The Advent Log

📷 cred: Nathan Goodin

Earlier this year, I wrote and submitted this story to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s 2021 Christmas edition. It was not accepted, but I know there is a LOT of competition, for the Christmas edition especially. So that’s okay. I still wanted to share it with you here, since we are in the Advent season right now. This story is based on real events from my childhood. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

The Advent Log

By Jessica Hinrichs

A crisp breeze blew and the autumn leaves crunched beneath our feet, leaving an earthy scent lingering in the air. Dad, my two brothers, and I hiked deep into the woods behind Grandma and Grandpa’s house until a fallen tree came into view. Though I was just eight years old, the beautiful Black Cherry tree had been there as far back as I could remember.

“What’s the plan?” asked my brother Nathan.

“I’ll chop most of this up to use as firewood,” Dad answered, resting his axe on the ground. “But, in the meantime, we need to find the perfect log for a special project I have in mind.”

We shuffled around the fallen tree, searching. My brother Marcus spotted a large log, about three feet long and about as round in diameter as a dessert plate. It appeared to be straight and in good condition. “How’s this, Dad?”

“Great! That’s an exquisite log!” Dad answered.

I raised one eyebrow. Exquisite? It looked like any old ordinary log to me.

Nevertheless, we lugged it home and got to work.

Dad drilled 28 one-inch holes along the length of the log, then coated the rich cherry bark with polyurethane to help preserve it and make it shine. “What are we making?” I asked, perplexed.

Dad smiled. “You’ll see.”

After the log dried, my brothers and I worked together to secure twelve-inch-tall taper candles into the holes Dad had drilled. Most of the candles were white, but one candle in the very center was red. Dad positioned the finished log as the centerpiece on the dining room table. Mom dressed it up by wrapping a fresh pine garland around the length of it as decoration.

Inhaling the sweet pine scent, I stared at this enormous candle holder that now occupied much of the surface area of our table. I furrowed my eyebrows. “What is this?”

Dad stood back and motioned his hands as if to say Ta Da!This is an Advent Log.”

“What’s Advent?” I asked.

Dad explained, “Simply put, it’s the Christmas season. Advent is the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Christians celebrate this special season of waiting as we anticipate the birth of Baby Jesus. Do you see that red candle in the center?”

I nodded.

“That’s called the Christ candle. It represents Christmas Day. We’re going to light one new candle on our Advent Log each night, as we countdown to Christmas Day.”

I grinned. “Sounds fun!”

The next evening, my whole family gathered around the Advent Log. The soft glow from the Christmas tree illuminated the nearby living room. The smell of gingerbread wafted in from the kitchen.

We dimmed the overhead lights and I lit the first candle. We sat still, listening to Dad’s low soothing voice as he read a Christmas devotional out loud. Then the whole family sang Christmas carols. I sang a solo during “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and I giggled when my brothers used silly voices during “We Three Kings.” Dad prayed, then Mom let me use the candle snuffer to put out the single candle.

The next night, we lit two candles. The night after that, three. And so on. My brothers and I took turns lighting the candles, alternating sides of the Advent Log each evening. Gradually, the candles on the outer edges melted down shorter than the inner candles, creating a cascading effect as we worked our way toward the center Christ candle.

Night after night, we gathered around the Advent Log. Sometimes my brothers and I fought over whose turn it was to light the candles. Sometimes our silly singing voices overshadowed the sacred carols we sang. Sometimes my brothers wagged their fingers through the flames or picked at the wax dripping down the log. Mom and Dad scolded them. “Boys, don’t touch! That wax is hot!”

Though the Advent Log was sometimes an invitation to this sort of childhood miscreance, it was mostly a tranquil and reverent scene. The daily practice of gathering around the log for this time of reflection instilled in each of us that the true meaning of Christmas was the birth of our Savior. Our hearts felt light with Christmas cheer as we awaited Christmas Day.

Snow fell on Christmas morning, blanketing the ground in idyllic powdery perfection. My brothers and I bounded out of our bedrooms, still cozy in our warm fleece pajamas and thick winter socks. Dad lit the fire and Mom made our favorite Christmas breakfast—savory cheesy sausage balls and warm sticky cinnamon rolls. A few leftover gingerbread cookies made their way onto our plates as well.

My brothers and I were eager to rip into our stuffed stockings and piles of presents under the tree. “Not so fast, kids! We’re going to celebrate the ‘Reason for the Season’ before any of that,” Dad reminded us. So we gathered around the Advent Log one last time. Dad read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke and we sang carols, my brothers and I sounding extra spirited as we anticipated the Christmas festivities to follow.

The Advent Log, now fully lit, glowed and twinkled like stars in the Bethlehem sky. As I watched the flickering flames, I felt a warmth in my heart, and it all made sense. The Advent Log had transformed from an ordinary log into a bright shining reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.

Year after year, my family used the Advent Log to celebrate the Advent season in this special way. It became a cherished Christmas tradition.

Time passed. My brothers and I grew older. One by one, we each left home to start our own families.

The Advent Log was packed away and forgotten.

Years later, my first nephew was born. As Christmas neared, my brother Nathan held his infant son and fondly recalled the many Christmases from our childhood spent around the Advent Log.

And Nathan had an idea!

He drove over to Mom and Dad’s house. Dad was sitting in his high back chair, a book in his hand and a mug of tea on the side table next to him, when Nathan walked through the front door. “Nathan! How nice to see you, son!”

“Hi, Dad!” Nathan greeted him. “Whatever happened to the old Advent Log?”

Dad tapped his chin. “Let’s go look for it.”

Together, they searched the basement until they found the Advent Log. Remnants of wax drippings were still visible on the outside; the inside still held sweet memories of bygone times with family. Dad and Nathan cleaned up the dusty, old log. Soon, it looked as good as new.

Nathan hauled home the refurbished log. And that year, he began the Advent Log tradition with his own family. One day, he will pass it on to his son too, and our cherished Advent Log will live on.

As it turns out, it isn’t an ordinary log at all.

Birthday! Birthday! Contest 2021

I’m so excited to participate in this brand-new contest, started by one of my own critique partners and one of her critique partners.

Gennie Gorback and Amy Leskowski discovered they have the same birthday…and thus, this contest was born!

Read all about the Birthday! Birthday! Contest here.

The rules are pretty simple. The stories have to stay at 100 words or fewer, and we have to include at least one word from each birthday girl’s list below.

I thought it would be fun to take it juuust a little further. So my silly story includes, not two, but 10 of these 12 words. 😄 Enjoy!


By Jessica Hinrichs
100 words

Turtle yawned, and switched off the lamp. “Bedtime!”

“Nope!” Monkey switched the lamp back on.

Monkey did crafts and puzzles, munched on cookies, and noisily slurped his milk.

“Seriously?!” Turtle said. “I’m trying to sleep here.” He switched off the lamp.

“And I’m trying to play here.” Monkey switched the lamp on.

“This is a conundrum.” Turtle sighed.

“Let’s compromise.” Monkey suggested. “One game of baseball, then I’ll go to bed.”

Monkey pitched. Turtle swung the bat.

Whoosh! The baseball flew through the air, bonking Monkey smackdab in the noggin.

Monkey snoozed.

Turtle switched off the lamp, smiling slyly. “Finally.”

10 Things To Do When Writer’s Block Hits

It’s the first day of NaNoWriMo2021, so naturally that seems like a good time to procrastinate and write a new blog. Ha. 😉 I’m supposed to be working on my middle-grade project, but here we are.

There’s nothing better than being in the zone and having the words flowing freely. Sometimes my brain moves faster than my fingers can type. And other times, I stare at the screen completely paralyzed, convinced I’ll never write another comprehensible thought again.

Writer’s block.

We all get it. Inevitably, eventually, everyone hits a wall. I thought I’d put together a (non-comprehensive) list of ideas of things to do when it happens to you.

  1. Read, just for pleasure.
  2. Help others with critiques to get out of your own head.
  3. Study the craft (watch webinars, read books, listen to podcasts).
  4. Give your website a fresh new look.
  5. Write a blog.
  6. Start a new project altogether, submit to a magazine, enter a contest, or participate in a pitch event.
  7. Revise a current project. Just the other day, I wasn’t sure what my middle-grade protagonist should do next, so I went back to chapter one, and now the “sun casts a pink hue across the early-morning sky.” Hey, progress is progress, right?
  8. Send out a query or two on a project that’s complete.
  9. Engage in social media, not only to build a following, but to grow meaningful relationships.
  10. And last, but not least, step away and do something else you enjoy that’s completely unrelated to writing.

I hope this helps. Happy Writing (or not)! 💛

Halloweensie 2021

Here we go again! If you haven’t figured it out, it’s contest season in the #KidLit #WritingCommunity! 👻🎃🍁

For the Halloweensie contest, our stories have to stay at 100 words or less. That’s tough! My first draft came in at 140 words, so I had to cut, cut, cut. ✂️ The rules for this contest also state that we must incorporate 3 specific words into our story: goosebumps, glow-in-the dark, and goodies.

Thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill for always putting on such fun writing contests! Read more about the Halloweensie contest here.

My entry is below. Happy Halloween! 🎃

By Jessica Hinrichs
100 words

Bruce Goose had a problem. He had no goosebumps.

Who ever heard of a goose with no goosebumps? Ridiculous.

Bruce determined this would be the Halloween he got his goosebumps back, so he asked his friends to scare him, and scare him good!

Duck dressed as a vampire and circled overhead.

Sheep dressed as a glow-in-the-dark skeleton and shimmied and shook.

Pig dressed as a witch and cackled a spooky spell. “Honkus Ponkus!”

But still, no goosebumps. 

Then, Lucy Goose—Bruce’s crush—held out a treat bag. “Wanna share my Halloween goodies?”

And she planted a kiss smackdab on Bruce’s beak...


Fall Writing Frenzy 2021 Winner

Great news to start a Monday! I wasn’t expecting Fall Writing Frenzy winners to be announced until the end of the week, but when I woke up I had a message from one of my lovely critique partners letting me know and cheering me on! Supportive CPs are worth their weight in gold, aren’t they??

Anyway, I was thrilled to see my name among the winners for this year!! Check out the rest of the winners and honorable mentions here.

And, if you want to read my contest entry, you can find it here.

I’ll see y’all again at the end of the week when I post my entry for Halloweensie! Have a great week! 🍁


I tweeted about this earlier in the week, but thought it warranted a blog post too.

On Wednesday, my son and I stopped by the library, as we do nearly every week. After filling our bag with picture books, I wanted to grab a new middle-grade book too. I’ve been reading more middle-grade lately since I’ve become interested in writing one myself. Anyway, my son was getting antsy and ready to leave the library for the playground, so I didn’t have time to leisurely browse. Instead, I just grabbed a book that was on a display shelf and didn’t pay much attention to what I had grabbed.

Until I got home.

When I looked closer, I thought to myself, I know that author’s name. But, I couldn’t place her right away. Then, it hit me!

She was the same author who wrote my very favorite picture book from when I was a girl! The same author who is from my home state of West Virginia. And the same author who had signed the book for me (nearly 4 decades ago!) when she visited a library where my grandmother worked as a librarian. Serendipity.

When I Was Young in the Mountains paints a lovely picture of rural Appalachia. And, even though I grew up in a more modern time than what this book portrays, my Appalachian roots run deep. I always felt like this book was written just for me, as silly as that sounds. I probably love it even more today than I did as a young girl. I still have the same copy from my childhood, and today it sits on my son’s bookshelf. When we’re not actively reading it, that is. Which we do quite often.

Fall Writing Frenzy 2021

It’s contest time again!

This particular contest holds a special place in my heart because this is the contest that brought my critique group together ONE YEAR AGO! Last year, we dubbed ourselves The Frenzy Friends in honor of the Fall Writing Frenzy contest that brought us together, and the name has stuck.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been together for a year already, but on the other hand, these special ladies have become great friends and I feel like I’ve known them forever. 🥰

So, for the Fall Writing Frenzy contest, we were given some fall pics to choose from as our writing prompts. Our stories can’t go over 200 words. But, other than that, there aren’t many rules. We can write funny, spooky, scary, dark—basically, whatever we think about when we look at the picture.

Read more about the Fall Writing Frenzy contest here.

I usually write picture books. But, for my contest entry this year, I went for a darker mood piece that definitely has a more middle-grade vibe. And then I decided, what the heck, I’ll make it interesting and write it in haiku.🤓

Here is the pic I chose, and my story is below. Enjoy! 🍁


A Haiku

By Jessica Hinrichs

196 words

I was ten years old
the day Miss Annabelle died.
She was my neighbor.

My very best friend.
Closest thing I’d ever had
to a grandparent.

She made the best tea
this side of Mississippi.
Tea and biscuits, both.

When Mama told me,
my heart felt like it shattered.
Grief-stricken, I cried.

A deluge of tears.
I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak.
Pain unparalleled.

A few days later,
we walked to the funeral,
somber and solemn.

Leaves crunched beneath us.
An earthy scent lingered, like
ashes to ashes.

The white church stood out
against the vibrant backdrop
of orange, gold, yellow.

How beautiful, and
how odd to notice beauty
in the midst of grief.

And those bells. Those bells.
The ethereal chiming. 
Still now, it haunts me.

A sorrowful song,
bidding eternal peace, and
a final goodbye.

I’ve tried to forget.
But, when I hear church bells, or
see the autumn leaves,

I can’t help but think
of that fateful day she left.
I miss my sweet friend.

But, Miss Annabelle
has been gone for two years now.
Two heartbreaking years.

So, why? I ask, why?
Why is she sitting on my
front porch swing right now?

Happy Fall, y’all!

Fall has been here for two whole days! 🍁 Who’s wearing sweaters, cooking chili, pulling out pumpkin decorations, and getting ready to watch football this weekend?? 🎃 🏈

Here in Florida, it pretty much still feels like summer, but the temps have been hovering in the mid-80s instead of the mid-90s, so I’ll take it!


I haven’t written a blog in awhile. Life has been a little crazy this summer. Sicknesses being passed around our household, travel, potty-training, preparing for my son to start preschool. There’s just always something to keep us busy around here!

But I thought I’d share a few fun writing/reading related things that have been going on. This summer, I received TWO full requests of my work from literary agents!! If you’ve ever been in the query trenches, you know a thing or two about rejection. And, believe me, I’ve received my share of rejections over the last year! So, to finally hear agents say, “Hey, I like this! Send me more of your work!”, is just an incredible feeling. One of these agents passed after about 6 weeks, which I know is common, but I’m still holding out hope for the other agent. She would be a dream to work with! 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

I’m also anxiously waiting to hear about two stories I submitted to Highlights Magazine. Two of my submissions have been in an In-Progress status on their submission site for around 6 months now! I’ve submitted a few things to them in the past and gotten rejections quicker than this, so my fingers are crossed that maybe they will accept something I wrote this time around. I read Highlights as a kid and it would be so special to have something published with them!🤞🏻🤞🏻🤞🏻

As far as current writing, I’ve been a participant in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge this year, which pushes particpants to write 12 new picture book manuscripts in 12 months. So far, astoundingly, I’m on track! Just 3 more months/3 more manuscripts to go to hit this goal. We’ll see if I can pull it out!

And…I’ve recently started dipping my toes into middle-grade writing territory. I’ve written a prologue and two chapters so far, so I’m excited to see where this story might go. 🤓

I’m also preparing to participate in this year’s Fall Writing Frenzy contest again. I’ll be posting my entry here on my blog in about a week or so for that.

My son and I have taken lots of trips to the library, and Storytime has started back up, so we enjoy going to that a couple times a month. Here are some of the library books we’ve read recently:

And a few of the most recent books I’ve read for myself too:

Stay tuned for my Fall Writing Frenzy entry soon! Now go enjoy some fall activities for me! 🍁 I’m living vicariously through all y’all who live up north (even though I truly love the south! ☀️). 😉

Skin Cancer Awareness Month—My Melanoma Story

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s now personal for me. I’d like to share my experience in an effort to help raise awareness around this issue.

Earlier this month, I was diagnosed with melanoma.

CANCER. It’s true what they say—this word rattles you. I’m fortunate in the sense that melanoma has a high cure rate when caught early. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still CANCER. Cancer cells have been circulating in my body, entirely unbeknownst to me. If undetected, melanoma can spread and metastasize rapidly. It’s the most aggressive and deadly skin cancer. It’s frightening.

In my case, I’d had a small dark mole on the back of my arm for years. As long as I can remember actually. Maybe my whole life. I’d had dermatologists look at it in the past and no one seemed concerned. It didn’t look like a typical melanoma. Just a flat dark mole, about the color of black coffee. It stood out to me because most of my other freckles and moles are a tan color.

I was outside playing with my son in April and just happened to look at the back of my arm. Does this look different? I wondered to myself. I thought it might’ve looked slightly darker, with maybe a tinge of red around the edges, and I thought I saw a speck of white in the center. It was such a subtle change that I thought I might just be paranoid.

But I called the dermatologist and scheduled an appointment, just to be safe. The dermatologist herself wasn’t even entirely convinced that we should do a biopsy, but we did anyway, just to be safe.

I got a call a few days later, letting me know that the pathology had come back and I had melanoma. I was shocked. Unfortunately, the biopsy didn’t remove the entire melanoma, so about 2.5 weeks later, a surgeon performed a procedure called a wide excision on my arm. My stats:

  • Small 3mm mole removed for biopsy
  • Even smaller 0.7mm melanoma Dx
  • The result was a huge 10cm wide excision (an inch deep) in order to remove the entire melanoma and all surrounding tissue.

I’m thankful that my pathology after surgery showed clear margins. I can handle a large scar, if it means I’m cancer free.

But skin cancer is serious, friends. I’m sharing openly about my experience in an effort to raise awareness. Please be vigilant. Wear sunscreen. Do self-exams. See your dermatologist.

This experience has messed with my mind more than anything. It has caused me a lot of anxiety and fear. Fear about recurrences in the future. Fear about being more susceptible to other cancers down the road. Fear about leaving my toddler without a mother.

But, my trust is in a loving God who invites us to cast our cares on Him.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.”-1 Peter 5:7

Isn’t it a comforting thought that none of this surprised or rattled God? He intended for me to walk this journey for some reason. And feeling such fear and panic leaves me no choice but to surrender my entire life to His control.

“Who of you by worrying, can add a single hour to your life?”-Matthew 6:27

He is holding me in the palm of His hand. And I’m so very thankful for that.