Monday, 24 March 2014

Rave Reviews Author Spotlight - Bette A Stephens

I have recently joined Rave Reviews Book Club. A club set up to support and promote writers.
As part of that support today I am hosting a blog post from our featured author Bette A Stephens.

A Writer’s Journey Begins

I'm a writer and a retired teacher who loves nature, art, people and literature. I advocate for kids & families, childhood literacy and the protection of monarch butterflies and their habitat.

My writing journey began many years ago. How long ago? I can’t recall the day or even the exact year when my adventures in writing began, but I do remember penning poems for family and friends over the years and even writing what I call ‘nugget’ stories for our family scrapbook when our daughters were young. I had always been a reader and I love poetry. In high school I fell in love with Shakespeare. The beauty of language in the books I was reading made me want to capture some of their magic for myself. We (my talented and amazingly gifted husband of 48 years and I) are now great-grandparents and here I am—still writing.

In 1974 we moved from upstate New York to become back-to-the-landers. We set out to build a homestead on the old family farmstead property in southern Maine (We had purchased the 37-acre parcel of land that had burnt over in the 1947 fire from Dan’s family). Late that spring, with two little girls in tow, we loaded up our belongings and headed north to our deserted hilltop where we camped out and started building a small house. We moved in by August. It took ten years to finish the house, adding on a family room with a stone fireplace, a wood shed and a garage. Within the first five years we built two barns and dug a garden pool and a trout pond, too.  Somehow we did it all ourselves without a mortgage.

Being a small-city-girl, everything in our wilderness land was intriguing to me. Our second spring we tilled up three acres of overgrown field behind the house. We removed what seemed like a million or more rocks and saved the largest ones for landscaping and for our future fireplace. The smallest rocks were loaded into buckets and added to the centuries-old stone walls that surrounded the field. We planted vegetable seeds of every variety imaginable in our garden plot. The rows were about 50 feet long. That was my first vegetable garden. My mind simply wouldn’t stop spinning as I watched those tiny, dry, seemingly dead seeds I had dropped one by one into the rows grow into stealthy plants that yielded bushels of tomatoes, green beans, corn, broccoli, potatoes, beets, onions and carrots.  It was amazing to think that plowed fields like ours were where all of those vegetables I had been buying, preparing, serving and eating over the years came from before they reached the grocery shelves. There was no end to the miracles that God was revealing to me.

As our gardens grew, our girls grew too. It was a delight to watch them climbing tall pines at the edge of the field, pretending to be pirates as they peered out to the sea that lay 15 miles due east; pumping themselves into the crystal blue sky on the rope and board swing Dan hung in the old oak tree out front of the house; peeking into bird houses that they had helped build to watch tiny naked tree swallows and bluebirds hatch, grow and learn how to fly; chasing what appeared to be a dozen miniature ostriches running around a rocky field as a mother killdeer feigned a broken wing to protect her young and her ground nest; skipping to the edge of the woods and swinging empty peanut butter pails in which to capture gallons of fresh wild blueberries for munching and later helping me measure out cleaned berries for pie and jam recipes; reading books with me to discover the names and facts for the wildlife and plantlife that had become part of our new world. I can still picture two little woolen-capped girls tobogganing downhill on a moonlit winter’s night. There were so many miracle moments that I wanted to capture.

I finally bought a journal that summer and starting writing down some of my seed thoughts. I would write every day—some days it was only a few words. Other days, I might fill up a whole page. Perhaps that’s when I became a writer.  Here are four poems that blossomed in my first journal:


Delightful smiles, welcoming ways
Laughter to tears in a moment
Carefree, growing, learning each day
Time together—well-spent


When seen through the eyes
of the children we’re watching,
the whole world seems new.

Stone Walls

Hard labor—sweat and toil
Dredging the earth of large and small
Neatly piled, standing serene
Hues of greys, of blues and greens
Majestically surveying the fields they stand
A proud part of our land

Till Time Haiku

Green blades climb through earth
to seize the warm spring sunlight.
Tractor plows them down.

By year three in the wilderness, it was time for me to get a job. The girls were both in school and we needed extra income to finish projects that were underway and to start some new ones we’d been dreaming about. Our house was a quarter mile from the main road and accessed by a dirt road—all uphill or downhill depending on which direction we were headed. The third summer we bought a used bulldozer to repair the road and do some excavating on our property. We also used it to plow the road in the winters before we bought a used 4-wheel drive pick-up truck and a snow plow. But we never forgot our moonlight tobogganing when the path was only four-feet wide and the banks shone like diamond encrusted tile—when a silver moon turned two wool-capped little girls gliding downhill in front of us into a magical light show—The thrill of the ride was superior to that of any roller coaster!

Jobs were scarce, but I found a great one. God is good! For the next ten years I worked as an office manager for a food service at the University of Maine Gorham. I had plenty of time on the job to hone my writing skills—business writing. It was perfect. School vacations and summers, I was home free! That gave me time to work in the garden, learn how to preserve the harvest, read lots of great books, keep up my journal and spend plenty of quality time with the family, too.

That’s how my writing journey began. What inspired me to write? To sum it up simply—nature and human nature.

The poems in this post were written during the early days of our family’s back-to-the-land adventure. I continued my journaling through the years and I have more poems and some stories to share, but those will wait for another day.

May your journeys be filled with an abundance of little miracles,

Find out more about Bette A. Stevens and her books at

Sunday, 16 March 2014


‘So that’s five pounds and fifty, sixty, seventy five pence change,’ Janey said as she counted the change out into Mr Johnstone’s hand.

‘Thank you dear,’ Mr Johnstone said as he carefully placed the change back inside his little pink purse.

It had been his wife’s purse and when she had passed away he had carried on using it for the weekly shopping allowance. Janey always worried about him as the purse never had very much money in it. Mr Johnstone had been coming into the little village shop as long as she had been there but recently he seemed to have shrunk a little every time she saw him. He was carefully loading his shopping into his little tartan trolley; one item at a time, and a queue was starting to build up behind him.

‘Twenty Benson’s please.’ A tall blonde man wearing a pin stripe suit teamed a garish tie that had a knot as big as his head.

‘Just one moment please,’ Janey said looking at the suit. She leant across the counter and patted Mr Johnstone’s arm. ‘Don’t you worry Mr Johnstone, take your time.’

‘Some of us are in a rush,’ the man in the suit called back.

‘Then I suggest you try the supermarket just out of town.’

‘I realise you probably don’t know who I am, but is that any way to treat a customer?’

‘Mr Johnstone is a customer and once I have finished with him you are my next priority, but I will not push him out of the way. And neither will you.’

‘Fine but you will regret this.’ The man it the suit swung round nearly knocking old Mrs Watson off her feet as he did and stormed out of the shop.

‘You don’t have to worry about me, my dear.’ Mr Johnstone smiled

‘Not at all,’ Janey smiled. ‘These city types need to learn life moves a little slower in the country. There’s no need for all this rushing and panic, is there now?’


‘Papers Janey,’ called Billy the delivery guy as he dumped two piles onto the front steps and turned to fetch the rest from the van.

Janey had already carried the first pile over to the counter and started sorting them for the paper boy when he returned.

‘Where do you want this last pile?’ Billy asked.

‘Just down there please,’ Janey said pointing to the side of the counter. ‘I’d make you a coffee but the paper boy will be here soon.’

‘Yes sorry about that. The new supermarket has a gala opening this morning so the traffic is backed up out of town,’

‘But they opened weeks ago.’

‘Ahhh, this is the official opening and there’s some boy band going to cut the ribbon. There are special give aways and a bouncy castle for the kids. Everyone will be there today.’

‘Oh my gosh.’ Janey froze over the front page of the local paper.

‘Yes that’s the latest boy band. I didn’t know you were a fan.’

‘No not them, the guy standing next to them.’ Jenny pointed at the photo. ‘He was in here last week.’

‘Let’s have a look,’ Billy leaned over Janey’s shoulder to look at the photo. ‘He’s a bit flash looking.’

‘Yes and I pissed him off last week. It’s bad enough having the supermarket there but if he decides to close me down there’s nothing I can do about it.’

‘Come on why would he do that?’

‘Why? Were you not listening? I pissed him off.’

‘Morning all,’ called the postie as he opened the front door of the shop and handed Janey a pile of envelopes.

‘Well I better be off, more deliveries to make.’

‘Yes see you later,’ Janey waved absent mindedly as she stared at the letter she had just received.


‘Morning Mr Johnstone. Everything okay today?’

‘Yes, thank you Janey. It’s very quiet in here today.’

‘Yes the supermarket seems to be doing a great trade and a lot of my regulars have started shopping there.’

‘Surely the old folks still come here?’

‘I had hoped but it seems that the supermarket does home delivery and for those who still want to get out they lay on a bus once a week.’

‘I’m so sorry Janey. Will you be okay?’

‘Well I would have been only I have had notification that the landlord is selling up. I may be able to carry on but the new landlord could throw me out or if he puts the rent up…’

‘I’m sure it won’t be that bad.’

‘Well let’s hope not. The auction for this and a couple of other properties is next Wednesday. I have some savings but I’m not sure they will be enough.’


The local estate agents had set up in the village hall and most of the residents were there. Janey had closed up the shop and arrived just as the auctioneer was starting his spiel.

The first two items were houses which the tenants bid for and got at a very reasonable price. Janey was feeling positive when the auction started on a number of shops the landlord had owned.

‘So now we will start the bidding on the village shop,’ called the auctioneer as his assistant help up a picture of the shop. ‘Now since the post office concession has been removed, there has been less call for this type of business, but I am sure all the local people will be able to tell you how much they rely on this store.’

‘Not now we have the new supermarket,’ a voice shouted from the back.

Janey scanned the room trying to work out who had shouted but the hall was so full there was no way of telling. She did notice a lot of other heads nodding in agreement. She wanted to save the shop and it was going to take her life’s savings to do it, but what if no-one came anymore? Then everything would have been wasted.

‘Settle down now will someone start the bidding at £100,000?’ the auctioneer scanned the room. ‘No okay £75,000. Yes I see I have a bid, £75,000. Now what about £80,000?’

The bidding continued, a number of people raising the hands, until it reached £160,000.

‘It this my final bid? With the tall man in the corner we have £160,000.’

‘£180,000,’ shouted Janey her hand jumping up in the air.

‘£200,000,’ called the other bidder

Janey thought hard. £200,000 had been her ceiling. She couldn’t afford any more but she had to keep the shop open, ‘£210,000’

The man in the corner shook his head.

‘Is that it?’ The auctioneer asked scanning the room. ‘Any more bids? If not we are selling at £210,000. Going once, going twice.’

The auctioneer raised his hammer ready to strike the desk…

‘£250,000’ Janey swung round. There in the doorway was the man from the supermarket.

‘Wow, okay any further offers,’ the auctioneer asked. He looked over at Janey and she shook her head. ‘In that case, sold to Mr… You name please sir.’

‘Peterson. Jake Peterson.’


Janey had four weeks left on her lease and Mr Peterson had told her he wanted her out at exactly five o’ clock on the final day. There was no leeway. The store was practically empty for the first two weeks and Janey began to think that maybe he had done her a favour. If she had won the bid at £210,000 she would have been ruined within six months. All her regulars had started going to the supermarket and she couldn’t blame them. The food was cheaper and there were more options. The bus they laid on for the old folks meant that where they had relied on Janey before, now they only popped in for forgotten items or to chat. Mr Johnstone never let her down. He was in, as usual, every morning buying his supplies for the day ahead but his small contribution was not enough. She was done for.

‘Morning Janey, how are you today?’ Mr Johnstone asked as he arrived for his shopping one blustery morning.

‘As well as can be expected thanks Mr Johnstone.’

‘Still no sign of the regulars coming back?’

‘No, and I have to close in two weeks so I can see why they don’t bother. They’re used to the supermarket now.’

‘I’ll be sorry to see you go. Do you know whether there will still be a village shop?’

‘’Cuse me love. Need to measure up,’ called a man half hidden by a ladder pushing though the shop door.

‘Measure up for what?’ Janey asked

‘Mr Peterson sent us. He reckons he can get an aerobics suite in upstairs and a descent number of exercise machine down here.’

‘What are you talking about? This is the village store.’ Mr Johnstone said.

‘Not after the end of the month. Mr Peterson is opening a gym for all the fitness freaks over on that new estate. Thinks he’ll make a fortune in membership fees.’

‘But that’s over five miles away. How will they get here?’

‘By car Granddad.’

‘Oi. No need to be rude.’ Janey piped up.

‘Sorry. But they can park outside there’s no restrictions.’

‘But the bus needs access and it will clog the roads up.’

‘Not my problem lady now can we measure up or not?’

‘Once Mr Johnstone has finished his shopping and not until. Now you take your time Mr Johnstone.’ Janey smiled.

Mr Johnstone seemed much slower than usual finishing his shopping that day.


Finally the 31st March arrived and after a slow day, there was a rush of customers at five minutes to five. When five o’ clock came round the store was still full and Janey was trying her best to get them all served.

‘What’s going on here?’ Mr Peterson stood in the shop doorway.

‘I’m going as fast as I can but these people need serving.’

‘No they don’t your closed.’ Mr Peterson stormed over to the counter and grabbed Janey by the arm pulling her towards the door.

‘Wait a minute there’s no need for that.’ called one of the old dears.

‘Yes there is. This woman has belittled me in front of people one too many times. Now get out.’

As they got to the shop doorway Mr Peterson pushed Janey and she missed her footing. She teetered on the top step for what seemed like an age until she finally tumbled down the three stone steps. As she lay in a pile on the floor she heard some clicking noises. The next minute her handbag and coat where thrown on top of her and the clicking continued.

‘Mr Peterson, Joe Longton of the Gazette can you answer a few questions please?’

‘What… erm… what are you doing here?’ Mr Peterson looked around to see more residents and a number of men clicking cameras in his face.

Whilst he was still trying to think of an answer a large car pulled up and the crowd parted as Mr Johnstone emerged. A young man she didn’t recognise helped Janey to her feet and Mr Johnstone walked over to her to check she was okay.

‘Mr Johnstone what’s going on?’ Janey whispered.

‘Wait and see.’

From the other side of the car a large white haired man emerged and pointed at Mr Peterson. All the colour drained from Peterson’s face.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the white haired man asked.

‘Councillor Jacobs. This is nothing for you to worry about.’

‘I think it is. The planning permission for the supermarket was based upon there being no disruption to local businesses. Now I hear you have put this young lady out of business and you’re planning to turn the village shop into a gym.’

‘I haven’t put her out of business. People prefer the supermarket.’

‘Underhand tactics Peterson. Buses for the old folks, discount voucher only valid for ex-customers of this store. All sound very dodgy to me.’

‘You can’t prove it and even if you could what are you going to do. Knock down the supermarket?’

‘I won’t, but your father has told me to tell you’re needed at home. He is sending a new manager to look after the supermarket.’

‘I can’t believe you called my father in on this.’

‘Oh I didn’t. Mr Johnstone was his university lecturer and I think they have been chatting over old times recently.’

‘Well I still own this store and I am turning it into a gym.’

‘Jake, Jake you just don’t get it do you?’ Councillor Jacobs said shaking his head. ‘You bought it with your father’s money as a company asset. He has decided to continue it as a village store and he would like Janey to stay on. That’s if she wants to.’

‘Oh yes please.’ Janey said, tears filing her eyes as she hugged Mr Johnstone.

The press started to crowd round Councillor Jacobs and Jake Peterson and she was led away by Mr Johnstone.

‘I don’t know what to say. Thank you so much.’ Janey hugged Mr Johnstone again. ‘But I don’t think I will be open for long if the takings stay the same as they have for the last four weeks.

‘Don’t you worry about that. I have spoken to Mr Peterson senior and he has promised no more dirty tricks. You might lose some people to the supermarket but I am sure you regulars will be back.’

‘Well I best get down the cash and carry ready for tomorrow. Stocks have run a little low.’

‘You do that my dear, you do that.’


If you enjoyed this why not check out Jo’s short story anthology now available for Kindle at Amazon UK and


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Family ties

Billy stood looking out of the window. His three grand children had arrived as they did every Saturday morning. Mary jumped out of the front of the car and carefully pushed the door closed. Martin, the children’s father, was busy trying to release James from his child seat as Mary stood patiently waiting at the side of the car. Martin bent, kissed his children and then jumped back into the car and drove off.  

Mary turned and seeing her grandpa grabbed James’ hand and ran up the path.

‘Grandpa. Can we go to the beach?’ Mary shouted as she let go of the James and swung her arms around her grandpa’s neck.

Soon Billy was crushed under two small children both trying to give him a hug.

‘Of course we can, but how about some pancakes first?’ Billy called.

‘Yeh,’ the children chorused, climbing off their grandpa and rushing into the kitchen.

The children loved grandpa’s pancakes and especially when he had their favourite toppings. Mary always had maple syrup on hers, but James preferred beef paste.

‘You’re silly.’ Mary said to her brother. ‘Pancakes should be sweet.’

‘Not silly. You silly,’ James said and his eyes started to fill with tears.

‘Now Now. You can have what you want on your pancakes. There are no rules when you are here. You mother always had maple syrup.’

‘Really, Mary stared at her grandpa. ‘But Daddy says we have to eat properly.’

‘And we will but first we can have our little treat.’


The beach was less busy than usual. Billy laid out a towel for the children to sit on and unpacked their buckets and spades.

‘Can we go for a swim grandpa?’ Mary said pointing at the calm sea.

‘Not today sweetheart. It’s too cold and James wouldn’t like it.’

‘That’s because James is a baby.’

‘Am not a baby.’

‘Of course you’re not a baby James.’ Billy said pulling the boy into a bear hug. ‘I’m sorry Mary but I have to look after you both so we have to do things together.’

‘Not fair.’ Mary folded her arms and dumped herself down on the sand.

‘Why don’t we build a castle? And when we’ve finished Mary can be the princess.’

The children started filling their buckets with sand and building a pile for Billy to work on. It reminded Billy of the time when Sarah had been small and they had gone to the beach together. It always seemed to help them forget. Sarah’s mother had died when she was six and Billy had been left to bring Sarah up on his own. He knew that he hadn’t always been there, he had needed to work and so a string of neighbours had been used to care for Sarah.

He wasn’t going to miss out on his grandkids growing up the way he had his own child. The three of them worked on the castle for over an hour. James section was just a pile of sand clumsily patted down, Mary’s was a collection of smaller castles tipped out using the mould of her bucket and Billy has built a moat round everything.

‘Now we need a few finishing touches.’ Billy said opening his holdall. He gave each child a small flag to put on their ramparts and he started to dig his moat in the direction of the sea. Within a few minutes the sea was running down the channel and filing the moat.

‘Am I the princess now?’ Mary asked.

‘Yes you are my sweetheart. Shall we get you a dress on the way back?’

‘Yes please.’

‘Me princess too?’ James called.

‘You will be a handsome prince,’ Billy laughed


That evening the children had been bathed and changed into pyjamas. The three of them sat together on the sofa looking at old photos.

‘That’s your grandma and me on the beach where we were today,’ Billy said.

‘Who’s the little girl?’ Mary asked.

‘That’s Sarah. I mean your mother.’

‘Can we see some more?’

‘Of course,’ Billy said as he heard a car horn in the street. ‘That’ll be Daddy, wait here.’

He opened the door and headed out. ‘Evening Martin.’

‘Billy.’ Martin nodded. ‘Are the children ready?’

‘I got them ready for bed. I thought they could stay another night.’

‘Billy. Why didn’t you ring? I could have saved a trip.’

‘I thought you might like to stay too. We could head over to the beach tomorrow. Mary wants to swim and I can’t watch James and swim with Mary.’

‘You know how busy I am. I don’t have time for days off and messing about on beaches. Can you just fetch the children? I need to go now.’ Martin turned and got back into the car.


Billy knew why Martin was working so hard. He had done the same thing. He needed to make Martin realise what he was missing. The following weekend the children arrived as usual and Martin drove off without even a wave or a nod. Mary was very excited that she would be able to wear her princess dress and they even took it to the beach so she could be a princess next to her castle. James has a foam sword and shield and was practicing defending the castle when he smacked Mary in the face. No real damage was done but by the time her father picked her up a bruise was starting to appear.

‘What have you done to her?’ Martin shouted as he carefully touched Mary’s face.

‘It is okay Daddy. James was defending the castle. It was an accident.’

‘If you can’t be trusted to look after two small children maybe they are better staying at home.’

‘Come on Martin. It was an accident. I’m sure you had lots when you were a child. I know Sarah did.’

‘Well we can’t ask her, can we?’ Martin strapped the children into the car and drove off.


The following Saturday there was no sign of Martin at the usual time. Billy waited nearly an hour, staring out of the lounge window. Eventually he picked up the ‘phone and called Martin.

‘Martin Sommerfield.’

‘Martin, its Billy. I was worried something had happened.’

‘No everything’s fine.’

‘But where are the children.’

‘I told you last week if you can’t look after them I will leave them with Mrs Jones next door.’

‘Martin. It was an accident.’

‘Billy, I’m working I need to go.’


For the next three weekends Billy sat looking out of his window but the car never pulled up and the children never jumped out. The fourth weekend was the anniversary of his wife’s death and knowing the children wouldn’t turn up he headed to the grave yard with a large bunch of daffodils.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ Billy sighed as he knelt at his wife’s grave tidying away dead leaves flowers. ‘He is making all the mistakes I made.’

He unwrapped the daffodils and placed half the flowers in the tub on top of the grave. He levered himself up and picking up the cellophane and the remaining flowers started to head up the hill. He bundled the packaging into a ball and threw it into the bin, as he heard a voice the other side of the large oak tree. Normally he would have moved away, not wanting to intrude, but he needed to get to the other side of the tree. Billy slowly walked towards the tree keeping it between himself and the talker.

‘Why does he have to interfere? They always come back so excited. I can’t settle them down and they think every day is a beach day. I don’t want to stop him seeing them but he undermines me.’

‘Martin.’ Billy said as he emerged from behind the tree.

‘What now. Can’t I even talk to my wife without you butting in.’ Martin stood up from where he had been kneeling.

‘I didn’t know you would be here. I bought her some flowers.’ Billy placed the flowers on the grave and turned to walk away.

‘Billy. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted. Can we talk?’

Billy sat on the bench next to Sarah’s grave, Martin sat next to him.

‘I know what you are going through you know.’ Billy said.

‘How can you?’

‘Because it happened to me. When I lost Evie I lost everything. I was so wound up in my own grief that I left Sarah to cope on her own. I threw myself into my work and left Sarah with anyone who would look after her.’ Billy stopped to blow his nose, and wipe his eyes. ‘I couldn’t believe it that Sarah turned out so great. When you got married and had the kids I was so proud.’

‘So you know I need to work. I need to provide for my children. When they come back from you it takes me a week to calm them down.’

‘Saturday’s are all I live for now. I don’t want to lose that. Please let me help.’

‘It is easier to know that you are there.’ Martin said.

‘Maybe I can help out some more, in the week?’ Billy smiled.

‘It would help, but I’m not sure I could cope with them being that excited all the time.’

‘If I get to see them more it will be less of an adventure. We could talk about what you want me to do with them. I could help with home work.’

‘It would be a help but I’m not so sure.’

‘The most important thing is that you get to spend time with your children. Why don’t we start by spending the day together and then we can see where we go from there.’

‘Billy I’ve explained this to you before. I need to work.’

‘No Martin, you need to look after your children. I know you don’t need the money and if you’re short I can help.’

‘We’ll see.’

‘Whatever you say goes. Those children mean the world to me and anything I can do to help them I will.’

‘Mary has been going on about some old photos you had of Sarah. She wants to see some more.’

‘Then let’s get the kids and head back to mine for pancakes and photos.’

‘Okay but there is one thing I need you to do for me.’

‘Anything. Name it.’

‘Can I have beef paste on my pancakes?’

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