Smoke and Light Signals

The evening of Independence Day was explosive this year. Fireworks aren’t illegal in our neighborhood, so we were in the middle of what sounded like 18th-century cannon fire for much of the night. We participated in the celebration, too, and had friends over to the backyard. Realm set up two launching areas, so we could social distance. Our guests brought some serious “expodies,” as they called them.

Our next door neighbors started off the evening with some of the best, loudest, and longest fireworks. One particular type of firecracker gave us all a scare. It was called “Nine Lives,” and it made its debut in our backyard. It started firing horizontally instead of vertically and sent us fleeing for cover. Thankfully, we were all far enough away that it didn’t hurt anyone, and Pearl caught the action on her phone. So, just as we were reliving the excitement, and Pearl was preparing the video to send to our guests, our neighbors launched their “Nine Lives” and experienced the same results. They were running, too! We’re thinking quality assurance testing was still in lock down when “Nine Lives” came through the manufacturing line. Our guest and “expodie” expert said either the base of the firework was in need of extra integrity or the video demonstration was misleading. We wanted to keep all of our lives, so that wasn’t a favorite.

We had a beautiful, bright full moon with a glowing halo through the smoke. Its light made the night sky our own planetarium, and we counted six separate locations, not including our own, where the fireworks would burst out of the darkness and light up the night. When the sprays of color showered one side of our living theater, another side would quickly boom and thunder back. Pearl said, “This is how we communicate during quarantine now. It’s how we say, ‘We’re still alive and happy over here!'” We were surrounded in celebration, and it was like no other Fourth of July I’ve ever experienced.

For Old Songs Past

As we enter the lull between Christmas and New Years, I tend to find myself reflecting on the past. The song Auld Lang Syne comes from earlier folk ballads that tell about not forgetting past relationships. “Let’s remember the earlier days together for old time’s sake” it tells its listener. The song’s words have changed over the years, but the sentiment remains.

Each year, we pull out our memories—some good, some bad—and we replay the times of holiday and childhood and those old times past. Even when we wish the past would stay buried, it rises to the top during these days. Memories are a strong influence over our minds and actions and behaviors. We store them away, sometimes not even aware they are there until some event happens. One of the most incredible triggers for memories is music. Every Christmas, I enjoy going caroling with our spiritual family. This year, we sang at two nursing homes. One thing I’ve noticed through the years: When we start singing those familiar Christmas songs, vacant eyes snap to and look up at us. Fragile, shaking men and women begin to mouth the words or tap the arm of their chairs. In that moment, singing words like, “Oh, what fun it is to ride…,” I get to see the wandering spirits inside meet my eyes and connect. Just for a moment. Afterward, I’ve approached some of these strangers to thank them for singing with us. They look up at me with eyes full of intent to say something, but their mouths only tremble or they utter syllables that don’t make sense to me.

On Sundays year round, some of us drive over to the nursing home after church services to worship with the men and women there. The talkative ones see you walking down the hall, and they will ask, “Is it Sunday? Take me to church!” Sitting in their wheelchairs, they push the floor impatiently with their slippers. Others don’t say a word, but you know they’re waiting when you catch their eyes. They smile and lift their feet, ready (to keep them from dragging as you push their chairs).

When I first participated in the worship at the nursing home, I got kind of tired of singing the same songs over and over. It only took a couple of new songs for me to realize how important the repetition of the old songs really was to them! Music is so incredible! Memories are somehow linked inextricably with songs we’ve sung over and over and over.

One special lady passed away this year. When she saw you coming, she’d smile like her happiness was bubbling over, and she’d make happy noises when you talked to her. She was a bubbly person all around, and she would sing with all her heart—sometimes long after the song was done. Then she’d look at the person beside her and give a “Woo wee!” And we knew how she felt.

Those old songs create a path to the mind that, when the body starts to shut down, makes it possible to remember again. Remember the people and the joys and the sorrows of a life well lived. When the past comes alive, the spirit seems to reconnect with the physical world again. And that’s a good thing. So, for old times past, sing those old songs. Come alive in those moments to remember, connect, and celebrate those relationships. And tell me, what’s your favorite old song?

 

2017 Battle of Catan

Settlers of Catan. Ever heard of it? Realm is always wanting to play Settlers. He wants more board game extensions, but I don’t know why. If he can’t get players for the original game, why would he think more of the same is a good idea?

Last night – being the beginning of a new year and all – the family acknowledged Realm’s delight in collecting wheat, brick, and ore. We all sat down to a rousing game. Some of us were more rousing than others, specifically Magne who decided his resource cards were all made of gold and wouldn’t trade. There was Dawn, who held the monopoly on wood for much of the game. Did I say monopoly? Why yes, I did. At some point mid-Catan-torture, I turned to Realm and said, “This game is Monopoly! It’s just monopoly re-packaged!”

This is a significant discovery because early in our marriage we had to ban Monopoly for a healthy relationship… with each other, with other couples, with our parents and siblings. Realm is terrifically competitive when Atlantic Avenue is on the line. He gets mean and calculating. Generally, we want our friends and family to visit again, but he’s not thinking about that when he’s bankrupting them with a sparkle in his eye. He’s not thinking of the short responses he is going to receive from me while I simmer over his quiet chuckle when finagling me out of my best property.

Yes, I think Catan brings out the worst in us.  Magne goes into power-hungry mode, and Pearl starts trading using her Batman voice. Okay, Pearl uses her Batman voice for everything lately. “Pass me the salt,” comes out much more threatening, and “the peanut butter cookies were delicious” takes on a Beetlejuice quality. Her Batman voice did not intimidate anyone out of their sheep, though. Pearl lost, Dawn won, and Realm began a campaign of assuring me it was a great game that I played well but for the slight infraction of trading in four brick for a wood when I should’ve offered him three for a trade instead.

Well, my good deed of playing Settlers is done for the year.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Trips to the ‘Fridge

My family has a Christmas tradition of using men’s tube socks as stockings. Realm’s family does not, and he finds it disgusting. I do understand his disinclination to put candy into something that actual men’s gnarled feet can fit into, but I do not understand the virtue of using those awkward, red objects that look like baby elephant booties. I’ve assured him I have no intention of using already-worn socks. I’ve tried to cajole him by pointing out the socks can be washed and worn after the goodies are dumped out (including the apples and oranges, which look so funny in the tube socks). My utilitarian pleas hold no sway. He just can’t handle my tradition.

I, too, have trouble with certain traditions. For example, I cannot physically sit through those Christmas claymation movies. They were even dull when I watched them as a kid! There were no streaming videos then, so I had an excuse. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have to make a movie like that. Or to tell someone, “I spent this many hours moving a ball of clay two hundred centimeters today.” Now that’s a nightmare before Christmas.

The one tradition I hope will continue is the family picture card. I love getting family pictures! I put them on my refrigerator door and look at them all year round. They make me smile. And it doesn’t matter if Gerard has his eyes closed and darling Evangeline is picking her nose. So what if Lilly has her tongue hanging out? It’s natural. It’s real. It’s having loved ones waiting right there at the door when you reach for the milk.

rilla2016

For you, may the season be festive and fun;
And the New Year, may it be a happy one!

The Company Drill

There is nothing like coming home after the holidays. I drive by the neighbors’ houses, where cardboard boxes are battling it out with the garbage cans. The once festive green garlands are trailing along the front walks like miserable, bloated snakes. I walk through my door and spot the tinsel draped across my sofa pillows, a tad passé now. The white tree lights, dangling dangerously near the forgotten mug of curdled milk left out for Santa, are not going to win any Better Homes and Gardens awards this week. The leftover party favors, the scary-looking nutcracker dolls toppled over like dominoes on the mantel, the torn edges of shiny paper littering my floors are all evidence that we were hit by the Christmas tornado.

Is it worth it? I’m not going to answer that. I’m not the wide-eyed seven-year-old on Christmas morning anymore. And I would never be the one to deprive a child of the joy of presents under the boughs of a precariously-stationed tree. (My kids witnessed two trees come crashing down this year, so I’m not entirely exaggerating the precarious part.)

Still, a new year means a new leaf, right? Easier said than done. Where to begin…

If your house is clinging to Christmas past, and you have kids at home who can read, catch up with the Company Drill. This drill is inspired by the panic that ensues when you find out—15 minutes beforehand—that your favorite Aunt Minnie will be dropping by for a visit; or when that fabulous Mrs. Hodge, the president of your homeowner’s association, who washes her car for zenith shine while most sane people are asleep, calls and asks to borrow your Rain-X. The drill focuses on getting the public areas of your house in order.

At our house it looks something like this:Company drill2

This simple little paper is posted in an inconspicuous location, say, on a door inside a closet. It works best if you employ a timer—because you’re trying to clean up in record time. The goal is to straighten up in less than 15 minutes. Don’t expect a miracle. The first couple of rounds of the drill will probably fall short of that goal, but it makes a significant dent.

Call a family powwow, bring your timer, and announce that it’s drill time. I like to assign certain rooms to each child with the proviso that if one person does not complete his/her task after the rest have finished, then the whole team won’t make the 15-minute goal. This encourages us to help each other once we’ve finished our room assignments. (I usually take the kitchen—less broken dishes that way.)

What’s the reward for beating the clock? A cleaner house. Seriously. Just knowing you’re done in 15 minutes is pretty exhilarating. The kids have more time to play, and mom can get some writing time in!

Two more tips:

Record your best time and see if your team can beat it during the next drill.

Upbeat music is a great motivator for cleaning, but I suggest not using the music during a drill. It’s more distracting, since you’re yelling “Who has the vacuum?” and such. Plus, without the music I can pretend I’m that kid on Newsies and encourage my team with “Go! Go! Go! Get the lead out of your pants!” I’m helpful that way.

 

Happy Hallothanksmas!

It’s that time of year again. Confusion is in the air! The stores are packed with jolly little pumpkin and candy cane costumes. Wicker cornucopia centerpieces dripping with blood are lined up on the shelves, waiting to adorn your festive table. I have no idea what all this is about. So, I did some research.

autumn-19672_640Regarding this “Halloween” thing (I read that on a poster somewhere. I think it was between some glittery corn husks and the purple and black-striped tree skirts.), legend has it there was a very old woman who liked to wear black, had an uncommonly warty nose, and carried a broom around—to sweep her neighbors’ front porches. She swept and she swept. Nobody noticed what a nice thing she was doing, so she became disgruntled and decided she wanted payment for her act of kindness. So, she knocked on their doors.

“Hello, I need you to come out and look at your porch,” she told them.

They looked, thanked her, and promptly denied her any donations for her good deed.

Well! she huffed to herself; and the more she thought about it, the more it rankled. She decided she would get even.

On every front porch she set a rotting pumpkin, and on one she placed a dead cat. (Her cat had died, and it seemed right to her, since that one neighbor had refused her quite meanly.) The neighbors, in return, decided to reward her for her presents. They baked pies for her. Made of pumpkin. (The rotting ones on the front porches went missing about that time.) The especially mean neighbor made odd-looking jelly candies for her. (Cat bones are wonderful for giving a jelly-like consistency to things, you know.)

For some reason the old woman became ill and died. The neighbors felt bad. They began to sweep their own front porches until it occurred to them to have their kids do it. The kids, knowing the origins of this chore, played terrible tricks on the neighbors, pretending to be the ghost of the old woman and leaving rotting pumpkins or carcasses and bones of animals. Some of the neighbors, still feeling guilty about the old woman, relented and gave the kids sweets as payment. Soon the children became bold enough to knock on doors dressed in their ghostly garb and announce, “Hello, we need you to come out and look at your porch. And if you don’t give us a treat, the ghost of the old lady will give you a terrible trick!”

The “Hello, we need” later merged to form, “Halloween,” the rest became the brief, “Trick or treat,” and that’s how it all began. At least, that’s the gist I came away with. I’m still looking for the thanksmas part.

Fall and Sour Grapes

I was seven years old and fighting to breathe. It was Halloween day. I lay on my bed, squirming and twisting, trying to find a position that would relieve the rock in my chest. Mom’s eyes showed her concern. I knew something was wrong, but I was too tired to ask what.

She took me to the doctor’s office, where they gave me a shot in my upper arm. For I moment, my lungs relaxed and I breathed freely. It lasted only a minute or two and my lungs became lead again, inflexible and heavy. They stuck me in the other arm. Nothing happened.

I stayed in the hospital for a week. That was the year I didn’t get to be Sour Grapes, the fancy, purple villain from Strawberry Shortcake. I missed trick-or-treating altogether. I had been so, so excited. In the top drawer of the hospital bedside table were a few pieces of Halloween candy someone had brought for me.

Every Halloween finds me sick. As a child, there were years I’d wheeze my way down the street to knock doors anyway. Hay rides were the asthma attack waiting to happen.

When fall comes, I breathe in the magic and forget. I forget about the disappointment of years before. My brain has this switch that only the smell of fall can activate. Story ideas grow like kudzu vines, latching onto my thoughts, tempting me to drop the work I’m doing and join them in the jungle of my imagination. I begin to scheme: How can I get away to write? I need a few hours for this story and a couple of hours to complete that one…

But the sniffling and the coughing start. I wake up nights, stuffed up and aching in my face. I can’t look at a computer screen; the light is too harsh, the letters too blurry. The throb behind my eyes won’t go away.

Fall allergies; I didn’t want to pass this down to my kids. They wheeze, sniffle, and cough. They pull themselves out of bed like they’re leaving a vat of molasses.

The humidifiers and essential oils are out. My house smells like cinnamon, cloves, lemon, and eucalyptus. At least, I hope that’s what it smells like—I can’t smell anything! There’s a tissue box in every room. Hot peppermint tea soothes swollen throats.

And I can’t think. I can’t focus. It’s like all of this mucus has stuffed up my brain and shoved out the lovely ideas and creativity.

So, I guess I’ll cross my arms and tell you fall isn’t all that great anyway. Who cares that the leaves are gorgeous, the weather is splendid, and Halloween is just around the corner?

Feeling Pumpkin-Headed? (Pumpkin and Image By C Tennie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
I’m not fooling you, am I?

On Being Older

Took picture June 18, 2006 of a party hat I pu...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the beginning of a new year! At least, it is for me. I’m the same age as Realm is now. For ten months out of the year we are the same age. Don’t ask me why I get a kick out of that, but I do.

Before we started dating, I told him I didn’t date guys who were younger than I was. I was implying he was younger, when, in fact, he is older. It was a test.

A) Did he remember when my birthday was?

B) Would he admit he was interested in dating me?

Very subtle, I know. That’s what you get from a seventeen-year-old, I’m afraid.

He replied, “I’m glad I’m older than you, then.”

“Are you sure?” I teased, grinning. It became our joke while we were dating. We kept it up, saying things like, “…you know, since I’m older than you.”

So, every year for the two months he is officially older, Realm reminds me almost daily, “See? I’m older than you.”

His two months of crowing are up for this year, which means there might be a note on his mirror that says something like, “Look who’s older now!”

Happy Memorial Monday!

Over the weekend, Realm and I celebrated our 17-year anniversary by visiting the Manchester, Tennessee area. You might be asking, “What’s to do around Manchester, Tennessee?” The answer is: Research the sequel to Dragonfly Prince. I needed inspiration and info on a special character and a setting for Book 2.

This is the second time we’ve merged our anniversary getaway with my writing research. The first was our visit to Clarksville two years ago. I thought Realm would hate it. I was sure he wouldn’t go for, “Happy Anniversary! Now these are the places I need to know about. We only have a couple of days, so let’s go!”

He surprised me by saying, “Sounds like fun. Let’s do it.”

We found out we make a great team. I prepare the itinerary, and he gets us there. He chats up the locals for me, while I take notes and let my brain marinate in the details. Yeah, I’m 100% grateful to God for every one of those 17 years. There is no doubt in my mind that God chose Realm for me and me for him.

 

Happy April First!

Just a heads-up that I’m going to post three times a day every day this week! Aren’t you excited? I wouldn’t be, either. There is no way. So, there’s my attempt at an April Fool’s prank. Let’s move on.

Items on the Docket: 5

1. The Fan Fiction Experiment from March has its own page in the header to make the completed series easily accessible.

2. Yep, I’m still working on the last hundred pages of my manuscript. I have 65-ish pages to go. The process is painstaking. I can work for over an hour, look up, and find I’ve conquered two pages. Objective-wise, it’s on target. I am so excited about the way it’s coming along! I have butterflies in my stomach every time I work on it now. Or maybe they’re dragonflies. 🙂

3. I’ve lost my head over a fantasy adventure. I found The Lost Island of Tamarind by Nadia Aquiar at the library two weeks ago. The book cover was bright and appealing, but what caught my attention was the review blurb at the bottom. It said, “Aguiar’s exciting debut novel is a cross between Peter Pan and Lost.”

What? What! That’s my book! Okay, my book is Alice in Wonderland meets Peter Pan, and I was told by a beta that it was something like Lost. But still!

What kills me is her description of Tamarind. It’s the perfect blend of natural phenomenon and supernatural possibility. That’s what I’m going for, but I’m working from a Floridian environment—which is not really tropical. I grew up in Florida; Aguiar grew up in Bermuda. I think I hate her. Of course this means I lurve her story, and I’m super envious.

Part of me wants to be crestfallen, and part of me is so elated. It means there’s a place for my type of story. How is it possible that a book with a vaguely similar plot can make me feel more confident? Has this happened to you before?

4. I’m hoping to work on some brief fiction pieces for a series that’s been marinating in my head. The stories are becoming very insistent about being written down. Setting them up will take a few months, but I hope to post them when they’re complete.

5. This month I’ll be reblogging what I read that intrigues me. So, bloggers, remember to write intriguing posts this month! It’s not like you don’t do that already, right?

I’m glad it’s April, aren’t you? Just when I think the dreary, cold days will never go away, the sun announces to the sky and the trees and the earth, “What? You weren’t thinking of giving in, were you? You knew I’d be coming back! Now, shrug off that chill expression and smile. I’m just getting warmed up!”