Thursday, December 26, 2013


Gift-giving, for a lot of folks, is a huge concern at Christmas time. The shopping, the agony of choice, the wrapping--anticipation by the recipient, as well as the giver--and then the moment of the big reveal.

Been there, done that. With four children--who had four more of their own--and now seven little guys in the fourth generation--I've had years of opportunities for the anticipation and the reality.

And this year I became aware of an insight into my past. When I was a teenager, a young mom, and an empty nester, I thought the idea was giving gifts to other folks. Finding the right thing for that person. Matching up the personality with the gift.

Throughout my life I came up against people like my dad, or grandparents, or in-laws, who said, "I don't want anything." Or, "You save your money for yourself." Or, nicest of all, "Your coming all this way to visit us is the best gift we could get."

I didn't really understand all that, but I tucked it away in my mental attic for later cogitation.

The time came--decades later--when I figured it out. Exciting stuff!

The best gift of all arrived--a visit from my children who live far away and whom I seldom see in person. We connect through email, snail mail, telephone, and text. But face time? Less and less often as time goes by. I cherish the times we meet, but I know each of them is living and enjoying a good life that benefits others. What parent could ask for more?

This Christmas, I get the ultimate gift--today I'll see all of my children at the same time. We'll gather at my daughter's house in Ohio, for food and visiting and gifts. But mostly visiting. All but one grandson will be there (he's in the Army, stationed in Texas), and all but one of the greatgrands. We'll stretch the walls of that house and indulge in laughter and chatter and love.

We may not all be together again for years--that doesn't dim my enjoyment of this time, this is the day of the best gift I could ever get.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas Day, and that you received special gifts that money can't buy. And I wish you a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


This week our family celebrates two birthdays for my greatgrandsons. The other five greats are scattered throughout the year: January, July, September, November.

My four grandchildren are bunched in the first half of the year: January, April, and May.

The rest of us fill in around them, except for August and October. My fullest month for birthday cards is January--six of us!

Life's like that--bunched up, scattered out, filling in around the rest of life.

Geographically we're widespread:
  • I'm from Illinois, currently living in Indiana.
  • One daughter in Arizona.
  • One daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons and their families, in Ohio.
  • My son, daughter-in-law, and one grandson in Indiana.
  • His other son and family in Texas.
  • One daughter in Minnesota.
We have three blended families--which apparently makes us a truly American family!
But not a close family, you say? True, in geographical terms. But in ways that count--we're very close.

I've been thinking of all the ways we keep in touch.

Some of us are Dinosaurs--we still like to write by hand with pen on paper, fold up the sheets and stuff them in an envelope, write the (correct) street address on the outside of the envelope, stick on a stamp, make sure the flap is stuck down, and put the end product in the drop box at the Post Office downtown.

Most of these missives are sent to other Dinosaurs, who love to pop open the mailbox and see a fat envelope with their name on it, written in the wonky hand of a child, best friend, or even an acquaintance. At my house, such letters or notes require a fresh cup of hot tea and a lamp shining on the pages while I curl up in the rocker to read. May take only three minutes. May take fifteen. But it's there for re-reading later. What did she say about her home ec club? What was that crazy thing her husband did the other day?

Dinosaurs may be dinosaurs, but they have a lot of fun.

Then there are the techno-geeks. Email, text, fax, scan, upload photos from your phone or digital camera (now nearly a dinosaur toy)--launch it out through the ether into the computer/phone/tablet/pod of your favorite geek. With Skype, we visit in living color and sound. (These innovations were science fiction in my earlier years. Now they're your everyday occurrence.)

That's all fun, too. Even for Dinosaurs.

Other new ways we can stay in touch: Facebook, Goodreads, LibraryThing; blogs, websites; or if you want to really go retro, pick up the phone and call--you know, hit speed dial number for Mom or enter the number with your personal digits (fingers). Mom probably won't answer if she's at Tai Chi that morning, but you can leave a voicemail message, and she'll return your call and leave a message on your machine. Believe me, texting is quicker.

Our family may not live in each other's pockets, or spend a lot of face time together. But we have our connections--interest in each other's lives, joy in watching the little 'uns grow, anticipation of get-togethers.

On December 26 quite a few of our clan will gather at the Ohio daughter's house--no traditional meal this time (that was Thanksgiving), just everybody's foodie contribution, with plenty of conversation, gifts for one and all, and the satisfaction of four generations meeting to celebrate Christmas.

Our way isn't everybody's cup of tea--it's just the way we do it.

Hope you celebrate your way...and enjoy every moment.

Merry Christmas from our houses to yours.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

Whenever I get discouraged about the know, little things, like hunger, and homelessness, and unclean water to drink, and no medicine for children and adults who need it...little things like that discourage me. So...whenever I get discouraged, I try to remember what Margaret Mead wrote.

I'll tell you a secret: there are hundreds and thousands  of "small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens" out there, changing the world every day.

What we have to remember is that change takes time. Change can be very, very small, so minute it's hard to see or hear. Change can be far away, or as close as your neighbor.

Years ago a church choir I directed sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth," and the line that meant so much to us was this: "And let it begin with me."

Change is like that. It begins with me. With you. With our neighbor across the road or down the street. With people we don't know, will never meet, but who have the same desire to make the world a better place.


This fall a group of women at my church devoted several Friday mornings to sewing lap quilts. Four of the quilts will soon be delivered, by the rector and any of the folks who visit the shut-ins, to those who will receive the little covers.

The whole project was about abundance and caring...fabrics stored in a closet (who knows how long ago?) were found, washed, sorted, pressed, and stitched together. Coordinating fabrics were found to finish the center of the quilts. Border fabrics and backings (most were flannel) were donated.

The women who did the washing, pressing, and sewing used time they could have been making gifts for their family members. Or shopping. Or drinking coffee with friends. Or sleeping. Four recipients of the little quilts will be warm and comfortable because of a sacrificial gift.

This is a small example of a committed group of caring folks making a difference.

So, we call this the season of giving.

My church has a food bank. It opens for two and one-half hours, Wednesdays and Fridays. The only exceptions to the Wed./Fri. schedule are holidays. Only a handful of people donate their time to operate the food bank; but they are committed to helping folks who don't have enough food to feed their families, or themselves. They show up every week to enroll new folks in the bank or help regulars choose among the foods, some of which are donated by church members.

Our choir is small in number, but big in commitment. They help lead worship every Sunday and other special times, such as Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Christmas Eve. They sing an anthem as an Offertory. They sing "with one voice" and everyone is gifted, singer and listener alike.

Some groups are practically invisible and inaudible. The altar guild is like that--they come during the week to prepare for Sunday, or a special service; they stay after the service is over to put away and rearrange and check things out. The only way I know they're busy as bees is last summer when I played the organ and saw them doing their thing.

I call this the Snowflake Method--if you live where it snows in winter (or other seasons as well!) you'll know how snowflakes, almost unremarkable as to size, can add up, and up, and up! We see photos on the news about the effects on travel, whole sections of the country without power, towns seemingly buried in snow. All our efforts for change are like those snowflakes. They add up, even when we can't see the accumulation on the news at six.

The key word in all this is committed. The group may be small, but when each member has dedicated time and talents--no matter how small--to a project, big things can happen. I've seen it with my own eyes. And, folks, it's awesome!



Thursday, December 5, 2013


Along about Thanksgiving, when the weather starts nudging me to stay in and make hot drinks, work on knitting projects for gift-giving, and enjoy an autumn well-spent raking leaves, trimming back bushes, and putting away yard tools--along about the end of November I find myself scanning bookshelves for old favorites to re-read.

My first choices often are the mystery series I've collected over the years--say, oh, about fifty years--Rex Stout's corporeal detective Nero Wolfe and the dashing man-about-town assistant Archie Goodwin; Harold Adams' Great Depression novels starring Carl Wilcox; Agatha Christie's inquisitive Miss Jane Marple; Josephine Tey's much-too-short list of eight mysteries; the police procedurals of W. J. Burley, set in Cornwall; R. D. Wingfield's Inspector Frost books; Stephanie Plum mysteries, dreamed up by the agile brain of Janet Evanovich.

Other re-reads include what is now called women's fiction by Rosamund Pilcher, who always makes me smile; Liz Flaherty's novels that make me wish I could write what reads so well (fortunately she's a good friend, so we can talk about writing at the drop of an email); romances by Betty Neels, an Englishwoman who lived for a number of years in The Netherlands, and by Caroline Anderson who has a way with hot medical romances.

All these fiction choices have one thing in common--they are about characters I could call friends, if they existed in my current reality; or about a time or place I'd love to visit, if time travel and teleportation were possible.

Nonfiction faves are the journals of May Sarton and Henri Nouwen, Frederich Buechner and C. S. Lewis; books about quilting, knitting, crochet, cooking. These give me insights into other people's lives, and again I feel as if I visit with them. They don't see me nodding my head in agreement, smiling in joy at a new insight, or frowning when they say something I take exception to. The craft books show me how other people think, how they work out ways to make pretty--or delicious--things I might like to try.

When I've been through all my books, I scan the DVDs--old TV series like M*A*S*H and The Andy Griffith Show--newer series like Foyle's War and Inspector Lewis--movies: all the Miss Marple stories; White Christmas, The Christmas Card, Far from Home, Second-Hand Lions, even Grumpy Old Men. Fortunately the dog, Joy, likes movies, too, so I can play them to keep her company when I have to leave for shopping or church.

You can see my tastes run to British lit and film, with only a handful of US examples. That's probably because I've lived in the US all my life, traveled very little, and find some writers and filmmakers talented enough to urge me into their worlds for a little while. Whenever I need a vacation, I can read about Burley's Chief Superintendent Charles Wycliffe in Cornwall, or follow along with DCI Foyle in World War II England as he unravels home front crime.

I know the rebuttal to re-reading and re-watching: so I will say, yes, I do indeed watch new shows and search the library for new writers.  It all depends on what's occupying my mind--when I'm involved in detailed projects, making gifts for Christmas or preparing music for church services, I can't expend mental energy on a new book or movie.

After the holiday energy drain, I'm ready to sit down with a cup of hot tea and a new book--or a new movie--or even a new magazine. The well is ready to be filled once again. Makes me look forward to being snowed in come January.