Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas in a cocoon

For a few hours at least, my house is like a cocoon on Christmas Day.

The TV stays off, the laptops are closed, and the phones are silent. While the world outside is no less threatening, or dangerous, or disheartening than on any other day, something wonderful happens inside. Something changes.

Music fills every room. Candles flicker and lights twinkle. Thoughtful and generous gifts are shared amid laughter, and sometimes amid tears of joy. Stubborn grudges, everyday worries, and yesterday's sorrows take a day off. Gratitude settles in. Harmony thrives. Peace reigns...

..for us. But not everyone is lucky enough to celebrate the Christmas this way--insulated from bad news and weather, sheltered and safe, warm and well fed. In fact, it wasn't until the next day that I learned about the severe weather that devastated parts of Texas and Oklahoma...even though my brother lives in Dallas. I didn't know anything about the tornadoes that swept through the area until I read his Facebook post saying they were grateful to have come through it safely.

While I had hoped in vain for snow on Christmas Day, folks in New Mexico were buried in it.


While I cleaned up the ribbons and wrappings, people were picking through the wreckage of their homes. While I prepared dinner, people went hungry. While family and friends filled my home, others spent the day alone. While my heart swelled with gratitude, others mourned. Such is life outside the cocoon that holds my family on Christmas Day.

It takes time and effort to spin a decent cocoon. If I start now, though, I believe that by this time next year, I can make mine big enough, strong enough, and safe enough to invite the whole wide world inside for just one day.

"The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:
the presence of a happy family
all wrapped up in each other."
~Burton Hills~

Sunday, December 20, 2015

what's missing this Christmas?

What is one thing you'd like to receive this Christmas even though you know you won't be getting it?

Well, I know I won't be getting a white Christmas this year, even though it breaks my inner child's heart. It just doesn't seem right. I grew up on a 26 acre Christmas tree farm in the snow belt (meaning...we got belted with snow!) south of Buffalo, NY. "Snow" was my middle name as a child. Deep, fluffy white snow in drifts up to my waist for five months out of the year. Snow for building forts. Snow for sledding and skiing. Snow for Christmas Day. Without fail.

Come to think of it, all the classic children's stories about Christmas are set up North--from "T'was the Night Before Christmas", to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", to "A Christmas Carol", to "The Polar Express":

And, who can forget the snowy winter scenes in our favorite Christmas movies--"Home Alone", "Elf", "It's a Wonderful Life", and "Miracle on 34th Street"--as well as the Currier and Ives prints depicting the holiday?


I mean who envisions palm trees, sand, and surf when they think of Christmas? I always thought Southerners must feel cheated, as if their Christmas was somehow less than authentic...when the real spirit of the holiday resides up North.

I would give anything to wake up to snow on Christmas morning. But that's not what's really important. I would trade it all in if I could wake up to world peace on Christmas Day. If we could shelter, feed, and clothe every Syrian refugee family, and put an end to homelessness and world hunger while we're at it. I would welcome a Christmas without snow if it meant the sick and suffering could find healing and comfort. If cruelty, blame, and hatred disappeared forever.

If one life was spared because the snow didn't fall, I would rejoice...because the things I really want for Christmas aren't things at all.


May all your Christmas dreams come true!


Monday, December 14, 2015

a winter without snow is like a book without a reader

I'm ready for Christmas. I decorated the house both inside and out, covered the tree with lights and ornaments, and mailed the cards. The gifts are wrapped and ready to go under the tree. Everything is ready for the big day!

I'm also ready for Old Man Winter. I dusted off the snow shovels, stocked up on Quik-melt, and filled the freezer with hearty homemade soups to keep the chill away.


The problem is that there is no chill! A record breaking heat wave has blanketed the eastern half of the country when it should be blanketed with snow. I love snow! I live in anticipation of a white Christmas! This is just not fair.

What's the matter with this picture? 
(Hint: it's the middle of December...)

All that preparation. All that anticipation. For naught.

This, of course, is consistent with much of a writer's life. You work hard to get ready for the big day--when you finally query an agent about your masterpiece. Your word count is adequate. The chapters are numbered and titled. Everything has been checked and rechecked. Revised again and again. You are ready...


...but, nothing happens. Disappointment reigns. All that preparation. All that anticipation. For naught.

Nevertheless, I'm optimistic that sometime this winter, snow will arrive. With a little luck, we could even have a white Christmas. Oh, all right...it will take a lot of luck. Still, I'm confident that the shovels and the Quik-melt will be put to good use sooner or later.

Likewise, with a little luck--or a lot of it--it's still possible that my novel will find a publisher...and all that work, all that preparation will pay off, too.

Are you ready for winter? Are you prepared for Christmas? Are you ready for success?
"Always be prepared
for something amazing to happen."
~Melanie Perkins~
Have an amazing week!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

it's never too early

As Christmas approaches, many of us--avid readers and writers--will wander around bookstores and scroll through Amazon searching for books to give as gifts. With luck, we will have read something that entertained us, or taught us, or amazed us, and is the perfect present for someone we know.

My problem is that I have eclectic interests in what I read that might not appeal to most people. I like to read about the interface between science and spirituality. I read a lot about the art and craft of writing, and every so often I need a good inspirational book on creativity. I enjoy memoir. I also read quite a bit about self-improvement and simply how to get through the day. Not so much mysteries or thrillers. Not sci-fi or fantasy. Not romance or history...

...so giving books as gifts can be a problem for me. I'm not all that into best sellers.

Still, if I had to recommend a great book that offers a revolutionary perspective on our understanding of the existence and nature of God, it would be "A God That Could Be Real" by Nancy Ellen Abrams.

My first choice for creative inspiration is Elizabeth Gilbert's September release, "Big Magic-Creative Living Beyond Fear."

And, when it comes to self-improvement, I learned a lot from "Workaholics--The Respectable Addicts" by Barbara Killinger, PhD. Not exactly gift-giving material...but a real eye-opener.

If you know someone who is trying to break out of other habits and destructive patterns, Pema Chodron's "Taking the Leap--Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears" is a good place to start.

My writing books of choice this year are "Crafting the Personal Essay" by Dinty Moore, a good guide for anyone interested in writing creative non-fiction.

For anyone toying with the idea of writing memoir, my hands down favorite guide is Mary Karr's "The Art of Memoir."

Next up on my personal reading list is Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things"...unless, of course, someone gives me something better for Christmas!

What are you reading? What do you recommend for the rest of us? What books will you be giving this Christmas? What book would you like to receive this Christmas?

"A book is a gift
you can open again and again."
~Garrison Keillor~

It's never too early to start.