May 2021- WHY I LOVE KNOXVILLE

I grew up in—and still live in—Knoxville,  a small city in the eastern half of Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains. Whenever I travel I am always happy to “come home” to Knoxville again—the place I love, rich with beauty, and filled with good memories. Like the Wizard of Oz line, for me “There’s no place like home.”

Coming back from our vacation to the beach in late April, I felt a lift in my spirits as soon as we saw the mountains and hills of Tennessee on the horizon, and I smiled to see the sign: Welcome to Tennessee as we drove over the mountain toward home. Someone at the beach in South Carolina asked me, “What do you like so much about Knoxville and East Tennessee?” I offered several ready answers, but I’ve thought about that question often since.

What do I like about Knoxville? First, I love the diversity of the seasons. In East Tennessee, we experience four distinct seasons—a crisp fall rich with gorgeous color, a winter not too cold but offering a few snow days, blanketing the world in pretty white, but melting away quickly. Spring in Knoxville comes far earlier here than in cities up north, bringing with it a burst of color after the gray of winter, along with the return of green grass and leaves and an array of beautiful flowering trees and shrubs. The flowers I love so much return, too—crocus, daffodils, tulips, azaleas, and more. The fields and mountains awaken with wildflowers everywhere, including many varieties of mountain trillium like in the photo. The green  then deepens and thickens as summer begins to arrive, the days growing balmy and lazy. With the air and water warmer, shorts and flip flops are the perfect daily wear, the days usually hot enough to run barefoot through the sprinkler, lie in the hammock and read, swim at the pool or lake, or wade in the cool mountain streams of the Smokies.  Each month of the year holds its own beauty.

J.L. and I cherish our links into East Tennessee’s history and past, too. I grew up here in Knoxville, J.L. not far away in Athens, and both of us went to college at the University of Tennessee. Those years hold good memories for both of us as we met at UT, and after our marriage lived in an apartment near campus so I could walk to classes and finish my degree.

Both J.L’s and my families were early settlers to East Tennessee, too, tucking this region into our bloodlines. They came to this Appalachian wilderness in those early years to farm the land and help to build new towns and communities. J.L. and I were both told many fascinating stories about our early Tennessee ancestors. My mother’s stories were especially rich ones, as she grew up one of twelve children in a big two storied farmhouse. Childhood visits for both of us often took us out into the country to visit grandparents, aunts and uncles—giving us a chance to roam the fields, hike, and explore the out of doors, which we still love to do today.

Growing up in rural South Knoxville, I carry happy memories of my early childhood years. A treat when I was a girl was to take the bus into downtown Knoxville on Saturday or a warm summer’s day. In those years shopping was centered in downtown Knoxville before outlying malls and big shopping centers developed. Downtown with girlfriends I went to the movies, poked through the department stores, dime stores, and bookstores, went to the library, and ate lunch at Woolworths, the Blue Circle, or, when shopping with mother, at the S & S Cafeteria. When my first book published in 2009, J.L. and I held my Book Launch on the Star of Knoxville Riverboat downtown, and over 250 friends joined us to ride down the Tennessee River to celebrate my first published novel The Foster Girls. Whenever I see that old riverboat downtown, it brings a smile of remembrance of that good day.

Knoxville hosts many joyous and fun festivals year round, many centered around the old Market Square downtown. I remember shopping with my mother here as a girl, buying fresh vegetables or flowers from the farmers set up on the square. At festivals like the Dogwood Arts Festival, the vendors and crafters turn out to share their work, just like in the past. Often during the Dogwood Arts Festival Market Days, J.L. and I did a street signing in front of Union Avenue Bookstore for Flossie McNabb, talking to people as they walked to the Market Square. We attend many festivals around the area as visiting authors, helping to support events both in Knoxville and nearby. There is nothing more fun than a festival, and in Knoxville and East Tennessee people are warm and friendly, too—making these events even better. We’re already looking forward to the festivals on our schedule for this year.  And maybe we’ll see you there!

Knoxville has won a lot of awards over the years and it’s easy to see why. In recent years it’s won awards as the “Nicest Place in America”, awards for “Best Places to Live” and “Best Places to Retire, a “Most Fun City” award, a “Best College Town” award, a “Summer Travel Destination Award,” and many more accolades. I know I’m prejudiced, but I can see how special Knoxville is. I can see why people want to buy homes in our part of the world, too. In traveling, I’m often shocked to see how homes are crammed so close together in many towns and cities that you could shake hands with your neighbor out the window! I’m grateful that here in Knoxville, most all the homes have spacious yards, lovely trees, shrubs, and flowers. Our home, where we’ve lived for over forty years, has a large yard and sits on a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood. I love living in a place where I can happily and safely take a long walk every day, stopping to talk to neighbors or to look at the flowers blooming along the way. Good neighbors and a happy home are blessings so many do not enjoy… but in Knoxville they are more common than in many other places. Or at least, it seems so to me. A sweet quote about home says: “Home is where love resides, memories are created, friends always belong, and laughter never ends.” Our home here in Knoxville is that for me.

Happy May … See you next month!

Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Several photos in this blog are free photos from dreamstime.

 

April 2021 – MY LITTLE CORNER OF THE WORLD

I am a Southern author and I bring my readers with every book to “My Little Corner of the World”—and to the places I know and love.  In this photo, you’ll see a listing of all my published books, twenty-one titles now. You’ll also see that most bring readers to the Smoky Mountains and to the Tennessee area where I live. There are twelve stand-alone novels in The Smoky Mountain Series that take you visiting in each book to a new place around the mountains. You’ll see the book covers for those titles below.

Because my readers didn’t want me to stop creating titles set around the Smoky Mountains my editor at the time at Kensington (who is now happily retired) suggested starting a new series called The Mountain Home Books to bring readers even more mountain stories.  In these Mountain Home titles I’ve been taking readers to New Places … like in my book HAPPY VALLEY to the lovely valley below the Chilhowee Parkway near Abrams Creek Campground, and In my new title DOWNSIZING to the charming Glades Arts and Crafts Community in Gatlinburg. I have the added joy of joining many of the wonderful artisans and crafters from the Glades at their Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Spring Easter Show April 1st, 2nd, and 3rd  for the Book Launch of my new spring titles. I’d love to see you there if you can come … but if you’re not visiting in the Smokies then, be sure  on your next trip to the mountains to drive around the eight mile Arts and Crafts Loop Road off Hwy 321 in Gatlinburg to explore all the interesting and colorful shops there and to eat at one of the charming restaurants.

Because the coast of South Carolina, and a quiet little island called Edisto, has always been my family’s favorite place to vacation, I decided to also take my readers on a “book vacation” to this lovely beach.The third in my three-book trilogy, called EDISTO SONG, just released, so if you haven’t read the first two books you can now get all three in this Lowcountry series.

My journey as an author actually began working with my husband J.L. on a Smoky Mountains hiking guidebook, THE AFTERNOON HIKER, describing 110 trails you can hike and loaded with color photos in illustration. The book, a bestseller, published in 2014, and we had so much fun working on it, that we decided to do another guidebook for the Tennessee State Parks, titled DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS.  Due to the warm reception to this book and encouraged by bookstores and fans while visiting in South Carolina, we began work on a second state park guidebook set in the Palmetto State. Completing our visits to all the parks last year, this new guide book, EXPLORING SOUTH CAROLINA STATE PARKS, has just published along with my latest fiction titles.  The book has directions to each park, descriptions of each, and over 700 color photos throughout. I would encourage you to buy this book in print versus eBook, too, as the print books keep the beautiful original book format, making them so much more appealing.

I hope you’ll enjoy all our new book titles and more to come in the future, all set in My Little Corner of the World.  On the Home Page of my website, be sure to FOLLOW this blog and also enjoy my new April newsletter, too, on my website at: https://linstepp.com/media-2/

See you in May!

All best,  … Lin

Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

March Blog 2021 – SC PARKS GUIDE

J.L. and I are delighted, that in addition to my two new novels publishing in April, we also will see the debut of our third jointly written guidebook EXPLORING SOUTH CAROLINA STATE PARKS. … Our journey into creating regional guidebooks began with the publication of our hiking guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER, celebrating 110 of our favorite hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains. When the national parks closed for a long stint one year, we started looking for a Tennessee parks book for ideas for new places to hike and explore near our home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Finding nothing, we began our next adventure of visiting all of the 56 state parks in Tennessee over the next two years. It was more fun than we ever could have imagined and DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS published in 2018.

In 2019, as we visited bookstores in South Carolina for book signings for my new Edisto Trilogy novels, set on the coast, bookstore staff members and fans began to push us to create a South Carolina parks guidebook. So off we went on another two year adventure. This book EXPLORING SOUTH CAROLINA PARKS publishes on April first, at the same time as my latest novels DOWNSIZING and EDISTO SONG. Like our other guidebooks, you’ll find it has clear directions to every park, descriptions of the park and the best things to do and see when there, plus over 700 color photos in illustration. It will give you great ideas for parks to visit while traveling in the state.

In preparing to create this new guidebook and after researching the state of South Carolina and its 47 state parks, we decided to break the guidebook into four main regions—Upstate, Midlands, Lowcountry, and Pee Dee. Each area tends to have its own unique flavor—and dividing the parks into regions gave us an organizational method for grouping the parks by proximity.… As we studied about SC’s parks, we found the state also had seven national parks, one we broke into two parks, to make eight. Since many of these were smaller parks spotlighting historic or natural sites near many of the state parks, we decided to also add these national parks into our guidebook, bringing our overall total to 55 parks.

UPSTATE:

J.L. and I started our journey of exploring South Carolina’s parks in the Upstate area. Thinking of SC as a flatter and less mountainous state than Tennessee, we were surprised to find many of the Upstate parks reminded us of areas around the Smoky Mountains, rich with hiking trails, waterfalls, rugged heights, and sweeping mountain views. About seven of the Upstate parks lie in a string near the SC and NC border along Highway #11, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Parkway. Parks along this route included lovely state parks like Jones Gap State Park, Caesars Head, Table Rock, Devil’s Fork, and Oconee State Park.

 

Other parks we found especially memorable in the Upstate region were a second string of parks along the beautiful lakes bordering SC and Georgia, like Lake Hartwell State Park, Calhoun Falls, Baker Creek, Hamilton Branch, and Hickory Knob. These were a paradise of beauty with gorgeous views across the lakes, wonderful camping grounds and picnic areas, walking and biking trails, boat launches, fishing piers, cabins and lodges. …We also discovered South Carolina’s first historic parks in this region—military parks like Ninety Six and Cowpens, plus the old Rosehill Plantation site. We toured the museums, walked the battlefield trails, and explored the gracious plantation house, built in the 1800s. We learned a lot about national and SC state history on these visits.

MIDLANDS:

The midlands parks were spread out in a long region across the middle of the state, spanning from the GA to NC border, with Columbia, the state’s capital near the middle. Here we found more military parks like Kings Mountain, an interesting park dedicated to President Andrew Jackson, born in the state, another plantation site, the vast Congaree National Park, and an array of other rich state parks, each with its own special features. We especially enjoyed Chester State Park, Lake Wateree, and Dreher Island State Park, as well as the Sesquicentennial State Park near Columbia and Aiken State Park not far from downtown Aiken. We saw our first artesian well at Aiken and walked the long boardwalk trail out into the swampy floodplains at Congaree—and learned at Congaree the importance of always carrying bug spray.

LOWCOUNTRY:

In the South Carolina Lowcountry we visited many parks familiar to us near the coast where we’ve so often vacationed—Edisto, Hunting Island near Beaufort, and Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie near Charleston. We especially enjoyed the lighthouse at Hunting Island and finding a strand of rural parks more inland, like Colleton, Givhans Ferry and Lake Warren, taking us into parts of the state we’d never seen, each park with so much interesting diversity. Our favorite discovery in the Lowcountry was Charles Towne Landing right near downtown Charleston—a delightful park rich with history, scenic walking trails, a 22-acre natural zoo, old cabins, statues, and cannons. Wandering the park’s grounds we found the fun, historic Adventura ship on the Ashley River you can climb aboard to explore, marshland boardwalks, and the stunning Antebellum Waring plantation home with its Gone With the Wind oak avenue, ponds, and gardens.

PEE DEE:

The Pee Dee area of South Carolina in the northeast corner of the state has fewer parks, spread widely over the area. Near the border of North Carolina we especially loved Cheraw State Park, rich with amenities for a great family vacation week, including lakes, trails, camping, a golf course, cabins, swimming and boating areas. We also enjoyed visiting Lee State Park near Florence for its beauty and diversity. We found more artesian wells here, wonderful trails, a beautiful lake, a marsh boardwalk, and nice camping areas. Another favorite park in the Pee Dee region lay south of Columbia—Poinsett State Park. We enjoyed the mountainous terrain here, the gorgeous lake, a spillway falls, and a wealth of great hiking trails.

The Pee Dee area also borders the coast, so we got to return to Myrtle Beach that we hadn’t visited in over thirty years, to explore the Myrtle Beach State Park, SC’s first park opened in 1936. Further south on the coast we spent several delightful hours exploring Huntington Beach State Park where Archer and Anna Huntington once made their home in the Moorish castle still on the grounds. This is a park I’d love to visit again for its natural beauty, lakes, long stretch of coastline, wildlife, and trails.

J.L. and I found our trips all over South Carolina to be a pleasure—and now we find ourselves already plotting and planning the next Southern state we hope to explore for another guidebook! Traveling around to state parks is a beautiful way to sample the scenic wonder of a state and to just enjoy time out of doors.

SEE YOU NEXT MONTH in April! … Be sure to also check out my March Newsletter on my website…. Lin

Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

February Blog – EDISTO SONG

Some years ago when I was talking with my editor, at the time, Audrey LaFehr at Kensington Publishing, I asked her, “Do you think my readers, who have loved all my Smoky Mountain titles, would follow me if I also wrote a few books set at the beach?” She asked what I had in mind and I told her about my idea for a trilogy of books set at Edisto Beach, South Carolina, my family’s favorite vacation spot. She reacted positively, “I think your readers will love going on vacation to the beach with you. The books will still be the kind and  style of books they like—and, besides, most everyone loves to take a little vacation to the beach.”

With that supportive okay, and along with the Smoky Mtn book I was continuing to work on, I began to plot and plan a new Edisto Trilogy in the South Carolina Lowcountry.  It was a joy creating the story of Claire Avery and her young daughters Mary Helen and Suki in the first book, Claire at Edisto … and then continuing the saga with Mary Helen grown and finding her way through a hard time in Return to Edisto.  Now in the final book, the youngest daughter Suki is forced to face hurts and  problems in her career that bring her back to Edisto, too.

In all three books I enjoyed taking readers to visit at Edisto Beach, South Carolina, and to nearby Beaufort and Charleston. I hoped, also, to wrap my readers in the sweet story of Claire and her girls and how they each found their way from sorrows to new happiness. In Edisto Song, Suki has happily attained her dream of becoming an internationally acclaimed concert pianist but the life is not what she envisioned. As the book begins, she is dragging with illness and wisely listens to the counsel of her neighbor to head to the concert hall to talk to her agent Jonah about taking time off after this performance to heal. However, some new shocks send her life spiraling in a new direction.

Suki’s old friend since childhood, Andrew, has flown to New York to attend her concert and he is shocked when Suki collapses on stage. Andrew is even more stunned later at the hospital at Suki’s plans for her future which threaten to send his well-ordered life right out the window.

I won’t tell you more now about this new story, but a special pleasure I can tell you is that you will re-meet many of the characters from the first two books again—Claire and Parker Avery, Mary Helen and J.T., all the gang at Edisto, Kizzy Helton, and other island friends. You’ll also get to visit at Andrew’s beach house, The Sandpiper, at Edisto … and get to know his mother Nora Cavanaugh better.

You may remember from Return to Edisto that Andrew and his mother Nora Cavanaugh live in Beaufort and both work at Westcott Antiques for Parker Avery, as does Drake Jenkins, Parker’s store manager. As an added pleasure in this book, you’ll get to spend a lot of time in downtown Beaufort, South Carolina, and enjoy visits around this charming, historic Southern town. You’ll also learn more about the Westcott Antiques store and get drawn into the lives of many new Beaufort characters as well as being swept into an exciting new mystery that threads its way through the story. Beaufort is a delight –as is Edisto—and you’ll be wanting to visit both places after finishing this book filled with love, warmth, friendship, suspense, and an array of fun, unexpected events. I hope you’ll all enjoy this “finale” book in the Edisto Trilogy.

P.S. You might be pleased to know that, due to the wonderful reception to this new trilogy, I’ve decided to begin writing another series of books set on the South Carolina coast that will be called The Lighthouse Sisters, following the lives of four sisters who grew up at a lighthouse and inn.

… So have fun visiting Edisto and Beaufort in Edisto Song … and know that you have more fun Lowcountry books to look forward to in the future.

 

Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

 

January 2021 -DOWNSIZING – A Mountain Home Book

The 2020 year brought a host of new problems, including for many the need to make unexpected, often difficult life changes or to drastically curtail expenses. In the past, my husband J.L. and I passed through a few seasons that demanded us to tighten our belts and “downsize” our lives—never comfortable times to face. Becoming more affluent and rising up the financial ladder is always easier than suddenly having to shift gear and slide downhill from a lifestyle one has become accustomed to. People are creatures of habit and change is never easy when it pushes individuals out of comfortable patterns of life they’ve grown used to.

As a psychologist, life changes and how they impact individuals interests me. So I decided to explore this concept in a book. Most studies show that the young adapt more quickly to change, often are excited by and drawn to it. As adults age though, they settle more comfortably into a life routine, often one they like and have worked hard to achieve. They are less eager then to make major lifestyle changes and often find changes more stressful. So I decided my main characters, in a story about a sudden need to “downsize,” would be ones in their middle years. Once families are well-established, a change in the life of any one major family member impacts all the others as well… whether it is a death, divorce, move, job change, injury, or sudden character or lifestyle change.

In my new novel DOWNSIZING, publishing in April 2021, my main character is Mary Pat Latham. At midlife, Mary Pat’s life is settled and comfortable. She’s been married for thirty-four years to her husband Russell, a successful heart surgeon. They are comfortable, own a beautiful home, and have four children who have recently finished college and started settling into new careers and homes. Mary Pat’s life is rich with interests, social clubs, and philanthropic activities. She looks forward to a future with married children, grandchildren, and more times for trips and travel when Russell’s medical practice slows down. The last thing she expects is for Russell to come home in the middle of the day and to announce, out of the clear blue, that he wants a divorce.

This is only the beginning of Mary Pat’s shocks, as she soon also learns he wants to sell their big home—and in fact already has a buyer. He throws out that he’s already found himself a condo near the hospital and seen an attorney to start the divorce proceedings. Stunned, Mary Pat listens to him discuss this severance of her life casually and matter-of-factly as though he’s talking to one of his patients about an upcoming operation. Caught totally off guard, Mary Pat can’t even think how to respond. Suggesting counseling or more discussion gets her nowhere and when she quizzes Russell about what in the world she will do with all the changes he’s suggesting, he callously throws out hurtful comments, criticizing her lifestyle, all but calling her boring, and letting her know, in addition, he’s disgusted with all the weight she’s gained, and with how she’s let herself go in every way.

All of this discussion only gets worse as Mary Pat catches a change in tone as Russell talks about the realtor he’s been working with. His quick defense when Mary Pat quizzes him about the relationship tells her all too much. In some heated words to follow, when Mary Pat pushes to ask if he’s given any thought to where she should move or what she should do now … Russell throws out that she can move up to her parents’ old cottage in Gatlinburg for a time if she wants. He never wanted to buy their old place when her parents moved anyway. So after an afternoon of weeping and shock, Mary throws some things into a bag to head to the small mountain house of her childhood, too upset and humiliated to even think about seeing or talking to any of her friends or family right now

My new book DOWNSIZING is in many ways Mary Pat’s story of how she handles all the dramatic changes that suddenly hit her life, all the hurt and personal analysis needed to evaluate her situation and consider how to move on. I found myself constantly thinking what I would do in her situation, how I would have acted, even as Mary Pat’s own individual story unfolds in its own way. When life changes hit, relationships are often impacted, too—with friends, family, and colleagues. Just as people are uncomfortable with dramatic change in their own lives, friends and family find it hard to relate to big changes in the lives of others, too. Sometimes they pull away and are not supportive at the times when support and kindness are most needed.

I hope readers will enjoy following Mary Pat’s story of how a sudden unexpected series of events impacts her well-ordered life, and of the new life she is forced to forge. Woven into the story are problems with her adult children and friends, but also the unexpected pleasure of being loved and accepted by old friends from childhood she hasn’t seen in years, of finding healing in familiar surroundings, and in beginning to build a new life on the ashes of an old one lost.

Readers will soon run into a rich, colorful cast of characters in the Glades Arts and Crafts Community of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where Mary Pat’s small family home sits on a quiet mountain road. I’ll leave all these new characters’ stories of love and loss for you to learn about as you enjoy this new book, and be assured that a host of unexpected events, shocks, and surprises await you as you turn the pages and follow the plot through its ups and downs.

Angry at all that happens, one thing Mary Pat does after her shocks settle down is to decide to start some improvements and changes in her own life. One of these is to work on “downsizing” herself. Russell’s hurtful words bring home to her that she, in truth, has let her appearance go. These efforts become an interesting part of the book as Mary Pat’s earlier life goals and education were actually geared to nutritional behavioral counseling, the irony not escaping her now. So Mary Pat reaches back to reexamine those old goals and dreams.

No more spoilers for you now. But you’ll love the characters you meet, the adventures and visits around the beauty of the Gatlinburg area, the hikes and visits in the Smoky Mountains, the black bears threaded throughout the story, and some eventful and suspenseful moments that will have your mouth dropping open, wondering what will happen next.

When I was working on planning this book originally, I had to create a fictitious weight loss business and a diet for Mary Pat to follow for the story, so I created a center called Diet Options for the book and pulled out all my old diet notes from successful dieting I’d done in past to design the Diet Options weight loss program and the diet Mary Pat becomes involved in. Fans around this area, knowing what I was working on then—and watching me lose twenty pounds trying out my own diet plan again—began to push me to put the diet at the end of the book. So at the end of the book will be a link taking readers, who are interested, to pieces of Mary Pat’s Diet Options Notebook, with a little inspirational teaching and the complete diet laid out, including food lists, recipes, and more, in case you want to try a little “downsizing” of your own. It’s a great almost 50-page resource you can print out, if you want … and it’s Free to all my readers.

So this April … come meet Mary Pat, her husband Russell, children Todd, Craig, Patrick, and Victoria and her old Gatlinburg friends Owen, Francine, Nancy Sue, Gloria, and many more in my new book DOWNSIZING. Learn as you read how Mary Pat, her family, and friends handle all the upsets, tragedies and unexpected events that come their way – and that seem to happen in all our lives, bringing changes we have little recourse but to face. I hope—if you’re experiencing any “downsizing” or other problems in your life right now, that you will learn, as Mary Pat did, that: “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” [Robin Sharma]

See you next month talking about my new Edisto book!

Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

 

December 2020 – CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

With this 2020 year such a difficult one, all of us are seeing changes in our Christmas celebrations. Those changes cause us to look back and remember with nostalgic fondness our Christmases of the past—and perhaps to cherish those memories more than we might have before. I see it as a form of “thankfulness” to look back on the holidays of the past, being grateful for the warmth, love, and good we remember about each.

My parents’ earliest memories of Christmas were from the years after the great Depression. Both were from large families and presents were simple and few, the Christmas tree cut from the woods nearby and decorated with homemade ornaments. Yet their memories of those years are warm and full of rich recollections of laughter, love, Christmas baking, faith, and wonder.

As J.L. and I were growing up, each of our families held different traditions—but both of us remember the joy of bringing a big cedar tree into the house to decorate with lights and ornaments, hanging greenery and wreaths, unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, and looking forward to what Santa left under the tree and in our stockings. Raised in Christian homes, the carols, church events, and special stories told at Christmas all centered around Jesus’ birth. And both our families found ways to give and share with those in need.

Most of the traditions J.L. and I built for our own family at Christmas were similar to those we’d grown up with. In our early married years we traveled to share Christmas with family but as our children Max and Kate came, we stayed closer to home. Blessedly, in those years, our parents lived in nearby cities so they could join us at Christmas, and as the years went by we built our own unique holiday traditions.

Among my memories as I write this today, I recall the excitement of decorating the tree every year—adding the old treasured and new ornaments—and then watching the lights with pleasure every night. We took driving trips around the neighborhood to see the holiday lights and went to the mall and Christmas shops to see Santa and to enjoy the lavish decorations. We also attended annual events in our area celebrating the season, in the city, at the children’s schools, and at church. Going downtown to the Christmas Parade and to see the lights was an annual trip and later we began to always attend the Fantasy of Trees in Knoxville and to take a trip to Dollywood to see the holiday lights and shows.

I remember fondly how the children poured through the toy catalogs as they arrived in the mail, making lists of “ideas” for gifts they might like to receive from us and from Santa. I recall, too, how they shook and rattled the gifts under the tree later, trying to guess what was inside every package. Christmas morning was always a fun time of discovery, of enjoying new toys and games, trying out new bikes or skates outdoors, and running back and forth to the neighbors to see what everyone else received. I remember the year I saved up long and hard so we could buy both the children bikes and how excited they were to ride them up and down our cul-de-sac street. Katie loved dolls, Barbies, art toys and coloring books, jewelry, and pretty things. Max loved GI Joe, Star Wars, action toys, games and toy guns. And our downstairs held a big playroom that the children and all their friends enjoyed.

As I looked through old photo books to find a few memory pictures to add to this blog today I found Christmas pictures of the children, like this one, we took at the holidays. We gave photo copies to the grandparents, to family, and friends or tucked them into the Christmas cards I always sent. J.L. and I both laughed at the  photos of Christmas past we found, the floor around the tree piled with gift wrap and boxes, family members all grinning and holding up gifts received or modeling new clothes and hats, and the cats getting into the fray by climbing into all the Christmas boxes. Before my eyes I watched the children grow from those baby years to childhood in those photo books and then on to the teenage years. It seems incredible that the years have flown past so swiftly and that now they are both grown and gone—and living so far away.

Our holiday seasons every year are different now with one adult child, Max and his Deborah, far south in the New Orleans area and the other child, Kate, far to the east in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Usually both children come home at Christmas for a few days to a week, and we’re so grateful for that.  But with covid still a problem around the country, our Christmas will be quieter this year. The children aren’t traveling in with the holidays crowds, which is wise, and it will only be J.L., me, and maybe Santa sharing Christmas together this year. J.L’s sister and some friends might come to visit and share Christmas lunch but the day won’t be busy, full, and noisy with the family all home. A. M. Pahro wrote: “What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.” That’s especially true this year, and I know that you hope and pray with me that 2021 will be a happier and healthier year for us all.

To close on a happier note … I treasure each of you among my special holiday memories now. We have met and connected “by heart” through books, and I am so grateful as the holidays begin to look back and realize how many books have been published now. Thank you for reading them, loving them, and sharing and talking about my stories. and about our Smokies and parks guidebooks, to others. I treasure the memories of meeting many of you in person at book signings and speaking events or at one of the many festivals J.L. and I attend as authors. … You have all become a part of my treasured life memories. Thank you. I so appreciate each one of you … and I love the words of encouragement you write to me and so appreciate the kind book reviews you take the time to put online. You encourage my heart and make me look forward to creating more books in the years to come.

May each of you have a lovely holiday in whatever way you spend it. Best and blessings for a beautiful Christmas full of lots of love, … Lin

 

Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.