Sandy HookIn memory of the innocents who lost their lives in last year’s Newtown, CT shooting, I am reposting my blog response. I wish so much that I could say we were on the path to recovery and change, but with yesterday’s shooting right here in Colorado at Arapahoe High School, I am afraid that is not possible. Our government – of ALL political stripes – continues to fail our children. We need, not only stronger gun control laws, but also more recognition of, compassion for, and the ability to provide intervention to those suffering from mental illness.

Although this post was written with an audience of children’s authors in mind, let us all think about how we can be Guardians of Childhood.

Guardians of Childhood  — first posted December 15, 2012

I, like countless other people across America and the world over, am heartbroken for the children and school officials who lost their lives in Newtown, CT yesterday. My own son is 6 years old and in first grade. The same age as the 20 children who died at the hands of a mentally disturbed young man who brought guns into their school. I’m faced with the chilling knowledge that the only thing that separates my children from those who perished yesterday is that the disturbed person with the guns chose a different school, a different town. It’s enough to make a mother go mad with rage and worry and anguish.

One of the most common phrases I’ve seen the wake of yesterday’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut is, “there are no words.” A very understandable sentiment, but one with which I must agree to disagree.

Do you know what one of the brave teachers in Newtown, CT did to comfort her class while gunshots rang across the school? She read them stories.

There are words and, now more than ever, we need to use them.

Last weekend, I took my kids to see the movie, Rise of Guardians, which was spectacular and a part of the Guardians of Childhood series as imagined by author/illustrator William Joyce. As I reflected on yesterday’s events, the movie (and the books) came to mind and I had an epiphany. Children’s writers everywhere, hear this: We are the guardians of childhood. I hope Mr. Joyce won’t take issue with me saying this, since he himself is a Guardian of the highest order.

We who write for children are the ones who, with our words and our stories, provide children with hope, happiness, and empathy. When children face fear and hardship with us, it is cushioned by the covers of our books. We show children the world as beautiful and forgiving and glorious, even as it is sometimes cruel and treacherous. Each time a child sees him or herself in the pages of one of our books, we’ve touched the universal human spirit that lives inside of that child, and in all of us.

As Guardians, we do not undermine children’s intelligence or their comprehension of the shortcomings of this world. Rather, we show them they are not alone, and that no matter how isolated they may feel, there are always others who understand. We give them reasons to believe in the wonder and beauty of the world, and that the force of love is always greater than the force of evil (which I still hold true).

As a Guardian of my own children and to all children, this is my pledge.

  1. Children have the right to remain innocent, and that innocence should not be stripped from them prematurely, but rather as a natural function of growing up and becoming adults.
  2. Stories have the power to entertain, teach, challenge, and inform children. Most of all, they should enable them to feel empathy toward and connection to others. In so doing, they will see that they are not alone in this world and that they have an important contribution to make.
  3. We will never ban or restrict children’s access to books in a feeble attempt to shield them from world views or events that we cannot protect them from in real life.
  4. Our stories will give children refuge when they feel isolated, a safe haven when they need escape, and hope when they might otherwise feel it is lost. Just as critically, our stories will make them laugh, smile and revel in happiness.
  5. While we recognize that terrible things can and do happen, we Guardians believe in the overall goodness of the world, and especially of children. The world is good. People are good. Children are good.
  6. The most important part of our job is to keep the spark of hope and love alive in children’s hearts. We stoke the fire with our stories, our words, and our belief in them. We will not let our words fail children in their time of greatest need.

I dedicate this post to the families of those lost in the CT tragedy. I vow to do my part to bring as much good into the world as I can, especially with the stories I write for those whose hearts are the purest among us.

Categories: Childhood, Children's Books, Family, Picture Books · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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INCREDIBLE results!

INCREDIBLE results!

With just 24 hours left in the Kickstarter campaign for my book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, what I want to say most of all is THANK YOU! Many of you pledged, shared the news, hosted me on your blogs or supported me in other ways. ALL of you endured many messages from me about the campaign over the past 30 days and are still here. That constitutes support too. 🙂

We have the money we need to publish the book AND do two free school visits post-publication. Those results are so thrilling and so incredible, that I decided NOT to make a final appeal for backers in today’s post, but rather share what the campaign has meant to me.

  1. It’s given me the opportunity to publish a book that honors my family and my childhood. I hope it will provide a way for other families to do the same across generations.
  2. It’s made this holiday season, my favorite time of year, even more magical than most.
  3. It has reminded me of everything I love about being a children’s writer, INCLUDING the tough stuff like promotion.
  4. The love, encouragement and support I’ve received from so many people has been a huge emotional boon. Difficult to express, but most definitely sincere.
  5. I get to work with an illustrator, Susan Eaddy, whose work amazes me AND make one of my kids’ dreams — to have her illustrate one of my books — a reality.
  6. I get to revel in the knowledge that Little Bahalia Publishing has enough faith in me to invest time and energy into another one of my books.
  7. I have pushed myself into places that have been scarier and darker than most others with this project, and I am stronger and more confident as a result.
  8. I get to use my knowledge to teach and assist other writers who may embark upon this journey after me, which is always one of my goals.

It’s been a wild and wonderful ride. Thanks for riding shotgun!

Categories: Childhood, Children's Books, Crowdfunding, Family, Friendship, Picture Books, Publishing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Cover for bookI am always inspired by people like Gaye Hemsley — today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author — who combine their passions to live the fullest life possible. Frankly, as somebody who can’t dance, sing, draw or seemingly do anything else that’s creative besides writing, I’m in awe of people like Gaye who do so many. On her website, Gaye says she needs to live to be 100 because she has so much to do. I believe her, and I love that spirit! I am also very grateful to finally know where the phrase “stark naked” came from. 🙂 Please welcome Gaye!

Follow your passions.             

My first published articles were in the ‘Pixies Pages’ of the Woman’s Weekly in the 1940’s. I enjoyed sending in little poems and tongue twisters. One advantage of being an only child was my having to invent friends and create my own games. When teachers gave us a choice of subjects to write about I would usually pick the likes of ‘The journey of a penny.’ To me that was much more fun than ‘Gold mining in New Zealand.’ Unfortunately my poor spelling always let me down. Teachers told me they took marks off an otherwise good story. With age and the help of thesaurus it has improved.

My English grandmother, who lived with us, kept my imagination alive with wonderful stories of her life in England, her voyage to New Zealand and her marriage to my Norwegian grandfather. When I was ten years old my mother, who was a ballroom dancing teacher, took me to see the visiting English Ballet Company’s presentation of ‘Giselle.’ Well that was it!  Ballet lessons started the following week. I adored my teacher who was one of the dancers who performed at the Civic Winter- Gardens for the American troops who were on furlough in my home city, Auckland.  One of the other dancers in her troupe was ‘Freda Stark’ who danced a provocative fan dance finishing baring a beautiful body completely covered with gold paint. In case you don’t know, that’s where the Kiwi saying came from ‘Stark Naked.’

When I was fifteen I started teaching. Writing came back into my life some years later when I commenced writing little poems and setting them to music. My preschoolers enjoyed dancing and acting out the stories. A friend suggested I find an artist and have them made into little books. Since then I have self published many more. To give me more guide lines with my writing I signed up for a correspondence course on ‘Writing for Children.’ It took me twelve months to complete and graduate.

Like many writers out there I suffer from TMIS syndrome. ‘What’s that’ some of you ask. It stands for ‘too many ideas syndrome’ which can be just as much a dilemma as BPS (blank page syndrome.)

How many of you wake in the night with little gremlin ideas buzzing around in your head. Well don’t get up, have a pen and paper next to your bed; jot your ideas down. Don’t turn on the light, that will tell your brain it’s time to get up and you’ll never go back to sleep. Put your ideas in a folder, computer or drawer. When your creative juices are running freely, open your folder and write! It’s amazing how many times you twist and glide phrases and words around. In no time your words are ready to dance.

Social contact with other writers, whether on line groups like 12×12 or local  groups is very beneficial. Stay true to yourself, take advice and do remember it’s your story.  

Competitions and deadlines are essential for writers starting their journey. It’s a real boost to your confidence when you manage to get in the top three or even short listed. 

Over the years I’ve sent manuscripts away to publishers and waited, sometimes I may get an nice refusal, but many times no reply. 

So, I self publish my own books under the name of DanceWrite Promotions.’

I’m lucky to have a platform for my little action stories. I do have my books listed on my web page and social networks but find not many sales eventuate. It’s an advantage to get out there by visiting kindergartens, craft markets, etc.

For me I find teaching dance and writing is a happy combination. Doing dance choreography is not unlike planning a story that is; an interesting beginning, exciting middle and satisfactory ending.

May the dance never end and the story never finish.                        

A lifetime of working with children as a dance teacher has motivated ‘Nana Gaye’ into writing picture books, organizing children’s events and private parties. Many of her little books have been the theme for dance shows she has presented.

Her life has been surrounded by children, her own, her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and hundreds of dance pupils. With all the experience she has had with working with children her next project is a book full of original ideas for holding a ‘Fabulous Fun Party.’ She’s passionate about passing on her love of dance and writing. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Christina-Productions/115056665208409

www.christinaproductions.co.nz    

 

http://www.fanstory.com/gaye_hemsley

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Publishing, Self Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I’m delighted to feature ONE of our favorite books by author Jean Reidy, also this month’s 12 x 12 featured author, for today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday.. It was difficult to select just one because we love all of her books, but here is today’s choice!

Jean Reidy Light up the night

Light Up the Night

Written by Jean Reidy, Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Hyperion Book CH, October 2011

Suitable for: Ages 4-8

Themes/Topics: Nighttime rituals, Cumulative Story, Bedtime, Space, Geography, Family, Home

Opening/Synopsis: From Amazon:
When it’s time to sleep, it’s nice to know there’s a place that’s safe.  In a cozy house, in a comfy bed, under a blanket that’s white and red under stars so bright they light up the night in your own little piece of the universe.

Activities:

Jean has a whole series of fantastic activities for Light Up the Night on her website, including a curriculum guide for teachers. My kids also enjoy ending the story with their own town, home, special toy.

Why I Like This Book: 

This book is brilliant in bringing a fairly complex subject – of going from the huge expanse of the universe right down to your own home, own room, own bed, own blanket – down to a child’s size. The book is not “message-y” at all, yet subtly communicates that we are all connected in this big, wide world, and that we all belong. The rhyming verse is impeccable and very soothing for bedtime. We all enjoy reading it over and over and over.

For more fantastic picture books and resources please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Family, Perfect Picture Book Friday, Picture Books, Rhyming · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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I adore this picture of dad and Em

My dad’s birthday is tomorrow, and it’s become a bit of a tradition for me to honor his memory with a blog post. I wrote one last year and the year before that. This year I decided to dedicate a Gratitude Sunday post to him, so this week’s list includes 10 reasons why I am grateful to him, although of course there are many more than ten.

Quotes on Gratitude

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” — Kahlil Gibran

“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.” — Unknown

The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” — Thornton Wilder

Gratitude list for my father

  1. I am grateful that, long before any man would come into life, he made me understand what it felt like to be cherished.
  2. I am grateful he taught me how to make turkey gravy his way.
  3. I am grateful he got to meet both of my children.

    And this one with my stepmother Nancy and Jay

  4. I am grateful he provided me with a college education, and although it was difficult at times, I’m grateful that he pushed me to perform at my highest level in everything I did.
  5. I am grateful that he taught me the rules of football so I could be a true Wolverine.
  6. I am grateful for his dedication to family traditions, many of which I have passed on to my own children.
  7. Living with a lawyer in the family is not always easy, but I know it sharpened my wits, helped me learn to defend myself in a conflict, to learn the art of preparation, and to think logically when necessary. For these skills, I am grateful.
  8. I am grateful that when our neighbor Mr. Peterson threatened to force us to put our dog to sleep, my dad, in no uncertain terms, made it clear we would not and that furthermore, the subject was never to be raised again. (Again that lawyer thing)
  9. I am grateful he taught me to appreciate the small, but infinite and miraculous moments in nature that happen all around us all the time.
  10. I am grateful for his warped, sometimes twisted, and entirely unique sense of humor. Fred Foster stories are legendary among all who knew him, and it helps to have so many memories that make me laugh.
What are you grateful for this week?

 

Categories: Birthdays, Childhood, College Football, Dogs, Family, Gratitude Sunday · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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Despite having grown up only 60 miles as the crow flies from Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw), I have never seen the cult-classic movie Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, that was filmed there in the eighties.  However, the feeling of having stepped “somewhere” back in time is precisely what you get when you step off the ferry.  Perhaps it’s to do with the clip-clopping of horses hooves on pavement as they pull their carriages, the occasional cannon fire from Fort Mackinac, all the bicycles with their chrome fenders and wide handlebars with baskets in front, or the sight of Victorian hotels and summer homes sprinkled along bluffs.  Mostly I think it’s simply the sense of time slowing down and the complete lack of rush.  This setting would be ridiculous if it were contrived, but Mackinac Island comes by its character honestly, steeped in history that long predates the Revolutionary War.

View from the Arnold Line ferry dock

Mackinac Island, for the uninitiated, is located in the Straights of Mackinac between the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan on the Lake Huron side.  Motor vehicles are prohibited on the island and have been since 1898.  Methods of transportation include bicycles, horseback or horse-drawn carriage, or your own two feet.

I visited Mackinac many times growing up, but almost always as a day trip.  In fact, the only time I spent the night was after partying with some friends who were working there for the summer (but that’s another story).  I have only fond memories of visiting the island: as a child with my parents, riding in a horse-drawn carriage for the first time, on my eighth grade class trip, with my first boyfriend in high school, with friends at the aforementioned party, with Phil when we were still dating, and then finally, last week with Phil and the kids.  I always knew I would take my kids to Mackinac one day.  As a girl, I dreamed about seeing it for the first time through their eyes, and once again, Mackinac Island did not disappoint me.

Part of the Grand Hotel porch, taken from the lawn

Soon after arriving at the docks, Phil and I bought the kids an ice cream cone and waited for a “taxi” (carriage) to take us to the Grand Hotel, where we would be spending the night.  I’m sure I was more excited than the rest of the family put together.  Staying at the Grand Hotel had been on my Bucket List since I first laid eyes on it as a child.  The childhood longing I had to wander the halls, dine in the Grand style and take a dip in the Esther Williams swimming pool was no doubt magnified by the fact that, when I was a kid, non-guests were only allowed on the porch of the hotel.  Now you can pay an entrance fee to tour the lobby, parlor and gardens (not including the pool), but back then – oh to stare down at that pool on a hot day from so far up.  It was torture!

Our room

Finally, I got to walk through the doors and go deep into the hotel, which is literally a feast for the eyes.  John Singer Sargent portraits hang cheek by jowl with historical photos and newspaper clippings detailing the visits of the Grand’s many famous guests.  Dozens of crystal chandeliers hang above plush green carpet adorned with geraniums in the famous parlor, while every window provides a sweeping view of Lake Huron.  The long white porch is lined with glowing red geraniums and American flags and is furnished with dozens of white rockers perfect for taking in the view.  Look down and you see the impeccable lawn and gardens, and yes, the jewel of a pool that tempts (taunts?) with its serpentine shape.  Every room in the hotel is unique.  Ours was decorated like a old-fashioned peppermint candy and had a magnificent carriage-style balcony overlooking a bluff and Lake Huron beyond.  So far so good.

Things unraveled a little that evening, however.  Part of the “Grand” experience is dressing for dinner (our dinner photo is here), which Em had been looking forward to for weeks.  Coat and tie for men and dresses or suits for women are required.  We rarely dress up, living in “casual country” out West, so it seems almost quaint when we do.  We had high hopes.

The Grand Hotel operates on an “all-inclusive” program.  Your room and three meals are included in the price, no gratuities permitted.  The end result of this system is a cruise ship atmosphere.  “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” to quote Jerry Seinfeld.  That is, if a cruise ship experience is what you’re looking for.  The cavernous dining room, while gorgeous, holds hundreds of people and turns over at least twice each evening, which leads to service that is abrupt, impersonal and rushed.  You do not get the sense that is okay to linger over your meal, nor do you want to since the setting is anything but intimate.  The meal itself was pretty decent considering how many people they feed, but the overall experience left us a little flat.  And by “us” I really mean Phil and me.  The kids were oblivious.  We got similar clipped service from the porters and front desk staff or basically anyone of whom we asked a question.

With kids on the Grand Hotel porch

So, would I stay at the Grand again?  No.  It’s definitely one of those things you do once for the experience.  Am I glad I finally did?  Absolutely!  I still had that childhood sense of privilege to be a bona fide guest, and there is no denying that it is one of the most beautiful hotel properties anywhere.

The real treat came the next day when we rode with the kids on tandem bikes around the island (although the irony of denying them a swim in the pool did not escape me).  Did I mention the spectacular weather we had?  In fact, it was probably the best day in the history of best days on Mackinac.  A cloudless sky draped over jeweled water so blue you’d think you were in the Caribbean.  (Or you’d think that until you put your feet in the water and realized that the Great Lakes are a long, LONG way from the Caribbean Sea).  Warm enough to take a dip in the cool clear waters and emerge with feeling still remaining in your limbs.  We armed ourselves with a picnic that included lots of famous Mackinac Island fudge and made many stops along the way to enjoy the water and the scenery.

Face first into Lake Huron

At one point, full of gratitude to bursting, I sang Bicycle Built for Two to Em as we pedaled together.  The lyrics fit the day and the mood perfectly:

Daisy, Daisy,
Give me your answer do!
I’m half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.

In fact, I think this picture of Jay captures the Mackinac trip perfectly:

As our ferry pulled back from the dock that day, Em sighed and said, “Someday I’m going to have a house here.”

I know the feeling.

The magic of Mackinac lives on, and I am grateful that I had the chance to share it with my children.

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One of my best friends (call her Abby) is a high school teacher.  Not an easy job.  Abby is the mother of two tween girls.  Also not an easy job.  Whenever we talk or get together, I’m like a sponge trying to soak up as much of her wisdom as possible.  She is a terrific mother and a wonderful person – two things I, too, strive to be.  Although she is facing new challenges these days as her girls grow up, a story she told me recently gave me hope for our youth.

Abby had a difficult student in one of her classes last year (call her Brenna).  Brenna had a terrible attitude, never studied, never did her homework, didn’t pay attention in class and was openly hostile toward Abby.  Despite repeated attempts on Abby’s part to work with Brenna to improve her grade, Brenna did not put in her time and got an “F” in the class.

Months later, Abby’s eleven year-old daughter (call her Jamie) became a member of the sixth grade soccer team.  In order to inspire the girls, Jamie’s coach scheduled a weekend clinic with the high school girls’ soccer team.  Guess who was on that team?  Right — Brenna.  So here’s this group of eleven and sixteen year-old girls introducing themselves and after Jamie said her name, Brenna gives her the evil eye and said, “Oh, so you’re Mrs. X’s daughter.  You know, your (not nice word) mother failed me.”

Wherein this spitfire of an eleven year-old looks Brenna square in the face and responds, “My mother didn’t fail you.  You failed yourself.”

Imagine an eleven year-old girl, not only having the courage to stand up to a high schooler in a crowd of people, but also saying something so true and so wise.  Now you can see why I hope some of her mothering skills rub off on me.

It is easy to be discouraged with the “state” of kids today being brought up as they are in what seems like an age of entitlement, finger-pointing and passing the buck.  This story makes me think maybe the pendulum is starting to swing back the other way.  The best gift we can give our children is to teach them to be independent, responsible, self-disciplined, self-motivated and to hold themselves accountable for their actions.  Then we give them the chance to grow up and raise children in their image.  Our job is to provide ample love and guidance along the way.

I had a taste of this the other day when I complimented Em on bringing home an excellent report card.  I asked her, “Who are you doing this for?”

In response, she shouted, “Me!”

That is the right answer.  For as much as I don’t want to fail her, I especially don’t want her to fail herself.

Categories: Childhood, Family, Friendship, Parenting · Tags: , , ,

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12. January 2010 · Comments Off on Slumber Parties

Well, Em’s Michael Jackson birthday party was a huge hit.  Now we begin preparation for Birthday Weekend #2, where four little girls (plus Em) spend the night at our house.  My mom is finally going to get payback for all the times she pounded into the living room during my slumber parties at 4:00 a.m. and threatened us with our lives if we didn’t go to sleep NOW!

I’d say from about 4th – 7th grade,  I celebrated my birthday each year by inviting about 14 of my closest friends for a slumber party.  We stretched our sleeping bags in two rows facing each other and gossiped, told ghost stories and jokes, confessed our crushes and played silly games until the very wee hours.  My friends did the same for their birthdays.  They were always held on Fridays, and you could practically taste the anticipation during the school day.  We’d all pile into the hostess’ bus, sleeping bags in tow, and immediately start belting out “99 bottles of beer on the wall.”

We always got to eat pizza, rent movies and play video games, three activities that occurred far less often than they do today.  For some reason, we usually started by playing Spoons.  In the version we played, the loser had to eat some wretched concoction put together by the person who took the first spoon – soy sauce, Tabasco, mayonnaise and onion powder mixed together anyone?  When night fell, the games got creepier, like Ouija board or “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.”   Next there would be a round of confessionals of who had a crush on whom and maybe even ordering a pizza for delivery to one of the crushees.  In the adolescent years, we got more daring and sometimes called the boys themselves, passing the phone around from one to another to see who he talked to the longest.  We played endless rounds of Truth or Dare.  I once went to a summer slumber party where we slept in a tent in the backyard (smart mom!) and one of my friends made good on a dare to run around the tent naked three times.  Ah, the glory days!

My brother always had to spend the night at a friend’s house when I had my slumber parties.  I suppose my mom was afraid he’d pull some kind of Brady Bunch itching powder prank.  I am continuing that tradition by having Jay sleep over at my mom’s on the big night.  There’s just no room for testosterone with all that estrogen floating around.  In fact, I don’t even think my dad was ever around during my slumber parties.  He probably scheduled an overnight business trip or slept in his office or something.  Anything to avoid the mayhem of a house full of girls!

Now Em is about to embark on this girlhood rite of passage.  In the meantime, I’m already carving out time on Saturday for a nice long nap!  “Slumber” party being a misnomer, you see, since nobody really sleeps!

Categories: Birthdays, Childhood, Family · Tags: , , , ,

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23. December 2009 · Comments Off on White Christmas

We got a few inches of snow last night, and it’s still coming down, just in time for a White Christmas!  It’s funny how even here in Colorado, everyone gets so excited once they know for sure there will be fresh snow in time for Christmas.

Christmas Eve one year - photo taken by my Grandfather looking through our front window out to the deck.

Growing up in Northern Michigan, worrying about whether or not we’d have a white Christmas would be laughable.  After all, we had white Thanksgivings most years.  Old Man Winter held us in his firm grasp by the end of December.  By the end of January it was a choke-hold.  We got the kind of blizzards in Michigan that required you to keep up with your shoveling and snowblowing or else you’d wake up to find your front door frozen shut and barricaded by a waist-deep snowbank.  Seriously.  Fail to shovel every couple of hours and you could be stuck in the house, not able to do anything but scratch the walls and windows with your fingernails until April.

Em loves my stories about those winters, especially the one where my brother and I and our friends would climb up the snowbanks to the roof of the house and jump off!  When we landed, our feet didn’t even reach solid ground.  Our mothers told us to be careful of the icicles, and they meant it!  Those suckers, the diameter of baseball bats, hung from the eaves of the roof almost to the ground.  One of those ice-swords could easily spear a small dog or toddler unlucky enough to be beneath it when it cracked loose.

Perhaps the best way to describe those Michigan winters/snowstorms of the 70s and 80s is this: remember the great blizzard in the Burt Ives-narrated version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  The one that threatened to cancel Christmas?  The snow is howling and swirling all around and Sam the Snowman (aka Ives) tries to shield his face with his flimsy umbrella?  That’s what it was like.  Truly.

Categories: Childhood, Family, Holidays, Winter · Tags: , , ,

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With only three days to go until Christmas, I got to reminiscing about my own childhood Christmases and how many traditions I’ve passed on to my children.  With Em at age 6 and Jay at age 3, I feel like I’m getting a chance to relive the wonder of Christmas as a child again.   One thing that is true for my kids as it was for me, is that every year they get one “Big” gift – something that they really, really want.  The “Big Gift” always comes from Santa.  The one gift that really makes the day.  Here are a few of my own “Big Gifts,” as well as the “Big People” that were so integral to making Christmas such pure magic.

We begin with me, probably two years old, holding Henry – the first Christmas present I remember.  I don’t remember opening Henry that Christmas, but because I kept him until I graduated from high school and he remained a favorite, I count him as my “earliest” Christmas present.

Here is my brother that same year, getting all decked out in his new cowboy suit.  I’m obviously thinking, “It’s, like, a cowboy or Lone Ranger suit – whatever… boooring.  Are there any more pretzel rods?” 

And here is my dainty, elegant and sophisticated Grandmother looking ravishing despite the mustard yellow pleather footstool at her feet and the Pabst Blue Ribbon, still in the can, on the table beside her (I can guarantee it wasn’t hers!).  She really “pops” next to the gold carpet and wood paneling doesn’t she?

When I was five or six, I was thrilled to receive this set of wooden blocks.

But it was yet a few years later when we had the very BEST Christmas EVER because something totally unexpected happened.  We were all lounging by the fire after the frenzy of unwrapping presents on Christmas morning.  I was playing with one of my new stuffed animals in my lime green beanbag, and I thought life couldn’t get any better.  Then Penny, our babysitter from down the street, knocked on our door.  She held the cutest puppy known to mankind in her arms, saying he was a stray and she needed to find a home for him.  We already had two dogs.  My dad said, “No WAY are we getting another dog.”

Penny ignored my father and put the puppy right into my mother’s arms.  He put one paw on each of her shoulders as if he were hugging her.  She looked at my dad and said, “Oh, we’re keeping him!”  That was the day we adopted the lord of all dogs – Charley.  Here is my dad with him later that evening: 

Here he is again – just so precious!  For kid, getting a puppy for Christmas is a miracle.  That dog brought more joy into my life than I could ever express.  I still miss him.

I think it was that same year that I got a “life-size” doll that I really wanted.  I named her Amy, and I looooved her!  The only problem was that shortly after I got her, I decided to give her a (real) bath.  Since she was both plastic and hollow, the water quickly seeped into her “joints.”  From then on, the water always sloshed around in her legs when I played with her, which made her seem a little less life-like.

P.S. Aren’t you loving my Dorothy Hamill ‘do here??

Would you like a saw with your bourbon?By now you’ve probably figured out that my Grandparents visited us for Christmas every year.  My Grandpa was dapper and distinguished, but also a huge practical joker and all-around silly guy.  We gave him a bottle of Jack Daniels for Christmas every single year.  He feigned shock and surprise when he opened the booze-shaped box, and we have many pictures of him with those bottles.  This one caught my eye because of the saw.  I can’t remember what that was all about, but as you can see from the next picture of him in his same perch with a bunch of my stuffed animals, he was always more than willing to strike poses for the camera.

From here we enter into my “crafty” phase, which thankfully for everyone involved didn’t last very long.  I completed this Snoopy Latch Hook, which hung on my wall (I am embarrassed to admit) until I left home.  (I have nothing to say about those glasses, by the way.)

Unfortunately, I also started making gifts for others.  My sweet, glamorous Grandmother with her platinum taste proudly displayed this pillow I made out of two wash cloths and some yarn on her (fancy) living room couch until the day she died.

Last, but certainly not least, I made this “poodle” for my mother by tying balls of yarn onto a wire coat hanger forged into the shape of a dog (or so I thought).  Whoever took this picture had obviously consumed a few Christmas cocktails since my mom’s head is cut clear off.  Either that, or the photographer simply wanted to focus solely on the majesty of my art.

Before too long I reached young adulthood, and mercifully acquired some contact lenses along the way.  These Roffe ski pants are the last present I really remember begging for as my “Big” gift.  They matched my ski jacket, you see.  Hellooooo nineteen eighties!  That year, I left little notes everywhere as “hints” for my mother.  I left them in the silverware drawer, on the milk carton, stuck to her bookmark.  You get the idea.  Luckily, she came through.  She always did.

On that note, no post about Christmas would be complete without a shout-out to my lovely mother, who worked so hard to make these memories for us.  Now that I have kids, I understand and appreciate so much more how hard she worked to make Christmas special.  Here is her beautiful smiling face, circa ???  She may be a few years older now, but her smile is just the same.  Merry Christmas!

Categories: Childhood, Family, Holidays · Tags: , ,

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