Monthly Archives: December 2011

No More New Year’s Resolutions

This year I am not making any New Year’s Resolutions.  Why would I do something that will soon take the joy out of my life, make me feel like a failure and increase my frustration?  I think we should demolish the idea of New Year’s Resolutions and instead start transforming ourselves in whatever way we desire—today–and by selecting changes one at a time.

For example:  For years I have had numerous kitchen items that I never use.  These include an electric mixer that was my mothers but isn’t old enough to be considered an antique yet.   I don’t need it.  I also have a salad shooter that doesn’t work smoothly, a hand mixer, that smells like it is going to burn down the house, and various TV sold gadgets that my mother collected. 

Instead of making a resolution to get rid of them next year, I decided to do it now.  A few days ago I resolved to work diligently at getting rid of all of this “junk” and transform my kitchen cabinets into organized storage units.    I will finish this project this afternoon and instead of feeling like a failure I feel good. 

My resolutions will  be more immediate in nature.  I will make them when I am ready to tackle them.  That way whether it’s December 31, 2011, or January 3, 2012, or December 31, 2012, I will feel good about myself.

3WW:  Demolish, Resolution, Transform.

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The Christmas Eve Shoppers

While my children were growing up I often found myself downtown on December 24th.  Occasionally I was on a mission looking for one last gift or stocking stuffer, but more often than not just looking for a diversion from my hectic holiday pace.  I discovered three categories of shoppers that typically appear on December 24th

The first category is the men who have procrastinated until the last-minute and they still need to buy a gift for their mother, wife or sweetheart.  There are two types of men shoppers on Christmas Eve:  men that truly don’t have a clue and men that really don’t care. The men that don’t have a clue start in the clothing department.   In the clothing department they resort to gesturing with their hands to indicate the size of the woman they are shopping for.   The harried clerk stands behind the counter with a puzzled look on her face, really wanting to help, but with no idea of how to translate the hand movements into an appropriate size.  The men quickly give up that idea.  They know that if they buy something too small the woman on their list will be disappointed and if they buy something too large, they are really in trouble.  Having discarded their first idea they migrate back and forth between the jewelry department and the perfume counter, or the few that are a little more risqué’ may find their way to the lingerie department.   They pace up and down the aisles with worried looks on their faces until they end up buying something, probably paying too much, have it gift wrapped and leave the store looking totally unconvinced that they have chosen well.

The second type of male, the one who really doesn’t care, struts in.  He is there only because he didn’t have a secretary to shop for him or because his secretary refused to do it.  He heads straight for the kitchen department.  Quickly picks up the latest gadget, doesn’t bother to have it wrapped and struts out like a peacock with his feathers on display.  On Christmas morning he probably hands it to the woman in his life, still in the same bag with the price tag still affixed and wonders why she isn’t thrilled.

The second category of shoppers is the bargain hunter.   There are also two types of bargain hunters.  The first type of bargain hunter has her Christmas shopping done. She still has money to blow. She is the one perusing the high end aisles of gifts looking for one more tech toy her child doesn’t need or trying on the fur collar sweater she  just might buy for herself.  She is totally unaware of the other shoppers around her unless they happen to pick up an item she is interested in.

The other type of bargain hunter is the minimum wage earner.  She has waited for her paycheck to shop or he has just come from the nearest Pay Day Loan center.  They are left with the debris that earlier shoppers didn’t want.  They ponder over the remnants that have been left behind hoping to find some small gift that will put a smile on the child they left at home. Interestingly, this type of shopper seems to smile more and seems to be finding more joy in the process than the others.

The third category of Christmas Eve shoppers is the observer.  The observer really isn’t a shopper at all.  She has already completed her Christmas shopping.  She just loves the atmosphere the day before Christmas.  She wanders around, a pumpkin spice latte in her hands and listens to the music, watches the children on Santa’s lap and enjoys the merriment of the day.  She smiles at strangers.  She stops and chats with people she meets along the way and she wishes everyone she sees a Merry Christmas.

During my life I have been the recipient of gifts purchased by men in the first category, and in later years as a single Mom I found myself in the bargain hunter category shopping the dregs that were left behind. But if you see me downtown on Christmas Eve this year I will be the grandma type with the pumpkin spice latte in my hand wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

And just in case you don’t make it downtown on Christmas Eve let me wish you the merriest Christmas ever.

Happy Holidays…..

.

 

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An Unplanned Christmas–Part II, (Conclusion)

For part 1  click this link:    https://maryajensenwrites.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/an-unplanned-christmas-part-1/

PART II

They had continued in silence for hours before his mother drove up to the gas pumps at a small town convenience store, but it was closed.  He didn’t understand why she hadn’t used a credit card like Gram would have, but instead she pulled out and drove on until she came to the next town.  She found the gas station there closed too.  At the third station she had pulled off the road into a jumble of trees.  There his mother had passed out.

When Joni woke up Jason had tried to get out but the inside handles had been broken off and he was unable to open the door.  He feared that if he made any noise he would wake his mother.  It had started to snow and the car was even colder than before.  He was afraid.  He knew they were going to freeze to death.

At first Joni was excited as she had watched the flakes fall like icy petals as they floated to the ground.  Then the flakes stopped falling as abruptly as they had begun. Then Joni cried, “I’m hungry, I’m cold.” She had already eaten his orange and his candy cane, but she wanted to save hers to share with Gram. He couldn’t tell her they may not ever see Gram again.  They had snuggled together, half sleeping, half crying until traffic started to pick up along the road.

Jason knew he had to do something.  He finally reached over and wrote “HELP” in the fog on the street side window.   But it was still dark and they were tucked into the trees and traffic traveling by could not see it.  He tried not to cry.  He was eleven years old and boys his age weren’t supposed to cry.  But tears rolled down his cheeks as he hugged his little sister.

Their breathing soon steamed up the window and obliterated his cry for help.

He must have fallen asleep.  The next thing he knew the car was moving.  His mother no longer seemed so wild eyed as she drove into the gas station, got out and pumped gasoline into the car.  A car pulled up beside them and stopped.  He heard a car door slam but he couldn’t really see out of their fogged up windows.  He couldn’t get out and he knew this was his one chance to get help.  He once again leaned across the seat and wrote “HELP” on the window in the fog.  He couldn’t see the people in the car that had pulled up but he waved frantically until his mother turned around and he had to quit so she wouldn’t see him.   He wiped as much of the fog away as he could, on his side, and waited for his mother to go in and pay for her gas.  He was going to climb over the seat, open the door and yell for help.  But a store attendant came out and took her money.  They talked awhile before she crawled into the car and waited for him to bring her change.

As she started the engine and began to drive away he knew that there was no help for them here.  He held Joni tighter.  He dried her face with his sleeve while his own tears burned his cheeks.  He didn’t speak to his mother and she didn’t speak to them.  Everything seemed so helpless that he didn’t bother to look ahead or behind.  He just stared at the back of his mother’s head her tangled hair barely touching the headrest of her seat.  He wanted to scream.  He wanted to beat the back of the seat.  He wanted to hit his mother over the head.  But he didn’t want to scare Joni any more than she already was. So he just stared.

Suddenly the car began to slow.  At first he didn’t realize what the flashing lights were.  Then he could see it.  A patrol car was blocking their way.  He felt their car shift into reverse.  The car hadn’t moved far in that direction before he felt it hit something.  A second set of lights were flashing behind them.

He grabbed Joni and held her face against her chest so that she couldn’t see what happened next.  But he watched.  He watched everything.

Four officers appeared, each with guns drawn.  One ordered, “Get out.  Put your hands above your head.”  He watched as his mother got out and the officers pulled her hands behind her back and fastened hand cuffs around her wrists.  He felt disconnected from the scene.  It was as if he were watching Law and Order on TV.

Later when he remembered the scene it was as if everything had happened in slow motion.   A young officer bearing a Teddy bear had pried the door open on their side of the car.  He looked at Jason, smiled and asked, “Are you okay?” and then he said, “I guess you are too old for this, right?”

Jason had only nodded.  Joni reached for the toy as Jason handed her to the officer.  They were wrapped in blankets and placed in the back of one police car while their mother was put in another.  A woman who reminded Jason of his grandmother had crawled in beside them.  She told him that her name was Mrs. Bell.  She asked their names.  She told Jason how brave he had been.  He learned that his writing on the window had alerted the people in the next car that there was a problem.   They had told the station attendant, who had alerted the authorities.  That was why the attendant had come out and taken his mother’s money instead of waiting for her to come in.  That was how the attendant had delayed her.  Mrs. Bell assured Jason that his grandmother was on her way and would be there as soon as she could get there.

While they waited for Gram, Mrs. Bell took them home with her.  The house was quiet as they entered except for the voice of a young girl reading the Christmas story.  Jason listened intently to every word.

That was the day that Jason grew up.  He realized that Christmas wasn’t about the Xbox under  the Christmas tree but about people who loved and cared about each other whether they knew them or not.  It was about people who would put your safety and security before their own.  It was about people who would make real sacrifices for others.  It was about a gift so big that it was almost beyond his comprehension.

 

 

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An Unplanned Christmas — Part 1

Jason and Joni huddled together on the only spot the springs didn’t poke through on the back seat of a 1974 Ford Capri.   Joni whimpered softly, tiny little sobs she tried to hide by holding her breath.  Tightly in one hand she clutched a fresh orange and a tiny candy cane.   Jason held her tenderly as only a big brother could.  It was early Christmas morning but there was little festive to surround them, no rumple of wrapping paper, no goodies to eat.  Their belief in Santa Claus had ruthlessly been ripped from them. The only signs of Christmas were the twinkle lights on the convenience store across the street and a lighted sign in the window proclaiming “Merry Christmas.”

There was nothing Merry about this Christmas.  Jason wrapped his arms tighter around Joni trying to keep her warm while he thought back over the events of the previous night.  His mother had recently been released from treatment, again.  She had seemed to be doing well this time.  Even Gram said she was.  He had expected Gram to pick them up from the Community Christmas Party, but wasn’t really surprised to see his mother. He didn’t suspect anything until she turned left out of the parking lot.  “You need to turn right,” he had tried to explain.

“Shut up!” she had snapped.

She had looked so vicious that he had been afraid to say anything else. He had watched the familiar sights of town, McDonald’s, Taco Time and the neighborhood electronics store as they disappeared from view.   There had been little heat in the car and the defroster didn’t’ work well so it was only the speed of the car that  alerted him that they had entered the freeway.

They hadn’t been on the Interstate for long when his mother had driven the car to the shoulder of the road, stopped, and with the engine still running she had removed something from her purse.  He couldn’t see what she was doing, but he had thought perhaps he didn’t want to know.  After that her driving had become more and more erratic.

He’d felt the car slow down as it left the freeway.  He had polished the window with the sleeve of his jacket as he tried to see where they were.    All that he could see were empty fields and an occasional light from a distance farm-house.   The city lights had disappeared from view.

He was glad that Joni had eventually fallen asleep leaning against him.  Once they left the freeway he had felt the car accelerate once again.  It had seemed to be going faster and faster and faster.  He had recognized truck lights approaching too quickly ahead of them when the car veered to the left.  He had heard the sound of gravel as the car bumped over the rumble strip along the shoulder of the road.  He had held his breath as he saw headlights coming directly at them from the opposite direction.  He had wanted this to be a bad dream, but he had known that it wasn’t.  He had felt their car leave the shoulder and had known that they must be racing along the ditch line when he saw the oncoming lights pass to his right.  He’d heard the blast of the truck horn and the popping of the air brakes as the trucker had slowed to a stop.  But his mother kept driving until they were once again speeding down the road.

For conclusion click this link.

https://maryajensenwrites.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/an-unplanned-christmas-part-ii-conclusion/

(Three Word Wednesday:  festive, belief, rumple.)

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Santa’s Workshop the Week Before Christmas

As usual this time of year, the elves were behind schedule.   Llewelyn paced back and forth glaring at Jinx.  “It’s your fault you know.  You should have sent the order out earlier.  What kind of purchasing department are you running here?  I told Santa not to promote you when Arowyn retired.”

Jinx stammered and then meekly said, “B-b-but, Llewelyn, I ordered the parts the first day I took over.  Arowyn should have ordered them earlier.  I’-i-it’s not my fault.”

 Llewlelyn scared the wits out of Jinx.  He was bigger than any other elf and he had been with Santa for hundreds of years while Jinx was a relative newcomer.  Jinx had been in the workshop for only fifty years and the promotion had come as quite a surprise to him.  He wasn’t even sure he wanted it, but Santa had assured him that he was the right elf for the job.   Right now he wasn’t so sure that was true.

Llewelyn knew that Jinx was right.  The order should have been in earlier.  And now the toys might not be ready for Christmas Eve delivery. Someone would have to pay and he didn’t want it to be him.   Retribution from Santa often came in the form of sending the offender to clean up after the reindeer.   Llewelyn was in charge of the production department and he knew that Santa would think it was his lack of planning and not the purchasing department’s shortcoming if the toys weren’t completed on time. There were no suppliers in the  proximity of the workshop, so everything had to be shipped to the North Pole.  This was a serious oversight.   If the parts didn’t arrive soon he was going to be in big trouble and he knew it.

  The truth was, it was his lack of planning but he didn’t want to admit that, not even to himself.  He should have had the supply list to purchasing before Arowyn’s retirement, but he had been busy wooing Trixie and was–well,– a little bit distracted.   

Trixie Everbloom was every male’s ideal elf.  When her blonde curls inched out from beneath her red cap, and her elfin grin teased it was impossible to resist her; and Llewelyn had been sucker punched when he discovered that he was the object of her attention.    He had been completely immobilized for months.    Then just as quickly as she had noticed him she moved on to her next conquest.

Llewelyn  left the office slamming the door behind him.  Just as he rounded the corner he found himself face to face with Trixie and her latest beau, Erie Leafspinner.  Leafspinner was the suave young newcomer in the accounting department.   The females fawned after him much as the males fawned after Trixie.

 Trixie smiled.  “Oh LLewie,” she purred.  “I haven’t seen you in weeks.  How’s production coming along?”

Llewelyn grimaced, snorted and pushed past.

While LLewelyn paced and growled and made everybody miserable, Jinx spent his morning on the telephone.  He called every supplier on the list to see what had been sent, when it had been sent and when it was scheduled to arrive. He downloaded all of the purchase orders and tracking numbers for UPS.   He checked UPS on the internet to see if anything was early.  Nothing was scheduled to arrive until tomorrow. 

Jinx relaxed.  They would be fine.  If things came in tomorrow the production department still had time.  He wondered if he should tell Llewelyn.  Naw, he decided.  Retribution could come in many forms and knowing that Llewelyn wouldn’t sleep tonight made Jinx laugh out loud.

(Three word Wednesday: immobile, proximity, retribution.)

 

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Lunar Eclipse–Pacific Northwest Style

The moon so bright

The end of night

 Clouds in the sky

Earth passes by

I watch and wait

To see its fate

The earth prevails

While the moon fails

The clouds consume

I’ve lost the moon

Tonight, I know

The moon will show

And I’ll rejoice

It’s found its voice. 

For me the act of writing is sometimes like watching a lunar eclipse in the Pacific Northwest.  An idea starts out.  It’s bright in my head.  I find myself on a high.  Then doubt rolls in and consumes my joy.   I struggle to keep writing while my doubts prevail.  But I keep writing because I know if I continue, eventually I will find my voice.

 This morning the view of the moon was blocked by the clouds just before it was completely eclipsed by the shadow of the earth.  The climax was never visible.  That is exactly how my novel is going at the moment.

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The Cookie Cutter

I don’t know when the tradition started in our family, but every year the week before Christmas we would have a baking day.  Mom would put Christmas music on the record player and gather us together in the kitchen.  We would spend the entire day baking goodies and singing along with the music.

I find it amazing that, events from so long ago still paint a vivid image in my mind.  In my earliest memories of baking day we still lived in the little house on Val Verde.  I can see Jo-Ann, a dish towel tied around her neck, standing on a chair in front of white metal cabinets.  I was kneeling  on a little wooden stool wearing a pink apron, one I made entirely by hand in a Blue Bird meeting.  Carol-Ann was also posted at the counter nearby.

The Director, that was Mom, stood ready to hand out recipes, help with instructions and remind us to be neat and tidy.  Over the years the venue changed but baking day prevailed until I married and moved away.

Without realizing it we learned about fractions as we halved and doubled the recipes.  We learned to read a temperature gauge as we boiled various candy concoctions to the proper stage.  And we learned to tell time as we timed the cookies in the oven.

We picked our favorites from recipes scrawled on 3 X 5 cards, torn from magazines or flagged in favorite cook books.    We weren’t passive about which recipes we wanted to measure, mix and bake.  We all had favorites.

Our family peanut butter cookie recipe had to be started early in the day.   The dough was mixed, rolled into a couple of long rolls, and put into the refrigerator to chill.  Later in the day the rolls were removed from the refrigerator and sliced and baked.  I liked helping with the peanut butter cookies because I knew they were Dad’s favorite.

We stuffed dates with walnuts and rolled them in powdered sugar.  We melted marshmallows and mixed them with Rice Krispy cereal.   One year we might make fondant candy, another it might be some kind of candy made with butterscotch chips.  But certain treats always found their way into our agenda.

We always made cocoa fudge.  We used the recipe on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa can.  In later years we could afford to shell walnuts and add them to the fudge.  To this day, I prefer fudge made from the cocoa recipe better than all of the other quicker and easier methods that have evolved.

Mom always made divinity.  I can remember the year she thought she had cooked it long enough, but apparently she hadn’t.  No amount of beating would make it stiff.  We dropped it from spoons full onto waxed paper and it had to stay in the refrigerator until we were ready to peel it off of the waxed paper and eat it.

My favorite part of baking day, however, was making sugar cookies.  Early in the day, one of us always mixed up multiple batches of dough.  Like the peanut butter cookies, the sugar cookie dough had to be chilled.  Near the end of the day, after the dough had sufficient time to chill and our other baking was complete, we sifted flour over the pastry cloth and the covered rolling-pin.  We removed the cookie cutters from the jar.  And only when everything was ready, did we remove the first ball of dough from the refrigerator.

We lined up the cookie cutters; the star, the stocking, the Christmas tree and Santa.   We would have made all Santa’s and trees if Mom would have let us because they were the biggest.  We discovered that if we mixed up the order that we cut them out, Mom didn’t realize that we were making a lot more Santa’s than anything else.

After the cookies were baked and while they cooled we cleaned up the mess in the kitchen.  Then it was time to ice our cookies.  Our icing recipe was a simple one.  It consisted of a little milk, a drop or two of vanilla and a lot of powdered sugar.  We divided the icing into at least four bowls.  We poured green food coloring into one, yellow into one and red into one.  The largest batch remained white.

The trees were iced green and sprinkled with something called ‘Decorating Decors’—little balls of colored sugar–to represent Christmas ornaments.  The stars were usually just yellow, but the Santa Claus got the works.

We carefully cut raisins in half, one half for each eye.  A little bit of red icing colored his cap.  The white was added last.  We sprinkled coconut on his beard to make it look hairy.  The cookies were really pretty primitive, but we thought they were works of art.

After I married I moved away from my family.  I bought a Santa cookie cutter so my kids could have the Santa tradition, complete with raisin eyes and coconut beard.  It was a smaller cookie cutter and never quite made the grade for me.

Years later when
my parents decided to move closer to me, I asked my Mom about the Santa cookie cutter.  She told me she thought that Jo-Ann had it.  But she wasn’t sure.  I was bummed.  I really wanted that cookie cutter.  I finally asked Jo-Ann if she was using it.  She told me she had never had it.  I was heart-broken to think that our special Santa was no longer part of the family.

In 2003 my Mother passed away.  During the sad chore of cleaning out her apartment I discovered the Santa cookie cutter tucked in the bottom of a bucket of miscellaneous baking items.  I now have possession of all four cookie cutters that we used as children.  Recently I discovered the original recipe sheet from Swift’ning (a brand of shortening from years ago) in mother’s old recipe box.

I have no children or grandchildren living near so I seldom use my Santa now.  It is old and the sides are wearing away, but I wonder if my friends would like a Santa Cookie.

Maybe this year I’ll bake some Santa cookies in memory of Mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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