December 10 – Giving in Paradise (California)

By B. Lynn Goodwin

Volunteers matter—especially when emergencies come up. At the Butte County Fairgrounds in November my husband and I found a mixture of hope and despair, of gratitude and anguish.

We couldn’t get near “Paradise Lost,” as reporters dubbed the Northern California town ravaged by fire, so we went to the tent cities at the Butte County Fairgrounds and the parking lot next to Walmart.  We found unparalleled need along with volunteers helping those who’d lost everything but their lives.

My husband and I took a huge stack of $50 gift cards donated by people in our church.  We followed the suggestion of a church guest, who returned to Paradise on weekends. He was there with his wife, who barely made it out ahead of the flames. They’d lost their home but had each other. He said, “Take gift cards and give them directly to the people.” My husband loved the idea.

What would you take with you if you had three minutes to escape the flames racing down the hill towards your home? Cash or pictures? A wallet or clothes? Your bankcard or your child’s favorite toy?

What if you never bought insurance because you couldn’t afford it and now you had no cash for socks or a tank of gas?

Admittedly a $50 gift card doesn’t go very far, but you wouldn’t know that from the reactions of displaced people who never dreamed of strangers handing them a gift card outside their tent. I will remember the shock and amazement on their faces forever.

All we did was offer enough to fill a gas tank or buy a family dinner or “buy my wife a pair of pants so she can get out of her pajamas,” as one man said. Even though we’ll never see those people again, some will remember they were “visited by an angel” as a middle-aged woman told us while picking up her child’s toys.

What a pleasure to see all the volunteers working directly with those displaced. Whether they were delivering the take-out donated by local restaurants, supplying hygiene products, or simply listening to those with a missing relative, they were providing a much-needed service. How the problem happened doesn’t matter. Finding a solution does. We all went there to be a part of the solution.

The people in our church rock. Their generous donations gave us a chance to play Santa and Mrs. Claus early. With so much controversy over human behavior and ethics in this country, it felt good to remember that giving makes everyone a little richer. It’s the original win-win.

B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advicewww.writeradvice.com. She’s written Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 (memoir), Talent (YA) and You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (self-help). Never Too Late and Talent are multiple award-winners. Shorter works have appeared in Hip Mama, The Sun, Dramatics Magazine, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com, and Flashquake. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network. She lives east of Berkeley and west of the San Joaquin Valley with her husband and their highly intelligent terrier.

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December 3 – Claus Creativity

by Kali’ Rourke

I begin with the fact that I am a Christian, attend church, and yes, I know the reason for the season.

That said, my husband and I decided to make Santa Claus the spirit of generosity in our house and to make it FUN! As the girls grew old enough to appreciate it, there was always a special last present from “Santa Claus,” and it was often the most desired gift on their list.

But that was not the good part, believe it or not! 

Each year Santa was left a cookie or two, a glass of milk, and perhaps a little treat for his reindeer by our daughters. He always responded with bites and sips taken from all and with a lovely, handwritten thank you note to them.

The delight on their faces each Christmas morning as they discovered the evidence of Santa’s visit will live in our hearts forever. One year there were ashy footprints from the fireplace to the dining room. Another year, reindeer prints and reindeer poop (oatmeal mixed with chocolate powder and glitter) joined the mix. (Note: Do NOT do this on the carpet!)

As they added their precious gerbils to our family, Gabrielle and Xena had to join the party and those clever little rodents shredded some festive wrapping paper to decorate their cage and managed to put some of their little chew toys into the girls’ stockings.

Time went by and Santa got messier. Sometimes he apologized for making a mess, saying he tried to clean up but ran out of time and didn’t have time to put the Dustbuster away. 🙂

The girls started admonishing Santa in their yearly notes, to “be neater!”

Inevitably, they asked, “Is Santa real? Should we believe in him?”

My husband and I were prepared. We explained that Santa was merely the spirit of generosity and giving in our home, and when the time came that they no longer wanted to believe in him, he would go away. It was that simple. They looked at each other and decided to believe just a little longer, but one year they had both expressed their doubts and so that was a special Christmas morning.

Santa said goodbye. He thanked them for believing in him so long and said he knew that their lives would be filled with happy Christmases. Then he added, “I really tried to be neat this year and even grabbed a shower, but I seem to have forgotten something important, and I can’t remember what it is! I am sure you will figure it out. Love, Santa.”

Hanging on the light fixture in the dining room, in all its red and green glory was a huge pair of Santa’s boxer shorts. Giggles galore, and we said a fond goodbye to a glorious family tradition that may very well be revived with the next generation of beautiful children.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, proud Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy through BookSpring. She blogs at Kali’s Musings where this post also appears, and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

 

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November 26 – Even When You Call Me Mother

by Dede MontgomeryWoman at the Lake

It was the moment she called me “mother.” I was upset and blurted out, “Mom, I’m your daughter.”

She hesitated, and then answered slowly. “Oh, yes.”

Too quickly I butted in. “Mom, you know I’m your daughter.”

I commanded, rather than asked, selfishly realizing, at 56, I still needed a mother.

“Yes, of course,” she answered. “But a daughter shouldn’t have to take care of her mother,” she added, carefully.

Mom hasn’t addressed me this way again. And yet, the exchange generated new fears for my brain to tease through. I thought I had reached all the milestones associated with my parents aging. But now, it is different.

I share time with Mom. She sometimes asks me about my day, but less often offers advice. I rarely tell her my problems. I read my blogs to her, and sometimes she helps me choose the right word. We sit together by our special rivers and at our favorite parks. I play music for her on my iPhone. We don’t talk politics much. I am thankful for what we have.

I used to think I was like my mother. Then, later, I realized how much I was like my dad. Now, I see bits of myself from each of them and wonder who I may be like as I age? Will I die quickly like Dad; with my mind clear, but my heart exhausted? Or will I outlive my cognition? And what might that bring to my daughters? But really, what does it matter today?

The sun is shining. I have a new book to write. We have problems in our world that we need to solve. I will get old someday, or not. I may die like my dad or like my mom or not like either of them. What I do know, is, for today, I will be there for Mom. And for this moment, none of the rest of it matters.

What gifts do we share, late in life? The gift to sit, in silence to the chirp of birds or whistling of the wind. The gift of story, those that happened, new ones that might have been. I sit with Mom, who taught me how to be strong and independent. Surreptitiously, I pick a sprig of lavender one day. She laughs when I hand it to her, as I learn I don’t have to always follow all the rules. I’m learning from her the time to leave behind regrets and accept what you bring to this world is sooner rather than later. To know that change is constant, and not all of it comfortable or happy. To look to a parent as a teacher, still, even if they call you Mom.

And what I will say when she asks again, is, “No, Mom. I’m your daughter and helper. You are my teacher no matter what we pass through together. And you will always be my mother.”

Dede Montgomery is a sixth-generation Oregonian who writes about past and present Oregon in her blog, Musings on Life in Oregon, and her 2017 memoir, My Music Man. Dede’s first novel, Beyond the Ripples, will be released by her publisher, Bedazzled Ink, in 2019. Dede also works in research outreach and education at OHSU.

A longer version of this post appears on Dede’s blog and you can read it HERE.

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November 19 – Enough

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Eddie, Pop, Dave & Mom

I awoke to the familiar sound of dishes rattling in Mother’s kitchen and to the thick scent of coffee wafting through the air. I glanced out my bedroom window; the neighborhood was lit by the first rays of the day shining through a thin layer of gray clouds. The trees, no longer their virescent hues of spring and summer, were scarlet, gold, and copper. Mesmerized, I watched the leaves fall off the trees gently swaying in the November wind. A sigh rose in my throat as I thought about what was lacking that Thanksgiving Day.

I joined Mother in the kitchen, mildly curious about the Thanksgiving brunch she’d planned for us at an undeveloped park outside of town. Instead of cooking the usual Thanksgiving fare, Mother prepared a thermos of hot cocoa for my brothers and me and another thermos of coffee for her and Father.

“This will be fun, sweetie. Wait and see.”

I smiled, covering up my disappointment, and helped Mother pack a box with the utensils she’d need; a cast iron skillet, tin plates, charcoal briquettes, matches, a spatula, and two wooden spoons. Father loaded the box into his truck while my brothers and I clambered into the truck bed. He pumped the gas pedal several times until his cranky jalopy sputtered into action.

On the way to the park, Father pulled into the parking lot of a local grocery store; through the rear windshield, I watched my parents cull through their pockets, the seat cushions, and the glove box gathering all the loose change they could find. “This should be enough,” Mother said in a thrilled voice. She scurried out of the truck and emerged minutes later, smiling with two dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, and a small loaf of bread in her arms.

Once at the park, my brothers and I bolted from the truck, frolicking in the leaves as we ran along a pathway that led to an old abandoned farmhouse. While they explored the farmhouse, I sat on a log; closed my eyes; and took in all the crisp autumn air my lungs could hold slowly expelling it. In the distance, I heard Father whistling and Mother singing as they fried bacon and eggs over a crackling fire, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our grim financial situation prevented us from celebrating Thanksgiving as we always had with turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings.

“Come and Get It!”

“Come and get it,” Mother hollered. We dashed toward them and sat on the ground, warming our hands on the open fire. Mother scooped fried eggs and bacon onto our tin plates. “Let us give thanks, for we have enough,” Father said, his face beaming.

“Enough?!” I looked down at the meager amount of food on our plates, my eyes misting with tears.

What a blessing hearing that word was, for acknowledging enough squelched my expectations; diminished my disappointment; and helped me realize that enough is at the core of gratitude and Thanksgiving.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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November 6 – Ode to My Gardening Gloves

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Alas, beautiful gardening gloves, I knew you well. I remember the early March day I opened the package and slipped you onto my hands. At first, you were a bit stiff and uncomfortable; but over time you softened and became my weekly companion, pulling weeds, cutting flowers, and guiding the nozzle on the water hose that allowed our foliage to flourish even during the hot summer months.

You’ve faded from our days together in the sun; the bubble grippers on your fingers are worn, and your fingers are tattered and torn and worse for the wear. I will surely miss you as I will miss the warm, languid summer days we shared together.

Sadly, I’ll soon cover my hands with my woolen mittens and furry gloves. But you’ll hold a special place in my heart as I stand on my front porch shivering and yearning for next spring’s arrival. And inside my desk drawer, I’ve placed my new pair of gardening gloves already purchased for next spring.

Each morning when I open my desk drawer, I’ll slip them onto my hands and say, “Spring’s coming. Spring’s coming.”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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October 31 – Happy Hallo-Wasp!

by Kali’ Rourke

I love Halloween.

When I was a child in Northwest Washington, it meant brisk mornings and cooler evenings with bright, colored leaves flying everywhere as my favorite holiday approached.

I spent hours deciding what persona I would let loose each year. My mother was my willing conspirator and her crafty skills and imagination created prize-winning costumes.

I dressed up for Halloween even after I moved to Texas as an adult, but it wasn’t quite the same. Embodying a Disney villainess in the heat and humidity of Austin’s 6th Street didn’t quite have that fall kick, but I adjusted, and my new town gave me my most frightening Halloween ever.

The weather turned cold very suddenly one Halloween weekend.

I realized that I needed to bring in my vulnerable plants or risk losing them. I hauled them in, hanging them in the kitchen, then I went to the front room and watched TV.

Bzzz…Something flashed by my head.

“What the heck?” I frantically searched for something to kill it. I didn’t know what it was, but it did not belong in my front room!

I cornered it at the window where it banged against the glass. It was an adult wasp.

Swack!…thud.

“That was exciting,” I muttered to the empty condo. I went back to the TV.

“Bzzz—Bzzz.” More wasps!

I hustled this time, starting to freak out. I realized that they were coming from the kitchen.

Bzzz… BZZZZ!

The kitchen was swarming. Wasps were flying in panic, hitting each other in their frenzy like a scene from a fifties horror movie!

I lunged for the patio door and threw it open, hoping they would exit, but cold air poured in and kept them inside.

I pulled on a scarf and cleaning gloves. I gingerly grabbed a can of Raid and a fly swatter. The wasps did not make it easy, but the cold air slowed them down, so I sprayed many of them in mid-air and then swatted and stomped them. The mess became immense.

I spotted one coming out of a plant I had brought in. It was a large plant, and I realized it must have a nest in it!

“Oh crud,” I thought, “What do I do now?  It has to go!”

I grabbed it with my Playtex pink, long-line gloved hands and ran as fast as I could toward the open sliding glass door. I slipped on smashed bodies of wasps on the floor, wobbling like a crazed skater. Lurching to the patio, I lobbed my precious plant into a corner!

As I slammed the door shut, wasps started to pour out of my broken plant, looking in vain for a new home in the cold. I watched in fairly unsympathetic silence since I was still shaking with adrenaline!

Later, I called my friend. told her my Halloween horror story and she laughed.

“Oh Girl,” she said, “I can just see you running around going ‘Rambo’ on wayward wasps!  And what was that get-up you were wearing again?”

It was pretty amusing, all right.. afterward.

Happy Hallo-wasp!

 

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, proud Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy through BookSpring. She blogs at Kali’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

 

 

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October 26 – Memories and Ghosts

by Sara Etgen-Baker

In the two days since my arrival, Granddad and I exchanged only a few predictable, cursory words.

“Here’s your cereal; no milk, right?”

“Right, Granddad. Thanks.”

“You sleep okay?”

Although his silent house had kept me awake, I respectfully replied, “Yes sir. I did,” followed by, “How ‘bout you?”

Granddad Stainbrook

“I’m old: I never sleep well,” he grumbled.  “Just too many memories and ghosts.”The house became still as we struggled with what to say to one another. So we ate breakfast in silence; a silence so thick I could feel it drape around me like an old shawl. I pulled it against me as I plopped down into my grandmother’s chair suddenly aware of something else in the house, something different; a faint rustling, a soft presence of some sort. I didn’t know what it was.

Perhaps it was the lilt of Granny’s lavender perfume that lingered in the rich tapestry fabric, stirring memories of when I sat in her lap reading a book or sharing hot cocoa. Perhaps it was Granny herself. I closed my eyes and remembered that the house was full of noise and laughter when Granny was alive.

Now, though, the house seemed empty, lifeless, and unnervingly silent. I was young and impatient and needed to shatter the silence and to understand why Mother had sent me to visit my grandfather. I just couldn’t make any sense out of her cryptic parting words: “Remember, this visit isn’t about you.”

Granddad glanced up from reading his morning newspaper. “Your grandmother loved sitting in that chair and watching her grandchildren.”

“I loved sitting in Granny’s lap when she sat in this chair.” I watched his face. “It still smells like her.”

“Yes, it does.” He adjusted his glasses. “Her memory keeps me awake at night.”

“The silence at night frightens me and keeps me awake.” I choked back the tears.

He slowly raised one eyebrow and fumbled for words. “Why…uh…uh…why are you afraid of the silence?”

“Because the silence just makes me miss her more.”

Granny Helen Morain Stainbrook

“I miss her too.” He peered over his glasses. “In the silence, I hear her voice and feel her spirit rustling through the house. In that silence, I don’t miss her as much.” His chin trembled and his voice cracked. “I’m terribly afraid I’ll lose her forever if I don’t keep the house silent.” After another moment’s silence he mumbled, “Like memories and ghosts, she quietly lives in the silent shadows of both of our lives.”

“You’re right, Granddad,” were the only words I could muster.

We hugged one another; Granddad shuffled off to his bedroom. Nothing more need be said.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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