonder he never ate dinner. He was too full of playing cards.

“Mother,” Melinda said, still using her polite voice. “I am going to ask Santa for a dollhouse. My dollies don’t have anywhere to sleep.”

“Yes they do,” Michael said. “They sleep on your floor.”

“Michael,” Mom said.

Her [Mom’s] eyes looked so sad. Dollhouses were expensive. She must be worried that Melinda would be disappointed Christmas morning. She probably would be.

Dad came upstairs, brushing sawdust off his pants. His workshop was so dusty you couldn’t go down there without getting sawdust all over your clothes. Then Michael got such a great idea he had to check and see if a light bulb turned on over his head. No light bulb, but it was still a great idea.

“Dad,” he whispered, “how do you feel about being an elf?”


Melinda screamed when she saw her present by the tree. It was too big to wrap so he and Dad had put a big red bow on it.

Mom put her hand over her heart and gasped. “A dollhouse! How?”

Michael couldn’t stop the grin from erupting all over his face. He and Dad had worked hard to make that dollhouse. Dad used a broken piece of furniture for the wood. They both hammered and sawed and painted. It was pretty cool, for a dollhouse, and hadn’t cost a penny.

“Santa and his elf made it,” Dad said.

Melinda ripped open the other package – the one that Michael helped pick out from the dollar store with Mom. “Doll furniture!” Melinda screamed.

Michael popped a piece of chocolate in his mouth. Delicious.

“Airplane!” Trent screamed. That was the dollar store gift.

Michael picked up another present and handed it to Trent. “Open this one.”

“What’s that?” Mom asked.

Trent and Dad exchanged knowing looks.

“Monkey!” Trent screamed. He took the thick cards out of the box and spread them before him. The finish reflected the blinking lights of the tree.

“Slobber proof cards,” Michael said. He had spent hours on the computer finding the right pictures. Then Dad helped him glue the pictures to particleboard. Slobber proofing with the non-toxic finish was the final touch.

Trent held up a picture of a cow. “Horse!”

“Now you can learn all of your animals,” Michael said. “This is a cow.”

“I see another gift beside the tree,” Dad said.

There was a box next to Melinda’s dollhouse that hadn’t been there the night before. Michael pulled the box to the middle of the room and unwrapped it. It was a large wooden toy box with a lock. His heart began to pound when he saw the lock. He tried to open the lid.

“It’s locked.”

“Look in your stocking,” Dad said with a grin.

Michael dug through the chocolate and found a key in the toe of his stocking. He put the key in the lock and opened the box. There in the bottom of the box was his model airplane.

“You fixed it!”

Dad shook his head. “An elf fixed it.”

A toy box all his own that Trent couldn’t get into. It was exactly what he’d wanted and he hadn’t even asked for anything. He looked up at his parents. They were so happy and they didn’t even get any presents. That was when he realized that the magic of Christmas didn’t end with his belief in Santa. The magic of Christmas got better when you got to be Santa and make others happy.

Mom knelt next to him. “Merry Christmas, Michael. You did a great job.” She wiped a tear from her eye.

Michael put his arm around her. “I was wrong, Mom. I’m not too old to believe in Santa.”

Mom smiled. “I thought you’d see it that way.”

What I liked best: Everything. Characterization was great, dialog great. Yes, this is a story we hear every year about someone learning that Christmas comes in the giving, not the getting. But we need to hear it every year. This is a good one and very much deserving of being a winner.

Magazine ready? Absolutely!

Christmas #8: A Christmas Present for Willow

Stella paced the small apartment. She didn’t have a Christmas present for her daughter, and she was flat broke. Recently she had a job doing homecare duties for an elderly lady who had a stroke, but that had come to an abrupt end when her client fell down and broke her hip. Now she found herself without work, trying to cough up enough money to pay the dentist bill. Well at least she didn’t have a tooth ache any more. Even the dentist said it was a tooth from hell. So the problem was Christmas and what to get her five year old daughter. But what? It wouldn’t take a lot to please her, but she didn’t want her daughter to start her early life [how old is the daughter? If a baby, she won’t feel deprived. If older, we need to have an indication of that] feeling deprived.

Stella took the bus downtown to order a hamper from the Salvation Army, so at least food would not be a problem on Christmas Day. Still, she couldn’t think of a nice but cheap gift for Willow. The days passed quickly as she handed out her resume [need the accent mark], hoping to pick up some extra cash, but it was one of those times when nothing seemed to happen. A fallow time, she thought, knowing that at other times in her life she would be overwhelmed with work commitments.

One morning after she got Willow safely off to school, she fell to her knees and told the whole sad story to Heavenly Father. “Help me,” she begged. “All I want is a good present for my sweet little girl. She deserves it. She’s always so helpful and she still believes in Santa Claus. I don’t want to let her down.”

As she [Stella] stumbled into the living room, she noticed a delivery truck outside the apartment building. Mr. Sneider’s fridge had given up the ghost and the landlord was springing for a new one. “I know!” Stella shouted, as she clicked her heels together in mid air. [really? Kind of corny.] She ran down to Mr. Sneider and asked for the refrigerator box. “I want to turn the box into a playhouse for my daughter,” she explained.

Mr. Sneider grinned as if she had just given him a million bucks. “Can I help?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I used to be a set designer for CBC [what’s this? Better to say for a tv station or a theater]. I’d love to help. I have all the supplies that we need.” He then offered to keep the box in his apartment until Christmas Eve so it would be a big surprise on Christmas morning.

The word got around. Everyone wanted to help little Willow have a great Christmas.

On Christmas morning Willow discovered a colorful playhouse in the living room. It was painted pink and blue and yellow, and had shutters and window boxes. Santa had also given her clothes and books and dolls, and games and movies, more than she had ever expected. [in a list, use and or commas, but not both]

That night as Stella thanked Heavenly Father for this Christmas miracle, she realized that the people in the apartment, the ones who had parties late at night, the who left junk in the hallways, the ones with addictions, the ones with bad breath in the elevator, the ones who sneezed in your face, the ones who used the washing machine and dryer on the wrong day, she realized that they were all angels in disguise. And perhaps that was the greatest gift of all.

What I liked best: I liked the basic story idea–that Heavenly Father inspires us with ideas and that other people can become angels in our lives.

Magazine ready? Not quite. It needs to be expanded a bit. I’d like to see more sense of place, more descriptions of what’s happening in the moment, get to know some of the people who help her and see how Stella’s perceptions of them change through this experience. Good start.

Christmas #7: The Choir Practice

Julie decided to leave Choir Practice [not capitalized]. She had found [passive] it impossible to sing that day without breaking into tears. It was only two weeks until the ward choir would sing the Christmas Cantata in Sacrament Meeting [don’t think it’s capitalized. Check the LDS Style Guide], and she . She knew that they were in dire need of sopranos, but she wasn’t going to be any help to them. They would be short not only one good soprano, but two. Her mother would have been standing beside her singing in her smiling rich tones if the Lord had not called her home exactly three weeks before [earlier]. The three long stressful weeks had gone by. Preparations for Thanksgiving and the holidays had been swallowed up in the family sorrows and the funeral. At first Julie didn’t think she could deal with it, but the Lord had given her a measure of peace–except when it came to singing.

She [Julie; when starting a new paragraph, reidentify who the “she” is] sat by herself in the foyer, the tears still wet on her cheeks, waiting for her ride home with Sister Cameron. Weather permitting, she would have walked home and let the tears flow freely; but the snowdrifts were already starting to pile up in the afternoon snowfall, and the temperature was dropping quickly as dusk set in early on that December afternoon. [sentence too long; also, don’t tell us, show us. Have her observe the snow fall through a window or something.] She could hear the Choir beginning the strains of “Angel’s We Have Heard on High” and sing until they reach the chorus, “Glor-ia, in excellsis Deo“. At that instant the dim foyer seemed to glow in a misty shimmer, and Julie felt the light touch of a hand on her arm. She looked up into the eyes of–Mother, only young, smiling, wearing a long white dress and her shoulder-length brown hair blowing as if in a gentle breeze.

“Julie, my Darling [don’t capitalize],” whispered Mother. “I am going to take you with me to a Christmas Past [don’t capitalize], and then you will understand, see that there is wisdom in why things happen as they do, and you will be comforted.” [too long]

Mother took Julie by the hand, and they passed through what seemed to be Temple Doors, down a long broad hallway where there were concourses of people, dressed in white and beautiful to behold. They all seemed to be in a blissful, excited [not sure these two states are compatible] state, conversing happily. Julie asked Mother what was going on. She just smiled and beckoned her to follow. In a few moments–or a few hours, Julie did not sense a particular passage of time-they entered into a Great Hall. It was full of bustling people, all with rustling papers and some with musical instruments, many which Julie didn’t recognize, taking their places. [too long] It was obviously a rehearsal hall. Mother guided [awkward; use “led”] Julie to the top row of a great choir loft, the seats so numerous that Julie couldn’t begin to guess how many there were. People were beginning to fill up the seats, and the whole room was electric in anticipation.

In walked the Great Conductor. The confusion in Julie’s mind began to clear. The situation began to be vaguely familiar to her. She suddenly recognized the conductor, as he raised his baton and the whole chorus erupted into the beginning strains of the great “Hallelujah Chorus”-he had been known on earth at a later time as George Friedrich Handel. He had written the great oratorio “The Messiah” in just twenty-one days, “in or out of the body” he “knew not”. [quoting like this doesn’t really work in this story. Have Julie remember reading about it and him sayin it or something] And now Julie knew that he had really written it eons before that time in a pre-earth life.

It was to be the last rehearsal before the Grand Celebration–the Great Redeemer was going down to earth to be born as a little baby in mortality, and Julie was going to sing in the Great Choir!

Soon the time was at hand. The Great Choir had gone down to earth and assembled before a little group of shepherds sitting in the fields with their flocks of sheep on a lovely spring evening, just outside of Bethlehem. Gabriel, who in earth-life had been the Prophet Noah, announced the Holy Birth to the humble shepherds, and then Julie sang with her whole heart and soul, all the time grasping on to the hand of her best friend Aimee, who in mortality would become her mother!

Julie gradually became aware that she was once again in the dimly lit foyer. The Ward Choir was still singing “Angels we Have Heard on High”. Only a few moments had gone by! The tears on her cheeks had dried. Julie went back into the Chapel, took her place in the soprano section and sang with her whole heart and soul, “Glor-ia, in excellsis Deo!”

What I liked best: Some people don’t like the Christmas past/ghost coming storyline, but I liked it here. That experience helped to heal her heart. I thought it was sweet.

Magazine ready? No. Brush up on your basic grammar. I’d like to see it expanded a little more, details on the physical sensations, thoughts and emotions.

Christmas #6: The Lamb and the Light

Marney‘s was so excited! Her[don’t tell us, show us] little heart was beating [beat; avoid passive voice] in anxious delight as she was helping [helped; passive] her mother trim the tree and decorate the house. She held the figure of a little lamb tightly in her fingers so she wouldn’t drop it.

“Don’t squeeze the lamb so hard dear. It is very delicate and you might crush it. Put it by the baby Jesus.” [watch out for long sentencees.]

“Ok, Mommy,” she said, and reluctantly she placed the figure of the little lamb in the Crèche [not capitalized] under the tree.

“The little lamb also has a meaning, dear. It is the symbol of our Lord Jesus, who was called the ‘Lamb of God’. He was called the lamb, because in the ancient days the Prophets looked forward to his coming, and lambs were sacrificed as a remembrance of the Lord Jesus who would be born, and who would die for us so that we would be able to go back to live with our Heavenly Father someday. We take the sacrament for the same reason now, dear.”

Marney didn’t understand much of what Mommy was talking about, she just knew that every time she said her prayers that she had a warm feeling inside that told her that Jesus loved her. [two sentences.] She bent over the Crèche, touching each figure of the manger scene, [no comma] ever so gently with her pudgy finger. She let her finger linger [be careful of unintended alliteration] for a while longer on the baby Jesus, and then back to the little lamb.

“Lambs are a lot like babies, Marney,” said Mommy. “They are very helpless and small and need a lot of watching and care. Jesus called us his lambs and his sheep, and he also said that he was the Good Shepherd.”

“Oh, Mommy, Jesus is just a little tiny baby. These are the shepherds. You tell funny jokes sometimes.”

“Yes dear, Jesus was born a tiny baby in a manger, just like you see in the Crèche. But he grew up to be our Lord and Savior. Just like your daddy was once a little baby and grew up to be your daddy.”

When you are four years old, big words like “Lord and Savior and symbol” are a little confusing, but Marney still was happy and excited about getting ready for Christmas, and she was feeling a warm glow in her heart that told her that Mommy was telling the truth and sometime she would understand more.

Mommy was standing on a step stool, placing a glowing star right up on top. “Why do we put a star on top of the tree, Mommy?”

“Long ago the prophets said that Heavenly Father would send a new, bright star to tell people that the Lord Jesus had been born. The new bright star appeared in the sky, just like the prophets said it would. It was a sign that Jesus is the Light of the World. It guided [awkward; use “led”] the Wisemen to see the baby Jesus; they had been watching the sky for it to appear.”

“Did the baby Jesus shine like a star, Mommy?”

Let me explain it to you, dear. Do you remember a while ago when I plugged in the string of lights, and look at them to see if any were burned out and needed to be replaced?” Marney nodded her head thoughtfully. “Well, come over here and touch the light bulbs, now that the lights have been unplugged.” Marney wrapped her fingers around some of the bulbs.

“They feel kind of warm,” she said.

“How did you feel in your heart at Home Night [what is this? You need to make sure your audience will recognize a term. If there’s any question, explain it.] when Daddy told you how much he loves Jesus and that he knows He is real?”

“I felt warm in my heart and my tummy. I felt like laughing and crying at the same time,” said Marney.

“Well, Marney. We can’t see the light on the Christmas bulbs anymore, but we can feel that they are warm. You can’t see the light in your heart, but you can feel it is warm. That is the light of the Spirit of the Lord. [I love this analogy!] That is your heart light, dear. Jesus is the Light of the World because his [capitalize] spirit shines in our hearts. The Lord Jesus sends His Spirit to us, because He can’t be with us in person like He was when He came as a little baby. When the shepherds came to see the little baby Jesus, they could feel the light of His spirit shining in their hearts, too.” [I don’t know if you capitalize spirit or not. I don’t have my LDS Style Guide handy. But you need to be consistent. You can be forgiven for doing it wrong, but not for being inconsistent.]

“If Jesus came and stood here, you would see that He shines like the sun, Marney dear. But He can’t stand here with us right now, so He sends us His spirit to light up your heart light.”

Mommy finished putting the long string of lights on the tree, and then she plugged it in. Marney looked at the sparkling lights in awe. “They look just like a zillion sparkling stars!” squealed Marney.

“When you look at all the beautiful Christmas lights, Marney, think about the Christmas Star that Heavenly Father sent us to tell us that the baby Jesus was born, and that He is the Light of the World. And think about your heart-light [hyphen or not; be consistent] the warm feeling you have inside you that is His Holy Spirit shining in your heart and soul.”

[End the story with a reaction from Marney.]
* * * * * * * *

Marney was standing and looking at the newly decorated tree, holding her newborn baby girl and watching as Ken was plugging in the lights, and the tree blazed into holiday glory. She remembered back to that day she had helped her mother decorate the tree so long ago. She now understood to some extent, what love really was, and the meaning of the words “Light of the World and Lamb of God.” But she still knew, as she knew back then as a tiny four year old, the feeling of her heart-light, and the Knowing, beyond words, of the Love of the Spirit of Christ in her heart.

What I liked best: The analogy of the Christmas lights/heart light.

Magazine ready? No. Brush up on your grammar. You have quite a few run-on sentences. Who is your audience? Children? It’s too complex for young children. Also, we need a little better sense of place, character, physicality and other descriptions interspersed with the dialog.

Christmas #5: Black Friday

“It’s time for bed, Wolfgang. We have to get up real early to get in on all the deals tomorrow,” Beverly yelled from downstairs with an urgent tone. [Need some identification of who Wolfgang is—her son? brother? dad? the dog? If it’s not the dog, change his name.]

She tapped her foot anxiously as she felt that people were already lining up outside for the shopping rush to begin the next morning.

Looking out the kitchen window at the darkening sky, she noted the dark (change one) clouds forming together. Tomorrow was Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. She was still [delete] determined to get out and snatch those bargains, whether it rained or not. There was one sale in particular she just had to get in on.

“Good night, Wolfgang. Sleep tight!” The family was ready for bed and all hoped for a Silent Night. [trite]

[I’d cut all of the above and start here. Weave in the important info below.]
4 a.m. came too soon as the buzzing alarm clock startled Beverly awake. She forced herself up and started a pot of coffee and jumped in the shower. Dad finally forced himself out of bed. He had to work that day. He rarely got any time off other than the major holidays. He was hoping to get home in time for the last quarter of the football game. He sat down in his old beat up recliner and had a cup of black coffee just as he likes it. He thought to himself as he looked at his dusty, broken guitar in the corner that one day he should throw it out. [You’ve switched POV. Don’t do that. Stay with Beverly. And who is Dad? Beverly’s dad? or her husband?]

“Get up, Wolfgang!” Beverly said. “There is no time to eat. We’ll have to pick something up while shopping.”

Beverly looked outside and noticed that it had in fact rained. In the distance she noticed what appeared to be a Grey Rainbow. [What? Why is it capitalized? Is this important? If so, need some description. If not, leave it out.]

Traffic was pretty heavy that morning. Everybody was out. If they weren’t driving to work, they were speeding to and from the retail stores trying to get a bargain. They [they who? Where have they already been? How long?] had just one more stop to make that morning at a strip mall just south of town.

“You stay in the car Wolfie, I won’t be too long.” [Who is Wolfie??? If it’s a kid, she better not be leaving him in the car. If it’s a dog, wouldn’t she have left him in the car the whole time?]

Wolfie was used to staying in the car for short periods of time every now and again. This time, however, he felt All Alone. [Changed POV again. Don’t. Why is All Alone capitalized?]

Sometime later [when? 10 minutes, an hour, two? Be specific.], Beverly came out carrying a large box.

“I got the last one, Wolfie! I almost plowed over a couple people but I got it!” Beverly said as she loaded it into the trunk.

She soon realized that Wolfie had fallen asleep. She turned on the radio, keeping the volume down.

As they drove past the church Beverly noticed a small group of people outside holding up signs saying “Honk if you love Jesus.” Heading up the rally was local do-gooder who was known in the community as Brother Walt. She tried with all her might to honk in support of them but the horn was not working.

“Daddy, they don’t love Jesus,” a little boy complained. [Switching POV. Get back to Beverly. We only hear and see what she hears and sees.]

“We Can’t Get Them All,” [Don’t capitalize.] Brother Walt replied. “Come on son, let’s go have some lunch. It looks like it’s going to rain again. We’ll come back later this afternoon.”

Beverly was almost back home when she starting thinking again of the group of people outside the church. She decided it would be nice to bring them all some fresh coffee. She quickly turned around and started to head towards the local coffee shop about a mile before town. She bought plenty of coffee and sweets for the group and headed back towards the church. About a mile before she got back into town her car stalled.

The car just wouldn’t start back up. She tried everything she could think of but had no luck. It all started to make sense. Her horn was not working earlier because her car battery was going out. Wolfgang was still fast asleep so Beverly got out of the car and opened the hood in the hopes that someone would come to their rescue. Finally, after what seemed like forever she saw a car coming!

“Dad, it’s the lady who doesn’t love Jesus. Should we stop?” said the boy from the church. [Jumping POV. If you want to have this info in here, you need to change to an omniscient POV from the beginning.]

“Nah, maybe next time she’ll honk.”

Brother Walt sounded his horn three times as they passed by.

Not long after another car drove by. This time, however, the car stopped. It was Robert and Carol Bell, a young couple from town. Robert quickly set up his jumper cables and got her car running again.

Carol of the Bells was recently married. [No, no, no. Too trite. And we really don’t need to know anything from this paragraph.] It was a nice ceremony, though Carol’s father did not attend. It’s not that he refused to come to the wedding, he just so happened to have other plans that day. It was obvious he did not approve of the marriage.

Carol learned what Wolfie and Beverly were up to and offered to take the goods to the church goers, letting Beverly and Wolfie drive home. Beverly hoped that Dad would be able to replace the battery.

The coffee was still steaming hot when the Bells arrived. They parked in back and went inside.

It had been a couple years since Carol had been inside that Church. It looked, smelt [smelled] and felt exactly the same. This was where she spent every Sunday for most of her childhood. There was old Mrs. Bucky at the reception desk. She hadn’t changed at all.

“Hello Mary, do you remember me? This is my husband Robert. We brought some coffee for everyone“. Carol said.

“Oh of course I do, Carol! Brother Walt, your daughter is here and she brought us all some coffee.” Mary shouted.

“Praise the lord, it’s my daughter. Thank you! That is a very nice thing for you guys to do,” Walt replied from a distance.

“We’re dropping it off for someone else, Dad. A nice lady and her son stalled just outside town. We stopped to jump her car and she let us know she was on her way here to bring this for everyone,” Carol said.

“Dad, was that the lady we passed by on our way back?” Walt’s son asked.

“Yes son, I think it was.” Walt said. He then paused briefly and asked, “Carol, how about I take you and Robert out for dinner tonight? It’s been too long since we all got together.”

Robert was quick to answer for them. “We’d really enjoy that! I can drive us.”

Brother Walt grabbed his purple raincoat that was thrown over a chair and the four of them left. [All this stuff about Carol and Brother Walt is tangential to the story. It’s actually a second story of its own.]

Meanwhile Beverly and Wolfie made it home and were surprised to see Dad. He had already made it home for the second half of the game.

Wolfie went upstairs to play while Beverly sat down next to Dad. [Still don’t know who or what Wolfie is.] He was now enjoying a drink and was pretty happy about how the game was concluding. Beverly just smiled as she looked over in the corner at the old guitar, thinking of the big yellow box hiding in the trunk. [assuming there’s a guitar in it?]

What I liked best: I liked the theme of not judging others.

Magazine ready? No. This one needs a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have potential. First, take a refresher course on Point of View (POV). You need to decide which one works best and stick with it. Second, decide which story you’re telling—the one about Beverly who goes out of her way to get her dad a new guitar; or the one about Bro. Walt who learns a lesson about judging others and reunites with his daughter, Carol.

For Beverly’s story, use her POV and pump up the part about her father and how he loves his music, but his old guitar is really beat up. Describe her struggle to get a new one for him. Put in some challenges–like it’s Christmas Eve and she barely makes it to the store on time to get it, or something. Drop the whole part about Bro. Walt and Carol.

For Bro. Walt’s story, use his POV. Pump up his judgmental attitude, let us know how he aches over missing Carol and her husband, why he didn’t approve, etc. Then have him learn his lesson and realize how wrong he was. He needs to show by his actions and thoughts that he really gets it and is changing.

Black Friday really has nothing to do with either story. And please, please, identify who Wolfie is.

Christmas #4: Cricket’s Gift

There would be no snow for Christmas this year. The winter was far too warm to allow it. Cricket sat alone outside his doorstep. He watched many [the other] animals scurrying back and forth on the roadside in front of his home.

Field Mouse must have been preparing a great feast. He was running in every direction scavenging any [all the] nuts and berries he could find that had been left by the late coming winter.

[Insert Rabbit here. Rule of threes.]

Snow Owl sat quietly in a bare tree over head. He was just waking as the sun set behind him. Cricket watched as Snow Owl left his perched position and flew high into the evening sky, his wings stretched out wide as he glided in front of the rising moon.

It was Christmas Eve and all the animals were rushing to finish their preparations for their Christmas celebrations. [Move to the end of first paragraph.] Cricket had no one to spend Christmas with this year. His preparations were very meager and so he sat and watched the bustle of others.

As he sat, Cricket began to play his favorite violin. He loved to play even though he never had an audience. On this night he played a beautiful medley of Christmas hymns. As he played he thought of the Christ Child. His feelings and his melody grew deep and strong. He played with all his feeling and the hymns floated through the still night.

Cricket put down his violin long after the last rays of sunlight had disappeared. The animals were still scurrying from place to place. No one seemed to notice his melody in the air. The night was now dark and cold. Cricket entered his home, stored away his violin and prepared for bed.

Before retiring, Cricket knelt by his bedside and prayed to the Lord. Cricket thanked the Lord for His goodness in sending the Christ Child. Cricket cried. In part for joy and in part for loneliness, for Cricket had no one to share his joy with this Christmas. In time, Cricket climbed into bed and fell asleep.

Cricket was still drowsy but he awoke to a voice calling his name. “Cricket,” the voice called again. [Switch these two sentences.] Cricket lifted his head and looked around his room. A man with a long white beard stood at the foot of his bed smiling at him.

“I am the Spirit of Christmas,” he said. “I have come to deliver a gift to you. This is no ordinary gift. It has not been crafted by the hands of men, but instead is created in their hearts.” He then beckoned to Cricket saying, “Come with me.”

Cricket pulled on his night-coat as he crawled out of bed. Together they stepped out of his house and into the street. Walking with the Spirit, Cricket did not feel the cold chill in the air. They stopped at the home of Field Mouse and entered the house, but no one could see or hear them.

Field Mouse was singing merrily as he added finishing touches to many of the Christmas decorations around his home. Eventually, he was satisfied with all his preparations and sat down in a chair next to his lovely wife. His wife looked up at him as he quietly finished the melody of a beautiful Christmas hymn. She spoke softly, “I have never seen you so happy before and never singing so joyfully.” Field Mouse looked thoughtful for a moment and then replied, “As I was out gathering the last preparations [nuts and berries] for Christmas, I heard the most beautiful music. A single violin echoed the voice of heaven as it filled the world with the hymns of Christmas. I guess I have been singing ever since.”

The Spirit of Christmas beckoned and led Cricket from the home of Field Mouse. As they walked together Cricket said, “I didn’t think anyone heard me play tonight.” The Spirit smiled and said, “We never know what the hearts of others see and hear.”

They continued on their journey to the home of Rabbit and his family. [If you’re going to talk about Rabbit here, we need to see him above, before Cricket plays his violin.] While at Rabbit’s house Cricket learned that Rabbit had opened a window upon hearing the echo of a violin. He gathered his wife and children around him and told them the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. He told them how angles had filled the sky and sang to shepherds who tended their sheep in nearby fields. That night even the youngest children sat quietly and listened to the sounds of the nativity. Their hearts were full knowing that they were allowed to hear the heavens rejoice on this Christmas Eve.

[Insert Snow Owl’s reaction here. Rule of three.]

The Spirit of Christmas led Cricket from home to home that night. Each residence held similar convictions. They all felt that they had been blessed to hear a heavenly melody ringing in the Christmas celebration.

Cricket returned home and cried again as the Spirit of Christmas left him. He knelt by his bedside and thanked the Lord for the vision [what] he had been shown. He was no longer lonely, for he had hosts of people to serve and bless. Cricket still plays his violin each year to usher in the Christmas celebration. If you listen very closely this Christmas Eve you to may hear his heavenly melody playing in your heart.

What I liked best: This was wonderful! It would make a fabulous picture book. Pursue it!

Magazine ready? So close! There is a rule of three in writing, particularly for children’s books. You need three examples—three animals seemingly not aware of Cricket, then the reactions of those same three animals.

Picture books have a specific number of pages and a specific formatting required for submission. Do some research, polish this up and submit it somewhere. Good story!