Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Virtual Christmas--A Repeat

Today, I repeat a blog from five years ago. It is about one of my most memorable holidays. Thanks to Stephanie who suggested it.

A few years ago, during the financial crisis, most in our family were unable to spend much for gifts. We agreed to give the kids smaller presents, but the adults were in a quandary.

Larry grew up with a large extended family. All the kids got something small, but lots of gifts. Auntie Wanda, who worked in a bank, gave each child a crisp, new two-dollar bill. Uncle Francis brought them each a shiny silver dollar. (Kim still has some of hers.) Auntie Margie loved finding loud and crazy socks. She’d shop all year for them. (And Kim insisted on wearing them—with everything.)

Since Larry’s dad was one of six, and most were married with kids, we often had forty or more on Christmas Eve. Dad was the youngest and was sixteen years younger than his oldest sister. We loved having kids and adults of all ages, and we welcomed a new family member every few years.

The adults drew names for gifts with a $20 limit. This meant each couple only had to buy two adult gifts. Names were drawn on Thanksgiving, but we weren’t particularly strict about sticking with the names as drawn. Much horse trading occurred between that date and Christmas Eve.

Everyone knew Cousin Gerry loved getting Larry’s brother, Casey. Both were pranksters, and Gerry loved giving Casey off-the-wall gifts.

One year, she gave him a large box. When he opened it, the only thing inside was a clue to the next gift. She routed him all over the house until he finally located the small box in the center of her cookie plate. It held a $20 bill. Another year, he received a coffee can filled with change embedded in the most awful mixture of white glue, peanut butter, chocolate syrup… Well, you can imagine. He had to run the whole thing under very hot water before he was able to extract his $20 in change.

I always loved getting Auntie Margie. She had very definite tastes, and most of the rest of them found her challenging. What a coup when I was able to please her, and I did so often.

For many years, we hosted the entire family, but as the older generation died out, and the ‘kids’ grew up and moved away, the group grew smaller until we were left with only our immediate families.

As Christmas of 2009 approached, some of us were faced with limited resources. My sister-in-love, Lucy, had just started a new job. Casey’s company had folded, as had mine. Kim had moved to Texas for work and was no longer working two jobs. Our niece, Carrie, and her husband were leaving right after the first of the year to move to Utah. In short, times were financially challenging, and money was tight.

A coworker was faced with the same situation in her family. She had just gone back to work after nine months of unemployment. (I had gotten her a contract job at the same place I was working.)

Her family decided on a virtual Christmas. The rules were simple:
·              Decide what you would give each family member if money were no object and without any restrictions.
·              Write a note to each person, along with pictures or other enhancements (web pages, etc.) to let them know what you’d give them and why.
·              Put your virtual gift in an envelope, and put it on the tree on Christmas Eve.

Everyone took the challenge seriously. And the gifts we received that year far surpassed any material gifts we might have gotten.

I have kept my virtual gifts locked carefully away along with the birth certificates, marriage certificate, and all the other valuable papers. They are that precious.

Kim ‘gave’ Larry a trip to outer space, complete with photos and a web page. I ‘got’ a house in Hawaii.

My brother, who is a classic car fanatic, ‘gave’ Larry a woody and me a ’57 Thunderbird—my favorite car of all time.

Carrie and Loren had just bought a new house in Utah, so they brought the map of their neighborhood. Their ‘gift’ was a house of our choice so we could be near them.

Larry’s gift was a trip to Hawaii for the whole family. His gift to me was to retire and travel to all the places on my bucket list: Machu Picchu, England, Scotland (again), New Zealand (again, Italy (again), and Hawaii (always). Oh, and he’d go along.

My gifts were all intangibles. To Kim, I ‘gave’ happiness. To my brother, confidence, and so forth. Larry’s gift reads as follows:

To Larry I would give
In God and your faith
            In your work and your play
                        In your family and home
                                    In love and marriage
You are the greatest blessing in my life.
            If I could do it all over again,
I would. You taught me how to laugh
            And play and love (the best parts).
I love you.

We haven’t done it again, but someday, perhaps, we will. I’d recommend it to anyone, whether or not finances are an issue.

My virtual gift for you? A joyous and blessed holiday season and a prosperous New Year. May all your fondest dreams come true.

Friday, November 30, 2018

I Miss Christmas Shopping

Even though I used to have my Christmas shopping completed by September (yes, I planned ahead), I miss actually shopping for presents. Throughout the year, if I saw something and it reminded me of a friend or family member, I bought it and put it away for the holidays.
Wherever we traveled during the year, I looked for Christmas ornaments. Often, what I found weren’t originally intended to be used as ornaments, but when I added hooks and bows, keychains and other items became decorations. I got them each year for our daughter, godchild, and the nieces and nephews. These became expected. The kids looked forward to seeing where each year’s ornament came from.

I continue this tradition, but now for the great-nieces and nephews. Last April we were in Paris. We visited St. Chapelle, and I saw some great, fun gargoyle keychains—just the thing for the little boys in our lives. So, I have this year’s ornaments. Shh, please don’t tell. These are about the only gifts I still buy these days.

The family has spread to other states, and we don’t all get together during the holidays. These days, it’s easier to send a gift card the whole family can use for something special. We usually send a card, a copy of our latest book(s), and the ornaments.

Last year, we gave charitable gifts in the other family members’ names. We felt as though we were doing something positive, but it wasn’t the same as receiving a surprise gift.

This year, Kim isn’t coming for Christmas. She just started a new job and doesn’t have any vacation time accrued. We’ll really miss her.

When she was little, she had a clothing budget—a limit on how much we’d spend on her clothes. She got to make the decisions about what to buy, but when she reached the limit, she didn’t get anything else until the next period. The exception was during the holidays.

Usually, one day during her visit, I announce, “I feel like shopping.” What this means is we would go shopping, and I’d buy her something—or maybe more than one. However, we always pretended it was a spontaneous decision, even though we did it nearly every year. It is one of our favorite rituals, and I’ll miss it this year.

From the time we lived in Osaka, I have done most of my shopping online. I can compare prices and have everything delivered to my door or drop-shipped directly to the recipient. I have little or no need to go to a mall or department store during the holidays. I have always avoided the crowds, but I loved seeing the decorations.

I used to spend hours wrapping gifts, too. I usually picked a “theme” or “look” each year, and wrapped all the gifts alike. In the past few years, I have used gift bags. They are reusable with less waste. From a green standpoint, they make more sense, but I confess, I miss seeing the pile of wrapped gifts under the tree.

Change is the only constant. Some changes I like, and others are harder to adjust to. I wouldn’t want to go backwards, but a part of me still misses some things from the past.

Are there any traditions you no longer observe? Do you miss them?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Gift-Giving – Another Take

For Christmas the year I was five, Santa brought me a “mama” doll. She instantly became my favorite, and I named her Mary Ann. By my seventh birthday, I had loved her so hard I had worn off her hair and her once-blonde wig had fallen off. Her rosy cheeks had lost their color from many kisses. Mary Ann had an open mouth and two tiny teeth. My brother had pushed the teeth inside her mouth so I couldn't see them. He also bit off the tips of a couple of her fingers and pushed in her weighted eyes so they were nearly invisible and didn't open and close anymore.

I loved her anyway.

The morning of my seventh birthday, I woke to the sight of a new doll sitting on the foot of my bed. I rushed into the kitchen to tell my mother how much I loved my new doll.

Mom looked at me funny. "Don't you recognize her?"

I looked closely and noticed the tips of her fingers were bitten off and some of the color was missing from her cheeks. “Mary Ann.” I held her even tighter once I realized she had been restored. Her teeth were back in place. Her eyes, once again, opened and closed. Nothing could have been a better present

Later, I learned my dad had spent most of the night repairing her, adding a new (and completely inappropriate) wig, and dressing her in new clothes.

She was my best friend throughout my childhood, including the following spring when my father died.

When my daughter, Kim, was little, she was allowed to play and sleep with Mary Ann, but only when she was ill. Kim knew how much my doll had meant to me, so for Christmas one year when she was in her teens, she found a beautiful doll dress at the thrift shop and gave it to me—and Mary Ann.

Years later, I told this story to the kids in church and drew a parallel to God. Dad had given me what I really wanted. I just didn’t know it. He'd restored my beloved doll. I believe God, too, gives us what we really need, even though it might not look as we expect.

As I told the story, I passed Mary Ann around and let the kids hug her. (She still likes to be hugged, and sometimes children visiting our home are allowed to hold her.)

My mom was in the congregation the morning I told the story.

When I finished, I looked at her and saw tears in her eyes. She shook her head. "We had no money for anything extra that year."

My dad had been in the hospital for months earlier in the year. Today’s unemployment insurance and other programs either didn’t exist or didn’t provide nearly enough money to live on. By the time he was well enough to go back to work, their savings had been depleted for food and other necessities.

Dad worked at the main Broadway Department Store in downtown L.A., so he had gone through the discard pile at the store and found the wig and clothes. Fortunately, he was clever with his hands and figured out how to fix her eyes and teeth. (I thought my daddy could fix anything. Both my brother and I inherited this ability from him.)

"I have always felt so guilty because we couldn't get you a new doll." Mom wiped her eyes.

I hugged her. “I always considered it one of the best gifts I ever received.”

I believe sometimes God uses our perceived lack to provide for our needs... 

Do you have any stories about how lack brought about abundance? I truly believe it happens—and I have my doll to prove it.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Give Memories

As we said in the first sentence of our book The Memory Keeper, “In the end, only memories remain.”
When I look back on my life, I remember few of the “things” I received over the years, but I remember many special shared moments. For this reason, we have tried to give each other special memories for holiday gifts for quite a while.

For several years, Larry’s birthday gift was a box at The Hollywood Bowl. We were lucky enough to get a four-place box in the very back row for every other Friday night. (They usually had a waiting list of several years, but we got one the first year we applied.) It was in the center, so the view was good, even though we were at the back of the section.
In addition to the box, we had valet parking and tables. He got to choose who would go with us and the meal I would fix. I had a set of menus I could pack to go. His favorite meals were quiche and salad or a fried rice ring with sweet-and-sour-chicken. All meals included salad, rolls, dessert, wine, and aperitifs.

We took unbreakable Corelle dishes and stainless flatware in special washable bags plus pewter wine, water, and aperitif glasses. We packed everything into a rolling bag, along with fabric tablecloths, matching cloth napkins, a bud vase with a rose, candles, and candle holders. Since we always sat next to the same people, we got to know them. Our neighbor called dinner “competitive dining.” We loved it. We saw some terrific performers such as Itzhak Perlman, John Galway, Arthur Fiedler, John Williams, and many, many others.

The last performance of the season came near Kim’s birthday. They alternated the 1812 Overture with Handel’s Fireworks Music—complete with fireworks. Her dad let her choose who would come with her. A couple of years, she invited her grandmother. Another year, she asked her best friend. We spoke with Arlene not long ago, and she told us she remembered going there with us. She also remembered the amaretto pie I made.

For her eighth or ninth birthday, we took Kim to see Annie. Another year, her party included taking her and a couple of friends to see The Wizard of Oz at the outdoor theater in Laguna Beach. We also took her to see Andres Segovia at UCLA when she was quite young. We sat in the first row of the balcony, and she spent the evening mesmerized. We had tickets for the Ambassador Auditorium. There, she fell in love with The Kings Singers.

We’ve all received wonderful gifts through the years, but those which gave us special memories were, and continue to be, my favorites.

Toys breakwhether children’s or adults’, but memories last a lifetime.

Do you ever give memories? Which ones do you remember?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Today I am in tears—once again: tears of grief, tears of frustration, tears of anger. How many more times must mass shootings happen before we take reasonable action regarding the availability of guns? How many more times must this happen before we impose sane restrictions on the size of magazines? How many more innocent lives must be lost before we take on the NRA and impose logical guidelines for gun ownership?

 I thought twenty-eight deaths—including small children—at Sandy Hook would to it. It didn’t.

 When sixteen people were killed in San Bernardino, California—far too close to where I live—I thought, Finally. Now someone will act. No one did.

 When fifty died in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida, I was sure congress would act. It didn’t.

 I hoped the fifty-nine deaths at the Harvest Festival in Las Vegas would spur legislation. They didn’t.

 I thought twenty-seven deaths at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas would move congress to act. They didn’t.

 I thought seventeen deaths at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School would do it. It didn’t.

 Now, yet again, we have thirteen dead and many more injured at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. Most of the victims were college students. And once again, I am heartbroken.

 Unfortunately, I no longer expect to see any action to actually curb the proliferation of extended magazines, which allow many, many shots in a very short time. I am numb to the shock and grief and anger.

 I miss my country where people felt safe in their homes, in public places, at school, and at work. I continue to pray for the families of those who have been lost. I continue to pray for our leaders to exercise courage and act. 

I need to hang onto hope. But it has become nearly impossible.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Marilyn Meredith - Tangled Webs

Today I host my good friend, Marilyn Meredith. She writes two different mystery series. Today, she will tell you about her long publishing journey with her Rocky Bluff PD series. Welcome back, Marilyn.

A Sane Person Would Have Given Up

Yes, I’ve had that thought many times as I’ve lost one small publisher after another, but I’m one of those “never-give up” people.

I’m going to tell you about my publishers for the Rocky Bluff P.D. series. It all began when a few people were talking about electronic publishing. I’d written Final Respects and was trying to find a publisher for it. During that time period, authors perused the large book of publishers put out by Writers Digest. It’s where I found a publisher looking for police procedurals, and my mystery was accepted. But—this publisher was only going to publish it in electronic form. I accepted the contract. The book looked great, but it had to be read on a computer, and the process to buy a copy was difficult. The publisher failed.

Time passed, and the Rocket eBook reader came on the scene. The next publisher I approached with the book did paper and ebooks. He published Final Respects and Bad Tidings, and though I knew books were sold, no royalties came my way until I complained. We parted company.

A publisher recommended by a friend accepted the next two books in the series, Fringe Benefits and Smell of Death, and did a bang-up job producing paper and ebooks but decided publishing was not what she wanted to do.

I met Billie Johnson, the publisher for Oak Tree Press. We became good friends, and she took on the next books in the series. The books looked great, I received royalties, and we were both happy for a long time. Then something unexpected and terribly sad happened: the publisher had a stroke, and the company could no longer continue.

What now? Mike Orenduff of Aakenbaaken and Kent is in the process of republishing all the books in the series. The latest is Tangled Webs. I am delighted to be with this new company.
As an aside, some of my stand-alone books were also published by Oak Tree Press. My host for today, Lorna Collins, who is also a dear friend, volunteered to edit and publish them on Amazon for me. I’m so grateful to her for doing such a huge job for me.

Am I bit crazy for not giving up? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

You can purchase Tangled Webs here:

Too many people are telling lies: The husband of the murder victim and his secretary, the victim’s boss and co-workers in the day care center, her stalker, and Detective Milligan’s daughter.
Marilyn Meredith writes the RBPD series as F. M. Meredith. She once lived in a beach town much like Rocky Bluff and has many friends and relatives in law enforcement. She’s a member of MWA, 3 chapters of Sisters in Crime, and serves on the PSWA Board.

Facebook: Marilyn Meredith
Twitter: @marilynmeredith

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about speaking engagements:

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

My Favorite Photo

This is now officially my favorite photo. My high school friend and her husband visited with us a few weeks ago. One item on their agenda was a visit to Mission San Juan Capistrano. Both had gone there as children, but they hadn’t seen it lately.
 We had a wonderful day using both the audio tour from the mission and Larry’s comments about how specific places related to the story we told in our book, The Memory Keeper.
We arrived shortly after the mission opened, in time to see the Mission Garden Angels working on the grounds. This army of volunteers trims, plants, weeds, and generally takes care of all the flora in the mission every Wednesday morning. They maintain the water lilies in the fountains and keep the whole place looking its best. While there, we ran into several friends, including docents, the executive director, and the buyer for the mission store. We told them Lola, The Parrot Who Saved the Mission was published, and we expected our first copies at any time. Most of them remembered her name from a presentation we did for the docents a couple of years ago.
When we returned home, the package with our copies had arrived. We were able to send one home with our friends for their grandson, Taylor. Yesterday, she posted this photo to my Facebook profile. I am delighted. The look on Taylor’s face is exactly the reaction I’d hoped for when I first started this project. As of this week, both the store at Mission San Jun Capistrano and the Cottage Gallery on Los Rios carry the book. We hope all children who now visit the mission will know the name Lola and her story. Do you have your copy yet? It’s available on Amazon in print or ebook. It’s also available through our website. But if you are visiting San Juan Capistrano, why not pick up your copy at the mission store? We donate a portion of the sale of each book to the mission to help preserve this jewel.

Friday, October 12, 2018

How We Met Lola

Over a year ago, while researching the sequel to The Memory Keeper, Becoming the Jewel, Larry discovered a newspaper clipping about Lola, Father O’Sullivan’s parrot.
This was a new story to us. Further research led us to other information about the parrot. In the book Capistrano Nights by Charles Francis Saunders and Father St. John O’Sullivan, we found a reference to her. And we discovered that the copy of a Charles Percy Austin painting in the mission actually contained the bird. (We had seen this picture many times and had never noticed the parrot.)
Further research revealed yet another image of the bird, Joseph Kleitsh’s Sunday Morning.
A while ago, we were asked to do a presentation for the mission docents about the history of San Juan Capistrano in the 1800s. At the end, we asked who knew about the parrot. Only one person raised a hand. We asked if anyone knew the bird’s name. No one did.

We later found additional articles about Lola. Her death was reported in newspapers across the country. She died just a few months before Father O’Sullivan himself, and he buried her in the old cemetery behind the chapel. Father O’Sullivan was first buried in a cemetery in Lake Forest, but he was later moved to the old mission cemetery. He and Lola ended up in the same place, just where they both would have wanted to be.

We felt it was time for Lola’s story to be told. We decided to tell it from her point of view for children. I wrote the text, and Larry did the illustrations.

This story felt like a gift and also a responsibility. The information came to us as unbidden. The only question we had was: who was the young man pictured in the clipping? We knew it wasn’t Father O’Sullivan. By this time, he was too old.

A few months ago the Blas Aguilar adobe in San Juan was restored and reopened to the public. We attended the celebration the day the museum was reopened. I walked into the bedroom and looked around. Suddenly, I saw a photo with the same young man in it. His name is Juan Jesus Aguilar. We finally had all the pieces.

The book is now published and is sold at The Cottage Gallery on Los Rios in San Juan Capistrano. It will soon be available at the mission store.
Have you read it yet? Did you enjoy it? Even those who have written several books on the history of the town had never heard the story. But now everyone knows about Lola and how she saved the mission.