Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas, Y'All!

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... (Oh, and if you're here because you're looking for my WEP post, you'll find it one post back.)

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 eightth 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 by my 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 2 for the IWSG post.

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

WEP: A Christmas Miracle

Thought for the day: At Christmastime, anything is possible.

I enjoyed participating in the last WEP challenge so much, I decided to submit something for this one, too. Why not? It's fun!

As you can see, the theme this time around is ribbons and candles, and for lack of a more inspired title, I'll call my offering A Christmas Miracle.

                                               A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

Ella’s eyes sparkled as she bounced in place, fairly vibrating with excitement. “Hurry UP, Nana! Open it!”

Gertrude shakily removed the last bit of wrapping paper, revealing a laminated bookmark decorated with enough gold and red glitter to fill a small bathtub. A gold cross shone at its top, and down its length, glittery red hearts alternated with equally glittery red letters that spelled L-O-V-E.

Ella clapped her hands. “Do you like it? Do you?”

 “Oh, my goodness!” Gertrude gushed, pressing one gnarled hand to her chest. “This is so beautiful a famous artist must have made it!”

“NO-O-O! It was me! I made it for you!” Ella giggled, her face more radiant than ever. “Now you can throw away that icky ribbon.”

Gertrude looked at the faded ribbon peeking out from the pages of her well-worn Bible on the table beside her. Then she patted Ella’s cheek. “I’ll happily use your bookmark in other books, sweetie, but my ribbon stays right where it is. That’s where it belongs.”

“But why?” Ella asked, her bottom lip trembling. “I thought you’d like something new and pretty.”

“Oh, I do like it, dear. I promise you I like it very much, but not for my Bible, because that ribbon is much more than just a ribbon.” With a smile, she whispered, “It’s a miracle.”

Ella sniffled. “It just looks like a dirty old ribbon to me.”

“Looks can be deceiving. Would you like to hear about it?’

The little girl nodded and climbed into her grandmother’s lap. “I like your stories.”

“Oh, but this one isn’t make-believe. It’s about something that happened a long time ago, when I wasn’t much older than you are now.” She tweaked Ella’s nose. “But I wasn’t nearly as cute as you.”

When Ella stopped squirming and giggling, Gertrude hugged her and continued. “It was just my parents, my younger brother and me back then, and we didn’t have much money, but we were happy. We had a roof over our heads, and we never went hungry. ‘Course, most of what we ate, we grew ourselves, and we rarely had meat, but we were fine. We had each other, and like I said, we were happy.”

Gertrude stroked Ella’s hair, a faraway look in her eyes. “Mama cooked a chicken on Thanksgiving, and after all these years, I still remember how good it was.” She closed her eyes and smiled. “The best meal I’ve ever eaten.”

“Why didn’t you have turkey? We always have turkey for Thanksgiving.”

Gertrude kissed the top of Ella’s head. “We didn’t have enough money, pumpkin. Hardly anyone did back then. Anyway, Papa lost his job a few days later, so we all knew it’d be an even simpler Christmas that year than usual, but Mama made me a new flour sack dress and told me I could have one small toy.”

Ella laughed. “NO-O-O! That’s silly! Nobody can wear a flour bag.”

Fabric flour sacks
Gertrude chuckled. “We sure did! Back then, flour bags were made of pretty fabrics, and lots of people used them to make clothes. The dress Mama made me was covered with tiny purple flowers. It was beautiful.”

Ella nodded her head solemnly, absorbing this new information. “What toy did you ask for?”

“I didn’t. I told my parents to get my brother two, because he was younger. But when I said my prayers on Christmas Eve, I asked God for a piece of purple ribbon to match my dress, so I could wear it in my hair when we went to church on Christmas. And Papa heard me.”

“So he got it for you?”

“He tried. Mama told me he walked all the way to town in a snowstorm and knocked at the door of every single store, but they were all closed. She said he was really sad when he got home.”

Ella kissed her grandmother’s cheek. “I’m sorry, Nana. So you didn’t get your ribbon until after Christmas?”

“Oh, no,” Gertrude said. “When I woke up on Christmas morning, it was lying on my pillow. One uncut piece of ribbon that was the same deep purple as the pansies I used to plant in my yard here every year. It was the perfect length to put in my hair, too, as though it had been created just for me.”

Wide-eyed, Ella gaped at her grandmother. “Where did it come from? Your mother?”

Gertrude shook her head. “No. She was just as surprised by the ribbon as my father was, and they both cried when they saw it.”

Ella gasped. “Elves?!”

“No, dear,” Gertrude said gently. “I believe God answered my prayer.”

Ella looked at her grandmother’s Bible with awe. “Wow,” she whispered. For once, the fidgety little girl sat perfectly still, as though deep in thought. Then she turned to her grandmother, her eyes aglow and an angelic smile on her face. “Think he’d give me a pony for Christmas?”

Gertrude laughed. “Do you think one will fit on your pillow?”

Ella giggled. “I was only kidding. Can I help you plant purple pansies next time?”

“Oh, I’m afraid my planting days are done, but thank you for offering. You’re a sweet child, Ella Bella.”

The little girl jumped down from her grandmother’s lap and faced her with hands planted firmly on her hips. “Then Mama and I will have to plant them for you!”

Tears sparkled in Gertrude’s eyes. “That isn’t necessary, sweetheart. I don’t need to see purple pansies to remember how beautiful my ribbon was. To remember the miracle.”

“But I do!” Ella insisted. “I want to plant purple pansies every single year until I’m old like you, so I never ever forget.”

Gertrude smiled at her beautiful thoughtful grandchild, every bit as much of a miracle as that piece of ribbon ever was. “Well then, Ella Bella, purple pansies we shall have.”


                                              May all your Christmas dreams come true.
                                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

P.S. This story was inspired by a lovely old song called Scarlet Ribbons. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Single Candle

Thought for the day: You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake. (sigh)

 If you folks in the southeastern part of the United States happened to see a massive glow in the sky yesterday, fear not. It wasn't Armageddon, or anything. The blaze atop my birthday cake just got a teensy bit out of control is all. (I TOLD Smartacus not to use a blow torch to light all those darned candles.) Anyhow, the fire department must be getting real tired of coming by the house every year to extinguish the bonfire, so I think we'll skip covering the cake with candles from now on. The truth is, I'm creeping ever closer to that age where there'll once again be a single candle on my cake, and everybody will tell me what a good girl I am if  I can summon enough hot air to blow it out in a single try.

Know what? Maybe it'd be better to skip the cake altogether, and just have a glass of wine.

Hey! I'm OLD. I can do that if I wanta.

Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.  [Stanislaw Jerry Lec]
                      (Too bad my work of art is being painted by Picasso...)

You don't stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing.  [Maurice Chevalier]      

I'm happy to report that my inner child is still ageless.  [Jane Broughton]
You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.  [George Burns]

So maybe we can't do a thing about getting older, but do you think a single candle can make much of a difference? I do. (For one thing, there's no need to call the fire department...)

Okay, I'm gonna be serious for a minute, because I want to tell you about a very special woman whose single candle radiated enough light to hold the powers of darkness at bay. Her name was Irena Sendler, and she truly embodied the Chinese proverb: It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

This is what she looked like in 1942, when the young Polish Catholic woman lived in German-occupied Warsaw. As a social worker and nurse, she was allowed to enter the Jewish ghetto. She saw their suffering first-hand, and knew that people of all ages were being  forcibly removed from their homes, never to return. And she also knew what the penalty was for trying to help them.


She knew what the penalty was, because signs like this were posted all over Warsaw. 

These signs issued a clear warning that helping anyone leave the Jewish settlement without authorization was punishable by death.

And yet...
[credit: German Federal Archive]
And yet, the dark plight of the children tore at her heartstrings, and she had to DO something. As a member of the Zegota resistance movement, she smuggled 2500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto, provided them with false identities, and got them to a safe location... to private homes, to orphanages, to convents. She took the children out in ambulances, under the pretext that they were infected with typhus; she carried them out in tool boxes; she transported them in coffins. Whatever it took, she did it. One after another, desperate parents turned their beloved children over to her, a virtual stranger, in the hopes that their children would be spared from the horrors of living... and dying... in a concentration camp. Each child's name, Sendler recorded on paper, along with their new identities and locations. Then she tucked those papers into jars and buried them under an apple tree in her yard. Following the war, the information in those jars was used to reunite some of the families. Unfortunately, most of the parents were already gone, but thanks to Sendler and other members of the resistance, their children survived.


In 1965, Israel recognized Sendler as Righteous Among the Nations, a designation honoring non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews. And risk her life, she did: Sendler was captured, tortured, and sentenced to death... and spared from execution by virtue of a bribe. The Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations is part of the Yad Vashem complex on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.


At the entrance to the Garden stands the Tree of Irena Sendler. I don't know what kind of tree is it, but an apple tree would be perfect, wouldn't it?

[credit: Mariesz Kubik]

This picture, taken in 2005, shows Sendler with the grown-up versions of some of the children she smuggled out of that Warsaw ghetto during the war.

[credit: Mariesz Kubik]

In 2007, Sendler was presented with the Order of the Smile, an international award given by children to adults distinguished in their love, care, and aid for children. A year later, she passed away.

In 2009, Poland issued a commemorative coin in honor of three women. One was Irena Sendler, a woman who proved that one person... one candle burning brightly in the darkness... can indeemake a difference.

In a world full of darkness, in a world full of pain,
All it takes is a sparkle, all it takes is a flame,
To make joy out of sadness, to bring hope to a life,
Like the promise of the dawn
On a long winter's night.
[from the song Light One Candle, by Ronnie Spector]

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

Let it shine! [Wikipedia]

For my birthday, a present for you guys. Sorta. Both e-versions of my books are on sale for 99 cents. Woo HOO. (I would've made them FREE, but those darned candles cost a lot of money, ya know...) Clicking on the book images in the sidebar will transport you to Amazon. U.S. Amazon, that is, but the book is also on sale in the U.K.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Comforting Clutter

Thought for the day: When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. [Franklin Roosevelt]

We may not be at the end of our ropes, but we sure are approaching the end of the year at a breakneck speed. Before we know it, it'll be a brand new shiny year, and we can all make fresh starts. More or less.

At any rate, it's time for the last monthly gathering of the year for that fine group known as the Insecure Writer's Support Group. This, the first Wednesday of the month, is when writers all over the world post about the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the ins and outs... of writing. We celebrate... we complain... we commiserate. Whatever we need, this is the place to find it. Humble thanks and a jolly tip of the Santa hat go to Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless ninja leader and the originator of this fine group. If you'd like to join (It's FREE!) or would like to read some of the other posts, please go HERE

Years ago, when we went to our favorite Chinese restaurant, I got the coolest fortune ever in my cookie. So cool, in fact, that it's still pinned to the bulletin board here in my office. It says, You have a charming way with words and should write a book. 

SEE? Totally cool, right? If I opened a fortune cookie today, it would probably say something obnoxious about writer's block.

Not that I have it. Exactly. I just don't feel motivated to work on my WIP. My gut tells me not to let lousy sales figures and the dearth of reviews for book one of my trilogy stop me from forging ahead with books two and three... but my brain seems to have a different opinion. I'm still writing... in short spurts... but my brain seems to be sitting in the corner with its back to me. Pouting. But since I've never been one to hold a grudge, I'm hopeful my brain will get with the program and snap out of it soon. I am excited at where the story's going... I just have to get it there... in due time, I suppose.

Sigh. Enough belly-aching. I'm not feeling particularly insecure or blocked. Just lazy. (Well, you have heard of a Lazy Susan, haven't you...?)

Okay, let's move on to this month's question, shall we?

What are five objects we'd find in your writing space?

The major thing in here is my desk. It's a huge L-shaped beauty with lots of room for all of my organized chaos.

 Hmmm, I guess I should've tidied up a bit, but why put on the dog, right? (Besides, our cats wouldn't appreciate it.)

In the center of the L sits my computer. Surprisingly, there isn't a cat's derriere parked in front of it at the moment. To the right of the computer is my all-time favorite mug: Pink Freud. Nine times out of ten, if I'm working at the computer, that mug is right there beside me.

The equally messy left side of my desk contains a small bookshelf. There are a few very good reference books there... and also, just some very good books. There's a much larger bookshelf behind me... also filled to the brim with books.

The right side of the desk contains a bunch of CDs, the printer and... Dash. (She and Dot usually keep me company in here... and they are oh-so helpful.) So I guess you could say the cats are an integral part of any writing endeavor... or any other activity, for that matter. Like I said, they are extremely helpful.

See that print of Dali's Last Supper hanging on the wall? I bought it on a school field trip to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. many years ago. Know what's totally cool about it? Smarticus was also on that same field trip, and out of allllll the art in the museum gift shop, he bought the same exact print. It was several years later before we realized we'd purchased the same piece. (See? We were meant to be!)

I'm not satisfied with only having one messy desk in my office... so I have two! This one was built by my paternal grandfather, so it's kinda special. The stack of stuff with the notebook and pen on top is where the magic happens. HA! (If only...) I carry the whole pile into the living room in the early morning, and write in that notebook until Smartacus gets out of bed. Also in the pile? A dictionary, thesaurus, The Emotion Thesaurus, and a bunch of notes and outlines in the yellow folder. That little stack of books in the back include several military manuals about munitions, booby traps and unconventional warfare. Don't worry. I'm not planning a coup. I used them while doing research for Explosive Beginnings.

I guess that covers my five things... desk, computer, Pink Freud, books, and cats, but I'm going to highlight one of the things on my big desk. The picture on the bottom. The fella in the foreground is Smartacus, and the picture was taken when he was in Vietnam. Keeping that picture where I can readily see it every day is one way to remind myself to never take him for granted.

Well, folks, I don't want to take you guys for granted, either. I've taken up more than enough of your time.

So until next time, please take care of yourselves. And each other.