Friday, December 15, 2017

Wishing Y'all Lots of Love and Smiles

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 seventh 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, very few decorations found their way out of the storage boxes. (A RED tablecloth counts as a decoration, right???)

These carolers 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 every 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.

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 3 for the IWSG post.

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Looking Back

Thought for the day: I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.  [Steve Martin]

It's that time again. Time for the regular monthly session of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, which was created by that amazing ninja writer Alex Cavanaugh, and now boasts an ever-growing membership of writers from all over the world. Some are still in the beginning stages, and others are well-established, but one thing we all have in common is the sneaking suspicion that we're frauds and our talent is non-existent. (i.e. We're a tad insecure.) Within the sheltering arms of this group, writers have the freedom to air their shared insecurities, lament their difficulties, and cheer for each writer's successes. It's all about the support, baby. All about the support.

To see what other writers are complaining and cheering about this month, you can find a list of this month's participants and links to their posts right... here.

[image courtesy of Morguefile]
So what kind of support do I need this month? Oh, I dunno. A teensy little parade would be nice. Maybe some polite applause. An exhilarating display of fireworks... oh, and don't forget the ones that look like smiley faces. I really like them.

So what's the big deal? Book One of my Blast Rites trilogy, tentatively titled Explosive Beginnings, has been read and re-read, (by me) edited and re-edited, (also by me) and is finally in the hands of a fantabulous group of Beta readers.Woo-HOO!  For a sloooooooow writer like me, that calls for some kinda celebration. (I believe I'll have another cuppa tea!) Some months ago, I whined about how my ungrateful characters, who wouldn't even exist if it weren't for me, doggone it, had essentially taken over the plot and run with it. Turns out... I think the ingrates were right, but it remains to be seen what my Beta readers think. It was pretty darned inconsiderate of me to reach this step at this time of year, when everyone's busy with their Holiday preparations, so I was really surprised by how quickly they all agreed to read my manuscript. Their support is humbling, and I appreciate them... most of whom are members of IWSG... so much. (Not that I'm trying to sway their opinion, or anything...) Okay. Celebration's over. Time to start Book Two, right?

A couple questions for all of you smarties. First, one of the characters in my book drops quite a few F-bombs, but with his backstory, it's amazing he doesn't drop even more of them. Question: Does this kind of language turn you off in a book?

This first book of the trilogy begins at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, in 1956. That was... and is... an active Army base. Question: Do you think it's okay to keep the actual name, or should I change it?

Okay, let's move on to this month's question.

As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

 All in all, I'm satisfied to have nearly made it through another year. Taking inventory on the writing front, I'm thrilled with the progress with Book One, I thoroughly enjoyed editing for a couple other writers, and I got a real kick out of writing a submission for the next IWSG anthology. Even if the judges decide it smells worse than a junior high school student's gym locker, I'm okay with that, because it was liberating to write something so utterly different from what I usually write. It was FUN!

If I could backtrack and change anything, it'd be to laugh more often, love more freely, and spend more time with friends, because in the end, no matter how important writing may be to me, those other things are considerably more important.

                  How about you? Is there something from 2017 you'd like to... edit?

  Yep... moving on. Time to look forward to trying not to mess up the new year too badly.
                                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, December 1, 2017

'Tis the Season

Thought for the day:  People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes.  [Sheila McKechnie]

 You can't see his face, but he still has one.
Are there any homeless people in your town? Do you ever pass them when you're walking down the street? Maybe see them sleeping on a park bench or under a slab of cardboard? Do you... see them? I mean, really see them?

Most people don't, you know. Most don't look at their faces, and don't think of them as real people. As individuals. It's much easier to lump them together and dismiss them as a faceless nameless group of... what? Unfortunates?

A castaway in the sea was going down for the third time when he caught sight of a passing ship. Gathering his last strength, he waved frantically and called for help. Someone on board peered at him scornfully and shouted back, "Get a boat!" [Daniel Quinn]

Is that the kind of disdain society shows the homeless? I'm ashamed to say it, but all too often, it is.

At least, we try harder this time of year. After all, 'tis the season, right?

Last week, the World Congress Center in Atlanta was put to a very good use. Not to promote industry or innovative ideas, and not as a center for a robotics or some other kind of competition. No, it was used as the venue to provide a lovely Thanksgiving dinner to people in need, many of whom were homeless. Some 7000 people were served on-site, and another 1000 meals were delivered to people who were unable to attend. In addition, haircuts, clothing, medical care, and other services were provided, as needed.

Fabulous, right? This annual feeding, began by the now-deceased Hosea Williams, has been taking place in Atlanta for many years. But what happens to all of those people the other 364 days of the year?

Four years ago, a homeless man who'd been wandering the streets of Atlanta for nearly a year was featured in our local newspaper. His story started with him doing what he did every day... digging through dumpsters for something to eat.

Well, he found a wallet in one of the dumpsters. A Frenchwoman's wallet... and it contained her ID and credit card. This homeless man... this man named Joel... was determined to make it right for that tourist, so he walked from hotel to hotel, until he found where she was staying. At the luxurious Omni hotel, he turned the wallet over to the desk clerk, but when the clerk asked for his name, Joel made one up. What difference did it make? He figured he was... nobody.

But he wasn't nobody to the hotel manager. Based on the picture taken by the security camera, people hit the streets until they found Joel... and brought him back to the hotel. There, he was given five hundred dollars and a week's stay, complete with free room service and a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Joel was much appreciative of the shower and bed. He also received new clothes, a haircut, and a modicum of new-found dignity. He also got a lot of publicity. Other people sent money and gifts to him, and he got several job offers. He was the homeless man who'd done the right thing. He was the homeless man with a background story... the homeless man with a face. With a name...

and a family, a family that had been trying to find him for the past decade. His deceased father's long-time girlfriend and two half-brothers flew to Atlanta to reunite with him. They all had Thanksgiving dinner together, and then the family left. Went back home to their lives.

Joel's story certainly didn't end there, but that was the extent of the newspaper coverage. I can't help but wonder what became of him and if he went to Alaska, like he said he wanted to do, or if he's still wandering the streets of Atlanta or some other city. I wonder if he got the medical and mental help he needed, and if he's been able to hold a job, gotten back on his feet... and stayed there. And I wonder if he ever saw his family again, or if that was a one-time Thanksgiving kinda thing.

Joel's short time in the limelight brings up a lot of questions. Like, what does it say about decent society that it can be so insultingly surprised that a homeless man did the right thing? After all, no matter what his current circumstances, how can we justify jumping to the automatic assumption that he isn't a kind and caring soul, and a decent man with concern for other people?

I mean, I don't think I'm alone when I look at the homeless person or the psychotic or the drunk or the drug addict and see their baby pictures in my mind's eye. You don't think they were cute like every other baby? [Dustin Hoffman]

Hungry not only for bread — but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing — but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks — but homeless because of rejection.  [Mother Teresa]

A 27 year-old female visitor to Philadelphia ran out of gasoline... at night... and learned first-hand how kind and caring a homeless man can be. Johnny Bobbitt, Jr., a 36 year-old homeless man, told her to lock her car doors, and then he walked to a gas station, purchased gas with his last twenty dollars and brought it back to her. Kate McClure didn't have any cash to repay him at the time, but she later returned several times to bring him cash, clothes, and food. But that didn't feel like nearly enough to repay the selfless man, so she started a campaign in his behalf, hoping to raise $10,000 to help him find a place to live, because she was sure all he needed was a little break. As of the last time I checked, donations for this former Marine had soared to nearly four hundred thousand dollars. Evidently, others believed in giving him a chance, too.

 I can't help but wonder if this time of year... this glorious time of Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, and joy to the world isn't the real reason Joel got the royal treatment for a week, and why so many people opened their wallets to help Johnny. Do you think they would have been treated as well in the middle of  July or August?

Have you ever wished people were as loving and caring year-round as they are during this time of year? Wondered why the smiles and laughter aren't as heartfelt, and the hugs as warm, in March as they are in December? Why you don't get a mountain of wrapped presents every day, instead of just one measly time a year? (Only kidding about that one. Just checking to see if you were paying attention.) Anyway, Christmas is fast approaching. Anticipation builds, and as we all prepare to celebrate, I'd like to share an excerpt from Keeping Christmas, written by Henry Van Dyke:

There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front of you so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts, and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open---

Are you willing to do these things, even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas. And if you can keep it for a day, why not always?

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

If you light a lamp for someone, it will also brighten your path.  [Buddhist saying]