Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Ghost of New Years Past

"It’s not a caste system,” my son sputtered incredulously.

“It’s our lot, Buddy,” I said, reiterating my unsympathetic response to his long-winded lament about a lifetime of ho-hum New Years Eves. “Did I ever tell you about 1984?” I continued, referencing the oft-told account of the year my sister and I sat in the un-decorated livingroom of the house into which our family had just moved, watching hour after hour of “Kate and Ali” reruns while our parents—who never went out—had somehow scored an invitation to a holiday gathering despite the fact that we’d been in town mere weeks.

“We can do better,” he countered. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“It’s the best we can do,” I insisted.

Indeed, our dull New Years Eves have been a well documented source of conversation, wonder, and resignation over the years, as the only improvement we have made to our lot has been adding more would-be revelers to our number. Our respective husbands now sit alongside us as we watch slightly more current television, and leave our young to fend for themselves with preselected videos at a satellite location of the home. It’s a cycle we’ve tried halfheartedly to crack without success over the years, finally accepting it as the way things are.

I’ve always known there was last-minute fun to be had upon the year’s sunset, but we’ve never quite been able to find it. Fresh from the Christmas whirlwind, travel seems daunting. Funds are low. And the weather? Hardly something around which you’d want to plan an evening. So we’ve taken the evening-at-home approach, hoping that somehow the fact that we now number eight to-ten--depending on the occasional addition of a child’s friend—constitutes a party. Which could be fine, if the whole evening didn’t somehow manage to take on a desperate sort of Kate and Ali feel, every single year. And the kids know it, and, evidently view it as some kind of generational curse.

My son went off in an exasperated pseudo-huff, reemerging at the piano an hour later to deliver his message musically.

In case you missed the lyrics, he wrote them out and distributed them liberally:

New Years Eve is really lame
Every year is all the same
Yeah…we need change
to rearrange new years eve.
Each year we sit and watch Star Wars for the sixth time
Oh, it never stops.
My mom and aunt they whine, oh, they pine
about 1984--
but that year is nothing more than a memory.
My mom is stuck in a mental state,
She says that it’s a little too late to enjoy
the holiday.
Each year they send us upstairs and drink some wine
And watch a lame movie.
It’s never enjoyable,
It’s like eating a Lunchable.
We watch the movie, I know it too well,
The experience was none too swell.
I fell asleep in 2008 and awoke in 2009
only to find that I had missed the dropping of the New Years ball.
Oh the shame of it all.

I didn’t let on that that kid was getting to me. But his constant needling—the song was anything but the end of the matter—had sparked an unstoppable urge to find a solution to the decades-old problem. There really was no reason for it—after all, the same eight people anticipate Thanksgiving every year with an enthusiasm that is simply unnatural. What was missing just weeks later?

It was clear, from our Thanksgiving success, that all the ingredients were there for a memorable holiday—we had each other, and food wasn’t the problem, but the fun, where was the fun?

I remembered a truth I discovered at work during a slump years back when I felt bored. Bored! As an art teacher, bored stiff. I could find no excuse for that other than the truth: work was only boring when I was boring. Work became a drudgery when I coasted, when I refused to put the effort into the creative process that invariably breeds discovery, life, and dare I say, fun?

I idly thumbed through some tomes on the creative section of by bookshelf for inspiration. The difference, I knew, between thanksgiving and New Years was tradition. Thanksgiving is loaded with events we’ve come to anticipate year after year: the pumpkin carving, the feathers, the cooking--bad pie crusts and all.
And it suddenly the idea came. Who knows what sparked it—perhaps a picture, maybe a line of text, probably some wonderful combination of imagination, memory , and stimulus. But it came, in the way that all the good ideas do: suddenly, without a doubt, and at just the right time.

It’s been a busy and exciting week of planning—but tonight will see the first annual murder mystery party play out at my sister's abode. As a band of amazingly well-dressed pirates in thrift store finds, we’ll be at a jig—a jig!--participating in treachery, mayhem, and intrigue.

And the ghost of 1984? Not on the guest list.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Yesterday's News; or a Recycled Christmas

Nine years ago this morning, I found my favorite gift in the front lawn. I laid awake half the night, tossing and turning and checking the alarm clock with a giddiness rivaling a kid a third my age.

It's a well known fact at my house that my husband is an amazing gift giver--his thoughtful gifts in carefully wrapped packages are offerings I treasure. However, on this particular Christmas, the item for which I was waiting wasn't something he was able to give. The delivery came in the form of the newspaper, in which was printed my very first published piece of writing.

A couple weeks earlier, I had been notified that I had placed second in the paper's annual essay writing contest and that in addition to a modest cash prize, my essay would appear in the Christmas edition of the newspaper. Humble though the accomplishment was, it served as validation that a decision I had made months earlier to devote myself to the harsh realities of a writer's life may not have been for naught; that perhaps I could make a go of it. Indeed, it was the beginning of a long relationship between myself and our local daily, although I had no way of knowing it as I tiptoed through the wet grass that Christmas morning. All I knew was that my words were being delivered to well over a hundred thousand doorsteps--my words! It was a feeling that a gift box could never contain.

Nine years later, circulation is nowhere near the six digit figures of those days--in fact, today marks the first time the paper has ever failed to be printed--they took today completely off. A lagging economy ended what turned out to be an eight year stint with the paper last year. But nine years later, I haven't forgotten that heady rush of seeing my byline.

So today, I will share the text of that first essay, cheesy theme (what would you do if you were Santa for a day?) and all, in celebration of remembered gifts and cherished dreams.

Heart of the Holidays contest--December 25, 2000
Second Place
If I Were Santa

Santa – the single word ignites images and memories of the dearest and most cherished variety. To a young child, the word is the representation of hope in its purest form as elusive wishes are whispered, shyly at first, but with an unwavering confidence between the fibers of a silky white beard. A young parent, hopeful to keep the dream alive just one more year, penciling a simple “thanks’ on a crayon scrawled note by a plate of cookies. For those whose youth has long since faded, the remembrances are bittersweet with nostalgia for all that perhaps was, or should have been.

Close your eyes…can you hear the distant sound of sleigh bells, the crunch of newly fallen snow under sleigh runners and hoofed feet? Can you feel the softness of the plush red stocking slip across your fingers as you hang it on your bedpost? Can you smell the freshly baked cookies, can you taste the one that will be left on a plate, in unquestioning confidence by the smallest of hands? Can you resist the urge to smile at the mental images the name evokes? What if? What if the power to bestow joy and delight on such a large scale to young and old, rich and poor, strangers and those held most dear—what if I, a very ordinary, everyday woman—could embody that magical, mythical power? What would I do if I were the dream giver?

What if I were responsible for a rare smile on a young and far away face, a face so ethnically different from my own, a face that has seen poverty, war and grief? What if I could somehow touch that life, bring a moment of bliss, of unexpected anticipation in a colorfully wrapped box?

What if I could brighten the face of my irritable neighbor, and for one, brief moment watch her harsh and hardened features soften in a childish delight as an unforeseen surprise stops her in her tracks?

What if I could momentarily bring laughter to a drab and cheerless retirement home, where hope has been all but completely forgotten? How would I feel? Would I, could I, ever be the same?

As Santa, I would be able to offer hope where it did not exist before, to deliver kindness where it was undeserved, to alleviate the sting of loneliness. One by one, I could touch lives in unexpected and welcome ways, and little by little I could change my world-- if I were Santa, with the inexhaustible resources of the North Pole at my disposal. If I were Santa, joy to the world and peace on earth would seem more like reality than the intangible words of a Christmas carol.

I wonder, though, is an impossibly speedy sleigh and eight tiny reindeer absolutely necessary to bring happiness halfway around the world or just the vision to deliver that same smile by sponsoring a child through a humanitarian organization, or stuffing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child?

Do I really need an overstuffed sack of goodies to surprise my unpleasant neighbor, or just the courage that it would take to cross her yard by the cover of a Christmas night to adorn an outdoor pine or bush with candy canes?

Is a workshop with little elves completely essential to have before I bring warmth and laughter and freshly baked cookies to a nursing home or hospital? Or would my goals be more closely observed if I ate the cookies myself, so as to better fill an oversized red suit?

In the end, “what if’s” are nothing but unrealized dreams: wishes that can only satisfy once they have blossomed into the greater hope they offer. I don’t ever have to wonder what it would be like to become Santa, and bestow the love and joy his image represents. Being Santa is a choice I can make when I live by the words of the One in the manger, the One whose gifts Santa really delivers. In loving my neighbor, I hold the only hope any of us truly has for peace on earth. For in living by those words, I can be Santa, and not just on just one, solitary magical day. I can be Santa any day I choose.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This Post Sponsored by Perspective

I've been a terrible blogger. I haven't posted in over a week and a half. I haven't visited other blogs, or left any comments. Instead, I'm knee deep in cookies, packages, and projects and I'm looking at serving some hard time in the kitchen and in my studio in order to finish the things I want to do to make Christmas merry. Although there's usually time for both, lately I've only been able to live the journey instead of logging it. See, I'm committed to enjoying December. I don't want to reach January and realize I lost a month to stress and obligation. So what I've had to let slide lately is the regular posting. I can live with that a lot easier than missing a moment of the season. I wasn't always this chill on December 23, and I'm quite aware that I'm just one Bad Decision away from succumbing to overload. So in the interest of late-season perspective, I'm posting one of my December newspaper columns that ran a few seasons back. I hope you have a moment to kick back and take a breather--and maybe leave me a comment to let me know you're still with me :)

Daily Press, December 11, 2004

Every year a veritable army of gingerbread men, bears, and toy soldiers march from my attic in December.

At tree trimming time, it becomes apparent that I’m on the fast track toward a holiday edition of one of those home reality shows where Patient Organizers attempt to rehabilitate committed pack rats.

“Tell me about this,” the Patient Organizer might say, raising a skeptical eyebrow toward the paper bird with the upside down wings that I made in grade school.

The sheer volume of inherited glass balls, mementos from classmates and students, not to mention everything either of my own children have ever made during the month of December would present a formidable challenge.

Now, I’ve seen enough of these shows to know what the Patient Organizer would say next. “The memories aren’t here,” she say, in a sweeping gesture across the flotsam. “They’re here,” she’d explain gently, patting the left side of her chest.

But they’re MY ornaments and they’re ALL important.

Once, I went to a friend’s tree trimming party. Having raised two children and beginning to accumulate the mementos of grandchildren, her ornament collection dwarfed mine.

Mentally pitting the size of her tree against the stack of boxes, I immediately began to stress. How on earth were we going to do this? How could we pack all of these obviously important treasures on one little tree?

Panic set in as I envisioned a triangular heap with an angel perched in blessing at the top.

We’re not going to use everything, my friend laughed. Just the ones that are right for us now.

Utterly horrified, I flashed back to the year when upon un-decorationg, I discovered a blue checked bear overlooked in a wad of tissue paper. Dismayed that he’d been missed, I hooked him over the knob of a cabinet for year-round display in an attempt to make up for the oversight.

Intentionally excluding hundreds of important relics was a concept foreign to my thinking. I would have gone through the trouble of putting up two trees before leaving something out would have crossed my mind.

In today’s society, we’ve taken the pack-rat mentality into choppy and uncharted waters. We collect titles, projects, and activities until we’ve effectively multi-tasked every moment we have. We’re shocked at the suggestion of paring down because everything we do is so important.

December typically adds another layer of must-dos clamoring for our attention. We cram shopping, recipes, traditions, and yes, even church activities into already overloaded schedules.

Psalm 46:10 tells us to “Be still and know that I am God.”

Our modern day Christmas season doesn’t have many still moments, but the original Christmas story is full of them.

A couple waiting alone in a stable to witness a miracle.

Shepherds watching sheep on a hill.

Kings who found wisdom in a night sky.

Today, the only character in the Christmas story most Americans can relate to is the one with “no room.”

Being still means keeping space open for possibilities.

It means leaving room for moments of wonder.

It means not running the risk of being “too full” to assist in a miracle.

Too often, our lives resemble my overcrowded Christmas tree. We’re sure there’s a lot of beautiful things in there somewhere, but we can’t see through the clutter clearly enough to recognize them.

Being still means taking time to prayerfully discover if we’re investing our time in things that are right for us now.

For my friend, the presence of a two-year-old grandson meant that the soft ornaments turned out to be the right ones for them that year. The others went back to the attic. Some might be a good fit another year. Others might become memories stored only in the heart.

Her tree was beautiful and held only what could be appreciated.

May the same be true for each of our lives this Christmas season.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Good, Clean Read

“Maybe you can at least get the gist of it,” my ever-optimistic boy said in an attempt to be consoling.

This morning, this soggy pile was a hard cover edition of a book I believe to be called “Crush It,” by Gary? Ted? Ver---------mer----something. It was next to impossible to tell when I approached my washing machine to investigate why it wasn’t running and I discovered that I never closed the lid, thereby keeping all the towels on hold in the drum filled with water of a shockingly blue-black hue. And a lot of strange fibers that didn’t resemble the texture of any linens I’m aware of owning.

My mind instantly did a flash-back segment to an hour earlier when I pulled the book from a laundry basket where someone—may have been me—had apparently stashed it days earlier in a hasty clean up effort. This would not be the first time mayhem resulted from this highly unrecommended house keeping method. After pulling the book from the basket where it had been whiling time safely intermingling with clean stray socks and “B” grade underwear, I set it on the dryer where it evidently got caught up in the loading process of the aforementioned linens. Miraculously, the Bible with which the damaged text had been paired remained on the dryer unscathed. I always heard that God protects His word. Meanwhile, the Lesser Text was marinating with the towels, book, and sundries for over an hour, with the cloth products faring much better than the paper.

I carried the dripping pulp to my front porch where I broke it down into segments in hopes they would dry. For the next several hours, the carnage got Top Billing in my personal headlines, as I’d ironically been planning to spend part of my day reading the book, and was suffering from dampened hopes.

Around nightfall, I gathered the saturated segments and a blow dryer. I made significant progress in the drying of a small, apparently mid-book section in the 2 minutes I worked on it before plunging the back of the house into darkness when I blew a circuit.

The waterlogged literature remained on the metaphorical back burner until bedtime. “I read some great things about it today online,” my husband offered.

“Don’t whet my appetite!” I pleaded. “I’m not spending another $20.00 on a second copy. I’ll just work more with the blow dryer tomorrow. I hope to get it to the point where I can punch holes in the pages and put them in a binder.”

“Don’t be silly,” my husband said. “You’ll spend more on electricity than I did today with the super saver rate I used when I ordered you a new copy online. It took some detective work to find it, though,” my husband said, detailing the trail he followed beginning with the website of the specialty shop in which we found it. “It sounds great.”

“Wow,” I said, thanking my husband for his efforts. “Still, that was a lot of work. Let’s hope the book is worth it. For all we know, he could be all wet.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Olfactory Experiences; or One Line Wednesday, Side B

“Children! We’re heading for the car!” Abandoning my cart mid-aisle, I herded my kids from the Toy-R-Us, undoubtedly to shocked inquiries and possibly even wails. At the time, my son was small enough that I likely scooped him into the crook of my arm like a linebacker making a key offensive break, although I’ll admit that I don’t follow football and I’m not even sure if that is the type of thing linebackers do.

Safely bucked into our van, I explained to the kids that we had to leave our cart full of cool gifts behind because mommy accidentally left the Christmas potpourri on the stove top when we left the house, several hours earlier. This may or may not have been the same year we awoke on Christmas morning to find that the candles on our wooden armoire had mysteriously disappeared and had been replaced by ominous blackened rings where the candles had been merrily burning the night before. But I digress.

We were homeschooling at the time, so I’m sure on the way home from Toy-R-Us we probably talked a bit about melting points, the properties of flame, and the rigors of Fire Academy, but I can’t be sure. At home—which we noted to our relief was still standing and not engulfed in flame—we found a scene that looked something like this:

The above photo is not archival documentation from the scene—just a little something I shot last night that is eerily similar.

I fear, however, that the image and the above commentary do not do justice to the merits of the simmering potpourri. Using nothing more than a few well-chosen items from a common spice cabinet, it lends an instant Christmas atmosphere to a holiday gathering, a family movie night, or even an ordinary morning blogging at home alone. There is so much to gain by turning our attention to the possibilities of the potpourri itself that you should regard the above as a cautionary tale from a someone who can’t even manage the uneventful use of school glue.

The template for the potpourri—officially dubbed “Christmas in the Air” emerged as the singular redeeming feature of a scarring Women’s Ornament Exchange I attended in the late nineties. The original formulation probably exists somewhere in my personal archives, but it has adapted and morphed over the years, depending on what I have on hand, and it always turns out wonderful.

The basic blueprint relies on segments from an orange, a cinnamon stick, whole cloves and all spice. The original recipe calls for a bay leaf, which I toss in if I have one on hand. Some incantation of peppermint also appears in the original—I believe it was oil, which I never have on hand, but I have occasionally been known to toss in a starlight mint. Star anise makes a pretty addition, but its bold fragrance really changes the potpourri's aroma profile, so experiment to see what you prefer. The entire mixture goes into a water-filled sauce pan or other metal simmering pot and put on a back burner to simmer, emitting a wonderful aroma that permeates the whole house.

A package of your own personal blend makes a wonderful hostess gift or thoughtful gesture for coworkers.

Get creative with the packaging. I can see it in a brown paper bag, tied with festive ribbon, or in colored cellophane. The whole point, though, is the offering of common elements given as a simple olfactory experience. Which scientists happen to believe to be the most powerful. Which can be a good or bad, depending on whether we’re talking about the simple pleasure of spicy goodness, or the heavy stench of smoke and flame.

So--one little thing. Don't forget the water. Add lots of it when you start the potpourri, and check it every now and then, to see if it needs more—because water, you know, evaporates, especially if you go out shopping for several hours.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

One Line Wednesday

It's either a pot full of instant Christmas or all the makings of a Homeless Holiday.

(Either way, you'll want to come back later for the back story and some only slightly hazardous Christmas goodness.)

New to One Line Wednesday? Get caught up and join the fun!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

If the Glue is Dry, the Rap Won't Stick

“So just how did this happen?” the school nurse asked when I presented in her office yesterday morning with a bloodied index finger.

I’d prepared for the question—even tried out my answer on an inquisitive preschooler I passed in the hallway enroute to the nurse.

“I cut it on a bit of dried glue,” I answered casually, as though a laceration from dehydrated craft supplies was pretty routine.

“Glue!” the nurse exclaimed, frowning. “I’ve never heard that one before.” She sprung into action, pulling a contoured band aid from what seemed to be a secret stash of Special Supplies.

She covered the tip of my finger with a band-aid that resembled a stout letter “H.” “This should keep you out of trouble,” she said. I thought that was a lot to ask of an adhesive strip, and I’m pretty sure she did, too, considering I’ve been in her office three times in as many weeks.

She asked a few follow up questions, which I answered as politely and vaguely as possible, as I’m pretty sure she’s started a file on me, and I want to be careful not to leave too damning a trail as I’m building quite a resume of equipment from which I’m banned.

When I worked for Dr. S a graduate assistant at my university, I was banned from the Paper Pro 2000 stapler, the comb binder, the copy machine, and the entire data base. By the time I left, I was pretty much down to the phone, but even there, my status was a bit shaky after Prince Books called and I caused a bit of undue excitement when I thought we were in communiqué with royalty and not just taking a routine call from a text book publisher, as we were wont to do at the Graduate Office.

In my brief months at my new post, I’ve managed to get banned from the laminator after setting it aflame during a lunchtime episode that ended in a smoky haze of plastic fumes.

Considering that there is now a big sign on the laminator listing the people allowed to use it (basically NOT me) it’s pretty important that, as an Art Teacher, I don’t get banned from glue. Especially not as the result of an Official Report. Aside from the host of practical problems such a prohibition would cause on a day-to-day level, I’ve got a whole other layer of consequences to consider.

See, when I worked at the Graduate office, one of the jobs I was allowed to do over the phone was collect contact information for the administrators of all the schools at which our graduates are hired, to, you k now, see how they perform in Real World situations. They use this data for all manner of flow charts, pie graphs, and brochures. Which means that some new graduate assistant is collecting all that data, and eventually Dr. S herself is going to call my work.

Although I’m sure she’d file the incident with the laminator under Routine and Predictable, being banned from glue? That’s a rap I can’t allow to stick.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Set Work

Years ago, I needed a name for the mayhem and madness that exploded in my living room each week when anywhere from two to a dozen or more teenage girls gathered to share lives, loves, a lot of laughter and a fair share of tears over brownies and Bibles.

I decided on the moniker “Backstage Youth,” because I came to view the moments we shared hunkered down around the brownie pan, puzzling over the best approach to problems and praying for the wisdom to do it well as the behind-the-scenes “backstage” moments that made all the difference when we went back out to that oh-so-public “stage” we know as Real Life.

Drawing on everything I ever learned in a Dramatic Past that includes the teaching, writing, and performing of live drama, I knew that the quality of the “finished product” any group of performers brings to a stage is all about what happens when the house lights are down, scripts are open, and the players are focused on the director.

It’s no different in life. The world sees what happens on the “main stage” of our lives, and what happens backstage determines what they see. Backstage is where decisions are made, fears are overcome, confidence is gained, and relationships are formed. It’s where God can do his work in us so we can do our work for him.

I went MIA from Blog-ville circa Tuesday last week and I’ve been backstage the whole time. Practical set work involving my physical space played a big role in my disappearance. Being in a family that devotes an entire week to a huge Thanksgiving requires a fair amount of clean up at the same time we need a complete set change for Christmas. Despite my feelings about the intermingling of holidays, I must confess to a few days of inter-holiday commerce as gourds and garlands clashed at various intersections. But now? Writing this by only light from some of the 1,500-plus mini white bulbs twinkling from green garlands around my home? It’s hard to believe that just one week ago I sat in the same seat amidst leaf swags, carved pumpkins, and turkey feathers.

But my backstage work hasn’t been limited to just my set. As I’ve discovered with every production in which I’ve ever been involved, the backstage intensifies just prior to the production’s debut. The players disappear from the public eye as backstage becomes their temporary home as they focus and prepare for the Big Moment.
I’m not currently in a production right now but life has still been like that for me a this past week. There’s a lot going on in the life of my family right now. It’s all Big Stuff or the Life Changing variety-- invariably exciting, and very wonderful—but still seems Big. I don’t know how everything will unfold over the coming weeks and months, but I feel on the cusp of changes. Changes for which I want to be prepared. And the best place I know to do that is backstage, with prayers and chocolate.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

This Place Reserved for Tuesday's Post

There will be a post today. This just isn't it. So grab a coffee, linger over the last of your leftovers, or, if you're feeling ambitious, get some work done. Have an adventure--maybe even two--then stop back on by after dinner this evening, if you're on the east coast, or for your late afternoon pick-me-up on the west. With any luck, all this silliness will be replaced by today's Actual Post.

Oh--and congratulations to Raoulysgirl, the randomly selected winner in the apple peeler/corer giveaway!

This message comes to you as a public service form Running With Letters. Statements contained therein may not be suitable for any purpose.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Celebrating Monday

4 lbs. of coffee
Indeterminate bags of flour
3 dozen eggs
14 dozen potato rolls
An entire tub of shortening
11 people for post-Thanksgiving pizza
9 smiling faces packed around my table for birthday lunch

The statistics are as endless as the excess they reflect. I have been reveling in food, family, and fun for a week, and am anything but ready for my Forced Re-entry into the Real World this morning.

So I spent a lot of time last night trying to come up with things I like about Ordinary Days. I resisted the fibers of my being bent on loudly insisting that there’s nothing notable in the normal; that Routine and Usual are just way stations enroute to Better Things.

I pressed myself in my search for reasons to celebrate the standard because I know that life, in all its richness and fullness, plays out on the stage of the everyday and the commonplace.

So I’m heading off to school this morning remembering that there’s life in the scraps and crayons that will roll across my classroom floor. It’s in the books that I want to read, the music I’ll listen to on my commute, the leftovers in my lunch. It’s in the average stories of common experiences we’ll share around the dinner table tonight. It’s in the miles I need to run, the rides I must give, the emails I will answer. And the messy rooms I call home? They are simply teeming with life.

Ordinary may be the heart and soul of the Real World, but it is also the backbone of everything we hold dear. So today I may be up at dawn, bereft of pie, and teaching class, but that doesn't mean I'm not celebrating.

In Other News:
I will post the giveaway winner this evening. With so many busy with things besides blogging, I wanted to give readers a final chance to leave a comment for a chance to win an apple corer/peelerin time for holiday baking!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Review Trailer

In planning for our family’s annual week of Thanksgiving, I completely forgot about Wednesday.

Wednesday is, quite traditionally, the day that nothing goes as planned. It’s the day after the initial euphoria of the vacation mentality has passed, the day before all the elements of the year’s most anticipated meal fall into place, the day devoted to preparations we never fail to underestimate. Simply put, Thanksgiving Wednesday is rough, a fact everyone seems to forget until the clock tells us its late, our bodies say we’re tired, and our recipes indicate that key ingredients are forgotten, missing, or simply not doing their job. Worst of all, Wednesday is the day my sister and I confront our annual nemesis: the pie crust.

I would like to tell you that the “cooking show” my sister and I planned, documenting two-recipe pie crust showdown yielded the elusive supple crust we have always sought; that in the pursuit of same we became an overnight internet sensation as our special blend of humor, commentary, and cooking prowess played out in our planned series of near-real time posts right here in this forum.

I’d like to tell you that family criticism had nothing to do with the sudden cancellation of our cooking show debut, that we were able to sustain the spirit of frivolity that fueled our initial efforts at conquering our traditionally lackluster crust.

And I’d definitely like to tell you that the apple peeler/corer I was asked to try and review worked so flawlessly and saved so much time that all the other setbacks dissolved into irrelevance.

But the truth is that Real Life is a lot messier and more complicated than we want to believe. Real Life is uncertain, prone to mishap, and subject to ill-timed setbacks. In short, Real Life is a lot like Thanksgiving Wednesday. And you what? It’s a whole lot more interesting as a result.

One of the most important things I’ve ever learned about journalism is that the real story is in what Actually Happened. Any story approached from a pre-conceived angle by a reporter fishing for a certain kind of quote or contrived ending will result in a stilted read reflecting a Life Substitute with a chemically engineered Aftertaste. Not at all what we’re about here at Running With Letters.

What Actually Happened was that my sister and I struggled through the making of three pies in a mostly somber state after the sudden scratching of our live-blog cooking show. Our crusts were unmanageable, somewhat stiff, and left behind no scraps for us to slather in rolled layers of butter, sugar and cinnamon. Saddened by the sour reception to our show, we slogged through the assembly of said pies, sure we would be buoyed by the stellar performance of the corer/peeler/slicer.

The bottom line is that the peeler was fun to use and did save us some time. We tested it on no less than six varieties of apples (our pies are nothing if not a celebration of savory flavors and diverse textures) and found that it performed best with apples that leaned more toward the faultless than the flawed. Hard, round, perfectly proportioned apples zipped through the process, whereas the soft, the irregular, and the misproportioned tended to tangle and tear. We were anxious to see how it performed on potatoes, as the package made mention of spud use as a popular secondary application. We gave it a trial run on the potatoes my husband needed for his locally renowned rolls, but found that my niece needed to finish the job with a manual peeler—a fact that steered us away from emergency use of the gadget in a near-disaster on Thanksgiving when, as the turkey emerged from the oven, we realized that we hadn’t even started the mashed potatoes.

A merciful feature of Real Life is that the nitty gritty realities of preparation often have a soft and gracious flip side, in which we’ve been reveling ever since we flipped the calendar to Thursday. Today, we’re eschewing the realities of Black Friday and we’re carving pumpkins instead. Despite my absence from the shopping scene, I do have a deal available for one of my followers: There’s a second corer/peeler that’s waiting to have one of your names pasted on it and shipped to your house in time for Christmas baking. If you’d like to win, just let me know in your comment and I’ll post the winner on Sunday.

I’m off to jump back in to the potpourri of sweet and sour that blends to make that oh-so-savory flavor I call life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

From a Wing to a Prayer

When it comes to Thanksgiving turkey, everyone has a favorite part: for some it’s the drumstick, while others prefer a thigh or breast. But me? I’m all about the feathers.

Not the Real Feathers from the Actual Bird, mind you. That would definitely put a damper on my both my culinary and dining experiences. No, the feathers I’m anticipating this Thursday are of the cut-out construction paper variety.

After enjoying our Real Turkey, it is our tradition to push our dishes aside and turn our thoughts to the colorful cut outs mingling among the nuts and mints inside the pumpkin shaped placeholders at our respective spots at the table. With the late afternoon sun bouncing off our wine glasses as it streams down the length of our farmhouse table, we sit in blissful moments of peaceful silence, writing the things that make us thankful over every inch of feather-like real estate.

We linger over the writing for some time. Although we never fail to mention food and family, home and health, we take the time to think beyond the Big Four to recognize the underrated, the overlooked, and the mundane: the wealth of ordinary treasures that enrich our lives. The scratching of pencils and markers punctuated by occasional outbursts of stifled laughter fills the kitchen until every feather is placed into a common pile for a read aloud.

The twist? We guess who wrote the message on each feather. Some are easy. For instance, any feather mentioning underwear or featuring creative spelling will be attributed to my son, hands down. Any feather devoted to the overt praise of baking ingredients or kitchen gadgets will undoubtedly be the work of my daughter, The Baker. If a feather says something along the lines of: “controversy, conspiracy theories, pseudo-science, minto wheels, Stirling engines, perpetual motion and UFOs,” no time will be lost in debate over whether or not my husband wrote it. On the other hand, if one reads anything like, “the sun on my face, the smell of leaves, crunching leaves, nuts, and leaf colors,” it’s pretty much assumed to be my work.

Other times it’s not so easy to guess. Any one of the eight family members around my table could be thankful for a particular dish or any one of a dozen jokes or incidents that transpired in its preparation. And when one feather reads: “pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bars, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin spice, pumpkin nog,” and the next says ,“pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pie, pumpkins, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin carving,” all anyone wonders is which feather was mine and which was my sister’s—a feat that could theoretically require handwriting analysis, if it really mattered.

In earlier years, we used to tape the feathers to a cut out turkey, but the plumage became so voluminous that now we just scatter them across the table in a sort of variegated prayer of appreciation for the simple pleasures and intricate treasures that define the life and love we have gathered to celebrate.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pie Before a Pall

Five AM isn’t an hour with which I am well acquainted. The introductions I’ve had with the Crack of Dawn have been brief and often artificially inflated by the specter of travel or adventure. Under normal circumstances, anyone seeking me before, say, six on a go-to-work day, or the more reasonable seven thirty on a work-from-home day, should make a beeline to the master suite in the back of my house and not toward my kitchen at the hub.

If circumstances should find me in the kitchen at that unfamiliar hour, it would be far more likely to find me clinging to a steaming cup of joe like a drowning woman on a life preserver than at the helm of a mixer, as I was one particular holiday-time morning a few years back. On that occasion, I had both my parents and my grandmother under my roof and was scheduled to teach art all day and host a party for upwards of twenty teens and young adults all evening. Instead of taking a reasonable course of action like serving, say Purchased Goods (gasp), I decided on a Traditional Homemade Spread. Hand decorated gingerbread men. Festive Party Punch. And pumpkin pies with hand rolled crust. All of which, needless to say, had be fresh. Very, very fresh.

Which brings me to my 5 AM baking frenzy. Surrounded by spices and the wafting scent of baking crusts I was feeling so on top of my day—so satisfied, so do I dare say, smug? Because, really, if I’m being honest, I was royally Showing Off. I wanted my family to see me as a complete 21st century success: I can work! I can bake! I can decorate cute little gingerbread men with my kids! I can entertain!

Sure, I had to ‘keep moving,” make the most of my time, stay “organized”, and any of a dozen other mantras by which I keep pace. But that was OK, because later that evening I cut those pies into adorable little slivers and passed them around my beautifully decorated home and held my breath as a hush fell over the party and I waited to the satisfied “oohs” and contented “ahs” of my assembled guests.

At that moment, I basked in the glow of Accomplishment—the Gold Medal of the Keep Moving Guild. I had cranked out a day of which I could be proud. I had truly done the “all,” that folks over at the “Do What You Can” Club deemed impossible. Back then, I had no respect for the kind of living the Do-What-You-Canners were hocking. Who could possibly be interested in slow when fast got you so far?

Recent weeks have given me a glimpse into the Do What You Can, Proceed Slowly, “don’t sweat it” Society. During the hours I have spent with my husband over the past few weeks since his injury—which has been most of them—we have done nothing quickly. We’ve stuck to no kind of rigid schedule. We’ve done the things we can, when we can. And what I’ve found is that we have plenty of time—time to talk, to dream, to enjoy little things about each other that we too often miss. We’ve been able to play games, watch movies, and do absolutely nothing other than enjoy each other’s company. And the real shocker? Nothing has fallen apart. The house is still relatively clean. The kids are happy. The bills are paid. And I am more in love with my husband than I have ever been-- an accomplishment way more sweet than any pie I have ever served.

Dishing out my pumpkin pie that December evening, I had no inkling that I was missing out on anything. Intent as I was at “keeping things moving,” it didn’t occur to me that the hush that fell over the room was actually a pall. The fact that the one thing I missed that day was the sweet goodness on which everything hinged eluded me until I shoveled a big bit of pie into my own mouth and realized that in my haste to pop those pies into the oven, I had forgotten the sugar.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One Line Wednesday: The So Late It's Early Edition

The variegated wig was the most notable feature of the stiff form splayed on the roadside sofa.

It was the neutral sleeve with the subtle stripe that first flashed into my peripheral vision midway through my morning run. I had been noting, in a vague sort of way, the plethora of roadside bulk refuse that the city--no doubt hampered by an unusual volume of post-storm rubbish-- had neglected to pick up on Tuesday, our neighborhood's usual garbage day. The assortment of worn furniture, rusty lamps and typical basement fare was unremarkable--then the stiff sleeve caught my attention and I missed a step in my evenly-paced sprint.

The khaki-esque trousers registered next, heightening the level of my concern enough that I pulled to a complete stop and noted the pile of primary colors arranged atop the pate determined, to my great relief, that it was merely a well-dressed effigy about to meet its fate.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Line Wednesday

The variegated wig was the most notable feature of the stiff form splayed on the roadside sofa.

New to One Line Wednesday? Get caught up and join the fun!

I'll be back tonight with the back story on today's line, and can't wait to read your lines in the meantime!

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Appealing Proposition

File this post under: atypical.

I don’t typically devote entire posts to kitchen gadgets.

And staging a photo shoot with my trash before I toss it? Again, not generally how I roll.

So a post about how I’m throwing away an old apple peeler isn’t the norm here at Running With Letters.

But it seems that’s exactly what you’re reading. So what’s really at the core of today’s temporary lapse in format?

Simply put, it’s Thanksgiving and there’s no shortage of things about which to celebrate. As part of the festivities and general frivolity that I will be hosting in both my online and structural homes, I am sharing with my readers the opportunity to join me in a purging of the inadequate apple peelers certain to be lurking in many of your drawers because one of you is about to win this top of the line apple peeler and corer.

How can I be so certain of the plethora of sub-par peelers out there? Because of the oh-so many with which I have struggled during marathon peeling events with my kids, post-orchard visit or pre-Thanksgiving. Ranging from hopelessly gnarled to downright rusty, my peelers have generally been flimsy facsimiles incapable of withstanding more than a half dozen pies or a few quarts of applesauce.

I was going line them all up for a group shot—a sort of who’s who of bad cutlery—but it seems the sole specimen pictured at the top of the page was the last one standing. I was originally going to toss it in with a huge collection of items headed off the Youth Challenge Thrift store later this week, but closer examination revealed a suspicious substance harboring in a hard to reach crevice, so I don’t think there’s another Thanksgiving in this one.

So let’s just start fresh, shall we? I’m expecting my new gadget any day now. I’ll run it through the some stringent Thanksgiving rigors, let you know how it performs, and then give you the chance to have one shipped straight to your house if you like what you see.

Sound appealing? I thought so. Tomorrow we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Appealing Preview and Giveaway Winners

It’s almost here.

Around our house, the conversation seems to wrap in concentric circles around a singular topic: Thanksgiving.

The celebration of appreciation and bounty is traditionally the annual high-water mark in our home. Eight people, a tall stack of board games, and countless rounds of whatever beverage the cup in your hand is designed to hold. There are pumpkins to carve, movies to watch, and stories to tell. We’ll go through bags of flour, pounds of butter, gallons of coffee, and sinkfuls of dishes.

Over the years, we’ve perfected a menu of sheer culinary bliss. My husband pops potato biscuits out of the oven with a quality and consistency capable of consigning the Dough Boy into an embarrassing early retirement. And my sister’s pumpkin cheesecake? Ginger and cinnamon, cream cheese and pumpkin mixed and mingled in harmony—-perfection by the forkful. My son loves working with his dad on an Alton Brown-style turkey they begin prepping a full 24 hours before it goes in the oven. I’m all over everything apple—a simmering pot of homemade applesauce, two big pies, and fragrant mulled cider.

For us, you see, Thanksgiving is all about the cooking. No short cuts here. Although I’ll be the first to admit to ordering a Boston Market Christmas every year, at Thanksgiving that’s just not the way we roll. At Thanksgiving we’re all about the slow cooking and savoring the experience.

But just because we embrace the cooking process doesn’t mean we always have the best culinary tools. Over the years we’ve upgraded from metal pie tins to deep red ceramic ones. We’ve ditched our cracked plastic dough rolling disk for a sleek silicone sheet. We’ve bought a few extra bread pans and some sharp knives. But we’re still making do with some pretty rudimentary tools in a key area or two. That’s why I was thrilled when the folks at asked me to select something from their line of cookware sets to help us prepare for our big day.

Although you can consider this whole post a little preview of some of the little bits of Thanksgiving goodness I’ll be sharing over the next week or two—I’ll be passing along some recipes, photos, and generally sharing the fun—I’m really thrilled that I am also able to share my selected cookware item with one of my readers, as will ship a matching item to one of my readers in the continental US.

So what did I choose? Stay tuned next week to find out (hint: think apples!)

Giveaway Winners!

Congratulations to New Follower Roccio and Not-so-New Follower Erin who have both won autographed sets of my YA novels in last week's giveaway!

This Space Reserved for Friday's Post

There will be a post today. This just isn't it. So grab a gingerbread latte, catch up on some other blogs--hey, if you're feeling ambitious, go get some work done. Linger an hour or two and then stop back on by. There's something special in the works that you won't want to miss. Plus, if you entered last week's giveaway you'll want to stop by to see who won!

This message comes to you as a public service form Running With Letters. Statements contained therein may not be suitable for any purpose.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Real Life

Real Life. It's messy; imperfect; unedited--and it's this week's You Capture photo challenge over at I Should Be Folding Laundry.

Going in, I knew that capturing Real Life was going to involve the shooting of some pretty gritty scenes. I knew a Real Life photo shoot was no place for the carefully composed, specifically selected photos I typically post.

What I didn't know was that the weather would offer it's own brand of rough, Real Life conditions, shrouding my world in heavy cloud cover that forced me to shoot with a flash. I've used a flash in probably less than 5% of the pictures I post--it's just not how I like to shoot. But this week? It was my reality. So I embraced it, along with everything else in the mixed bag of happenings in which I reside.

So here's a dose of my reality, through my lens:

Remember I said messy? I work amidst a mosaic of found objects, mixed media, and private collections:

At home, it's pretty much the same:

Remember I said imperfect? Mr. RW Letters can tell you all about that:

Remember I said unedited? People don't always tell you that Real Life sometimes leaves you wet out in the cold. Good thing for warm towels.

Thanks for sharing this little dose of reality with me.

Reminder: Today is the last day to enter my giveaway! Remember, if we top 40 followers today (three more as of post time!) I will give away a second set of books!

One Line Wednesday: Late Edition

So this morning I told you I would return to explain the origin of today's One Line Wednesday line. Let me just say up front that this will be a short post. The only story behind today's line is that there really isn't one. I started fretting sometime late yesterday about the fact that I had nothing--no tidbit, no nugget, no nuance or turn of phrase. I figured it would hit me overnight, or failing that, in the shower, where the good lines just flow like so much running water. Too bad most of them end up running right down the drain with the bathwater.

But today? No amount of running water, memories or musings seemed to do the trick. So, at 8:51, I turned to my amazing husband (who made me breakfast this morning despite being in a full leg brace and on crutches--did I marry a winner, or what? You can meet him here, as he just posted his first blog in over a year...)and said, "Well, it's 8:51 and I have no other option than to just come clean and admit that I have no line."

To which he replied, "There it is--just go with that. Just try to make it a little more epic."

So I added the bit about the well, hoping that most of my readers aren't from Southeastern Virgina where entire institutions are shuttering their doors against driving rain and gale force winds, and maybe you'd all just picture me in some sort of drought-inspired Little House-esque episode where I drew the last gallon of water to boil for bath night (Ingalls reference added just for you, Willoughby)

So that's it, really. I'm sorry I don't have a better story this time. But on the bright side, we picked up four new Followers: the aforementioned Willoughby, Julie, Lee, and Tiffany. Thanks a million, Polly, for putting the word out!

Will we make it to 40--or 50? Tune in tomorrow and let's find out together!

P.S. if you're new to One Line Wednesdays, it all started like this...

One Line Wednesday and Upping My Game

Before we delve into the verbal vortex that is One Line Wednesday, I'm going to break in here with a Running With Letters Public Service announcement. Since tomorrow is the last day to enter my giveaway, I am going to up the game just a bit. Sweeten the pot, if you prefer. As of this posting, the Follower Count was hovering at 33. Here's what I'm thinking: how about if we hit forty followers by midnight tomorrow (Thursday)I throw in another set of books? That would make two sets of winners from the New Follower category--pretty sweet, huh? But that's not all. Let's just suppose for a moment--in our wildest fantasies--that somehow 17 New Followers materialized and there were 50 beautiful faces pictured over there, to your left. That would be clear grounds for celebration, don't you think? If that should happen--I think I can see my way clear to scrounging up a third set--3 lucky New Follower winners (plus the set that will be heading off to one of my long time followers). So if you haven't Followed yet, it's your day! Pull up a chair, we'll make room!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

At 8:51 it became painfully obvious that I had no other option than to just come clean and admit that the well was dry.

That's all. For now.

If this were a typical post, I’d have to, you know, elaborate. A normal post require an detailing of what, exactly, occurred at 8:51, and why I was so bereft of options And, perhaps most importantly, what, exactly, was I trying to hide earlier, say, at 8:49?

But not today, at least not yet. On One Line Wednesday, vagueness, brevity, and misdirection are the order of the day--at least for a few hours.

If you're new to One Line Wednesday, here’s the lowdown: Each week, I’ll get things started with the single most intriguing line I’ve managed to craft in the intervening seven days. Each week there’ll also be some attempt at a "Linky" widget (I think we've decided to stick with "Mc") so you'll have the opportunity to link to your one line post. Even though my readers now demand that I explain my line, you need not feel any pressure of further explanation. There's no need to worry if your words are “going anywhere.” No of the tricky transitions or epic endings one might expect in traditional prose. Your line can be about anything, as clear or cryptic as you’d like, and who knows—maybe even be true!

If you have no blog, feel free to participate by just commenting as you would for a normal post. If you do have a blog, however, please mention that you are participating in One Line Wednesday, and add a hyperlink to this post. Feel free, also, to copy the official One Line Wednesday image at the opening of this post to illustrate yours, but that’s optional. Several of my readers have been using One line Wednesday as an opportunity to give their readers a "preview" of an upcoming post, a creative and enjoyable interpretation of the game.

And as for me? Although One Line Wednesday is a simple celebration of the single good line, I have to play by slightly different rules. I used to just post my line and leave my readers permanently hanging, but my husband and Jen cried foul, and insisted that I have to come back at the end of the day and explain the origin of my cryptic prose. My husband claims I'm robbing my readers of the opportunity to see how I take something mundane and make it sound epic, which he claims is one of my mad skills, but the bottom line is that he can't handle the curiosity. Jen says the whole thing would serve as a sort of writer's workshop for her.

So I will post a simple explanation of the events inspiring my line this evening.

OK--let's have some one line fun!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Break Time at the Nurses's Station

“So can I pick you up?”

“Yes!” is what my friend, Lisa, heard--what she missed seeing was my diving lunge across the front porch and violent pounce on the phone I’d positioned on a nearby perch for fear of missing it ring.

Sunday afternoon was a picture perfect November day here in Southeastern Virginia. The kind of day for trail walks, apple picking, or just raking leaves in the yard. The kind of day that just begs you to get out and play in it.

A morning of nursing duties kept me mercifully unaware of just how terrific it really was out there in the great outdoors. A chronic overachiever, I was focused on my duties—not merely content to provide adequate attention to my husband, I was probably running the risk of smothering him when Lisa first called to suggest that we drop by an open house our painting teacher was hosting that afternoon. I expressed that I “hoped” I could go, if everything was absolutely positively perfect-- I mean, stable-- and asked her to call me back when it was “closer to the time.” Three o’clock was mentioned, in a ball park sort of way.

By mid-afternoon I’d become aware of the 70 degree temperatures and the abundant sunshine streaming in through the windows. I hope none of my readers will misunderstand if I confess that cracks began to appear the all-positive-all-the time format I had adopted. It wasn’t that my husband was difficult—not for a moment. It wasn’t that I’d grown tired of caring for him—I hadn’t. it was just, simply, that I’m and outdoors-loving, solar powered kind of girl that thrives on living as many moments as I can under big blue skies . And Sunday was the kind of day I wait for all year long but it was after 2:00 before I even made it to the front porch to notice that the air had just the right amount of snap, the sky was crystal clear—and suddenly, I was the one smothering.

I had to get out.

When 3:00 came and went without hearing back from Lisa, I began to panic—was I too vague? Did we have a misunderstanding? Did I miss my only chance to get out of the house, and, if so, just how long before my upbeat demeanor simply slipped away?
When the phone finally rang—it was all of 3:10—I grabbed the receiver like it was a life preserver. And in a small way, it was.

About ten minutes later, my son was on the couch watching football with his dad, and my daughter and I climbed into the car with Lisa and her daughter and we drove off.
If I’d grabbed my camera, I could have shown you the most beautiful pictures of what unfolded next. I’d show you the table of exotic foods that greeted us as we walked through the door. I’d get some close-ups of the wonderful seascapes displayed in every nook and cranny of the most charming late-nineteenth century home you have ever seen. I’d show you’re the beautifully battered floor boards, the wonderfully worn rugs, and the hand painted faux tile we walked across in our travels through our teacher’s home, graciously opened like unfolded journal pages.

And I’d have lots of shots of the bright little corner the four of us found in a cozy sunroom. Completely surrounded by glass, we sat on a well-worn sofa as the late afternoon sun flooded across the floor, across our faces, and straight into that little part of my heart that needed its cheery warmth. We sipped beverages, swapped stories, and stared at the red leaves of a nearby tree, burning with filtered golden sunshine. We soaked in every detail of the art and artistry with which we were surrounded.

We laughed. We admired. We recharged. And then, suddenly, we knew it was over. When we checked the time, we were surprised to see that just an hour had passed. But it was an hour that turned my whole day around.

Walking back through my front door, a feeling of gratitude flooded over me: to Lisa, for pulling me out of my reality just long enough to help me jump right back into it in better form than when I left, and for those moments of grace and beauty that come exactly when they are most needed: to revive, to restore, to rebuild your resolve.

For more stories about moments of rest and peace in simple pleasures, head on over to Tuesdays Unwrapped, where each week is a celebration of the overlooked and underrated gifts better known as life.

Don't Forget!
There's still time to enter my giveaway commenting over at this post by or Following!

Monday, November 09, 2009


The calendar still says November and the falling pine needles in my front yard and crisp snap in the air feel just about right for Southeastern Virginia—but that didn’t stop Friday from feeling an awful lot like Punxsutawney in early February.

Friday was knee surgery day—not for me, but for Mr. RW Letters, who some of you may recall was injured in a soccer accident on October Eve. After five weeks of not being able to straighten his leg, he was scheduled for surgery that he was fully expected to walk away from with just a couple of band aids and a day or two on pain meds. In a pre-op consult, however, the surgeon informed us of the slight possibility that depending on what he “saw when he got in there,” he may actually be able to fix the torn miniscal tissue, which ultimately would be better than a removal, but would result in my husband being on crutches for six weeks followed by an undetermined amount of physical therapy.

The first option sounded more immediately rewarding—a near instant fix. My husband imagined a walk around the neighborhood before the weekend was out—not to mention the ability to revel in some glorious full-extension stretches. The thought of a speedy return to normal activity had him about as excited as a freshman the first day of spring break.

The second option was vague and remote, and not one upon which Mr.RW Letters wished to dwell. Although less immediately satisfying, the repair surgery provided potentially better long term results—I mean, really, how many of our body parts are really, truly expendable? Although my husband may not miss some tattered tissue today, chances are he’d sorely miss it some future tomorrow if arthritis snagged the opportunity to settle in the uncushioned joint.

Even though we had a pretty good idea how the surgery was expected to play out, it was hard for me to think about the near future beyond the surgery in concrete terms. I found myself, not unlike the good folks of Punxsutawney on Ground Hog Day, in a state of waiting. Would things simply just go back to normal, or were we in for a six weeks more long weeks of uncertainty? And what was really best to hope for, anyway? Heading to the hospital, Mr. RWL was upbeat and pretty positive that he was looking ahead at some pretty sunny skies. But as nice as that sounded for a 10-day outlook, I was looking further down the calendar. After a happenchance conversation with a neighbor married to a relatively grumpy and increasingly reclusive man with arthritic knees, I was about as split as the severed tissue on what I thought was best.

It was easy to want to resume our walks around the neighborhood. With the holidays upon us, it was natural to want to enjoy festivities with my best friend at my side. But a single glance at the walker on the porch of the overgrown house next door always got my praying for a better outcome. Even if it meant another six weeks of metaphoric winter.

So on surgery day I just sat in the waiting room and waited for someone—anyone-- to poke their head out of the OR and give me the forecast.

It’s winter, folks. A long, six weeks of trudging through some pretty stiff conditions, pretty much literally. My husband woke up to find his leg in an enormous, cage-like brace running from calf to ankle, which seems to weigh about a fourth of his body weight,but really doesn't. It’s apparently a permanent fixture for the next six weeks, a fact that's promoted me to the position of full-time nurse. And the real kicker is that the surgery only has a 50% chance of working—if it doesn’t, he’ll have that “instant fix´ surgery anyway.

So I’ve spent the weekend trying to remember things I like about winter. Mostly, what I’ve come up with is that it’s a time to snuggle in close to someone you love, to shield each other from the harsh edge of the cold. It’s an opportunity to invent your own fun when conditions don’t naturally suggest frivolity. It’s a season of making your own warmth, embracing daylight all the more for its brevity, and clinging to the hope of impending spring.

It may be an early winter, but I choose to embrace it for the opportunities embedded within its chill. I choose not to live within the shadow, but rather to seek the sunbeams. And above all else, I choose to believe that an early winter means an even earlier spring.

Don't Forget!

There's still time to enter my giveaway by commenting over at this post or Following!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Feeling Superior!

Many titles are currently mine to claim: I can accurately describe myself as a wife, a mother, an art teacher, a youth worker, and, for the foreseeable future, a nurse (more about that in tomorrow's post.)

But today, I can claim a title that reflects the spirit of my wildest dreams and dearest aspirations. Thanks to my new friend Polly of 5th Sister, today, I am a Superior Scribbler.

Yes Readers, it is true: I am a Scribe Extraordinaire, a Journalist of Distinction, a Wordsmith of Wonder--and Blogger brimming with gratitude to Polly for allowing me to feel so accomplished. If you haven't met Polly (a Superior Scribbler in her own right), then click on over to her place for the daily treat of being greeted with open arms into a space that never fails to feel like the cozy living room of a treasured friend.

With the accolades comes the duty and privilege of passing distinction along to other deserving bloggers and posting the official rules of the award, which are as follows:

1. Each Superior Scribbler I name today must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving bloggy friends.
2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog.
4. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

I would like to pass along the Super Scribbler award and all the rights and privileges contained therein to five of my favorite scribblers:

Holly at 504 Main is a classy lady who devotes her space to helping us add a touch of style and splash of elegance into the composition that is is daily life.

Erin at The Mother Load is a blogger with a genuine love for the written word. Erin enjoys exploring thoughts and ideas but also has a penchant for spinning a good old fashioned yarn.

I always enjoy stopping by to see what's up each day at Joy's place. Joy to the Blog is that little hangout you frequent just to enjoy the ambiance and character of the place--Joy offers stories, pictures, frequent giveaways, and a dash of humor all in her own unique voice.

Rare is a day that I don't stop by for a visit with Charisse and Holly. At their place, Life, Laugh, Latte, you're more likely to find footage than footnotes as they specialize in adding to the daily conversation of cyberspace through video segments that bring their readers (?) right into their living room. When they do share a written post though, it is sure to be, well, Superior!

Kathleen is a fellow blogger who is fast becoming a true friend. I enjoy the perspective and humor that I always find at her place, Treasured Chapters, and the encouraging comments she always leaves at mine. Her blog is a place where you'll find friendship, photos, and frugal tips and insightful observations.

Take some time to visit these Superior Scribblers. I'll be back tomorrow--in the meantime, there's still time to enter my giveaway by commenting over at this post or Following!

Friday, November 06, 2009

A Giveaway and a Seasonal Tale

What do you say we rip a page from Christmas morning and tear right into the gifts first thing?

In case you weren't around yesterday, I'm giving away away two autographed sets of my YA novels, The Chrysalis and Drink the Rain. The first set will go to the winner of a random drawing of New/Future Followers who come aboard during the week that began yesterday and continues through next Thursday. So if you're not yet a Follower, here's your opportunity.

If you've already been following, don't fret. I've got a second set of books for one of you! For a chance to win, all you have to do is comment to this post and just like that, you're entered into the giveaway. These books sets would make ideal gifts for the young adult reader in your life. Or you can just keep them for yourself--you decide! I will be happy to sign them with the inscription of your choice. I'll announce the winner one wwek from today.

So to re-cap: if you don't follow already, then let's remedy that. Viola--you're entered. If your "followership" began prior to yesterday, your comment here will be your entry. Let the fun begin!

Just Like Your Favorite Infomerical--That's Not All!

There's a lot of seasonal action underway these days, and I'm not just referring to the hasty pounce retailers have made on the Christmas season.

Stray jack-o'-lanterns and the occasional roadside dum-dum serve as daily reminders that Halloween hasn't even fully exited the social arena--and with Thanksgiving waiting a mere two weeks in the wings, one can stand on virtually any street corner in America and witness pilgrims cavorting recklessly with elves and reindeer under the watchful gaze of a tardy grim reaper.

It's unsettling, really, this wanton intermingling of frivolity. Personally, I'm for strict regulation of inter-holiday commerce. Costumes and candies should enjoy a grace period into early November, handing the show over to the pilgrims and Indians around mid-month. As suggested by the format of the traditional Macy's parade, the North Pole should be ushered in on Tom Turkey's tail feathers.

Which means I'm a little conflicted by the fact that I'm about to add to the multi-holiday chaos. See, I've got a little something for my readers that it just doesn't seem right to withhold. Sort of like the Santa socks you receive on New Year's Eve, or the ornament you open on January 1st, this is the kind of thing you should be enjoying all season long. And I want you to share it, too, and knowing that it can take awhile for things to circulate around cyberspace, I think we'd better get started.

The following link is to a short story I wrote as a Christmas gift to my readers. It is not a part of either of my novels, but it is a stand alone story set in the world of the books that serves as a good introduction to my protagonist, Christina and the gang at Camp Edson, where the entirety of the first book and some of the second plays out. What's even better is that it's a story that should get your thoughts moving in the right direction this holiday season--no matter which one you're currently celebrating.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Pictures, Previews, and Preview Pictures

There's a "you choose, anything goes" theme afoot for this week's You Capture photography challenge--which suits this chaotic little post just fine. I figure we'd start with this pair of begonia shots from my patio.

This next picture is a Late Edition entry of today's wardrobe, in honor of last night's Victory in the Bronx. I've waited a long time to wear this with the proper amount of Yankee pride.

At this point, I'm going to interrupt the random photography segment to let you know that, right here and now I'm beginning the First Ever Running With Letters Giveaway! Here's what's happening. I know that, if you're not already, you really, really want to follow this blog. The right opportunity just hasn't presented itself. I get that. But you know what? This is your week!

Just in time for potential Christmas gift-giving, I will be giving away two autographed sets of my YA novels, The Chrysalis and Drink the Rain. The first set will go to the winner of a random drawing of Future Followers who come aboard between now and next Thursday.

Already a Follower and want in on the fun? Don't fret. The other set will go to one of you! All you'll need to do is "enter" by commenting on tomorrow's post, wherein you'll find more details and a have a chance to meet my protagonist.

Between now and then? If you're not a Follower--Follow! Viola! You're entered--it's as simple as that!

Now back to the pictures. The next three are also in the "preview" category.

You'll be seeing this fabric again soon on an upcoming DIY makeover post.

No guarantees whether or not you'll be seeing more of the Striped One. My guess is yes--she has a way of getting her paw into whatever happens to be in progress.

I can't think of a better way to end this multi-layered post than a good, old fashioned Sweet Ending:

See you tomorrow--Follow in the meantime!


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