Welcome to Wednesday Writers and welcome to my guest author Julie Arduini! Christmas, which is only—dare I even say it?—58 days away, is in the air today as Julie brings us and excerpt from her very special Christmas book Restoring Christmas, whose theme is about
Highlighting the Misunderstood World of Special Needs Students
One of the most exciting aspects of this time of year is the release of Christmas romances. Hallmark knows their popularity; they are now showing movies outside of December. I love losing myself in a love story surrounded by snow and sleigh bells.
In 2018 I was honored to participate in a Christmas box set. Although it is no longer available, my novella, Restoring Christmas, has been re-released in both print and Kindle format. I had so much fun writing this story using another Upstate NY area and characters who need to surrender their issues and come together to save a beloved tourist attraction in fictional Geneseo Valley.
One element I used in Restoring Christmas was having the hero, Kevin Holt, bring his students with special needs to help at the failing Christmas mansion. These young teens wanted to make a difference, and Holly Christmas had to decide if she would let go of her pride and allow the community to come in for help. What I enjoyed about Holly was she approached the special needs class with love and a little anxiety, and I think that’s normal.
I have volunteered with ministries that involve families with special needs and in Restoring Christmas, I was intentional in not giving specific diagnoses because sometimes an issue isn’t visible, and people are misunderstood. Sometimes touch is very important, and in other cases, even a pat on the shoulder can be scary. Changes to schedules are a big deal sometimes, and so are different noises we might take for granted. For Holly, she wants to be understanding, but the mansion her parents worked on for years as the premiere Christmas stop each year holds a lot of valuable items. Will the students break things? Will there be tantrums that interrupt her deadlines? How will Holly handle it all and how involved will Kevin be in the process?
Answering those questions truly were a delight. There is so much I love about Restoring Christmas, and one was that I was able to bring awareness to the special needs community. I also gave a nod to my hometown, Corning, with the mention of glass ornaments. More than anything, I believe there’s a sweet romance readers can escape with.
Do you have a connection with the special needs community? If so, you are in the presence of the most amazing group God created.
By Julie Arduini
Filled with grief and regret, Holly Christmas returns to Geneseo Valley and the family business, The Christmas Mansion. Can Kevin Holt restore her love for the season and the memories she left behind?
If Holly Christmas’ heart was in charge, returning to Geneseo Valley never would have happened. She slowed her Subaru Forester and blinked away fresh tears. The car shook as Holly wavered between the brake and accelerator. If memories alone could steer, the car would be parked in the lot she had played in since she could walk.
With her uncle expecting her, she cruised into the parking area adjacent to the family business. Holly found a space to stop thanks to faded yellow lines. Dabbing her eyes and cheeks with a tissue, she grabbed her planner, slung her purse over her shoulder, and got out. With a deep breath, she faced the historic mansion ahead of her.
The crunch of late September leaves marked her tentative steps toward the main entrance. Glancing ahead, she noted the overgrown weeds and bushes out front in desperate need of a pruning. The once red and white striped pole showed rust spots and the red faded to pink. The sign that once proudly displayed the tourist destination was now a rotted piece of splinter. The engraving was more of a petri dish for moss and algae, making it barely readable.
Welcome to Christmas Mansion.
Holly stopped, a shudder zigzagged from head to toe. Re-gaining her balance, she kept her focus on the cement steps as she sidestepped a jagged chunk in the path. The porch still featured the wooden soldier she stood next to every year to mark how much she’d grown. The stiff greeter was a shell of his former holiday glory, nearly as faded as everything else. She opened the almost pink colored door and sighed at the sound of a sinister squeak. This isn’t the Christmas Mansion. It’s a Halloween spook house.
Fighting the urge to run back to her car and her life in Ohio, Holly cleared her throat. “Uncle Nick? It’s Holly. Are you here?”
She glanced around the lobby, the same register with a bell sound she pushed as a teen after a customer purchase. Dusty shelves housed a potpourri of holiday items—candles, snow globes, and ornaments thrown together in complete chaos.
Before she could investigate further, a shuffle echoed from the hallway and her uncle entered. “Holly? I can’t believe it, right here in Upstate New York. What an answer to prayer.” The cobalt blue glint in his eyes reminded her of her father.
She stepped into her uncle’s hug, surprised by his emotion as he held onto her arms and gazed into her eyes. “I don’t know about answer to prayer, but things changed with my job, and I thought it was a good time to help out.” She waved her hands with animation. “Here I am!”
The younger Christmas brother nodded. “I’ve tried to keep things going after your father passed, but I can’t even fit into his Santa suit.”
Holly smiled as she glanced at his thin frame. “A few cookies from Mrs. Olson will take care of that.” The volunteer greeter was a Geneseo Valley legend for her sugar cookies.
His smile disappeared. “You didn’t hear? Mrs. Olson passed in July. That’s one of the many things I need to do—find a new greeter. Then there’s a landscaping team. I know it’s September, but it won’t be long until school kids visit.” He scratched his balding head. “I did take care of one thing. I arranged for a group from a local school to get the gift shop back in order. Your father was so beloved as Chris Christmas that everyone seemed to overlook the haphazard way he organized the shop.”
Holly attempted to tame the rolling waves in her stomach. Mrs. Olson was a Christmas Mansion staple as much as her father was all about dressing up as Santa and entertaining. Her grin didn’t last long. She didn’t need to tour the mansion to know the entire place was a mess. The financial state most likely wasn’t much better. “Great. The students will have their work cut out for them. I still have unpacking to do at the house, but the place still opens at eight on weekdays, right?”
Uncle Nick hesitated. “Yes, but…”
She fished the keys out of her purse. “Great. I’ll be ready to start tomorrow.” Before she could find her sunglasses, the front door burst open and a choir of adolescent chatter filled the lobby. Kids who looked to be around junior high age swarmed the area, pointing at the shelves and leaning on the glass case that housed the register. “Uncle Nick?”
Before he could speak, among the chaos emerged a man with a red and black plaid flannel shirt. His wavy black locks bobbed as he whistled. All the students froze and focused on him with the same intensity Holly gave. The mesmerizing stranger pulled out his phone, opened a screen, and traced his finger down the screen before looking up. “Hi. I’m supposed to meet with a Nick Christmas?”
Want to read more?
You can find Restoring Christmas at Amazon
About the Author:
Julie Arduini loves to encourage readers to find freedom in Christ by surrendering the good, the bad, and —maybe one day—the chocolate. She’s the author of the contemporary romance series SURRENDERING TIME, (Entrusted, Entangled, Engaged,) as well as the stand-alone novellas, MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN and RESTORING CHRISTMAS. She also shares her story in the infertility devotional, A WALK IN THE VALLEY. Her other latest release, YOU’RE BRILLIANT, is for girls ages 10-100, written with her teenaged daughter, Hannah, and is book 3 in their SURRENDERING STINKIN’ THINKIN’ series. She blogs every other Wednesday for Christians Read, as well as monthly with Inspy Romance. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children. Learn more by visiting her at http://juliearduini.com, where she invites readers to opt in to her content full of resources and giveaway opportunities.