A 1951 Christmas

Good news! Only 58 days until Christmas! And if you’re looking for books to give as gifts or to get you in the holiday spirit, my first-ever Christmas novella, “The Wish Book Christmas” is now available.

If you’ve read my WWII novel, “If I Were You,” you’ll recognize the main characters, Eve Dawson and Audrey Barnett, who come to America with their young sons as British war brides. In this mini-sequel, you’ll get to read the next chapter in their lives and see what they’ve been up to since the first book ended. How are they faring in America? And did either of them ever find love again?

But I think you’ll still enjoy the Christmas novella even if you haven’t read the first book. It takes place in 1951 and starts, as the title suggests, when two kindergarten-age boys discover the Sears Christmas catalogue. They begin obsessing over this “Wish Book,” choosing dozens of toys that they want Santa to bring for Christmas. Their worried moms decide to search for ways to teach their sons the true meaning of the holiday. I know that many parents share their concern, so I hope my story will offer a few ideas to try this Christmas.

I had a lot of fun researching and writing this book. It brought back so many memories of Christmas when I was growing up. Like the boys in the novella, my two sisters and I spent many hours studying the Wish Book and choosing toys. The real catalogue from 1951 is available on the internet, and it’s still fun to peruse the pages. The cover from 1951 looks a lot like the cover of my book, don’t you think?

Here are some of the actual pages. The prices seem super-cheap:

Remember when Christmas trees looked like this, with glittery tinsel dangling down? My sisters and I would drape piles of it on the tree, but I seem to recall Mom complaining that she would still be finding tinsel months layer.

Then there were those pesky strings of colored lights where if one blew out, the entire string would go out. Dad would have to test each light, one at a time, until he found the offender. And remember bubble lights?

The mothers in “The Christmas Wish Book” encourage their sons to give presents to the special people in their lives. In order to buy them, they have to earn extra money doing chores. This is something that my own parents also encouraged. We would save ten or twenty cents from our allowance each week and deposit it in a Christmas Club account at the bank. Shortly before Christmas, we would shop for presents for our parents, grandparents, and for each other using the money we’d saved.

One of the gifts that the boys in the novella want for Christmas is a dog. You’ll have to read the story to see if Santa actually brings them one. Each year, there was always one special present that I would wish for, and it would be the first thing I would search for beneath the tree. One year I wished for a doll that drank water from a bottle and then wet her diaper. I loved that doll! I kept her very well hydrated—which meant lots of wet diapers.

But my parents made sure that the story of Jesus’s birth was always the central focus of Christmas. We took part in pageants at school and Sunday school, sang favorite carols, and always went to the candlelight service at church. A manger scene took center stage beside our Christmas tree, and Mom read the Bible story aloud to us year after year. When my children were young, we held birthday parties for Jesus with a cake, candles and ice cream so they would know that Christmas was a celebration of His birth.

Do you remember the Christmas Wish Book from when you were a child? Was there a special gift that you wished for? I would love to hear some of your memories.

Researching?

If you’re going to write historical fiction, it helps to enjoy doing research, which I really do! This past weekend, I set out on a fun trip with my husband, not intending for it to be a research trip. But since I can’t seem to stop looking for insights and tidbits to add to my stories, it ended up being a little bit of a research trip after all.

My husband Ken has been a car buff for as long as I’ve known him, which is more than 50 years. A few years ago, he joined The Vintage Car Club of Holland through friends of ours who own a Model A Ford. Our “not-quite-vintage-yet” car is a 2003 Mazda Miata, which still runs great at nearly 20 years old. This weekend, the car club reserved a tour bus, and about 50 of us visited several car collections, some of them private, and others, like the fantastic Stahls Automotive Collection in Chesterfield, Michigan, that were open to the public. Of course, we also laughed and dined like kings and stayed overnight in a great hotel, so all of that would have made it a fun trip. But I also learned a couple of things along the way.

First, I saw how passionate vintage car collectors are! Their enthusiasm for taking a rusted-out hulk and transforming it into a show-worthy car was inspiring. Restoring vintage cars can be a very expensive and time-consuming hobby, yet apparently addictive. Not one of the collectors wanted to stop after restoring one car. And the results were simply beautiful. Plus, they are capturing an important piece of history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

That’s the second thing I learned—a little bit about the history of the car industry. Everyone knows Henry Ford, of course, but there were many others who contributed wonderful innovations. I noticed that the earliest cars looked like carriages without the horses, hence the name “horseless carriages.”

We might still be riding in those bulky contraptions if not for engineers and designers who figured out how to streamline cars and make them more beautiful. And faster, much to the delight of Ken and his fellow Nascar fans. 10

Have you ever heard the expression “that’s a doozy!” Well, another thing I learned was that the word came into use because of this car, a Duesenberg. It was such an exceptionally beautiful vehicle in its day that people would see it and remark, “That’s a Duesey!” (I love fun facts about our language!) 1

I enjoyed looking at all of these beautiful antique cars and imagining the characters in my books driving around in them. The novel I’m currently writing takes place in the Gilded Age when cars were just coming into use, so the timing of this trip was perfect. And the last stop on our journey just happened to be at a beautiful Gilded Age mansion in Marshall, Michigan. Look at these gorgeous hand-painted ceilings and walls! And gowns! I was in research heaven!

Of course, I have no idea how much of what I saw and learned will end up on the pages of my novel. Any writer will tell you that only about 10-20% of all their research ever makes it into the finished book. But our vintage car excursion has certainly helped me picture a few gorgeous settings and vehicles for when I’m creating future scenes. I hope readers will “see” them, too. 5

Is there a favorite time period that you enjoy traveling to through books?

Lost!

The fall weather was beautiful last week and perfect for riding bikes. I took a break from writing one afternoon, and Ken and I rode off on one of our favorite trails. It winds through the woods north of town, away from people and traffic. Ten miles from home, we heard a woman screaming for help. An older couple running to her aid, flagged us down.

“Can you help?” they asked. “This mother has lost her little boy.”

We parked our bikes and hurried over to see what we could do. The young mother was distraught. Her son was only two. She had been doing laundry while he watched TV, and when she returned to the living room he was gone. She had left all but the screen door open on this beautiful day, and he must have wandered outside.

Ken and I and the two neighbors split up to search in all directions, calling his name. I headed behind the house and into the woods, searching through the underbrush and by every fallen tree. I prayed urgently for God’s mercy as I hurried along, asking Him to help us find this child and bring him home. Ten minutes later, with no luck, I circled back to check with the others. The little boy was still lost. His mother was now hysterical.

I understood her anguish too well. At some point in their childhoods, each of my three children had temporarily disappeared for varying lengths of time and in various places. One disappeared in a grocery store. One on the way home from school, a block away. One at the beach. They were all found, thankfully, but I will never forget the heart-stopping terror I felt. The world that swallows up your child seems so overwhelming and huge, your child, so very, very small.

Earlier that morning in my quiet time I had been praying for three family members who don’t know the Lord. I admit that my attitude toward them was not what it should be. They had hurt me badly, and I was trying to justify their behavior by thinking, “Well, what do you expect? They aren’t Christians.” But as my heart broke for that poor mother and her lost child, I caught a glimpse of God’s heart, and the grief He must feel when any of His children are lost—like my three family members. “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9).

I circled back through the woods, running faster and farther this time, calling the boy’s name. I could hear the others frantically calling, too. And I wondered, might God be asking my husband and me and anyone else who can, to search this tenaciously for His lost ones? Might He want us to set aside time from our own pleasures help seek and save more of His lost children?

With still no luck, I returned to the other searchers a second time. We needed to call the police. The elderly neighbor suggested that the mother search inside the house one last time before we called. And that’s where she found her son, fast asleep, nestled out of sight beneath a pile of clean sheets.

She came outside weeping and thanking us. I held her in my arms and felt her entire body trembling as she squeezed me tightly, clinging to me. The prodigal’s father had surely held his lost son just as tightly. As I quietly thanked God, I thought of how the angels in heaven rejoiced when one lost soul is found.

We said good bye to the others, all of us wrung out and relieved, thankful that the search had ended well. Ken and I got back on our bikes and continued on our way. And I prayed again with a new sense of urgency for my family members.

Setting the Setting

Have you ever been in a place where you didn’t want to be? Or how about being in a place that you loved, and that quickly became your happy place? I’ve experienced both, and each time, the setting always seems to affect my mood and my emotions. A dreary place brings me down, while a beautiful place lifts my spirits. That’s how I’ve learned the importance of choosing the settings for my novels very carefully, and then describing them in enough detail to transport my readers there—if only in their imaginations. I’ve also learned that the best way to get a feel for each setting is to travel there.

The first few novels I wrote took place in Israel, and the story didn’t come alive for me until I went there. Viewing all of the tourist sites on my first trip gave me a taste for the country, but living there for a month as I volunteered on an archaeological dig, really helped me absorb the country into my bones.

I visited Virginia and the Carolinas when writing my 3-book Civil War series, walking through alligator and mosquito-filled lowlands, and touring lovely period mansions. I also saw the slave quarters behind some of the mansions, and it helped me imagine the lives of those slaves.

I visited Ellis Island with my sister and we could picture our great grandparents landing there, confused and frightened by the babble of languages and the stern officials, yet moving forward courageously. I was able to describe that setting and those emotions in my novel “Until We Reach Home,” which featured three sisters who immigrated to America and landed on Ellis Island.

My husband and I had quite an adventure a few years ago as we made our way through London’s city streets and viewed its landmarks for my novel “If I Were You.” Our experiences traveling The Underground helped me imagine what it must have been like to huddle in those deep, subterranean subway tunnels with Nazi bombs falling above my head.

For my most recent novel, “Chasing Shadows,” we rode bicycles as we explored parts of the Netherlands. We were moved by our visit to Corrie Ten Boom’s home, author of “The Hiding Place.” We saw the impossibly small, secret room where she and her family hid Jews from the Nazis, and I imagined their heart-pounding terror as they heard Nazis thundering up the steep, wooden stairs, searching for them. We visited Westerbork, a Nazi concentration camp in the Netherlands, but I still struggle to describe the emotions I experienced there.

Last year, in the middle of the Covid epidemic, my publisher asked if I would be interested in writing a Christmas novella. I had no place to go because of the lockdown, and more free time than usual since everything was closed, so I happily agreed. That book, “The Wish Book Christmas,” was just published two weeks ago, and it continues the stories of friends Eve Dawson and Audrey Clarkson from “If I Were You.”

It seems much too early to be promoting a Christmas story! The leaves are still green! I’m still wearing summer clothes! But that was also the case when I was writing that novella. I was unable to travel to research the setting, so I had to rely on my imagination and LOTS of pictures. I pasted vintage snow scenes around my desk, and pages of toys from the 1951 Sears’ Wish Book, the year in which the novella takes place. I immersed myself in photos of what fashions and houses and Christmas trees looked like in those post-war years. I even played Christmas carols (in July!) to help set the mood.

And now, sitting here at my desk, looking out at the sunlight dappling through the trees, and at the bicycle trail that is beckoning me to take a ride, I’m in my happy place. I’m doing the work I love in a setting that I love. I hope that you’re as contented in your current setting as I am. So, where is your happy place? And how does being there—or not being there—effect your attitude?

A Visit to the Past

Ken and I love to ride our bikes to the library in town whenever I need more research material, and then eat lunch at a fun restaurant. It’s about a 14-mile round-trip. There’s a sizable Hispanic population in town, so today we decided to try a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican store/taqueria that features authentic, homemade food. As soon as I stepped inside the little bodega, I was transported into the past. Early in our marriage, Ken and I spent two years in Bogota, Colombia while Ken performed with the National Symphony, a world-class orchestra. Meanwhile, I taught fourth grade in a Colombian school. I taught all of the subjects in English but my students and their families spoke Spanish, which made parent-teacher conferences very challenging.

So, when I walked into the little store and was suddenly immersed in a flow of voices chattering in Spanish, I was taken back to our adventures in Bogota. I remembered how Ken and I would traipse through little stores like this one, searching in vain for American products. Our Spanish slowly improved as we learned to decipher labels, but remind me to tell you the story, someday, of Ken’s disastrous attempt to buy cat food for our American cats. (It ends happily but a Colombian cat nearly lost one of it’s nine lives.)

The bodega’s meat counter reminded me of that incident, and also of the butcher shop down the street from our apartment, which I passed every day on my way to school. The Colombian butcher shop hung their raw meat from hooks in the front window, without refrigeration. I got really good at holding my breath for the full length of the block as I hurried to work. (We did not buy our meat there!)

This fresh produce section reminded me of the open-air market where we would shop for fruit and vegetables. Colombia has varieties of fruit that we’d never seen back home, like lulo and guanabana. Ken loved haggling over prices and trying to get a bargain. I just wanted to know “how much.” Ken said I was being gouged, but when I did the math, he was haggling over mere pennies. This little bodega even had an aisle of pottery like we used to buy in Bogota but the items all had price tags. Ken was disappointed that he couldn’t haggle.

Colombian food isn’t at all like the Mexican food the bodega served, which is good because we like Mexican cuisine much better. Here’s our lunch…and it was delicious!

We ate it as a picnic in a nearby park, something we never did in Bogota because it rained all the time. In fact, it rained every day for the two years we lived there. I always carried an umbrella. The city sits at an altitude of 8,660 feet, but if we took a bus down the mountain, we could enjoy sunny, tropical weather at a lush resort and breathe much thicker air. Of course, it required nerves of steel (or a blindfold) for the trip down the narrow, winding mountain road with no guardrails and sheer drop-offs, on a dilapidated former school bus—but that’s a story for another blog.

As we pedaled our way home from town again, I couldn’t help thinking about how our past experiences shape us and transform us into the people we are today. My time in Colombia drew me closer to God in many ways and became part of the foundation for my writing career. And it occurred to me that the things we’re experiencing right now—today—are shaping us into the people we’ll be in the future. We learned to adjust to a lot of changes when we moved to South America, and now we’ve all faced too many unwelcome changes these past two years. How we react to them will shape the people we become in the future.

In these challenging times, I don’t want to be taken captive by the constant arguing, fear-mongering, and divisiveness I see all around me. I want my faith to grow stronger and to flow out with joy everywhere I go. Right now, our journey may seem as harrowing as that bus trip down the Andes Mountains, but we’re God’s beloved children, and our future is safe in His hands.

First Book

Do you remember the first book you ever read? Not a book that someone else read to you—I heard hundreds of books read to me by my mom, grandparents, and my older sister, Bonnie, before I learned to read one myself. But what about the first book you actually read on your own? I think mine was this one:

I was introduced to Dick, Jane, and Sally in first grade, and their story intrigued me. I admired pretty, well-dressed Jane the same way I looked up to my older sister. Adorable little Sally reminded me of my baby sister, Peggy. Like them, our family also had a dog—theirs was named Spot, ours was Lady. I didn’t have any brothers, so I always had a bit of a crush on Dick—he was my first fictional, romantic hero. (Although, at the time, I was convinced he and his sisters were real people. I think all writers hope their characters will spring to life in readers’ minds.)

The book’s setting fascinated me. In the illustrations, the story’s background always seemed so much neater and more perfect than the setting of my life. I was a bit envious of it, to tell you the truth. (And I still love a novel that takes me to an exotic location or time period, don’t you?)  

In true 1950’s style, the children’s mother always wore a dress, their father usually wore a suit. The “plot” of the first few books were told mostly through the illustrations. Without them, the dialogue and narrative were pretty stilted, consisting mostly of simple words like “oh” and “look” and “see” repeated endlessly. (Today, I prefer reading novels with a rich, lush vocabulary and vivid descriptions.) Even so, I was hooked on that book!

I came across Dick, Jane and Sally and the memories they triggered while researching my newest novel, “The Wish Book Christmas.” I was looking up everything about life in the 1950’s—fashions, cars, toys, Christmas trees—and somehow I ran into my old friends. Instantly, I was a kid again, sitting at a splintery wooden desk, quietly flipping ahead to the next chapter in the lives of Dick, Jane, and Sally. (I had to flip ahead because the other kids in the class were reading much too slowly, and I needed to see how the story ended. That’s another great quality in a novel, isn’t it?)

It’s MUCH too soon to start blogging about Christmas, (even though I’m told “The Wish Book Christmas” can now be pre-ordered and will be out in September) but I wanted to show you the novella’s very 1950’s cover. I’m thrilled that it has such a nostalgic feel to it. (And the little boy admiring the tree could be Dick, right?)

We’ll talk more about that book and our Christmas memories as we get closer to the actual holiday season. But for now, I would love to know if you remember the first book you ever read—and how it affected you. What was it about the story that was most memorable to you—the plot? The characters? The setting? Or maybe it was the way it showed you something about yourself or your life? I would love to hear from you!

My older sister Bonnie reading to me.

Summer Memories

For the past week, our new ten-year-old grandson, Aiden, stayed with us while his parents were away on their honeymoon. He came into our life after our son married his mom last weekend, and having grandparents was a new experience for him. We are his first and only ones. I think he had a great time with us, biking the nearby trails on his new bicycle, going boating, learning how to find geocaches, playing at our beach on Lake Michigan, swimming in our friends’ pool, picking blueberries, eating corndogs and ice cream, working jigsaw puzzles, and playing dominoes and Scrabble. I have to say that we had a fantastic vacation, too, doing all of these fun things with him! We made a lot of memories together, and I was sorry for our time to end.

The week brought back wonderful memories for me of the times I spent with my grandparents in the summertime when I was a girl. My sisters and I were blessed to have both sets of our grandparents in our lives growing up. Our maternal grandparents lived in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, where there were magical woods to explore just beyond their house. A spring-fed creek ran through their property and my grandpa stocked it with brook trout and landscaped it with little waterfalls and ponds creating marvelous places to play. I loved exploring the woods and fishing in the nearby river—even though I never caught anything. At night, we would catch lightning bugs, and see millions of stars in the ink-black sky, and listen to grandma tell stories of when she was a girl and panthers roamed those woods.

Our paternal grandparents lived in a city, where there were also many wonderful things to do and explore. They lived in an apartment building, which was an adventure all by itself with nooks and crannies and alleyways and secret backyard lots. We could hop on the streetcar and ride downtown to the bustling city and big department stores—I especially loved riding the escalators. Grandma came from a large family and we would ride the streetcar all around town to visit her sisters and brothers and their families. I learned how to play canasta, and we spent hours playing it and other card games. Grandma played the piano at her church, and we’d sit at her keyboard and sing all of her favorite hymns together. She tried to teach me how to play but I was too fidgety to stick with it.   

As fun as all of these activities were, what stands out most in my mind now as I look back, are the deep, loving relationships that developed between my grandparents and me. I couldn’t have put it into words as I child, but they gave me an overwhelming sense that I was valued and loved simply for who I was. I didn’t do anything to earn their love except to be born, and I gave them nothing material in return. But I remember the love that shone in their eyes whenever they looked at me, and I realize, now, what a huge role they played in helping me understand God’s unconditional love.

I want to do the same for Aiden and my other two grandchildren. By setting aside time to be with them and give them my attention and love, I hope to teach them that they are valued and loved simply for who they are. People are the greatest treasure we have in this life, which is why I didn’t get any writing done this week. But I know that Aiden and my husband and I created memories that will last a lifetime.  

My 4th of July Favorites

I’ve been reminiscing this Fourth of July about all the things I love most about this holiday. I have to say that at the top of my list are outdoor band concerts. My family lived near the West Point Military Academy when I was a girl and we usually attended their outdoor concerts on the Fourth of July. The academy perches on a mountaintop overlooking the Hudson River, and we would gaze out at the amazing view on warm summer evenings while the U.S. Army Band played rousing marches and all of our other favorites. After I married, my husband and I had the privilege of hearing the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform on the Fourth of July at their outdoor concert venue in Tanglewood, Massachusetts. One of my favorites was “The 1812 Overture” with real cannons booming. Nowadays, our family attends my husband’s concerts with the American Legion Band in our hometown. These patriotic concerts are performed in the city park overlooking the lake.

Of course, a close second for Fourth of July favorites are the fireworks. When I was growing up, there was always a magnificent show of fireworks at West Point following the band concert. I loved how the exploding fireworks reflected off the river and the thunderous booms echoed off the surrounding mountains, amplifying the sound. What a thrill! Today we watch the fireworks from our beach on Lake Michigan. The sun doesn’t set here until 9:30, which means it doesn’t get dark enough to enjoy the show until 10 or 10:30 at night. The fireworks explode over the lake as dozens of private boats line the lakeshore, shining their running lights and sounding their horns in applause. We walk home in the dark afterwards, using flashlights and sparklers to light our way.

Fireworks

I can’t leave out Fourth of July family picnics when naming my favorites. My grandparents always held huge potluck picnics at their home in the country, attended by all of our relatives and friends. Grandma chilled bottles of her homemade root beer in the spring-fed creek that ran through her property. There were hamburgers, hot dogs with homemade sauerkraut, and potato salad, among other family favorites. When I’m able, I like to return to the town in New York State where most of my extended family still lives for a picnic reunion just like the old days. But now I’m my grandmother’s age, and the kids running around eating hotdogs are my grandchildren. When we can’t attend the reunions, our family enjoys backyard picnics at our house followed by a marshmallow roast over our firepit. My grandkids love to run through the sprinkler just like my sisters and I used to do, and write their initials with sparklers after dark.

My parents always made sure my sisters and I knew the history behind the Fourth of July celebrations. I remember family trips to Philadelphia, where my aunt and uncle lived, and visiting all of the famous landmarks there. I especially loved hearing the story of how the Liberty Bell rang so hard to announce America’s independence and freedom that it cracked. We lived near Newburgh, NY, which was George Washington’s military headquarters during the Revolutionary War. I was amazed to think that “George Washington slept here.” We also learned the story of the giant chain that stretched across the Hudson River below West Point to stop British war ships from sailing up the river and attacking. Following my parents’ example, my husband and I took our children to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail and visit Betsy Ross’s house, where the first American flag was sewn. We saw the Old North Church where Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride, and the site of the famous Boston Tea Party. I don’t always remember important historical dates and facts, but what sticks with me are the stories. I think listening to stories is one of the best ways to learn history. It’s why I tell family stories to my grandchildren. And why I write historical fiction.

So, now it’s your turn. What do you enjoy most about the Fourth of July? What are your favorite memories and stories from the holiday?

Summer Reading Program

When I was a girl, our village library offered a summer reading program. We were each given a chart with colorful stickers to keep track of all the books we read over the summer. There were prizes for the kid in each age group who read the most books—usually a book, of course. How I loved to see that chart filled with stickers! But I couldn’t cheat—my mother was the librarian, so she knew if I was really reading or just collecting stickers. Nowadays, I don’t just collect stickers, I collect books. As you can see, my shelves are pretty full!

I still think of summertime as reading time and I look forward to long afternoons to just relax and “do nothing” and read. I’ve been very busy these past months, writing and launching “Chasing Shadows” along with a Christmas novella, “Wish Book Christmas,” which will be out this holiday season. So I have fallen behind on reading books for pleasure. But now summer is here, and it’s time to remedy that. Here are some of my favorite places to curl up with a book:

The best place is on our beach on Lake Michigan. I love the warm sand and sunshine and the sound of the waves. This is the best place to read happy, romantic stories that end “happily-ever-after.”

My second favorite is our front porch. It overlooks a bike-and-walking path, so it’s fun to watch people go by with their dogs and kids while I catch up on all my favorite magazines, (which I’ve been neglecting). The porch has rocking chairs and a swing, and is a favorite place to read books to my grandchildren when they visit.

In rainy weather, I sit inside by the front window for the same view of the bike path. This is where I pray and read and have my quiet time year-round.

We are also blessed to have a screened-in back porch with a green, leafy view of trees and the fragrance of newly-mown grass. It’s above our walk-out basement, so I feel like I’m in a treehouse. A ceiling fan adds a breeze on hot, summer nights—and this is my favorite place to read when there’s a thunderstorm.

One last place is beneath the screened porch, down by the backyard. There are lots of comfy chairs and also a hammock if I want to take a little nap. Party lights make it festive after sunset, which comes late here in Michigan in the summertime.

So now I need to take a trip to the library. Do you have any great summer reading recommendations? What are your recent favorites and the places where you like to relax and read them?

Eating Tulips

Have you ever eaten tulip bulbs? I haven’t, and I’m guessing not many of you have, either. Unless you lived in the Netherlands during World War II, that is. A Google search lists quite a few edible flowers including pansies, nasturtiums and marigolds. Tulips aren’t listed. I ate a flower at a trendy restaurant once that looked something like an orchid. It didn’t have much taste. But the Dutch didn’t eat tulips because they were trendy or tasty. The people were starving and desperate, and tulips were the only food available. Actress Audrey Hepburn, who lived in Holland during the war, has told how she survived on tulip bulbs. She said they tasted terrible.

I learned these sad but interesting facts while researching my newest novel, “Chasing Shadows.” The launch date is tomorrow, June 8, by the way, and I am super excited! (Keep reading to find out how to win a free copy!) The novel tells the stories of three women who live through the Nazi invasion and occupation of the Netherlands during WWII and have to decide how they will cope. The easiest way to survive is to befriend the enemy and collaborate with them. The middle path is to bury your head in the sand and simply try to cope by giving in to their demands, no matter how evil. The most difficult choice—and one that many, many brave Dutch people chose—is to actively resist and fight back against everything the Nazis were doing. You’ll have to read the novel to find out which of the paths my main characters chose.

The Dutch people suffered terribly during the war. During the final year, the railroad workers went on strike to hinder the Nazis’ movements, but when the trains halted, food supplies couldn’t be distributed. The winter of 1944-45 was called the Hunger Winter. It’s estimated that 22,000 civilians starved to death. One of the few things available to eat were tulip bulbs, so the Dutch Office of Food Supply published a guide with recipes, telling people how to cook them. The most common way was to grate the dried bulbs and use it like flour to make bread.

Fortunately, most of us have never faced the hardships of warfare. But we can read novels like “Chasing Shadows” and try to put ourselves in the characters’ places, and imagine how we would have reacted to such extreme circumstances. I like to think I would have faced the enemy courageously, but I’ll never really know.

And yet . . . I do have an enemy who wants to defeat me and take me captive. I face a variety of challenges, large and small, every day, and must decide how I will react. Am I going to allow the enemy to discourage and defeat me? Will I get angry, give in, give up? Or will I allow Christ’s love and grace to shine through me regardless of the circumstances? Like the women in my novel, I must decide if I will surrender to the enemy, do nothing, or show love?

It seems like it has taken a lifetime for me to fully trust in God’s provision. Like the Israelites, I sometimes grumble and complain about the manna He provides, preferring the cuisine of captivity. Jesus said that if we ask our Heavenly Father for bread, He isn’t going to give us stones. But sometimes His answers to prayer seem pretty hard to swallow. Like tulip bulbs. Will I eat them without complaining? Will I be thankful for them, as the faithful Dutch people were? Until the enemy is fully defeated, it’s a decision I must remember to make every day.

To celebrate the release of “Chasing Shadows,” (and my characters who eat tulips bulbs), I’m giving away two free copies of my book. To enter to win, simply leave a response to this blog, below. If you’d like, you can tell me about any flowers you’ve eaten. (I don’t think cauliflower counts!) Enjoy!