The value of happiness

At times it is difficult to see the value of my work as an author, artist and content creator. With the world so full of cruelty, ignorance, injustice and pain, the thought of writing a story, making jewelry or livestreaming a video game feels self-centered and indulgent.

I occasionally receive comments on my YouTube channel asking why I bother to make videos when I have so few views or subscribers. These comments echo the voice inside of my head that asks, “What’s the point of it all?”

This spectre of melancholy nihilism judges creativity to be a kind of privileged hubris, pursued by a lucky few who have time to build sand castles while storms rage and tides lash unrelenting upon the beaches of our lives.

But there’s a bible verse that says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). And while I’m not one for seeking solace in organized religion, I do believe there’s a valuable lesson in this passage.

Whichever god you may or may not believe in, we all have gifts, and by the grace of human evolution or the Creator, or both, we have those gifts for the purpose of helping each other.

For many years, I had panic attacks, anxiety disorder, insomnia, and health issues. In the midst of sadness, despair and pain, I realized how very, very much it meant to me when someone made me smile, or when something gave me a reason to get up in the morning and get through the day.

I am so grateful to others who embraced their gifts and shared them with me. One laugh is a treasure worth more than jewels to someone who feels no cheer. A glimmer of hope is as precious as gold to someone hopeless.

My gifts do not bring me riches or fame but they are valuable if they can bring a smile to someone’s face, if they can help someone see a little bit of light in the dark or feel a little less sad and lonely. Those gifts are true magic and I shouldn’t doubt them.

This year, I want to believe in the value of happiness. I want to thank the people whose gifts make my life worth living, and remember that I, too, have a responsibility to share the gifts with which I’ve been blessed.

~ J.L. Hilton

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I won the “Narrate Your Own Twilight Zone Competition 2021”

My entry “Memory Lane” tied for 1st place in the NARRATE YOUR OWN TWILIGHT ZONE COMPETITION 2021 sponsored by the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation!

I only found out about the contest a week before the Halloween deadline. At the time, I was in the middle of running the Fallout Scavenger Hunt, participating in the “Falloween” (Fallout + Halloween) photo challenge and celebrating my favorite holiday and month of the year with my family.

To enter, I had to write an opening and closing narration for an imaginary episode of The Twilight Zone, in the style of Rod Serling.

These were the rules:

  • Maximum word count, excluding titles and labels: 150 words total, both narrations combined.
  • Maximum entries: 2 per person. (I only had time to write the one, “Memory Lane.”)
  • Title and Narrations only. Any additional content will be ignored.
  • Deadline: Halloween 2021 (October 31)

Entries were judged by Rod Serling Memorial Foundation board members, based on these criteria:

  • Originality
  • How easily we can imagine Rod speaking your words
  • How well your narrations suggest the imaginary episode

Twilight Zone marathons every Thanksgiving & Twilight Zone Magazine in the 1980s were a huge influence on my desire to become a writer and to write speculative fiction, and probably no small influence on my personality, if I’m being totally honest.

Though The Twilight Zone began more than ten years before I was born, I was such a big fan of the show that I had a Twilight Zone sign on my bedroom door. As a little joke, my dad took black electrician’s tape and covered the “Z” so it said “Twilight one” because I was such a weird, imaginative kid.

“The Night of the Meek” Christmas episode that originally aired December 23, 1960, starring Art Carney, is my favorite holiday program and I watch it every year.

But I never imagined I would someday be a small part of the Twilight Zone. What an incredible honor!

Winning entries will be performed by actor Stephen Dexter in a video posted on or before Christmas Day – Rod Serling’s birthday.

UPDATE (DEC 16, 2021): Watch the video on!

Rod Serling was the head writer for the original series but several episodes were written by Charles BeaumontRichard Matheson and Earl Hamner Jr. Matheson wrote for many other TV shows and his books and stories have been made into the movies I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come, and one of my childhood favorites Somewhere in Time. Hamner went on to create the popular and long-running TV shows The Waltons and Falcon Crest. One 1962 episode, “I Sing the Body Electric,” was written by Ray Bradbury and became the basis for his 1969 short story of the same name.

There are several versions of The Twilight Zone, including the original TV show that aired from 1959 to 1964, Twilight Zone: The Movie produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis in 1983, a revival of the TV series that ran from 1985 to 1989, a UPN series that ran from 2002-2003, and a series developed by Jordan Peele, Simon Kinberg and Marco Ramirez for CBS All Access that ran from 2019 to 2020.

I’m a fan of the original series and have only a vague memory of the ’80s movie and TV show. I haven’t seen the other versions but I highly recommend the older episodes. They used to be on Netflix but are now available on Hulu and Paramount+.

The Twilight Zone episodes typically include one or more elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror and supernatural, but at its heart it’s a show about the things that make us human, things like love, death, fear, humor, nostalgia, hubris, temptation, regret, good and evil.

~ J.L. Hilton

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FALLOWEEN photo challenge 2021

FALLOUT (video game franchise) + HALLOWEEN (holiday) = “FALLOWEEN

The FALLOWEEN photo challenge was issued by Mrs P on Twitter. There were spooky prompts for each day of October, inspiring players to take screenshots in Fallout 3, Fallout: New VegasFallout 4, Fallout Shelter and Fallout 76.

Fall is my favorite time of the year and Halloween my favorite festival, so I set myself the goal of posting at least one picture for every day of the month.

Here’s what I came up with… (click on the links to see more photos)

OCT 1: Black & Orange – Misty morning, power armor, Shroud Manor
OCT 2: Graveyard – Cat cemetery & Gage’s tomb
OCT 3: Moon – Museum of Freedom, Nuka Girl & Virgo II

OCT 4: Witch – Museum of Witchcraft in Salem
OCT 5: Haunted – Mysterious figure in the woods
OCT 6: Skeleton – Skelly baby, Old North Church crypt, Shem Drowne’s grave
OCT 7: Howl – Three Dog (Fallout Shelter)
OCT 8: Vampire – Vance and the Family
OCT 9: Boo – Contacting the spirits in Hangman’s Alley
OCT 10: Scary movie – Night of the Fish Men’s Revenge in Far Harbor
OCT 11: Pumpkins – Roadside produce stand

OCT 12: Monster – The Red Death
OCT 13: Bat – Fiona with a black baseball bat
OCT 14: Harvest – Abernathy Farm
OCT 15: Autumn – Thanksgiving feast
OCT 16: Gore – Fizztop Mountain in Nuka World

OCT 17: Demon – Evil wakes in the depths of Dunwich Borers
OCT 18: Spooky – That time Hancock vanished
OCT 19: Campfire – Raider altar, Hancock, Cricket
OCT 20: Spider – Since there aren’t any in-game spiders and I don’t use mods, I made a Lord of the Rings / Fallout crossover

OCT 21: Mask – Ghoul mask from Fallout 3
OCT 22: Scarecrow – County Crossing corn field
OCT 23: Candles – Children of Atom, Sanctuary Hills
OCT 24: Party – Halloween in Fallout Shelter
OCT 25: Twilight – Kiddie Kingdom in Nuka World
OCT 26: Trick or Treat – Hancock and Fiona hand out candy at Kingsport Lighthouse
OCT 27: Candy – Careful, too much can cause tooth decay!

OCT 28: Owl – No owls in the Fallout games I play so here’s a “seaghoul”
OCT 29: Costume – Fiona and Hancock as Sally and Jack Skellington
OCT 30: Phobia – Fear of blood, fear of the dark, fear of water
OCT 31: Happy Halloween

~ J.L. Hilton

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What is a scavenger hunt?

It’s a game in which players gather items on a list. Sometimes the game is played in teams, with the winner(s) being those who collect the most items within a time limit, or those who collect all of the items in the fastest time. American writer and high-society hostess Elsa Maxwell is credited with making the game popular in the 1930s and variations – like this one – continue to be played today.


The Fallout Scavenger Hunt is a game withing a game. Instead of finding items in the real world, players will gather them in any Fallout game of their choice. We’ve tried to make it possible to complete our scavenger hunt whether you have Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4 or Fallout 76.

The Fallout Scavenger Hunt is entirely free to play and free to enter. The game organizers are not being paid or compensated in any way, other than by having fun. We are not affiliated with Bethesda, Microsoft or anyone, we are doing this on our own.

What can I win?

FALLOUT SCAVENGER HUNT 2021 US PRIZES (laptop with “please stand by” screen for backdrop purposes only, it’s not one of the prizes, read post for details)

One person in the US will win a fan-made prize package which includes ALL of the following:

  • One Nuka-Cola LED bottle light
  • One blank composition book with the classic “Wasteland Survival Guide” cover as seen in Fallout 3 *
  • One prop bottle of Buffout *
  • One Lucky 8-ball tin (based on the item in Fallout 3) containing a Nuka World replica ticket, a Grandchester Mystery House replica ticket, one Nuka-Cola bottlecap necklace & one Nuka-Cola bottlecap key chain

FALLOUT SCAVENGER HUNT 2021 EUROPE PRIZES (laptop with “please stand by” screen for backdrop purposes only, it’s not one of the prizes, read post for details)

Players in the UK and Europe can play to win a prize package of fan-made goodies that IceStella will ship from the UK, which includes:

  • One Nuka-Cola LED bottle light
  • One lined excercise book with a classic “Tales from West Virginia” cover
  • One prop bottle of Buffout *
  • One Mentats tin containing 2 Pleasant Valley claim tickets, one Nuka-Cola bottlecap magnet, one Nuka-Cola bottlecap key chain and a selection of Stella Stickers

See for details.

People outside of the US or Europe are welcome to participate but are not eligible for prizes. (Sorry, international shipping costs are too high.)

* Survival guide cover graphic and Buffout label courtesy of emptysamurai on DeviantArt

An example of how the scavenger hunt conditions might be fulfilled in Fallout 4

How do I enter?

Submit ONE screen shot from any FALLOUT game in which ALL of the following are visible (or as many as you can manage to gather together):

  • an animal
  • the color orange
  • a toy
  • a super mutant (dead or alive)
  • a food item
  • a skull
  • something that glows
  • something wooden
  • YOURSELF – meaning your character, vault dweller, sole survivor, etc – wearing a hat and holding a bladed weapon

Something that is both a toy and wood, such as a wooden block, may count for both items on the list. However, the skull inside of the super mutant does not count, as it is not visible.

To submit a screen shot, post it publicly on Twitter or Instagram using #FalloutScavver or email the screen shot to @ (remove spaces) or DM on Twitter @AuthorJLHilton.

PLEASE NOTE: Submitting a photo means you allow us to share that photo and your online name or Fallout name with the public. The mailing address and real name of the winner will be kept private and used only to send the prize.

An example of how the scavenger hunt conditions might be fulfilled in Fallout 3

When is the deadline?

Midnight on Halloween, October 31, 2021, but please leave your picture up until November 2 so we have time to find it, in case there are a lot of last-minute entries.

A US winner and a UK/Europe winner will be selected from all eligible entries and contacted on November 2. If you post an entry on Twitter or Instagram, please make sure we will be able to DM you.

If we do not hear back from a winner within 24 hours of attempting contact, another winner will be chosen and contacted.

Who are the organizers? 

Jewelsmith on Twitter @AuthorJLHilton

IceStella on Twitter @IceStella77

Any other rules? 

This game is for entertainment only and the organizers reserve the right to decline entries for any reason or to change the conditions of the game at any time.

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Try-It Tuesday WYTCHWOOD

UPDATE: The full WYTCHWOOD game released December 9, 2021, and I streamed my entire playthrough on YouTube.

I loved it and it is definitely one of my favorite games, not just of 2021 but of all time! The combination of fairy tales, witchery, clever writing and unique artwork, along with a sassy protagonist and the collecting, crafting, problem-solving game mechanics, make this a 10/10 for me.

But here’s what I wrote about the free demo a few months ago …


This week, I played the free Steam demo of WYTCHWOOD, a game developed by Toronto-based Alientrap and published by Whitethorn Games. Whitethorn also published two other recent Try-It Tuesday titles, Calico and Teacup. With little time to play video games lately, I appreciate Whitethorn’s focus on stress-free and “bite-sized” games.

“While our games might challenge you, they’ll respect your time”

WYTCHWOOD is a single-player crafting adventure with storybook artwork and a fairy tale narrative, coming soon to Steam, GOG, Epic, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox. As the old witch of the woods, players explore a strange countryside, collect magic ingredients, brew sorcerous spells, employ creative problem solving, and meet several odd characters along the way.

Keep in mind that an “adventure game” is one in which an interactive story is driven by exploration and/or puzzles. This is distinctly different from an “action-adventure” game. WYTCHWOOD plays more like Adventure Time: Finn & Jake Investigations, Teacup or My Brother Rabbit, than like God of War, Dishonored or Tomb Raider. 

Unfortunately, I had some technical difficulties during my Twitch stream, which were entirely my own fault, and I don’t have a video to share, but here’s the trailer:

WYTCHWOOD is yet to be rated. The demo featured a talking goat, witchcraft and occult imagery, but lacked sex, graphic violence or adult language. I don’t know what will be in the full game.

I had fun with WYTCHWOOD and the end of the demo piqued my interest so much that I’m eager to stream this soon as it comes out.

~ J.L. Hilton

Nintendo Switch:
Epic Games:

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Try-It Tuesday: TEACUP

TEACUP is a short and sweet narrative adventure game about a shy frog who collects herbs, sugar, honey and cookies for an upcoming tea party.

It released September 23, 2021, for PCSwitch, Xbox and PlayStation, at a price of $9.99. I played a review copy on PS4 that I received from the publisher, Whitethorn Games, who also published Calico, a game I played earlier this year and really loved.

TEACUP was developed by Smarto Club, a team of three young developers from Santiago, Chile, inspired by games such as Night in the Woods and A Short Hike.

I’m not familiar with those games but of all the games I’ve played, TEACUP reminded me most of Burly Men at Sea because it felt like an interactive picture book, and the game mechanics were a bit like Arthur’s Camping Adventure, a PC game from the year 2000 that my kids loved to play when they were little.

The game’s strengths are its cute and colorful graphics, casual gameplay, animal characters, subtle humor, and variety of mini-games and brain teasers, including a hidden object puzzle, tangram, QTEs and a retro-style arcade game.

TEACUP had a few issues, though, which I hope will be addressed in updates.

Text included multiple typos and confusing sentences, I assume because something was lost in translation. This seems to be common in indie games made outside the US and is not a big deal but … if anyone needs an editor, I’m available!

What was kind of a big deal though was cursor control in several of the mini-games. For example, in the hidden object game, I had to find and click on a very small key but had a really hard time getting the arrow to hover over it.

I couldn’t find any options to adjust the sensitivity settings and this turned what should have been a fun, relaxing experience into an exercise in frustration. I might have thought something was wrong with my controller – like the piece of garbage Xbox knockoff I bought once that was full of deadzones – except it’s the same controller I use for every other game and other joystick movement TEACUP was just fine.

This might just be an issue with the PS4 version. I’ve played other games on both PC and PS4 where there weren’t any issues with the mouse on PC but the console version was janky.

I think TEACUP is worth buying if you’re looking for a low-key, movie-length adventure or if you’re looking for something to play with children. It’s a singleplayer game but would be perfect for an adult and child to experience together.

TEACUP is rated “E” for everyone. While the mini-games are pretty easy (aside from wrestling with the controls from time to time), a few might be too challenging for a young child. The protagonist is a young adult and the text includes some big words that are probably not in a 5-year-old’s vocabulary.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Try-It Tuesday: POTION CRAFT Alchemist Simulator

POTION CRAFT: ALCHEMIST SIMULATOR is available in early access on Steam today for only $13.49, 10% off its list price of $14.99.

If you love alchemy in Skyrim, you might like this. I tried a free demo back in July (that’s the video embedded above) and I had a good time. I didn’t understand the haggling at first but eventually figured it out.

In POTION CRAFT, you physically interact with your tools and ingredients to brew potions, experiment with ingredients to create new concoctions, design the labels and bottles for your products, meet various villagers and navigate their needs, from rat poison for farmers (and possibly some other more nefarious plans) to weapon-boosting brews for adventurers.

It is similar to Mystic Inn in that the gameplay revolves around brewing and selling potions, but it’s not one of those timed games where you have to hurry. Play at your own pace.

Not only did I enjoy the gameplay, which is a combination of puzzle game and RPG, but I loved the medieval style music and artwork, which inspired me to make a charm bracelet and necklace featuring some of the POTION CRAFT ingredients.

POTION CRAFT is developed by niceplay games, a team of five people in Russia, and is published by tinyBuild.

Right now, it’s only available on PC. Find out more at, Twitter or Discord.

UPDATE OCT 24, 2021: I’m halfway through the chapters of the early access game and much less enchanted with POTION CRAFT than when I played the demo. I could write a long, detailed list of issues but it boils down to the game feeling unbalanced and still needing a lot of work.

According to the developers, there are several features and game mechanics still in the works, so I’m going to try again after a few more updates.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Mixtape #10 – 1996 “The Ocean, the Stone & Samhain”

I found a box of tapes I made in the 80s and 90s. This one is labeled “The Ocean, the Stone & Samhain.” In 1996, my divorce was final and I’d moved to Twentynine Palms, California, a Mojave Desert town of 14,000 people near the Joshua Tree National Park and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, aka “mick-ag-see” (MCAGCC) to the locals.

Click here for more mixtapes 

It was a year of soul searching, whirlwind romances and the intense demands of my job as a reporter, photographer and columnist at a low-paying, understaffed, high-pressure newspaper. I covered crime, business, education, outhouse races, experimental military technology, school board, city meetings, art galleries, and more.

As stressful as it was, and as blazing goddamn hot as it would get with summer temperatures in the 120s, I loved the people I worked with and I loved the town. It was the first, and possibly last, time I felt like I really belonged somewhere and was doing something meaningful. I saw it as a sacred duty to record and share the joys and sorrows of the community.

I made several wonderful friends who gave me the incredible gift of encouraging me to be myself, as funny, smart, geeky, sassy, foul-mouthed, horny, creative, witchy, wild and off-the-wall as I could be, but when I was sad or overwhelmed by life, when I wasn’t strong, when I made mistakes, they were there for me then, too. Only now, twenty-five years later, do I know how very rare a gift that is.

This mixtape embraces the music of its time. I abandoned the songs that repeated over and over in past tapes while I lived fully in the present. Even the older songs here were new to me in the ’90s.

Life in 1996 was a series of small adventures. I spent the first day of the year in Tijuana, Mexico, with friends. We had a pool in my housing complex and I swam frequently. I went to drive-in movies, to a friend’s softball games, and off-roading in pickup trucks. I worked as a nude model and my backside hung on the wall of a local art gallery. I covered my fence in pinwheels.

Almost every night after work, we’d eat jalapeno poppers at a roadside diner, or grab chocolate-dipped ice cream cones at a walk-up shake shack, and laugh until the sun went down over the sagebrush. I gave tarot readings in the local comic book shop and learned to play Magic the Gathering. I drove my editor’s red Mazda Miata covered in Christmas lights down Adobe Road in the holiday parade.

Merlin in 2009 with kitten Zoe

I adopted a cat from a neighbor who didn’t want him. His meow sounded oddly like “murrrr-in!” so I named him Merlin. I had him for fifteen years and he was the sweetest most wonderful cat in the world.

I also met Rob, a rivet head with a birthday on Halloween. He looked and sounded like a young Captain Picard, with the suave street-smarts of Hancock from Fallout 4, and the intelligence and wisdom of both. They called him “the golden voice of MCAGCC” because he would emcee many of the base’s formal events.

We moved in together the following year.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Mixtape #9 – 1995 “The Blue Year”

I found a box of tapes I made in the 80s and 90s. I made this one in 1995 and labeled it “The Blue Year.” Because I didn’t just have a Blue Christmas, I had a whole damn blue year.

Click here for more mixtapes 

Most of this mixtape is about Lance and how our marriage didn’t last. We loved the Camelot stories and liked to think of ourselves as “Lancelot and Guinevere” (since we were Lance and Jennifer) but they were a tragic couple, and our relationship never went that well, either.

By the fall of 1995, I was sleeping in the other bedroom and preparing to file for divorce. We had nothing and I wanted nothing from him, so no lawyers got involved. I just had to scrape together the money to move out and file papers at the local courthouse.

In a last ditch effort to win me back, I guess, Lance surprised me with tickets to see David Wilcox, one of my favorite musicians. Problem was, he didn’t tell me what was going on when he picked me up “to talk” and when he suddenly started driving out of town, I legit thought he was going to murder me. I panicked so bad, I almost jumped from the moving car and he had to tell me what was up. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic how little I trusted him, at that point.

But, hey, I got to see David Wilcox. I even went backstage and met him, too.

The rest of the mixtape is about a character named Kelzy who I met at a barn dance. I wasn’t looking for anything but there he was, a tall, beautiful, red-headed Texas cowboy with a rodeo belt buckle and a crease ironed into his starched jeans, asking me to dance. If he were an NPC in a video game, you’d exhaust all his dialog prompts and hope for a romance option, believe me.

In California, I’d accepted the fact that only underfed, fashionable women were considered “hot.” When Kelzy approached me, I wasn’t wearing makeup, my hair was in a simple braid, and I was wearing baggy jeans and a t-shirt. I’d put on a little weight  and at 5′ 9″ I was 145 pounds instead of the 125 I’d weighed in college. Oh, the horror.

But he would look at me and smile and say, “You’re… motivating,” as if I’d taken his breath away. It felt good.

We spent a lovely few months together. Like any proper cowboy, he played guitar. We saw Toy Story (1995) together. I took him to Disneyland, where he danced with me under the fairy lights of Main Street. I took him to my friend’s horse ranch, where he kissed me.

Kelzy was absolutely darling, but I had the Dustin problem (see Mixtape #4). I thought he was too good for me. After leaving Lance, I’d started drinking, and one night when Kelzy showed up to take me to dinner, I was drunk and acted stupid all night.

He stopped seeing me after that and I don’t blame him. But I blamed myself for fucking up something really good, and I quit drinking. Still don’t drink, to this day.

“The Dance” is on there for a lot of reasons. There’s a romantic memory of us dancing to this song, and him singing along softly in my ear, but the lyrics also tell the story of our brief time together.

Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared beneath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

And, ultimately, isn’t this true of life? We don’t know where it will take us or what tomorrow will bring. Anytime we take a chance at great happiness, we risk terrible sorrow.

I ran into Kelzy at a used bookstore in 1997. We were both dating other people. He was polite. I was polite. I watched him get into his car and drive away. The shop owner, a scruffy old hippy-looking dude, said I had a look on my face that made him want to know what was going on.

I don’t remember what I told him. Probably, “I used to date that guy.” And that was probably all I needed to say. The wistful sorrow on my face said the rest. There’s a sharp kind of pain in being rejected by someone who is not only someone you love, but someone who makes the world brighter just by being in it.

If I’d heard the song “Creep” (1993) at the time, it would have been on this mixtape, too. Instead, I ended the tape with these:

~ J.L. Hilton

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Mixtape #8 – 1994

I found a box of tapes I made in the 80s and 90s. This one is from 1994, the year I finished my bachelor’s degree and married Lance (remember him from Mixtape #3?). I left Los Angeles and moved back to the Mojave Desert.

For this mixtape, I collected songs from our past (we’d known each other since high school and dated off and on over the years), and songs about being apart, for side A. The songs on side B were from our new life together.

Many of these were played at our wedding celebration. We were married in a courthouse, by a woman judge, while wearing jeans (not blue, though, we weren’t quite THAT casual… his were brown and mine were beige), and we immediately went to Disneyland for our honeymoon. But we held a party a few weeks later. I designed our wedding cake, which looked like a castle, and my mom made it because she was a professional cake decorator.

There’s a lot more country in this part of my life. Lance was a firefighter, so “The Fireman” was a favorite of ours. He was a great dancer, whether it was a slow love song, a twangy two-step or a fast-paced ten-step. We spent some fun evenings dancing under the stars at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown. We also spent a lot of time hiking and working at a Renaissance Faire on weekends.

Side A – “Then”

Side B – “Now”

Man, Collin Raye was doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to romantic country songs in the 1990s.

~ J.L. Hilton

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