Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving: A Short Story

Leah had already tossed two bags of frozen broccoli into her cart and had a third in her hand. She didn’t need more than one bag of any vegetable, and propelling frozen goods did not help the situation. But she decided to buy the additional broccoli anyway. So she had a lot of broccoli? Fine. They'd eat a lot of broccoli. Besides, being in a snit was better than being in tears.

Disappointment coupled with increasing resentment had prompted these little snits for weeks now, and most of the time Leah didn’t even care that her husband was getting more than a little tired of it. “Leah, put down the broccoli,” he would probably say if he were here. “You’re not mad at groceries. You’re mad at life.” He might add that she was mad at God, but she was trying to keep that possibility to herself. 

Help, Lord. I’m not really mad at You . . . very much. But I have been losing control of my emotions. You might have noticed the broccoli incident just now.   

Five minutes ago a photo on the grocery store wall of a family around a Norman Rockwellian Thanksgiving table had been her latest undoing. The photo was so big she could see the color of their eyes, and the woman who was obviously the grandmother in the scene had short salt-and-pepper hair and brownish eyes like Leah’s. Tears would have fallen right then if she hadn’t marshaled resentment to dam them up. The fake family looked so happy, so . . . together, while she and Jim would be apart from their only child and his family, including their grandson, Bradley. Some Thanksgiving.

Why did Alex have to be transferred several states away in September, why had Jim’s work schedule made it impossible for them to jump on a plane and go to them for the holiday, and why had her only sister and her family gone to Disneyworld? Serving the Thanksgiving meal at their church wouldn’t take her mind off her unhappy state for long. She’d spend the evening with a book in her living room, feeling sorry for herself while Jim watched football on TV. She’d rather die than go into the den and watch another family deliriously happy to be together for the holidays in a Hallmark Channel movie.

Leah glanced at her list to decide which way to steer her cart next, determined to get her shopping over with so she could get away from the crowds and any more Rockwell-like photos. As she headed toward the dairy section, two toddlers across the wide aisle caught her attention. They were wearing knitted Elmo hats with flaps that flared out from their ears. Four little hands gripped the shopping cart handle over their heads, and a young woman pulled the cart forward with one hand. 

They stopped at a frozen foods bin, and three-year-old Bradley’s face came to Leah’s mind. The identical twins had the same shade of blond curls, escaping from beneath their hats to frame brown eyes and long eyelashes. The young, blonde mother reminded Leah of her daughter-in-law, though she could not have been more than five two to Leah and Lisa’s taller frames. She wore the expression of a weary parent, and Leah’s focus shifted to the mom's immediate struggle. 

Her first attempt to grip both sides of the turkey had resulted in its slipping back into the depths of the bin, and at the same moment each twin seemed to decide he wanted sole management of the shopping cart. Leah pushed her cart as close to them as possible, stepped to the bin with her own height several inches to the advantage, and smiled. “Hi. That’s a huge turkey. Let me help.” 

“Oh, thanks!” Young Mom smiled, though the weariness was evident in her striking blue eyes. “I’m not doing such a great job by myself, am I? Stores don’t seem to think about short people when they pack these displays.” 

Out of the corner of her eye Leah could see the boys had stopped their shoving to watch the strange woman interacting with their mother. Maybe Leah looked like one of their grandmothers. She reached to join the second effort, and the two women lifted the turkey into the cart before letting it slip to the bottom with a clunk. Then Leah turned her full attention to the future recipients of a turkey feast.

“Who’s going to eat this big guy, Elmo or you?” Leah pointed to their hats, and the boys giggled. 

“Elmo doesn’t eat turkey!” 

“Yeah, we eat turkey!” Their faces shined with delight.

“You do? Well, you help your mom while she’s cooking that turkey, okay?” The boys looked at each other as if confused by the idea that they would be allowed anywhere near an oven in use. 

“Thank you for your help.” Young Mom put her purse into the cart with the turkey and placed one hand on each boy’s head.  

“You’re welcome. I’m not short, but I know what it’s like to corral young children in a store during a pre-holiday crush. My daughter-in-law is living that life now with her three-year-old son. It can be exhausting.”

“Well, I’m sure you’re a big help to her.” 

“I used to be, but she lives a few states away now. We won’t see them until Christmas.”

“Oh. Well, I hope your Thanksgiving is blessed just the same. It’s the holiday that starts Christmas.” Young Mom bent forward as her hands moved to small shoulders, lightly gripping folds of their puffy coats. “Thanks again.” She gently wrapped the boys’ fingers around the cart handle, took position behind them, and maneuvered them all toward the bread aisle. 

It’s the holiday that starts Christmas? Leah stayed put for a moment wondering what she meant. Black Friday? The Macy’s parade, where Santa makes an appearance at the end? Leah was still thinking about it as she loaded her groceries in the trunk of her car. Young Mom had made that statement with a certainty that seemed to go beyond bargain shopping and character balloons.

“There’s that grandma!” The little voice behind her made her turn. The same mom and her twins were at the back of the van next to Leah’s car. “I’m sorry, but at least you already told us you really are a grandma.” 

“Yes, I am—and proud of it too.” Leah hesitated a moment, not wanting to overstep her standing as a stranger. “This is a little weird, but do you mind if I ask you a question real quick about what you said inside, about Thanksgiving and Christmas? I—”

“Sure. People ask me about it all the time. It’s something my granddad taught us. Let me get the boys buckled in.” Leah finished putting her own groceries in her trunk, tossed her purse into the passenger seat, and waited. When Young Mom returned, Leah handed her bags from her cart.

“My dad’s parents hosted everyone in our family on their farm for Thanksgiving. Granddad always said a prayer something like, ‘Our minds and hearts are focused on Your many blessings today, Lord. But, too, we thank You for the opportunity to begin preparing our hearts to celebrate Your greatest gift of all.’ Then each family put out a nativity scene Granddad made to remind us of that prayer. He was a fantastic woodworker. Anyway, it’s a tradition we wouldn’t give up for the world, a sort of Nelson family Advent starter. An alternative to, well, these days, a Black Friday mentality. I don’t know if that makes sense to you—”

“Oh, it does.” The twins were yelling for their mom now. “Thanks so much. I was puzzling over what you’d said for the last thirty minutes. Thanks . . .”

“Jennifer. And the boys are Liam and Luke.”

“I’m Leah. I’ll take these carts over to the corral. Good-bye, Jennifer—and thanks again.” 

As she drove home, Leah mulled over her attitude for the last few weeks. What had she been thinking? How had she let disappointment and resentment push aside the attitude of thanksgiving she’d always tried to cultivate? She had the blessing of family, a blessing not everyone had. They might be apart for Thanksgiving, but they would be together at Christmas. The new separation still hurt, but letting her feelings override gratitude had been . . . no way to live!

She needed to apologize to Jim and tell him about Jennifer. She’d tell him she thought the granddad’s prayer would breathe the hope of Christmas into their Thanksgiving Day, starting a true Christmas right then, more than anticipating being with Alex and his family. Her husband might wonder if her attitude change would hold, if Leah thought Jennifer had been some kind of Hallmark Channel angel sent from God, if three bags of frozen vegetables for two people should arouse grave concern. But God woke up hearts all sorts of ways, and hers suddenly felt wide awake.

She also had a creche to get down from the attic, and for sure she needed to look up some new broccoli recipes.

photo credit:

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Thanksgiving Feast Tip: Wear “Reminder Pants”

Are you simultaneously salivating with anticipation and dreading the nearly inevitable weight gain from that huge American Thanksgiving meal this week? Two words, my friends: reminder pants.

I thought my clever husband coined the term “reminder pants,” but then I sort of found it on the Internet. Either way, reminder pants are real and useful. They have a zipper and are too tight around the waist before Thanksgiving Day. If you don’t already own one or two pair to wear at casual holiday events that feature a load of food, you should. And ladies, leave those dresses with give in them in the closet.

Here’s how they work:

  • Just zipping them up is an Olympic-worthy feat, and the effort burns enough calories to allow one piece of pumpkin pie but not two. This has been scientifically proven. And with the right pair of reminder pants, Cool Whip is out of the question.
  • The shallow breathing made necessary by the tight fit around the waist makes eating too much humanly impossible. One is too busy trying not to faint, which is why it is imperative not to don reminder pants that are sized for sure death. Also scientifically proven.
  • Because reminder pants wearers are not able to sit up straight, making them prone to embarrassing food drops and dribbles, they are forced to target their mouths carefully with tiny, infrequent bites as opposed to shoveling food in. Gravy is pretty much ruled out altogether. Yes, scientifically proven.

Now, reminder pants can be worn with all the good intentions in the world, but then their effectiveness completely sabotaged. Say at the last minute, at the table, they are unzipped, an act hidden underneath an enormous sweater. The sweater obviously implies premeditation. Shame! Or worse, someone “accidentally” forgets to pack them for the trip to Grandma's house, the grandma who makes enough food to feed a small town anywhere in America. Completely unforgivable is claiming to make a trip specifically to buy a pair of reminder pants and being "unable to find the right size." Yeah, sure. Tell us another one.

Hey, if you are only going to pretend, you might as well forget about reminder pants and go for it. Eat all you want. But don’t come crying to me if the pants with the comfortable fit you wore on Thanksgiving Day are your reminder pants by Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Editors Are People Too

When I first took a job in a publishing house, I was in awe of the staff editors. Oh my gosh, they make books! They work with authors! They know authors! And I’ve never lost that admiration, particularly for editors who have been in the publishing industry for many years. But after a while, my hero worship morphed into a more substantial respect . . . and a realization that editors are people too. 

In my eventual role as a managing editor, I sat with editors on a regular basis to help resolve any barriers to their completing all the necessary editorial stages. Challenges abounded, and Plan A often shifted into Plan B, Plan C, and beyond. Both acquisition and production editors faced unglamorous obstacles, everything from late manuscripts, to poorly written manuscripts, to times when there were more expectations to fulfill than seemed humanly possible. On top of all that, I know sometimes they felt less than appreciated. I hate to think that in my busyness I often failed to show appreciation, but I have to admit that was probably the case.

Though demands on me as a freelancer are not as heavy as for those editors who hold in-house positions, now I understand some of their challenges even better. How tricky it is to edit an author for the first time, the finesse it takes to find the right dance steps that honor their writing style and make the most of your editing style. That sinking feeling when an author does not like your suggestions (though they sometimes later decide most of them work after all!). And, I have to admit, what it's like to feel as though your contribution to the excellence of a book might be undervalued (at which point you must swallow a grown-up pill and move on). 

This is not about the “care and feeding” of editors; they can take care of themselves. But they do appreciate working in an authentic "we all make a difference" environment and acknowledgment and simple thanks when their work has value. Editors as a group aren't complaining. I'm not complaining. But in case you know one or two of them, it's good to remember that editors are people too.

Monday, November 17, 2014

When Life’s Puzzles Don’t Make Sense

When faced with a life puzzle that doesn’t make sense, I sometimes feel certain the missing pieces that will make all my doubts and questions disappear are available to me. Even without a picture on the puzzle box lid, I have worked hard to fit together all the puzzle pieces God has given me, and when the picture seems incomplete, I look for, ask for, maybe even demand the pieces that will clear up the confusion. After all, God wants me to completely understand what picture He’s going for, right?

When will I learn?

Outside my puzzle’s borders is the big picture with all the answers, but that big picture belongs to God, not me. He asks me to acknowledge, depend upon, and rest in the truth that He loves me and He is in control, not to expect more pieces to the puzzle. Then whatever happens, He asks me to acknowledge, depend upon, and rest in the truth that He loves me and He is in control. Bookend instructions.

It’s that simple and easy, and that hard and scary, that profound and mind-blowing. Though God has placed wonderful and miraculous pieces of beauty and blessing in our lives, it is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can work any puzzle we don’t understand into the big picture we want to see. 

In the trying, that’s not praise. That’s not trust. That’s not rest. That’s not love. In the trying, we are robbed of peace. It’s not that God doesn’t understand our longing to understand; I believe He does. He will show us the big picture someday. The day, however, is not for us to decide. And so, we must leave the puzzle in His hands.

What puzzle are you working today?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Story Featuring Snow (with a Cameo Appearance by Chocolate)

This post first appeared on a former blog, bloomthink, on December 5, 2011. Dad was still with us then. Winter, it seems, will always be with us. It was 27 degrees when I woke up in Central Indiana today. Brrrrrrr.

We ride together in one car to pick up our other car from the shop. After paying for the work we had done, he gives me the car keys and asks, "Okay?" "Yes," I say. "See you at home after I visit my dad." He drives off to do his errands.

It has snowed. That heavy, slushy, very wet type of snow, and I have to clean off the car before I can go anywhere. I unlock it and start searching. Where's the ice scraper brushy thingy? Not in the front, not in the back. Must still be in the trunk where it has idly rested since last spring. I open the trunk. I am cold. A slip into mere okay-ishness is already threatening.

There it is. The ice scraper brushy thingy is way in the back of the trunk, with the folded lawn chairs, undoubtedly miffed at being taken so much for granted. It's so far back that I cannot reach it without leaning in and getting the front legs of my pants wet. Oh, that's cold! I still can't reach it. Come here, you . . . you . . . thingy, you.  I need something to pull it toward me. Well, here's some kind of stick thing.

Reaching, reaching. Trying, trying. This is very trying. I finally manage to move one end of the scraper enough toward me to be able to grab it. Now the front legs of my jeans are soaked through. And I wonder which coat has my leather gloves in its pockets since it is not the coat I am wearing. Did I say I am cold? I am now in full-blown okay-ishness, considering being not okay.

I clean off the car as quickly as I can, but all the windows are covered with snow again almost as soon as I scrape off the slush. Finally, I get in the car, turn on all the defrosters, and think about how to get out of this lot. It is a tight squeeze. Every slot has a car in it and I have very little room to back up. It's a nightmare, but I can do it. Pull back, jockey, pull forward, jockey. If only I could see what I am doing.

A guy comes running out of the shop, and I lower my window when I see he wants to say something to me. It hits me that he and others in the shop may have been watching this lame attempt. "You can just pull forward here into the street," he says. "There isn't really much of a curb." He's smiling, but I imagine I can hear him add, "you dumb woman driver."  "Oh, I didn't see that," I say. My response is also lame, but I can't say "How was I supposed to see that?" like I want to. He is just trying to help, right? So much so that he steps into the street, holds off traffic, and directs me out. I imagine several other drivers mumbling, "dumb woman driver."

Ten minutes later I am with my dad. Except for the wet pant legs, I am swinging back to an okay state. I am over it. I have carried in my offerings, including the chocolate covered cordial cherries that were on sale at Meijer. The box only has ten pieces in it, so my gamble is a small one. Still, I hope for success to make up for the last half hour. "Dad, was it Mom and you who liked these so much, or was it just Mom?" "It was just your mom," he says.

Let's see. Cold and snow. Wet pant legs. Embarrassing car lot experience. A bout of okay-ishness. Unclaimed chocolate-covered cordial cherries.

Well, what would you do?

Monday, November 10, 2014

But Why Does Anyone Need 72-Hour Deodorant Protection?

Sweaty ad writer?
Respect all writers trying to make a buck; they work hard. But throw in some sympathy, too, for those who have to write blurbs with information I find puzzling. 

My brand of deodorant, for instance, boasts 72-hour protection. Now, my body requires only 24, maybe 30 hours of protection. That is because I shower pretty much once every 24 hours or so, just like many Americans. But though I cannot believe they are this company’s core customer base, I have to assume some folks out there need to ensure they smell okay for up to three whole days.

But who? World-class wilderness campers? Youth pastors leading a retreat during which opportunities to shower will be zero? Teens who have no intention of bathing until hour 73? Sweaty ad writers?

Then there is my brand of dental floss, which is called “hi-tech.” Perhaps I don’t understand the meaning of hi or tech, but isn’t this a thin, coated string that is not as dependent on technology as those words would have us believe? Even adding mint flavoring cannot be all that hard, right?

Last, in the grocery aisles we find various products that are “packed with goodness.” I have this one figured out! This is to make up for the fact that some of us don't cook from scratch, making it less likely to eat actual goodness. But we understand that the blurb writer would be fired for suggesting copy that said, “Processed for your convenience with some stuff that may or may not be as bad for you as other stuff we know qualifies as badness.” We buy the stuff anyway.

I don't really know what else to say. It's like 72-hour deodorant. There is only so much you can say.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

How Readers Are Not Like Birds (or Being Okay with It When Writers Say "Come, Read!")

My husband enjoys the birds that come to his patio feeders. So much so that when the flowers in the hanging basket outside my office window bit the autumnal dust, I wasn’t surprised he suggested a bird feeder for that spot. I agreed—as long as he didn't expect me to report which birds and how many of them showed up. I don't have to know everything about birds to enjoy the benefits of a seed-offering station outside my window. Still, I did hope an interesting variety of birds would visit.

Out went a new feeder filled to the brim with a carefully selected blend of seeds, but several days went by without any bird appearances. Erecting a sign that said, “Hey, birds, look what we have here!” never occurred to us, maybe because we are pretty sure birds cannot read. We simply waited. A few days later the birds discovered the new feeder all on their own.

Readers, however, are not like birds. (Work with me, now.)

Serious writers put their work “out there”—a carefully selected blend of thought, words, and heart. But for many writers it's hard to accept that potential readers, unlike birds, do need a sign that says, "Come, read!" You see, some of us feel funny about promoting our work. Who do I think I am? Why would anyone care what I have to say? Isn't this really promoting . . . me? Yet, writers do hope someone will gain enjoyment, encouragement, or insight from what they write.

That's one reason I appreciated a workshop presenter at the writers conference I attended this past weekend, successful blogger and soon-to-be-published book author Nate Pyle. He said it's okay for bloggers to promote what they have to offer; people have to know blogs exists, that each blog post exists, to consider whether or not they want to sample what is being offered. And I am sure he would say the same about authors of all kinds of written material.

It's not that all writers need a lot of birds . . . uh, readers . . . to keep going. I, for example, will write for this blog as long as I want to, no matter how few people read it (and yes, I know writing mostly about writing limits an audience anyway). So I am not asking anyone to follow, subscribe, comment on, share, or like any blog or blog post—though indications that someone is reading are encouraging for a writer. Who's going to lie about that? But I am asking the uninterested to be okay with it when writers promote their work on Facebook, Twitter, and so on, because I think Nate is right. Just ignore the signs if our brand of seed is not attractive.

And, hey, you writers out there? I, for one, want to know where your feeders are. Bottom line, potential readers need signs. And that's how they are not like birds. Well that, and not many of them have feathers.

Writers, what are your own thoughts or feelings on this topic?
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