ALL IS CALM, ALL IS BRIGHT

For most of the year, I’m perfectly happy with shadows and darkness.  But the approach of winter solstice awakens in me an almost primal need for illumination, as evidenced by my recent household projects.

Setting up our life-sized crèche, powered by six extension cords:

Installing the Lego lighting kit in my little VW Bus.
Oooooh!  Ahhhhh!
Headlights, tail lights, signal lights, and overhead cabin lights:

Decorating my lime tree with a garland of twinkling stars:

Writing another Lanturne:

NOEL
Light
Shining
Luminous
In the Manger
Christ

 

But light can be metaphorical as well as literal.  I drove out to Dollar General yesterday to buy some non-perishable items for our Little Free Pantry.  I had already shopped there three times during the week and accumulated three coupons for $5 off a $25 order, all redeemable 22 Dec 18, not to be combined with any other coupon or offer.  I pushed my cart through the grocery aisles tossing in beans, vegetables, fruits, canned meats, pastas, sauce, macaroni and cheese, and jars of peanut butter.  Then some holiday items: cinnamon, ginger and vanilla, poultry seasoning, Stove Top stuffing, cranberry sauce, cookie mixes, frosting and sprinkles, hot chocolate and marshmallows.  I knew I had gone way over budget and briefly considered putting all the frivolous items back, but a voice inside assured me that I would be able to afford everything.

Just one register was open.  The clerk was hesitant to let me divide my order into three piles and use all three coupons, but she relented when I explained the food would be donated to charity.  Checking out took a while.  The line grew longer and the customers behind me grew antsy.  As the clerk scanned the final pile of groceries, a man in the line leaned toward me, held out his credit card and said, “This is the card you’ll want to use for that, Miss.”  It was the most expensive of the three piles, well over $50.  I asked if he was sure.  “Positive,” he smiled.  He’d overheard enough to figure out what I was doing and wanted to help.  The rest of the customers nodded approvingly, their irritation forgotten.  Greetings and blessings were exchanged and afterward, we parted ways, each of us touched by the glow of goodwill, carrying it like a torch into the cold, gray afternoon.

Merry Christmas!  May you all be bearers of the light.

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ENTERTAINING ANGELS UNAWARE

‘Tis the season of charitable giving.  The most cheerful givers tend to
be those who’ve been on the receiving end, often quite recently.  This week, I would like to share a Christmas story that’s near and dear to my heart.  They say you cannot spread joy to others without some spilling back on yourself.  Luckily, joy won’t stain your shirt, like turkey gravy or cherry pie.  So feel free to spread and spill as much as you want:

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a young couple who lived in a drafty rental house in upstate New York with their five cats, three of which were not sanctioned by the landlord and had to be kept hidden. They dreamed of owning a home and taking in all the strays they wanted. When they learned the Air Force was moving them to Dayton, Ohio, they contacted a realtor in Yellow Springs, a liberal village that felt right to them.  There were only a couple homes in their price range.  They trekked across I-90 three times that autumn to check out the possibilities and made an offer on the best one, a small, sturdy brick ranch with a fenced backyard, located on a quiet cul-de-sac.

The bank required a thick stack of paperwork, their finances laid bare on the loan officer’s desk.  They had overextended themselves in the past:  a new car, a motorcycle, a vacation to Europe, vet bills for the cats.  They had gone through credit counseling and reined in their spending, but they were still a long way from paying off their debts.  The loan officer reviewed their forms and shook her head.  But if they were willing to jump through some hoops and obtain a VA guarantee, maybe she could swing it.  The VA packet was thicker and even more daunting, but they persevered and the guarantee was granted.  Even so, their application was iffy.  The loan officer issued strict instructions not to touch their credit cards or deplete their accounts for anything frivolous.  Just rent, utilities, food, and existing loans.  Nothing else.  Every dollar counted and the approval of their mortgage hung in the balance.  This meant there would be no tree, no presents, no trip home, no Christmas.  They sighed heavily; the thought of it was almost too depressing to contemplate.

The next morning, they took stock of their assets.  A trunk of lights and Christmas decorations.  Flour, sugar, and cookie cutters.  Miscellaneous craft supplies.  Paper, envelopes, and a book of postage stamps.  They pooled the cash from their wallets and added the change from the big Mason jar, a grand total of $64.  They obviously couldn’t buy and mail gifts to everyone, so they devised a plan.  They would fulfill one wish from the Angel Tree, spending fifty of their precious dollars on a fancy dollhouse for an underprivileged child.  The wife sent a letter to their closest family and friends explaining their circumstances.  Inside each, she enclosed a handmade angel ornament crafted from white felt and lace and buttons, a reminder that however little one might have, there is always someone who has less.  They baked sugar cookies to munch on.  There wasn’t enough left over for a tree or a holiday dinner with all the trimmings, but it didn’t matter.  All they really wanted was good news about their house.

Two evenings before Christmas, they heard a knock at their front door.  On the porch was their neighbor, Tim, wanting to know if they needed help putting up their lights.  He could lend them a ladder.  Tim peered into the living room, wondering aloud why they had no tree or decora-tions, and the whole sad story came pouring out.  He invited the couple to join his family for Christmas dinner, assuring them there would be plenty of food.  Having nowhere else to go, they gratefully accepted.

The following night, Tim dropped by again, this time dragging a lush evergreen he’d gotten for a song from a tree dealer eager to clear his lot and head home.  They retrieved their decorations from the attic.  Tim steadied the tree while they secured it in the stand.  They finished stringing up the lights and arranging the ornaments just in time for Midnight Mass.  On Christmas day, Tim and his family welcomed them, inviting them to fill their plates and grab a seat by the tree.  Little did they know, there were gifts for them, too.  Overcome, eyes glistening, they opened up packages of slippers, a throw blanket, hot cocoa mix, cashews, popcorn, and candy.  It was one of their most memorable and joyous Christmases ever.  Tim smiled ear to ear, accepting nothing but their gratitude and the promise that when they were able, they would pass it on.  He could not have imagined what he set in motion that day.

Soon after, their mortgage was approved and they moved into their very own home.  By the following Christmas, they had added a pound puppy to their menagerie and saved up enough to make good on their promise.  For twenty-three years now, they’ve been paying it forward, largely under the radar.  They’d like to keep it that way, so I’m not at liberty to say who they are or exactly what they do, but rest assured, they are real people, just like you.

There are still eight days until Christmas… it’s not too late to spill some joy.  Keep your eyes and ears and heart open; you’ll know what to do.

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JUST 29 MORE SHOPPING DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS

We were out of town for Thanksgiving, so I had little time to prepare a new post.  Enjoy this updated version of “A DOG’S LETTER TO SANTA” which was originally published in Dec 2015, before I had any followers:

I was dusting the other day and found this lying on the printer:
letter to Santa
You’ve probably deduced that parts of this post are fictional.  The part about me dusting, for instance.  Congratulations, Sherlock, well done!  Now we can move on to more perplexing mysteries, like where Tailor learned to write.  And in outline form, no less!  Do you think he knows where I keep the envelopes and stamps?  Can he reach the flag on the mailbox?  What will happen when he finds out the truth about Santa?  And discovers that my credit cards are the key to the wonderful world of Amazon.com?  What if he grows up to be a lawyer?  Like so many pet parents, I worry.  But for today, I’m content to let him revel in the magic of Christmas.  I’ll hug him tight for remembering Peaches and Callie in his letter and vouch that he’s a good boy if the North Pole should call me requesting verification.  Of course, Santa will bring him everything he asked for, except the heated indoor pool.  And that giant stick from the back yard, the one he knows he isn’t allowed to bring in the house. Maybe I’ll slip a Roomba under the tree, just because he was cheeky enough to go behind my back and ask Santa Claus for the stick!  After he and Roomba are done chasing each other, we’ll take turns bobbing for chicken, straight from the bucket, and flop down in front of the TV. From my cozy corner seat, I’ll count my blessings, beginning with the one wielding the remote control, the one sprawled across my lap, the one meowing to go outside, and the one snoring from the depths of an extra-crispy food coma.  If I start crying, you can blame it on Hallmark; those sappy holiday movies get me every time!

Wishing you a blessed season filled with laughter, love, and memories.

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EL-EM-EN-OH-PEE!

ABECEDARIAN is an ancient poetic form based on alphabetical order. Generally, the first line begins with the first letter of the alphabet and subsequent lines begin with successive letters until the final letter is reached.  My friend Chevvy wrote a really impressive one last spring; click HERE to read it.  Mine is a simple list compiled from the pages of my gratitude journal.  Try one!  What inspires YOU?

abc-2

INSPIRATION A TO Z

Autumn, Apple Butter, Aurora Borealis
Blizzards, Baby animals, Baking cookies
Cloud formations, Candles in windows
Dandelion puffs, Dreams remembered
Earth and Echoes and Earflaps on hats
Farm markets, Fireflies, Freckled Faces
God, Gratitude, Guacamole with chips
Handwritten letters and Happy endings
Inner vision, Imagination, and Insanity
Jazz saxophones, Java, and Journaling
Karma coming full circle, playing Kazoo
Libraries, Life Lessons, and Loving arms
Muses, Memory, the Moon when it’s full
Nature, Naptime, and a New Notebook
Orchid blossoms, Oldsters with attitude
Pet antics, Prompts, and Practical jokes
Quiet mornings, Quilts stitched by hand
Rainbows and Random Acts of Kindness
Serendipity, Syncopation, Street Music
Teachers, Time alone, Thunderstorms
Underdog victories and Ugly Umbrellas
Volkswagen Busses that go Vroooom!
Wonder, Wood smoke, Window seats
X on a treasure map, XXX’s and OOO’s
Yoga in motion, Yakking with my sister
Zinnias flanking the Zigzag path of life

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LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

Even the tiniest ray of light shines brighter at this time of year, as the approach of Winter Solstice casts a long, deep shadow over the earth.

A few of my favorite winter things are featured in this KYRIELLE.  A Kyrielle is a poem comprised of two or more quatrains that follow a rhyme scheme (aabb, abab, aaab, abcb, etc).  Each line contains eight syllables.  The final line of each quatrain is, in whole or part, a refrain.

cardinals-a-lot

BRIGHT SPOTS

Hardwood logs in stoves for heating
Flames revived from winking embers
Chill and darkness swift retreating
Crackling warmth in dark December

Cats in sunny windows preening
Cactus blooms in fuchsia splendor
Wreath and garland evergreening
Signs of life in dark December

Downy snow the brown earth meeting
coating branches stark and slender
Cardinals zipping down and feeding
Red and white in dark December

Silver cards and golden greetings
by the smiling postman tendered
Carolers house to house proceeding
Joyful verse in dark December

Laden tables from the fleeting
days of autumn’s harvest rendered
Words of thanks the feast completing
Bounty shared in dark December

Random acts of kindness speeding
to the low and unremembered
Rippling forth, and hence repeating
Shining hope in dark December

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10-4 GOOD BUDDIES, OVER AND OUT

crazy-blogger

Now that I’ve met my goal of posting weekly for one year, I am at a crossroads.  A few friends have wondered how long I’m going to keep “piddling around” here on WordPress.  Admittedly, my tiny blog has not rocketed me into literary fame and fortune.  But in my defense, I think a lot more has gone on here than just piddling.  For instance:

1) This is the longest string of journal entries I have ever written
2) It is eternally preserved in the cloud for everyone’s reading pleasure
3) My non-techie self was able to learn and master WordPress.  Go, me!
4) I now know I can bust through writer’s block and meet a deadline
5) I’ve gotten to share stories and memories with family and friends
6) I’ve met awesome bloggers from all over the world
7) I’ve found many interesting blogs that I will continue to follow
8) I’ve been nominated for blogging awards
9) I have more than doubled my number of followers in just one year
10) Best of all, I’ve gotten lots of ordinary people to like poetry, probably many who faithfully read these pages only to humor me

You’ve got to admit, that’s a heck of a nice list of accomplishments.  That said, I think the time has come to move on and use what I have learned here to conquer my other writing goals.  I plan to keep my site, for the ease of viewing other blogs on WordPress Reader.  A big thanks to all my regulars, especially those who left comments and words of encouragement.  Who knows?  I may revive JJ42 after a long winter’s nap, so keep me on the radar.  10-4, good buddies, over and out.

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HOW DO I LOVE THEE, BIRTHDAY BOY?

cake

Earlier this month, my husband turned the big 5-2.  When my plans to procure a German chocolate cake from a local bakery fell through, I dug out the recipe I’ve used in past years and read it over, jotting down a list of ingredients I’d need to purchase.  By the end, I realized two things:   1) baking this cake from scratch is a pain in the bananas, and 2) there is only one person in the world for whom I would do it.  Soon afterward, this Ghazal poem came spilling out, almost word for word:

GERMAN CHOCOLATE LOVE

I wanted to make something great for you
The world’s finest birthday cake, for you

I’d preheat the oven, line three pans with
parchment as the recipe dictates, for you

I’d cook the icing, caramelizing butter and
sugar, stirring at a constant rate, for you

I’d chop baking chocolate, melt and mix it
smooth, four large eggs separate, for you

I’d beat the batter slowly, small amounts
of flour and buttermilk alternate, for you

I’d whip the egg whites and fold them in,
Pour evenly into the pans to bake, for you

I’d watch carefully, and halfway through,
each pan’s position I would rotate, for you

I’d pull the layers at exact doneness, cool,
then freeze, the icing refrigerate, for you

I’d assemble the cake with an artist’s flair
Thick icing, all the layers straight, for you

I’d adorn it with candles, light ‘em up, and
sing!  Grab some forks and plates, for you

I’d do it all again on birthday fifty-three,
four, five, six, seven, eight… just for you

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ANNIVERSARY OF A FREEDOM RIDE

It’s hard to believe we’ve had Callie four years already.  Even harder to believe that the first two families she was placed with returned her.  In a short time, she has grown into a wonderful dog:  sleek and beautiful, alert to every unusual noise in the neighborhood, a well-matched mate for her brother, Tailor.  She had a little slip-up in the beginning and for
a long time afterward, she distanced herself from us, waiting anxiously for the other shoe to drop.  When she finally figured out that this is her “forever home,” she let her guard down and beautiful things started to happen.  She loves belly rubs now, gives spontaneous kisses, lays her head on my lap when we watch TV, and curls up next to me under the covers each night.  I think I could safely say she’d take a bullet for me,
if it ever came to that.  This is Callie’s story, told in her own words:

THIRD TIME’S A CHARM

A shelter’s a shelter
But not really a home
You’re surrounded by dogs
But so very alone

People look, pass you over
It’s so hard to cope
You pray for your “freedom ride”
Your ticket to hope

Maybe so, maybe not
I’ve had two such before
But I didn’t fit in
And they showed me the door

One called me “too timid”
The other, “too bold”
Now I’m eight months and counting
And likely too old

I’ve outgrown puppy features
My bloodline is clear
My “mix” contains pit bull
A breed that they fear

I sit oh so pretty
And plead with sad eyes
But they see what I am
And they pass right on by

Then a dog and his people
Walk up to my cage
He’s a black and white pit mix
They won’t be afraid

For a place in this family
I’d give my right arm
They ask for a meeting
Maybe third time’s a charm?

Then away we all go
In their green SUV
On the dash are signed papers
Declaring me free

My new house is perfect
And nothing is barred
Couch and bed are pet-friendly
There’s a big fenced back yard

I try hard to play Beta
I want this to last
And my drive to be Alpha
Has checkered my past

But my tomboy side beckons
And we wrestle and race
My teeth “slip” and cause damage
In a fast game of chase

It’s a big gaping wound
And it looks really bad
But my brother forgives me
He’s not even mad

He nurses it bravely
And tries to keep mum
But our folks see and scold me
My future looks glum

I’m so very sorry
And I cry half the night
Knowing just what will happen
As soon as it’s light

I dream of the cuffs
And the ride back to jail
But I wake and they hug me
While bro wags his tail

I thank God for my family
The kind we all need
Ones who love and accept us
Despite our misdeeds

And I adore every inch
From nose to tail-end
Of the world’s greatest brother
And my very best friend

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EARNEST AND TRUE TO THE END

earnie swim

A tiny paw tapped my pant leg.  It belonged to one of the Puppies For Sale, a round-bodied Lab whose sleek black coat was dotted with curly cowlicks.  Two soulful brown eyes gazed up at me from his irresistibly earnest little face and within minutes, Earnest and True had an official name on his “papers” and a window seat in our car.  Our resident Alpha was thrilled with her new role as big sister, alternately mothering and bossing around her little charge.  Easygoing Earnie was the yin to her yang and her most devoted follower.  Although she patiently taught him everything she knew, he never learned to give dog kisses.  And my attempts at tutoring him, however heroic, were entirely unsuccessful.  Charming and gregarious, Earnie was the star of Puppy Kindergarten; the classes were held in the vet’s office and at every appointment for the next fifteen years, he searched under the waiting room chairs for his playmates.  He wasn’t given to mischief unless it involved food.  Or balls.  Or keeping his gnarly toenails as far away from the clippers as possible.  Until his final year, when he inexplicably melted into skin and bones, Earnie was overweight and usually on a diet.  That said, he never missed a meal, and sometimes ate two if his sister took her eyes off her dish.  He raided the garbage can.  He ate stale bread we threw out for the birds.  He talked sympathetic dog sitters out of extra food and treats by pretending he was starving.  His other passion was collecting balls; some he came by honestly, others he “creatively acquired” from neighbors’ yards, the park, or on walks.  Over a lifetime, his cache filled a laundry basket.  In fact, he learned to swim when he chased a tennis ball into our garden pond.  Swimming was another talent he pursued with vigor, constantly seeking out bigger and better venues.  If the local public pond wasn’t frozen, he considered it fair game and jumped in.  When the creek ran high and fast from the spring rains, he rode down it like a water slide.  He could barely contain his excitement the first time he laid eyes on Lake Erie, a body of water so expansive that it touched the sky.  He chased his dreams and stayed ahead of old age for a long time, but it gained a foothold when he lost his sister, his lifelong BFF. To help fill the void, we adopted two young pound pups who doted on him, snuggled with him, groomed him, and kept him entertained with their antics.  As his clock wound down, we concentrated on filling each moment with the things he loved most, from the simplest of pleasures to the craziest of dreams:

EARNIE’S BUCKET LIST

1.  Go for walks with the family, on his own power, at his own pace.  He flatly refused to ride in a wagon; we tried, and he tipped it over.

2.  Run.  His hips were riddled with arthritis, so I’d often lift up his back legs and run along beside him while he sprinted on the front ones.

3.  Roll in the snow.  In his opinion, it was the best part of winter.

4.  Get his butt rubbed.  Ears?  Flanks?  Belly?  Meh!  He was a tush guy.

5.  Sunbathe.  He had a favorite spot on the sofa where he stretched out to soak up the late morning rays, a daily rendezvous he never missed.

6.  Eat whatever and whenever he pleased.  A dream-come-true for a perpetually hungry dog who had spent most of his adult life on a diet.

7.  Swim in the ocean.  So we fired up the RV for an eleventh hour road trip to the coast of Maine.  That’s him, above, paddling in the Atlantic.

8.  Collect more balls.  He acquired his last one, an orange and green tennis ball, just two weeks before he passed.  It was wedged against a mailbox post and half-hidden in the snow, but that did not deter him.

9.  Own a plush pink Kong football.  It was the only thing he wanted for Christmas.  Santa brought one, and Earnie never let it out of his sight.

10.  Go peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.  Dr. Brett Ellis, our beloved vet, obliged, and made a housecall when the time came.

Earnie was true blue to the end, but my final memories will forever be:

PINK

THE decision could be delayed no longer.
Come, I begged the vet, but
not quite yet… wait until
tomorrow.

The day of reckoning refused to be blue
or a somber shade of gray
to match my mood.
Instead,

Each detail was tinged with contradiction,
shades of pink so cheerful,
I longed to smack them.
Senseless.

The fuzzy pink football hugged tight to his chest,
the one he held close day and night

The eager pink tongue that gulped treats laced with dope,
then lolled from his lazy grin

The velvet pink belly that wiggled with glee
as he rolled on his back in the snow

The juicy pink core of a steak grilled mid-rare,
the last he would eat in this world

The sparkling pink bottle we uncorked and shared,
toasting with goblets raised high

The caustic pink bubbles that fizzled and burned
past the obstinate lump in my throat

The pale pink solution that filled us with dread
before peacefully stopping his heart

The gracious pink sky that embraced his pure soul
as it soared to the heavens above

Whenever a four-legged shadow cavorts
across a striking roseate sunset,
I am certain that he
is behind it.

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PILGRIMAGES AND REFLECTIONS

As Winter Solstice approaches, the darker days are a powerful reminder that each of us must forge his own path into the light:

THREE WICKS, ONE CANDLE

I generally avoid the Mall, but in early December I make my annual pilgrimage to Bath and Body Works for a triple-wick jar candle called “Winter.”  Its scent is a pleasing combination of wood smoke and tangy spices.  This year’s has already been burned a few times; the wicks are charred and there is a smudge of grey soot inside of the glass.  The candle itself is off-white, a color perhaps better described as ecru or eggshell or vanilla, but I am not one to split hairs over such trivialities.  The lid is missing and a fine layer of dust has accumulated on the top.
I blow into the jar to dislodge it and it swirls back around, hitting me squarely in the eyes, a reminder that dust is best left alone.  I touch
my lighter to each of the three wicks.  Tiny round balls of fire slowly elongate into teardrops, their bases a hazy blue fading into ultraviolet.  An orange halo glows around each wick and struggles to balance the ever-moving amber flame atop it.  I lose myself as I watch them dance.  Perfectly synchronized, they bobble in circles in response to the air current from the ceiling fan.  The scent intensifies as the wax melts
and pools, a comforting fragrance reminiscent of the incense used at Catholic High Masses like Christmas and Easter.  The spicy undertone might be frankincense or myrrh.  As I consider this possibility, I can almost smell the Wise Men opening their coffers and offering their
gifts to the Babe in the manger.  My mind shifts, and suddenly the jar becomes a microcosm for a much larger concept.  Three wicks, one candle.  Three colors, one flame.  Three small pools of wax slowly morphing into one.  It is the mystery of the Holy Trinity, explained.

 

THE DARKEST DAY

Curls of cinnamon and clove
escape from the teapot and
collide with winter’s gloom
under the nose of an old Lab
who hibernates contentedly
in his worn dent in the sofa.

Fingers of midday sun
poke through the overcast
solstice sky and tap gently
on his still-brawny shoulder,
calling to him on a frequency
known to canines alone.

A dappled rectangle parks
on the ottoman and triggers
his daily pilgrimage; pulling
on elbow, he twists and shifts
bulky body and creaking hips
into its soothing warmth.

His grizzled black muzzle
snores on borrowed time,
so Christmas comes early.
I slip a plush football into
his arms; he sighs and hugs
the treasure to his chest.

He frolics not in the snow
of yesterday or tomorrow,
but simply basks in the glow
of this moment, absorbing its
energy, his black flank on fire
as the pot of tea goes cold.

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