Tag Archives: Christmas

When Masks Brighten the Break

Kansas writer and artist

The most unusual answer I ever got to “What are you going to do over the break?” was “Write a novel.” This from a friend who was quite sincere at the time. I was in awe of her hugely ambitious goal and couldn’t imagine how she’d do it (she didn’t). This year, as the winter break drew near, I made my own list of goals: 

  1. Clean the whole house.

When I wrote this down, I was being a little like the friend with her intended novel. In the end, my cleaning consisted of dusting the shelf above the stove. Helen was much better as she wanted to show me how well her new vacuum worked. Now I want one but I’m not sure how much I’d use it.  Thinking of cleaning seems to bring my mother’s words to mind—“Honey, you need a nap.”

2. Reapply for a social security card (I have no idea where mine is).

I don’t even know why I thought this would be a good time to sit holding a number for an unknown amount of time and seeing if I could read the signs in Spanish.

3. Find my living will so I can send it to my doctor.

This request has something to do with turning 65, along with the questions on the Medicare wellness checkup forms, things like do you have trouble dressing yourself (no, but I have trouble deciding what to wear, just as I did when I was THIRTY!) and do you need help feeding yourself (not in the least, thank you very much). The disappearance of this rather important document is as troubling as the missing social security card.

4. Go through all my poems and organize a chapbook on aging and mortality.

 I think I kept forgetting about this one.

5. Back up all my files.

If you know anyone who would live in a trailer behind my house in exchange for computer work, can you contact me?

6. Put up a Christmas tree.

The tree never got put up and it started to depress me until I strung some lights around the living room. I did plug in the outdoor tree lights most nights.  Twice I went out to find the cord pulled out of the socket. I wanted to believe it was a racoon but Helen insisted it was a person and got out our trail camera to catch him or her. The camera is still on the dining room table, but the lights have been staying on lately and my new theory is that a deer kept tripping over the cord. 

7. Update my website.

See number 5.

8. Take down Christmas stockings and indoor lights January second.

They really can seem rather cheery if left up a bit longer. 


I could also make a list of the things I did do:

1. Walked the dogs every day.

It was so cold I couldn’t watch people on TV wearing short sleeves without thinking they were idiots. How can people live in Minnesota? They must be really tough.

2. Helped Helen buy a car by co-signing for the loan and also wheeling and dealing—okay, just a little, but certainly more than she would have done.

This was quite rewarding as I could brag to Helen about my high credit rating and also the car place sent cookies with their postcard survey. I liked the salesman but not the business man who kept pushing the extended warranty.  Was it a mistake not to take that out?

3. Worked three jigsaw puzzles, two repeats from previous years.

I believe I’m getting better at this all the time though I now prefer the ones with easy grip pieces.

4. Bought a 40 pound bag of black oil sunflower seeds to feed the birds.

 I can’t lift 40 pounds anymore but Orscheln has the nicest guys who help me. How do birds survive in Minnesota?

 5. Watched 32 episodes of Friends on Netflix starting at the beginning.

I love this show as it makes me laugh but I’m envious of their constant fun gatherings. Helen reminded me that it was quite unrealistic and when were they ever at work? Usually that’s the kind of thing I say to her about the shows she likes.

6. Watched the first five episodes of Stranger Things 2.

Rose watched this with me even though she’d already seen it and kept saying, “This is where it gets weird.” but I couldn’t see the difference. 

7.  Stayed out of the way when the girls made frosted sugar cookies and applesauce bread so they could have some sister bonding time.

The cookies are rather cute but still uneaten and I should throw them out. The two loaves of bread came out very flat as I forgot to tell Helen to double the recipe. She continues to remind me of this. Rose claims Helen was as bossy as ever.

8. Spent a morning on the phone with Helen while she sat in O’Hare airport.

It seems that her connecting flight was overbooked and nobody would agree to get off.  So instead of pulling someone off (I wonder why?) the airlines had to find a bigger plane. Apparently they couldn’t make up their minds and changed gates four times. I just kept thinking of some tired mother dragging her young children back and forth. I have too many airplane stories from when the girls were little. Like the time Helen threw up on her shoes and we had to run halfway across the terminal to catch the next flight and her flip flops were sliding around as we didn’t have time to clean them up. But I really should save that story for another time. I was just glad Helen had me to talk to and glad they found a big enough plane.

 9. Did face masks with Rose.

These little premixed packets were a present to her from Helen. I used the mud one and Rose said it made me more bright and youthful looking. I did notice a certain glow afterwards. She did one with paper that peeled off and I told her it made her skin smooth.

10. Spent a day with a good friend who was having a chemo treatment.

I’d never been in a room where the chairs were lined up like that. And I don’t think I’d ever entered a room of strangers where so many looked me in the eye and smiled. The youngish woman sitting next to my friend offered me gum. I also took some of the candy by the coffee machine until I saw the sign that said “Treats for patients only. Please be respectful.”  The grandmotherly woman on the other side talked about her two breast cancers but not as much as she talked about her craft projects.  She had some with her to show us.


I need to make a new list for 2018 that includes all those things I didn’t get done over the holiday. I could start on item 1 today. Helen’s vacuum cleaner is still in my laundry room, after all. But I think I’ll take the dogs on a walk instead. It’s hard to resist the eager way they are standing at the door. Kosmo looks awfully cute in his red coat and Finn acts like he must have been born in Minnesota instead of Oklahoma.

I’m not sorry about how the break turned out. If I ever write a novel, it won’t be about vacuum cleaners but it just might include the sweet lady with breast cancer and craft projects.  My friend bought one of her knitted dish scrubbies —the one that was periwinkle blue.  We all agreed it was a wonderful color.


When You Know You Want a Goat



It was 6:45 a.m. and I was working on the “spoil the dogs and cats routine” when Rose wandered down the stairs and into the kitchen.   She looked around rather blurry eyed and said, “I want one.”  I was stumped—-one dog biscuit, one can of half eaten cat food?   “One what?”  I asked her.   “I don’t know,” she responded and sat down on the floor next to the heat register.

Ever since that morning last week, I have been pondering over this strange exchange.   I felt much the same way at Penney’s recently.  I had gotten one of those coupons in the mail—spend 25 dollars and get 10 dollars off.    Since everything in Penney’s is always on sale anyway, I could probably buy 40 dollars’ worth of things for 15 dollars—what a deal!  And so with a little extra time in town, my car just seemed to direct itself to the mall parking lot.  I wandered the aisles and picked up socks for Rose for her stocking and some fleecy pajama bottoms to be wrapped and put under the tree.  But I hadn’t reached my 25 dollar minimum so I kept looking, thinking I might even find something for my own stocking (something Santa forgets to fill, except the year that Helen put in a scrap of paper with the words “a lump of coal” written on it).  But there came a point when I realized something.   It wasn’t just that we didn’t really need anything but that I didn’t know what I wanted or what Rose wanted.  And so I put the socks and fleecy bottoms back where they belonged and left the store.

At the age of 34, I had one of those lightbulb moments when I knew that the difficult part of something was less the doing than the figuring out what you really wanted.  I was leaving Australia and traveling home via Africa and possibly Europe.  As the deadline to buy the airline tickets got closer, I became more and more anxious about what my plan should be.  I had three options and the longest one was the trickiest, as it caused me to be in South Africa for four weeks without a place to stay while waiting to meet a teacher friend in Switzerland.  But when I asked myself what I really wanted to do, I knew it was this longer and more complicated trip, in spite of my concerns.  And that’s what I did.  Only days after I arrived in Cape Town, I was invited to live and work during those four weeks with a woman teaching English to children who were not allowed to attend school because their Black African parents were not legal workers (this was in the days of apartheid).  I will never forget those children and their eagerness to learn.  It was very clear that they knew what they wanted.  They wanted to be able to go to school.

When I got home from the mall, I did something I knew I wanted.   I bought shares of goats from Heifer International in honor of people on my Christmas list.  I do this every year, not because I should but because I want to.  I love to see the cards when they arrive and to decide who to give them to.  I like to think about the little girl who will receive the animal and care for it as carefully as a loved pet.  How she will drink the milk and sell the extra for money that will give her the books and uniform to allow her to go to school.

Several days after the Penney’s experience, I spent a Sunday afternoon with Rose.  We ate at a new café in town and stopped at the library.  We found ourselves in the mall at the end of our outing, as I had to return some earrings that Helen thought she needed for her winter formal and then didn’t use (“My hair covers my ears now, so what’s the point?”).   And there we were, in Claire’s with another deal—buy two pairs of earrings and get one pair free.  I wasn’t being a complete sucker as Rose needed one pair with better quality metal for her recently pierced ears to heal well.  So we found those and that left two pairs to get (one free, remember).   “What do you want,” I asked her.   She looked at me with quite a determined face and said, “I want us to have matching dangly bells that we can wear together for Christmas.”  There was no hesitation, no doubt this time.  And so we found some, red and silver bells with plenty of jingle which Rose does not want to wear to school, for as she put it, “I think it would be irritating to others in class.”  We will wear them when we go to holiday outings, a nice reminder of our afternoon together.

I know there’s another little girl somewhere who knows what she wants.  It’s much more basic than matching dangling earrings.   She wants to go to school.  And she wants a goat so this can happen.  And I want to help her get one.  It’s important to know what you want.  Once you’ve gotten that far, you’re more than halfway there.











Trimming the Tree—Ornaments of Discord and Deliverance











Tonight we trimmed our Christmas tree.  From the photo above (not to mention classic movie scenes) you might imagine us gathered round the green boughs, voices raised in song, sipping hot cocoa and eating frosted angels.  Well, we did have boughs, so prickly Wayne had to get out his work gloves, and the tree had a strange tilt that got corrected, but not before I thought it was going to tip and spill water all over the floor and electrical outlets, setting the house on fire (my mother’s influence here).   We had voices raised, though not in song.  We had angels, as in “my angel goes on top or I’m not putting up any more ornaments”.   Oh, and no cocoa but half way through I opened a bottle of wine (right after Rose said something particularly irritating and Helen mouthed “I’m going to hit her” in what’s known as a stage whisper).

Wayne seemed to take the evening much better than me and even took photos by the tree,  not stopping until he more or less got us all smiling at once.  He also managed to get me to throw out five old strings of lights by using a touch of sarcasm when I said they might work one day:  “Well, then, Helen, put them back in the box so you can get them out and not use them next year.”  He’s now watching TV with Rose to calm her down while Helen works with boyfriend Josh on an American Government essay on the death penalty (for or against and explain why) which is due tomorrow morning.  As I sit on the couch with my second glass of wine, our two dogs beside me as usual, I start looking at the ornaments more closely.

I see the one that Helen made in first grade, a straight-edged triangle tree with a gold star on top, blue sky surrounding it.  I see a clay cookie in the shape of an R, a present to Rose when she was still a baby.  I see a photo of Helen and me on a road trip to Wyoming, now enclosed in a cardboard snowflake.   And as I look at these ornaments, they manage to deliver me from my disappointments about this evening.   It wasn’t all I had hoped for, all I would have liked it to be.  But we still got the tree trimmed, as a family, with the ornaments that remind us of what we’ve done together.   And they remind me of something else.  At least for tonight, my daughters are alive and safe in our warm house.   And for that I offer up a prayer of thanks.

Life is short and oh so fragile.    May there be peace on earth and good will to all, and especially, especially, our children.