Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays picture for KC

In October, at work, I was already writing for December content.  I was like bring on the snow, let’s bake Christmas cookies, and I NEED to watch, It’s a Wonderful Life — October happenings were sooo two months ago! But now it actually is December, and in an attempt to get into the Christmas spirit, I’m going to share some of the December topics I wrote about back in October, and I wrote a LOT – like 80 blogs worth or so. But I digress, back to the subject at hand. I’ll begin with one about “the holidays” but here, I’m going to say, Merry Christmas, because I can! I can also say Kwanza, Chanukkah (or Hanukkah; both are used, I checked), and Winter Solstice too if I want. In fact, I’ll also throw in Boxing Day, and it’s not too late to add The Twelve Days of Christmas. But let’s start with the major December holidays.

In December we refer collectively to “the holidays” — but just what are the December holidays? Today,  I’m going to give a brief answer to that question. So grab a nice cup of cocoa, settle into your favorite reading place,  and learn (briefly) about the December holidays. Then make plans to celebrate your favorite holiday and maybe think about celebrating one another holiday in December too!

Christmas – Celebrated December 25th  

Christmas Day is celebrated by Christians in commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Many traditions have grown up around this holiday, adaptations of pagan celebrations (think Yule log and Christmas tree), as well as traditional remembrances (Christmas carols and hymns have been performed for decades). Other symbols and traditions associated with having a Merry Christmas include reindeer, elves, and Santa Claus (or Kris Kringle, or Father Christmas, or St. Nicholas), nativities, snowmen, gingerbread houses, festive lights, kisses under the mistletoe, and the giving of gifts. To learn more about this holiday, check out this article about Christmas from History.com.

Chanukka – Celebrated December 12th – 20th

Chanukkah (Hanukkah), a Jewish festival of rededication, also known as The Festival of Lights, is the eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. (This year that Chanukkah  begins Tuesday, December 12th and goes through Wednesday, December 20 according to the Gregorian calendar) Probably because of its relative closeness to Christmas, Chanukkah is one of the better known Jewish holidays, even though it is not one of the high holy days. It does have an interesting story behind it — in short, it’s the story of a “revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion.”

Activities associated with Chanukkah include the ceremonial lighting of the candles, arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah, and the eating of fried food because of the significance of oil to the story. Latkes (potato pancakes) are often served. Gift-giving, with the exception of gelt, (small amounts of money) was not a part of the original holiday observance but was added later on.  Playing dreidel is another practice associated with the celebration (the link will take you to an online version of dreidel). Chanukkah music is an important part of the celebration.

Kwanzaa – Celebrated Dec 26, 2017 – Jan 1, 2018

Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration designed as a way for African Americans to confirm their heritage and culture. Established in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa is the first holiday specifically for African Americans. The name comes from a Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” meaning “the first fruits of the harvest.” Intended originally to replace Christmas; it has since been changed so that Christian African-Americans can celebrate both holidays.

Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of seven principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). The symbols associated with Kwanzaa include a decorative mat upon which the other symbols are placed. They are the kinara (candleholder), which holds seven candles, the muhindi (ear of corn – representing children, the future), and the bendera (the black, red, and green of Kwanzaa).

Kwanzaa celebrations include a candle lighting ceremony, gifts for the children that include both a book and a heritage symbol, decorations of traditional African items, and greetings spoken in Swahili.

Other December holidays include Winter Solstice, December 21st, the day of the solar equinox, and Festivus, the December 23rd holiday inspired by the popular Seinfeld TV show. On December 26th, Boxing Day is celebrated in England!  What is your favorite December holiday? Let me know in the comments. Whichever way or holiday you choose to celebrate this month, enjoy! I hope you have the best celebration ever. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get my Christmas tree up this week, and my nutcrackers out, and the presents wrapped (after I get all of them), and it’s a busy time of year, isn’t it? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving – It’s About Family

Because our heroine, that’s me, is headed out of town for Thanksgiving (Idaho here I come); my kids and I decided to have our Thanksgiving dinner last night (Sunday before Thanksgiving). This is the menu, typical for my family:

Turkey (brined and roasted)

Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Gravy (homemade of course)

Stuffing

Green salad with creamy ranch dressing

Sweet potato casserole – topped with toasted coconut & pecans

Green bean casserole – topped with French-fried onions

Fresh baked rolls, with a little help from Rhodes

Relish tray – pickles, olives, cranberries, etc.

Water w/Lemon

And of course pie, and pumpkin pie cake for dessert. We had not just one pumpkin-based dessert, but two. Along with my traditional pumpkin pie cake, I made Nanette’s turtle pumpkin pie, an apple pie with my home-canned pie filling, and  Brittanie and Katie made pies, from scratch, too, coconut cream (divine), and lemon meringue (sweetly tart), the pies were rounded out with a purchased pecan pie (because pecans are ridiculously expensive and the pie was on sale, and it was a Marie Callendar pie). This year I didn’t get the pumpkin roll made. I’ll make it for Christmas though, promise.

Thanksgiving Pie

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Changes & Reflections

Reflections  on November 9th, 2017 — The 13th Anniversary of Kelly’s Death 

Kelly Birthday Collage
Some of my favorite pictures of Kelly. 

Flashback to November 9, 2017 — Excerpt from Rhythms of Life, “Then they were loading him on a gurney, feeding him into yawning ambulance doors, and taking him away. As the doors shut, I already knew, I knew in my heart that he wouldn’t be coming home to me ever again.”   

And thus it began, my journey through widowhood, and today, thirteen years later, as I reflect on the intervening years, I find myself dividing my thoughts, possessions, and acquaintances into two categories, before Kelly died, and after Kelly died. Last night, I wandered through my house; the same house I shared with Kelly for ten years — and I wondered if he would recognize it. The floor plan is the same of course, and he would recognize some of the furniture, the bookshelves filled with our books (okay, mostly my books, I have to admit to downsizing when it came to his textbooks), the mirrors he made for me, his guitar on its stand, his hat standing sentinel atop it. He would recognize several of the dishes and appliances in my kitchen, holdovers from wedding gifts that have withstood the depravations of numerous moves and updates. He would find a few of his clothes still hanging in my closet – his black & red flannel shirt, a bathrobe, and hanging in the coat closet, several of his jackets — standing ready should one of the kids need one when visiting.

But there are many changes. The carpet is gone (good riddance there – read about the last vestiges of the carpet here!), the walls have been painted, the kitchen is completely redone and different, though he would recognize his grandmother’s vintage round table and chairs, and he would be familiar with many pieces of my Raggedy Ann collection adorning the shelf he wouldn’t know about. I’ve switched bedrooms, back to the one we originally shared, but it’s different now. I’ve made it my own. There are themed bedrooms downstairs, and I have strangers staying with me from time to time. We often had people staying with us — he being as apt as I to offer a bed to a friend going through a hard patch. He would sigh at the state of the yard; he having been the driving force to keep in in some semblance of good form, and it forever being my nemesis. He wouldn’t recognize my wardrobe, the car I drive, or my penchant for crime shows. The kids have all moved out and I’m an empty-nester because he’s not there.  

Empty-nester. The word still feels rather strange. It hasn’t been a title I’ve held for long. I’ve had a full house for many years, and only now am I experiencing what it is to live alone. Really alone. Like everything else in my “new normal” there are pros and cons to the situation. I like to think of the good things as silver linings. In order to survive the sometimes overwhelming stress that came along with being a sole-parent, I had to look for the good in everyday life. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have made it through those years.

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NaNoWriMo and Other Thoughts about Writing

 

Antique roll-top desk for writing

 

I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo – exactly once — and the attempt was a complete failure. Well, maybe not a complete failure, because I did learn some things from the experience, mainly, that writing fiction is not (currently) my strong suit; something I had an inkling of, but attempting to actually do it, quite proved the point. (I just have to go back and look at my early fiction-writing attempts to remind myself. They include three paragraph descriptions of nail polish and lipstick, as well as an attempt at irony by calling the fat character in my story Slim — be kind, my early attempts were written when I was in junior high school.) But still, I struggle with fiction. My comfort zone is found in creative non-fiction writing. A case in point, for an assignment in a university creative writing class, we were to write a Flash Fiction piece.  I completed the assignment, only realizing after it was finished, that it was in fact based on a real-life experience. It was a great flash fiction piece, except it wasn’t fiction. Then the story evolved into a poem (still 55 words), which you can read here: In Fifty-Five Words.

 

In 55 Words photo
The idea for In 55 Words was taken from the experience my son and husband had playing opposite each other in a stage version of Dead Poets Society and its surprising aftermath.

 

This non-ability to create fiction is perhaps also the reason I am terrible at the break-the-ice game, Two Truths and a Lie. I can never come up with a lie that people will believe! Trust me, I tried, multiple times at a family party recently, and at work parties too. But back to the point. This year I plan to do a modified version of NaNoWriMo, my modification being that I will work on a non-fiction book to get it finished this month. I’ve been working on it for years, it’s about my experience of being a widow. Here are a few essays from what will one day be the complete book: Going Out on a Limb: Into the Breach, My First Social Forays and On Being Alone: In the Still of the Night .

Sometimes I wonder if it’s good enough to put in a book, but I suppose every writer thinks that way once in awhile, right?  Perhaps I’ll even add updates to this blog to let you all know how it’s going. Perhaps one day I will attempt fiction again, but that time is not now.

For inspiration, I’ve pulled together, some words of advice from writers who have done the whole NaNoWriMo thing, perhaps their words will inspire and encourage you, too.

PS: Here’s a link to the National Novel Writing Month website just in case you want to know more about doing it yourself.

Words of Wisdom from Writers

From Brian Jacques:The advice I continually give to young writers is this “Learn to paint pictures with words.” Not just once upon a time, but… In the long secret dust of ages, beneath a blue forgotten sky, where trade winds caress the sun bleached shores of unknown realms… See, as much as there are words in poetry, there is a poetry in words. Use it, stay faithful to the path you have set your heart upon and follow it.”

From Gennifer Albin: “The real secret is that anyone can write a book. There’s no initiation ceremony. No dues to pay. You don’t need a special degree from a fancy school. Writing is for everyone, and this is your chance to scrawl your name across the page. By month’s end, you’ll have done that which many dream of, but never accomplish.”

From Garth Nix: “Rereading and revision works best after rest. I like to let chapters sit for at least a day or two before I go back to re-read and revise them. A little bit of space is helpful in looking at the work with fresh eyes and mind. This can work well for getting a rhythm of writing too, where you spend part of your writing time re-reading and revising a previous chapter and then go on to write new material. The re-reading and revising helps you get back into the ‘world’ of the book and the new writing helps you feel that you’re making forward progress, not just revising the old.”

From Kristin Cashore: “Breathe. Be kind to yourself. Don’t panic. Take risks. Make messes. Decide every day that in your writing toolbox, next to the fear and self-doubt, you are also going to keep at least one tiny little seed of faith. That’s all you need to keep going—one mustard seed. Keep tight hold on that faith, and keep writing.”

From Cathrynne Valente: “Write something true. Write something frightening. Write something close to the bone. You are on this planet to tell the story of what you saw here. What you heard. What you felt. What you learned. Any effort spent in that pursuit cannot be wasted. Any way that you can tell that story more truly, more vividly, more you-ly, is the right way.”

Fall into a Book or a Movie

The Pine Tree Place in the fading fall. The perfect place to spend an autumn afternoon reading.
The Pine Tree Place in the fading fall. The perfect place to spend an autumn afternoon reading.

Fall is my favorite season of the year. I love the smells, the colors, and the temperatures. Crisp mornings, warm afternoons, and the growing chill of the evening make up perfect days.  The point is, it’s not too hot! It’s so much easier to grab a sweater or a jacket and warm up than it is to try to cool down when the temperatures are in the double digits, and you feel like you are simply going to melt away in a pool of flushed cheeks and clammy hair against your neck.  The fall is also not the depth of the deep-frozen winter.  Actually, I really don’t mind winter weather either — I just don’t like driving on slick, icy roads or dealing with frozen locks.  But I digress, but not really, when you think about it, fall is that slice of delicious weather between the two extremes, which offers a blissful interlude in the broader scheme of things. (I can’t get quite enthused about spring because it heralds in the scorching summer sun.)  So this fall, I am going to take time to drive through the canyon to see the colors, to enjoy a walk, crunching the fallen leaves, to laugh with friends, to sip a glass of fragrant hot-spiced cider,  to make cinnamon rolls or apple crisp, and to read a book or watch a movie that reminds me of the season. I hope you get to do some of those things too.

Books to Read in the Fall

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Talk Like a Pirate Day

pirate ship

Blimey! Did you know that International Talk Like a Pirate Day is today? And just because I may have written several blogs about this already for others doesn’t mean I can’t write one for my own blog, right? I had every intention of dressing up like a pirate today – I have the costume, including an amazing sword — but I forgot. Silly me.  I guess I will rectify the not dressing up by sharing this blog all about the day, and mayhaps, actually talking like a pirate today, or at least sharing some corny pirate jokes.

If you want to talk like a pirate too (or at least peruse and learn some cool info all about pirates, swashbucklers, and privateers), this Pirate Glossary is the perfect place to turn. It is a comprehensive all-things-piratical resource with a respectable amount of information for a variety of pirate-related topics,  including sections for info about various types and structures of ships, flags, sailing, measurement, phrases, name calling, famous pirates and more. 

Interestingly enough, Talk Like a Pirate Day began with a racquetball game. That’s right, you read it correctly, racquetball. According to our research on the interwebs, this is the scoop:   Continue reading

O Captain! My Captain!

For the Poetry Writing Challenge I’ve been participating in, which consists of 30 Poems in 30 Days — it is day 27, and the challenge is to take part in a Poem in Your Pocket Day, and for the challenge, we were invited to read, write, or share poetry that is meaningful to us. For me, one of the most meaningful poems, one that has deeply affected me, is Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain!

pirate ship

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here captain! dear father!

This arm beneath your head;

It is some dream that on the deck,

You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;

From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!

But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

I first encountered it when I was in high school, and being an avid fan of Civil War era history, I thought it was a splendid tribute to Abraham Lincoln. Later on, it was a pivotal piece of the plot in Dead Poets Society and affected me deeply the first time I saw a stage production based on the movie.  

The second time I saw a stage version, my son was playing Neil Parry, and my husband, Kelly, was playing his overbearing father. It was an amazing experience to watch the two of them on stage together, there was a realness to their dialogue, fueled in part by elements of their real personal relationship — my teenage son navigating the journey to adulthood,  and his father who didn’t always understand.

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Walking in the Rain

shutterstock_491561089

The other day, at a second-hand store, I bought a book of poetry featuring four poets for The Book Nook Inn. Three of the poets I was already familiar with —Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost—but the fourth, Langston Hughes, I was not. As I skimmed through the book of poems both familiar and new,  one poem, in particular, caught my eye. The words evoked memories of me walking in the rain, Stormy, my German shepherd at my side, the gentle pitter-patter of raindrops falling on my upturned face, the wet-hair smell of my hair transforming into bedraggled curls, resting, damply against my neck as I walked, breathing in the damp smell of earthiness reawakened mixed with wet pavement.   Drops of rain glittering amongst the apple blossoms of my favorite reading tree, dripping on my head as I walk beneath.  Or watching a multitude of drops dancing across the smooth surface of an irrigation ditch, silvery in the stormlit afternoon. Oh! how I love walking in the rain an invitation to my senses to see the world born anew.  So then the poem that sparked this bit of musing.

In Time of Silver Rain

            by Langston Hughes

In time of silver rain
The earth puts forth new life again,
Green grasses grow
And flowers lift their heads,
And over all the plain
The wonder spreads

Of Life,
Of Life,
Of life!

In time of silver rain
The butterflies lift silken wings
To catch a rainbow cry,
And trees put forth new leaves to sing
In joy beneath the sky
As down the roadway
Passing boys and girls
Go singing, too,

In time of silver rain When spring
And life
Are new.

Body Butter Sheets and Sweet Dreams

Blog TBNI

I blame my daughter. It’s because of her that I’ve become a sheet snob — which is actually good news for my guests, the ones who come stay at The Book Nook Inn, because I did a lot of research and spent a lot of time finding sheets for my guest rooms that pass the sheet-snob test. (It’s a simple test, really, would I sleep on these sheets?)

Prior to visiting my daughter and sleeping between the sheets she provided, I hadn’t thought much about sheets. They were on the bed in the evening, and by morning the top sheet was either a) tangled around my legs, b) pulled over my head, or c) limply wadded up at the foot of the bed. Luckily the bottom fitted sheet did not share the same fate. However, my daughter, who became a sheet snob at some point after she left my home at age eighteen, proved the wisdom of splurging for the pricier sheets.  They are so much better.  Sliding between the body-buttery softness of an Egyptian-Pima cotton blend sateen, 400 plus thread count sheet cannot be understated. It is sheer bliss. It is even better than feeling the smooth crispness of percale, cotton sheets under your cheek on a sticky summer night, or the warmth of flannel coziness on a cold winter night.

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Daffodils

daffodils-716891_960_720

I’ve always loved the imagery of this poem by Wordsworth, the imagery speaks to my heart. For years I thought it was titled Daffodils, but it’s not; its title, I Wandered as Lonely as a Cloud, is taken from the first line, a common practice for poetry and songs from that time period. I love the image of daffodils dancing as clouds roll by. I love to watch the clouds. When I was a girl and had the leisure time, I used to spend hours outside reading, lost in faraway places having amazing adventures via the pages of my book, but every now and then I would pause, coming back to awareness of a summer day, the smell of warm grass, the wind fluttering through the leaves of the trees, and looking up at fluffy, white clouds in a blue, blue sky. I would let my imagination take flight, fancying this and that pictured in the clouds, whether a fairy, a fox, a dragon, or a castle, I loved finding pictures in the clouds. Oh, what I would give to have time to enjoy a spring or summer day, outside on a magical afternoon watching the clouds in the sky and losing myself in the pages of a book!  I wrote a poem about those days, so perhaps I’ll share it, (it’s called Sun Drenched) as well as the one by Wordsworth — though mine is much simpler, indeed. 

            Sun Drenched

On a sun-drenched afternoon

I hear the distant hum of bees.

Fresh-scented clover cushions my back,

As I gaze at wind-swept trees.

Branches drifting to and fro,

From lofty heights they wave;

As I watch and dream below,

On a sun-drenched day.

I  Wandered as Lonely as a Cloud*

by

William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a Cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and Hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden Daffodils;

Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced;  but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-

A Poet could not but be gay

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude,

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the Daffodils.

*Text from Wikipedia