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 →

Two Songs: ‘The Circle of Life’ and ‘We are Family’

Twenty-two years ago, my baby sister got married and recently I  reminisced about little snippets of that day.

I remember my sister’s beautiful dress and how sweet and young she looked. I remember mixed look of pride and hope and worry on my parents’ faces. I remember Neil sneaking outside to take a few quick puffs on his cigarette anytime an opportunity presented itself, meeting other relatives over their common vice. I remember Gina twirling and twirling with abandon on the reception dance floor as her dress flew in wide circles around her. And I remember dancing a bit crazily myself with my sisters to the immortal words of Sister Sledge: “We are family. I got all my sisters with me…all the people say can they be that close?”
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 →

Love the Life You Have (Not the One You Wish For)

“I can’t wait until I retire,” my friend said at lunch one day. “Then I can do all the things I want.”

img_2035-jpg“ I can’t wait to finish the semester,” my nephew said during my visit. “Then I can relax and enjoy life for a while.”

“I can’t wait till this chemo is finished,” my patient said at her appointment. “Then I can get back to normal.”

We’ve all said things like this, haven’t we? We’ve all imagined how much better the future will be when we get past the present.

My house is quiet these days. My two younger daughters are away at college and my oldest is married and building her new life. My empty nest is far emptier than I ever imagined without Neil to share it. I often find myself saying, I can’t wait till the girls come home so the house feels alive again.

The other day I came across the very famous Scripture reading from Ecclesiastes that talks about a time for everything. Our lives have seasons just like the weather does – the college season, the work season, the retirement season.
This is my empty nest season. 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 →

But is a Bad Word

I have been doing some self-reflection lately, thinking about the words I use and the things I say. I try not to use any curse words and I try to speak kindly to and about others, but….

I realized there is one bad word I use quite regularly. It seems there is often a ‘but’ in my sentence, and the way I use it generally means something bad. Continue reading →