A Favor For a Princess Excerpt

Hey everyone!

I haven’t gotten any requests for my free ebook so I’m going to try and entice you by offering an excerpt. Here you go!


 

“Oh, my God! Have you heard?” Mariana gushed. She balanced two pillows over an outrageously thick comforter. All that could be seen of her was the bun poised at the top of her head.

“No, and I don’t care,” Elvira muttered, pulling tightly on the edge of the sheet before tucking it into the side of the bed. Dinis would be by within the hour to inspect her work; there would be hell to pay if there was a single wrinkle across Princess Kylee’s bed. Not that the princess herself would’ve noticed. That was just the Marques motto: if it’s in your power to make something look perfect, do it. If not, do it anyway.

Mariana leaned to the side to give her sister a chastising look. “Well, you should care because it’s about the Mirelings. You know, the alien race that threatens our very existence? Maybe you’ve heard of them?”

“Yes, unfortunately, I have.” Elvira plucked one of the pillows from the top of Mariana’s stack. It didn’t need any more fluffing but she fluffed it anyway before placing it on the bed.

“Saleh heard from Anaura, who overheard Respen talking to one of the guards. Our spies confirmed what the Mirelings claim; they have these plasma weapons that are strong enough to—”

“You shouldn’t spread that kind of gossip, Mari. It’ll only give those Mireling bastards more power over us.”

Her face scrunched in anxiety. “But what if—”

“Don’t go freaking yourself out, either.” Elvira relieved her sister of the remaining pillow and then the comforter, arching an eyebrow. “You don’t want to go prematurely bald like Auntie Bia, do you?”

Mariana slapped her hands over her bun as if it could fall off at any moment. Her round face paled. “No.”

“Didn’t think so. Now, help me finish so we can go on break.” Elvira waited for Mariana to scurry around the princess’ bed before opening up the comforter and tossing it over the mattress. It billowed gracefully out before settling down. Mariana got to work flattening the creases she could see while Elvira did the same on her end.

The clichéd nature of her family’s chosen profession was not lost on Elvira.

Her ancestors had hailed from Portugal on the planet Earth, which had been destroyed by an asteroid a hundred and fifty odd years ago. The language was dead, the culture and religion blended thanks to inter-species marriages, but whatever genes that produced the distinguishing golden brown skin, black hair, and thick eyebrows had managed to survive. (Elvira’s siblings, like the rest of their family, had been blessed with these attributes while Elvira had not. Their mother had freckled skin, soft brown eyes, and copper colored hair; of course, one of them would take after her.) Despite the advancement of humanity and artificial intelligence, there were still rich people around who preferred humans to wait on them hand and foot.

So, even though the royal family that ruled over most of humanity was “progressive” enough to let their women be the figureheads, they still had (formerly) Latin American servants. How much had humanity evolved, then? Really? Not much in Elvira’s opinion. Not that anyone had bothered to ask her.

She begrudged her great-grandfather for taking a “temporary” job as the staff manager for the palace. Doeline was the biggest country on Jurthaan IV (humanity’s new home planet). Of all the jobs in all the cities in the entire country…he’d chosen to grow old within the palace walls and bequeath the role of staff manager to his son. This seemingly inconsequential decision had resulted in the life-long employment of almost every Marques that came afterward, including Elvira’s father.

Aurelio had been born in the servants’ quarters of the palace, had grown up with Miyako when she was a princess, had taken his first job as a chauffeur for the late Queen Hua, had married the palace chef. Now, he raised his daughters to be the best damn maids the palace had ever known. His son was training to take over the much-coveted role of staff manager.

The Marqueses were proud of their line of work. They were professional in every way, borderline obsessed with the cleanliness and hospitality of the palace, and passionately loyal to the crown. There were other members of the royal staff who weren’t related to the Marqueses; the Mistsinger family (also lifers) along with a handful of stragglers. But they weren’t nearly as dedicated or distinguished as Elvira’s family. This was just a job to them. It wasn’t their entire life.

Elvira retightened her ponytail for the hundredth time that morning as she led her sister out of Princess Kylee’s bedroom. Mariana tugged on the cuff of her uniform, chewing on her lips. Her thoughts, no doubt, still lingered on the Mirelings’ superior military strength. It wasn’t as if Elvira never thought about it; the impending war between the Mirelings and the citizens of Jurthaan IV was the main topic of conversation on every news program, gossip column, and blog on the planet. She just didn’t obsess about the conflict like other people did.

The alien species humans shared Jurthaan IV with were called the Folinar, a simple people built like tailless primates with gooey pink skin, flat faces, and glowing red eyes. They were friendly enough, just a little weird. They worshiped a cloudy white rock that vibrated (it had other special qualities but Elvira had never bothered to learn what they were). The Mirelings wanted to use that rock to rebuild and expand their underwater cities. Why that rock specifically? It had something to do with those “other special qualities.” The Folinar were unwilling to part with their sacred rocks. This made the Mirelings mad.

Humanity was caught in the middle. On the one hand, they were indebted to the Folinar; the creatures allowed humans to settle peacefully on their planet, asking only for help in the first war against the Mirelings. Humanity wanted to side with the Folinar in this rock issue to preserve that alliance. On the other hand, the Mirelings had learned from their defeat. They’d created weapons of mass destruction, unrivaled by anything Jurthaan IV’s people could produce. They had the upper hand this time. Humanity thought it wise to appease them to keep Jurthaan IV’s population from being conquered or destroyed.

The only rumor Mariana had shared that had sort of interested Elvira was also the only one she’d been able to prove; Queen Miyako was working on a compromise. Elvira had walked past the meeting rooms while the queen had been in video conferences with the Mirelings and the other leaders of Jurthaan IV. For all the queen’s faults, she was doing everything in her power to ensure a peaceful resolution to this conflict. There was hope that war could be avoided. That was enough to keep Elvira from worrying. The same couldn’t be said about her eighteen-year-old sister, however.

“Stop it,” Elvira said, tugging on Mariana’s wrist. “You’ll wear the Ersatz and Grandpa will throw a fit.”

Everything that looked like cloth nowadays was actually Ersatz, the latest synthetic fiber that was softer and more durable than any other textile known to man. It came in all sorts of colors and nostalgic textures like imitation leather, silk, satin, denim, and numerous others. Even the body armor the palace guards wore was made out of a hardened version of Ersatz called imitation ceramic.

Mariana clasped her hands before her. Her fitful energy was transferred to her mouth, which squirmed from one side to the other.

“You’re too young to be worrying about politics. Try thinking about something else,” Elvira said.

“I couldn’t care less about politics!” Mariana gulped and looked around to see if anyone had heard her. “What if there really is a war, Vy? The Mirelings are going to want to eliminate the planet’s leaders. They’ll come here first. It’ll be a massacre!”

“No, it won’t.” Elvira stopped to point out the window. “See those guards? The cameras? The ten-foot-thick wall separating us from the rest of the city? The shield generator by that guard tower? We’re safer here than we could be anywhere else.” She gave her sister a stern look. “If there was a threat, the palace would be evacuated. We’ve run the drills. You know we have a plan to meet up with our great uncle in Statine if the worst should happen. We’d be fine.”

Mariana bobbed her head in nod, smiling faintly. “I know, I know. I just…I can’t shake the feeling that something awful is going to happen.”

Yes, that was Mariana. If there was a creak on the stairs at two in the morning, it was due to an intruder coming to murder them in their sleep. It couldn’t possibly be Dinis, sneaking back into his room after rolling around in the grass with his latest conquest. If one of the other servants was curt to her, it was because Mariana had offended them in some way. It couldn’t possibly be because they were in a hurry or upset about something else or preoccupied by personal matters. If their parents were arguing, it was because they were going to get a divorce. It couldn’t possibly be because their mother was easily offended and their father was often careless with his words after a long day of driving Queen Miyako around.

Elvira grinned affectionately as she looped an arm through her sister’s. “You’re definitely going to go bald.”

“No! Vy, don’t put that evil on me!”

“Then stop stressing,” Elvira said, bumping Mariana with her hip. “We have twenty minutes before we have to load the laundry into the washing-drying-pressing machine. What do you want to do?”

Mariana exhaled, lips flapping. “Oh, I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Elvira pretended to think about it as they walked down the grand staircase and into the main hall. The marble floors had been waxed recently; they reflected the artwork of the domed ceilings above. Decorative columns lined the walls on either side, broken up by scenic paintings, artistically framed mirrors, or tall windows with thick crimson curtains. The tassels fluttered as the air conditioning kicked on. Sleek, modern furniture had been placed in the alcoves littered along the hall, uncomfortable-looking chairs and oddly-shaped end tables that had never been used nor would they ever be. The plants in their exotic pots were all real, cultivated from the royal gardens and immaculately cared for by the Mistsinger family.

That’s what Elvira always wanted to do during her early morning break: visit the gardens. Right now, the light from the sleepy sun would make the dew on the petals shimmer. The air would be crisp with the smells of wet grass, fresh mud, and different floral combinations. The birds would be twittering. The fountains and man-made ponds would be gurgling. The statues of various angels and deities would shine among the multicolored sea. And Ulfric Mistsinger would be doing his daily pruning rounds. It didn’t matter if they had machines that could do the job faster than he could. Ric was determined to do this himself.

Elvira loved nothing more than to watch him wander among his flowers, stopping frequently to whip out his shears and rid his precious garden of even the slightest imperfection. Because of his irrational hatred of tan-lines, he usually did this while wearing only a pair of cut off shorts, much to the delight of all the female servants working the palace grounds.

But Elvira couldn’t suggest a walk in the gardens. Not again. She already shared her room with Mariana, her meals with the extended family, her days off with Dinis (they went into the city together to attend the community center for higher education), and her dream of eventually leaving the palace with the few cousins who hadn’t been brainwashed into believing this was the only life for them. Her feelings for Ric were hers alone.

“How about…?” She was saved from having to answer by the princess’ sudden appearance.

One moment, they were walking toward the front doors and the next, Princess Kylee was standing outside the main dining room, wiping under her eyes. She looked up and gasped as if the maids were the ones who had suddenly materialized before her.

Elvira and Mariana dipped into low curtsies and stayed there, knees bent, hands holding the edges of their skirts, eyes on the floor. Good servants were never seen or heard. The only evidence that they existed at all was the fresh laundry and lavender floor cleaner smells they left in every pristine room they walked out of. Consequently, Elvira had only ever seen the princess from afar.

“Please, rise,” Kylee said. She had the loveliest voice; clear, kind, delicate. It made someone want to lean in and pay attention (useful, given her title).

The maids obeyed, but even while standing straight they didn’t meet the princess’ eyes. It was forbidden. Not by the royal family but by Grandpa Tiago. (He was the patriarch of the Marques family. He also trained everyone who worked within the palace walls.) But Elvira couldn’t help glancing at Kylee’s face.

This nineteen-year-old girl with oriental ancestors had been pampered her entire life. Her hair was so straight and soft; it looked like fresh black paint on a canvas. Her skin was as smooth and radiant as a newborn’s. She oozed grace even while standing still. Her dresses were always extravagant, and gorgeous, tailored to accentuate her petite frame. She smelled like honey and vanilla, subtle but striking. She was basically a walking, talking porcelain doll.

Mariana adored her.

Elvira pitied her. Because while everyone saw the princess’ radiant smile, swam in her cute almond-shaped eyes, hung on her every benevolent word, and envied her privileged life, Elvira saw different things. Like the tightness of her smile, the sadness behind her eyes, the restraint behind her voice, the suffocating routine she kept to like a windup toy that couldn’t do anything else. And now, the frustrated tears she was trying to hold back.

“Are you well, Highness?” Elvira asked.

Mariana stiffened. They were supposed to stand there quietly, staring at the princess’ chin until dismissed. Their grandfather would be so upset; spit would be flying as he screamed at them about protocol. But Elvira couldn’t help it. Princess Kylee wasn’t just an icon. She was a person. Surely, she’d appreciate being treated like one…?

Kylee smiled, inclining her head slightly. “Quite. Thank you.” She started running her hands down the bodice of her dress but stopped. It was a nervous tick of her mother’s. With a grimace, the princess walked away.

Mariana exhaled as soon as Kylee was out of earshot. Turning to Elvira with bulging eyes, she hissed, “What were you thinking? Grandpa will kill you!”

“Not unless you tell him,” Elvira hissed right back. She took her sister by the arm and dragged her out the front doors. “Come on! Let’s visit the horse hybrids.”


 

Request your free copy by sending me a message through Facebook. All I need is an email address and your preferred format (EPUB, Mobi, or PDF). What better way to spend your Christmas break than by reading?

Also….

Merry Christmas from the Foxes! Ain’t we cute?

THE FOX FAMILY

Family and work

Finding myself with nothing specific to blog about, I decided to just recap on my week thus far.

Last weekend I got to spend time with my family. We all pitched in to rent a cabin in Munds Park, Arizona, where we could spend the weekend together. Before this, it had been a year since we’d all been together. It was a special time of food, games, puzzles, and a watered down version of Dungeons and Dragons which included every geeky thing imaginable (from sonic screwdrivers, to Lord of the Rings riddles, to Star Wars quotes, to Indiana Jokes traps). Ezra did a great job as Dungeon Master.

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From left to right: My big brother (Ezra), his wife (Ceceilia), and their two boys (Micah age 3, and Thomas age 1). My “little” brother (Joe). My big sister (Anna) and her boyfriend (Ivan). Me and my husband. My parents (Becky and Isidro) are the ones sitting down, of course.

My sister got to give me her notes on my latest WIP in person. That’s always fun. I always get thrown back in time, to when we’d sit in our room (me in the swivel chair by the desk, her on the bed), discussing ideas for our stories. We were just girls with dreams back then. Now she’s got a Bachelor’s in English Literature and I’m a published author. Who would’ve thought?

My sister-in-law was amazing, doing all of the cooking while defusing any little tantrums her sons had (which were few but still!).

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I also got to play and get lots of cuddles from my nephews. Yes, they’re adorable and they love their Auntie Becca. Be jealous.

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And then we came right back home to begin another week of work. Back to sitting duty for my husband, and receptionist work and book promotion for me.

In the Dark was published yesterday, by the way. Hooray!

I’ve been looking forward to this since the day I signed the contract for it but was super disappointed when I found out how many people pre-ordered it.

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I guess because my first book did so well, I assumed that the second one would be just as popular. I’m doing all the same things for In the Dark as I did for I Dare You to Love Me, the one difference being the book reviews. I Dare You to Love Me had reviews up on Amazon the day it was released, thus boosting its popularity. I was only able to acquire one review for In the Dark‘s release date. Others are coming, though. I can only hope that they’ll be positive and spark the interest of more readers.

In the mean time, I’m utilizing reader and author groups on Facebook and Twitter, posting quotes, snippets of reviews, and links to purchase. Three times a week. Of course, I’m using this blog too. I’ve heard conflicting opinions on whether hosting contests and giveaways are still popular ways to inspire interest. My publisher recommended talking about the book and any other books I’m working on, but I’m not sure how to do that without giving too much away…

Night Owl Reviews is putting together packages of bookmarks, thin coasters, business cards, and short excerpts to mail to their readers. They’re currently looking for romance authors to provide some of these promo items for them to mail and I’d love to get all over that. I’m just waiting for the next paycheck. Because it costs some money to sign up. That’s the hardest thing, I’ve found. A lot of promotional services cost money these days and I’m living on a budget.

Anyone have any suggestions on free, effective ways to promote? I’d appreciate any thoughts you might have on the subject. What are some things that have worked for you, authors? What are some things that have spurred your interest in a book, readers?

A much kneeded break

Back in September I wrote a blog post about my husband tearing his meniscus. It just occurred to me last week that I never followed up. After the official diagnosis, my husband went through approximately seven weeks of physical therapy while we waited for his work insurance to approve corrective surgery. During that whole time, he was limping along on crutches and on “sitting duty only” at work.

The week of Thanksgiving, we finally got the approval we needed. The surgery was scheduled for Cyber Monday. I drove him to the surgical center at five in the morning. My grandparents very graciously offered to sit with me while he was in surgery. Because neither my car nor my husband’s truck could fit him with his new, rigid knee brace, they drove him back to our house in their car. And ever since then, I’ve taken on his responsibilities on top of mine.

It was easy at first. He was in pain and physically incapable of doing even little things on his own. I could see how miserable and frustrated he was. I was willing to do anything it took to make him comfortable. I happily served his food and jumped up to get his drinks or his medicine. I did all the chores around the house. I even scooped the cat litter, something my husband has done without complaint since we got married, something I abhor doing because of what it does to my sinuses. I changed out the five-gallon water bottle and brought in the groceries all by myself. I often forgot to put the trashcans on the curb on Thursday mornings but I got better at remembering.

My husband was so appreciative, apologizing repeatedly for not being able to help.

But, the more time has passed, the harder it has been to do everything with a good attitude. Because it’s exhausting. I feel like a kernel of corn popping around in a corn popper, rushing around to get things done, finally sitting down to rest, only to realize I forgot to do something or get something for him. And up I get again. He is still appreciative and he still apologizes, but (if I’m honest) those words are starting to lose their impact. Him being appreciative or apologetic doesn’t change anything. I still have to do everything.

Traveling to Wisconsin was what pushed me over the limit, I think. I’ve come to love traveling with my husband because he’s so calm and collected at the airport. Plus, he packs lightly and efficiently, which helps. But this time around, I had to do the packing for both of us. All of his winter wear is in boxes, scattered in various closets around the house, so I had to do a lot of scurrying and searching. Once everything was assembled, I was the one dashing from window to window to door, checking locks. I was the one hauling our dog and her kennel to a friend’s house. I was the one pulling our enormous rolling suitcase around while carrying the large backpack carry-on plus my purse and my heavy jacket. I was in charge of our tickets, checking in our bag, and getting all of our things through security. I was stressed out. He got to ride a wheelchair.

Then we got to my mother-in-law’s house. We had a blast with our family, but I took an hour long nap every day we were there. At the time, I was confused as to why I was so tired. Looking back now, it’s obvious. I was in the kitchen with my mother-in-law half the time, whipping up eggs and waffles and french toast and bacon and cookies and pie. When I wasn’t in the kitchen, I was rushing around the house, getting things for my husband. I had two evenings where I got to sit and enjoy a card game or a movie. Then we flew back home and went right back to work. I didn’t get much rest while on my vacation. Still, I comforted myself with the thought that I had the Friday before New Years off, which meant a long weekend of resting.

But it wasn’t really. I spent that time cleaning and cooking some more and helping my husband. Another week is almost over and I’m still as tired as I was before. I need another vacation, one where I don’t. Do. Anything.

Anyway, the good news is that my husband is healing. He’s not in pain anymore, which is good. He can comfortably bend his knee to ninety degrees and even put some weight on it. We have another doctor’s appointment this upcoming Tuesday. We’re both hoping the doctor will give the “okay” for him to ditch the crutches and start physical therapy. Then life will slowly start going back to normal. I think.

I’d like to say that this experience has grown me as an individual and has strengthened our marriage, but I don’t think I can. Not yet. What I can say is this: I have a new found respect for women whose husbands have a disability. I mean, I always admired them but now that I’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like…they’re definitely on a pedestal. At least in my case, there’s an end in sight. I can’t imagine doing what I’ve been doing every single day for the rest of my life and keeping a good attitude throughout. That takes a kind of patience and endurance that I clearly haven’t developed yet.

And maybe that’s the lesson to be learned here; I still have some growing up to do.

White Christmas

For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter, my husband and I went to Wisconsin this year to spend Christmas with his mother. She is originally from Phoenix, like us, but she moved there two years ago for a job. She treated us all by purchasing our plane tickets to come see her. My husband’s three brothers were there longer than we were, but we had five whole days together as a family. There was food, games, naps, Christmas music and movies, lots of laughter, and snow.

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The breakfast of champions cooked by my mother-in-law and yours truly.

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Bailey (Duncan’s girlfriend) and I decorating cookies.

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 The fruits of my labor. I don’t think I’ll be quitting my day job anytime soon.

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My mother-in-law’s barn.

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A fallen log on the side of my mother-in-law’s property.

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The view from my balcony.

I’ve only been in the snow three times in my entire life and I have to say, this was the best time of them all. The key to comfort in below zero temperatures? The proper attire. Thanks to my mother-in-law, we had snow jackets, snow pants, hats, mittens, and the thickest socks known to man available in many different sizes. We each had a layer that fit us so, when we went outside, we were comfortable. It was great.

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My husband and I, ready to go out into the snow!

While we mostly stayed indoors and enjoyed each others’ company, we did go out a few times…

To see A Christmas Carol, the play.

20171222_153810The Children’s Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, during intermission.

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My husband, the recovering cripple, and I.

To pick out our live Christmas tree.

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BTWs: it was fourteen degrees outside.

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This is where we went to get our tree.

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From left to right: my husband, Devo (otherwise known as Tiny Tim), Donevin and Duncan (the twins), and Dallas.

 20171224_103253My husband and I being all cute and stuff.

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From left to right: me, Joan (my mother-in-law), and Bailey (Duncan’s girlfriend).

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Me and my mom-in-law.

As you can see, we had a lot of fun choosing out our tree. This Happ’s place was amazing.

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It was basically an enormous evergreen field.

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Can’t decide between a live tree and a colored one? No problem at Happ’s! They’ll paint a live tree for you.

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Don’t ask me how they do it because I don’t know. But it sure looked pretty!

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This is Dallas dragging our tree to the car after it was cut.

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And this is our tree after we brought it home and decorated it.

We also went to Christmas Eve service at my mother-in-law’s church but I didn’t get any pictures of that. Suffice it to say that we had a lovely time singing Christmas carols and remembering the reason for the season. It was also super cute to see my mother-in-law glowing as she introduced us to everyone.

On Christmas morning, we read about the birth of Christ from Matthew and then opened our presents. (Please excuse the poor quality of the following photos. It might have been mid-afternoon but I was half asleep when I took them.)

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Duncan and Bailey.

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Donevin, Dallas, and Duke (the dog).

 

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Joan and my husband.

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I was there too, see?

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Yeah, we can’t take serious pictures. #sorrynotsorry

We were blessed with new clothes, shoes, books, games, Amazon giftcards, and Star Wars action figures, but I’d like to shed a spotlight on the gifts we received from Bailey.

20171225_124631This talented gal made ceramic mugs and cups for all of us.

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See how the glaze runs and fades into different shades of color? She did that herself! So cool.

And just like that it was over, this long awaited holiday, this merry get-together. My husband and I rolled out of bed on Tuesday afternoon, packed up our gifts and clothes, and got into the car. Two hours later, we boarded our plane and flew back to Phoenix, back to sixty degrees and reality. As we lay in our own bed that night, we started listing the things we already missed.

“The snow,” he said.

“Driving around in the same car with everybody,” I said. (We had the funniest conversations.)

“The sound of my brothers talking in the next room,” he said.

“Not having a schedule,” I said.

[insert big, nostalgic sigh here.]

Now we’ve entered that strange time in-between Christmas and New Years. We’re going to work and slowly getting back into our regular routines, but the upcoming holiday is sure to make things a little screwy again. We usually drive down to California to spend New Years with my family but we’re doing something a little different this year. My sister is going to Europe with her boyfriend so we’ve postponed our New Year’s celebration until the second weekend in January. That way we can all be together. My husband and I are spending New Years with friends for the very first time. We have no idea what we’re going to do but, by golly, we’re going to do something.

And then 2017 will be over.

Wow.

I heard it said once that days go by slow but years go by fast. That saying becomes more and more true the older I get. It’s incredible.

Well, I hope everyone had a fun Christmas! Be safe during New Years! I’ll check back in on the fourth of January.