Friday, December 23, 2016

Light, Love, and Inflated Expectations

Thought for the day:  North, south, east, or west, old traditions are the best.

Hi-ya! I hope you all have the merriest Christmas ... and happiest Hanukkah... ever. Lots of love and smiles from our house to yours.

Talking about smiles, it's time for me to share that old chestnut Christmas post with you again. What can I say? Don't wanta buck tradition. So with a few revisions, here ya go... again...

Traditions don't have to necessarily be classy, you knowSometimes, they're just plain fun... or funny. Candlelight services on Christmas Eve, singing the Hallelujah Chorus with the church choir, and caroling with the neighbors... especially when it's snowing... those things are all both traditional and classy. This post? Not so much. But this is the sixth year I'm running it, so I think it has now officially become a tradition. Because I said so. And because I'm lazy it's just plain fun... and funny.

 So, here it is, my classic tale, although not exactly in the same category as Dickens, about (ahem)  inflated dreams... 



Thought for the day: We don't stop laughing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop laughing.

No telling how many years this wreath has graced our front door.
We never made a huge production out of outdoor decorations, but every year, our kids made the same grand proclamation after we cruised our decorated-out-the-wazoo neighborhood on the way home from the candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

"The best one of all!" they'd lie as we pulled into our driveway.

Okay, so maybe they weren't really lying through their braces. Maybe anticipation of the hidden presents awaiting inside added a certain luster to their perception of our decorations.

Anyhow, I'd say decorating styles can pretty much be divvied into three categories: traditional, enlightening, and inflated. Us? We're traditionalThat means, except for an occasional new acquisition, I've pretty much used the same decorations every year. For a LOT of years. Like the ornaments that hung on my parents' tree when they were first married, some of which are now paper thin, and considerably faded with age. And a slew of decades-old goodies fashioned by our children with copious quantities of felt, glue and glitter, construction paper, walnut shells, clothespins, eyeglass lenses, and even a Mason jar lid. A black spider in a golden web and a huge decorated crab shell, both made my by sister-in-law. Boxes of tinsel painstakingly applied, strand by strand, and then painstakingly removed to store in a box for yet another year. Like I said, traditional. Well, to be more accurate, I suppose we've become more traditional cum lazy, because each year, I use less and less decorations, and some of them don't even make it down out of our attic anymore. This year, with Smarticus and I both recovering from the flu, very few decorations found their way out of the storage boxes. (A RED tablecloth counts as a decoration, right???)

These singers once belonged to my grandmother.

Everybody knows the enlightening type of decorator. They're the ones with so many lights blazing in their front yards, they risk causing a blackout across three states every time they turn 'em on. Very flashy. Sometimes, they even incorporate animation and music, too, and carloads of people stop by every night to ooh and aah over their winter wonderland. It isn't at all unusual for a competition of sorts to begin when multiple enlighteners live in close proximity. (Those neighborhoods can be seen from the space station.)

                                         We're more like the house on the right these days:

And then, there's the inflatedThis is a fairly recent category. I sure don't remember seeing this sort of display when I was a kid. Nowadays, you can purchase just about any character you can think of ... inflate it ... and stick it on your front lawn. And if you can't find a particular character, for the right price, you can probably have someone make one for you. Then, all those characters can weave and bob all over your yard.

Now then, to the point of today's post. Time for a tale about a Christmas inflatable of an entirely different ilk. This story originated in 1999, and was alleged to be the winning entry to a Louisville Sentinel contest about the wildest Christmas dinner. Turns out, no such newspaper ever existed, and the writer remains unknown, but the story lives on, thanks to the good ol' Internet. (WARNING: Better put your drink down before you read it.) Now here, after a bit of minor editing on my part, is that story:

As a joke, my brother Jay used to hang a pair of pantyhose over his fireplace every Christmas Eve. He said the only thing he wanted was for Santa to fill them, but what they say about Santa checking his list twice must be true, because every Christmas morning, the other stockings would all be bulging with treats, but Jay's poor pitiful pantyhose were always left dangling as empty as ever.

So one year, I decided to make his dream come true. I put on sunglasses, a fake nose, and a ski cap, and went in search of an inflatable love doll.

Know what? They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore. By the way, if you've never been in an X-rated store before, two words: don't go. You'll only confuse yourself. I was there for an hour saying things like, "What does this do?" "You're kidding me!" and  "Who would buy that?" 

So anyway, I finally made it to the inflatable doll section. I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane, but finding what I wanted was difficult. Love dolls come in many different models. The top of the line, according to the side of the box, could do things I'd only seen in a book on animal husbandry, but I settled for the bottom of the price scale: Lovable Louise. To call her a doll required a huge leap of imagination.

On Christmas Eve, with the help of a bicycle pump, Louise came to life. My sister-in-law was in on the plan, and she let me in during the wee morning hours. Long after Santa had come and gone, I filled Jay's pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank what remained of a glass of milk on a nearby tray. Then I went home and giggled for a couple of hours.

The next morning, my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house and left a present that had made him VERY happy, but his poor dog was very confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more. We agreed that Louise should remain in her pantyhose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner.

My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door. "What the hell is that?" she asked.

My brother quickly explained, "It's a doll."

"Who would play with something like that?" she snapped.

 I had several candidates in mind, but kept my mouth shut.

"Where are her clothes?" she continued.

"Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran," Jay said, trying to steer her into the dining room.

 But Granny was relentless. "Why doesn't she have any teeth?"

Again, I could have answered, but why risk it? It was Christmas, and nobody wanted to spend it in the back of an ambulance saying, "Hang on, Granny, hang on!"

My grandfather, a delightful old man with poor eyesight, sidled up to me, waggled his eyebrows, and said, "Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?"

I told him she was Jay's friend, and a few minutes later, noticed Grandpa standing by the mantel, talking to Louise. And not just talking. He was actually flirting. It was then we realized this might be Grandpa's last Christmas at home.

The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who was dying, and who should be killed, when suddenly Louise made a noise that sounded a lot like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the pantyhose, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa. The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants, and Granny threw down her napkin, and stomped outside to sit in the car.

It was indeed a Christmas to treasure and remember. Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh. Fortunately, thanks to a wonder drug called duct tape, we restored her to perfect health.

After that, Louise went on to star in several bachelor party movies, and I'm pretty sure Grandpa still calls her whenever he can get out of the house.


 Merry Christmas! May all your dreams... no matter how inflated...  come true.

The first day of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Day this year... how cool is that?  Hanukkah is the festival of light that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, and spirituality over materialism. Whatever our religion or non-religion, these are all things worth celebrating, don't you think? Here's wishing you all much light... and love.

I'll be taking off the rest of the year, and will be back on January 4 for the IWSG post.

                              Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Stranger Than Fiction

Thought for the day:  Coincidence is a recognized element in real life. All of us have anecdotes about those times when, by the merest coincidence, we avoided some disaster or stumbled onto some wonderful experience. [Jane Lindskold]

[Smarticus and I are still under the weather, but luckily, I wrote this post a couple months ago, and it's ready to go. (If only WE were!) It isn't exactly in tune with the Season, but I hope you enjoy it, anyway.]

Sometimes, events unfold in the most amazing and unbelievable ways, yielding results that make us question reality and shake our heads in wonder. It could be something simple, leading us to smile and say, How about that? Or it could be something so profound, it sends a shiver down our spines and makes us wonder about such an unlikely alignment of fate. Today, we're gonna take a look at some of the more interesting events in history that one could call coincidences. Or maybe they're just... weird. 

The first time my imagination was smacked upside the head by the notion of historical coincidences was in 1964, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when a long list of bizarre coincidences was circulated, comparing Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, who'd been assassinated a century earlier.

Here are some of the peculiarities from that list:

  • Both were elected to the House of Representatives in '46.
  • Both were losing candidates for their party's VP nomination in '56.
  • Both were elected president in '60, following a series of debates with their opponents. 
  • Both of their VPs were Southern Democrats named Johnson... who were born in '08.
  • Both presidents fathered four children, and had a son die during his presidency.
  • Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater; Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in a Lincoln automobile... which was made by Ford.
  • After shooting Lincoln, Booth ran from a theater to a warehouse; after shooting Kennedy, Oswald ran from a warehouse to a theater.
There were plenty of other things on that list, some of which stretched things a bit too far, but you get the idea. You've probably seen most of them before, but if not, it shouldn't be too difficult to find them online if you're interested. 

What follows are some other historical coincidences, which you probably haven't heard of before. Ready? 

Remember the old movie about the unsinkable Molly Brown? Well, this is about another real life gal named Violet Jessop, who was an ocean liner stewardess and nurse. In 1911, she was aboard the Olympic, the largest luxury liner of its time, when it collided with HMS Hawke. She was also working on the Titanic when it stuck the iceberg and sank. During WWI, she worked on HMS Britannic, which had been converted to a hospital ship. The ship exploded on November 21, 1916. Whether its demise was caused by a torpedo or a land mine isn't definitely known, but it did go down. And the original Miss Unsinkable lived to tell about it... and to travel on many other ships. 


On September 29, 1888, Catherine Eddowes was arrested on drunken disorderly conduct charges. Initially, she gave her name as Nobody, but after she'd sobered up and was released late that night, she gave a different name. She said her name was Mary Kelly. After Catherine left the police station, she was attacked and killed by Jack the Ripper. Here's the reeeeeally creepy part: the name of his next, and assumed final victim, was... Mary Kelly.


The next two tales are about brothers... very close brothers. 

* In 2002, a 70-year-old man was struck and killed by a truck while riding his bicycle 600 km north of Helsinki. Two hours later, and about 1.5 km away, another 70-year-old man was struck and killed by a truck while riding his bicycle. They were twin brothers. 

* On a balmy July evening in Bermuda in 1974, 17-year-old Neville Ebbin was killed when the moped he was riding collided with a taxicab driven by Willard Manders. On a balmy July evening in that same small town in Bermuda in July of the following year, his 17-year-old brother Erskine was killed when he was riding that same moped... and collided with that same taxicab driven by that same driver.. who was transporting the same passenger as he was the year before. 

[Beatrice Daily Sun]

Choir practice was held punctually at 7:20 PM sharp every Wednesday night at West Side Baptist Church in Beatrice, Nebraska. On March 1, 1950, a gas leak caused the church to explode at 7:27. Miraculously, no one was injured. Why? For one reason or another, all fifteen choir members and the choir director were running late that evening. 


The Hoover Dam project was an amazing feat of engineering, but it came at a high cost. One hundred and twelve men lost their lives during its construction. The first one to die was J.G. Tierney, who died on December 20, 1922. The last one to lose his life died on December 20, 1935. His name was Patrick Tierney... J.G.'s son.


The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand initiated the beginning of World War I. This is the vehicle in which he was riding at the time of his death. In case you can't read it, his license tag reads A111 118. Not all that unusual until you think about it. A for Armistice, maybe? Which of course, ended the war on 11-11-18. 


This last story was too interesting to leave out, but I wasn't able to verify its accuracy, so you might wanta take it with a healthy dose of salt. 

Allegedly, King Umberto I of Italy went to a small restaurant in Monza on July 28, 1900. When the owner, whose name also was Umberto, took his order, they noticed how very much alike they looked. Turned out, they were both born on March 14, 1844, and both got married to a woman named Margherita... and on the same date. What's more, the restauranteur opened his restaurant the same day that the king was crowned.  

The next day, the king was informed that the restauranteur had been shot earlier in the day. While expressing his regrets, an anarchist in the crowd assassinated him. 

Yep, it's definitely a small world, and for sure, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous. [Albert Einstein]

                          Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Baby Steps Beat Standing Still

Thought for the day:  What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. [Samuel Johnson]

Yep, it's that time of the month again; it's time for a worldwide network of writers to share their concerns, insecurities, and victories. To join this auspicious group, the brainchild of ninja writer Alex Cavanaugh, and to access links to the posts of participating writers, please go here

Okay, back to Samuel Johnson's quote about the effort required to produce something readers will enjoy. I'll tell ya what, if he was right, considering the amount of fruitless wheel-spinning effort I've put in this past month, my WIP should give people a helluva lot of pleasure. (sigh) Part of the problem is I let my characters take the lead, and now I'm not sure I want to go where they want to take me. So we're mucking around in the treacherous morass known as the  middle of the book, and our progress has become slower than a snail with arthritis.

But we'll get past it. Once I get over this stupid flu, my brain will start working again, right? (Right!)

Easy reading is damn hard writing. [Nathaniel Hawthorne] Ain't that the truth!?

A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. [Richard Back] Let's say it together, now: I think I can; I think I can; I think I can...

I sincerely hope the words are flowing freely for you, and your story is shaping up to be even better than you expected, but even if they aren't, never ever give up, okay? You have a unique story inside of you, and it's clamoring to get out. Only you can release it, so keep moving forward. (No matter how slow your progress may be at times.)

Okay, time to move on to the question of the month: In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself  five years from now, and what's your plan to get there?

Let me put on my rose-colored glasses for a moment, and say I hope to be finished writing and editing my Blast Rites trilogy in five years. Heck, why not reach for the stars? I'd also like to be working on a romance novel set during the Vietnam War... AND working on a non-fiction book along the lines of Things Your Parents Never Told You About Sex and Marriage. Or not. Who knows? Maybe I'll still be mired in the dreaded middle of Book One.

But wherever I am, my plan to get there remains the same: I've got to keep on writing, one word at a time, one paragraph and chapter at a time, and I have to celebrate my progress, even if it's slower than I'd like. Remember: with the right attitude, everything is an adventure.

                                Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, December 2, 2016

In Flew Enza

Thought for the day:  Grandparents are just antique kids.

We've returned home from a wonderful Thanksgiving week visit with our son and his family in Florida. Unfortunately, everyone but Persephone had the flu while we were there... and the flu hitched a ride home with us. Now we reeeeeally feel like antiques. Sick ones. (Yes, we did get our flu shots.)

If you're wondering about the title of this post, it refers to a punny joke my elementary school principal told my class back in the dark ages. It was about a parrot named Enza, and that title was the joke's punch line. (And yes, I do use the term joke rather loosely.)

So, I'm just gonna post a few pics, and then crawl onto the sofa to recuperate. Next Wednesday will be the Insecure Writer's Support Group post, so I'll seeya then. (I'll even let you comment!)

Such an energetic crew.

(Chloe, Atlas, and Ella)

Even the new puppy Cletis wasn't feeling very peppy.


Our daughter-in-law said Atlas (AKA Bud) doesn't like to have his picture taken. Coulda fooled me! I've got lots of pictures of his smiling face... even in this pic of the girls. (I guess that makes him a photo-bomber, eh?)

(Atlas, Ella, Persephone, some fat old broad, Chloe, and Olivia)

One day, Smarticus and I took still-healthy Persephone out of the sick house, and we drove over to the Gulf. Perfect weather!

We also went to a terrific seafood restaurant in Cyprus Keys while we were there. A little background: a couple months ago, I bought a can of Tony's clam chowder at the grocery store. It was a little pricey, but the label touted it as being award-winning stuff. It's fabulous... but as luck would have it, the next time I went to the store, the soup wasn't there any more. (Dontcha hate that?) Well, would you believe the restaurant we went to on the Gulf was... Tony's... the place that actually makes the chowder! How cool is that? Without a doubt, the chowder they serve in the restaurant is the best we've ever tasted. We weren't at all surprised that it's won multiple international clam chowder competitions. So... we had no choice but to buy a case of their canned stuff and bring it home with us. Life is good.

The day before we left, Ella was starting to feel better.

So hopefully, Smarticus and I will feel better soon, too. For now? The sofa awaits.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.