My Top Five Christmas's EVER (Frances Louis)

After reading the previous postings, I thought I'd take a lighter approach and share my top five favorite Christmas memories. Being the romantic that I am, they are all rather sentimental and a tad 'gushy', but that's what makes them worth sharing.

5. Christmas '87: After making many (and I do mean MANY) promises to Santa to be on my best behavior until the ends of time should he deliver a sweet baby sister to our house, my family was blessed with the arrival of a new little girl a month prior to the holiday--which made for a pretty fabulous Christmas. I even delivered on the 'being good' part--for a week, anyway.

4. Christmas '92: Even though my mother did her best to hide one of the best gifts I have ever received, she could not thwart my eighth grade intuitiveness and extra sneaky hands. I found the gift a month before the holiday, but that didn't lessen the surprise. That fated Christmas I received a wooden black piccolo--and was the envy of the school band's flute section.

3. Christmas '95: No gift is ever as sweet as the first time you hear those special 'three little words' uttered--even if they are over the phone. My then boyfriend (who is now my husband--what can I say? I fell hard for the guy) gave his declaration of love---and made the Christmas of '95 the sweetest one ever.

2. Christmas '97: It took a few years (and a high school graduation to boot), but my boyfriend delivered and gave me his grandmother's diamond set in a beautiful gold band that currently resides on my left ring finger. He even got down on one knee--BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.

1. Now, I could go on and on about the Christmas's since '97 and give them all a rank on this list. The first time each of my three boys celebrated the holiday, each time our family shares the festivities with our exchange students, or the first time my husband and I enjoyed our first Christmas together all rate high, but this year, yes, the Christmas of '10 was extra special.

This year our family gathered around one strategically placed web cam and watched the birth of our future puppy--four states away. My boys (including the big one that I'm married to) were glued to the computer screen for a majority of the day--watching the large litter of pups (a whopping ten!) and bonding with their soon-to-be best friend. It is a memory I will treasure for many more Christmases to come.

Who knows what the Christmas of 2011 will bring, but until that time, I'm content with the ones I've been given...and I hope that you are as well. Many Christmas blessings and warm holiday wishes to all of you!

The Worst Christmas Ever, You Decide (Melissa Robbins)

Merry Christmas Eve to you all. When the topic of Worst Christmas Ever was suggested, I about fell out of my chair, I laughed so hard. You see, my family has a joke, “It's Christmas time. What's going to happen this year?” Since my husband, Reed and I shared our first Christmas while dating, some crazy thing has happened every year since. Like most families, over the years, we endured airport delays, illnesses, family squabbles, turkey issues, etc. When it came time to select the worst, I had several to choose from. I thought I would list our top four and let, you the readers, decide which one should be chosen as “The Worst Christmas Ever” for our family.

Heart Attack Christmas of 2003

Suppose to be a memorable Christmas because our daughter, Emma was born in 2003 and it would be her first Christmas. Reed, Emma, and I traveled to my in-laws house. On Christmas Eve, my brother-in-law had a heart attack and Reed's sister rushed him to the hospital. Reed, his aunt, and I are left to care for our niece and nephew (8 and 5) and Emma (7 months). We found ourselves taking up the role as Santa which included me gnawing on carrots (for Santa's reindeer) and eating cookies left for Santa. There was also the turkey debacle that I won't go into.

My brother-in-law had surgery Christmas day and underwent the same procedure that Reed's dad died from several years before. Stressful! I'm happy to report that BIL's surgery went fine and we celebrated a couple of days later, so maybe not the worst Christmas.

Helicopter Ride of Christmas '05

Again, suppose to be a memorable Christmas because our son, Duncan would be celebrating his first Christmas. Even more so, because by October, Duncan already had two open heart surgeries, so we will thrilled he was alive to share it with us.

After his second surgery, Duncan went home with a chest drain. Imagine a curvy straw with holes in it. We hoped Duncan would have the drain out by Christmas. Two weeks before, the nurses debated whether or not to remove the tube. They decided to wait. Duncan disagreed and pulled it out just enough to cause problems. A drain should be pulled out by a trained profession, not a six month old. We left Emma with neighbors and rushed Duncan to the ER. There was not a single doctor who had a clue what to do with a baby and a chest drain or who wanted to take charge. So after the ER doctor finally pulled out the tube, we all took an elevator ride to the top of the hospital. Imagine if you will, Reed and I looking out the window of the door to the roof of the hospital, as our son is wheeled onto a helicopter and flies off to Kansas City. Could one of us go with him? No. No room. Could I hop into a car and ride up to KC that very minute? No. It was midnight and the ground covered with snow and for those of you who have driven along the stretch of road between Wichita and Kansas City know that would have been a bad idea. I had to wait until the next morning before heading to the hospital hoping my son was okay by the time I got there.

Duncan remained at the children's hospital for a while and the doctors and nurses let us go home just before Christmas. I was thankful we didn't find ourselves opening presents around Duncan's hospital bed instead of a tree, so maybe not the worst Christmas.

Dehydration Christmas 2009

Let's jump forward a few years to 2009. I was 9 months pregnant with our fourth kid and Reed and I decided that with our track record for Christmases, that we would stay home for Christmas. This proved to be a wise decision. On Christmas Eve, Emma came down with a stomach bug. By the time, my parents and sister showed up, we were all sick. I got so dehydrated that my stomach cramped and then the cramps occurred every two minutes. Uh, oh.

Reed rushed me to the hospital. What's Christmas without a hospital visit? The nurses just thought I had the flu, but once they got Gwinn and I hooked up to the monitors and I started dry heaving, they changed their minds. Gwinn was getting stressed. The nurse filled me with two bags of saline stuff and put an oxygen mask on my face.

Do you know what happens when you get dehydrated and are 36 weeks pregnant? The baby decides “Forget this, I am out of here,” so it was a good thing we came to the hospital. Once I was re-hydrated, the contractions stopped.

I checked out of the hospital the next day. Emma was bummed we didn’t bring Gwinn back with us and my poor parents and sister got sick too, but Gwinn came a month later two days before her due date, so maybe not the worst Christmas ever.

Turkey Debacle Christmas 2008

I believe this Christmas may be the worst Christmas ever for our family. It is certainly the most infamous and most talked about. You may have even heard about it. It made the local news.

My in-laws were visiting us. Reed rose early to smoke our turkey for Christmas dinner. Just before lunch, I took Rebecca and my in-laws shopping for the after Christmas sales. Reed stayed home with Emma and Duncan. Reed called a little while later.

“Mel, come home.”


“Come home now.”

“Reed, what's wrong?”

“I set the house on fire.”

“You what?!”

When I got home, I saw several fire trucks, two ambulances, a news van, and many of my neighbors gawking at our house. Reed dumped ashes from the smoker into the plastic garbage can outside. Bad idea. The fire went from the garbage can to the garage and up the wall of the house to the attic. A neighbor saw the smoke and fire on his way to work. He called 911 and rang our door bell. Reed and the kids were in the basement and had no idea about the fire. Reed put the dogs outside, but our cat, Smokey (his name has a whole new meaning, now) hid. The firefighters eventually found him and gave him some oxygen.

The roof was toast (pun not intended), but most of our stuff survived. There was more water and smoke damage than fire damage. Emma’s room got the brunt of the damage to the bedrooms. All her new Christmas toys were gone along with her other toys. Luckily, her favorite bear survived. He had taken cover under Emma's backpack in the kitchen.

With weather, insurance squabbles, and contractors, we were out of our house for eight months while our house was repaired. At least, we were in the house for Christmas 2009.

So, readers, which of our Christmases should be named the Worst Christmas Ever? Heart Attack Christmas of 2003, Helicopter Ride of '05, Dehydration of 2009, or Turkey Debacle Christmas of 2008?

Oh, and if you are curious, we have already had Christmas Stomach Bug of 2010. Quite tame compared to other Christmases. No hospital visits. ;0)

I Remember Lexi (Penny Rader)

2006 was a grandchildren bonanza for me. Two grandbabies were born days apart in June and one more arrived mid-September. There was definitely a lot of joy that year. There was also fear. And sorrow.

One day, while witnessing my daughter Kathy's sonogram, we received some frightening news. Lexi would be born with a rare disability. Her femur bones were missing. We drew some deep breaths and bombarded heaven with prayers, certain we could get through this. Then Lexi arrived two months early. It didn't look good. Her lungs weren't fully developed. I can't find the words to explain how scared I was, we all were. My dh was in Houston because a grandson had been born four days earlier. I had to ask him to come home because we didn't know how long we'd have Lexi with us.

Lexi was a scrapper. She hung in there and fought for her life. When she was a few weeks old she was sent to Children's Mercy hospital in Kansas City. She had to have a tracheostomy to help her breathe. I can't thank the staff of Children's Mercy and the Ronald McDonald Houses enough for all they did for us while we were in KC. Lexi was finally able to return to Wesley hospital here in Wichita about a month later. I forget how many times she battled pneumonia. It became a routine for me to go to the hospital after work and read or sing softly to her for a while. I always kept a bag packed just in case we'd have to make another trip to KC.

That little girl had spunk. She had her favorites among the staff. She'd pretend to be asleep when a doctor she wasn't fond of came into the room. I've been told she also pulled the same stunt when they came in for physical therapy. After they left her room she'd open one eye and look around.

She came home from the hospital the end of November. My daughter's living room became Lexi Central. Her ventilator was pretty noisy. Home health nurses were on hand nearly round the clock. She made another trip or two back to hospital because of pneumonia. Because she had survived those first scary days I fully expected my little sweetie to keep chugging along. I was looking forward to watching her grow and amaze us all. Then, on December 11, minutes after I had gotten up to get ready for work, the phone rang. It was Kathy, asking me to come to the hospital. She told me Lexi had died. I couldn't wrap my brain around that. Sometimes I still can't.

She'd be four now. I look at Liam and Jessalyn, the other grandbabies born that year, and wonder what Lexi'd be like now. I'm sure she's giving the good Lord a great deal of pleasure and joy. I picture her laughing and running and keeping Him on his toes.

Something positive did come out of our loss. My daughter and Lexi's daddy formed a foundation in memory of Lexi. It's called Lexi's LAMB. We provide toys and activities for children in the hospital. On Christmas Eve we deliver presents in person to the children who are unable to go home. This year we'll also be giving small care packages to the parents. Just a few small things we hope will make their hospital stay a bit easier.

Till we meet again, Lexi girl. I just want you to know how much you were loved and how grateful I am for the five months we had with you. I miss you like crazy, punkin. I still haven't completely unpacked that bag.

Tis the Season

Usually at this time of year I'd be going out of my mind with trying to remember what I know I must have forgotten. But not this year. This year, back in March, I signed on to get daily digests. At the time I thought I was being ridiculous because I couldn't find time to write so why would I add one more thing to do? But, I was working with my personal technology pets--this time an ipod. Ipods play music (mp3 downloads) as well as videos, movies, pictures--depending upon the model and the skill of the owner. I'm not skilled. I only bought the thing so I could listen to my Romance Writer's of America tapes from the 2004 conference. Yes, I know it is 2010. Didn't you notice I'm not skilled? Anyway, I bought the ipod--same model as my elder daughter so that she could talk me through any snags. She's good about helping and keeps reminding me that the internet is a wonderful thing. Google anything you need and there is likely to be a tutorial to learn the skill--I'm not kidding. I recently was looking up sewing machine models that would most likely have the power to mend jeans. There were jean mending tutorials all over the internet. Who knew? Oh, and did I also mention I have a hard time staying on topic?

I heard you roll your eyes.

Where was I? Oh, yea. The ipod and the conference tapes. I wanted to listen to the tapes in the car. The CDs would only work in the computer. When I'm at the computer I have other, more pressing things to do than listen to conference tapes. So, I downloaded them into the computer--that took a bit. Did you remember I'm not skilled? Then I managed to do the deed and get them on a cd to listen to in the car. Duh. Then I discovered that the 300hours of conference would need that many and more cds because they're only 80 minutes long. Craaaaap!. Again, my technology stuck its tongue out at me. I swear tech pets are like mules. They will refuse to cooperate and then suddenly do so when you least expect it. My wonderful friend's husband has two mules. They are worthless unless they are paid a lot of attention when THEY want it. On their off times they bite the bulls and annoy them. Oops. Off topic.

Again, I heard you roll your eyes...quit that!

Where was I? Oh, yea. So, I bought the ipod for the conference tapes. After hours of attempting to get the technomules to cooperate, I finally had the conference loaded into the ipod and then my ears got sore listening to the earbuds (why they are called earbuds I cannot conceive as I swear they were trying to do naughty things to my ears). Then, remember daughter one? She mentioned that if I had half a brain (Eureka! I do!!) I would install a transmitter to transmit the ipod sounds to the radio and listen in full comfort.

I purchased another techopet.

This one turned out to work easily and well...even for me.

I began to listen to the tapes which works out so very well since it is forty-five minutes one way to the bank or grocery store. Then. I listened to how to get more time to write. The writer recommended The principals found there help keep the real world from swallowing whole all the time you have for the writing world. It works.

My Christmas is not only on schedule, but I have time to pamper myself a little and find things I've been putting off getting done. Last week I was to have participated in a Book-in-a-week push. I had pledged five new pages. But I found something more, much more. I am now over my brain freeze on my work-in-progress (WIP). I edited and had such a good time with my story, I have nothing to show, but a grin. No new pages, but I fixed the devil out of the ones I had.

I have achieved a degree of calmness and best of all--hope. This next year is going to be one of the best I've had in a long time in my imaginary world of writing. I'm setting some serious goals. I haven't been as productive since our long ago, worthy president, Pat made us set goals. I was surprised at how many writerly goals I met that year. The thinking, selecting, and writing down of them caused them to be stored in the silent but working half of my brain. I'm setting goals for 2011. Professional goals. Technopet goals. (Yup, they're going to be trained or else.) has taught me how to get the most out of my time.

You may think this is an odd thing to write about at Christmas, but these experiences, work, goals, and opportunities, missed and taken, are also the things that make up a life and reasons to celebrate. Creating an eddy of calm in a fast-paced world so that I can create in writing is a great joy. So, I say, God bless my daughter, my technopets, google, and the author that steered me towards Oh, and while I'm at it. Have a very, very, merry Christmas with toasty warm toes and tight tummies from eating lots and lots of 'good stuff'!!

I'll Do Some Caroling

Here is my gift to my fellow WARA members and any other of our blog followers at this special time of year: A new Blossom story. Also, here is a picture of the "Blossom" Christmas tree in my office.

“Rockin’ around the Christmas tree,” Blossom moo-sang in her loudest voice, swaying her flank—which, she admitted, could stand a little trimming down—from side to side. “At the Christmas party hop.”

For Elsie’s benefit, Blossom did a fancy little hop, first the front legs and then the back legs. Something she’d perfected in the last few days. Much, of course, to Elsie’s continual eye-rolling at her practicing.

Elsie gave her typical harrumph and turned the other way in the field. No “party” mood for Her Highness, Blossom thought with a smile. The cranky Jersey paid as little notice to the whole holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year as possible. Same thing every year. But not Blossom. Oh no. She loooved holidays, especially Christmas.

“You will get a sentimental feeling when you hear voices singing.” Happily singing away, she strolled off toward the corner of the field where Ferdinand would, hopefully, be waiting to greet her. To heck with Elsie and her sour mood. The same went for the foolish dozen other cows who she knew yearned to be happy and heart-free like herself, yet who were wary of crossing Elsie. She could hold one devil of a grudge. Most cows didn’t want to risk facing it day-in and day-out, but Blossom didn’t mind at all.

“Let’s be jolly.” She did another zippy little hoof two-step, bopping her head around in pure delight. “Everyone’s dancing merrily.” Okay she didn’t know all of the words to the song she’d heard Farmer Sam’s daughters singing occasionally, but did it matter. No.

“Let the Christmas Spirit ring,” she mooed and picked up her pace. The wind really was kind of biting this morning as it blew across the snow-free field.

She shivered and breathed in the cold air. Instinct told her there would soon be snow covering this land. Most of the herd—including Elsie the opinionated—hated snow. Blossom didn’t particularly like being cold when she made her daily round about the field, but she would venture forth in rain, sleet, hail, snow… Well, in most any inclement weather to go see her beloved Ferdinand.

Thinking of her handsome one-ton prime bull had her almost skipping now. “We sing a love song…Your nose is a chilling…We’ll frolic and play…walking in a winter wonderland.”

She hesitated and blinked. Were those words right? Had she combined songs? Did it matter? Nope!

A familiar deep bellow pulled her from her wandering thoughts. Warmth curled through her. Ferdinand.

Donning her most beatific smile, she sped toward him. Her hunka-hunka burning love had already nudged down the weak part of the fence so that she could join him. He stood watching her, proud head held high, anticipation dancing in his large brown eyes. Heat, too. Naughty, naughty bull. She knew just what he was thinking, wanting.

“You should play harder to get.” Elsie’s words of disgust so often spoken to her crawled through her thoughts. “He only wants you for one thing.”

Not exactly true, although Blossom knew he really did enjoy that one thing. So what! So did she. But she also knew he really liked spending time with her. How many times had he stood patiently letting her babble on—and she did have a tendency to babble at times—about this or that? Did he ever make fun of her spinning tales of fancy? No. Did she manage to get him past his stoic, too serious moods with a bout of teasing or tickling that special spot just behind his ear with her tongue? You betcha!
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart…I gave it to someone special,” she sang, her heart fairly bursting with love. Her hoofs danced over the rest of the distance between them.

“Ah, my sweet Blossom,” Ferdinand rumbled, tenderness lighting his eyes. “You own my heart as well.”

As she stepped carefully over the downed fence and snuggled next to him, he heaved a relieved sigh. “Merry Christmas, my love.”

She tucked the words inside her and playfully nibbled at his ear. All was right with her world. “Back at you, my love.”

Oh, How I Love Christmas

First, let me set the stage. For many of my years I've lived seven miles from a gas station, twenty-two miles from a loaf of bread, and forty-five miles from a movie theatre--where they show only one show at a time. I go to town generally once a week on my 'town day'. This may give me a skewed perspective. Maybe.
Second, my birthday is the twenty-third of December. That gives me an extra holiday during this holiday season. In our home as I grew up, we received one present for our birthday and a cake. But the real present for me was that we didn't have to do any work on our birthdays. We could ask other family members to wait on us and as long as we were nice about it, they would. It was like being Queen for a day. And with the twenty-third as my birthday, I rarely had to go to school and as an adult have always taken the day off, paid or not. After all, if you can't celebrate your own day then what good is your life? As you can see, I hold that as a minimum celebration. And to this day, do not turn a tap on my birthday--unless I really, really want to. As I believe I mentioned. That's an extra holiday for me. Yippee!!
Last, Christmas comes at exactly the right time--the middle of winter. How does it get better than that? We can't go out an play so why not have great food, open presents, and see family and friends we haven't had time to see for a while inside the house. And the best part? They're all bunched up in one place and easy to find!!
Without Christmas, how would the merchants know when to bring out the new models of washers and dryers? Without Christmas, who would think up special songs to sing? Without Christmas how would some of us find jobs in the dead of winter for money to tide us through? How would stores know when to fill the shelves to bursting, decorate, and advertise to get a chance at our money to be the equivalent of their 'harvest'?
Without Christmas we'd never see all the new toys because we wouldn't know when to go looking for them. And that would be a sad, sad, tragedy.
Oh, and the food. Most of us can't really afford not to have all the eating done in one little six week season. My goodness, we'd be able to tuck our heads and roll to town. No need for a car at all! Without a Christmas season there wouldn't be china to pass down. If we used it year round it wouldn't have the proper reverence we give it as special. We'd be using it for everyday and chip the h$ll out of it.
Thank God for Christmas for without His input we'd be completely hedonistic. Because of His influence in different ways through different religions we learn to be tolerant and treat others during this particular season as we would like others to treat us. And should we be some of those who don't believe in Him. It doesn't matter, for the attitude of benevolence still surrounds us all.
Thank the good providence that Christmas exists. For it brings a poignant sadness remembering those who aren't here with us. For without a bit of sour, we can't see what joy we really have or have had or need to make.
Oh, how I love Christmas.

Past Christmases: Memorable in Many Ways

AS a child, there were good holidays and bad ones.  Like everyone else, I had good ones and bad ones, but they were all memorable.

Six years old and in first grade.  Back in the day when clothes from the dry cleaners came in long, paper bags, I really liked my teacher.  She was beautiful.  She was fun.  She was a nun.  And she came up with the neatest idea for a gift we could each make for our parents.  We each would lie down on a dry cleaning bag, and she would draw around us, then we would get to "decorate" ourselves with crayons.  (Hair, facial features, even our clothes!)  The day I was to be drawn around, I didn't go to school.  I had the mumps, and I didn't make it back to school again until after the Christmas holiday.  No nifty gift for my parents, only pain and looking like a squirrel ready to carry the latest haul of nuts up a tree.  Not my favorite Christmas.

Seven years old and in second grade.  I really didn't like my teacher.  She was a nun, too.  And she didn't like me, because I had earaches and couldn't always go out to recess---doctor's orders.  That meant finding a place or someone to watch over me, while everyone else went outside in the cold.  That year for Christmas we made our parents Christmas cards.  We began with our choice of red or green construction paper, folded in half.  Sister Mary Christette (or however it was spelled) would hold the folded, colored paper against the wall with a stencil of our choice over it.  We each then sprayed "snow" on our card, revealing a beautiful, snowy image when the stencil was removed.  I stepped up and was handed the can of spray snow.  Holding it out toward my card with the pretty angel stencil, I pushed the button.  Only the button wasn't pointed directly at the card.  It was pointed at Sister Mary Christette.  In her long black habit, which was now covered with white snow.  To say she was angry would be an understatement.

One Christmas was definitely not one that I'd want to skip.  Three older kids lived next door to us, and they were like the brother and sisters I didn't have.  One year for Christmas, they gave me a 3x5 index card that read:  "We didn't finish the boxes of cereal fast enough, so Linda will be a little late arriving."  They'd saved boxtops to get me a doll that represented Danny Thomas's daughter, Linda, on the TV show Make Room for Daddy.  I cried and cried, I was so happy.  Another year the two older girls were making a cute little quilted skirt and vest for their cousin for Christmas.  When Christmas arrived, I learned that the "cousin" they'd made the roller skating outfit for was me.

My own children have their own memories of our Christmases, and now we're all making new memories for their children.  I hope your memories of Christmas are as good as ours!

The Grave Christmas by J Vincent

Grave ( noun) l. A burial place in the ground or other place of internment 2. last resting place 3. death 4. the end of something or as an adjective 1. serious in manner 2. Needing serious thought. All of these definitions apply to my Christmas 1976, the worst Christmas thus far in my life. I was tempted to write that it wasn’t the most terrible. There were moments of laughter, flashes of joy and Germanic stoicism demanded the denouement. But there were moments only “worst” can describe.

Sunday, the 19th we loaded the kids in the car and headed to see friends. On the spur of the moment we decided to stop by my parents’ home as my dad hadn’t been well. When I walked into my parent’s bedroom I had the strangest sensation I’ve ever had. A chill went up my spine—before then I always thought that expression was more figurative than literal but never again. The thought flashed through my mind that I would never see my father alive again. I shoved it aside as impossible. After all Mom said he was better; that plans were on track for our usual Christmas Eve family party.

When we got home that night there was a message on the answering machine that Dad had gone into the hospital. Around 3 AM the phone woke us. A call at that hour is never good news but I was astounded when it was the hospital, that my father was dying and they could not reach my mother. My hand shook as I hung up the phone and told my husband. I dialed Mom’s number. She answered almost at once. I told her the hospital wanted us to come in and that I’d meet her there. After calling my brothers’ and getting our neighbors to watch the kids we headed in. By the time we got there we were told that Dad was on a ventilator but there was no sign of life. Shortly thereafter the machines were turned off and he was declared dead.
Because of the nearness of Christmas he had to be buried on the 23rd. My mom, brothers, sister, and I met at the mortuary to pick out the coffin later on the 20th. Somehow everything that needed to be done got done.

My dad had wanted a wake so Mom insisted there be one. He was almost the last in the community to be brought home for a night vigil after the rosary at church. Between rosaries we reminisced. I heard many new stories about Dad but the very very late night didn’t help anything.

The morning of the 23rd was clear and cold. When I had my kids (ages 3, 5, 7) ready to go I picked up the three year old and followed my husband and the other two towards the door. As I passed our Christmas tree—a 7’ long needled cut pine. My daughter, on my hip, reached out and grabbed for a branch. To this day I can close my eyes and see the tree falling in slow motion and hear the tinkle crinkle of breaking ornaments. I don’t remember what I thought, just that I kept on walking. The actual funeral is a blur of memories. Rather unreal. Picking up the tree that night and setting it as right as we could was very real.

Christmas Eve was surreal. Mom insisted we have our traditional family party just as if nothing had happened. There’s nothing more bizarre than forty children and adults in a house celebrating Christmas while ignoring the funeral that just took place. Despite the under laying atmosphere the kids had a good time with gifts galore. There were even moments for the adults with matching blue Stetsons all around and Looney Tune sweaters.

We headed home early that evening as our oldest was to be in the procession to bring the baby Jesus to the crib. We had everyone dressed and I was brushing out our eldest’s long hair when I notice a red dot on her neck. Checking her face and arms I found a few more. I had never seen chicken pox before but I knew what it was. She couldn’t go to church that evening or the next day. There was no choice but for either my husband or I to go to church that night and the other in the morning. I won the toss. It was the most miserable experience I’ve ever had. I had never before been to a Christmas Eve Mass without my husband since we married. For that space of time I couldn’t count my blessings, only my lacks.

The patina of time has softened the memories. We even laugh about that falling Christmas tree (It really didn't look to bad after we set it rights -see photo above) and the kids getting chicken pox one after the other. What I did learn that Christmas is that all things change; that everyone is mortal; and that the birth of the baby Jesus is to be celebrated no matter what. He after all, gets me through the “worsts” in my life.

To those who are wondering (tisking) about the title—I mean no disrespect by it. It just seemed fitting in a straight-faced, tongue-in-cheek, and deliciously wicked sort of way. Wishing you all a Merry Blessed Christmas!

TWELVE DAYS by Reese Mobley

Trying to pick out a favorite holiday memory would be like trying to pick out a favorite child. Impossible. I love them all equally—although usually not at the same time. Each of my Christmas memories are a bundle of good and bad, bittersweet and sugary sweet. From the memorable Christmas mornings when I was a kid to each holiday we welcomed a new baby or grandbaby into our lives all the way to the first Christmases spent without the ones we love.

Life is good like that. So, feeling blessed beyond belief, I did what every reasonably normal person does when feeling nostalgic. I took liberties and composed a song. Feel free to sing along as I present my revised version of The Twelve Days of Christmas.

On the First day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the sau-rrr-us.

On the Ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine muses dancing, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten go-od pag-es, nine muses dancing, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven extra days ‘till deadline, ten go-od pag-es, nine muses dancing, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve Godiva Chocolates, eleven extra days ‘till deadline, ten go-od pag-es, nine muses dancing, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.

Merry Christmas!

Hugs, Reese

Traditions (Rox Delaney)

This has been the month when traditions seem to really begin to settle in.  For some, Halloween kicks off the season that quickly slides into Thanksgiving, and then rushes off to into Christmas and end of the year celebrations.  Is it any wonder we find ourselves exhausted?

My memories of some things reach back to when I was three years old.  (Funny how I can't remember what happened two days ago!)  It's been almost six decades since I was that age, so I've seen traditions shift and change, many times.  I expect to continue to watch them for a few more years.

My earlier blog post this month was about Thanksgivings (and Christmases) when I was a child and visiting my great-aunts' homes for the holidays.  Those traditions lasted through my high school years, although we did move closer and didn't have to drive what I'd thought as a child was hours and hours.  But as the elders of the family began to pass away, and those my age began to grow into adults, new traditions were made.  I married, and my husband's family attended Thanksgiving at his aunt and uncle's house.  Each year we went there, along with my parents, who had been invited, since I was their only child.  I still missed my cousins, but I was a grown-up and fell into those grown-up ways, taking my own prepared dishes to share with husband's family.

Trouble brewed in the family, and we stopped going to his aunt and uncle's, and we no longer spent the holidays with his family.  My mother brought the turkey to our house in the big electric roaster, and I fixed the rest of Thanksgiving dinner.  By that time we had three small daughters, so the table was full.  Even after my dad's death, we continued with this "new" tradition.

Along came a divorce, meaning more major changes. My mother still fixed the turkey, but holiday meals were with my grown and nearly grown children and often included their friends, female and male.  Add one granddaughter to the mix, and the family grew.  Add two more, and two husbands, and we expanded even larger.  I started making the main dishes, and daughters filled in with others.  My mother has been gone for a couple of Thanksgivings, and we've again shifted traditions to suit our growing family.  There's now me, four daughters, two sons-in-law, one SO/fiance, five grandkids and one step-granddaughter.  Sometimes we get together for our dinner late on Thanksgiving evening.  Some years we've enjoyed our dinner on Saturday.  This year we happened to do it on Thanksgiving afternoon.  What a novel idea!  And this year, one son-in-law offered to fry a turkey.  It was so good, I think I'll pass the turkey job to him from now on! 

The one thing I learned along the way, and I'm sure others here have to, was to not make my daughters feel they must spend their holidays with me.  We always manage to find a time when we can all be together, even if one or two can only make late dessert.  Our guessing game of where and when we'll have dinner has actually become a new tradition!  And I'm sure there'll be more. 

Blessings to everyone during this holiday season, and I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

Thanksgiving Feasts (Melissa Robbins)

This is my favorite Thanksgiving photograph. I'm the kid on the left. My sister is on the right. Her face cracks me up every time. "Ew! What is that?" No, she is not a vegetarian.

Growing up, Thanksgivings were a big deal and my grandmother would make a feast. She would have turkey and ham, those cute rolls that look like bums (The things we remember as kids!), and desserts galore. My grandparents had a large garden, so creamed corn, green beans, Melissa Pickles, and other delicious vegetables made it on the table. Melissa Pickles? These were pickles my grandparents spent all summer making from cucumbers from their garden. I know this because I was there too during the summer and put to work. All those green beans being eaten were snapped by me. Anyway, Melissa Pickles were called Melissa Pickles because I loved them so much. They were not your typical pickles. They were sweet, cubed, and bright green. I just have to say I was really disappointed later in life when I discovered the bright green color came from food coloring. I thought it was some super special ingredient. I have the recipe for Melissa Pickles, but I know zero about canning and are afraid to try canning them.

Sadly, since moving to the Midwest in 1999, I have not celebrated a Thanksgiving with my family. Instead, my husband, our children, and I travel to Arkansas to eat and play football with Reed's great-aunt (a hoot of a woman) and her family.

This year, Thanksgiving will be extra special. It will be our daughter, Gwinn's first Thanksgiving. Babies are always fun to have around the holidays. We also have the pleasure of sharing our traditions with our exchange student from Germany. I'm curious what she will think of green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole.

My Most Memorable Thanksgiving (Penny Rader)

My most memorable Thanksgiving was the morning my lovely, vivacious daughter, Emily, came into the world. Because we had a little bit of advance warning, my mom moved Thanksgiving dinner to the following Sunday, so I could be there.

On the way from the hospital to our delayed T-day dinner (yes...back then they didn't kick you out of the hospital within 24-48 hours), a severe migraine hit me fast and hard. Mom already had my other children at her house. Unable to function, I had to leave my newborn daughter with her. I knew Emily and the kids were in excellent hands and that my entire family was there to help, but I still felt like the worst mommy in the world.

My husband drove me home, which at that time was only a few short miles from my parents' house, helped me with my prescription, tucked me into bed...and went after some propane. Yep. The propane tank had emptied and the house was freezing. I buried my head under the covers and let the medication do its thing. Many hours later we went back for the kids. I snuggled up with my new baby and hoped she would forgive me for abandoning her on her first day out of the hospital.

This year Emily's birthday is three days before Thanksgiving, but the day after my family is having our Thanksgiving dinner. Happy birthday, baby girl! I love you more than I can say.

I''m Getting Cynical About the Holidays

I'm getting cynical about the holidays and it isn't my fault. I've been duped. Every year January is here after another failed holiday season. In January the year is pristine. Every opportunity awaits. Time is no object. Next December is quite a while away and I can put the Christmas cards that didn't get sent out this year back in the drawer and they'll be there, ready to charge out into the mail this next December. When I have more time to write them out with all the cheery news and season's greetings.
Then July comes, hot weather. I'm singing Christmas carols under my breath to remember what cold weather was like and that hope springs eternal that it will show up again. I feel cooler in the hot weather doing that. It beats darkie songs. Occasionally I sing those as I feel slavish, but I really prefer the Christmas carols for temperature control. (Hey, they're both a part of my heritage, so if you have strong political feelings on the matter, tell someone else.) The fourth of July works out pretty well. How can you miss with the sounds of explosives echoing off the grain elevators? Besides, everyone else is in the fields, I've sneaked off with my sister to enjoy the fireworks. We have iced tea or wine and lay on a blanket under the explosions. We can smell the burned powder. We can feel the concussions as they echo.
Then comes Labor Day. So what, we have to prepare for harvest and are still planting and selling seed. No traveling anywhere that weekend.
Christmas is coming. I can feel it. The spooks are out and October is mellowing everyone, if we can only get the last crop in the bin. Maybe I can quit cooking for a while. I don't like to cook. As soon as harvest is over can put the big pots back into storage. Oh, the bread contest? No one has time? Yes. I'll be there. Where's the stuff from last year? Why did we start hosting a yearly bread contest? Oh, yea, that's right. We sell wheat. Seems a natural thing to do. Yea, I know you can't get off a combine to take care of it.
No one is coming for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Thank God. I've found a new author. I'll order in some books and Thanksgiving will just be me and he and the books. Maybe I'll make a fruitcake. I've always wondered if there was a way to make one edible. My darling likes them. I like gingersnaps. Maybe I'll make some of them. I should be on schedule for the holidays. We'll have something simple, like soup. The Christmas cards should be ready to go by the first of December. I'll have all Thanksgiving weekend to write them out.
I went to the store and the turkeys looked good, so why not bring one home and make leftovers out of it. We can then snack on good stuff and have the turkey anytime. And then I got caught bringing home the turkey. The holidays exploded in my face. My darling wants a feast and, hey, let's invite a crowd. Whatever people can't make it on Thanksgiving can come ANY of the rest of the days. The quote was, 'you'd be a hermit if our social life was left up to YOU!' You can't really want to read over having company?
It looks like the Christmas cards may not make it out again this year.


There are many memories that I harbor within my mind from the past: turkey, my mom's famous cornbread dressing, sweet potato pie, gravy smothering creamy mashed potates, as well as my brothers watching football, while my mom and my sister and I looked through newspaper ads that showed toys Santa might bring.

Instead of focusing on the past, no matter how wonderful they are, for the past fourteen years, I have strived to create memories for my daughters to cherish when they have their own children one day.

I continue to make certain treats such as sweet potato pie, but our traditions include: putting up the Christmas decorations on Thanksgiving weekend and preparing our wish list for Santa. We also include ways to help the misfortunate such as donating to the Angel Tree or to food pantries. We also go to a Christmas tree farm to pick out our tree to decorate on the Sunday before we go back to work and school.

Although it's Thanksgiving, it creates a bridge between the holiday and the one to come: Christmas and the New Year.

It may sound very simplistic. There is nothing fancy or extravagant that makes our time together extraordinary except this: the warmth of a loving home with family surrounding us. My children will have the memories that they were cherished and loved. That is the ultimate Thanksgiving gift: Families are Forver.

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to each of you.

Gingerbread Houses and Family Memories

One of my favorite memories at Thanksgiving time involves a tradition my sister started when her kids were toddlers. On the day after Thanksgiving we make gingerbread houses. Usually the participants include my sister (Tami), her two kids (Ashley and Chris), me (biggest kid of all), my daughter (Angie), and sometimes our youngest brother (Pat). Angie flies back for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas. I think sometimes she would be okay without this traditional time of making a HUGE mess, but she tolerates it because the rest of us love it.

Personally, I'm glad this tradition is also traditionally done at my sister's house. When we started this amazingly messy annual project, Tami used to make all of the gingerbread and Pat, Angie and I would cut the pieces. Then, if we were really lucky, the pieces would bake without burning and we would get them to the table without breaking least too many of them. The last few years we've moved on to buying the kits. Although we only use pieces of the kits. We add a ton of candy and other stuff not included. Basically, we still make a huge mess.

But, mess or not, we have a great time doing this. There are smiles all around, good-natured teasing, and just a lot of love shared. We've thought about stopping now that Tami's "kids" are 13 and 15...but they keep wanting to do it. And I certainly don't want to grow up and stop having all this fun.

The photo included is from 9 years ago. Ashley is the round-faced redhead. The blonde is my pride and joy, Angie. Oh, I that she is grown up and a professional career person, she goes by Angela. Except to her mother, who refuses to adapt.

Staying Alive

We're a third of the way through the last quarter of the year. Think of it. Another year almost gone. Many pieces of wisdom came my way this year and it applies to us all. It was a horrible, wonderful year for me. Yeah, I hate those extreme years, they unsettle me. But, they're a time of growth and you either grow or wither. That's a farmer's bit of wisdom.
A year and a half ago, I had so much work on my plate and so much left undone that I called a personal organizer person who works with business CEO's and other people who have no time. I'd been getting her newsletters and had even purchased some books to help. She also sells time for one on one counseling. This particular day every surface of my desk and the surrounding area was covered. I needed to pay bills. I had to open a file drawer to make another flat surface to put something on. I was ready to scream aloud. I had been screaming inside. Then one of the piles fell over.
I looked up one of her newsletter's that I'd saved on the computer until I had time to read it. Found her e-mail address. Then I found her telephone number and I called.
And got an answering machine. I left the message that I needed her now. I was at the end of my rope and that I'd only gotten her message machine.
I got a call back in fifteen minutes. I never thought about how desperate I must have sounded. She sounded gentle, as if she thought I was hanging and about to kick the chair over. Maybe I would have, but there wasn't room. (ok, not really, but I WAS overwhelmed).
We spoke a bit and set up an appointment to talk. She was in Seattle--I'm in Kansas, obviously we were going to do this long distance. After the free first hour, I signed up for three more and still reserve another hour. Yes, this person helped me. Soon after, I could at least find half my desk and all of the floor. That was such an improvement I thought things were going well.
This summer, it was gradually born upon me that I have no time. Not even to keep my most basic human personal body upkeep done--my nails filed. My nails filed. Think of that for a minute. This is the vessel that I'm living my life in. I'm too busy to file a nail? Actually a couple of them? What is the point of a life if I'm not the center of it?
What has this to do with writing? Writing is important to me. Is it getting done? No. Just like my nails, my writing is getting the jagged end of what's left over of my time. And that friends isn't much. You may have laughed when I said I was to busy to file a nail. What are you too busy for? Think about it for a moment.
I had to decide that I was important! The world didn't stop. The ceiling didn't fall in. And guess what? Keeping my mouth shut when someone gave those subtle hints that they needed help was really HARD! But I did it. Their nails were filed. They had time for sports. They had time for a weekend at the races. There were a lot of 'theys' and I let silence do its part in letting them find a different answer than me.
I figured out how to put my conference tapes on my ipod. It took me three days but it was for ME. And I listened to them whenever I was on the road for parts, groceries, and whenever else. All three hundred hours of them. I felt connected to writing even if the only writing for myself I was actually accomplishing was this blog.
But still--no time. Nails not filed. Then I heard one line on the conference tapes. Flylady. Sounds yuky, but the flylady has seen the bottom of her life and others and helped. Habit at a time. I urge you to go to her website. Sign up for the digests or whatever you can and start.
As I read today--(dentist office ceiling). 'We are what we do. Excellence then is a habit not a character trait.' (I think I just misquoted Aristotle, but you get the idea.) Last March I started getting her digests. By now, especially in the last thirty days, tiny habit at a time, I have found a few hours in bits and pieces. By following her advice--anything can get done a few minutes at a time. The last few months have seen a to do list of over ninety things (last spring) dwindled to less than ten. I'm not as calm as I'd like, but I can see ninety percent of my desk top. The bills are paid and after I get some equipment ferried to town this week for repairs, I can actually write on MY stuff.
The house is company ready. The holidays are upon us. By using the Flylady's holiday control journal as a guide, my stamps are ready for the Christmas cards NOW! Good, retrained habit is getting me through. I think I'll be able to stay alive. More than that, I think I'll be able to enjoy the holidays without feeling rushed, overwhelmed, in more debt, and generally have the feeling of wellbeing. Now I'm turning my habit plan to working on the habit of something important to me. Writing.
I'm going to be in the habit of writing. For me. (With filed nails.) And this I am thankful for.

Thanksgiving Memories (Rox)

I always believed traditions were something that remained static.  That could be because for much of my younger years, my family's holiday traditions did.  Each year one of the aunts (my great aunts) or cousins would host Thanksgiving, then another would host Christmas.  Those were the two times a year I could count on seeing all my cousins.  Sometimes it was our turn, but I liked it better when we went to Aunt Lucy or Aunt Dorothy's house.  They lived on farms near Clearwater and for many of those years, it seemed to me that it took most of the day to drive there, although it's only about twenty-five miles.

My mom was the designated turkey baker, and I'd wake up on Thanksgiving morning surround by the aroma of turkey.  I doubt we ever missed the Macy's Christmas Parade back then, even as we packed up the turkey and other delights to head down the road to our holiday destination.  Everyone brought something to eat.  Aunt Dorothy's chocolate pie was always in high demand.  At her house, there was a huge solid wood table where the grown ups all sat.  There were usually at least a dozen of them, laughing and talking as they passed around the food.  Kids sat at card tables, sometimes on Sears catalogs to boost us to the right height.

When dinner was over and the women had cleaned up, while the men--mostly farmers--sat in the living room and talked throughout the football games, the decks of cards were pulled out of the drawer and the rousing games of pitch began.  The games lasted throughout most of the afternoon and into the evening, and I can still hear the sounds of their voices, whooping and hollering at each other over each hand dealt and each card played.

But it was later in the evening that became my favorite as we grew a little older.  My three female cousins and I made the table talk.  Yes, you read that right.  Just a few days ago we were discussing Ouija boards on this very blog, but a card table and three or four people can do the same thing.  One person on each side, if possible, hands flat on the table top, and concentrating so hard, the house should've rocked, we mentally lifted the table on one side/two legs.  Questions asked were usually yes or no, or sometimes involving counting.  One knock for yes, two knocks for no.  The adults eventually grew quiet, ending their last game of pitch to watch us.  Uncle Sterl (Aunt Lucy's husband) would hoot and boo at us, convinced that one of us had to be tilting the table.  We weren't.  "How can we?" we'd ask, and show him that the table could rise several inches...with no legs touching the floor.  He never did believe us.

I miss those holidays, and especially the talking table.  We kids grew up and had kids of our own, who now have kids of their own.  We made new traditions.  My great-aunts, great-uncles, parents, and even a few of the older cousins are gone, but those Thanksgiving memories will always be my favorite.

Over the Hills and Through the Woods J Vincent

Okay, it was really over and through the snow drifts to Aunt’s house we go. Let me explain. In the 1950’s we had true blizzards and more than one a winter. I remember many times when we took in complete strangers stranded in the snow along 21st Street near our farm. When one hit you couldn’t see but a few feet, if that, in front of you. As the Kansas wind whipped the snow into drifts from five to over ten feet tall, everything stopped moving.

1953 was the year a blizzard hit right before Thanksgiving. I was eight at the time. Let’s go back to the evening of November 24th.

It started snowing while I was feeding the calves. Our farm was a dairy/wheat operation and everyone in the family except for the toddlers had jobs. While Mom and my older brothers milked I took care of the calves by giving them grain and making sure they had enough hay. Then I tended to the “bedding.” “Bedding” is done with straw—wheat straw bailed after harvest. After getting bales of straw one had to take off the twine and then break apart the compact slabs created when the straw was baled. Shaking the slabs into fluffy piles of loose straw was a lot more fun when my brothers helped because we had straw wars. Mom was sometimes unhappy about this because bits of straw went down our clothes and boots and ended up all over the house. But I'm wandering off topic.

The snowfall steadily thickened. By the time I was finished and headed up to the house it had coated everything. It continued throughout the entire night and into the next day. Towards morning the wind picked up. It rattled the windows while snow sifted into mounds on the inside window ledges. The shushing sound wind driven makes is something like very fine sand being blown about. It made me burrow deeper beneath the heavy covers of multiple quilts. When Dad opened my door I waited for his hand to shake me but instead he told me I didn’t have to get up because there was a blizzard. I was also told to take care of my baby brothers if they woke up before he and Mom got back to the house after milking and feeding all the animals.

When my youngest brother demanded attention I reluctantly uncovered my head and crawled out of bed. It still seemed dark and with a thick frost on my bedroom window I couldn’t see out as I hurriedly dressed. It was no better in the boys’ room where I found my year-old brother jumping up and down in his crib. The two-year-old crawled out of bed and ran after me as I carried Eric down the stairs to the warmth of the kitchen—the only heated room. After getting them dressed I pulled open the back “view. When my parents and older brothers came into the house they were entirely coated with a thick layer of snow—even their faces with heavy ridges across eyebrows, nose and cheeks.

The snow continued until late that afternoon. We were kept busy with everyday inside chores as well as peeling apples and helping make three apple and three pumpkin pies to take to my aunt and uncle’s for Thanksgiving on the morrow. When we noticed that the howling of the wind had lessened we begged to go outside. Once we were swathed in layers of shirts and coats, gloves, scarves, and hats, Dad pulled open the front door and we stood, gape mouthed, at the wall of white three-fourths of the way up the screen door. The back door had a much better windbreak and we tumbled out of it only to be caught up short by the undulating snowscape. Everything was white; the garden and lawn had turned into an ocean of white waves, some of which towered over our heads.

Dad let us scamper over drifts as well as sink into them too for a time and then set us to shoveling a path to the barns. We were all exhausted that night as we crowded around the floor furnace in our pajamas to get as warm as possible before dashing up the stairs and diving into our beds.

Our chatter died away when Mom ask Dad, “What about Thanksgiving at Roman and Rosella’s tomorrow?”

“We only have pie,” my oldest brother whispered with a grimace. Visions of turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed peas, and homemade ice cream danced out of sight in our heads. Worse was the thought of not getting to play with all our cousins—all four of my dad’s sisters’ families were to be there with their thirteen children. Our collective groan rose.
“We’ll see,” Dad assured everyone. “The wind hasn’t come up again. There’s a slim chance we can still go.”

Thanksgiving morning dawned cold and clear. My older brothers came into my room and scratched frost off the windows facing 21st. “Nothing moving,” Bill said dejectedly.

“Boys, get down here,” Dad yelled up the stairs. “Come on, get a move on if you want to go to Thanksgiving at Uncle Romans.”

I scrambled out of bed as the boys tumbled down the stairs. Nose to the window I confirmed there was no traffic on the road to the north. Looking straight down I saw the huge drift that still blocked the garage door and those that rose and fell across the drive way. After playing on them yesterday afternoon I knew some where five feet tall. “The car isn’t doing anywhere and we aren’t either,” I muttered.

Dad and the boys returned to the house for a late breakfast mid morning.

“Wait until--” my brothers began as one as they began working out of their mummy-like layers.

“It’s a surprise,” Dad scolded, but I saw him wink at Mom. “Wait until we’re done.”

They ate, bundled back up, and hurried out. It was just after noon when I heard the M&M (Mineapolis Moline)—our big tractor then but a baby when compared to today’s monsters.

“Help bundle the boys up,” Mom said, “and then get yourself ready to go out.” When we finished she said, “Watch your borthers while I take the boxes with the pies out.”

Dad came in a few minutes later and picked up the baby and grabbed the quilts mom had set out. “Take Stan’s hand and help him. Mom will be back for him but let’s make a start. “
“Where are we going?”

“To Thanksgiving dinner,” he laughed. “Come on.”

It wasn’t until Mom took Stan and I climbed over the biggest drift through the yard that I saw the M&M was hitched to a hay trailer sitting where the wind had left the ground coated with only a thin layer of snow. Dad had outlined the outside of the trailer with straw bales and put a thick pile of “bedding’ in the center.

A hank of hay sailed over the side. My oldest brother popped up. “Come on, we’ll be late to dinner, slow poke.”

“Dinner?” I looked at the huge pile of snow made when they dug a path clear for the tractor and then at the drifts in the road and shook my head.

Dad picked me up and tossed me into the pile of straw. Then he helped Mom up and over. While she settled us in the straw with the quilts to her satisfaction Dad climbed into the tractor’s seat. Revving up the engine he put the tractor in gear and we were off—straight off through the field!

All dad’s sisters lived on nearby farms. We stopped at two and picked up those families. We kids had a blast with straw fights going. I’m not sure the adults thought it quite as much fun as they shoveled through the worst of the drifts at times. The food was terrific and the company even better. After dinner everyone, adults, except for Granny, and kids, joined in the snow fort building and snowball fights. A very memorable Thanksgiving over and through the snow drifts to Aunt’s house!


Don’t you love this time of year? The colors of the leaves. The crispness in the air. The football blaring from the television and the start of Kansas University basketball. This year Thanksgiving dinner will be at my home. That means I will shop, clean, chop, bake, peel, sauté, roast, baste and mash for nine of us. A relativity small group, but still a special one. I have a table that easily seats twelve and a dining room that will be bursting at the seams but that’s okay. Everyone is welcome in our home.

I’ll be up at the crack of dawn, tying on my apron, baking pecan and pumpkin pies, preparing the turkey and rolling out homemade noodles for the noon meal. My family will each bring their speciality dish to make the meal complete and then everyone divides up the leftovers for a repeat dinner the next day. Does it seem fair that we’ll work for hours in the kitchen to sit down and stuff ourselves in a matter of minutes? Probably not, but sooooo worth it. The men will then move to the living room to watch the Cowboys play and catch a few zzzzzs. The women will do the dishes and then, if it’s not too cool, we’ll head outside to sit around the fire pit on the patio. Archaic traditions I know, but it is what it is and I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Late afternoon, dessert will be served and then everyone will leave. I’ll finally take time to read the paper and scour the ads for the Black Friday bargains I plan to get up early for. I look forward to this all year. (Those of you that know me will not be the least bit surprised by this admission.) With list in hand and game plan in mind, my mom and I sneak out before 5:00 am to join the masses of other idiots, in the dark, in search of deals too good to pass up.

Simple traditions but still very near and dear to my heart. So, from my home to yours may your blessings be many and your troubles be few.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Hugs, Reese

Pat Davids and Thanksgiving Memories

November is here and this month we'll be blogging about our special Thanksgiving memories. Feel free to share your happiest, saddest, funniest or most maddening holiday memories.

After more than fifty years it's hard to pick out Thanksgiving memory out of so many wonderful ones, but I got a chuckle thinking about this one and thought I'd share it with you.

My brothers, all four of them, were hunters. Pheasant, duck, quail, goose. You name it. If it had a season they shot it. One day, just before Thanksgiving, my brother Mark came in with two big geese. Now geese in the wild aren't like the ones that live here in the city and beg for bread crumbs in the park. Bagging a goose takes skill and luck and Mark had TWO.

Thanksgiving was at our house that year and Mom decided to cook the geese instead of the usual turkey. I admit they smelled good as they roasted throughout the morning. When everyone was assembled at the table, my mother brought them in. My brother Mark watched with pride as his trophies came to the table. After cautioning everyone to watch out for buckshot, mom carved them up.

My grandpa, as the oldest, got the first piece. He took a bite and nearly pulled his dentures out. After mulling his mouthful for a while, he gulped and looked at Mark. "You didn't shoot these."
"But I did," Mark insisted.
By this time we were all trying to eat the tougher-than-boot-leather birds and not having much success.
"Nope," said Grandpa, pushing his meat to the side of the plate. "This one died of old age when your gunshot scared him to death."

We all laughed but I did feel bad for Mark and my mom. Thank goodness there was plenty of side dishes to go around and plenty of pumpkin pie to fill us up. No one when away hungry, but goose was never on the menu at our house again.

It's Creepy and It's Kooky, and Altogether Spooky (Penny Rader)

Happy Halloween!

Want to add a bit of a thrill or a chill or touch of suspense to your writing? Check out these links:

Foreshadowing and Suspense (Anne Marble)

Keep in mind that not all characters will react to anxiety and crises in the same way. Spend some time figuring out how characters react to suspense, anxiety, and fear. Try to avoid the usual descriptions, such as "her pulse raced..." If you're at a loss for descriptions, remember the last time something scary happened to you. What happened the last time you stepped on the breaks and your car tried to skid? Did your stomach feel like a brick? Did you shriek, or swear? Or did you steer yourself out of the skid and only respond to the stress after you were safe? Use those experiences to color your characters' reactions.

How Do I Captivate the Reader in My Scary Story? (Elizabeth Burns)

Omit excessive detail. Some of the best scary stories skillfully leave it to the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks. It is often what is hidden, or merely hinted at, that sends chills down the spine.

How to Succeed at Writing Romantic Suspense (Shannon Reynolds)

Craft a tense and suspenseful tone. Focus on more than just the scary abandoned buildings or creepy old mansions. Characters reflect tone by how they react to events as they unfold: if the characters are convincingly tense and uncertain of what's around the next corner, chances are your readers will be as well. Throw some twists and turns into your story, surprises that your readers will not see coming.

Ten Tips on Pace and Structure of a Thriller (Jordan Dane)

Hitchcock believed suspense didn’t have much to do with fear, but was more the anticipation of something about to happen.

And we’ve all heard the phrase “Write what you know.” It should be “Write what you fear…what you love…what you hate.” Writing what you fear conveys human emotion that will resonate with readers. Tapping into what makes you afraid will translate into a trigger for the reader as well. And this goes for other emotions too. Drawing on a reader’s emotions will pull them into the story.

Tips for Writing Fiction (Robert Gannon)

What is scary is very subjective, so it's best to write something that scares you.

Try writing about an actual event that scared you in your life. My first horror story I ever felt comfortable sharing (long since lost, of course), involved a string of events that I'm still convinced were caused by a ghost in my house. The genuine nature of the story to me allowed me to effectively tell it to other people. Since I thought it was real, I wrote it like it was real, and that is what scared people.

Writing Horror Literature (Justin Daniel Davis)

What scares people? And how do I tap into it?Well, a good place to start as a source of fear would be the most logical and often overlooked one: yourself. Face’re rarely going to get anywhere by trying to capitalize on what you THINK scares people. Start with yourself...not only is this your most reliable source, but your writing will come across as more genuine, less artificial. What scares you? Monsters under your bed? Loss of control? Ghosts? Goblins? Chores?


So...what scares you? Do you have any tips to share to add a touch of creepiness to stories, maybe just enough to have your reader on the edge of her seat?

Something Wicked... (Rox Delaney)

One more day.  Just one more day before All Hallows Eve, when the veil between this world and the spririt world thins, and communication between the two becomes easier.

Or at least that's what some believe.  It's up to you to decide if you do.

There have been a few scary Halloween nights for me.  When I was very young and lived in the big, bad city (before moving to the little bad small town, then to the big bad middle of nowhere and now back to that big bad city), my older neighbors often took me trick or treating.  One year, as we stood on the corner waiting for a car to drive by so we could cross the street, that car and another car collided.  I screamed.  It was nothing more than a fender bender, but the sound of the crash and my blood curdling scream brought friends and neighbors outside.  At that point, trick or treating ended for me until the next year.

When I was around six or seven years old, I dressed as a Pilgrim girl, in long gray dress, white Pilgrim hat and round collar, all made by my mother, and a blonde braided wig.  Those same neighbors as above had a grandmother who had given them a pair of real, authentic wooden shoes, which were loaned to me for the evening.  Believe me, they were not comfy, but I wore them anyway, determined to be as real as I could be.  The block behind us ended in a circle drive/dead end, thanks to U.S. 54.  As we approached one of the houses near the end, a horrible witch came around the corner.  Scared beyond sanity, I began screaming and ran for home.  When I arrived, I sobbed to my dad what had happened...and then realized that I'd lost my hat and wig during my race for safety.  I cried even harder.  When I finally stopped, my dad walked me back, finally convinced me that the witch wasn't real, and we found my hat and wig.  Once again, trick or treating was over for me until the next year.

Fast forward to small town and high school.  No more costumes.  By eighth grade, we'd even given up painting our faces and going door to door.  But what fun to steal pumpkins and toss them in the middle of Main Street!  Braver souls moved the picnic tables from the park to the streets, and burning hay bales were scattered in the street, making driving a tad difficult. The local grocery store removed all egg cartons.  After Halloween our senior year, I distinctly remember how, when the heater was turned on, my best friend's car smelled of rotten eggs for months and months.  Tricks in town got so bad that mounted police from the city were sent for a few years to try to keep things under control.  One year, after looking for an outhouse to tip over, a group of us ran across the railroad tracks at the edge of town, hoping we wouldn't get caught, and one of the guys and I fell in what's known as "Devil's Hole."  Rumor had it that the six feet deep hole was the mouth of a tunnel than ran underneath the town.  Well, maybe long, long ago it did.  All I know is that climbing out was not for sissies.

Fast forward to the present.  My five grandkids and their parents (and an aunt or two) enjoy trick or treating together---all in costume.  I'm sure the people handing out candy aren't too sure what to think of the mob at their door.  No, the parents don't ask for candy. ;)

Me?  I stay home, turn down the lights, and listen carefully for the whispers of those who have passed on to the next world.  [Have I mentioned that I've had two paranormal experiences?]  Then I turn on the TV, grab a DVD or two, and find something fun to watch.  This year I've decided on Hocus Pocus, followed by Practical Magic.  I know I'm in for a treat. ;)

The Believing and I

When I was growing up, our family and another did everything together. They had three children the same ages as we three. That made six children that experienced everything about the same time as in a small herd of barefoot animation. We went everywhere together and eventually even explored the other side--yup, someone got a Ouija board for Christmas, me. We spent hours in contact with the great beyond--for about three weeks.
Then we found out the great beyond lies. Yes, friends and neighbors, the beyond, speaking to us through the Ouija board, lied. At first we couldn't believe it. Something must be wrong. But, after repeated trials and new tests, there was no longer any doubt, the Ouija control is at the mercy of many forces, but they aren't supernatural. Gravity, slickness of the board, and the underlying subconscious drives of the user/users. Playing wasn't fun anymore, so the spirit board went the way of all presents for children that no longer amuse--it was lost into history.
Fast forward to me as a jaded adult who has taken a look into the occult, seances, witchdoctors, and such. I have developed a theory. Everyone ought to get the chance to play with Ouija boards and such things long enough to find there is not a jot of anything in them. And what did I run across? A local group in a small cafe. I'm a regular customer and one day stopped in and discovered the young ones waiting tables were, in their spare time, using an Ouija board to amuse themselves. As teenagers, I'd have thought they'd have blown through that pretty quickly. However on one of my weekly town days, I noticed they'd merely morphed their interest into contacting perfect strangers on the other side. They were keeping copious notes on name, age, how they died, and did they want to send any special messages to anyone. If those teenagers had spent half of the time they spent contacting the spirit world via the Ouija board studying, they'd have been at the top of their classes.
Weeks passed. A few older, young adults started hanging about. Still the Ouija board spewed info to be written faithfully down. I believe the cafe owner encouraged it, but then maybe she was waiting to hear from a loved one herself.
Not wanting to rain on any parades, I kept my disparaging remarks to myself, however, I had repeatedly refused a turn at the board. Then the final pressure came. Why wouldn't I try? Instead of answering the question, I offered to give it a go. The Ouija board never moved. Then we were both on it. It didn't move. I told the co-operator that it seemed the beyond didn't want to talk to me. The co-operator, one of the most intense operators, immediately asked the Ouija board why it didn't talk to me. With wondrous ability to delve into self delusion, the young woman told me the answer she received. The Ouija board told her I had too strong of a soul. I didn't roll my eyes, but it took a lot of self restraint.
Sheesh. Was there no end in sight? An idea popped into my head. Not the most noble, but it would be interesting for a group of people absolutely determined to experience a connection to the other side. And for me, the devil in me just knew it would be awfully amusing.
I succumbed to temptation.
Drinking my coffee, I drawled out that if a person really wanted to talk to the dead then a seance was better. My, oh, my. They were all over that like ants at a picnic. I told them how to do it:
First: get a table
Second: get a table cloth. Lace would be nice, but if you don't have one, any will do
Third: have something personal from the person whose spirit you wish to talk to
Fourth: get a candle.
Fifth: sit around the table. If you can, hold hands.
Sixth: just as the sun sets, attempt to contact spirit/ask a question of the spirits
The last instruction was to remember that spirits do not have vocal cords. If they answer it could be by any way they can. Be prepared for a 'sign'.
Off home I went, smiling the whole while. I figured there was at least six people about to scare themselves silly. They were ripe for it. That seance was going to be a success! When I reached home, my beloved husband was there and asked about the smile. I told him that if all went well at about fifteen minutes after sundown, I expected a call.
Almost to the minute, a call came in. Yes, it was an excited seancer. The young lady reported that she'd just had the time of her life!! Yes, it was true, the spirit had used a truck horn to communicate. Did I mention the cafe was on the highway?
In the end, it wasn't finding out that the spirits don't really speak that put a stop to the Ouija board, it was parents. It seemed the parents thought that Ouija boards contained demons and devils and banned the use. Well, what can you say to that?

I have always wished that the Ouija board participants could have discovered quietly on their own that there is nothing in a Ouija board that isn't in themselves, a final closure if you will, for flinging open the door to the other side only to find a blank wall. But then, who am I to determine where the spirits live?

My Halloween Memories (Melissa Robbins)

Halloween is my second favorite holiday. Columbus Day has the first spot. Oh, I jest. It's Christmas.

Anyway, I grew up in the northeast where Halloween was hugely popular. Every year, my family would pile into our gray station wagon and drive along the windy road through the woods to Butler's Orchard. Sitting in the “way back,” my sister and I looked out for the ghosts and witches hanging from the trees.

Soon the woods gave way to a large opening where hay bales and pumpkin sculptures abounded. Pumpkins were painted and dressed as famous characters. I remember Snoopy laying on his doghouse as being my favorite.

After admiring the sculptures, my family rode a hayride to a large field where everyone could choose their perfect pumpkins. Serious business for my family. Round and fat? Long and skinny? My sisters and I always wanted the biggest pumpkin we could find.

Before leaving Butler's Orchard, we stopped at the Farm Market for other fall supplies. They had the best apples and apple cider. The funny shaped gourds amused me. Mom would select small pumpkins to make pumpkin pie. It amazed me that she could get pie filling out of a pumpkin.

The big day was just as special. Dad carved the pumpkin and Mom had our costumes ready after spending hours making them. I can remember being a mouse, scarecrow, pirate, angel (twice), witch, and a Cabbage Patch Kid (showing my age with that one).

Every house gave out candy and my sisters and I attacked every one. Okay, maybe not every house, but it was not from lack of trying.

I still dress up for Halloween. I do it for my kids. Nodding head. I want them to love Halloween as much as I do. I may even sew a costume or two.

As writers, we create our own worlds that come alive on paper. Halloween allows those worlds and words to jump off the page. Hmm. My sisters are writers too. I wonder if there is a connection between a love of writing and a love of Halloween.

One October Night

A friend and I had an interesting experience one October years ago. We were in our late teens and had just arrived at a weekend retreat hosted by a church camp. It was dark, and while the immediate area where people were arriving was lit, the edges where there were woods and a creek were rather creepy. I looked up and happened to glance at a cabin set on the creek at the edge of the woods.
"Hey, I said to my friend, "What are those two guys doing out there?
They look like they have some kind of light suits on."
"Wow, those are awesome, let's go see."

We walked toward the two guys, noticing how they were standing. One had his profile to us, leaning against the doorpost of the cabin with one foot propped up on the doorpost, knee sticking out. The other stood next to the first, feet shoulder length apart, arms akimbo. They looked like they had bright white neon lights from head to toe. All we could see was the lights, no features.

At that moment, another friend ran up to greet us and we stopped to talk for just a moment. When she ran on, we both looked out toward the cabin and the guys were gone.
"C'mon, let's go see what they were up to," I urged.
With eager curiousity, we hurried to the cabin. As we drew closer to the door, we both slowed down, then stopped in confusion as we saw the padlock on the door, the cobwebs covering the door, the uttter evidence that no one had been there for quite some time. I felt a weird skittering sensation up my back, realizing that whatever we had seen, it wasn't two guys from the camp standing in the doorway.

We retraced our steps and walked toward the cabin again, hoping to see again whatever we had seen. We saw nothing. We have our own conclusions about what we saw, but it was a very strange experience.