The Honor of the Christmas Card in a Brand New Tradition

Christmas cards used to be a big part of our family tradition. They were always one of a kind, designed by Neil and I. For the very first one, we cut our faces out of a family photograph and pasted them on to hand drawn snowmen. We had such fun that we kept it up year after year.

One of my favorites was the five of us standing next to a row of life sized nutcrackers. Another was a regular appearing family photo into which an extra Colleen and Jackie were added. Everyone thought there were two sets of twins. One year we glued our faces into the windows of a black and white sketched camper that was decorated with festive red and green Christmas lights. Another favorite was our family pasted on to the back of the Grinch’s sleigh, with the Grinch himself copied into the driver’s seat. And I can’t forget the year that featured our faces hidden in a sea of toys in “Where’s Waldo?” fashion.
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There is No Perfect, But There Can Still be Joy

You know those incredible moments that crystalize into perfect memories you treasure forever? The ones that make you wish time could stand still and life would never change?

It was a New Year’s Eve long ago. My newborn baby, only three days old, slept peacefully in my arms. My plump, comfy chair was pulled against the French doors leading out to the deck. I could feel the cold draft and my fluffy blanket was wrapped snuggly around us. My toddler sat on the floor cuddling the dog, while her older sister hummed Christmas carols beside us.

Neil’s annual fireworks display was toned down that year, because I didn’t want to take the baby outside. Instead of the street, the fireworks were lined in a row of about twenty on the deck railing. As he hopped gleefully down the row, lighting each one as he went, he dipped and weaved to avoid the sparks and ashes. Then he retraced his steps, knocking the spent ones off the deck, lining up a new row and repeating the whole process. “Pop, pop, pop,” two-year-old Jackie exclaimed cheerfully over and over again, as we watched through the glass doors. Gina oohed and awed with each new display, and my sweet babe slept through it all. Continue reading →

Gifts to a Holiday Stranger

One Christmas Eve afternoon when our daughters were little, my husband was nowhere to be found, and I felt annoyed and inconvenienced. I was baking peanut butter balls and Christmas sugar cookies by the dozens, there were Santa gifts still to wrap, and I was behind schedule on the preparations for the Christmas Day Feast. As if that wasn’t enough, we were supposed to go to the family Christmas Eve service at church, which meant everyone had to be dressed and ready to leave the house by 5:30 pm. There was no way I could get it all done by myself.

As my anger increased it distracted me and made me careless. I burned two batches of cookies into black lumps of coal and had to throw them away. I called my daughters by each other’s names and didn’t even notice. I spilled my coffee all over the kitchen floor and traipsed through it in my white fluffy slippers. By the time Neil got home my holiday cheer was long gone. As his carefree face bounced into the kitchen, I noticed he was flushed and smelled faintly of alcohol. That was all I needed to explode. Continue reading →

The Christmas Pizza: Filling up on Joy

Between over-decorating, over-eating and over-spending, the Christmas season can be overwhelming. Add the stress of creating a perfect Christmas dinner and its easy to feel cheerless and exhausted. It doesn’t have to be that way, as I learned the Christmas Neil was in the hospital.

It was only three months after his diagnosis, but deep down we all knew it was his last Christmas. Things weren’t going well with his chemo, his appetite and energy were fading, and the team of doctors on his case bounced him back and forth because no one wanted to face the Christmas elephant in the room. In typical Neil fashion, he was excited about the holiday even in his hospital bed. I had no intention of leaving him alone, so there were no decorations at home other than the few I set up before he went into the hospital. There was no opportunity for shopping except for the gifts I managed to purchase on-line. Wrapping and Christmas cards? Nope. Not even Christmas dinner. Continue reading →

Me and the Miracle of the Pink Bear

“Why didn’t you quit?” a young medical student recently asked me. Her eyes suggested she could relate to the med school challenges I had just shared with her. “I knew being a doctor was what I wanted to do, and that made the difficulties just bumps in the road,” I explained. Later, as I thought about it more, I realized it was also because there were people along the way who made it worth all the struggles.

One was an 8-year-old boy whose cancer was advanced by the time I met him. Hospitalized for a bone marrow transplant at the university where I was an intern, his body had rejected the treatment, and he was dying. I was the one assigned to draw his blood every morning, and I was terrible at it. My only saving grace was that he was so sick he didn’t always wake up as I stuck and re-stuck every morning. Continue reading →

Big Jim and the Great Bahama Adventure

I am a naturally cautious person and not typically enthusiastic about adventures, but one of the best days I ever had was one worthy of a reality TV show. It was winter at home, and while my sister watched our daughters, Neil and I went on our first cruise.

Although I would have been content soaking up the sun from the lido deck and watching the shows in the grand ballroom, Neil wanted to explore Nassau once we docked. The cruise ship offered several tours, and I pointed out the ones I thought would be fun. “No,” he said. “They’re for tourists. I want to see the real place, the real people.”

We piled out of the ship with everyone else, but while they headed off to ask about tour buses, Neil walked down the road to a giant Bahamian man who stood outside a long, white, limousine. “How much for a tour of the real island?” Neil asked him. “The real island? You sure, man?” They haggled over a price for a day that included a traditional show, food and a scenic drive, then shook hands, and Big Jim (yes, that was really his name) ushered us into the back of the limo.

“Isn’t this nice?” Neil asked as we turned on the air conditioning and settled in.
It was nice, for a while. Then we drove off a main road into a poor neighborhood where skinny dogs wandered around sniffing trash, and people watched us from their front porch rockers. When we stopped in front of a run-down, empty appearing grocery store, the limo looked incredibly out of place. Big Jim got out, and Neil rolled down his tinted window. “Where are you going?” Continue reading →

Exciting News: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

On October 31 the newest Chicken Soup for the Soul book will be released, and guess what? On page 54 you’ll find one of my stories!

But here’s even better news: subscribe to my blog by email, and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a free copy of the book. Not only will you get my posts delivered straight to your inbox twice a month, but you might be one of three lucky winners of Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: 101 Stories About Trying New Things, Overcoming Fears and Broadening Your World.

It’s a win-win! If you already subscribe – you’re automatically entered in the contest. And if you’re curious to check it out, the book is  already available on  amazon.com.

colleen

 

 

The Ghosts of Summers Past


From the time our children were babies, we vacationed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We rented the same house,  No Egrets in Corolla, year after year. It felt like our own summer house, and in fact, until they were teenagers, our daughters thought we owned it.

We enjoyed visits from relatives who came to relax with us on the beach. We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Neil and I sat out on the deck every night and talked about life, shared our dreams and made plans like it was New Year’s Eve. One year we came home to Virginia and remodeled our whole kitchen so it felt more open and beachy. Another year we decided to put in a pool so it felt like we were on vacation all summer. Another time we planned to bike more at home since we enjoyed it so much there. Corolla was where Neil encouraged me to write and I encouraged him to find work he enjoyed. It was truly one of our favorite places.

The first summer after he died, I could barely face our own house without him, let alone the beach house. Last summer, I started to feel a yearning for the coast and the sand, but couldn’t bring myself to go. This summer I was ready. Continue reading →

The Challenge of Sunday Rest

Relaxation is not something I do well, but lately I’ve been trying to honor the commandment for Sunday rest. I told my oldest daughter about it and she said sarcastically, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of that concept, Mom; most people call it a weekend!”

It’s not that I do my doctor job on Sundays – I stopped that a long time ago – it’s that I don’t necessarily rest. Neil used to ask me regularly to sit down and relax, but there was always something that had to be done. Sometimes people ask me now, “How can you have so much to do? You live by yourself most of the time when the girls are at school.” That’s true, but there’s even more to do around the house now that I am the only one doing it!

Armed with the plan to accept Sunday rest as a gift from God, I made a list of all the things I could do to relax. I’ll read all those journals on my bedside table, take a walk, call my mom, write some letters. Then it occurred to me that making a list wasn’t really embracing the spirit of rest. Ok, I thought, no list. No plan whatsoever, I’ll just see what the day brings.
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Darn my stubborn streak!

Most of you know the story of how Neil and I met the first time in the Emergency Department. You may not know the rest of the story, but it’s a good reminder about how stubborn streaks can get us into trouble.

The second time Neil and I saw each other was at a wedding. His restaurant manager was marrying my daughter’s nanny. It was a beautiful outdoor wedding, the bride glowing, the groom ecstatic, and my sweet daughter having the time of her life as the flower girl. After the ceremony, while the bridal party was taking pictures, I wandered over to where Neil sat in the bright sunshine.

I said hello and asked if he remembered me, and he admitted that he didn’t. His version of the story was that next I asked, ‘Would a hypodermic needle up your nose remind you?” I don’t think I ever said the phrase “hypodermic needle’ in my life – only TV doctors do, so I am sure he was wrong. Continue reading →