Merry Monday at Crazy Creek

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Merry Monday, everyone! The holiday festivities begin in earnest this week, as I make food and do laundry in preparation for that most important and glorious Opening Day of Deer Hunting. Not me! My menfolk! I shoo them away and spend the weekend reading etc.
I won’t, however be reading “Crazy Creek Christmas” by that excellent author Lisa Lickel because I ALREADY READ IT! Here she is, talking all things Christmas and her latest book.

Welcome Lisa! Let’s jump right in with a pressing hypothetical situation. Your entire area has been temporarily quarantined because someone believes they saw a UFO. You can’t go home but the Center for Studying Strange Sightings will pay for you and your entire family to go anywhere in the world—make that universe—for Christmas. Where will you go and how will you celebrate?
Well we have to go visit Stella and her family (from Parhelion) on their secret Tau Ceti planet they escaped to after nuclear war threatened to destroy Earth. If we went for a little while, we’d be fine. Just for Christmas. Tau Ceti isn’t too different, but we’d have to get used to the chlorine-scented everything. Does pine and cinnamon cover that? We’d have our traditional caroling passed around in the bespeaking voice Ceticians use, as well as out loud. And food, of course—always must have a great meal after the meeting for worship. We can bring a ham to go with salad. Christmas and Christmas no matter where you go.

Ha! Did I ask the right question there, or what? For those of you who don’t know, “Parhelion” is Lisa’s science fiction novel. So there would be ham. Any other favorite dish to make for Christmas?
My new favorite is watching my daughters-in-law make Grandma’s crepes on Christmas morning while I play with their children.

Bless those daughters-in-law! Not everyone has ideal family situations. Leah and Noel have both come out of difficult and/or tragic family circumstances. How they handle what life handed them is completely different. What role does faith in a good God, or the lack of it, play in their transformations?
Good question. Leah is a nice person, just naturally a sweetheart but she wasn’t raised in a family of faith and never really thought much about church or salvation. She wouldn’t hurt a fly despite being taken advantage of, so she’s ripe for hearing the Word. It may take her a while to truly accept the gift of grace, but she’s already in tune with God when her new ranch family helps her understand what she’s missing. Noel was raised in a family that practiced charity and regularly attended worship services and youth group. Yet he ran from all of that. I think he believes that leaving the ranch also means shedding everything about his former life. When the chips are down and he has choices to make, though, the depth of his character formed through well-practiced faith shines through and it doesn’t even occur to him to blame others for his problems. His remorse proves he’s never outgrown or run far enough from doing the right thing.

Yet in spite of these heartbreaking circumstances, the story isn’t depressing! How do you walk the line between hope and melancholy?
That’s nice to hear. I don’t want my stories to be downers, but conflict has to rise from somewhere. I think the fact that the main event heartbreak takes place before the story begins, and the tragedy that Noel suffers are handled within the Kingdom of Hope and Possibilities by people who understand that God loves them no matter what helps a lot. It’s okay to have a pity party for a while, but how we rise above what happens is the real story.

Introduce us to Leah and Noel.
Leah is a daughter given up for adoption under circumstances which always eluded her. She was raised in a pleasant but busy foster home and when she aged out after high school took jobs waitressing and kept moving west until meeting a kindly couple running a diner in Crazy Creek, Wyoming. They had a heart for a special family of ranchers south of town and helped Leah hire on. Noel is the driven kid who just didn’t want to be a farmer like his dad. His sister loved their family ranch, so Noel lit out for the big city to become a property developer. He thinks that by selling his family ranch to a horse tourism outfit he’ll solve everyone’s problems. Little does he know he’s the only one on his side. Even the new cute cook thinks he has a stone for a heart.
It’s funny—last week I interviewed Susan Baganz, whose female protagonist in “Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps” is named “Noelle.” And this week I welcome you and “Crazy Creek Christmas”—whose male protagonist is named Noel! Yet depending on which syllable you emphasize, it is a very feminine or very masculine name. How much thought do you put into names of your characters?
Susan thought that was funny, too, and we didn’t collaborate. Last year three of us had Mistletoe titles. Names are important to set a particular tone. I also happen to think Noel Coward was a groovy playwright and actor and I’ve always had a secret yen to use that name.

You titled your chapters! I love that! Not too common anymore. What made you decide to do that?
It just seemed like a fun thing to do. I didn’t have numbers at first, but someone else made an executive decision. Quite often I use a little phrase describing a chapter to keep me on track when I’m writing, but this story came together so fast I didn’t even have time to think about it. I wanted to offer the reader a little glimpse of what to expect.

Who in “Crazy Creek Christmas” is your favorite character after Leah and Noel?
I’m honestly trying to answer, but every time I try to pick one, I think of something about one of the others that was fun to explore—Jorge’s children, Manny’s “love ya,” “Gil’s soulful woundedness, Tom’s contemplative silence, and Marty’s cantankerousness; even Sister’s patience, and of course Cupcake’s name.
Favorite Christmas song? Or, if you really like Christmas music, feel free to share more!
I do, I do like Christmas music. I love both old and new, and cry for different reasons. I have Amy Grant singing “Love Has Come” sparkling in my head—thanks a lot. That’s gonna be an all-dayer. Steven Curtis Chapman’s Christmas album is a fav, and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” Don’t why know.

Will you write more about the Rocking J Ranch and Crazy Creek?
So, you’re the third person to ask me that. I guess, if one more person asks, I’ll consider it. I sort of even have the start of an inkling of a possible potential plot.

Actually I think three times is a charm…Would you like to live on a ranch?
It’s a place I think would be nice to visit, but I’m past all the enormity of being involved in an operation like that.

How much are you like Leah? Different?
How about Noel? Men and women are obviously different but also are similar in many ways. Any characteristics you have in common with him?
I’m from the Midwest, and I enjoy cooking, and if someone plunks me in a house with dust, I have a compulsive itch to clean. But other than that…nope, this little plump short grandma has little in common with Leah, other than I, too, dislike interrupting. Something about Midwestern values. Noel? He’s got a big chip on his shoulder, doesn’t he? He really wants to help, he just stumbles around trying too hard. He needs a good helpmeet. I guess I like to “help” too, which doesn’t always fly in the right direction.

Sister is a pretty appealing horse. Do you like horses? Ride much?
I love to look at them from a distance. My neighbors use horses in their work and pasture them around us, but I agree with Leah: they are awfully BIG.

And the burning question: do you decorate for Christmas before or after Thanksgiving?
After, of course! My prudish Pilgrim people decorations would frown at my opulent mink-coated Santa. They might not even appreciate the ceramic Santa kneeling at Jesus’s manger.

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Blurb
Crazy Creek, Wyoming saves Leah Hanes’s life. Running on fumes and bald tires, she thanks heaven for Cookie and Jeanette Wimmer who send her to the Rocking J Ranch as a winter cook. Leah arrives to discover the ranch and the people need more than a cook.

Noel Johansen, heir of the Rocking J, happily left for the big city years ago. When he loses his family in a terrible accident, the best thing for everyone is to sell the place, ditch the memories, and move on. But his brother-in-law has other plans, and the beautiful new cook they’ve hired for the season threatens Noel’s desire to remain detached.

The ranch represents Noel’s future and selling it becomes more important than ever when one more tragedy leaves him with nothing. But memories can’t be bought and sold, nor can a broken conscience heal itself. Home, heart, and future are irrevocably tied in Crazy Creek.
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Bio
Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin author who loves books and dragons, she writes inspiring fiction. Besides writing inspiring fiction, she also writes short stories, feature articles, and radio theater, and loves to encourage new authors through mentoring, speaking, and leading workshops. She is an avid book reviewer and blogger, and a freelance editor. Find more at LisaLickel.com.

Camping with Ancient Philosophers

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The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. So says the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, and who am I to argue with him?

Well, nobody. But I manage to confound this proverb in ways that would make the venerable Lao spin his mustaches.

I take that single step a thousand times over and never get further than my front door.

Any guesses as to how many diets I have begun? Calculate how many days in three plus decades and you’ll be close.
Maybe you’d like to see the knitting project I’ve undertaken with a single row of stitches, pulled out and started over. And over. And over.
The weekly house cleaning schedule has been attempted and abandoned partial week after partial week for most of my married life.

‘How do people get to this clandestine Archipelago?’
Will I ever find out?
It would mean reading all 682 pages of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece “The Gulag Archipelago” (received in 11th grade when I was going to change the world one teardrop at a time).
Does it count to read that first sentence 682 times?

We-as-in-I resolve each New Year to do that savings program where you put aside a dollar for each week of the year. By Christmas there is extra money to spoil grandchildren. One dollar on week one is no problem. Coming up with thirty dollars to add on week 30 makes me long for those single-digit weeks of January. So I take the mere $28 in my purse and use it for pizza night and give up the entire project, comforting myself that I will try again next year.

Good intentions, great resolutions, magnificent goals.
They begin with one refused donut, one saved dollar, one important book.
However, an unconsumed pastry, a buck in the pot and “Vanity Fair” on the night stand do not
make me healthy, wealthy or wise.

What I need, and what I propose, are way stations on this journey of a thousand miles. I could camp out each night at the spot I’ve progressed to with my single step. Instead of heading back to my comfy bed with stout-hearted but never realized ambitions to take two hundred steps tomorrow, I will spend the first night on my front doorstep.

The next morning when I wake up, maybe once again I’ll refuse the French cruller, even though I couldn’t resist the cheesecake at dinner last night. At least I am not taking two steps back.

Monday washday is under my belt but in the past I never conquered Tuesday ironing to get to Wednesday cleaning. By Saturday I face a household of streaked windows and rapidly proliferating dust bunnies, and the doggone laundry is piling up again. (I realize few people will relate to my desire to iron. As my then-college son once said “Wrinkled is the new pressed”).

The point is that those of us who struggle to make progress also struggle with our failure to progress in a perfectly predetermined pattern.
If we fail at one point we fail at it all, give up and go to bed with a pack of Oreos, because a few more crumbs and another set of dirty sheets will never be noticed.

How about instead I camp out beside those stacks of clean laundry—or better yet the folded clean laundry? My first step the next day might be an organized drawer or even, because the sky is the limit, a color coded closet.

(This wasn’t intended to be a how-to post but Prudes are bossy and can’t help giving advice.)

I haven’t been wildly successful at that dollar saving scheme but when I throw loose change in a jar and leave it there because it is too heavy for my purse, by December I dump it into Tupperware, take it to the bank and get a nice little bounce to my holiday budget.

I might have trouble getting past the first sentence or paragraph or chapter of a book everyone swears I need to read. And while not every classic is for every person, some things—think coffee, blue jeans and sneakers—deserve my effort. I needn’t consume “War and Peace” in one sitting. Maybe I’ll try to read it consecutively, and cumulatively.

Old Lao was on to something here.
Let’s take a thousand mile journey, my friends.
Let’s get there a step at a time. One after another after another.
Let’s meet at the roadside campground tonight. I’ll bring the hotdogs.