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Twelve Days of Christmas

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by Donna Alward

When it comes to Christmas carols, I’m a traditionalist. I like the old popular ones – songs that have been around for decades. Sometimes I like contemporary remakes – for example Michael Buble can’t do much wrong – but mostly I like originals. The new Arianna Grande song that’s out right now? Ick. That’s pop with Christmas words thrown in.

My kids feel much the same way, so bring on Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, The TransSiberian Orchestra…

And then once in a while a new version comes along that blows you away with its awesomeness. The clip I’m putting on here has been out for a while now, but I still consider it a “new” version. I’m sure you’ve probably seen it too, but if not…ENJOY.

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Blessed…

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bigstock-Christmas-Snowmen-With-White-S-50266103I’m one of those people who has been inordinately blessed. And before you sigh heavily and click off this screen, know that my oldest child has epilepsy and he is totally disabled. My life is not a walk in the park. Not by a long shot.

But some days I wonder if that isn’t part of being blessed. I don’t drive through the wealthy neighborhoods in our city wishing I could live there. I don’t want a better car. I would like to have a ceiling in my office, but that’s scheduled for this summer.

I don’t long for these things because seeing what my son goes through on a daily basis makes me realize how lucky I am. I can work. I can drive. I’m not dependent on others for simple things like a trip to the mall so I can shop for Christmas.

Because I struggled through the beginning years of my career, I respect the struggles of all other writers. That makes it easy for me to be glad when I see others advance, even when they advance beyond me. I know how hard most of us work to get here. I respect that. I honor it. :)

Because my husband and I were broke or two pay checks away from bankruptcy through most of our marriage, I know how lucky I am to have cash for gifts and lunch (and margaritas) at Chili’s.

Because I’ve been out of shape, I truly understand the blessing of being fit…healthy. (Special thanks to my trainer who got me here.)

Sometimes struggles turn us in a new direction, a direction we might not have chosen had our pins not been knocked out from under us.

Sometimes struggles, the absolute worst thing happening, keep us from making big mistakes or wrong choices.

Sometimes struggles knock us down and keep us there until we open our eyes and see that even in our toughest times we are still blessed.

And sometimes struggles really are just part of life. Our job. You weren’t put here to look pretty and float through. As wife, mom, writer, worker, sister, friend…there are things you’re supposed to do. Roles you fill. Sometimes the tasks and sacrifices required aren’t easy.But they are our responsibility. They’re part of the starry-eyed vows we took when we married, the promises we made when we first held our squirming babies in our eager arms.

True, they test us but they also groom us and make us strong.

Because in the end, I want to be honest, healthy, compassionate, caring and strong. And if it takes a little tour through Struggleville to get there, then I’m okay with that. :)

So this year, when you do your end-of-the-year assessment, don’t scrutinize and criticize your struggles as failures…look at them as stepping stones to the “real” best life you’re supposed to have.

Merry, Merry Christmas…next week. :)

 

susan meier (Who thanks the other Chocolate Box Writers for the graphics I hijacked. LOL)

bigstock-Naked-Model-Kissing-A-Frog-Und-3889880

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Holiday happiness

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In Australia the Christmas holiday season happens to coincide with the summer. This is when schools have their biggest annual break. It’s when the majority of people take their annual leave. Summer here means long warm days and long warm nights. It means stone fruit and watermelon, cricket on the telly and a cold beer or two in the fridge. There’s just something magical about summer and these are the five things I’m most looking forward to this summer.

 

#1 Christmas Day

This is the day when I’m allowed to eat chocolate for breakfast. What’s not to love about that? It’s also a day where I get to hang out with the people I love, which makes it even better. There’ll be lots of eating, lots of laughing…and maybe a dip in the pool. Happy sighs.

 

# 2 The Beach

I mean to swim here: Beach1

 

And here:

Beach2

 

And here:

Beach3

That’s going to be awfully hard to take, isn’t it? ;-)

 

#3 Summer Reading

Actually, it’s not so much summer reading as books I’ve been saving for when I have the time to read them (ie, in the summer hols) and this is what I have on my list:

  • Marilynne Robinson’s Lila
  • Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl
  • Annie West’s The Rebel’s Bargain
  • Rachel Bailey’s Cover Story

What a nice little haul that all is. :-)

 

#4 Time Off

I have a book due at the end of January, so I can’t take too much time off, but I can definitely take a few days to hang out with the DH, go to the beach and indulge my reading habit. Scheduled days off just for fun. Sheer bliss. The time between Christmas and New Year seems specially scheduled for recharging batteries.

 

#5 New Year’s Eve

I ADORE the idea of new starts and they don’t come much newer or shinier than the New Year. I spend New Year’s Eve looking back on all I’ve accomplished over the past year, the lessons learned and the journeys taken. In the evening, over a glass or two of bubbly, the DH and I take the time to ponder all the things we’re grateful for. And we have a LOT to be grateful for. And then I spend New Year’s Day  detailing all I want to accomplish in the following year and then I make lovely plans for how I’m going to achieve so much goodness. On New Year’s Day it all seems utterly possible and within reach. :-)

 

What about you? What are you looking forward to this holiday season?

 

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And if you’re in the mood for some Christmas reading, Michelle’s SNOWBOUND SURPRISE FOR THE BILLIONAIRE might just fit the bill.

For more info check out Michelle’s website

 

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Guest Blogger Danica Favorite!

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Hi Everyone! I’m Danica Favorite, and I’m a big fan of The Chocolate Box ladies. I’ve known and loved them for years, so it’s a great honor to be asked to stop in and do a guest blog. I asked what I should blog about, and Barbara Wallace said I could talk about whatever I wanted. Wow! That’s dangerous to say to a writer. Also a bit intimidating, because then I have to think of something. :)

Danica1So let’s start with a little fun… I thought I’d share a delightful picture I took of these gals at the Harlequin.com PJ party. Fun, yes? I should have had a picture of myself taken with them, because Donna Alward gave me my very own Chocolate Box shirt. But the problem with it being your camera, is that you tend to take pictures of others instead of yourself. Unless you’re Kim Kardashian.

 

 

Danica2Anyway, you’ll just have to settle for a picture of me with my friend Rula Sinara. I’m the one in the delightful chicken PJs and Chocolate Box shirt.

Now that you’ve had your holiday chuckle, let’s get down to business. I think the real reason Barbara invited me in to chat is that my first book, Rocky Mountain Dreams, came out in November with Love Inspired Historical. It took me twelve years to sell my first book, which makes this dream come true even more special. I like to tell people that because even though it’s kind of embarrassing how long it took, it’s a good reminder that if you really want something, you have to keep working, keep trying, and do what it takes until you get there.

I’m a big believer in fighting for your dreams, which is why it’s so cool that I have the word, “Dream” in my title. And, my book is about people in search of their dreams. The neat little bow that ties it all up is that when I met most, if not all, of these ladies, it was under my online nickname, Dream. So you could say that dreaming is a big part of my life.

I love hearing people’s dreams and encouraging them on their dream path. I just posted a wonderful meme on my Facebook page that basically says, no matter what your dreams are, it’s never too late to go after them. If you want dream encouragement, I invite you to stop by my website at www.danicafavorite.com or Facebook www.facebook.com/DanicaFavoriteAuthor

Now it’s your turn! Tell me about your dreams.

 

(And now for the obligatory book promo…)

About the book:

HIS SURPRISDanica3E SISTER 

The last thing Joseph Stone expects to discover upon arriving in Leadville, Colorado, is a newfound little sister. Hoping to find his late father’s silver mine and hopefully keep his siblings back home out of an orphanage, Joseph needs an ally. The preacher’s lovely daughter agrees to care for the little girl. She’s just not as willing to trust the prospector….

Annabelle Lassiter has seen what men do in pursuit of riches. Yet for all the hardship he’s known, Joseph still shows tenderness and warmth. Annabelle’s plan has long been to leave Leadville far behind. But Joseph’s quest for silver could cost them a more precious dream—one of family, love and new beginnings….

 

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The Shopping Trap, by Samantha Hunter

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Happy Holidays, everyone. :)

I’ve never really been a “shopper,” but it sort of depends on the situation. I do like to poke through neat little stores or markets, particularly when traveling, to find things I can’t find at home. I also love to get a good sale — something really good at 50% or more off is definitely a win. However, I have a love/hate relationship with holiday shopping. I like finding things for friends and family that seem “perfect” to me, so I try to do it throughout the year (again, usually while traveling) though that doesn’t always work. So, I still end up shopping in December, which is not always my favorite thing to do, especially when I cannot find that item which is “just right.”

But as I search for that perfect gift, the problem is thsamxmasat I always end up finding things that are perfect for me.  I swear, no matter how hard I would look at any other time of year, those things would not appear, but during the holidays, when I am trying to keep to a budget, they seem to pop up at every turn.

Like the nice pair of boots that caught my eye this morning (in my defense I have been looking for a pair since Sept)… and yesterday a new swimsuit for our vacation next month, as well as a few gifts. The other day, while birthday shopping for my husband, I found a sweater I had to have, and I knew I would regret it if I walked away.

I didn’t intend to buy these things, but. . . it feels like walking into a trap. That the second you go holiday shopping, this is exactly when all of the things that are perfect just lay themselves in your path and beg “buy me.” And they are usually on sale.

I always feel a little guilty buying things for myself at the holiday, but I suppose it’s nice to treat ourselves, and we deserve it. And these are things that no one else would/could buy for me. Even so, I am intent on avoiding the shopping trap for the rest of this season. My gifts are bought, and I have everything I need, no matter how good the sale is.

What about you? Do you find that you shop as much for yourself as others during the holidays? Do you feel guilty about it, or just enjoy it? What are some things you bought for yourself, found on a good sale or didn’t expect to buy, but did, this holiday season? And if, by chance, you feel like treating yourself to a new holiday read for the season, just click the link on the image above. . .go ahead, you deserve it. ;)

 

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Christmas cards and round robin letters…

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Kate HardyWith my environmentally friendly hat on, I’d say yes, Christmas cards are a bad thing. Think of the trees cut down to make them; plus all the money spent on cards and postage that could be given to charity. Uh-huh.

But the truth? I love getting Christmas cards. The funny ones, the kooky ones… oh, and mine tend to be heavy on the reindeer because the people who send me cards also know I have a thing about reindeer.

(Which is an excuse to post a pic of my treat to me for Christmas. I spied him at the garden centre when I bought the Christmas wreaths for my parents’ graves and fell in love with him, so he came home with me. He’s about the same size as our Springer Spaniel and I have been teased relentlessly about it, but I’ve covered him in fairy lights and DH and the kids have finally come round to the idea…)

dec reindeer

 

Ahem. Digression. Anyway, best of all for me are Christmas cards where people have enclosed a ’round robin’ letter. I know they’re mocked endlessly for all the alleged boasting and chest-beating, and I know they’re ‘identikit’ rather than personalised. But seriously? It might be the one time of year I catch up with these particular people and I really enjoy hearing about how their year has been. I love hearing about where their children have hit a milestone – maybe they’ve started school or are learning to play an instrument or to drive, passed exams, got a part-time job, started uni – even, gulp, had a baby, because some of my friends’ children are technically old enough now. I love hearing if they’ve changed career to one they really love, or followed a dream, or finally managed to lose that weight or had that holiday they’ve wanted for years. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not boasting, it’s condensing a whole year down into a sheet of A4, and in my view it’s a chance for celebrating the good stuff.

I send a Christmas round robin letter with our cards every year. I include photographs, so very distant family and friends can still feel they’re part of our lives and they get to see the kids grow up (and they also know because we’ve sent a card and the letter that they’re still in our thoughts and haven’t been forgotten). This year’s letter is a bit sobering because we’ve had a real rollercoaster of a year – starting with my husband almost being killed in a bad car crash on January 3 (and we are SO grateful that he came out of it alive), then me winning the RoNA Rose and getting a hug from Darcey Bussell in March, then straight after that some sticky family stuff that’s dragged on for the rest of the entire year. I’m not boasting about my award or looking for sympathy for the tough stuff – I’m just sharing our year as it was, and what I hope people will take away from it this year is that we’ve managed to get through one of the worst years of our lives, we’ve had some good stuff as well as the bad and we’re looking forward to next year with hope.

Because that’s what Christmas is all about, for me. Love and hope.

So. Christmas cards and round robin letters. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em? Do you write one? What do you include?

kateKate’s latest release is ‘Project Sparkle’ – oh, all right, the official title is, A New Year Marriage Proposal. It involves a lot of music and Kate actually wrote the Christmas song for the book :) You can find out more about the book, and Kate, on her website (http://www.katehardy.com/) and her blog (http://katehardy.blogspot.com/) – or find her on Facebook

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Starting 2015 on a Positive Note

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Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes, we all need a little help. – Professor X

 

So we’re coming up on 2015. Fifteen years into the newest century.

Still very hard to believe.

Have you started thinking about goals or resolutions? I have. There are so many things I want to do. Probably too many things. Aren’t we all like that in some way?

We want to lose weight.

We want to do something better.

We want to get healthier or eat healthier.

 

Just focusing on eating healthier is a big task in itself. And yet, we expect ourselves to complete the task in a short period of time.

One of the most important and hardest things I’ve learned over the past few years is that I can’t expect myself to accomplish everything.

At least not in the same year. And not without a little help.

In 2015, I will be looking at things a bit differently. I have one sheet of paper with the goals I want to achieve.

But I also have another notebook where I’m going to keep track of the good things that happen as well. I think we get so focused on what we need and want to accomplish that we forget the things we do get done and the good things that happen.

So, it’s March and you haven’t lost the 10 pounds you’d hoped. But, you did lose 5 pounds and you increased the number of steps you walked each day.

EPLCover

Focus on the positive and keep working toward those goals.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, started created the idea of having a Happiness Jar. When something good happens, write it down on a sheet of paper, put it in the jar and keep watch the jar fill up as the year goes by.

I plan to keep track of the good things of 2015 this way.

So, go ahead a set goals for 2015 but also look back on 2014 and remember all the good things and accomplishments. Start 2015 out on a positive foot.

 

Abbi :-)

December Love

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Every December, I’m treated to the sound of my son’s laughter from his bedroom. Christmas movies begin right before Thanksgiving and run through the holiday, and he loves them. His laughter ripples through the house as he watches everything from THE SEARCH FOR SANTA PAWS to the romantic Christmas movies.

The_Search_for_Santa_Paws

 

He loves to laugh, so these movies are perfect. But there are actually a few reasons Christmas movies are so popular.

 

1. They usually do make us laugh

2. They have a happy story…usually a story of redemption or restoration.

3. They have a moral that reminds of us something important….usually something that leaves us feeling we can make our lives or the world a better place.

4. They fill us with hope.

That’s also why we love Christmas Romances. A few of us here in The Box have Christmas releases. We all love the sense that the holidays are a special, magical time when wishes comes true, villains get a heart and love really does conquer all.

It’s early. Only December 4. So treat yourself to some holiday fun. Watch a good movie or read Michelle Douglas’s SNOWBOUND SURPRISE FOR THE BILLIONAIRE, Ami Weaver’s THE NANNY’S CHRISTMAS WISH, Kate Hardy’s A NEW YEAR MARRIAGE PROPOSAL, Donna Alward’s CHRISTMAS AT SEASHELL COTTAGE, Samantha Hunter’s WILD HOLIDAY NIGHTS…or Susan Meier’s THE TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS.

The world is a warmer, happier place when reading a holiday romance!

What’s your favorite holiday book or movie?

Happy Reading…

 

susan meier

Dashing through the snow with Michelle Douglas

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One of my absolute favourite things about my December release, Snowbound Surprise for the Billionaire, is that during the writing of it I had a chance to revisit the magical city of Munich. I was fortunate enough to visit Munich in September last year (when it was warm and fragrant rather than frosted white with snow and decorated with all the bells and whistles of the Christmas season), and the city impressed me so much I chose it as the setting for my Christmas book.

Naturally, all of the sights that so impressed me also impressed my heroine and hero, Addie and Flynn. :-) So I thought I’d share a sampling of those sights with you.

Addie and Flynn’s hotel is situated right near the Isar Tor. Once upon a time Munich was a medieval walled city and this is one of the gates. It’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?

IsarTor

 

Of course, Marienplatz—the town square—is one of the major sites in Munich with its New Town Hall and its glockenspiel, which hold my couple spellbound.

New Town Hall

Glockenspiel

 

Addie spends an amazing day at the summer palace of the former Bavarian rulers: Schloss Nymphenburg.

The central section of the palace

The central section of the palace

The ornamental lake out the front

The ornamental lake out the front

 

The central avenue stretching behind (with amazing gardens and more ornamental lakes)

The central avenue stretching behind (with amazing gardens and more ornamental lakes)

The architecture blows them away (well, actually, it blew me away…but of course my couple inherited my sense of awe ;-) ).

FieldMarshallsHall

Turret

 

Some of the minor details even found their way into the story, like this this fountain and statue here (but you’ll have to read the story to find out how ;-) ).

oxen

In Australia at Christmastime we generally have blistering hot temperatures, lots of sun which means lots of swims on the beach with the odd game of cricket thrown into the mix too. I love our hot Christmases, although I do hanker to experience a white Christmas at least once in my life.

To celebrate the silly season, there’s a chance to win this sweet sparkly brooch. All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what the weather is like in your neck of woods for Christmas. :-)

XmasBrooch

I’ll announce the winner next Wednesday, both in the comments here and on our “Are You a Winner?” page.

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Snowbound Surprise for the Billionaire is out now!

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Harlequin

The Book Depository

Cover reveal for The Heir’s Unexpected Return by Jackie Braun

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I returned home from the long holiday weekend to find a box filled with my author copies on my front porch.

Also on my porch were four boxes filled with gifts from some early online shopping that I managed to do just before Thanksgiving. I tore open the books first.

I’ve written nearly three dozen novels and novellas over the past 15 years, but I still get excited to see them in print. This is especially true since the last five books I’ve written were released as ebooks only, at least here in the United States.

9780373743223_LP

The Heir’s Unexpected Return marks my return to Harlequin Romance after a brief time away writing for the now defunct Kiss line. The covers have changed quite a bit since my last HR. I like the new look. Let me know what you think.

And here’s a little bit about the story:

Playboy Kellen Faust had it all until a skiing accident turned his life upside down. Upon returning to his family’s luxurious island resort to heal, he meets resort manager Brigit Wright. She’s pretty, she’s blunt and she has no problem putting her daredevil boss in his place.

The resort isn’t only Brigit’s home. It’s her salvation. The connection she feels with her new boss Kell terrifies her. Dare she trust that the prodigal Faust heir will stay by her side forever?

To buy this book and others by Jackie Braun, visit Amazon.com  or other online bookstores.

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