November 28, 2015

Switching Gears for Christmas

Thanksgiving is over in the US for another year. The food is put away, the autumn decorations have disappeared and Christmas music is playing everywhere. Are you ready to switch gears?

I grew up in Montana, where it's cold. The cooler temperatures signal the change from summer to autumn, from fall to winter. By Thanksgiving, the trees are bare and the wind is cold. Even in Utah, November was mostly cold and dark, and there was snow on the mountains even if there wasn't snow on the ground. All of that made it easy to switch gears.

Things are different here along the Gulf Coast. After living here for six years, I am starting to notice some subtle signs of the changing seasons, but they are subtle.

My daughter observed today, for instance, that by late November the Cypress trees have turned brown. For the first few years we lived here, I assumed the trees were either sick or dying. Now, I'm starting to think it's a sign of the season.

Source via Creative Commons
Christmas decorations are different here, too. I'm used to lots and lots of Christmas decorations. Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, too. Starting in late September, stores and neighborhoods are decked out in whatever the theme of the season might. Unlike New Orleans, along this stretch of the coast, very few people get into the Halloween season, and nobody hires a professional artist to paint leaves or turkeys in their store windows.

I'm used to Christmas lights in abundance, covering trees, bushes, houses, stores ... what have you. In Salt Lake City, the LDS church decorates Temple Square with thousands upon thousands of tiny twinkling lights, and walking through the square to look at the lights is a popular pastime in December.

Decorations are very different here. Not wrong, just different. Since trees don't drop their leaves in this climate, it's probably a fire hazard to string thousands of tiny lights in the branches--or maybe it's just a different custom. Whatever, Even after 6 years, I still don't think "Christmas" when I see palm trees with their tops dark and trunks wrapped in lights.

Nor am I used to Christmas shopping in flip-flops and capri pants, although I'm not going to say I don't enjoy that. I do.

I miss snow in theory, not in reality. But the differences mean that switching gears to Christmas season doesn't happen naturally for me. Even if I'm out Christmas shopping, it doesn't feel like Christmas shopping, so Christmas Eve always sneaks up on me. One day it feels like the middle of the summer, and the next people are expecting presents under the tree I haven't put up yet.

I'm going to try really hard this year to get with the program. To embrace Christmas the way it is here instead of expecting it to magically become what it was there. I want to find a way to make my heart feel like this -->

Maybe I'll turn on Christmas music or watch Christmas movies on TV, pull a few Christmas books from the shelves and read them again. Because I don't want Christmas to sneak up on me again. This year, I want to be ready!

(An Addendum:)  After writing this post, I set off to snap a few pictures of Christmas decorations in my part of Florida. One of our cars was already on the fritz, and the remaining "good" car broke down on the way to take the pictures.

Luckily, my dear friend, Wendy, came to our rescue and by some miracle we even passed a couple of decorated trees on the way home.

Thanks, Wendy, for pulling over so I could get pictures in spite of everything that went wrong. Sharing one just wasn't enough, so here's another.

To add to the seasonal joy, our only TV sizzled to its untimely death today and since I recently discovered that my computer won't play a DVD, watching Christmas movies may not be on my list of things to do for the season this year -- but I'm determined to press forward.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells ... Ho Ho Ho!

November 20, 2015

I'm Not Crafty

For years, I've maintained the delusion that I'm a crafty person. I want to be crafty. Really, I do. I see things in stores or on Pinterest or in other people's homes, and I think, "I could do that." But the sad truth is, I probably can't. For years, whenever I pick up a power tool, my kids have, in effect, told me to put it down and back away slowly. Drills and things routinely get the best of me. Not in a disastrous way, but I struggle. I freely admit it.

And even if I can actually make the thing, I never know what to do with it next. Two years ago, I worked up a bunch of courage and decided to make a thing. I'm not even sure what you'd call it, but I saw some appealing knobs at a craft store and, with my youngest daughter's encouragement, decided I could make The Thing. 

In my imagination, it would be cute and it would be mounted on my wall, and I could use it for hanging bags. I'm a serious bag-a-holic--not purses or handbags, mind you, although with an unlimited budget, I could probably take my place in the handbag collectors' hall of fame. No, I'm talking about reusable shopping bags, cute totes, and bags collected from attending writing conferences over the years. I have a few. And by a few, I mean lots. And lots.

But I digress. 

I'm talking about The Thing. 

My daughter actually pulled out her power drill and let me touch it. I painted and I drilled and I screwed in the cute little knobs, and voila! The Thing was born. I actually made it. I didn't hurt myself or anyone else, and I don't think I even drilled a hole into my daughter's table. That's how successful I was. 

I packed The Thing up and drove it home across four states, where I carried it into my office and leaned it against the wall--and there it remains to this day. Because, having made the thing, I have no idea how to mount it on the wall so I can actually use it. 

So maybe I should stick to crafts that don't require wall mounting and other things that are beyond my capabilities. I saw these on Pinterest and thought they were cute, and even seriously considered making them. Two things stopped me: 

1. I would probably never actually use them, and 

2. I'm pretty sure they would require the use of a hot glue gun, which I'm perfectly capable of using, but not without significant globbing. If I'm going to hot glue something, it needs to be something much larger and more forgiving. 

So maybe I need to take on something bigger. Something more like this. I could probably handle this. I'm not sure what I'd do with it once I finished it, but I might be able to actually corral a heap of buttons into a rough heart shape and glue them in place. 

This is not to say that I'm completely inept. I can wield a mean crochet hook. Once the weather turned cool back when I lived in Utah, out would come the yarn and the hook and I'd make afghans for everyone. But crocheting here along the Gulf Coast ... well, it just doesn't cool down enough for long enough to get my crochet on. 

I'm pretty well adjusted most of the time. I take my lack of craftiness in stride. But there are some times of the year--usually as we start ramping up for the holidays--when te urge to craft rears its head and I long to hit the craft store with grandiose ideas and an unlimited budget. 

But first, I really need to get The Thing mounted on the wall. I need that space on the floor to heap my new crafts. 

November 10, 2015

A Game & a Giveaway!

There's a game with a giveaway today on my author page here on FB. Hurry over, like the page, pick a number, share or tweet the post, and you could win a signed copy of a Piece of Cake mystery!

Posted by Jacklyn Brady on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 06, 2015

Nice Girls Sometimes Finish Last...

...if they finish at all.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Missouri, taking care of my granddaughters while their mother (my daughter) went to Texas for a friend's wedding. While there, I got to deal with a lot of stuff that happens in the life of a growing child, disappointments over perceived failures and the angst that comes from trying to make friends in a new school being chief among them.

At some point, I found myself sharing a story from my own youth in an effort to convince my oldest granddaughter (known as "The Princess") that I understood what she was going through. She had recently run for student council and lost the election, and now every time she walked past the annoying poster in the school hallway (right by the cafeteria, of all things!) sporting the cheerful faces of the winners, her little heart broke.

She told me that she hated that poster, and she wanted to sneak into the school and tear it down. Oh babycakes, I hear ya! I really do!

Years ago, as I was heading into my junior year of high school, I decided to try out for Pep Club. Being a member of the Pep Club was a huge deal for juniors of the female persuasion in those days. You got a pricey outfit. You got to sit with all the other Pep Club members at the games and walk around looking unbelievably cool on game days. If you were a member of Pep Club, you were ... well, cool.

Everyone who was anyone was in the Pep Club. In fact, just about the only girls who weren't were the unmentionable ones--the parking lot girls, if you know what I mean, and those who were simply too geeky for words. But, really, even the geekiest got in.

Even so, we still had to try out. It's how the game was played.

To try out, we had to come up with a concept for a Spirit Week and present it to the selection committee. I don't remember anything much about my spirit week presentation except that I worked very hard on it. I had a theme. I made posters. I made up new cheers and whatever else was required.

About that time, a new girl moved into our neighborhood. We'll call her Ann. Ann was nice, and new, and trying hard to make new friends in her new school. I was one of them. Ann moved in too close to the tryouts to put together a spirit week presentation, and the realization that she would have to spend her entire junior year at a new school not one of the ultra-cool kids made her sad.

In a burst of friendship and empathy, I gave Ann my presentation. She probably demurred. No doubt, I insisted. I do remember that part of my argument was that I could always just put together a new one. Mostly, the idea of being so magnanimous made me feel good about myself. Not exactly the best reason for doing something, but what can I say? I was young.

And I did put together another spirit week least, I tried. I did my best, anyway. But, alas, when the results of the tryouts were posted, Ann was part of the Pep Club and I was not. I spent the rest of my high school experience hurt and bruised and resentful and bitter. Every game was exquisite pain for me. Every day the members of the club got to wear their uniforms to school was torture.

It hurt. A lot. And the worst thing was, I knew that I had nobody to blame but myself. Oh, sure, it's possible that Ann might have been accepted if she'd thrown together her own campaign based on luck or a better personality, a cuter face, or just plain old sympathy. It's possible that I might not have made the squad, even if I'd used my original presentation. We'll never know.

Image Source
My story wasn't one of those feel-good stories with a great moral that would leave The Princess with renewed faith in life. It was just a story with feeling. Lots of feeling, designed to let her know that I understand how she feels every time she has to walk past that irritating poster celebrating the kids that won.

Hopefully, it will be enough for her to know that as painful as this might be for her right now, life does go on and things do eventually get better, and one lost election or not being selected for Pep Club won't ruin your life if you don't let it.

Even rejected girls can grow up to do cool things and have happy times. I'm living proof.

On a side note -- look at this cool cake made for my alma mater by Salt Cake City. I wonder if they could make one for me to look like the Pep Club uniform I never got.