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.
Continue reading →

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 →

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 →

Oh No, It’s Dark in Here!

I was finally at the writers’ conference I had anticipated all year. The first day was full of networking (which I hate) and learning (which I love). It was a long day, and coming on the heels of my trip to Ireland, I was tired. I was relaxing in my hotel room, sipping my nightly glass of wine and chewing Skittles, when the lights flickered and went out.

What’s going on? I thought. It had been incredibly hot that day – over a hundred degrees, with a high chance of thunderstorms. My first thought was a lightning strike, but then I realized it wasn’t storming. Next, the ER doctor in me thought, I wonder if a car accident hit a local transformer – I hope everyone is ok. Finally, the worrier in me thought, Oh no, what if its terrorists, or the end of the world?

I sat on the plump, comfortable hotel bed in pitch darkness, trying to decide what to do and how upset I should be. I didn’t hear any sirens or screams to suggest something serious. The bed was cozy and the wine was the perfect temperature. I could still feel the Skittles in their open bag on the bedside table. The power is probably going to come back on any second, I thought, After a few minutes it was still dark, and I knew I needed to investigate. After all, if it was the end of the world, shouldn’t I call my daughters? Continue reading →

Is There a Lesson in Those Memories?

It was one of those unusual days in the ER when nothing was going on. No car accidents, no sick kids, no broken bones – and the nurses left the department in a rare opportunity to relax at the cafeteria for lunch. Alone in the department I strolled around looking through the windows to the sunny summer day outside. As I watched, the glass ambulance doors opened and a man wandered through. He had a distinctive swaggering walk and blond hair that was long enough to fall in soft curls, but I couldn’t see his face behind the bloody towel he clutched
over it. Continue reading →

When You’re Down in the Dumps, Look Up

Buddy's looking up!It was one of those negative days where everything was annoying. The birds were loud and woke me up early. The coffee didn’t brew on time and tasted stale when it finally did. The exercise class was harder than usual and I barely kept up. The toilet upstairs hadn’t stopped running after the last flush and used up all the water in the well. The cat and dog had gotten into a fight and as a result the cat got sick in the bathtub. Worst of all, Neil wasn’t there to listen to me complain. Continue reading →

The Lie of the To-Do List

After several weeks of enjoyable but hectic travel, I looked forward to a relaxing weekend at home. There was nothing I absolutely had to do except go to church. Oh, and maybe get some groceries, since the cupboards contained only some nuts and a few boxes of Fiber One. Come to think of it, I hadn’t done any laundry in a while either…

Before long, the blank page of my weekend was completely covered by my to-do list. Then a friend called and we talked about going to the movies. I was torn. I wanted to see her but I really needed to clean those toilets. Another friend texted to remind me about the exercise class I promised to attend. Sure, exercise was important, but my kitchen was messy enough I feared cockroaches might move in. And the litter box – don’t even think about skipping that! – I reprimanded myself. Continue reading →

Honeysuckle Dreams: God’s Plans Outdo Mine Every Time

honeysuckle 2I love honeysuckle. As a child I sipped the ‘honey” from the blossoms and wove the flowers around my head in summer crowns. When my daughters were little I showed them the joys of honeysuckle too, and if on a walk or drive we saw some, often stopped to collect a fragrant bouquet. When I worked twelve hour shifts in the Emergency Department, I carried blooming branches in with me to remind me of the summer day outside. Even now, I love to sit on the deck in the evening, enjoying the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle floating in the breeze while crickets chirp their summer song and stars shine gently overhead.

When we first moved into our house, I was determined to surround it with honeysuckle. I bought some tiny plants from the local feed store. When I feared I didn’t have enough, I literally dug it up from alongside our country road. My neighbor, Charlie, laughed and thanked me for weeding the neighborhood. Continue reading →