Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not Your Father’s Grandma

I have to admit that aging is made easier for me thanks to my heroes. My heroes are those women I run into everyday who are amazing, dynamic, fun human beings in addition to being older women. I just recently met two of them.

While Christmas shopping, I stood behind one of them in the long, long bathroom line at the department store. She looked a little like a jeans-clad Auntie Em. “I say we storm the men’s room,” she announced, elbowing me conspiratorially. “We can do it if there are several of us. Are you in?”

I laughed and nodded, but this was before I realized she was serious. “It’s not like I’ve never done that before,” she laughed. Well, me either, frankly. But I found out men get very upset when women go into their bathrooms, even though all of those stalls just sit there while we needlessly suffer. Go figure! But besides that, men’s rooms creep me out a little. That foreign wall décor is just icky….

My almost-partner-in-crime, Auntie Em, was a little miffed with me when she found out I was a wimp. That’s okay. She was still my hero just for thinking about it.

Then there was the woman I talked to at my hiking group. She had to be close to twenty years older than I am. In town visiting her mother, she said. The mother was in her nineties. The daughter, the hiking one, is a therapist, she told me. Still working, of course.

When she started asking questions about me and I told her I was divorced, she turned to study me for the first time. Her eyes took my breath away for a second. My mother’s eyes. Fierce eyes. Fiercely sharp and fiercely good, all at the same time. She pronounced me a “courageous woman” in a way that made me feel frightened and moved and oddly transparent. I like to believe that sometimes God sends people to deliver the messages we most need to hear. Courageous woman. I secretly carry these words like a totem, a gift from a wise Earth Mother, hug them close to my soul.

She told me about her various groups. Biking is over, she lamented, as is kayaking. And swimming of course. So she hikes. That was when I realized she had been slowing her pace to stay behind enough to talk to me, because I was starting to get a bit winded on the hills.

I know who I want to be like…when I don’t grow up.  Happy New Year!

That is what you love a friend for: the ability to change your angle of vision, bring back your best self when you feel worst, remind you of your strengths when you feel weak. ~Erica Jong

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow Stuff

Jules asked about some of our favorite Christmas memories. The one that immediately came to my mind was lying with my head under the Christmas tree every year and looking up at the blinking lights while “Silent Night” played on the music box that my grandfather made.
That inside view of my Christmas tree was going to be today’s show and tell, but the picture just didn’t do justice to the experience. No matter. We had the first white Christmas in ages yesterday—a lacy, lazy, Christmas card snow. This picture doesn't capture it, either, but I finally decided that nothing really could. Favorite Christmas memories? Yesterday, for one. Hope you are enjoying this magical last week of the year.

Genius is childhood recaptured. ~Bauldelaire

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Memories: The Gifts We Give Ourselves

Some of my favorites:

My son, aged three, excitedly pointing to a nativity scene: “Wook! The Baby Cheese-It!!!

Riding through a Christmas light display with the children when one of them gasped with reverent wonder, “OOOH! It’s the Taco Bell sign!!!”

My children, trying to recite the names of Santa’s reindeer: “…and Comet and Cupid and Cancer and Dander….”

When I was a kid, the thing that made me wonder about Santa was the oranges. Santa used to leave a big old orange in the toe of our stockings. Worse, none of my friends got oranges. I was a late-in-life baby, and I think this tradition came from having much older parents than those of my friends. No one (except possibly my dad) ever ate the stupid orange—it just went right back into the fruit bowl. But the worst thing was that our fruit bowl in the kitchen was always filled with oranges, except on Christmas morning. On Christmas morning, that bowl was conspicuously emptied. That was when I figured it out. Not only was Santa sort of cheap for wasting valuable stocking space on worthless oranges, HE HADN’T EVEN BROUGHT HIS OWN ORANGES! HE’D JUST USED OURS!

Have a very merry Christmas, and make some wonderful memories!!!

At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year. ~Thomas Tusser

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Silly Stuff: Have a Super Christmas

 Years ago someone gave us a gorgeous collection of four ornaments that spelled out the word, “NOEL.” But when the “L” fell, it shattered beyond anything that glue could accomplish. So some years we spell “ONE,” and others, “EON.” Sort of like Christmas Tree Scrabble.

After lamenting the fate of the “Christmas EON,” my daughter created this treasure. It is a super ball covered in foil candy wrappers and plastic wrap. Her reasoning, of course, was that Christmas ornaments should be shatter-proof. Heck, they should bounce if they fall!

I like to think that someday, many years from now, someone will unwrap this objéct de Christmas art and exclaim, “What the heck is this thing?!” Christmas is about symbolism, and to me this heirloom beautifully illustrates both my daughter’s practical and creative sides. Every year I hang it front and center. I like to think it is the true Christmas Eon.

Conversation with my daughter when she was in third grade:

Daughter: I signed up for the school’s Hanuka pageant!
Me: Wow—that’s great! Why did you decide to do that?
Daughter: Aren’t we Jewish? 
(This is only funny if you realize that we’re not. She was baptized Catholic thanks to her dad. I think she got confused because I used to have an interest in world religions and tend to be an over-explainer. When she'd asked me about our religion, I'd waxed on about how Christianity came from Judaism, yadda yadda, when the poor kid had only wanted a name she could recite to people, like “Methodist.”    Oh, and belated happy Hanuka…and joyous NOE .)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Unexpected Holiday

My daughter and I sat and watched the names of school closings scroll along the bottom of the news show, holding our breath as the alphabet neared our district. We compared stories. The rain was freezing on everything, encapsulating it in sparkling ice. When she went out to cover her car, she slid the whole way. When I wheeled the garbage to the curb, I skated.

Around us, the Christmas lights twinkled. It took two weeks, but they’re up. The dog wound his way between us, cat like, asking to be scratched, looking hopefully at his stocking. Although he checks his stocking daily, he’s learned in his 14½ years that it isn’t Christmas until we gather. He was clearly wondering: did this make it a holiday?

And it did, in a way. Odd, to me, that the times I remember most fondly through the years often have to do with bad weather, because it forced us to stop and come together, united against the elements. One of my favorites was the time the thunderstorm took out our power. My middle school- and grade school-aged children were torn from their lights and electronics, and we all gathered in the dark and comforted the dog and laughed even louder than the thunder.

We were lucky, of course. Lucky that the roof was okay, that the ice hadn’t knocked out power, that we were warm and comfortable in our home. That our district announced its closing the night before. That we had another unexpected holiday, the best kind.

“[Miss Maudie’s sunhat] was suspended in a thin layer of ice, like a fly in amber….” ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. (I’ve used that one before, but it seems too fitting to pass up.)

Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief. ~Cicero

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Signing

Becky Povich, Teresa Sanders, Linda O'Connell, and me (with Deborah Marshall in back)
Saturday’s book signing was a rousing success. Turnout was great in spite of the rain, and we made it just before the snow moved in. We sold lots of books, collected lots of food for the local pantry, and laughed until our sides hurt. Below is a shot of Vicki’s lovely store, Main Street Books in Old Town Saint Charles (Missouri).  If I could sum it up in a word, that word would be warm. Warm store, warm hearts, warm friendships, warm soup…warm souls. What a great place to be for the holidays!

P.S. I’ve been translated into French!!!  Scroll down to the last story on the left, "Le meilleur chien au monde."

There is an electricity about a friendship relationship. We are both more relaxed and more sensitive, more creative and more reflective, more energetic and more casual, more excited and more serene. It is as though when we come in contact with our friend we enter into a different environment. ~Andrew M. Greeley

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Surprise Stuff from Around My House: Decorated Tree for Christmas

Every year, I put my tropical brugmansia tree in the unfinished basement storage room that my kids dubbed “the scary room.” That room is cool and dark enough that the tree goes dormant. We store the Christmas decorations in the same room. So this year, when I went down there to get the Christmas decorations, this was what I found. We’re still working on decorating the “real” tree, which is in fact plastic. Don’t you just love irony?

History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again. ~Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Soul…Christmas for the Spirit

Coming This Saturday, December 11th: “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Soup for the Body!!!”

Linda O’Connell, Becky Povich, Teresa Sanders and I will be signing books this Saturday from 1:00 to 3:00 pm at Main Street Books for the second year in a row. Last year was such a good time. Be sure to bring a canned good to donate to the local food pantry! A publisher accidentally sent me an extra carton of books that I was told I could keep, so I will also be giving away free books (as long as they last) with a purchase.

It’s worth a trip just to see Main Street St. Charles (Missouri) this time of year. Come out and get into the spirit of Christmas…and of Chicken Soup for the Soul!

We are each of us angels but with one wing. And can only fly by embracing each other. ~Luciano de Crescenzo

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stuff from Around My House: Gone Cold

December was going to be silly-Christmas-decorations-month, but we don’t have our tree up. And if you are one of those people who has all of your holiday shopping done, please, please don’t tell me. I am proud merely that I started mine before December this year.

Soooo…I have a Possessed Coffee Thermos. It clicks, groans, shrieks, hums, and makes such an interesting assortment of noises that it’s really pretty entertaining. Oh, I guess the scientific explanation is that the stainless steel outside broke away from the insulated inside, and the two parts expand and contract differently according to temperature changes. But it’s more fun to think of it as possessed.

Adding to that notion is the fact that it also traps water in between the layers when it’s washed. As I drive to work, the thermos adjusts to the temperature of my car. That means that more often than not, The Possessed Coffee Thermos celebrates my arrival at work by letting out a shriek and relieving itself all over someone’s desk. Or my shoes.

I kept this for a shockingly long time only because it was one of those things that I just kept forgetting to replace. I’ve now retired it.  But I have to admit that I miss its entertainment value sometimes.

Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe