Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Christmas Surprise

The Christmas Surprise

The end of that year was an incredibly turbulent time. In November on my fourteenth birthday, President Kennedy was assassinated. It was in the beginning years of the Vietnam War. The Cuban Missile crisis was not long before that. Uncertainty was everywhere. So herewith, the story of Christmas 1963.

Christmas 1963. That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked hard to make a haven for us.

Now that I am a parent and grandparent I realize how difficult it must have been for her to sit us down a few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could have a special Christmas dinner. Back then there were no such things as food banks or church assistance.

Soberly, we considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we put it behind us and life went on.

Then, a couple weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we opened them. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.

Every level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with gifts. Piles of beautifully, lovingly decorated boxes with bows and trinkets. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.

As I stood in the open doorway, I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we didn't get rich overnight. I shut the door before walking around the rooms gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen where two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates sat on the table. A special Christmas dinner indeed!

In a little while, when my brothers came home from school and my dad arrived from work, we opened the gifts. Of all the Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single thing I received--not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were all gifts of sacrifice from strangers.

Our family friends were a minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to them, would have a special Christmas.

The minister and his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.

As Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together. Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by strangers.

A miracle.

Friday, November 22, 2019


Traditionally, the new year is the time when folks pause to reflect on the past year and set goals for the future. I'm a little odd I suppose as I take that pause on my birthday. Today I turned seventy. For some reason, that just doesn't compute for me. In my heart I don't feel like I'm seventy. Seventy is for old people.

Anyway, one of the things I ponder is how the world around me is changing. The last few years have been tough out there. If one only based our neighbors' attitudes on the things on the news or social media, one would believe our civilization is doomed.

This morning I had to be up and about very early for some bloodwork. Then, after a celebratory bagel and coffee, the hunk wanted to make a quick pass at the grocery store. I sat in the car people watching while he did his thing. And this is what I observed. I watched people smiling at total strangers and offering help. I saw people greeting each other. It didn't matter what color or ethnicity they were. It didn't matter what age or gender they were.

The truth is out there. In the microcosm of one-on-one interaction, we are all human. Maybe in the larger arenas, people show hatred and anger. There always has been--and will always be--those who believe they are better than everyone else, based on the skin color or gender or sexual orientation. But in the people-to-people spaces, the good, the friendly, the compassionate prevail.

I think it's important to observe this. It's important to celebrate our commonalities. We are one. Those others out there only prevail if we forget this. Smile at someone today. Greet someone today. We are more alike than we are different.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Reader Wish List

Every reader has something they would like if they had their 'druthers'. We enjoy the stories. We faithfully follow the authors. And yet...well there are a couple extra things we could wish for. Since Christmas is just around the corner, here's my list.

1. Title your series on the cover. This isn't a difficult thing to do. What's the overriding theme? Or maybe it's about a specific group of characters. Some authors have fifty or sixty books with multiple series and there's no clue to say which books go together. I'm too short on time to try to sort it out. There are so many others out there to read.

2. Number your books on the cover. Instead of scrolling through pages and pages of book covers on Amazon or Kobo or...well, I'm sure you get the idea...and then having to read every synopsis to figure out where it belongs in which series, just do this simple thing. If you normally write series, even if you're not sure every book will end up being part of a series, slap a number on the cover. If the book never makes it to a series, it will always be book #1, so that's no lie.

3. If possible--and if you're an Indie writer, you make the ultimate choice--try to settle on a specific 'look' (font, color, cover art) for your series. A few notable series authors do this and it makes it so much easier to group the books together at a glance.

The point is sales, folks. I have a busy life and if it's too hard to find your books, or figure out which ones go together, then I'll lose interest and move on. And that would be a shame.

Sunday, November 10, 2019


I was searching for inspiration for my blog and I found this pic. It speaks to me. Behold! Isn't that a great word? It demands our attention. It expresses wonder and dares us to join in. It begins one of the significant greetings in the New Testament, "Behold! I bring you tidings of great joy!"

Language is a living, changing thing. Every day we add new words and discard others. Behold is one of those losses and that saddens me. What if we woke every morning with the word? This elegant word promises excitement and new beginnings and grabs our consciousness, urging us to seek out the future.

Behold! Seize the opportunities and possibilities!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Queen-ager in Progress

Went to the doc today for my 'six month' checkup...just like a toddler. He checked all the usual things, asked me about any new stuff, gently reminded me I could/should do my exercises while lying in bed, and broached that scary discussion about anemia and iron deficiency.

In a couple weeks I'll roll out of bed on my 70th birthday to visit the morning vamps at 8 AM. Mostly, it's normal stuff, but one test to determine if high cortisol is why I'm sprouting a handsome beard has to be done early, early in the morning.

Sometimes I feel like Lucy in the candy factory episode--never quite getting all the pieces sorted. The creator seems to have speeded up the line so whenever I get one thing under control, something else pops out.

Never the less, I persist! That's what life is about. Keep on going.

I have to go for x-rays on the spine. The hunk 'mentioned' I don't do stuff because my back hurts. So, of course we had to have a discussion about that. The doc explained--very patiently--that the back, my back, was not going to get better or improve or magically be alright. It is what it is, but I'll be seeing the specialist about better pain management. Won't that be fun. However, he also told the hunk to lay off...since I'd no doubt spent the better part of our marriage doing the stuff.

Apparently, I have more new experiences in front of me. When I look back and remember how terrified I was at the prospect of insulin injections, I have to laugh. I do them everyday without a thought. If I can do that, then I can do the next thing, whatever it is.

My friend, Amarinda, assures me age is just a number. I believe I'll call it a level. Level 70 sounds more positive.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


In every author's life there is one book they have regrets about. For many of them, the book was never published. For others...well, let's just say I'm going for a do-over.

I've spent a couple years mully-grubbing about what to do with it. A couple days ago I finally started working on it. The book was supposed to tell Traveller and Wrenna's story. Instead it was an awful mish-mash of everyone else with very little left over for the primary couple.

I wrote an entirely new beginning, took the time to type it in the book file and then edited that short piece. This morning I sat at my desk with scissors, sticky notes, and a stapler. After a couple deep breaths, a short interlude where I checked my e-mail, and quick cup of coffee, I dove in.

On the first pass, I literally cut everything out of the story that didn't apply to Trav or Wrenna. With scissors. That was about a quarter of the book. Then I arranged what was left in chronological order. Next I did a quick pass with my pad of stickies, making notes of things to change, check, or add to the story.

Hah. I never felt so great! Finally, I think this book will have a chance. It won't be today or next week, or even possibly next month, but when it's finished, it will finally be the book I should have written in the first place. And it will give Trav and Wrenna their story at last.

Sometimes, do-overs are the best thing!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Overwhelmed by Genius

Yep. I believe this might be my problem.

I used to think it was because I had fuzzy brain syndrome. Sure, you know what that is...when your brain refuses to work due to meds or some other weird condition.

Then I thought maybe it's because I don't have any faith in my story-telling skills anymore. One too many savage reviews or something. Or an edit that just makes me tired. Or maybe it's the total lack of sales.

Perhaps it's the absence of ambition. Ill health. Fatigue. Depression.

But this! This is it! I'm simply overwhelmed by my genius. Excellent!

Who's with me?

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Worst Future

Since the turn of the century, it seems we (humans) have embraced a worst case scenario outlook. There's a hurricane out there coming our way? It'll be the most devastating on record. Four people were shot at a supermarket? Well, that's not could have been more like that bunch shot two days ago at a concert. Somehow, we've lost the ability to be positive.

I'm not talking about a Pollyanna attitude, but the willingness to be prepared for the worst while living every single day to the utmost. Folks in the past didn't expect winters with so much snow they were trapped for days or weeks, but they were prepared just in case with adequate water, food, and blankets/wood for warmth.

I've been pondering the increase in mental health issues we face as a species. And part of it, I believe, might come from our eagerness to embrace the worst possibility instead of the best. Think about it. I'll wait.

When the doctor sends you for a test do you immediately assume the most catastrophic news? Or do you adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Do you expect disaster? Or do you calmly prepare while moving on with your life? Do you celebrate all the benchmarks of life, enjoy every bit of happiness, even as you respect the difficulties life brings to all of us?

A popular phrase from my early adulthood was "Life is to be lived." I didn't quite understand it until the last couple years when my life has been fraught with illness and pain...when "I can't" seems so much easier than "I will". For every day I get out of bed, get dressed, and go out to do battle with whatever is on my schedule, I am grateful. And while I'm out there, I try to be as observant and alert as possible because some day I might not have that privilege and I earnestly horde every memory.

I often contemplate the joy my memories will bring. And when I do, I smile.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Day I Killed a Frog

The summer I was fourteen, my family went to stay with my Uncle Bill on his place in west Texas. It was a dry, dusty place with no running water, one outhouse, and a well. Mostly there were scattered mesquite trees, cactus, and dirt. Lots of dirt.

Uncle Bill raised a few sheep for their wool. And he had a horse. There was a tumbledown shed he called a barn. And off about a quarter mile away was a pond with scummy water where the animals--wild and tame--would come to drink.

It was hot. Too hot to wander around outside. I was used to going to the park near our apartment in Chicago and sprawling out on a blanket to read beneath a shade tree. With little to see or do, I soon became bored.

One afternoon, my father grabbed Uncle Bill's shotgun and asked me if I would like to learn to shoot it. That perked me up right away so I eagerly followed him out to the pond, anxious to shoot something...anything, as long as I could actually hold the gun.

After a far too extensive overview of all the parts of the shotgun, he finally allowed me to shoot. The first time I ended up on my butt. That didn't stop me. Determined to learn how to use it, I crawled to my feet and went at it again. My initial excitement soon wore off as I wanted something to actually shoot. Just shooting into the pond was boring.

So my father pointed out a prickly-pear and suggested that as a target. I think he was surprised when I hit it...and the branch of the mesquite he pointed to next. He found a couple old bottles I popped on my first try. Oddly enough, I was proving to be an excellent shot.

Then I spied some tiny frogs at the edge of the pond and without much thought, popped one of them. Naturally, it disintegrated in an explosion of frog bits and blood and sand. The little group of frogs had disappeared.

I handed the shotgun to my father and went to look at the carnage. My father propped the gun over his shoulder and said, "Never point at something you don't want to kill."

I walked away, appalled and sick.

On this terrible day of mourning, I look back at that sunny afternoon and think about how I felt and how I learned a never forgotten lesson. It was personal and required an acknowledgement of the deed, the guilt never went away because it was wanton, without reason or need.

I understand hunting for food. I understand target shooting at a range. I understand sanctioned shooting in the military or law enforcement. All of those have their place. But once you take a life, wherever it might be in the scheme of things, you are never the same.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Losing Your Passion

Most writers are familiar with the idea of 'writer's block'. That's not what this post is about. This is about something more devastating--losing your passion to write. Now I know there are folks who write because they possess the technical ability. There are others who do so for personal enjoyment. And then there are those who write because that's who they are.

They are storytellers. Whether they're ever actually published isn't the most important aspect of their writing, though sharing the story is an additional element. But the very action of sitting down and composing a story is the essence of who they are. They write because they have a passion for writing. Technicalities, grammar, punctuation, even spelling aren't allowed to get in the way of the story. They are the writers who sit day after day at their computer or with pen and paper, enthralled by their characters and worlds. They're the ones who can't wait for formal writing time or space and spend their time scribbling scenes and notes on bits of scrap paper or napkins.

Writing is life.

Then disaster hits. It might be family chaos or medical issues, discouragement or depression. That glorious passion and exhilaration disappears, leaving a writer husk behind. When you've been a writer most of your life, the loss is like going mentally blind. You don't just lose your stories. You lose the interest in them. And there isn't anything to take their place.

I think I'm on the edge of this lonely, lonely place...this desert where there are no characters and no worlds to explore. I used to wonder how a writer could just close up shop and walk away, but I think I know now. I'm stubborn and hate giving up on a project once I begin. I suspect that stubbornness is all that's between me and taking that walk away.

I wonder if there are no more stories for me to write. Maybe. Only time will tell.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Group Opinions

Very early in my writing career, another author wrote something in her own blog, and other writers piled on, vilifying her for what she wrote. I am deeply ashamed that I was one of those writers. As I look back, it had nothing to do with me--or anyone else. It was her personal opinion on her personal blog, but in my self-righteous take on the correct way for authors to behave, I added my voice to the chorus. I've apologized to her several times, but the damage never goes away...the damage to our friendship, the damage to our professional relationship, and ultimately, the damage to her writing career.

At that time, such an event was relatively rare, but any individual who spends time on the Internet now knows it isn't rare anymore. It's a daily event for total strangers to drown someone they don't even know in the vicious, burning acid of their unwanted, unsolicited opinions. After my experience so long ago, I have refused to allow myself to be drawn into such muck.

But I know just how easy it is.

Every one has something that's a trigger. Every one. It's usually a personal experience that resonates, that sets us up, so we jump in with both feet to batter the target. On a daily basis I read posts and comments that could easily draw me in. But after that one incident left me feeling so desolate and ashamed, I made a conscious decision to walk away, to scroll on by.

You might ask why I feel so strongly about this. It's simple. I don't want to ever again have to face the possibility I might have had any part in the destruction of another person's life, career, productivity, talent. It's incredibly easy to destroy with just a few words. Every author out there knows the truth of this statement. Every one of them knows the damage from a bad review or careless opinion can not ever be made better by a hundred fabulous reviews. For all our days we carry that bad review, that meanness in our heart.

The next time you are tempted to jump in and add your voice to the mean chorus of dissenters, think about this...there's a reason our elders taught us, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Scroll on by.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Power of Music

Scientists say truly powerful music can give us goosebumps, raise our blood pressure, or give us peaceful solace. I vividly remember the first time I experienced the goosebumps phenomenon. My parents took me to a performance of Handel's Messiah. I found the performance uplifting but frankly, I didn't understand what all the hoop-la was about.

And then...the choir moved into the Hallelujah Chorus. Without knowing how--or why--I was on my feet, chills running up my spine, my arms roughened with goosebumps. Why? I don't know. I have discussed my experience with other musicians who were not affected in the same way.

There are other pieces of music who touch me in the same way...The long (20 mins.) piece from Chariots of Fire. Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes.

The young people upstairs play their music non-stop. It's loud, heavy on the drums, and gives me a headache. I would call it rap music. I analyzed why it affects me so negatively, and realized it sounds angry to me. I find confrontation and anger very stressful so this particular music evokes all sorts of negative feelings. I wonder what it makes my neighbors feel? Power? Sex? Anger? Why do they find it so attractive?

In an effort to cancel out the negative effect, I decided to play one of my own CDs and was surprised at the result. First of all, I couldn't 'hear' the music from upstairs, though my music was pretty soft. In some weird way, it blotted it out. And second, an immediate feeling of calm flowed over me.

Certain songs always give me that soul deep sense of peace. Amazing Grace. Abide With Me. Hmm. Many of them are hymns--not surprising when I was brought up in a religious home. Some songs are universal, I think. It wasn't by accident that Amazing Grace was chosen for the funeral scene for Spock. Who can forget the sound of the pipes as his pod was shot out into space?

Music. Melodies for the soul.