Sunday, December 31, 2017

Logging Off

So...the end of 2017. It was quite a year. Alarms, anxiety, anger, and aggravation abounded. I'm not going to go there today. Today, I'm going to find something positive. I'm not sure what it will be yet, but surely there is something.

I've noticed a lot of folks on Facebook are taking time to express their thankfulness and gratitude for the support they've received from their online friends. And you know? That's a good thing. In this day of scurrying to and fro for jobs, errands, work, school, it's a blessing we have the Internet to keep in touch with our loved ones and friends.

In the past, reaching out and touching someone meant writing a letter, stuffing it in an envelope, slapping a stamp on it, and entrusting it to the United States Post Office. And then you waited. And waited. And waited. And if you were lucky, the recipient might actually write back to you.

Then, phones came along. Of course, it was quite expensive to talk to family and friends unless you waited until late at night. Then cell phones came along. And we can talk to anyone, anywhere. Between the Internet and our cell phones, there's really no excuse for us to fail to keep in touch with our friends and loved ones. This coming year, I resolve to keep in touch more.

Life has been pretty good this year. As I told my father this afternoon, I woke up every day. I have food, shelter, and clothing. Everything after that is icing on the cake. Too often, we forget to count our blessings. This coming year, I resolve to be more mindful of all the blessings I receive.

For all my friends and family out there...may you have a most blessed and peaceful new year.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Late Christmas Child

My last Christmas post for 2017...

Christmas 2003. It was a busy, busy year. In June we moved from New York to Maryland because the house hunk was transferred. Moving is always stressful, but this time it was particularly so because we lived in our last home for nineteen years. So much stuff. So much stuff to sort and get rid of or throw out! Then in mid-September Hurricane Isabel roared into Maryland. Fortunately, we were not near the flooding, though one of the trees behind our building ended up on our balcony.

Our younger daughter was pregnant, due in late December. We made arrangements to stay with our oldest son. Our daughter and her boyfriend were staying in a small room so Christmas was celebrated at our son's apartment. No baby. It appeared that the baby was in no hurry to arrive. We made arrangements to wait the baby out, but by December 29th, we were running out of our medications and reluctantly made the decision to go home the next day. That afternoon our daughter called, "Don't go yet! I've started labor!"

In a little while, her boyfriend called. "She wants you to be here when the baby's born." So we hopped in the car and made the forty-five minute drive across the Hudson River to the hospital. When we arrived, he was waiting for us and ushered us up to the maternity floor.
She didn’t quite make it for Christmas, but on December 29th close to midnight, the househunk and I were with my daughter and her boyfriend, present when Daisha Monet made her entrance. 

Witnessing the miracle of a new baby never gets old. The precious gift of a new life—especially at Christmas—is a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

She's fourteen this year. Happy Birthday, baby!!!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.

Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell the hunk he needed to come home. His father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed me. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I didn't have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was only a couple blocks away so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted.

A miracle.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

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.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Long Road Home

Every year I reprint a few of the Christmas memories I've shared from the past. This is from Christmas 1989. May all those traveling this Christmas be safe...

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 from 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 with a blizzard 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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Wild Evening Out

The hunk decided we should celebrate our anniversary in suitable style so he arranged a night at Inn BoonsBoro. Oh, my. The photo above is us in the lobby. Let me say, the entire place is so lovely. The staff were all welcoming and warm. We had the best time.
 We had the Eve and Roarke room. Our bed with cool lights behind the headboard and a cashmere spread...just in case we were chilly.

 A classy chest between two modern, surprising comfortable chairs. To the right, just beyond the blinds was an outdoor balcony.
 Wine and cheese in the lounge! Delicious. Nom, nom, nom...
One of the many gorgeous doors, this one happened to be in the lounge. There is also a dining room where we had a wonderful breakfast for two. And a library. many, many other amenities. The hunk is a tough sell, but he's already planning next year's trip.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sharing the Light

I had to laugh when I found this pic in my Christmas collection. We all reach a time when we say, "I think I'll down-size the decorating this year." Back when I was younger, we went all out, stringing lights and pine swags outside on the porch, and decorating inside until there was nowhere you could look without seeing Christmasy stuff...even in the bathroom.

I think Christmas decorating goes in a cycle that matches our life cycles. When we're children, our parents try to make it special. Then we reach the late teens and we're sort of blasé about the holidays. THEN we move into our own apartment/home and maybe get married so we start collecting our own decorations. Through the years (and as our children come along if we have kids), the decorations sort of multiply like rabbits or guinea pigs. By that time our children are old enough, we start 'sharing' our collection with them when they leave home. Gradually, we weed out the older ornaments. And finally we reach the point where we enjoy a minimalist style of holiday decorating.

The hunk and I have reached the minimalist stage. We have a teeny little tabletop tree with sparkling  fiber optic lights. Each year we take it out, fluff it up, plug it in and we're done. We have a great wooden Santa head plaque our friends, the Blunts, sent us from Texas our first year in New York. The Santa has a cowboy hat. It was a wonderful reminder of 'home'. And we have a ceramic nativity set we've had for...forty years. That's the sum total of our decorating. I don't miss all the other stuff.

I may haul the big tree and all the decorations out sometime in the future, but not this year. And I'm comfortable with that. I like looking at pretty trees. In someone else's living room. So please post those pics of yours. That's the great thing about social media. We can all share our traditions, spreading the good cheer with all our friends, wherever they are!

This year there are many displaced, perhaps suffering the loss of their decorations through fire, flood, or wind. We often think about making sure people have presents (especially children) or having a special meal, but perhaps if you're one of those folks with toooooo many decorations, you might look around and find some one to share them with. Buy a small tree. Help them decorate their space. Share a box of homemade cookies or candy. It doesn't take much to ease some of the sting of loss.

From our home to yours...Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and blessings for the New Year. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Half Century Mark

On the day we married in Chicago it snowed. Today, fifty years later, there's snow on the ground but the sun is shining in Baltimore.'s all about change. 

Back when we married I couldn't envision being fifty years old myself, let alone being married that long. Once in a while we're asked it there's a secret to staying together this long. And there is.

Don't leave. Of course, if your life--or your children's lives--are in danger, then don't waste time packing. Just go.

I know there are folks who have lost a spouse through death by accident, war, or illness. We've been fortunate. No question. But all things being equal, longevity in marriage is mostly about hanging in through the bad, the good, and once in a while, the ugly. 

I look at the picture of us when we were so young and untried and I think, boy, we didn't know what we were signing up for, did we? But we were tough. We're stronger than we were then. It's not about romance, though that's nice. It's about sticking together, enduring the bad times, embracing the good times, and living your vows every day.

I'm still not convinced it's been fifty years...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Herald the Mall 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!"

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Christmas Card

Now that I have your attention...the pic was taken by my oldest granddaughter a few years back when we were goofing around one night. That's what Nannas do, right?

Anyway, today I was addressing Christmas cards. They're one of my favorite holiday traditions. Back when I was a newlywed, receiving Christmas cards addressed to 'Mr. and Mrs.' was an especially big thrill. Now days, I'm not sure young marrieds have that same feeling. Of course, there aren't very many people that actually send letters or cards anymore.

A lot of folks feel like a general, generic greeting on Facebook or twitter or whatever social media platform they're using is sufficient. They sort of list of bunch of reasons like they're saving postage or saving trees or saving something. That's okay. I say live and let live.

I send cards unless I'm not well enough. It's my annual 'yes, I'm still alive' notification to relatives who might not be on the Internet. I have a lot of those in my family. I usually include a note or even a letter sharing our news. Sometimes I add pictures.

I know folks are busy this time of year, but here's my thought on that. We take time--and spend money--on those things we find important. So this is one of my 'important' traditions. I may not put up a tree or decorate the house because those things only affect me. But a Christmas card is a long distance touch, one household to another. It takes a little time and a little thought and truthfully, minimal postage (about the price of a fancy coffee) to reach out and say, "You're important enough to me that I took the time to send you a card."

For those of you who don't do cards, I still wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or whatever day you celebrate. May you have a lovely holiday.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Rumors, Christmas Rumors

It's started. The annual bombardment of false rumor mongering about some nebulous group of individuals who object to how some other nebulous group celebrates Christmas/Yule/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/whatever.

Stop it. Stop posting idiotic crap on your social media pages. NO ONE cares how you greet folks, whether you call it a Christmas Tree or a Holiday Tree, what songs you sing, or any of that other bullfeathers. No one really cares what kind of cups some coffee place serves their product in. If folks quit spreading this garbage around the internet, it would go away. Think about it--you're helping spread dissension and hate.

If you want a tree, get one. Decorate it however you wish. Say 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays'. About ninety percent of the population won't even hear you because they're busy trying to survive. When you're worried about having food next week or wondering where you're going to sleep, you just don't have the energy to worry about what color a coffee cup is.

Pressing 'share' on some dubious article, written by some group no one knows is an act of laziness. I repeat. No one cares. If you're worried about keeping Christ in Christmas, then I'll tell you the true way.

Feed the hungry. Don't just empty all the cans of no-name veggies and expired food from your pantry for the food drive. Kick in some money. Food banks desperately need real dollars instead of stuff they can't use. Consider. If you don't want to eat it, why would anyone else?

Care for the destitute. Do you know how many people in our country are homeless, living in tents, sleeping in cars, surviving on the street? Do you know what the homeless need? Basic necessities. Socks. Soap. Tooth brush and tooth paste. Toilet paper. Comb. Razors. Shampoo. Warm coat, hat, gloves. Oh, yeah. Food.

Protect the elderly. Check up on them. Make sure they have enough to eat. Offer to take them to their appointments. Spend time visiting. Value them for their contributions.

If you profess to be a Christian, then you'll be following Jesus' commandment to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In other words--be selfless, loving, giving. All the rest of it is just useless distraction. I'm pretty sure Christ didn't have Christmas trees, decorations, present orgies, or gluttonous feasts. Didn't he command us to go out into the byways and invite the homeless in to eat? Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if no one was in need?

Instead of worrying about unimportant things, why not start posting about food pantries and homeless shelters that need help? This Christmas, why not talk to your family about giving up their gifts for someone who has nothing? Do it up right. Pick a family to sponsor. Buy the gifts. Wrap them. And don't forget a box of groceries. I can absolutely guarantee they will never forget it for the rest of their lives. I know my brothers and I will never forget the Christmas we were on the receiving end of such a gift. It's a life changing event.

That's the meaning of Christmas.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas Bikes

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.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Joyful Noise

It's snowing here today so this one seemed appropriate! For those who follow my blog, you know I post several Christmas Vignettes from my past throughout the month of December. Mostly, I do it to remind myself of all the blessings I've been given through the years.

Christmas 1959. I was ten years old. Our family lived in Globe, Arizona, but we had traveled by automobile to Gary, Indiana. It was before the days of interstate highways and my parents drove many hours, late into the nights, to arrive by Christmas. My younger brothers and I occupied ourselves by discussing and boasting about the snowmen we were going to build when we arrived “up North.”
We arrived safely (our first miracle) in the cold pre-dawn hours. It was a cold, damp, windy morning with nary a snowflake in sight. Dad stopped at a gas station so that we could freshen up. The restrooms were unheated, providing us with an excellent reason to speed through our clean-up. With our faces washed and our hair combed, so that we were presentable, we piled back into the car and traveled the few blocks to my Aunt Betty and Uncle John’s house.
There, as we shivered under a barely lightened sky, my Dad was struck by an inspiration. He gathered us in a tight group on the small front stoop—and at 6:00 AM—we began bellowing out the strains of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Now it stands to reason that SOMEBODY would want to shut us up, but nobody came. Dad led us into a second verse, urging us to sing louder.
Still no reaction.
The wind whipped up, cutting through our light coats. Lips turned blue and strands of hair blew across our eyes as he led us through a third teeth-chattering verse.
Nobody came. Mom rang the doorbell as he launched into the first verse again. Uncle John flung the door open and demanded, “Who is it!” before he recognized us and invited us in.
Later there were a few chuckles when he described his mad dash from room to room searching for the radio that someone had left on. During our visit, my brothers and I waited in vain for snow, knowing we only had a few days to spend there. At last, our hopes for snow dashed, we headed home. Oh, we had a great time milling around with our cousins, roaming in small packs from room to room, but in some small secret place within, a little snow would have been perfect.
After a long boring trip, suffering from holiday letdown, we arrived home safely (another miracle). Dad parked in front of our small house. We sat in the car staring out the foggy windows in amazement at our snow-covered yard. The cactus plants in the corners had spiky snow beards. There wasn’t enough snow to build a snowman, but we had a great snowball fight before we unpacked the car.
A miracle.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

One is the Loneliest Number

More than any other season, the end of the year orgy of togetherness is most difficult for those who are not 'blessed' with friends and family. At least that is the conventional wisdom. I'm not so sure about the statistics. I believe it's all about expectations and needs.

For some, a nice quiet day alone, doing what the heart desires with minimum effort, can be a great gift. I have several friends across the globe who are 'onlies', some by choice, others through circumstance. I have observed that those who truly don't want to be alone on holidays make an effort to be with other folks. One person I know spends holidays feeding the homeless. Another prepares a feast and invites other onlies to share it.

Over the years I've been blessed with holidays I spent with a multitude of relatives and I've also had others alone. One is not better than the other. One Christmas seventy of my nearest and dearest sat down to dinner. It was a spectacular experience. But dare I admit I've reached a place in my life when three or four friends sharing a quiet dinner is more my style?

I think we've let that Norman Rockwell painting influence our expectations to the point of silliness. Do we really need to cook enough food for an army so we can spend time with people we don't even like? Are we so determined to deny the truth--the painful truth--that many of us dread spending time with extended family?

I once had a conversation with my father about how things were with our ancestors. They didn't travel long distances to share a meal on a specific day. Heck, often, families were so far flung they might not see each other for years. Holidays (if celebrated) included everyone on the homestead, related or not. And if family came to visit...say in August or March, well then there was a dinner and conversation.

I wonder how it would be if we went back to small congenial gatherings, or even better, just stayed at home with our loved ones, spending time together? What if we banned electronics for that day? What if we planned for surplus spending on food to go to a food bank or homeless shelter? What if we invited that neighbor who lives alone to join us for dinner? Often, folks who spend holidays alone are that way exactly because no one invited them to join them. After all, most of us don't just show up on our own. So are we observant enough, compassionate enough to share our bounty and good fortune with others?

Instead of packing up a food basket for a disadvantaged family, why not invite them to join in with our celebrations? Then send them home with the leftovers so they have not one meal, but several?

Technology hasn't brought us closer. It's provided the means and opportunity to foster great loneliness and alienation. Ultimately, our unrealistic expectations leave us with dissatisfaction and sadness at the end of the day. We wearily return to our homes, put the too generous leftovers away, do the mountain of dishes, and wonder why we don't feel any joy. Maybe...maybe, one isn't the loneliest number.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Let There Be Peace

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..."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bonus Snowmen

1978. We traveled from Houston to Chicago to spend Christmas with both sets of our children's grandparents. The kids woke every morning to rush to the windows to see if it had snowed. And of course, there was no snow.

At last, we reached the day we had to leave. All vacations have to end. And lo, when we woke up, it was snowing like crazy! Well, now, we couldn't possibly leave without the kids taking the opportunity to play in the snow.

Did it matter that no one had snow gear? Absolutely not. Grandma produced heavy socks for them to use as mittens. And breadbags over their shoes substituted for boots. The boys wore Grandpa's extra hats. And Grandma and Grandpa joined in the snowman competition.

Our youngest child was only six months old, but she couldn't be left out so if you look very carefully you'll see her perched between the two snowmen on the left. She's that pink blog.

An hour later, dry and warm, we were on the road home. We had quite an adventure because of our delay to play. In Oklahoma, the Interstate was closed. We didn't have a dime on us, but the Holiday Inn agreed to take a post-dated check. And all the meals were added to our room bill. Can you imagine that happening now? Of course, almost everyone in the hotel was from Houston. The folks across the hall from us lived in our same subdivision.

The next day, we slithered through Dallas/Ft. Worth on ice covered roads, but we arrived home safely by evening. Was it worth it? Oh, yeah. Every single hair-raising second!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

December 1968. We'd barely been married one year when the hunk declared we would fly from Chicago to Arizona to visit my grandparents. It was a scary prospect as it was my first trip on an airplane. I remember the excitement of arriving at O'Hare with the crowds milling around us. 

Finally, we were on the plane, taking off. I'm pretty sure I left my stomach in Chicago. It took a while for it to catch up with us. We landed in Phoenix after sunset. I remember looking out the window at all the colored lights twinkling in the darkness. It was an amazing sight. 

We were a bit put out when we discovered our luggage didn't make the trip with us. Oh, we coped. But I learned a valuable lesson. Never get on a plane without a spare change of clothing. It took the airline company two days to locate our suitcases. 

We enjoyed the visit with my grandparents, but for me the highlight was our daily walks to the main street in town where the hunk treated me to tacos from Taco Bell. They were such a novelty, though of course now they're all over the country. 

We picked oranges and grapefruit from Grandpa's trees in the back yard. And had ribbon candy from the tin Grandma kept in the refrigerator. The hunk and Grandpa spent time in Grandpa's wood shop. Grandma taught me embroidery on gingham. And before we were ready it was time to go home.

The trip home wasn't nearly as exciting...or scary, though landing at O'Hare was quite an experience. And when I look at the few pictures that have survived through the years, I can't believe we were ever that young.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Christmas Assignment

The shack was the smallest home on the short gravel road.  At first glance its origins as a storage shed were obvious.  A quick second look revealed the crooked mismatched windows and a shadowy doorway with the torn screen door that flapped idly in the cold fitful wind.
            Inside it was dark and cold, so cold the water dregs in a dirty cup on a crate next to the sagging bed had a thin skin of ice.  The man stretched out in the bed struggled to breathe, wheezing and groaning with each breath.  He shivered as he huddled beneath ragged blankets and two old, dirty coats piled on him for warmth.  Snow flakes whirled through the broken window pane above the bed, settling in the worn fabric folds covering him.
            In the tiny bathroom, a desperate conference occupied the old man’s companions.  Harold the rat moderated, earnestly leading the discussion about what to do for Otto, their human sleeping in the next room.
            "He needs a doctor," Harold growled.  "We need to call 911."
            "No one will come because none of us can tell them what's wrong."  Sally Squirrel sighed, close to losing her patience.  Harold just wouldn't listen.  "In the TV shows, the operator always asks what the emergency is.  We can't tell them."
            Mick, the chipmunk tentatively cleared his throat.  "Siggy could bark."
            Harold's whiskers bristled and he snorted in disgust.  "And what good will that do?"  One ear, ragged and torn, twitched in agitation.
            "It always worked for Lassie," Mick's wife, Daffy retorted while pulling her scrap of blanket closer to her thin chest.  "It worked for Benjy, too."
            "Those are TV dogs.  Of course it worked.  TV isn't real, you know," Siggy woofed softly.  "I don't mind barking, mind you, but I doubt that it would do much good.  Besides, even if the emergency people came, that wouldn't solve our problem.  How are we going to let them know who he is?  How are they going to know he's the Christmas Angel?  If they just think he's a bum, nobody will ever know how generous and unselfish he is.  And his family might not find him."
            Gloom settled over the small group.  Then Daffy hesitantly offered, "If we could get his treasure box open, we could place one of the money bundles on the bed with his red coat and hat.  There can't be that many red cowboy hats or red and green coats made from a Navaho blanket in Cleveland and they'll take a closer look because of the money."
            "How do we get the box open?"  Sally's reasonable question was unanswerable.  They had no idea where Otto had hidden the key.
            Siggy sighed gustily and softly padded from the dank bathroom out into the main room.  The others could hear faint clicks and scratches.  Then Siggy reappeared with a battered basket stuffed with odds and ends clutched precariously in his mouth.  He dumped it on the floor in the center of their little circle and tipped it over.
            Pitty Paw, a mottled gray cat, who remained silent until then, patted through the rag-tag collection until she spied a broken nail file.  "Aha!  Isn't this what that silly woman on CSI used last week?"
            The whole group studied the broken file dubiously.  Finally, Sally slowly nodded.  "It might work.  The rest of you keep looking through this junk while Pitty Paw and I go try to open the lock."
            Sally and Pitty Paw went out into the main room and trotted briskly over to the bed.  Wiggling through the small space between the boxes stuffed under the bed, they wove through Otto's jumbled belongings until they reached the treasure box against the back wall.  Sally brandished the rough little file and then poked it in the keyhole.  Immediately, it jammed tight and they couldn't get it unstuck.  After several more futile attempts to free it, Pitty Paw silently went to fetch help.
            In a few minutes, she returned with Jacko, Harold's right paw rat.  Jacko silently studied the problem before worming around in the dust bunnies until he was flat on his back with his powerful hind legs pressing against the file.  "You two brace me so I don't slide all over," he directed a bit breathlessly.  "I'll push on three.  One…two…three!"  Jacko lashed out with both hind paws.  There was a faint ping before the file when flying off into the darkness.
            Sally sighed.  "Bother.  Thank you, Jacko.  I'll just go see if I can locate the stupid thing so I can try again.  Next time, I'll try not to get it jammed."
            "Hold up there," Harold whispered loudly behind them.  "We found a key."  He dragged it up to the treasure box and dropped it with a faint clank.  "Try this, Sally."
            She clutched the key in her tiny paws and carefully inserted it into the keyhole.  "It fits."  Jacko helped her maneuver the key back and forth until they heard a tiny click and the lock sprang free.  The lid tilted up revealing a narrow gap. 
            Harold tilted his head and peered into the box.  "I see the money bundles.  Let's drag one out so we can get this done."  They huffed and puffed and tugged and pushed and pulled and it was all in vain.  The box lid, jammed against the bottom of the bed, wouldn't open any further.  There just wasn't enough clearance to extract one of the thick bundles of money.
            Pitty Paw crouched down with her head on her paws and thought.  "Do we need the entire bundle?" she asked.
            They all stared at each other for a few moments before Harold shrugged.  "I don't think so.  What's your idea?"
            Pitty Paw crept forward, grasped the tattered green pile of bills poking out through the opening with her sharp teeth, and yanked.  There was an ominous ripping noise, and abruptly, she crouched in front of them with a mouthful of money, sticking out in all directions like so much lettuce.  She spat it out with a grimace and poked it in Harold's direction with her nose.  "There is the money.  Now what do we do?"
            Sally and Jacko gathered up the money while Harold scampered back to the bathroom to work out the next steps.  By the time they crawled out from under the bed, Siggy was trotting across the room with Otto's red and green coat clutched in his mouth.  He dumped it on the bed across Otto's feet and went back for Otto's hat.  When she saw that Siggy couldn't shake the hat loose from the hook where it hung, Sally skittered up the coat tree, pushed the hat until it teetered on the very edge and then flicked it once with her fluffy tail.
            Seconds later, they all stood around trying to stifle their laughter because the hat landed squarely on Siggy's head, slumping down over his ears and one black eye.  His damp black nose poked out from under the brim.  He sniffed and tossed his head, dislodging the hat.
            In a very few minutes they had everything arranged so that they were ready to make the important call to 911.  Sally tipped the phone off the hook and methodically poked at the numbers with her tiny fisted paw.  Shortly, the operator answered and Siggy began to bark…
            By the time the first police car responded, Siggy was nearly hoarse.  The officer quickly called in a request for an ambulance.  While it was enroute, he noticed the animals, all sitting in a composed little group next to the bed.  Keeping his eyes on them, he called out to his partner, "Joe?  Come in here for a second."
            Joe poked his head inside and demanded, "What?  I'm trying to talk to the guy that lives across the road."
            "Look at the animals, Joe.  When have you ever seen a bunch like this all together?  A dog, a cat, two rats, four squirrels and three chipmunks--all together in a little group.  They aren't acting like they're afraid of us, either."
            While the two officers watched, Sally climbed up on the foot of the bed and sat next to the bright red cowboy hat.  Tilting her head to one side as though to say, "Well?", she waited for them to make a move.
            Cautiously, Officer Joe slowly approached and lifted the hat.  He turned it in his hands, noting the name printed in the hat band.  "Mike, I think this guy is that Christmas Angel that hands out money every Christmas.  You know the one that gives away fifty dollar bills down in the projects?"
            "This guy?"  Mike scoffed at the very idea.  "He's just some bum."
            "I don't think so.  The name in this hat is Otto McKenzie."
            "Otto McKenzie?  What would a millionaire be doing in a dump like this?"  Mike held out his hand for the hat so he could see for himself.
            Joe handed over the hat and pushed back his own hat, scratching his ear in thought.  "I seem to remember reading that McKenzie walked out of his headquarters one day and just disappeared.  There was something about him resigning because of unethical business practices by his board of directors.  He turned them into the SEC and most of them went to jail."
            "Well, if he's really McKenzie and also the Christmas Angel, I guess we know where the money came from.  Wasn't there a special program on TV not too long ago about him?  I think his children have been searching for him.  I'll bet this will make for a real happy Christmas for them."  Mike heard the sirens approaching and went to direct the EMTs.  In the hustle and bustle of getting Otto ready for the ambulance, the officers lost track of the animals.  When they finally had a few minutes to close up the little house, the animals were no where to be found. 
            Both officers looked very carefully before admitting that the animals were gone, but when they had locked up and returned to their patrol car, they both agreed that there was something very odd about the little group.  They acted like Otto McKenzie's guardian angels.
            From their observation point, deep in a bush at the corner of the little house, the animals watched the patrol car slowly move down the gravel road.
            "Otto will be alright, now," Harold declared with satisfaction.  "We did a good job.  His family will appreciate him now and be glad to have him home."
            "Well," Pitty Paw observed thoughtfully.  "I hope on the next assignment God gives us, we get to have hands." 
            "And can speak to humans," Siggy growled hoarsely.  
Then with a flash and twinkle, they were gone.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Bride Doll

A long time ago, in warm sunny Arizona, I made daily stops in the general store in our tiny town to lust after the most beautiful doll in the world--a bride doll. Every day when I went home after school I mentioned to my mother how I really, really, really, really hoped Santa would bring me the bride doll for Christmas.

Back then, with less media exposure, in a simpler time, children believed in Santa quite a bit longer. There was still a certain innocence in childhood. We still believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the dissonance between the secular and religious aspects of the holidays never seemed to matter.

Our little town was really small. I only remember one stoplight in the entire town, though there might have been others. The walk from the school, past the general store down the hill to our back door wasn't more than a couple blocks. Inside the general store, there was a high shelf near the ceiling and that was where the owners stored all the really exciting toy merchandise. That's where my doll was displayed.

One afternoon, after Thanksgiving, I was taking my usual stroll past the store when I noticed my mother getting into our car. She offered me a ride and instructed me to get into the front seat. But it was too late...I'd already opened the back door to take my customary spot in the back seat. And lo...there was my doll! The big box was stuffed between the seats on the floor, but even I could tell it was my doll!

My mother calmly told me to close the door and get in the front seat. Then she gently explained all about Santa Claus. And since I was the oldest child in my family, she further charged me with the responsibility of keeping the Santa secret from my brothers. And so I did. I have no idea how or when they found out about Santa. But for me, the bride doll I received that year was always inextricably tied to the secret of Santa Claus.

I still have the doll. She's kinda of beat up and her fancy dresses are long gone. One of my projects for the coming year is to crochet a new dress for her. I wonder how old children are now when they no longer believe in Santa--or if they do at all. Certainly, there are children who don't receive any gift, let alone something from Santa. Perhaps, just perhaps, if you have it in your heart, you'll find such a child and give them a gift from your heart. Because every child needs something to believe in.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Boy Two

Back in 1970, on this date, I was in labor, working hard (that's why it's called labor) to deliver my second child. The hunk and I already had a little boy fourteen months old, so I was absolutely convinced this baby would be a girl. Completely, totally sure of it.

In 1970, many women were given anesthesia during the last few moments of delivery. The doctor didn't ask if you wanted it. They just did whatever they wanted, assuming you didn't have the brains God gave a chicken, so of course, you wouldn't know whether you needed to be awake or not.

When the O.B. nurse woke me, he kept going on and on about how I had a 'big, big boy'. I immediately corrected him because I just KNEW I had a girl. We had a little set-to over the gender of my new baby. Until my doctor asked the nursery nurse to bring my baby to the delivery room.

You have to understand that the nursery nurses back then were not very comfortable with a new mother actually TOUCHING the baby. Goodness knows what they thought was going to happen when we took our babies home, but she was clearly reluctant to surrender her blanket-wrapped bundle...even after my doctor ordered her to place the baby in my arms.

Well, you know...I started unwrapping the baby and he yawned and grabbed my finger with his tiny hand and somehow I just fell in love with him. And I really didn't care if he was a boy.

Happy Birthday, Tony!

Thursday, November 30, 2017


There's just no telling what will lift you out of the doldrums. For most of the year I've been in a morass of 'oh, woe is me' feelings. Nope, there's nothing major wrong. I've just been wallowing. Then the other day, I saw this cover on a fellow author's site. She and her husband have a cover art business and she posted this as a pre-made cover.

And I had to have it.

I have a lot of books waiting to be re-pubbed, but somehow, I just didn't have the get up and go to even care. And then...the cover. It captured my imagination and I thought this is the one. So, after all the Christmas kerfuffle, Kama Sutra Lovers will be back up for sale.

While I was rummaging around in my computer files in search of the actual book file, I was forced to acknowledge things were getting a bit out of hand. So I set out to 'get organized'. Heh. Wasn't that a trip!

Some books had as many as five different files. Which one is the right one? I foresee a lot of reading in my future. However, that will be a good thing...because in the last couple years I've forgotten an important truth. I'm actually capable of writing an entertaining story!

It's easy to forget that when your books are drowning in the publishing sea of poor writing, worse editing, petty readers/writers/publishers and no sales. Well, no more. Whatever all the others out there are doing, I will go back to what I did best. I'll write the stories I enjoy reading. And maybe, someone else will enjoy reading them, too.

It all began with one cover. For that, I'm especially grateful. Yes, Emmy Ellis, it's all your fault!

If you're looking for a cover, check her out at

Friday, November 17, 2017

Losing the Plot

The number one question I receive from readers: Are you ever going to finish the _____ series? And the answer is: Possibly.

Part of the issue when you walk away from writing for a while due to health issues, family chaos, publisher closings, etc., etc., etc. is you lose the plot--literally. It's real difficult to just pick back up where you left off, because you don't even know where that is!

For instance, when I was writing the Mystic Valley series, I knew exactly what every character's story would be. Now, ten years later, in spite of all my notes, I have to re-read the books and try to figure out where I am in the overall story.

Sometimes things in the 'world' change what you were going to write in your story. Maybe real life events adversely affect your projected plot. Ooooops. I have a shifter/angel series that I'll likely have to completely revamp before I can republish it. History has moved on, leaving my characters behind. Then the question becomes how much energy do I want to invest in a series that may not sell more than a handful of books? How much to I love those characters?

I also have series I planned and never wrote because life intervened. I spent a lot of time on research for those books, so I hate to just dump it in the round file. How can I use the information I've accumulated for different stories than the ones I planned?

Some authors carry a set of characters and story around in their heads for years before the time is finally right for them to write the story. Suddenly, the day comes when the time is now! Perhaps all that researching will pay off for an entirely different book.

In the meantime, I'm writing while I search for those lost plots. I know they're around here somewhere, buried deep in my brain, just waiting to pop out at the most inopportune time. And then... I'll write the rest of the series.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Editing Lite

I have seen a lot of individuals advertising their services as editors--and I wonder exactly what they believe their services encompass. I have read books supposedly edited--and even read the glowing reviews for those editorial services from their authors--and found the books riddled with errors, typos, and misused words (such as shutter instead of shudder or the wrong to/two/too). All of this leads me to ponder exactly what the writer is paying for when they hire an editor.

It seems to me there is a wide range of services that falls under the category 'editing'. Obviously, for some editors, spelling/word usage, isn't part of the editing service. Perhaps the editing they are performing might best be called edit lite. Or perhaps they believe spell check will take care of the issues. I don't know. I DO know it totally throws me out of the story when I'm confronted with glaring errors.

Every reader has a line they reach when they just stop reading and toss the book. For some the story must be engaging. For others, head-hopping is their bugaboo. For's the sheer lack of proofing/editing on the part of the author. Yep, I get that you paid someone to edit your book. But if you didn't ascertain what you were paying for--or you didn't receive the service you paid for--then it's still up to you, the author to do the job. Ultimately, your name is on the cover. When you present shoddy work, it really doesn't matter whether you have a fabulous story or not. The first (and last) impression is shoddy workmanship.

Perhaps the best writer's practice should be to not only ask 'how much' when they're seeking out an editor, but 'what does that cover?' If the editing just covers a quick once over to catch continuity errors, then that's something the author needs to know and understand. And...maybe authors need to be more selective in their vocabulary and grammar and word usage.

Or maybe, my current practice is the only way. I just re-read the books I know were written and edited by professionals who care.