Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Be One With The Tapestry

Have you ever fallen in love with a work of art or music or location? When you tried to share how you felt, did the other person's eyes start to glaze over? Yeah, I can relate.

There's more going on than terminal boredom on the other fellow's part. The answer finally dawned on me the other night as I sat listening to a favorite piece of music. If you compare music, art, landscape, or writing to a tapestry, the answer is simple. Some people--maybe most people--don't perceive all the strands in the tapestry.

That's all right. I figure all of life is one gigantic tapestry. No one could possibly see the tapestry in it's entirety. Some people see (or hear) certain bits more closely than others. Each person has his or her own bit.

Where the bits overlap, we share the experience. I suspect some fortunate individuals have been given the gift of extra perception. They see colors the rest of us don't. They hear music we don't hear. They fathom the universe in ways we can't imagine. Words dance and flow in a ballet of the senses conveying ideas we can barely grasp.

I know a woman who can knit garments using only the vision she carries in her mind. When finished, they fit perfectly. I am a reasonably proficient knitter. Yet I can barely finish a scarf even with a pattern to follow.

I know a young man who looks at a paper full of numbers (most of them I swear are random) and can tell you in a few seconds where the error is located. Some of these gifts or talents the human race seems to prize and others we have little respect for but all are part of the tapestry.

The next time you try to explain why something particularly touches or excites you, remember... Your friend or family member may not share the same bit of tapestry. Their particular bit may be over a few feet to the right or left. That's probably why you can't understand why they're raving about the hum in the engine or the way that trout leaps into the air. Maybe they have a dancing soul. They might have a healing touch. Whatever they possess, stop for a moment and give thanks for each unique bit of the tapestry--whether or not you understand their part or not.

Be one with the tapestry.



Traditionally, as we reach the end of the year, we pause to reflect. Was it a good year? Bad? What can we do to improve things next year? What goals should we set for the upcoming year? Decisions, decisions.

I suppose the end of a year is a natural time to think about these things though some people do so on their birthdays. Since my birthday is at the end of the year in the midst of the holiday hoopla, consideration of the year gets postponed until after the Christmas rush.

I don't think it's accidental. There is a natural depression after Christmas. We run around, cooking, shopping, decorating...and then with jarring abruptness it's over. Family and friends go home. We're left with the debris and leftovers from Christmas littering our homes and the Mt. Everest of decorations to put away.

In the wind-down from the frenetic pre-holiday rush, we finally have time to think. We look forward--and back--and reflect on our life. Most people heave a sigh of relief for the year's passing while they eagerly look forward to the possibilities of the new year. It seems we're ever positive when looking forward and ever negative when looking back. I wonder why that is?

Perhaps it has something to do with uncompleted goals and unexpected roadblocks in life. Goals are easily adjusted. Sometimes I think we sabotage ourselves by piling too many expectations on the goal pile. Why not set just one? My goal for 2012 is to take better care of myself...whatever form that might be.

As for unexpected roadblocks--why are they unexpected? All of life is a series of unexpected detours leading us down back roads. I've never met anyone who mostly traveled the freeways of life. All of us are on the back roads. Unfortunately, most of us are not taking the time to enjoy the scenic byways we're traveling. We're too busy moaning and groaning about how slow the trip is.

This year, I plan to take the time to enjoy the scenic byways. Who knows what life will bring? None of us live in a vacuum, though. Perhaps we should pause to absorb whatever each new day brings to us. It might be grief or sadness, but those things are part of life just as joy and happiness are. We should embrace each new bit of life--the peaks and the valleys.

Without the valleys, I suspect we would fail to appreciate the peaks. Blessings for the forthcoming year.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Help Wanted: Bicycle Mechanic

Christmas 1979. That was the year we stretched the budget to get the kids’ bicycles. At our house, Santa always brings a stuffed animal. It was my feeling that Santa bringing tons of presents sets up kids for unrealistic expectations. No matter how the year goes, a stuffed animal is always doable. And after that, whatever Mom and Dad can come up with is great.

My kids had a realistic idea of our money situation from the time we sat them down and let them pay the bills with real money. My house hunk had his check cashed at the bank in $1 bills. Then we sat down with the kids and let them count out the money for each bill. We did that for six weeks. If there was any money left over after the bills we let them do the grocery shopping with a calculator and count out the money for the food.

After that when we said there was no money, they understood that reality. To this day, they’re all very good managers. This particular Christmas was important to us as a family as the previous Christmas had been very, very bad. We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was a bit more than usual so we decided that we could afford to buy bicycles.

Of course when your kids are pre-teen age, hiding bicycles is a pretty tricky proposition. Finally, we simply made the garage off-limits. Late Christmas Eve the house hunk and I were out there trying to assemble three bicycles. The store would have assembled them, but that cost money that we couldn’t afford. One needed training wheels. Things did not go well.

Around 2 AM, the door opened and my second son trotted out there with his hands in his pockets. First of all, I was startled that he was still dressed. And then of course I demanded to know why he was awake.

“Well,” he said, “I thought I would see how long it took you to put them together. But it’s late. I’m tired. And I would like to ride my bike tomorrow. So I gave up. Do you want me to put them together?”

His father handed him the wrenches. “If you think you can do better than we are, go for it.” Thirty minutes later all three bikes were assembled and parked by the tree.

My son was nine years old that Christmas. Until he left for the Navy, it was always his responsibility to assemble all the gifts marked “Some Assembly Required.”

That year Santa brought the kids stuffed Safari animals—lions, tigers, and such. Up until a few years ago, they still had them. And then they decided to donate them to a kid’s program. As I recall, that was the sum total of Christmas gifts that year, except for the perennial favorite… new underwear. To this day, that’s a family in-joke. Every Christmas the kids receive new underwear. Now of course, it’s pretty fancy stuff.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Mouse

It was two days before Christmas and Herald, the Christmas Mouse was too tired to move. When humans started the Christmas Shopping Season, they didn't think about how hazardous all those busy shoppers were for the mice. Why, a mouse could barely scurry across the wide hallways in the mall without someone stepping on his tail--or worse! It was up to Herald to take care of all the tiny mouselets while their harried parents shopped.

Some of the mouse children didn't want to stay in the nursery. Some pulled on Herald's tail because they wanted to shop with their Mamas. There were fifteen children from the Snow family and they all wanted something to eat! Little Angela Tree sucked her paws and bawled for her Mama.

Herald ran from child to child, wiping whiskers, offering cheese crumbs and toys, and refereeing arguments between the two oldest boys in the Star family, Twinkle and Shiny. Herald desperately wanted a few minutes of quiet.

Then he heard a beautiful sound drift through the nursery door. It was the sound of someone singing. One by one the mouse children grew silent. As the singing grew louder, the mouselets all gathered on the rug in the center of the room and they sat down in small groups, listening carefully to the music. Soon Herald realized that some of them were humming the melody.

In the still, quiet nursery, Herald crept to the door and peeked out into the corridor. A young human woman sat on a bench in the center of the mall, singing all alone. People were smiling and stopping to listen. Cranky children who had been crying, grew quiet and leaned against their weary parents as the young woman continued to sing. Slowly, peace fell over the mall to the strains of a Christmas song. Then Herald recognized the music. She was singing the Christmas Lullaby--Silent Night.

Herald turned to look at the mouse children and saw that they were all asleep. Twinkle Star was even snoring!

Softly, Herald crept out to the young woman and stood near her foot with his whiskers twitching and his beady little eyes shining, listening to the beautiful song. And then, wonder of wonders, she bent and offered him a perch on her fingers. It seemed to him that she even perhaps invited him to sing with her.

Suddenly, Herald wasn't so tired. He opened his tiny mouth and began to sing. And as he sang with all his heart, the Christmas Spirit swelled within him so that when the song was finished, he roared out, "Merry Christmas Everybody! And a Happy New Year!"

©2007 Anny Cook

Friday, December 16, 2011


Many men are totally inarticulate when it comes to talking about their emotions--especially love. If the woman says "I love you" they give her a hasty pat on the butt and say "me, too" and that's it! I'm married to one of those men. A friend once asked me how I could live with that. I said you get used to it. And she countered that she wanted it all.

Articulation is fine, but words aren't enough, are they? Women know there is a certain class of men who are as suave and debonair as they can be, incredibly articulate with their fine lines, but absolutely no follow up with their actions. I'll take the guy that demonstrates love everyday over the one who just is talk, but no action.

What is love?

Love is getting up and going to work everyday through rain, snow, fatigue, bad bosses, and all those other irritations in the workforce. Love is taking responsibilities seriously for over thirty-seven years through thick and thin.

Love is coming home from work, passing me in the hall as I rushed off to work, and taking care of three small tired children--bath, supper, and reading a story before bed--even though he's ready to drop and would rather sit in front of the TV with a beer.

Love is packing me off to my parents when I'd reached the end of my endurance--and spending Thanksgiving alone with four kids. I don't know what he told my parents, but when I arrived they ushered me into a bedroom and told me to let them know when I was hungry. Otherwise, they wouldn't bother me. I spent a week sleeping.

Love is supporting me in every possible endeavor I could think up to try. Genealogy? We traveled literally thousands of mile to research in remote libraries. Calligraphy? He learned how to mat and frame my work so I could afford to display it. Writing? He provided time, space, and computer. College? Oh, yes, he pitched in at home after commuting four hours a day so I could spend my evenings in classes.

Love is pulling together. It's crawling under the house through cold mud and spiderwebs so we could repair a water pipe. It's lying side by side underneath a car during an ice storm in February to fix the muffler so one of us could go to work. It's standing side-by-side as each of our children graduated from high school. It's holding hands while we watch fireworks on the fourth of July.

Love is having sex almost everyday, even though we're both wrinkled and saggy. Love is accepting all the little irritations in our mate, shrugging off the toilet tissue turned the wrong way, accepting the absolute refusal to load the dishwasher because he makes the bed.

Words? Anyone can say words. Give me a man of action. Fourty-four years ago we stood in church and vowed to stick together through thick and thin. And did. That is love.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Long Road Home--1989

Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.”

For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a our family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. My husband was on disability because of an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.

“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.

The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.
My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. The older one pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but my older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets.

Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make some extra beds.

We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.

 It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Two came from Guam. Others came from all over the United States. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards there were games, carols, and visiting.

A couple of days later the trip home was longer as there was more snow to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.

Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.

A miracle. Several, in fact.

© 2007 Anny Cook

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Let There Be Peace on Earth

The first time I heard this song was at my oldest daughter's Christmas pageant the year she was in fourth grade. The elementary school had no place big enough to hold the pageant so it was held in the high school auditorium. The program was creative and joyous and enjoyed by all the parents and families.

Near the end of the evening, teachers dressed as reindeer took the stage with a rolicking skit and song. As I was enjoying it, awareness of a shuffle and hiss crept in and I realized that the children were silently lining the walls around the auditorium.

The lights went out. A deep silence filled the huge room.

And then one young voice soared in the darkness. "Let there be peace on earth..." A tiny light flicked on lighting her face.

A few more voices joined in...just a few from points all around us. "And let it begin with me."

More lights. More voices until we were ringed in light and earnest small voices singing about peace on earth. I think about that song often. I think about how we still don't understand the underlying truth of the words..."let it begin with me" for peace does not begin with warriors. Peace is protected by warriors when all else has failed. Peace begins with each of us.

Most people believe that peace is an absence of war. That isn't true. Peace is an absence of conflict. And true peace will not arrive until we as humans refuse to countenance abuse, intolerance, genocide, greed, and famine. As long as we turn away from the less fortunate ignoring the needs of the many in favor of the wants of the few, there will be no peace on earth.

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..."

©2006 Anny Cook

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Aging Christmas

It's a Holly, Jolly Christmas...or is it? As I sat knitting a gift this afternoon, I considered all the aspects of celebrating the holidays as a senior citizen. I'm somewhat computer literate so I spend a bit of time on the Internet.

Conversations about Christmas shopping and baking and decorating leave me wondering about the relevance of those holiday traditions--especially for the elders. Think about it.

If an elder is alone (like the house hunk and I) and on a restricted diet (like the house hunk and I) then what point is there to baking six dozen cookies? Or cakes? Or...whatever? Most of that stuff is on the forbidden list so, baking as a holiday tradition has ceased.

Shopping was an early casualty to living five hours to three days travel away from the rest of the family. Everyone receives gift cards in their annual Christmas card.There really is no point in buying something, packing it, mailing it, paying postage(!), when I can save the postage and send it directly to the gift recipient. See how that works?

Truthfully, our gift giving is also limited by dwindling income and living on retirement/Social Security. It's a good thing presents aren't a major part of my family's Christmas expectations.

As for decorations--well, let's just admit we don't bend as well as we used to. The tree branches close to the floor are a little barer each year. The wreathes and hangings that are at eye level are getting a more strenuous workout, while the tinsel and ornaments that normally hang from the ceiling remain in the box. Ladders aren't recommended for folks with bad hips and knees...or those who use walkers.

Do I sound like I'm having a pity party? Well, not exactly. But I do want to make a point. In the rush and hustle and bustle don't forget those elders around you who might be alone. They may not be physically able to decorate their living spaces. Maybe they'd like a helping hand to hang a wreathe on the door--and take it back down after the holiday. It might be they'd really enjoy a small tin of cookies or fudge. You know, one of those really small tins? One they could put in the refrigerator and sneak out for a nibble or two?

And if you're going to the church Christmas pageant, you might want to consider asking if they would like to go too. As you get older, it's more difficult to get around, especially in the evening.

How about inviting them for Christmas dinner? I live way too far from my folks to fix them dinner. I call down blessings every holiday on the friends and neighbors who live nearby and make sure they invite them to share their meal.

The holidays are a lonely time. Many of our elders suffer depression more this time of year than any other. If your family becomes involved with including an elder in your celebration, your family will likely receive an unexpected blessing in return. Our elders have wonderful experience and knowledge to share with us, if only we let them know we're interested.

Take an elder to Christmas!


Friday, December 2, 2011

What is Christmas?

Every year I post the Christmas memories and thoughts I've written over the years. This is a post I like to begin the season with...

© Anny Cook 2007

As I sat at the computer waiting for inspiration to appear, I thought about what Christmas means. Is it shopping? Is it the story of the Christ Child? Is it the presents under the tree on Christmas morning? Christmas Carols?
For each person different things are the true essence of Christmas. For some, if they are not with their families, then it isn't Christmas. For others, certain decorations are the true meaning of Christmas.

As for me, I'm not sure what it is exactly that makes it Christmas. I have spent Christmases surrounded by a vast family and friends. I have spent Christmas alone. There was more than a Christmas or two that was tinged with grief and sadness and others that were filled with joy. Both sides of the coin had their place because our lives are not static. We are constantly moving on, constantly dealing with changes in our lives.

Traditions help us stay grounded as life rushes past but we must not be so buried in tradition that we are lost when the traditions fade away. We must be open to establishing new traditions to take their place. Sometimes a new tradition begins with a whimper. Sometimes with a bang. Some are born of desperation.

One Christmas we were so broke I wasn't sure where we would find the money for the yearly stuffed animal from Santa. My friend called to let me know that a local pharmacy had all their teddy bears on clearance. We drove down to the store, found four different ones and for the princely sum of six dollars, Santa would be making a house call at our place Christmas Eve. They were plain. Stone cold plain, but my friend rummaged through her sewing supplies and located enough fancy ribbon to outfit each bear with a jaunty bow.
And then I had the notion to issue a "gift certificate" to each of the kids. I designed them and printed them out on an old dot matrix printer and colored them with colored pencils. Each one was for a specific sum to be payable when we received our income tax refund. Looking back now, I wonder what my kids really thought about receiving a colored promissory note. But I give them a lot of credit. They acted quite excited about it.
Income tax time finally arrived and we spent hours at the stores spending their gift certificates. The next Christmas rolled around much too soon. Things weren't a whole lot better. With a faint heart I asked them what they wanted for Christmas. Unanimously, they all declared that they wanted the gift certificates again. And so a tradition was born. For many years after that, we had the Cook family gift certificates.

Heh. I was just ahead of the curve as usual. Now we do gift cards. And they're still excited.
In the last five years, we've had more of a turnover in traditions than at any other time in the past. One Christmas we witnessed the birth of a grandchild. Another Christmas Eve I brought my husband home from the hospital after surgery. Most years we've done minimal decorating due to various circumstances.

Three years ago I completed seventeen calligraphy pieces, matted and framed, and mailed them out. They were all 11 X 14 and miracle of miracles they all arrived safely. Two years ago I made memory books for my kids. They were a hodge-podge of pictures, short stories, recipes, and memories. The kids call them The Christmas Book and they hold a place of honor in their homes.

New traditions. Old traditions. They stretch back through the years providing the tapestry of Christmas past and present. Perhaps that is the meaning of Christmas... the wonderful tapestry of memories and traditions that hold us together through the good times and bad.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Birthday and A Book

Forty one years ago I was in labor with my second child. It was worth every minute! Today's he far away, working to deliver mail and packages. And I miss him. Happy Birthday, Tony!

Today is also the release of my holiday story, Yule Be Ours! I hope you'll click on the book cover to check it out! I love this book cover--it's so cheery and happy! So is the story.

And finally, tomorrow I'll start posting my annual Christmas memories series. Many of you are familiar with them, some aren't. I was considering not posting them this year, but after an informal survey, decided to post after all. So check in often from tomorrow through Christmas!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Christmas! The scent of pine and cinnamon apples. The twinkle of colored lights. The strains of the familiar carols. Snow glistening on the meadow...

Halt! Rewind. Over the last few days as I tip-toed around the web, mostly what I've read about is how stressful the holidays are...and how tired people are feeling. There's dread and irritation instead of joy and anticipation. What happened?

You say there's no money this year? I'll share something with you. In the last sixty-two years, I don't recall a single year--not one--where money was plentiful. Unlike some people, we didn't have credit cards. Still don't. If we don't have the money in the bank...then we don't have it. That never stopped Christmas from arriving at our house. Some years there were more gifts than others. Some years our dinner was courtesy of the local food pantry (and thank God they were there!) But that isn't what Christmas is about, anyway.

When I was a girl, Christmas centered around the church and the religious celebration. I think because the focus was on giving rather than getting, the celebrations were very different.

Christmas was going Christmas caroling with friends and family. We carried lanterns (and then as I grew older, flashlights) and stopped every few houses as we walked, sang two or three carols and moved on. Most of the time, people came outside to listen. Sometimes they joined in the singing. Once in a while they offered us hot chocolate or cookies.

Christmas was baking cookies with the entire family. The kids carefully cut them out with the special Christmas cutters and decorated them with colored sugar. When they were cool, they were boxed up and wrapped so the kids could deliver them to friends and neighbors along with that year's Christmas card.

Christmas was decorating the tree. When the kids were born, we started a tradition of adding a new ornament for each of them every year. They were dated with a marker. And then, the year they left home, their ornaments went along with them so they'd have something familiar for their personal celebration. With four kids, there were a lot of ornaments by the time they left home. We always found a place for them on the tree. And every ornament had a story.

When the grandchildren came along, we continued the tradition. Some years our grandchildren were actually living with us when Christmas rolled around. And decorating the tree was still part of the tradition.

Arranging the Nativity in a place of honor was always a tradition. So much so, that the year my daughter's family lived with us, the grandkids gave up one of "their" tables so we'd have a place to put it. And then once it was all arranged, it was time to read the Christmas story directly from the source...Luke 2:1-20. For several years, I recited that from memory as my part in the Christmas play at church.

Christmas is about memories. And celebration. And giving. I think we've forgotten that in the gimme, gimme world created by the media and retail world. There's nothing wrong with receiving gifts. But frankly, how much stuff do we need? I don't remember the last time I received more than two or three gifts. Total. Most of them were from the Dollar Store. Because that's what the givers could afford. I still have them because it really is the thought that counts.

Our entire Christmas Gift budget for sixteen people is two hundred and fifty dollars. Most of that will be used to purchase gift cards because my children and parents live in other states. The hunk and I don't exchange gifts at all. Once a year--usually in the spring or fall--we'll choose to purchase something we especially desire and we'll call it our Christmas and anniversary gift to each other.

Instead of worrying about what we're getting, why not teach our children the true spirit of Christmas. Propose that they give the equivalent of one of their gifts to someone who isn't going to have a Christmas. Nope, I'm not advocating that parents toss more money on the debt pile by buying additional toys. Let your children make a conscious decision to forfeit one of their gifts so someone else will have something to open Christmas morning. Many kids have far more stuff than they can possibly play with already. There are innumerable places from churches to Toys for Tots that would gladly take your child's donation.

I suspect the true reason so many people are out of sorts and not feeling the Christmas spirit is because they've forgotten that shopping really isn't the reason for the season.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Story!

Yep. On December 1st, I'll have a new story out. I love this cover. She's so pretty--and happy. What's this story about?

Here's the blurb: When Dashylla’s masters abandon her in Silver Rock, to be awarded new masters, she makes a fervent Yule-Cris wish for two men who will love her passionately as she yearns to be loved. Nicodemus and Myles arrive in time to make all her wishes come true.

So, what's this about masters and Yule-Cris? On the planet Hypectil, there aren't very many women. The government, in the interest of peace and prosperity, has passed legislation where women are awarded to stable groups of men. Right before Yule-Cris, Dashylla's men prove they aren't quite as stable as they appeared. They abandon her in the tiny village of Silver Rock.

But on Yule-Cris Eve, Nicodemus and Myles show up, just in the nick of time, to rescue her. And Myles and Nic plan to make her life a Happily Ever After.

Would you like to know more?

I'll post the link first thing on December 1st!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Exploding Turkey

One year, I think it was 1984, we moved into a new house the day before Thanksgiving. This was after spending four weeks in a hotel with four kids, three of them teenagers. It was a move from Houston, Texas to upstate New York. The kids were out of school for that four weeks because we didn't have an "official" address.

So finally, we moved in on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. That year it was also my birthday. The next morning when we woke up we had no water because the pipes were frozen. Nothing was unpacked, but we had the presence of mind to pick up several aluminum roasting pans. For the turkey, we doubled two pans and plopped the turkey in the oven while we rousted out the necessities from the jumble of boxes that were piled high in the living room and dining room.

It wasn't the first time I had moved. Actually, it was move number forty. So the next morning chaos was not something new. There were the usual shouts of "Mom, where is...?" and the usual jockeying for space and attention. My husband was trying to figure out why we had hot water in the toilet. Just the little things in life.

When is was time to take the turkey out, the pan collapsed, burning my husband's hands. He tossed it on the top of the stove and it exploded. In a instant we had turkey, dressing, and broth everywhere...on the ceiling, on the walls and counters, down in the innards of the brand new stove...on the floor. Everywhere.

The househunk took the stove apart and carried it outside to wash the worst of it off with the hose in the yard. The boys got in an argument and my younger son "ran away". I remember kneeling on the floor trying to mop up that greasy mess and crying, "I want to go home!"

And my husband leaned down and calmly pointed out, "We are home."

Heh. Well, the runaway came home. My daughters helped set the table and my sons helped wash walls and counters. Amazingly, we sat down to dinner, thankful to be in a home instead of that hotel. And every year, we retell the story of the exploding turkey dinner.

After all, it was way better than the fire in the furnace on Christmas Day. Trust me on this.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Sixty-two years ago, I was born in Arizona. Wow, that went fast. I feel I should have something profound to say--and perhaps that's it. Life goes by fast.

Don't spend time wishing it away. We spend our time in so many ways and then look up and years have disappeared. What happened?

I was born at the tail-end of the forties, married in the late sixties at the height of the Vietnam War, graduated from college finally in the late eighties (at forty!) and suddenly find myself an official old lady in the twenty-first century.

In high school, I read 1984 for extra credit--back when 1984 seemed a very long time off. If I had ever put my mind to imagining the world we live in, I would never have envisioned the way computers and technology have changed our lives.

What have I learned?

Life whizzes by. Wear the good underwear instead of saving it for a special day. Use the fancy dishes in the middle of the week. Climb that mountain while you can. Dance on the beach under the moonlight. Stay up to watch the dawn. Sing with your kids while you watch the sunset. Go out in the country at night where you can see the glory of the Milky Way. Hold hands with your spouse. Pray daily.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Coffee Hound

I am not a coffee connoisseur. I know what I like, but I'm not a snob about coffee. I'm not a latte person, either. Coffee, cream and sweetener, and I'm good to go.

There are some places I refuse to buy coffee because I can't fix it exactly like I want it. Drive-thru coffee is far too hot. I don't want to buy coffee that I can't drink for thirty minutes until it cools down enough so I don't burn my mouth.

Flavors? Meh. Those are dessert coffees for the evening. For breakfast, give me plain, unadorned coffee. That first shot of caffeine for the day doesn't need to be gussied up.

Whipped? Cold? Blech. I'm sure my age is showing, but for me, coffee will always be a beverage meant to consumed hot. That heat rushing down the throat to warm the chest. That's part of the experience of drinking coffee. Cold coffee just doesn't convey the same sensation.

I'm a terrible coffee maker. Yes, yes, I know. Measure it in the pot and turn it on. How difficult can it be? Well. When I was a young woman, the hunk and I were friends with another couple, Dorian and Orlando. Orlando was born in Columbia (yes, South America) and he declared my coffee couldn't possibly be that bad.

The next time they came over for the evening, I made coffee...while he watched and coached me. I did everything exactly how he told me. We stood at the kitchen counter while the coffeemaker did its thing.

Finally, it was done. He poured a cup. And took a hearty gulp.

And began to cough and wheeze. "It's like rocket fuel," he gasped.

And that was the last time I was asked to make the coffee.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Black Thursday

The talk on Twitter and Facebook
Is usually about writing or Lolcats or nook.
But this week the friends are ready to fight--
Seems some stores are opening before midnight!
In fact (though it's really not right)
They're open for business, they say
Not Friday, but Thursday--Thanksgiving Day!

The chorus of protest is a swelling song
We must really do something--
This is just wrong!

My solution is simple. Why wait in line?
Why not wander in at seven or eight or nine?
Black Friday is a sad symptom of greed.
How many presents do we really need?

In the past we sang carols and put up the tree.
There were sparkling bright lights
and a Nativity.
The kids helped make presents for
Mommy and Dad.
Oh, they were so careful to never be bad.

Each day pretty Christmas cards arrived
in the mail 
with greetings and pictures and that year's tale.
There were whispers and guessing 
what was under the tree.
Sometimes there was shaking--"Oh, can I see?"

Heh. Do you remember how it was back then?
We always got one toy and candy in a tin
And new underwear and warm socks 
in a gaily wrapped box.

The thing about Christmas and
Thanksgiving Day
It's a time for family to find a way to say 
"I'm here to spend time together because I love you.
Nope, it's not money. It's not presents--
it's you."

© Anny Cook 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Details, details...

Details. There are only so many story tropes. It's the details that make it your story--or mine. Every writer has a working style. Some do elaborate outlines as they work out the story details in their mind. Some just sit down and write and work out the details as they go along. And then there are the hybrids--the writers like me who start writing what I call a jumpstart, and keep going until the details start popping up.

When they (the details) start intruding on the writing experience, it's time to stop and work on the synopsis/outline and research how the details will influence the story.

 The series I'm currently working on has been called "Fractured Faerytales at King Arthur's Court". The heroine in this book, Gardenia, has acquired a cloak (she was cold) and a staff (a handy weapon) and a pair of boots (we won't discuss what happened to her old ones.) One of the heroes has acquired a scarlet cap and two bronze wristlets.

Suddenly, I realized my characters had all this great stuff. Shouldn't it do something? Let's see. What could the boots do. Well, my character has already decided they are Merlin's magic boots. How do they work? What faerytale/familiar story would magic boots represent?

Ahhhh. Research time. So far, I've accounted for the boots, cloak, staff and hat. I haven't run across a story for the wristlets. I'll persevere.

In the meantime, each item will serve to move the story along. Did I plan it? No. But this is not the first time my brain has apparently been percolating along on its own, just waiting for me to have that ah-hah moment. With the synopsis/outline thingy more or less complete, I'll dive back into the writing.

I seldom stick to the plan--at least not closely. But it provides a springboard for other ideas. And with the Flowers of Camelot, that's pretty much the best I can ask for.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Taking a Poop

Facebook. Something about it...makes some people lose all common sense. Seriously. I have peeves with Facebook. 

1) Copy and Paste Status. NO. Don't do that. I don't want to read a status that LIKELY has been stolen from some other individual. If it's not YOUR thoughts and words AND you've posted no attribution for someone else's thoughts and words, then...why would you post it? Copy and paste is the lazy way out. If you have something to say--say it. If you like the status of someone else, then comment on THEIR status. 

2) Do not click on any link from anyone you don't know. What is it about links? Why are people compelled to click on them? Why? Chances are high (very high) that the link will lead to a virus. Why in the world would anyone engage in such risky behavior? If you really want to know about the topic in the so-called link...GOOGLE it!

3) If something offensive shows up on your newfeed, message the individual it supposedly came from to inform them. Or notify the PTB at Facebook. Or just delete it. DO NOT CLICK ON IT--and then complain when you find out you've been hacked. How do you think such viruses proliferate?

4) Please don't post every single private step you take. I don't want to know how drunk you are. And I really don't want to know how many men/women you are busy bedding. There are certain things that should be private. When I was younger there was an expression "You had to be understand why it was funny/profound/interesting/beautiful/etc." For most of the stuff on Facebook, that's still true.

5) I'm very concerned about people who post pics of their kids on Facebook. Pedophilia is a component of the top five or six current stories in the news. Why would anyone risk their child by putting their pictures on the internet? It worries me. If you want to show off your child to friends and family why not create a private photo site and post them there? Am I the only one bothered by this?

6) Big peeve...what is the purpose of "inviting" people to the release of your book? (See #7!) Am I going to buy it? No. I live in Baltimore (which is located on the east coast of the United States). I'm not likely to attend your booksigning at a bookstore in Idaho. Not likely. Nor am I likely to buy your book after I've had to take time to delete your event invitation. It seems to me...and perhaps I'm just wrong-headed about this...but if you can't take time to direct your announcement to the individuals on your friends list that live nearby instead of spamming friends who live too far to attend...then that demonstrates a certain disregard for your market.

7) Finally, I'm very sick and tired of people posting "buy my book/beads/herbal remedies/shoes/yarn/personal care products" on the general news feed over and over and over. Create a page for your products--yes, your books, too. I don't mind an announcement (My book Passion in the Pits was released today from Love Shack Publishing. Short blurb. See my page/website for details.) Trust me. If my interest wasn't caught the first time around, posting it seventeen more times is just gonna annoy me. Truthfully? I unsubscribe from that person if they irritate me enough.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc., etc., etc., are called social media. There is precious little socializing going on. Mostly, as far as I can tell, they're a hodge-podge of hawking products, political opinion pieces, and LOL comments. Sometimes an individual will exert that extra effort and ROFL. Wow...what happened to real words in real sentences?


Monday, November 14, 2011

Fifteen Minute Challenge

For those of us who lead sedentary lives, there is a tendency to sit. Sit. Sit and only move when dire necessity strikes...such as an urgent need to visit the bathroom.

Or possibly if the house is on fire.

Inevitably, this leads to all sorts of problems--real physical ailments, aside from tired eyes and fuzzy brains. Spinal issues, joint deterioration, and circulation issues are only a few of the things the sedentary lifestyle makes worse. A recent study concluded the number one way people can lengthen their lives is simply by standing.

Somehow, in this multi-tasking world, I suspect I am not the only one who lives in front of a computer, absently consuming my meals while typing madly, allowing hours to slip by with nary a muscled movement other than my fingers.

After some thought about ways I can improve my day-to-day life, I decided I will spend more time on my feet. I will also spend less time in front of the computer while still accomplishing what I need to do. I will eat with conscious deliberation, savoring the flavors in my food, rather than poking the food in while reading e-mail. And I will take up some of my former hobbies--partly because I miss them and partly because I plan to make some of my Christmas gifts this year.

But how to ensure I carry out my plan?

A) I'm designating "work time." The difficulty with working at home is there doesn't seem to be a starting-stopping time. Or lunch breaks. Or any type of breaks...

B) Out of every hour between 8 AM and 5 PM, fifteen minutes will be spent on my feet. Standing up. By the clock. Dishes count. Showering counts. Rearranging the books in the bookcases count. It's been surprisingly difficult to occupy myself for fifteen minutes every hour. With only the hunk and I around, my apartment can pretty much be straightened up in the first fifteen minutes.

C) I will stop and walk away from the computer at lunch. (Or any other meal.) Scientists have proven we eat more with less satisfaction when we eat in front of a computer or television. Since my food is measured, that means I'm really not enjoying the full experience of the food I'm allowed to eat.

D) Evenings will be reserved for those things I've enjoyed in the past. Calligraphy. Reading. Crocheting. And if those things are sedentary, then the fifteen minute rule kicks in.

It's going to be revolutionary for me. I'll let you know how it works out. If you want to take the fifteen minute challenge, let me know. I could use a buddy or two or five... :-)


Friday, November 11, 2011

Land of the Brave

My earliest European ancestor came to Maryland in 1660, settling on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. My most recent immigrant ancestor came to Pennsylvania in 1734. There might have been a Native American in there somewhere but it was so far back, we have no verifiable information.

My people were movers. Every generation the youngsters in the family moved on, settling in strange new territory. They were the pioneers—the ones who established new settlements, faced the dangers of wild animals, hostile tribes, and starvation and illness. They built small log homes, cleared land, and planted crops. They were the men who sat on juries, took their turns as the sheriff, and the women who reared children with little more than a washtub and an iron pot.

From the beginning, the men went off to war when they were called. Generation after generation they fought for the principles they believed in from before the Revolutionary War to the post 9/11 conflicts. According to the RW and CW pension records, they walked long distances, took part in battles, sometimes were wounded and received little recompense for their trouble.

In the early times in our country, there were no supply lines for the soldiers. Uniforms and weapons and food were provided by their family. Battles were fought on home soil in towns and across farmland where people lived. In the pension record for one ancestor, his actions are described. As a very young man (sixteen), he led British soldiers on a wild chase across the country-side so they wouldn't find the American soldiers sheltering in his barn overnight. They'd arrived the evening before to fetch fresh meat for their camp. If the British soldiers found them, they would also know his family was supporting the rebellion.

There is much talk today about soldiers and sailors, about our veterans who have kept our country safe. I just want to point out that courage doesn't always wear a uniform. Sometimes it wears a skirt or overalls. Without the families at home, keeping things going, there wouldn't be many veterans.

On this Veteran's Day, let us also remember the support team.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Memory Chest

My friend and fellow writer, Tom Williams and I were talking about a gorgeous wood chest he made for his tools. I mentioned the hope chest my grandfather made for me and he suggested "Post a picture." As I thought about it, it seemed that wouldn't quite do the chest true justice. So I decided to write a short post about the real meaning of this chest.

When I was ten, our family decided to move from Arizona to Indiana. My mother had been collecting things for my hope chest. Since there was limited space in the truck (we were "moving" ourselves), she left my hope chest items with my grandparents.

It took almost all day to pack the truck, trailer, and car so it was evening when we finally started out. In New Mexico, near Lordsburg, out on a narrow two lane highway through the desert, she died in a car accident. I never knew about the things she'd collected for my hope chest.

We went on to Indiana and then Chicago, Illinois. I grew up and three weeks after I turned eighteen, I married the hunk. The night before our wedding, we were putting away the last of the things in our apartment when our landlady knocked on the door. A package was there for us.

Very excited, we tore open the box. Inside, wrapped in a wedding ring quilt my grandmother had made, was the chest in the picture. And inside the chest, were the cactus glasses in the top picture (among other things)! I still have the ten glasses my mom collected. Every year we use them for special dinners.

I'm ashamed to say I didn't know how to take care of the quilt and after some years, it disintegrated. And the chest, as you can see, has fallen on tough times. Twenty moves have not been kind to the chest my grandfather so lovingly put together for me.

I do find it interesting that every one of my children (even the single fellows) have put in their bid for the chest and glasses after the hunk and I are gone.

This month I'll turn sixty-two. And next month the hunk and I will celebrate forty-four years. It seems like only yesterday that we were eagerly exploring the secrets of the small chest called Hope.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Down, out, finished

We live in a world where convenience is at every hand. We call, we Twitter and Facebook and e-mail. Lights come on at the touch of a switch. Water is available at the twist of a faucet.

Until it's not.

Yesterday, I had no internet for about twenty-four hours. I wasn't the only one. There are conflicting reports as usual, but at least my area code was down. From other people I heard the outage was more wide-spread than that. The powers that be aren't really discussing the extent of the outage. Naturally.

Today, my apartment complex is shutting off the water. Today and tomorrow. It seems there's a water main break within the community that has to be fixed. In theory the plan is to shut it down from 9 AM to 6 PM. Why? Because people will be gone to work. Except for those who don't go to work. Or have little kids. Or work a different shift.

The hunk is filling the bathtub so we can flush. We've taken care of our morning routine. Breakfast is almost finished. And then we'll settle in for the day.

There's an odd phenomena that kicks in when something isn't working. Even though you might not need the particular utility immediately, your brain knows something isn't right so your whole being takes on a waiting attitude. Restlessness sets in. You can't quite settle down because whatever is wrong subliminally disturbs you.

And then when it all finally goes back to normal it takes a little bit to settle back into life. I think an outage of whatever (water, electricity, internet) is a faint warning that the conveniences of modern life are fragile and not to be depended on. It takes very little for them to be gone.

How will we cope then?


Friday, November 4, 2011

Milky Way Walk

About thirty years ago, my son and I stood on a lonely road in a silent campground. It was near two a.m. He woke me up, needing an escort to the bathrooms that were located about a quarter mile away. One hard and fast rule in our family was that none of the kids went to the bathrooms alone after dusk.

I couldn't find the flashlight so we set off in the dark. There was so little ambient light that I could bare discern his presence even though he was wearing a very light colored shirt. We hiked from our individual camp site out to the "main" campground road and then turned toward the restrooms. The little drive down to our camp site was hemmed in by trees, but the main road was clear and open to the sky.

I made some inane comment about the lack of moonlight and he looked up. And stopped dead in his tracks so I nearly ran him down.

"What is that, Mom?"

"That's the Milky Way."

We stood there so long we started shivering though the night was warm. As we stood on that deserted little gravel road, I pointed out the constellations I was familiar with. We talked about how I used to walk out into the desert with my father and look at the stars.

After a while, we continued our journey to the restrooms and eventually made our way back to the tent. He grew up as our children do and left home. Over the years whenever we've had the chance to get together, inevitably we will look at each other and say, "Do you remember?"

Yes, we remember that time out of time as we stood under the glory of the Milky Way, billions of fiery stars flung across the sky.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nobody will ever know...

Interesting philosophy. If nobody knows, then "it's" all right--whatever "it" is. Unfortunately, that seems to be the prevailing attitude in our culture. As long as no one knows what we're doing, then it is all right.

If you take this to the obvious conclusion--then as long as a serial murderer isn't caught, what he's doing is all right.


Then where do we draw the line? With the easy anonymity of the Internet, people can be anybody they want to be, do anything, say anything with no perceived consequences. When the time arrives for the reckoning, they are always surprised and shocked. After all--nobody is supposed to know!

That is foolishness of the strongest sort. Better to assume that everybody will know. For sure--sooner or later--they will know your secret. Whatever it is, it will be revealed in the most embarrassing fashion possible.

Every so often, I'll be asked in an interview what my number one piece of advice for new authors would be. It's always the same.

Remember you are on stage 100% of the time. Whatever you say, do, write will come back to haunt you when you least expect it. There are no secrets on the Internet. Be polite and professional all the time. You never know when the person you are talking to will be a potential reader.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Do you see me now?

Yesterday my beta reader returned Shadows on Stone. I've been re-reading it with her notes in hand. There were no major issues though she pointed out a couple continuity problems-- minor plot lines I started but never wrapped up.

After pondering the possibilities, I started at the beginning. Page one. With a red pen. Several hours later, I'm up to page sixty-six...out of one hundred and eighty two pages. I suspect it will be a while before I finish.

Every author I know will tell you they find cringe-worthy issues if they read their work after a considerable time period has gone by. Then, every error, stupid mistake, awkwardly constructed sentence will leap out at the author, seizing them by the throat and screeching, "Do you see me now?"

You might ask, why doesn't the author set the work aside, then? Why not allow it to simmer on the back burner? I suspect it has something to do with income. Lost income. If the book is sitting on the side, it's not earning money for the author. It's as simple as that. Could it possibly be a better book if it simmered a while? Yeah, probably.

But in the current publishing climate, a book that is sitting only generates a loss of income and a loss of face time. You know what that is--it's the presence of your book cover prominently displayed so your readers remember who you are! In the electronic book market, with zillions of books to choose from, a lull of several months between books can mean the difference between some sales and a lot of sales.

There is a reason some authors seem to be banging out book after book. Every new book places their name out there to remind readers of their books--not just the newest one, but their entire backlist--because in the electronic world, books never go out of print. They're always available.

Unless a writer has an enormous following (J.K Rowling and Nora Roberts, I'm looking at you), he or she will spend an inordinate amount of time battling for that precious face time. It might be on the social media such as Twitter and Facebook. It might be on Amazon, Sony, Fictionwise and other electronic bookstores. But wherever it is, it's more valuable than gold.

No one knows what the magic formula is. Some authors take part in blog tours. Some spam their "friends" on the social media. Some post excerpts from their books--or have special pages for their characters. Whatever they choose to do, none of it matters if the finished book is a hodge-podge of errors, typos, and even in one case, part of a chapter missing.

I could submit Shadows on Stone as is. But now that I am reading it, the occasional typos and errors and odd word choices are screaming. What are they saying?

"Do you see me now?"