what happened to those 12 gifts after Christmas

Here it is January 6, or the 12th Day of Christmas, the new season of Epiphany observed primarily by Orthodox Greek, Catholic, and Anglican Christians. It marks the revelation of the birth of Jesus to the wider world as embodied in the story of three wise men visiting the newborn Jesus with gifts in the Gospel of Matthew 1:1-12. After today, I don’t expect to revisit Christmas 2013 until after Thanksgiving 2014. And I’m running so late, I almost didn’t get this post done on time!

One more year that I didn’t even get to hear all the Christmas music I’ve collected over the years, and I do have some great ones. (Hubby will be quick to point out when he reads this how I probably have enough time but too big a music collection.) However, I did discover a new song to love, the first new one in awhile–since Mariah Carey came out in 1994 with “All I Want For Christmas (is you).” A couple years before that it was “I Bought You A Plastic Star For Your Aluminum Tree,” so you can see my Christmas music tastes aren’t very traditional, though I do like those too. And I heard this song in the most unlikely place! It was at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas Concert. Deborah Voigt sang a catchy new (to me) tune I’d never heard before. Although the CD of that concert won’t be available until next year, I couldn’t wait to share a version of that song–with a different artist from YouTube–with you this last day of Christmas. It tells me we should really not worry so much about gifts after all. Here’s what happened to those 12 gifts she got during the 12 days of Christmas:

what I won’t worry about anymore

Happy New Year everyone! It looks like we made it to another year all in one piece, having survived one more road trip, this time to spend Christmas with the daughter’s family in their Oregon vacation home, a fine change of scene. For the first time since we left Tennessee in 1997, we enjoyed the earthy smell of woodlands and a real old-fashioned fir tree in the house.We thought we’d escape the extreme temperatures and heavy Utah snows, but instead found a different kind of cold (humid), and re-discovered what it’s like to drive on fog and ice-laced country roads. “Oh my heck!” as my Mormon friends might say, but it was beautiful and sunny every day. Christmas Eve we drove to a nearby village to see a Christmas play–sort of a Sherlock Holmes spinoff of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol. Except for the long distances you have to drive to get to everywhere else, there’s something very appealing about small town living.

In reflecting on 2013, the Hubby, who’s usually just fine with whatever happens in the world, who’s so well-versed in rolling with the punches, remarked that he was happy to be done with it because of so many health issues for various members of the family–and to him as well if you count the re-injury he’s still suffering with the shoulder. This despite the surgery he underwent in the spring to repair it. I predict another surgery soon. In retrospect, turns out 2013 was especially expensive even though we decided to forgo foreign travel this year so we could invest in routine maintenance we would have done ourselves 30 years ago, plus another unplanned purchase–a new furnace!

And on top of that he still got itchy feel by summertime, and booked a tour to France. I live and learn though. I learned how spoiled we are in the U.S. because of our strict anti-smoking bans in public places. I have always been at the very least hyper-sensitive, if not downright allergic, to tobacco smoke. About three days into the trip I succumbed to the cigarette smoke all around in the open air with an upper respiratory infection that persisted for weeks after our return. Despite that, France was beautiful. I hope if (or when) I ever go back, they will have established at least a partial ban on smoking in public. The best things I found there were the cemeteries–I photographed painter Marc Chagall‘s grave in a lovely church yard on the mountainside commune of St. Thomas-en-Royans in southeastern France. After living in Las Vegas eight years, Monaco was pretty boring. I’m leery of most things that cater more to the rich than to the common man!

That brings me to 2014, and thinking mostly positive thoughts about what the year may bring. I’m taking a portrait drawing class this semester. Two days a week, and I was warned it will mean a lot of homework. I hope I’m up to it. When I was growing up, my second goal in life, after I got over my initial ambition of becoming a waitress (I was VERY young!), was to go to art school. I’d decided on Ringling College of Art & Design on Florida’s Gulf Coast. I’m pretty sure I never breathed this to a living soul. So whatever made be think I could draw then may no longer be there, plus I’m a little anxious about how the arthritis in my fingers may pose limits. Friday I’ll be consulting the ENT section of the University Hospital about a possible surgical procedure to improve my hearing. Previous ear surgeries have left me with little hearing in one ear–no eardrum–but tests show I have nearly perfect bone conduction. The new device will allow sound to be conducted through the bone to balance things a bit. I wouldn’t even tell about it except that it was such a jaw-dropping experience when they fitted me with a trial model to see how it would work. It was like moving from the back of a noisy class-room to the front row right next to the teacher’s desk. While I dread the surgical insertion, I look forward to no longer straining to hear.

So what else did I learn last year? I learned to listen to my own instincts more. They’re probably as good as anybody’s else when it’s about me and my health, and there are no guarantees in life, anyway. I listen to and read the experts, and then go to the gym and do what I feel good about doing, not what someone else thinks I ought to be doing. Three years now after the cancer treatments of 2010, and I go for days without thinking about it anymore. I get along very well and have energy to do all the things I really want to do, and the ability to admit it if I don’t want to. I’ve learned that food is not really my enemy, that I can eat things I ate while I was growing up even if those foods aren’t “cool” anymore. Sometimes I do cut back on the sugar and butter, I’m no longer as active after all, but I still believe in “everything in moderation.” My nod to embracing the new includes learning to “massage” and eat more kale, because mustard and collards just don’t taste the same without bacon drippings. I still hate and avoid beets, I don’t care what anyone says. And, I no longer feel guilty about the rarity of my inviting anyone outside family to dinner anymore. Here’s a perfect example why:

Hope everyone of you have a happy 2014, and find the peace of being just who you are with no apologies to anyone.  😀

 

Whatever your spiritual connection, here’s Hubby and me back to wish all of you the very best the holidays can offer. I know I’ve been negligent in posting since summer but I had a bad bout with arthritis in my hands, and instead of sitting at the computer so much, I decided to focus on finger exercises. (I hated them almost as bad as “real” exercise, but the hot/cold baths and hand waxings were great!) Things have improved some, and hopefully I’ll be back with more regularity in 2014 so I can exercise my brain as well. Things do fall apart the older you get, don’t they?

 

 

We’re in NYC cat/condo sitting for our daughter

We’re in NYC cat/condo sitting for our daughter who is vacationing in Paris. Today we spent the day settling in, food shopping, and planning our week. So far we’ve maneuvered the subway system successfully, thanks to Hubby who’s good at such things. Our friend from Pittsburgh will be joining us Wednesday so we took the subway to find the hotel she’ll be staying in, a couple stops away from us. Also got our bearings around Times Square at Broadway where we’ll be seeing Book of Mormon later in the week. It’ll be my first play on broadway. I’m trying to post this on our iPad and it stinks. I don’t like touch screens! More later, maybe.

on folklore and ouija boards

fox fire with text Growing up as I did, witnessing people talking in tongues in church as a child, it’s no wonder I’ve been equally fascinated by all kinds of folklore and other ghoulish things. I remember family story swapping sitting around Grandpa‘s living room on Sundays after church. Those days if children were seen but not heard, the clever child could find a way to hover on the sidelines and be privy to some interesting grownup talk.

There was an oft touted tale of the coffin of a young woman being opened, for whatever earthly reason I no longer remember. She had been buried with her long hair arranged in the chignon style of the day, but when the coffin lid was raised, a gripping view was exposed–hair hanging disheveled around the face, ensnared by the very hair comb that had secured the bun. Some swore her fingernails were also longer AND broken, and the silky material lining the lid was hanging in tatters. What a ghastly scene! Other times Grandma recounted her tale about seeing eerie green lights deep in woods surrounding the house when she was a young girl. As I grew older, I learned that the green lights were called “foxfire,” defined as a rare phenomenon of eerie green lights glowing in the woods on starless nights. In 1823 scientists finally explained how fungal growth on decayed wood emitted these phosphorescent episodes, not spirits of people gone on to meet their maker. In time I imagine she knew that the mystery had been solved, but I’m still a little disappointed, I think. It’s actually a little bit fun to have a bit of a fright, followed quickly, of course by a reasonable explanation.

The last time I remember having a serious case of the heebie jeebies was during a slumber party my daughters had in the 1980s in Ohio one weekend, with 5 or 6 girls attending.  They were playing with the Ouija board in the basement, one of my more idiotic shopping mistakes, in retrospect. I heard lots of giggling, and occasional squeals. It was getting late by this time, Hubby was out of town on business, and as I struggled to stay alert upstairs, I hoped they would soon tire themselves into slumber. Rather, all of a sudden they burst through the door at the top of the stairs screeching. It seems a spirit or demon had suddenly “taken over the Ouija board’s planchette (the pointer gadget). He was furiously spelling out threatening, frightfyk things that were going to happen. I tried to tell them that inanimate objects and games couldn’t hurt them but they weren’t having it!

The story that then emerged–as best I can remember–was that the demon was once a teenage boy who died in an accident when he was young. Now he was very angry at pretty much everybody alive, especially giggling and adolescents and teenage girls! At that point I was quite amused at the humor of it, but still needed to calm them down a bit. I suggested  we freeze the hell and damnation out of him by throwing the whole board in the freezer to cool him down.Youthful impatience led to frequent openings and closings of the freezer door, and the girls couldn’t resist another quick trip to the basement (presumable spirits prefer dim basements). Moments later, they were back upstairs. He was still there. I was still comfortable in my assumption that one of the girls was conscientiously (or not) maneuvering the pointer, having a great time at all the reactions. No one would admit to it, though, so I decided to witness a session myself. I went downstairs to watch the pointer sail lightly from letter to letter, again spelling out an apt-sounding ancient name. Whichever girl was key to the ruse was goooooood, I decided. I was very impressed!

Whether imagination or not, doubt crept in. What if it wasn’t a hoax? Each girl insisted she was innocent! It was close to, or past by that time, midnight. Clearly this demon was NOT going away. No amount of begging girls to go away was working. We’d tried the freezer, now we tried nuking him in the microwave. That didn’t work either.

All the warnings about Ouija boards being the passageway of all things occult came flooding back. “Messages revealed by a Ouija should only be on God’s hands,” “a tool of Satan best left alone!” “Paranormal or supernatural beings are responsible for Ouija’s action, therefore you are colluding with Satan if you use them!” 

At last we decided the only thing left to do with that evil board was to take it and break it across my knee and throw it into the garbage or the fireplace, I don’t remember which, but the idea was good riddance to bad rubbish. Then everyone went to bed–I hope. They must have had quite a time the next day telling their parents about the evil spirit they’d conjured up with the Ouija board. I don’t remember how many were allowed at our house after that.

Many eminent people have succumbed to the lure of the supernatural: Although he didn’t use it himself, Poet William Butler Yeats‘s later poetry was inspired by the Ouija board and other facets of the occult; G. K. Chesterton used a Ouija board in his teenage years. Around 1893 writer G. K. Chesterton  went through crises of skepticism and depression, grew fascinated with the occult and experimented with the Ouija board. Remember Alice Cooper? Early press releases stated that Vincent Furnier‘s stage and band name was agreed on after a session with a Ouija board (his real name was Vincent Furnier) during which it was revealed he was the reincarnation of a 17th-century witch with that name.

In case I haven’t convinced you that a Ouija board is pure evil, or let’s just say yours in an inquiring mind, here’s an online Ouija http://www.brainjar.com/dhtml/ouija/ for free, so now you don’t even have to pay homage to its original maker, those rich Parker Brothers. Have fun! And now that I’ve finished this silly little story about things that go bump in the night, Hubby and I are off to New York for more earthly adventures I hope to share with you from there.

new words in my vocabulary

I’ve only thought every day the past two weeks that this will be the day I get around to blogging; well, you can see where that got me if you check the calendar in the sidebar. (Oops! Can it really be I haven’t been here at all in June?) I have no idea where the time went. Oh yes, I do: yard work planning and the hard work it involved (Sergio and his helper really worked up a sweat for sure!); finally choosing a color for the painters to paint the three outside entry doors (I’m pretty sure my previous final choice, that hot pink color?, could result in a pink slip of a different sort from our community council (Hubby’s a member), so yes, Meridith, Regatta Blue #6517–final choice–). Believe me, I know that everyone should be lucky to have such troubles, but it’s important to keep your sense of humor in these trying times.

Another and probably more accurate reason for long absences from blogging–reading. Books are like movies–none excite me for long periods of time, then all of a suddenly there’s a new one catching my eye all at one time–and the library wants all of them back by a certain time. But it’s easy to excuse that excuse because I tell myself I’m always learning something new when I’m reading so it isn’t wasting time.

A journalist in a Tennessee writing group I belonged to encouraged our group to write a list of our favorite words and practice playing with them. Use them in our own writing. This reading session I’ve added lots of new words to my vocabulary. Until then, words were just words to me, but I did manage to add a few favorites to my list: flotsam, for instance, but it’s pretty hard to surpass that one, and even harder to work flotsam into an ordinary conversation or blog, so I’ve neglected the list for many years. But I’ve come across quite a few new ones in my latest readathon.

For instance, glossolalia. Has a ring to it, no? I attended a Pentecostal church when I was a child and so enjoyed going to the prayer room Wednesday and Sunday evenings to see people I knew well, often two or three at once, rolling around on the floor doing it. In case you never came across it either, glossolalia comes from the Greek word “glossa” (meaning “tongue” or “language”) and it’s simply speaking in tongues. Linguists explain that the otherwise unintelligible prattling sounds are made up of syllables formed from consonants and vowels taken from the speaker’s native language. I’d known these people all my life–admittedly only around 10 years at the time–and I knew not one of them would ever in a million years have dreamed of drinking or dancing in public or “showing off” in any form–yet they could glossolate with abandon, and some of them repeatedly. (Okay, I made that word up because I can’t think of a verb that suits it, can you?) It’s the reason I wanted to see watch this curious phenomenon over and over. The preacher explained it as “the holy spirit taking over,” but I wasn’t convinced. Not once did I ever see anything resembling a spirit in the room. So I think that word, glossolalia, will stick with me awhile–even though technically I haven’t “learned” it because it would be very difficult for me to ever use it in a conversation, even as a noun, but I’ve managed to write with it. That journalist must have been right!

I planned to add a couple of other strange new words, but if I do the post will be far too long, so I’ll plan to sit down another day and tell you what I’ve learned about witchery and black magic and the new words those conjure up. They definitely deserve a post of their own. ‘Til next time then . . .

 

learning more about “steering” the writing craft

In her book on writing, Steering The Craft, Ursula Le Guin says:

The chief duty of a narrative sentence is to lead to the next sentence. Beyond this basic, invisible job, the narrative sentence can do an infinite number of beautiful, surprising, powerful, audible, visible things. But the basic function of the narrative sentence is to keep the story going and keep the reader going with it.

If you aren’t interested in the craft of writing, then today’s post will definitely leave you disappointed. As for me, there’s no longer any pressure to publish after I decided I should only write for myself because I like doing it (most of the time). It’s become a fun but  sometimes challenging hobby and I’d like to think I’m in the driver’s seat and steering the best I can. I’ve just come from a meeting with my some of my writing friends who enjoy working together, though I must admit sometimes it feels more like an afternoon party since we have too much fun to call what we’re doing “work.” Once again I’m all revved up with new vigor to keep on trying sharpen my own writing skills.

The advantage of assigned writing exercises, which our group decided to do using Ms. Le Guin’s book, is that I’m constantly being challenged to try different writing techniques that I probably would never have tried on my own. I confess that for some of them, I groaned inwardly–at first. My thinking was that it would be too easy, or I’d already tried something like that. But each time I’d buckle down whether I thought I’d like it or not. Some of the work it produced turned out better than others. But I always learned something. Overall, I’m left feeling pretty psyched. Especially when/if I get a positive reaction from others in the group when I read. It’s also interesting to see the many different approaches there are within the group using with the same instructions.

Today’s exercise, in two parts, was coined the SHORT and LONG of it. It involved writing a paragraph or narrative of ~100-150 words in sentences limited to seven words–no sentence fragments–each with a subject and verb. Here’s a paragraph I constructed from a longer story I wrote long ago. To set it up, you should know the protagonist is J.J. McMahon, a 50-something grandmother who’s car-napped in her Honda (named Fenry) waiting at a traffic light. She’s just dropped her grandson off at nursery school and is sitting there contemplating how she really ought to have gone to the bathroom at the school, while there are valid reasons why she didn’t, and she’s praying she can make it in time to the bathroom in her office in.

I’m in the restroom at last! Relief is just a button and zipper away. Thank God for McDonald’s on Kingston Pike. But I am I shaking so. Not a single other person here today. I decide I’ll write on the mirror. Please help me! I’ve been kidnapped! My kidnapper’s that teenager with angel eyes. I poke around my purse for a lipstick. Nothing that marks is in my purse. I hear a voice through the door. “Are you all right, Mother?” It’s him! I can’t believe it. Disconcerted, my body stiffens and shifts. The toilet flushes. Damn those automatic flushers anyway! What nerve this kid has. Does he really have a gun? He’s invading the women’s room  after me! I hear him explaining. “She wasn’t feeling well. I was worried.” The woman behind him smiles. I know what she’s thinking. “What a wonderful son.” No, oh no, my mind screams. He’s NOT my son, he’s my kidnapper!” Too soon we’re back on Kingston Pike. I grip Fenry’s steering wheel tightly. I-40 is so close. “So where are we going,” I ask. “Do I keep driving?” “East,” he says. Take I-40, then north on 75.

In Part two, we were to presented a half-page to a page of narrative, up to ~350 words, all written in one sentence. I hoped this narrative serves sufficiently–as Flash Fiction perhaps–so as not to need no set-up for the reader to interpret or understand the plot.

They tricked her into going to the funeral so it’s no wonder the first thing she notices is the tiny rip in the netting draped over Meemaw’s face in the coffin and I am reminded how we always planned to go back fishing for minnows one day, and all of a sudden I feel my stomach pitch; my heart swells up like it will bust out of my body when the McFadden sisters who sing at all the funerals around here stand around the pulpit in their hats and high heels to sing sadly about gathering at the river where angels’ feet have trod, all while Reverend Martin’s weepy voice rises to a deafening pitch in order to be heard over the singing and the drone of the electric fan and the muffled sounds of sobbing, and I’m trying so hard not to cry myself that I’m not sure if I actually saw but I’m pretty sure I did see a soft fluttering of Meemaw’s pale eyelids and then her blinking like she has just spent a long night in somebody else’s bed and can’t at first recognize where she is, that I almost miss the miracle him–the preacher–and all the brethren have talked about so many times before at so many other funerals: verily I say unto you, the hour is coming…and now is…when he that heareth my word and believeth in Him that sent me…have everlasting life…and shall not come into condemnation…but is passed from death into life,” and just like that, and that quick, Meemaw rises, turns to look right at me and it’s like nobody else can see or hear her but me, but I hear as plain as day, “come on baby Junebug, while these people sit here crying and blubbering, let’s you and me go fishing for minnows, and in a flash she’s gone and quick as lightning I run and grab the white netting that separated her from me and then I follow her out of the side door of the dark church as quick as I can into the waiting sunshine.

For critiquing, and I’m inviting any reader to do so if so inclined, it is important–to me–that the short or long sentences fit the story being told. That’s the criteria of assignments like these. In spite of breaking all the rules of grammar, does it still work? Do the short sentences in Part one read naturally? Would it hold a reader’s attention? Is the language of the longer piece (Part two) clear enough so the reader doesn’t get lost or have to go back and start over for clarification.

If you like to write, either seriously or as a hobby like me, and you also author a blog, I hope you’ll let me know, or better yet, give me a link and I’ll try to come ’round to see what you’ve done.