In search of my New Year’s Day Miracle

Everybody has New Year’s traditions. Some people make and break lots of good resolutions. Some people serve black-eyed peas and greens. But that’s not my thing. While others are nursing hangovers or glue themselves to televised bowl games and parades, I’m outdoors, weather permitting, doing yard work. And I’m looking for my New Year’s Day miracle.

Yard Work?

There’s something so satisfying about clearing the yard, once the last of the leaves have fallen. You can rake and rake without breaking a sweat, and when you’re finished, there’s visible improvement. Actually, this is the small part of the year when I can get ahead on my weeding. Once growing season starts, it’s all I can do to stay even. And I quit once the temp gets too hot. So January and February are the months when I reclaim parts of the yard from the plant invaders, like kudzu. But New Years is not for reclaiming. It’s when I look for a miracle.

In Search of Spring

Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get along with Winter. It’s (usually) too wet and cold for my taste and I miss long, sunlit days. And, while I love where I live, we look kind of, well, shabby this time of the year. A little dirty and drab and run down. So I tend to spend the first day of the year in my yard, desperately seeking Signs of Spring. And, today I found them.

Know what these are? They are daffodil leaves and they’re growing in front of my house. On New Year’s Day. When winter’s just settling for 3 months of cold weather, these tough little flowers are sticking their heads above ground. The prospect of ice and snow doesn’t scare them (the way it scares me!). They’re growing, they’re daring to believe in Spring on the very first day of the year. That takes great Instinct…. or Nerve.

So daffodil leaves are my annual New Year’s Miracle and I hunt for them like a kid after Easter Eggs. I’m not ashamed. They’re a promise. A herald. An omen of change. And a great way to start the New Year.

Look like baby leeks, don’t they?

I think it’s Time for a Change

I started this blog years ago because I had a story to tell. A story about how two irreconcilable sisters learned to work together. Somebody told me before I could publish my book, I had to have readers which meant I needed to write a blog. When they asked what I could write a lot about, I replied, “Stories.”

Why Stories?

See, I think stories are the most powerful magic we wield. You can change a person’s future with a story. Think of all those people who started working toward law school once they read about Atticus Finch. The veterinarians who followed James Herriot into the profession. Think of the destruction caused by Mein Kamp.

But stories can change history as well. For centuries, Richard III has been vilified, not from the facts but because the next king spread nasty stories about him. And those stories made it into a great play. Sometimes the fictional story is so engaging, that we forget what really happened. Or a well-told story can rescue the truth from obscurity.

The thing is, stories, good stories, can undermine all our defenses. They let us see connections we were blind to before. They find the fear hiding deep in our hearts and linger in the corners of memory. They won’t let us go. Those are the tales I like to describe as “The Ones that Follow Us Home.

So What Will Change?

Well, I’ve spent 4 years writing (mostly) about stories other people have published and I think it’s time for a change. I still love taking about good books and I’ll continue to talk about some of those. But I want to change things up a bit.

I want to tell you some tales I care about that other folks haven’t written down. Ideas that have meaning for me. Stories that followed me home.

Like the tale of two little girls who believed they had nothing in common beyond a timeline and DNA. That’s a story still waiting to be told…some other day.

A Story of Auld Lang Syne

Ever since Thanksgiving, I’ve looked for a story that’s based on the end of a year. I couldn’t find one. There are stories about beginnings and seasons and other holidays but nothing for the end of a year. Instead of reading or writing about New Years, I believe we sing.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot-

And never brought to mind?”

Like the character in “When Harry Met Sally” I used to wonder, what does that lyric mean? Are we supposed to forget those we knew long ago? Are we benefited somehow by releasing what become just the memory of memories? And, if someone has slipped beyond recall, what use is it to try and remember them now? It was all very confusing.

But confusing or not, Auld Lang Syne is as much a part of New Year’s Eve as the line at the bottom of a math problem.  We sing it to say farewell to a year that is ending and the people we’ve left behind in our pasts. This year, that song’s personal to me.

Why It’s Personal

This year I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever made, someone who taught me how to be a friend. We met when we were two weirdos made of nothing but potential and hope. Luckily, we both liked the same “weirdo” things, like folk music, liberal politics, and theatre. (Three subjects guaranteed to get you killed in small-town high school) We laughed at the same silly jokes. I think we were both still a bit scared about boys; both of us had impossible crushes. She yearned for a fellow in the town she’d left while I crushed on a transient teacher. So, we kept each other talking and laughing and company through two trying years of adolescence. Then, at graduation, we let go of the friendship with a wave. But neither let go of the memories.

My Auld Lang Syne
(photo credit: KHS yearbook)

The internet reconnected us decades later but, from the way we behaved, you’d think no time had passed. We still talked for hours at a time and laughed at the same silly things. But, instead of adolescent crushes, we got each other through harder experiences: illness, death, and real heartbreak. We had each others’ backs, at least we did until January 8th of this year. Ever since that day I’ve been learning to live with just the memory of her in my head.

I’ve shed many a tear since the day Lisa died and I doubt if my weeping is done. Our friendship helped me build a life that I love and it feels like part of my foundation is gone. But at least this year since her death has resolved my confusion about That Song.

For Auld Lang Syne

Should Old acquaintances be forgot? Can we forget them, really?  We drink to their memories at New Years, not because we memorized every detail of their existence,  but because they helped make us the people we became. And, although facts or faces can get hazy with time, their influence remains. They are in the jokes we enjoy and the songs we sing. They visit, at times, in our dreams. In our deepest memory of memories, we carry our Auld Acquaintances with us, defining us now by their absence as they did when they stood beside us. We never really leave them behind.

So this is for you, Lisa, on this last day of the year. I wish you hadn’t left the party so quickly. If I catch up with you somewhere down the line, you can be sure I’ll fill you in on what you missed. Because I won’t forget you. I didn’t after high school and I won’t after death. I can’t. You are my Auld Lang Syne.

Albert, the holiday Cold

So, are you enjoying the holiday season? Did you get the gifts you expected to get? Where did you go, what did you do, who shared your seasonal joys? I really want to know. Because my holiday was spent with Albert, the Christmas Cold.Display, pre Albert

Holiday display before the arrival of Albert

Why Albert?

It’s a reasonable question. First, I don’t get normal, every day Colds, never have. While other people’s colds stay 3 days or a week, mine move in for a season or more. And if anything sticks around that long I have to give it a name. My Colds get names I don’t like because I don’t want to being sick anymore than anybody else does. So, in the past, I’ve hosted colds named Harvey and George (which was really difficult since my boss at that time was named George and You can imagine the mix-ups… it wasn’t pretty and I don’t work there anymore.). Anyway, I’ve learned a lot of our Christmas traditions started in Victoria’s England, by way of her husband, Prince Albert ( who really enjoyed keeping Christmas). So, given the timing of this upper respiratory infection, I’d say he’s Albert, the Cold who came for Christmas.

The best laid plans

Display post Albert

Holiday display since the arrival of Albert

Thing is, I had other plans for this season. I had four days off in a row and I was going to do things. I was going to clean my house, take long walks, exercise, bake, go to movies, or the theatre, I’d study and write. I was going to make good use of my time. Then, along came Albert. Albert, with his head-heavy, joint-achy, pain and his mucus that runs like an Olympic sprinter. Only backwards. Albert, with the IQ-lowering congestion and the sore throat. Thanks to Albert, I didn’t have the energy or concentration for anything further than the drugstore. So, I got nothing accomplished over the holiday beyond building a mountain of used paper — Kleenex.

Life on life’s terms

But, how often do our dreams and schemes work out as planned? Rarely to never, from what I see. So, I spent the holiday germ-ridden and confined to the couch, so what? The world didn’t end. The holidays still came. And, if I didn’t write the world’s greatest novel (or even a decent blog post) I did get some much needed rest. And, now I’m hopefully past the worst of this, I learned that even An Upper Respiratory Infection like Albert is temporary. I suppose you could call him my Holiday Guest. A guest that wore out his welcome.

So I hope you had a lovely December and your every wish came true. But whatever comes your way, I hope you find some good in it, even if “it” is a Holiday Cold. Then move on to whatever story life brings you. Tomorrow.

The Autumn of Our Regret: Something Wicked This Way Comes

There’s no doubt about it anymore, this year has grown old.  We’ve gone through the frigid days of winter and the balm of summer and spring. Then we sailed through the most colorful parts of fall and now the world’s turned cold again.  It’s hard not to look at the shortening days and the denuded tree branches without feeling a little regret over the closing of the year. A holiday season is great but there’s nothing like a change of season to make you think about opportunities missed.

I think that’s one reason why Ray Bradbury set his haunting fantasy, “Something Wicked This way Comes” during the later part of the year.  Of course, it’s tied to Halloween – show me a good scary story that isn’t – but this tale is bound less to the ghouls and goblins and more to the real demons that bedevil our lives: fear, regret, isolation, and sorrow.

The Story

Longing and Age are the obsessions running through this dark fantasy: Jim Nightshade, just shy of fourteen wants to grow up and leave childhood, and his friend Will, behind.  What adults do behind window shades intrigues him.  Will’s father, Charles Halloway, has the opposite problem. He suffers the nightmares of middle-age, seeing the windows of his life beginning to close and aware he’s too old to relate to an adolescent son.  Between these two stands Will Halloway, who has pain and longings of his own that can’t be shared.  These three are the only souls to recognize the latent evil in the Autumn carnival that’s come to town.

Carnivals are perfect for a small-town’s thrills.  They’re gaudy, gauzy, visitors that arrive and entertain, then leave before they wear out their welcome.  But the rewards they promise customers are usually more than they deliver.  This carnival, the Autumn Carnival, promises whatever anyone’s longed for or lost and the townspeople are eager to pay the initial price of admission.   But the rides in the Autumn Carnival take more than the coins traded for a ticket.  And finally, only Jim Nightshade, William, and Charles Halloway stand between the town and damnation.

Why read this?

Bradbury delivers, in lyrical lush prose, this story of temptation and accepting the changing seasons of life.  It’s been praised and adapted for film, radio, and stage but the book (as usual) beats all adaptations.  Reading it’s a good way to remember the past and move forward into the present.  And that’s a good thing to do, even at the near of a year.  Better to enjoy each short  day of December than suffer through a long Autumn of Regrets,

Book Title Mash-Ups

I love the idea of mashups.  Two separate but familiar works get slammed together to create an idea that has elements of both.  (Sounds familiar, no?).  The results can be kind of fun.  These title mashups came from my bookshelf.  Which ones do you have?



Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince of Tides 
Harry hates being the last member of his family until he’s stuck with the Wingo clan on Melrose Island for an entire winter.  By Spring, he sends Voldemort a thank-you note.

Gone With the Wind in the Willows

A southern belle recovers from the Civil War by hanging out with some English vermin and a Toad with ADD. Fiddle-dee-dee, what’s a lil ‘ole war between friends?
The Lilies of the Field of Dreams

It doesn’t matter how whack-a-doodle your idea sounds.  If you build it, they will come and you’ll be a better person for going the distance.  (Hey, I know this one is stretching, but don’t they really say the same thing?  Faith + hard work can do anything.)






Howard’s End of the Affair

It’s England, of course, and Henry or his wife have strayed from those marital vows.  In either case, affection gets muddled up with the rights of property.  Another cup of tea for you, vicar?
The Perfect Storm of the Century
The weather’s always worse in New England.  It’s almost as if someone up there  doesn’t like them.


Pollyanna Karenina


As a young girl, she was glad when she didn’t need crutches.  Later, she was glad to be alone with Count Vronsky.  At the end of the day she’s glad that the train is on time.
Send me your mashups, your portmateaus and puns.  All are welcome, on the shelf.

The Books That Follow You Home…

To me, books are like Jack’s magic beans.  Think about poor old Jack, wandering to town with the family cow, hoping to trade Bossy in for a few days worth of chow.   Instead he winds up with a handful of beans his mom flings out the window after she hears of Jack’s impulse trade.   The beans don’t look like much in hand but they end up changing Jack’s life because they really have magical properties.   They can grow huge stalks overnight that take Jack to impossible places of terror and delight.   Because of the beans, Jack becomes a thief, a provider, a rich man and (almost) the giant’s lunch.   Because of the beans, Jack’s life changes forever.

Now some books are a lot like those beans.   In hard form, they are just words on a page, nothing to get excited or scared about and another person might not see much value in them.  But I think they have magical properties.  Like beans, they can take you to places and people you would never know otherwise.  They can transport you through time, like a TARDIS, then return you home for tea.  These stories don’t just give knowledge, they almost seem sentient.  When I was a kid and moving every year, my books were the friends that came with me from state to state.  They’ve moved from the shelves in my room to a place in my heart and many are still there today.  And though other volumes have joined them, there’s always room for the new books and more.   See what I mean?  Books are magic.

And that’s what I want to talk about: the stories and characters that follow you home and become part of you.   They can be fiction or non-fiction, classic, modern or indifferent, genre specific or fusion.  As long as they’re good.  Good enough to be thought about, good enough to be re-read, good enough to be shared.  Let’s talk about some good books

I don’t pretend to be a critic or literary expert.  I’ll share what I like and why, but I’d really like to hear which stories have meaning for you, which books followed you home from the library, the bookstore or school (a true sign of a book nut is the student who takes home the assigned text to study but conveniently “forgets” to return it at the end of the course.  I still have a few to turn in!) and stayed, like the stray cat, for a lifetime.  I’d really like to know which books get to you.

So pretend this is a great big lending library, pull up a comfortable chair and we’ll trade some magic beans.   You can even hang on to your cow.  And I hope you’ll like what you find.

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