Chanting… Nutcrackers?

I’ve always loved Nutcrackers, but I haven’t ever had one of my own. Unless earrings count – and I don’t think they do. This Christmas, I decided to remedy the situation and get one. Or two. Or three. I did consider that the poor Nutcracker might get lonely, if I only got one, so it could only be kind to get some companions for him. That seems like good logic, at any rate.

I’ll blame Chautona that I went searching for a Nutcracker store. I didn’t know such a thing existed – let alone in Arizona – but she sent me a picture of the Nutcracker that she put in her new book, The Nutcracker Suite, and that is all I needed. Off I went on a hunt to find a store filled with Nutcrackers. My GPS led me to the wrong place three times, but I finally found it tucked away, all alone in the desert. Nifty Nutcracker’s Nook.

It really should have been Nutty Nutcracker’s Nook, if you ask me, but I get ahead of myself. The moment I stepped inside, the scents and sounds of Christmas engulfed me. Someone must have been baking cookies and brewing hot apple cider, because no candle can get those to such perfection. Music from The Nutcracker played at the perfect volume, while twinkle lights strung about the room seemed to chime with tiny bells with every sparkle. Green garlands decorated the shelves and tables, while a literal army of Nutcrackers in all shapes and sizes stood at attention. I didn’t see another human, but I can’t say that I looked for one.

Mesmerized by the Nutcrackers, I began wandering through the irregular store. Near the back, standing on a very furthest corner of an old bookshelf, decorated and filled with Nutcracker men, I saw one who I fancied looked rather shy. I reached for him and, to my horror, off dropped the poor Nutcracker’s head! I caught the heavy ball of wood, staring at those painted eyes, wondering where I’d seen them before.  

“Puu eee ack!”

I think I just stared.

“Puu eee ack!”

The head of the Nutcracker began to tremble in my hand and I wondered what in the world I had gotten into.

“Puu ee ack, oo you ‘ear? I iding!”

Why I understood the thing, I don’t know. I suppose it must be difficult to talk without your lower jaw, but I knew what he said. No, my shock came from the ball of wood talking to me. Perhaps, I should have been better prepared. I’d just read Pinocchio, after all. I shook my head.

“Put you back? You’re… hiding?”

The eyes seemed to nod. That’s when I recognized the face.

“You look exactly like Chautona’s Nutcracker!”

His eyes widened.

“You are Chautona’s Nutcracker!”

“Puu ee ack. ‘Iding.”

“Why are you hiding?”

“I ‘on’t ee ‘ear ‘ong.”

“Why won’t you be here long?”

Either he didn’t trust me or he grew tired of talking. Both are plausible.

“Put him back! Put him back!” The chant, beginning soft and low, grew in depth and volume as the army of Nutcrackers voiced their support of their broken brother. I stared far longer than I should have, before I nodded. I moved two of the tallest Nutcrackers on the bookshelf, then carefully placed the headless body well behind them. Carefully, I balanced the head on top.

“ank you. ‘ot afe. ‘Ight eak ee again.”

Before I could assure the Nutcracker that no one would be breaking him again, that I would do my best to keep him safe, I heard the store door open. All the Nutcrackers grew silent. I moved the two giants further back to better hide the poor broken fellow, and moved to examine a row standing on a tall shelf.

“Where is he!”

I couldn’t see the speaker, but he sounded human and quite angry.

“The broken Nutcracker, lady, where is he?”

I stuttered, trying to see whoever seemed to see me. Also, I despise being called “lady” in that voice.

“I know that you know and you’ll tell me!”


“Don’t tell! Don’t tell! Don’t tell!” The Nutcracker chant began again.

I blinked.

“Where is he?” The figure started to come around the corner, large and intimidating. “If you don’t tell me-“

I bolted awake. When had I fallen asleep? I checked my phone. Of course, I ought to be asleep at 3:49 in the morning.

A message from an unknown number showed a picture of Chautona’s broken Nutcracker, demanding to know how he broke. Still fuzzy from my dream, I typed back a response, “I don’t know. I certainly didn’t break him. I only hid him. Go ask Sandra Barela.”

Not until the sun rose did it occur to me that answering unknown numbers with the names of people I knew, not only was something I never did, but also wasn’t all that bright. All the same, I’m pretty sure that Sandy can take care of herself, so she’ll be all right. I’m quite certain.

On Grief…

Grief. I’m not sure it’s something that any of us know how to process. Not really. Even when it’s expected, it tends to manage to feel unexpected.

Somehow, grief is often entwined with the traumatic. It causes us distress emotionally, psychologically, sometimes physically. Sometimes the grief reminds us of previous traumatic events and other times, the cause of the grief is traumatic in itself.

I’ve been thinking about grief a lot of late. Have you ever thought about the grief of the disciples after the crucifixion? Christ’s death could easily be considered a traumatic source of grief for them. The disciples mourned over Christ’s death. At least, they certainly seemed to. Tonight, as I sit with the grief of losing a friend, remembering the grief of other friends, with the grief of things that have happened recently in my life and those of others close to me, I think of the disciples. I think of them holed up behind tightly closed doors, in fear of the Jews, grieving over the death of their Messiah – and what did Jesus do? He showed Himself.

Mary in the garden weeping… He showed her Himself. The two on the road to Emmaus… He showed them Himself. The disciples, huddled behind closed doors… He showed them Himself.

He didn’t scold or criticize, He redirected their gaze in different ways, according to His plan. What I need is my gaze redirected to my LORD. He can and will do so for me – and I can ask Him to do so.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…”

There is a time for tears. Ecclesiastes 3 makes that clear, when it says there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Just because our gaze is redirected to Christ, does not mean that sadness and tears will disappear. Jesus Himself cried at Lazarus’ death. But then, what did He do? He showed everyone there the power of God. He showed Himself; God in the flesh. He brought attention to the Father.

It’s true that Jesus rose from the dead. Lazarus walked out of the tomb. Yet, I don’t think that takes away from the overall picture. The picture of our gaze being redirected to Christ. The answer to our grief isn’t always the eradication of the reason behind our tears. Sometimes, the LORD grants healing, restoration, or transformation as His means of redirecting our gaze to Him. Sometimes, that is not in His plan or His will. Sometimes, the fire stays hot, our hearts continue to break, and it seems the tears will never stop – and that is what He will use to show us Himself. Because, even in mourning, we grieve not as those who have no hope. We have hope – we have Christ – and I pray that He shows us Himself, even in grief and mourning. Even through sorrow and tears. Perhaps more so then, than at any other time.

I trust that He can and will complete the work He has begun in His children, whether it would be through healing and transformation or through fire and tears; I pray and trust that He will show us Himself and use all for His glory.

To the KING be all the glory!

A Nickname Turned Novel…


I looked up at the grinning blue eyed little girl, her blonde hair dancing around her shoulders. I don’t recall for certain what she said to me, other than that she included her newest nickname for me. In the short time I’d known this girl, several years my junior, she had come up with a small number of names to call me, often with a meaning that went above my head. Like today.

I turned my attention back down to the Monopoly board, but her brother shook his head. “Wow. You have the nicest names for her!”

I snapped my head up again and the girl’s grin deepened. I turned to her brother. “What is Rumpelstiltskin?”

She started to giggle, while he raised his eyebrows. “You don’t know who Rumpelstiltskin is?”


He didn’t answer, but took his turn at Monopoly instead.

“Is Rumpelstiltskin good or bad?”

He shrugged. “He’s pretty much a villain.”

The girl laughed.

That night marked my very first introduction to the gold spinning character of fairy tale. Over a decade later, that grinning blue eyed girl still calls me Rumpelstiltskin (or Rumple, depending) except she’s a lovely blue eyed woman instead. (And one of my favorite people, in case you’re still questioning her choice of nickname.) I looked up the fairy tale when I had a chance and it stayed on a shelf in my mental library. Just waiting, apparently.

Waiting until Chautona Havig told me about the mystery fairytales series. She told me all about them one night, all about the plans to turn fairytales into mysteries set in the 1920’s. Despite being in the middle of deadlines for other books, I found myself fascinated. Fairytales and mysteries together? It sounded like so much fun.

When the opportunity to join the series came my way, I took it. As for fairytale? I said I had an idea I could do for Beauty and the Beast, but what I really would like to do would be… Rumpelstiltskin. Years of hearing my nickname had created an affection for the fairytale, while those same years of ruminating on the storyline had wrought a desire to do something with it myself. I just wasn’t sure that anyone else would like the idea. But Chautona did – and off I went!

I discovered one problem, however. I didn’t have much of an idea how to write about Rumpelstiltskin in the real world –  with a murder mystery, no less. I only knew that I wanted to…

In southern Arizona lies Superstition Mountain. It’s beautiful, high, and majestic. It is also one of my favorite sights. To add to the fascination, Superstition Mountain has a legend buried deep within its canyons. The Legend of the Lost Dutchman Goldmine.

I have been enchanted with the legend of the Lost Dutchman Goldmine since childhood and when I thought of Rumpelstiltskin and that goldmine together, they simply clicked. Every roadblock I came up with faded away. I started research – so much research – and even that seemed to align perfectly as I went along. Tiny Apache Junction, the Goldfield ghost town, the dance pavilion, the beautiful desert with all of its cacti, scraggly plants, and critters… The area around Superstition Mountain began to populate, 1929 began to come alive. I saw twirling dresses, slow moving burros, storytelling old prospectors… And then, Dorothy Sinclair showed up, looking out of her low window with the Superstition Mountain towering above her… And I knew I had my story.

It took some time as I went along until I found my Rumple, but find him I did… I just won’t tell you where or how.  Thus, The Lost Dutchman’s Secret was born into the Ever After Mysteries Series.

And speaking of the series… We’re doing our cover reveals! You really ought to go back and see the covers that we’ve already put up – but today is the cover reveal for The Lost Dutchman’s Secret!

But there’s a thing – see, Amazon has a placeholder cover for the book currently, but it’s changing soon and the first person to find the placeholder cover replaced with the real cover on Amazon, shares it somewhere online, and sends the link or screenshot to that share will win a free advance reader copy for the book! You’ll get it before anyone else (except the launch team) gets it!

What are you looking for?

Remember, the left is the placeholder that is on Amazon now. We’re releasing one final cover per day on Amazon and making a game of it. Watch the Amazon Book Page for the change to the beautiful cover painted by Josh Markey. (I loved the new cover the moment I saw it!) We’re so excited that he’s doing this series! His work is just lovely. Keep an eye out, share that link, then send your email to The first email to arrive with proof of sharing The Lost Dutchman’s Secret wins!

It’s a series though, so tomorrow make sure you go and see Denise Barela’s cover reveal, (it’s her debut novel!) watch out for her cover change, and share it too!

To the KING be all the glory!

Thanksgiving 2020

It is Thanksgiving 2020.

This year has been a difficult year for so many. Regardless of your political views, opinions on masks and lockdowns, level of health, or place of residence, the likelihood that you are among those who struggled this year is fairly high.

Exactly 400 years ago in the year 1620, the ship The Mayflower reached the shores of Cape Cod. What followed may be called the greatest trial in the lives of some of those pilgrims, if not all; out of their small band of just over 100 people, nearly every one fell terribly ill. Half of them died before the end of their first winter. During their first year in the New World, the pilgrims underwent intense hardships, privations, and losses. Yet, when harvest time came in 1621 and they found themselves blessed by God with a good harvest, they invited their friends and celebrated a Thanksgiving feast because the LORD had blessed them.

I am not going to try to compare our hardships to the pilgrims of 1620. I don’t think that can be done, neither do I find it helpful. Job losses, illness, depression, loneliness, disappointment, loss of loved ones… I know the list goes on. Our hardships look different than those of the Plymouth colony, but hardships they are. As we near the end of the year, “2020” has become synonymous with a bad time. If they could, there would be a rush to end it yesterday and get on to the, hopefully, brighter future of 2021. Thanksgiving Day seems so insignificant and boring in light of some of the other things we’ve been fighting.

Let me encourage you, however, to take a step back and pause. I’m not going to tell you that you need to wait for Thanksgiving Day to pass before you put up your Christmas decorations – it’s a little late for that anyhow. I would like to suggest though that, this year, this difficult, painful year, where so many of us, myself included, have experienced fear, loss, loneliness, heartache, isolation, illness, job loss, and many other things – may I submit that this year is the year that we need to follow in the footsteps of the Plymouth Pilgrims and remember Thanksgiving.

This year, the year where so many difficulties, trials, and struggles seem to have collided into one place, this year where we are tempted to just wish the year be gone, this year is the one that we need to remember Thanksgiving and practice the name in deed. This is the year we need to take the time to recall the blessings that the LORD planted in the midst of the trials – and I know that He did – and thank Him for those, because this is the year it’s difficult. This is the year, we want to get wrapped up in our trials and might just forget altogether.

Have we eaten? Talked to our best friend on the phone? Attended church? Made a new dress? Found a new job? Enjoyed a Zoom call? Reached the end of a project or goal? Worked through depression? Written a book? Read a book? Bought a new book? Found a new favorite song? Taken up walking? Spent more time with people that you normally don’t see very often? Survived a dreadful illness? Had water to drink? How about coffee or tea, or even better, both?

These are blessings, even in the midst of trials. (And I know there are more. I’m not trying to be exhaustive.) These are gifts of the LORD to the people that He created and we, as His people, ought to be thanking Him no matter what has gone on, because He is good and His mercy endures forever. And even if we can’t think of a single thing – and I’m certain we can if we try hard enough – have we been forgiven and cleansed by the saving blood of the Redeemer? Am I a child, loved by my Father, the Creator of the Universe? Then we have much reason to be thankful!

This year, more so than its easier predecessors, we need to refuse to allow ourselves to brush off or forget Thanksgiving. Christmas is beautiful – but it can wait (or take a break) for a day. This year, even more than we ever have before, let’s take this day and thank the LORD for His blessings, His provision, His love and kindness. Make lists, share on social media, talk about them with others. We should be filled with thanksgiving and praise to the LORD every day, but let’s make a point to set aside this Thanksgiving holiday as an especially grateful one. Let us join the psalmist and “come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us joyfully shout with psalms. For the LORD is a great God and a King about all gods…” And He is still great and still King, even amidst the hardships of 2020. Let’s remember that and thank Him!

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” Psalm 107:1

To the KING be all the glory!

Café Chocolaté: Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVI – Adrian Terrence

Adrian watched Ginger sit down, noting the change in her manner. Earlier, she had been compliant, but confident. Almost arrogant. Now, she sat with her shoulders slightly bowed and her eyes lowered.

“You said that you wished to speak with us, Miss Thomas?” Xavier finally spoke, when the silence had lasted a full minute.

Ginger still sat silent for several seconds, before she raised her head. She seemed to notice Monique and nodded toward her with a questioning air. The child sat, trying to poke some life into the flattened face and ears of her stuffed bunny.

Xavier followed the look. “She stays with me.” Monique glanced up at Xavier, looked at Ginger, and went back to Mr. Pickles in silence. “She can’t be shielded from what’s happening. Just use discretion where you can.”

Ginger nodded, then continued to hesitate. Adrian began to expect her to up and walk away.

Instead, she pulled back her shoulders and raised her head, but the same defiance did not surface as before. “Listen, I have to start out by repeating that Eddie did not kill anyone.”

“But you’re afraid that he may have done so anyway?” Xavier asked.

“No! It’s…” She sent a look toward what could be seen of Eddie still lying on the floor. “I did – for just a minute – consider that he might have done it – but I panicked! I would have known better otherwise.”

“What made you panic, Ginger?” Adrian hadn’t opened his notebook and decided to push it aside for the moment.

Ginger spread her hands flat on the table, her eyes closed for just a second. She opened them with a sigh. “I know who Gary Bradshaw is from previous experience.”

“Before last week?” Adrian wanted clarification.

Ginger nodded. “From six years ago.”

Adrian looked directly at the woman. “When Eddie was questioned for shoplifting?”

Ginger nodded again.

“Perhaps it would be wise to tell us how you know about him.” Xavier folded his arms onto the table. “As well as how Eddie knows about him.”

“That’s just it.” Ginger curled her hands into fists and then shoved them into her lap. “Eddie didn’t even meet him. Gary Bradshaw was one of the witnesses from the shoplifting case. Eddie was put into police lineup three different times. Gary Bradshaw was the only witness who identified Eddie as the thief.”

“And you know this how?” Adrian asked.

Ginger shrugged. “I went to the station to get Eddie. Someone slipped up or outright gave the guy too much information, including Eddie’s name. Gary Bradshaw was ticked that they wouldn’t arrest Eddie on his say-so and was loudly complaining to the lady with him. I didn’t even have to eavesdrop to hear him. Everyone heard him.”

“I see.”

Ginger glared at Xavier. “Eddie said that they wouldn’t tell him anything. The police wouldn’t, that is. I didn’t tell him either.”

“Why didn’t you tell your brother about the person who accused him of theft, Ginger?” Adrian finally pulled his notebook over, but he still didn’t open it.

“I thought… I thought that if he knew about it and they questioned him again, it might sound badly. He said that he didn’t do it and I didn’t want to make things worse for him.”

Xavier remained impassive. “And yet, you panicked, Miss Thomas, if only for a moment.”

“It wasn’t just Gary Bradshaw who made me panic.” Ginger shook her head emphatically. “It… It was the ice pick.”

The cousins exchanged glances. “The ice pick?”

Ginger nodded.

“You defended him when Eddie found the ice pick.” Adrian felt more than a little confused.

“No… I mean, yes, I did. But that’s not what I mean. I mean, when I found the ice pick.”

Even Monique looked up and Adrian dropped his pencil. Xavier cleared his throat. “You found the ice pick, Miss Thomas? Before your brother?”

Ginger nodded again.

Adrian tried to process and frowned. “When exactly did you find the ice pick and where did you find, Ginger?”

Ginger’s voice dropped very low. “In the neck of Gary Bradshaw.”

Adrian couldn’t help but stare at her.

Xavier continued to remain unfazed. “Please explain, Miss Thomas.”

Ginger clenched her hands even tighter. “It was a couple of minutes after the explosion. Eddie ran off to help people. I started to go talk to Timothy Teller and Anna Carpentier. I had to pass Gary Bradshaw as I was standing behind the counter, and… and when I did, I saw…” For a moment, her voice wavered. She stuck her chin up. “I saw Gary Bradshaw just sitting there. He was obviously gone and I recognized the ice pick. We keep it on the wall and I knew who the man was. I just panicked! I pulled the ice pick, threw it on a shelf under one of the counters, and hurried over to talk to Timothy and Anna. It might have taken me two minutes and everyone was too distracted to notice me. Even Eddie.”

“You thought that Eddie committed the murder, because you knew of the previous connection and you knew that he had access to the ice pick?” Xavier asked.

“And because we were both right there. Eddie could have walked over to Gary Bradshaw without my knowledge, while I talked to a customer.” She shook her head. “It was irrational, but not impossible. I know he didn’t do it though – because I know him.”

“Regardless, you decided to protect a murderer, Miss Thomas.”

Ginger glared. “He’s my brother.”

“That does not make it right.”

Ginger wavered. “Which is why I am talking to you now. But I didn’t care about right nor wrong. I didn’t really think at all – or I would have never panicked.”

Xavier only nodded.

“I’m telling you everything now.” Some petulance reentered Ginger’s tone. “Surely that counts for something.”

Adrian opened his notebook and began jotting down notes. “It would count for more if you saw someone else near Gary Bradshaw near the time of the murder, Ginger.”

“I didn’t.” Ginger sighed. “I wish I did. I’d certainly tell you about it. But I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t see anyone at all.”

If you’d like an alert right to your inbox whenever a new chapter is up, sign up for my newsletter here! You’ll also get a free short story!