Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Standardized Christmas List



Hey I’ve been there. I was a young wife, mother of three, full-time teacher, and active in my church. I know the sound of the word “busy.” And the weeks before Christmas seem to be the worse. You have visions of sitting down and enjoying your child’s concert, but your mind is elsewhere. You would love to be able to buy a few gifts for that sweet child on the “Wish Tree” who wrote “All I want is a soccer ball and a coat, but you wonder when you’ll have the time and where you’ll get the money. 

I learned long ago the benefits of what I call The Standardized Christmas List. Here’s how it works and how it benefits you and your family:

1. Recognize that Christmas comes on December 25 every year.Because you know it is coming, you can plan ahead. Sounds like a no brainer, right? Maybe, but I personally know people who act as if Christmas came as a total surprise. One family takes out a loan every December to buy extravagant gifts for their kids. They count on their income tax return to pay back the loan. Buying gifts throughout the year takes stress off of you at Christmastime and helps with your budget.

2. Decide on four or five constant list items for each child you buy for at Christmas.For my girls, I always gave them a book, something musical, something artistic, a game, and something collectible.  With that “list” in mind, I could be on the lookout for those items throughout the year. Allison collected porcelain dolls, Danielle loved music globes, and Kendall collected Cherished Teddies. Since I knew what each collected, I watched for sales. If I met an author of children’s books, I would be able to not only give the girls each a book I could give them signed copies. Something musical could be anything from a harmonica for my oldest to a wind-up musical toy for the baby. You get the idea. With a list of constants in mind, I had at least four or five Christmas gifts for each child before school started in September.
Yep, that's a picture of me with Patricia Polacco. I bought her books for my girls for Christmas.

3. Pick and choose from the “needs list.”The needs list usually included items of clothing. If someone needed a new winter coat and could wear their old one until Christmas, fine. I wouldn’t make them struggle through ice and snow for a month, though, just to have another gift under the tree. But my girls always neededsome sort of clothing. Because they were growing so fast, I bought clothing as close to Christmas as I could. And… because I already had several gifts to put under the tree by then, I had the money I needed to purchase that new sweater or outfit for each of them.

4. Pick and choose from the “wants list.”Kids see it they want it. It’s a given. My children were never greedy but they certainly went through spells of wanting what was trendy or cute even though I knew the trend wouldn’t last or the “cuteness’ wouldn’t continue to hold their interest. Let’s face it, we think that stuffed hippo is adorable, too, but we know that unless the child can’t get to sleep at night without it, it will wind up in the bottom of the toy box or set aside in the corner of the bedroom. That said, if you already have gifts for them you purchased throughout the year, you can cheerfully choose something from the “want list.” Just not everythingthey want.

So why am I writing this now? So close to Christmas? I spoke with a woman at church this week who told me how much she did not like Christmas. She said it was stressful and she was exhausted. She almost didn’t come to the women’s event because she had so much shopping to do and she didn’t take a “wish tree” child this year because she couldn’t afford the time or money it took to shop for one more person.

It may not help you much this year, but January is right around the corner. Time to start planning for next year. I’m serious.

Let me know you're here...Leave a comment or your idea for a stress free holiday!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Space Age Christmas: The Future Has Arrived

I am a product of the space age. I was a bit too young to remember the launch of Sputnik by the Russians in 1957, but I remember when Alan Shepard went into space in May of 1961. I remember it because my birthday was only three days earlier. Everyone seemed obsessed with the notion of exploring outer space.

This Computer is a Result of the Race for Space
The science behind making the space race possible yielded curious new technology that soon spilled over into the consumer market. For example, space travel required maximizing power while minimizing space. Think transistor radio. (If you’re old enough to remember those.)

I’ve shared with students through the years that we have computers today because of the need for them to operate rockets to conquer space. It’s true. 

Space travel inspired futuristic comic books and movies. The idea of living in outer space or on another planet captured the imagination of everyone. Including the Hanna-Barbera team that produced the popular cartoon, The Flintstones.

A space age cartoon called the Jetsons arrived on the scene in 1962 only a year after Shepard’s historic flight. The Jetsons had cool gadgets –cars that could fly and a station in the kitchen where you merely punched in the food item you wanted and it appeared hot and ready in a minute. We don’t have cars that fly but we do have microwaves. Of course we have to put the food in it first.

Although the story themes were traditional, I watched the Jetsons fascinated to see how people might live in the future. 

AP Photo Credit/ Claude Paris
Consider this: The Jetsons had two children Judy and Elroy.  The children climbed in a pod and were delivered to school every morning. Unimaginable? We have drones that will deliver packages. Not that far fetched after all.

George Jetson, the father in the cartoon wore a watch that also served as a computer of sorts. His boss would call him and they could actually see each other as the talked.  Silly? Not so much. It was, in essence a smart watch. 

Jane Jetson, the mom, could speak to friends via Facetime, though it wasn’t called that. She even had a special mask of her own face she could wear if the call was early and she hadn’t combed her hair. 

We have a lot of what was only imagined in the 1960’s. I’ve personally reaped the benefits of products invented because of the space race. I’m typing this post on my laptop computer. I have a cell phone I can take with me anywhere. My computer in my car can calculate the best route to drive to my desired destination. 

The Future Has Arrived!
But those inventions pale in comparison to my newest acquisition.

You see, the Jetsons had a robot named Rosie who cleaned the house for them. The day after Thanksgiving, a local department store offered a Roomba at a great price during the “Black Friday” sale. So I treated myself to an early Christmas present. 

A Roomba is an automated vacuum to sweep my floors while I sit here and type. 

A programmable robot. A Rosie of my own. The future has arrived. 

Well, almost. I’m still hoping they’ll invent a filter for the camera on my Smart phone that will make me look younger and thinner. 

What do you wish to see invented next? Think. Believe. Create. It all starts with your imagination.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Memory Tree


I’ve seen many Christmas trees in my life. My first grade teacher in Arizona brought in a tumbleweed for us to decorate. My trendy Aunt Pat had a silver tree with blue ornaments. Tom and I had fresh cut trees, live trees we later planted in our yard, and at least one artificial tree. I even bought a tiny tree at Jumbo for my coffee table in Kosovo last year. I put a picture of one of those live trees we planted years ago at the bottom of this post. It towers over me...and the house we lived in at that time!

Newest in My Collection:
The Crystal Palm Tree & Ceramic Angel
Christmas trees in some ways anchor our memories to places and times. There was the tree our friend Carl gave us as a wedding present. We had been married almost a week. Christmas was in a couple of days and Carl, a boy in his in his teens showed up at our door with a tree.  

As college students we soon learned that if you waited until Christmas Eve, you could get a free tree when the sales lot closed. Those were silly and fun memories. Of course with those trees come the not so great memories of picking dead pine needles out of the carpet. 

And we didn’t always put a tree up. When we moved to Ohio, we made every effort to spend Christmas with our family in Florida. My parents would have everything ready for our daughters so they could have the fun of decorating the Christmas tree. As the girls grew, our trips included spending the whole holiday or at least part of it at a ski resort. Now those people know how to decorate! Snow guaranteed. 

The Christmas tree was never the focus of the holiday for us but I always liked the beauty of the greenery and the twinkling lights. I loved going out into the woods when my parents moved to Tennessee to pick out the tree as a family. Tom and my dad cut it down and hauled it back to the farmhouse. We made a lot of the ornaments…and memories that year.

This year, after the Thanksgiving table was cleared, my daughters helped me unearth the artificial tree stored in the basement and cart it upstairs. Kendall put it together and plugged it in. It was a start. 
Nora Put Her Favorites Together

I brought red and green tubs of decorations into the living room. Nora and Josie began removing the tissue paper. 

“Who’s this, Doll?” they would ask. 
“Oh that’s your Aunt Alli.” 
“She was a little girl.”
“Yep.” 

And up went the stocking ornament with Allison’s picture on it.

“I found a decoration with Aunt D!”
“Here’s a baby on an ornament, Doll!”
“That’s your mommy,” I told them.

Up went the ornaments featuring Danielle and Kendall.

We let the second grader and kindergartener decorate the tree as they saw fit. Yes, there were a lot of bare spots. Nora found an ornament with her baby picture on it, placed it as high as she could reach and began adding decorations to it. My youngest daughter said it looked almost like Nora was creating a shrine to herself. We couldn’t help but laugh. 

I could easily spot the ornaments Josie hung. They were low on the tree… Right at her eye level… In the front. She was disappointed all of the snowmen were too heavy to place on one branch. She gasped as they tumbled to the ground. 

I loved giving the little girls total freedom to decorate my Christmas tree their own way. It brought back a flood of memories of my three daughters laughing, singing, and working together. I decided it was perhaps the most beautiful, though lopsided tree in the world. 

A Little Lopsided, Bare in Spots
But Beautiful!
It was getting late and my family had to leave.
I was tempted to close the other boxes and declare the job done.

But then…
There were three of the first ornaments Tom and I bought together when we got married.  There used to be six. I put them on the tree.

My grandmother crocheted little red baskets for our first Christmas tree. We would put tiny wrapped mints in them for visitors to “discover” and eat. It wouldn’t hurt to put a few of those on this year’s tree. 

I turned on some Christmas music. I pulled out more ornaments our children made at church or school to give us as gifts. There were ornaments former students had given me and tiny framed photos of my family. 

There were new ornaments for my tree this year. Ceramic hearts and an angel I bought on a trip to Budapest with some teacher friends. 

And then there were the palm tree ornaments. One of my friends, Candy, read last year’s blog post about how significant the palm tree is for me. I had shared how my children and grandchildren made palm tree ornaments for me first Christmas after Tom died. My friend Grace made a palm tree ornament for my tree in Kosovo. Candy found a beautiful crystal palm tree for me to hang on my tree this year.

It may not be the biggest tree. I can’t plant it in my yard come spring, but it is the first tree in this house. It is my memory tree…with more memories in the making.  



Feel free to share the post(s) or leave a comment. I look forward to hearing about your own special ornaments and memories. 

And Just For Fun...This is Me Standing in Front of One of Our
"Christmas Trees Past."
Hard to Believe This was Once a Small Tree in Our Family Room!




Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Shadows of Thanksgiving



Last year I celebrated Thanksgiving with other Expats in Kosovo. Several of our friends who are Nationals were there as well. We had turkey with all the trimmings. Mostly. I took roasted vegetables. I had trouble finding fresh rosemary and thyme. I settled for packages of the herbs with pictures on
Roasted Vegetables: Kosovo 2017
the front that looked the part. My friend Ruth was with me as we shopped. I’m not sure what language was on the label. Even Ruth’s translation app on her phone wasn’t sure. The recipe also requires butternut squash. I was about to give up when my friend Jill offered me one a mutual friend found on a trip to Greece. The vegetables were acceptable. The pumpkin pie was a team effort with several of us in the kitchen offering possible substitutes for missing ingredients. Christopher’s cranberry sauce was delicious even though it was made from cherries. Hey, sometimes you have to make do with what you have.

After we ate we played an interesting game of “Mafia.” We snacked and played games all afternoon. Kosovo is six hours ahead in time from Ohio. I left the party before we broke out the desserts. I was back in my apartment in time to engage in some face-to-face time with my family via Google Hangouts. My three daughters, my three sons-in-law and my eight grandchildren gathered for Thanksgiving. It was wonderful to see everyone together at my house for the holiday. My mother was there as well, though maybe a bit reluctantly. She didn’t feel right having dinner in my home without me. 

I have many Thanksgiving memories but this is one I will long cherish. This is why:

For some reason the technology wasn’t working correctly. I could see and hear them fine. They could see me but couldn’t hear me on their computer. We tried all kinds of settings. One of the kids finally figured out an alternate solution using a phone. They left the computer on and set it on the fireplace mantel in the living room. I spoke with everyone. Every daughter, every son-in-law, and every  grandchild. I talked with my mom. She took me on a tour of the kitchen with all of my daughters chatting and cooking together. They had actual cranberries and all the ingredients they needed. And a big turkey. I loved it.

My whole family was there. So was I... in spirit. 

The food was ready so everyone helped put the various dishes on the table. We prayed and then I said my good-byes. We hung up. But as they turned off the phone, the computer on the mantel came back to life. I had a clear view of my empty living room. I could hear the voices of my loved ones in the dining area though I couldn’t tell what they were saying. I could see shadows as they moved, pouring drinks and settling the little ones into their chairs but they couldn’t see me. 

And I could hear their laughter. I closed my eyes to the shadows and wrapped myself in the warmth of being part of a family. For a long time, I lay stretched out on the couch listening to the sounds of love.

Do comment. Feel free to share a Thanksgiving memory. I'll respond.

If you want to read the post I wrote about that Kosovo Thanksgiving in 2017,  CLICK HERE.  






Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Outtakes

Outtakes are those scenes or conversations that are cut from the original version of a book, movie, or television program. If you remember the television show Home Improvement, you’ll likely remember the outtakes shown at the end where actors messed up their lines and so forth. 

I think of outtakes in my writing the way I think of purging my closet. 

Don't Judge! You Know We All Need to Purge!
Sometimes clothing pieces are removed they’re because they no longer fit with my wardrobe…or fit me. Sometimes they’re tossed because they’re outdated. And sometimes I kick out portions of the manuscript because, like that crazy shirt I bought on impulse, the words I used were useless and needed to go.

Sometimes the purging is not my choice. When I pitched Breathing on Her Own to Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, I proposed an eighty thousand-word novel. As I was finishing the final work with my editor, the publisher decided I should cut the book to sixty thousand words since I was a new author. Those outtakes amounted to twenty thousand words!

In a few short months, Ambassador International Publishing will release Libby’s Cuppa Joe, my second novel. It is the story of a young woman who buys an established coffee shop in Wisconsin’s popular Door County. She makes some life changing decisions –some good and some not so good. 

The editing is complete so I thought it might be fun to share with you a couple of the outtakes from the beginning of the story. I hope you enjoy them. I sprinkled my own comments in for perspective.

#1      “Sonja Parker. What do you know about running a coffee shop?” Fran reached for her tall Styrofoam cup. 
         “Look. I have a latte and you have, what? A caramel something or other? And that little girl who made these drinks has to be like seventeen or eighteen, right?”
         Fran turned her head toward the coffee counter located in the center of the mall. “I’m guessin’ twelve. I mean, really. Look at her.” 
         “My point being, if a high school kid can learn to make this stuff, I can too.” Sonja pulled one of the metal chairs out from under the small round table as the two set their coffees down. “And anyway, I don’t have to learn it all right away. Turns out, Shirley’s Cuppa Joe serves plain old coffee. For now. ”
         “Did you say Shirley’s Cuppa Joe?”
         “Named after the people who owned it. Shirley and Joe Davis.”
         “So what will youcall it? Sonja’s Cuppa Something?”
         “Funny. Actually, I’ll probably keep the name. I’d have to go through a lot to get a new sign, napkins, cups, and all. Anyway, Shirley’s Cuppa Joe is established and making money. No need to rock the boat right away. My dad says I should just keep the status quo until I get a feel for the business.” 
Fran wiped a drop of coffee from the table. “So if this place was doing so well, why are they selling it?”

Comment: Good question. I mean why sell if it is successful? And by the way, if you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know the coffee shop used to be called Shirley’s Cuppa Joe. That was one change I made because my readers told me “Shirley” was outdated…(Sorry Cuz).

#2      Sonja Parker pulled her sweater on and buttoned it closed. The San Diego climate was mild, but the office manager of DW Logistics insisted on keeping the thermostat turned down to a frigid temperature. She picked up the documents on her desk and headed to her manager’s office.
On the way, she dropped a spreadsheet on Fran’s desk. “It’s sixty-eight degrees in here. Aren’t you freezing?”
“I thought people from Wisconsin love the cold.”
“Sixty-eight degrees in Wisconsin calls for a picnic or day at the lake. It’s just that I prefer the cool temperatures to be outside. Not inside my cubicle.”
“Yeah, I know. You’d think we shipped frozen food out of here instead of bathroom fixtures.” Fran nodded toward the closed inner office door. “Tell Percy to kick up the heat while you’re in there.” 
 Sonja knocked lightly before poking her head in the manager’s office. She wondered how Percy would react to the notice she held in her hand. Would he miss her or merely be upset that he now had a little over three weeks to replace her?
Sonja swallowed hard. The gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach seemed to flip over and land hard as she turn the handle. Fran would call it a sign. If she knew what I’m about to do. Maybe I’m making a mistake. A big mistake.

Part of my own "backstory."
But nobody really needs to see Tom's shirt
and my matching dress from Maui. 
Comment: I eliminated these two pieces because they are essentially “backstory.” Kind of like the clothes I keep because they are from my youth or hold memories for me.  Like the Hawaiian shirt and matching dress pictured here. The backstory details don't always have to be shown in a story. 

My readers will find out soon enough that Sonja is moving back to Wisconsin from San Diego. They’ll understand she is making a career change without me telling them. 



So what do you think so far? Want more? Be sure ot comment. I’ll be sure to respond. 









Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Sense of Community

I planned to write a post about “community” for today. I am part of a camping community, a writing community, as well as many others. But when I recently talked with a young woman about possibly serving in Kosovo, she asked me several questions. One question she asked was about where I worshiped while I lived in Prishtina. That led me to think about a much larger community of which I am a part. 

My church.

In Kosovo I was part of a wonderful church family called Drita e Bot√ęs.

It means Light of the World. When I told her it is a Nazarene church she seemed surprised. I told her of other churches in the city including the Catholic church, the International church and other congregations meeting on a regular basis. I had friends at all of them.

“So how did you choose?”
“I like the feel of the church. The music is wonderful and the pastor offers thought provoking messages. He’s smart and studies the scriptures diligently. And I love the people. They are like family and I continue to pray for them.”

Our conversation made me think about how the church family is never located in one building. Tom and I were members of Fairfield Church of Christ in Ohio. We attended a Baptist Church in Florida, and a non-denominational church in South Carolina. I sometimes attend Crossroads Church in Cincinnati with my youngest daughter, Christ the King Church in Wisconsin with my middle daughter, and I often attend Vineyard in Cincinnati. My oldest daughter and her family like that one.

What do they have in common? Every one of these churches, from Kosovo to Florida to Ohio all know and trust Jesus as Lord and Savior. I can count on hearing the message of God’s love and His plan for me every time we gather. A personal relationship with Jesus is the focus of these churches. That relationship spills over into serving and loving others. I love these people. They are like my family. 

This past Sunday I was sharing my trip to Kosovo with my mother’s Sunday school class. I slipped into the sanctuary at the end of the worship service and sat next to my friend and sister in Christ, Joyce. As we stood and sang the closing song, we put our arms around each other. It was a precious moment. Almost like heaven, I think. A taste of what it is like to be filled with joy and love and to worship together.

Family. Friends. Fellow Believers.

A sense of community.
 A sense of belonging. 
A sense of shared values.

I recently heard John Piper speak at Vineyard Cincinnati. He started by sharing his mission statement. It hasn’t changed in fifty years. I thought about my own mission statement for my writing. I have one, but it needs work. I want my readers to experience that sense of community and belonging. I want readers of my books to desire a deeper connection to Jesus and seek to worship and serve Him. 

I want my readers to become like family.

And here is a real treat for you...some of my church family in Prishtina leading the worship service. It my be in Albanian but I bet you'll find yourself singing along.



Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Chocolate Pudding: The Ultimate Pain Killer

In 1999 my husband and I went snow skiing in Salt Lake City, Utah. We wanted to check out the slopes to be featured in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Our first morning of skiing was fun. Park City is an incredible venue. As we neared the exit for one of the lifts late in the morning, we decided to race down to a nearby lodge for hot chocolate. Everything was perfect. The snow. The weather. Everything. Well, everything except the setting on my right ski binding. Bindings are set so that if a skier falls the boot releases from the ski. 

I fell. My left boot released. My right boot stayed in the binding. The right ski planted itself firmly in the snow while the rest of my body hurled down the slope. I screamed in pain. Tom got to me quickly as did the ski patrol. I won’t go into the details. Suffice it to say that even though it did not break the skin, the fall sheared the patella off. In essence, I had a broken knee. Not a typical break by any means.

My surgeon in Ohio cleverly figured out a way to lasso the patella and tie it to a screw in my leg. I was in a straight leg brace for weeks and then in rehab even longer to learn how to bend my knee again. Through it all, my mom and Tom cared for me. My mom drove me to teach my classes at the university and Tom did everything he could to comfort me. 

One day, Tom came home from work carrying a small grocery bag. “I got you some medicine,” he said in a sing-song voice. He had a huge grin on his face. I pulled out a package of four individual cups of chocolate pudding. 

I like chocolate pudding.

That came to be an ongoing practice. If I was sick or feeling down…if I had a stressful week or something happened at work, Tom would come home with “my medicine.” The man knew how to take care of me. 

My knee healed and I was able to ski again. My surgeon warned me though that one day the injury would come back to haunt me. He said I could likely expect trauma- induced arthritis in ten years or so. It wasn’t uncommon. 

My knee served me well for eighteen years before the pain started. Two thousand-seventeen. The worst had already happened. Tom died on October 29, 2014. I wound up having cortisone shots until finally the bones in my knee collapsed and the cortisone wouldn’t work anymore. 

My surgeon scheduled me for a complete knee replacement. I felt a bit overwhelmed.

Oh sure, since Tom’s death I had overcome other obstacles:
I went on a mission trip to India without him.
I negotiated and bought a new car without him.
I sold our house without him.
I bought another house and had it renovated without him.
I moved to Europe, living in Kosovo for ten months without him.

But in some way or another he had prepared me for those events. This was different. It was the first major medical issue I faced without Tom. I prayed for guidance. 

The surgery was scheduled for October 12. I had little time to prepare. I knew I would need a walker and would be going to therapy. My mom planned to stay with me and drive me to my therapy sessions. My children were looking at ways to help as well. It’s not that I didn’t have support. It’s simply that I didn’t have Tom. 

A few days before the surgery I was at the grocery picking up some things I thought I might need. There it was. A bin of chocolate pudding cups on sale… “This week only.” I bought a boatload (well, a very small boat) of chocolate pudding.

My surgery was successful. I have been faithful in doing my exercises, taking the prescribed meds, and… eating my chocolate pudding. As I write this Tom has been in heaven for four years. But I can still see his grin and hear his voice. “I got you some medicine.”

CLICK TO VIEW
If you follow my blog you know that some of the other authors from the Ohio Christian Fiction Anthology 2018 have served as guests on the blog. These women stepped up to help me during this difficult season of surgery and recovery. 

Sandra Merville Hart, JPC Allen, Michelle Levigne, and Carole Brown. If you missed their posts, simply click on their name to read what they have to say about writing. Hart shares how she researches a location. Allen introduces us the genre of Country Noir. Levigne offers wise advice on editing and Brown gives clues to building characters within a storyline.