Tag Archives: Christmas

Smudge and Twiggles Save Christmas 1

Smudge and Twiggles Save Christmas

For the last 10 years, a children’s book writer named Susanna Leonard Hill has hosted a holiday writing contest. Last year I entered a story entitled Christmas Peach Pie, and out of a few hundred submissions, I was in the final twelve. Voting ensued and I won third place! I’m now querying that story to agents and editors, so we’ll see what happens.

This year the theme was “Holiday Helper.” The stories are always judged on : 1) kid appeal; 2) adherence to theme; 3) quality of story; 4) quality of writing; 5) originality and creativity; and 6) following directions, including the strict word limit of 250 words).

I hadn’t planned on entering this year. But, the prizes seemed pretty good, and a story popped into my mind. I cranked it out in one sitting, made some minor edits and submitted it to the contest.

And….

I didn’t win. Not in the top 12 and not even an honorable mention or special shoutout.

What a holiday bummer.

Except….

I really love the story I wrote (scroll down to the bottom of the post to read it). It features my favorite children’s story elements: talking animals being silly. I especially love a good dog story, and this one features my buddy, Smudge. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss this guy.

Smudge and Twiggles Save Christmas 2

This week was especially hard for me because we got almost 14 inches of snow and there was no moment of joy as I opened the door for the dogs to run outside and witness their snow-fall antics.

Heath and I laugh often over the time we got so much snow, there was no distinction between the porch and the sidewalk. Smudge tore out the door, promptly belly flopped off the front porch and then swam a small circle before coming back inside, very upset at how the whole situation went down.

The absence of these moments in my life is one of the hardest adjustments with losing our Norfolk family pack.

We did, however, get to romp with Annie for a bit in the snow.

Smudge and Twiggles Save Christmas 3

Smudge and Twiggles Save Christmas 4

Doesn’t she look cute? I think she might have part Sasquatch in her, the way the snow freezes on her in such a becoming manner.

For those of you who celebrate, I wish you all a Merry Christmas! For all of us who are missing loved ones this Christmas, I’m holding you especially tight in my heart.

Now, without further ado, I give you:

SMUDGE AND TWIGGLES SAVE CHRISTMAS

Smudge and Twiggles Save Christmas 5

Smudge patrolled the yard for the tenth time that night.  

“Anything yet?” Twiggles the squirrel hopped from branch to branch as she shadowed the black Lab.  

“Noth – hold on!” Smudge sniffed the air. Reindeer! Wrapping paper! Coal! 

“He’s here,” howled Smudge. “Let’s go.” 

Smudge and Twiggles scampered to the house. Three years of Christmas Eve patrolling and so far, they had only spotted the backsides of nine reindeer and a bumper sticker that read I brake for elves.  

In his excitement, Smudge started barking. “SANTA! HEY SANTA! 

“HO, HO, OOOOOOOOH!”  

CRASH! 

Smudge and Twiggles stared at the lump of red and white velvet in front of them.  

“What do we do now?” Twiggles poked the lump. Nothing happened.  

“I think we’re supposed to put on the suit. I saw it on TV once with the humans.”  

Twiggles and Smudge looked at each other. “Dibs,” called Smudge. 

“Nuts,” said Twiggles “How about we split it? You take the pants. I’ll take the shirt. Then we can deliver presents together!” 

They burrowed their way into the mounds of velvet. A wind began to whirl, magic began to twirl and … 

POOF! 

Smudge and Twiggles found themselves on the roof sitting in Santa’s sleigh.  

“What are you supposed to be?” asked Rudolph. 

Santa’s best helpers ever!” yipped Smudge. 

Oh, boy,” said Dasher“This is going to be some night.”  

“Merry Christmas to all,” howled Smudge as the sleigh took off.  

“And to all a good night,” squeaked Twiggles. “Which way do we go?

 

 

 

Reverse Advent Calendar where each day of Advent gives a food to donate to a food pantry

Get into the Christmas Spirit with a Reverse Advent Calendar

2020 is a year of a lot of things — many of them are not good. However, 2020 is also the year I learned about something wonderful and uplifting — a reverse Advent calendar! With Advent fast approaching, this calendar is a great way to connect with the spirit of the season and do some good for your community.

Last year, I started working for a Congregational Church as the Director of Community and Creativity. One of the best parts of this job is I get paid to think of new ideas to engage people around town with the ministries of the church. With the pandemic severely limiting community engagement while at the same time making it more difficult for some people to meet their basic needs, I felt challenged to find something new and different for Advent, yet also meaningful for the congregation. Then I came across the idea of a reverse advent calendar and lo and behold — I found my solution!

A traditional Advent calendar provides individuals with a “door” or “window” to open on the calendar, inside of which a treat or inspirational quotation is found.

Get into the Christmas Spirit with a Reverse Advent Calendar 6

With a reverse Advent Calendar, individuals give something on each day of Advent. The reverse advent calendar I came across on social media had a theme focused around food banks. Since the Norfolk Food Pantry is housed in the church where I work, it seemed like a perfect partnership.

Get into the Christmas Spirit with a Reverse Advent Calendar 7

Photo courtesy of Lynn Deasy

A lot of people may not know this, but there are significant wealth disparities in Norfolk, CT. Yes, we have very wealthy families in Norfolk. To their credit, I have seen some jaw dropping displays of generosity in this town. At the same time, one-third of the students at the local elementary school are on free or reduced lunch, so we clearly have more work to.

The Norfolk Food Pantry has also seen their number of requests double in the last few weeks. They suspect the increase has to do with the discontinuation of supplemental employment assistance during the pandemic.

The reverse Advent calendar is a win-win situation. Participants get to do an act of kindness every day leading up to Christmas. People in need will have access to food.

Added bonus if you live in Norfolk: You can drop off your filled food box at Battell Chapel from 5:00-8:00pm on Christmas Eve and get to experience a drive through experience with luminaries, lessons, and carols.

If you don’t live in Norfolk, then I’m confident any local food bank would be grateful to get a box filled food.

If you want to hear more about how the reverse Advent calendar works, you can watch a video of the church’s online service here. I come in at about 6:36. You can also see my decorated reverse advent calendar box. Even though I am the Director of Community and Creativity, the creativity does not necessarily translate to arts and craftsy type projects.

Here’s a link to the Advent devotional I spoke of in the video. I made the devotional book myself and I think it’s one of my greatest creations in 2020. Okay, Canva helped. A lot. I don’t know what I would do without their templates because design and color combos are not my strengths. But I did find the quotes and choose the pictures featured each day. Anyway, I hope you like it! Here’s a sneak peak to entice you to click on the link!

Get into the Christmas Spirit with a Reverse Advent Calendar 8

 

And just to be thorough and accommodating, here’s an easy-to-print calendar without the daily devotional:

A reverse advent calendar listing each day of Advent along with the food item to be doanted

May you find joy and gratitude this Advent season! If you have any questions or would like to use the reverse Advent calendar daily devotional I created for UCC (Congregational), Norfolk, feel free to reach out to me at genesis.potentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com. A few simple edits and you can use it at any church, any where.

 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! 9

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends! May the joy of this holiday season be as much as the joy of Smudge running in the snow:

Merry Christmas! 10

And since it is Christmas, here’s my gift to you: Some of my favorite Norfolk animals in Santa hats. You’re welcome 🙂

Merry Christmas! 11

Cuite pie Faith (with a photo bomb by Smudge)

Merry Christmas! 12

Santa Smudge with a snowy snoot

Merry Christmas! 13

Dodger and his cousin Maestro! Too much cuteness for words.

Merry Christmas! 14

Sooty Sam and Stuffed Dodger (courtesy of the incomparable Eve Thew)

Merry Christmas! 15

Benjamin Button, the bravest kitten I’ve ever known

Merry Christmas! 16

Annie Banannie, the happiest dog I’ve ever known

Merry Christmas! 17

Chloe, a dog with the heart of an angel

I hope you all have a wonderful day.

Love,
Kelly

Finding Wonder in a Crowd

TItle

The first time I visited New York City, my mom got us tickets to see Cats for my 11th birthday. Everything about the trip and the city appeared glamorous to me – the show’s costumes and makeup, the skyscrapers and people, the miles and miles of fancy stores with huge windows that displayed sophistication and wealth.

We returned to the city several times during the next two decades or so, usually to see a Broadway show, sometimes during the Christmas season. Every time, I felt a sense of wonder and awe and for a few years of my life I fantasized about what it would be like if I lived in the New York.

My husband, who was born and raised in the Nashville, visited New York City for the first time in October 2016. As a photographer, he found tons of inspiration in the people and architecture, and he’s been wanting to return ever since. So when an opportunity presented itself for us to housesit in an apartment in the financial district of NYC this last week, we said YES!

Nearly everyone we spoke to were so excited for us to spend Christmas in New York. We received many recommendations and we made our to-do lists. We both wanted to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and the ice skating rink, so that’s where we headed on Christmas Day.

I felt almost giddy with nostalgia of the times my family and I had walked down 5th Avenue. Then we actually got to 5th Avenue and, Dear God, what had I been thinking?

Once when I lived in the Chicago area, I headed downtown on Christmas Eve to spend the evening with a friend and her mother. The city felt peaceful and quiet, with a cold solitude enveloping the night.  Hardly anyone else was out and about and I delighted in how easy it was for me to find my way around and secure a parking space without parallel parking.

Naively, I held the same expectations for Christmas in New York. I could not have been more wrong.

THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE EVERYWHERE! People crammed onto every street corner, jostling for position to view the tree and ice skaters. SO. MANY. PEOPLE.

I still couldn’t resist having this picture taken:

Tree

Seriously, how cute is my husband?

Then we headed to Saks 5th Avenue. STILL. MORE. PEOPLE.

All the People 2 All the People 3

 

It was like Disney World. Literally. And I really do mean literally because this year Saks opted to have their windows display scenes from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As a writer, I felt a huge sense of disappointment and dismay. Not to minimize the work and production that went into creating these windows, but where was the imagination in this process? Every single scene was a snapshot from the movie and I’m pretty sure most are featured on the Disney World ride.

Equally disappointing was that every window featured sponsorship by Mastercard. Although, I suppose nothing says Merry Christmas in our 21s century consumeristic society like a credit card.

SNow White 1 Snow White 3

Just when I was on the brink of feeling totally Scrooge like at everything going on around me, two small miracles occurred. First, I got to experience this child’s wonder at seeing the windows:

Little GIrl with windows

Then, I just happened to be there when the Saks’ storefront came alive in lights and music:

For a moment, I could let go of ALL. THE. PEOPLE. and I could feel the wonder around me.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long. I don’t know if it’s the energy in NYC or something else, but with where I am right now in my life, NYC and I are just not that into each other.

The real highlights of my trip were the animals I got to take care of and love. Meet Clyde, a mini-Schnauzer:

Clyde

Schroeder, a Bichon Frise:

Schroeder

Sheena, a very vocal white cat:

And Heisenberg, a handsome ball of fluff and fur:

Heisenberg

The single best part of the trip is the fact that Sheena rides around in a backpack.

Sheena in Backpack

Walk

We took her for a walk the first day and I’m so glad we did because it’s been so freakin’ cold every day thereafter, and even though Sheena has a sweater, it’s just too cold outside for her little body.

Sheena in sweater

FUN FACT: The sweater Sheena has is the same sweater I bought for Cody the Boxer when I lived in Naperville, IL.

Cody in Sweater

A gang of dogs and cats wearing matching skull-and-cross-bones sweaters? Sounds like a children’s book in the making!

There are so many benefits to the housesitting lifestyle, but at the top of my list are the sources of inspiration I encounter with each new house and animal I meet.

After this recent stay in New York, I can say with certainty that any fantasy I had about living in the city in now kaput. I wouldn’t trade the week for anything, though, because now I find myself dreaming of the stories I could write about my new furry friends.

At this very moment there could be an editor thinking to themselves, what I really want in a picture book is a story about a cat who goes everywhere in a backpack or a little dog who takes on the winter world when he’s wearing his flannel cape.

Schroeder in coat

These will likely be the next stories I write. Because they’re based on my house-sitting adventures and animals I now know and love, the writing process is going to be one of joy and enthusiasm.

Nothing may ever come of these stories, although I hope that’s not the case. But in the meantime, I’m going to give myself some good laughs, stretch my creativity and imagination, and work on the art and craft of picture book writing.

Wishing everyone one a Happy New Year! May 2018 be filled with abundant joy, prosperity, love, light, and laughter.

End Note: I wrote this post before I found out yesterday that a dog I love dearly had to be put to sleep. He was surrounded by his family at the time, and although I am so sad the world has lost such a funny, loyal, brave, and true companion, I am grateful for the love and laughter he brought into our lives. If everyone who has a pet could give them a special hug and kiss from me today, I would appreciate it. The world is always a better place when there’s more love in it.

Memoir Monday, December 12th, 2016

countdown-to-christmas-part-ii-for-blog

Most of my formative adult years took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Thus, it should surprise no one that some of my favorite holiday specials are the Thanksgiving- and Christmas-themed episodes from Friends.  At the top of the list is The One Where Ross Gets High, featuring Rachel’s traditional English trifle and Monica and Ross outing each other to their parents for all their past misdeeds.

A close second would be The One with the Holiday Armadillo, which if you don’t know who the holiday armadillo is, he’s Santa’s part-Jewish holiday friend.  Ross dressed as an armadillo is the focus of the episode, but at the very beginning of it Phoebe brings out her Christmas skull to remind us that, “at Christmas people still die.”

I still laugh a lot when I see this clip from Friends, but now I’m older I can’t help but spend some time reflecting this Christmas on what the Christmas skull means to me.  I don’t mean to be morbid, but Phoebe is right.  At Christmas, people still die.

These thoughts might be forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we’re caring for was recently found to have a mass on his spleen.  He’s ten-years old and aside from a major surgery which may or may not prolong his life at all, there’s nothing else to be done for him.  After agonizing over the decision, his doggy parents decided they would let him spend his days in the comfort of his home, surrounded by the rest of his pack, and meandering around the 20 acres on their property.  It’s a nice way to go if you ask me, much better than being cut open and having an internal organ removed on the small chance of surviving an extra few months.

moon-cropped

Or I could be thinking this way because of my cousin, Becky.  In December, 2013, she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 43.  She passed away just four short months later.

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Then there’s my friend who confided in me that it may be the last Christmas for one of their friends who has a degenerative illness.  My friend wondered what to possibly get for this person and their spouse, knowing this will likely be some of the last time they have to spend together.

It’s a sobering thought to consider Christmas gifts as last ones ever.  Does it make the iPad or gift card seem less relevant?  Does it invoke a need to simply be with someone and let them know how much they mean to you?  All thoughts to consider as we wait in line at checkout counters hoping to get the best sale of the season.

target

Then there’s the narcissistic, egotistical, and human side of me.  What if it was my last Christmas?  How would I want to spend it?  What would I wish for?  I spent some time reflecting on these last two questions and quite surprisingly I found a lot of comfort in the answers I came up with.

The first thing I would do is have a huge holiday party with all my friends and family.  There would be a lot of dancing, peppermint-flavored sweet treats, and a baby polar bear for people to cuddle with similar to the sloth Dax Shepard got for Kristen Bell for her birthday one year.

More than anything, though, I would want to spend as much time as possible with my husband.  We would hit as many National Parks as we could, preferably bringing along some key family members and petting as many dogs as we could along the way.

I would also finish my first novel, which I’m delighted to report is thisclose to being done.  After that, there would be only two other things on my wish list – for the children’s stories I’ve written to be published and to see a bear in the wild.  The first would be easy enough, with my talented roster of friends, and the possibility of self-publishing.  Plus, my husband is well aware of this wish of mine and I have no doubt he would spend whatever time  necessary to get them published in my absence (just one of the MANY reasons I am so devoted to him).  The second, well, if I got to cuddle with a baby polar bear at my death party, I’d be happy to let go of my desire to see one in the wild.

Here’s the best part about my wishes, though, and the reason I find so much comfort in my answers:  this last year, I’ve spent most of my time working towards them on my own, without the threat of imminent death.  Heath and I were blessed with a wonderful wedding reception from my NC friends.

wedding-reception

We spent time with both my parents in Harrisburg, PA, and his parents in Smyrna, TN, and we have plans to do again soon.

blondie

My niece and I went on a spring-break-roadtrip extravaganza in the American Southwest stopping off at the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon

grand-canyon

and my husband and I now travel all around for the sole purpose of petting and loving other people’s dogs (and cats and homes, too).

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frank

I write almost every day and agents are currently reviewing my picture storybooks.  There still hasn’t been a bear sighting, but I am constantly on the lookout.

So, as we countdown to Christmas, I’d encourage you to spend some time quietly reflecting on what you would do differently if you knew this would be your last Christmas.  Then go out and do it!  If not for you, then do it for Moon, my cousin Becky, and my friend’s friend, and everyone else out there who will only get one more Christmas.

Memoir Monday, December 5th, 2016

countdown-to-christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  That’s what everyone likes to tell us, but I’m here to affirm it’s not necessarily true. 

In December 2012, Ebenezer Scrooge was my role model. 

Not only did I “celebrate” Christmas completely alone (I refused several invitations of holiday dinners and family get-togethers), I did not decorate my house or office, I did not buy anyone gifts (that I can remember), and I did not eat a single Christmas cookie.  The last one wasn’t by choice, more medical necessity.

For months leading up to that holiday season, I felt overworked and utterly exhausted.  My body was no longer successfully processing any food I ate, and I spent my days sick.  After invasive procedures recommended by a gastroenterologist found absolutely nothing wrong, an integrative medicine doctor recommended I cut out all sugars, gluten, and dairy from my diet.

As someone who loves cupcakes, I never would have followed such ridiculous advice if I hadn’t been so desperate for something to change.  Also, the doctor had excellent logic.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Kelly: I’m just so tired.  I feel exhausted all the time. 

Doctor: Well, what have you been eating.

Kelly: Marshmallows. 

In my defense, they were peppermint flavored and I love all things peppermint.  Seriously, though, I saw his point and something had to give because of how crappy I felt, literally and figuratively.  Here was someone offering me something tangible and concrete to try. 

I wasn’t sure if I could do it but I also couldn’t imagine continuing the way I had been.

A lot changed in that following year.  My digestive health improved, although it was still what I would deem “poor.”  There were many foods I could not eat without experiencing ill effects, including grains, soy, dairy, and most fruits and vegetables.  On the positive side, I was getting ready for my sabbatical and feeling grateful I could finally take a break.

When I was in graduate school, I used to fantasize I would be in a car accident – nothing fatal, just enough so that I could lay in a hospital bed and do nothing but rest.  I had started feeling that way again the past few semesters at my university job.  Yes, I know this is not healthy thinking and something I discussed with my therapist(s) on several occasions.  They often encouraged me to quit my job if I was so unhappy, something I didn’t think would ever be possible.  What would I do?  What would people say?  How will I make any money?  These are the questions that plagued my mind which discouraged me from making any real changes.  Of course, it was also around this time I started meditating.  I was looking for other ways to relieve my stress and just happened to get an email inviting me to participate in a Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey free 21-day-meditation challenge on the theme of Desire and Destiny. 

Little did I know that would be the start of some truly big changes in my life.

But at the time, while I was able to appreciate some improvements in my life, I was still feeling empty and alone.  Having a therapist helped me during this time and I began to understand what I was contributing to these feelings of lack in my life.  And, for the first time in a long time, I put up a tiny Christmas tree.

If you had told me next year at the same time I would be in Peru, I would have said you were nuts.  That’s exactly where I was though.  Two years ago, in December 2014, I attended COP-20, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima.  The invitation happened rather serendipitously but it was one I thought I would regret if I didn’t take it.

It was right around then, I began wondering why I didn’t miss teaching more and worrying that my sabbatical would be over too soon.  I still classified my physical health as “poor,” but my digestion issues had improved.  My biggest concern was sleep.  I had stopped taking my narcolepsy medicine for a variety of reasons, including worsening drug side effects of anxiety and paranoia, as well as post-traumatic stress from an accidental overdose of my narcolepsy medicine a few weeks prior.  Since I wasn’t working and I could take multiple naps throughout the day, I managed.

One year later (December 2015), I was in Paris, France, attending COP-21.  I had already turned in my resignation as an associate professor so I could pursue my dream of writing.  I started writing on a regular basis and I completed several children’s stories and a short story.  My physical health was good due to hot yoga and Dailey Method classes several times per week.  My diet became much more diverse, and I even enjoyed crepes while in Paris.  High quality sleep still alluded me on most nights, but with a good diet and regular exercise I was better than okay.

Now here we are in December, 2016.  I’m living in Norfolk, CT, with my amazing husband, and I’m a writer!  One of my short stories was published by Outrider Press this past year and I regularly write on my blog (THANKS FOR READING!).  I can now eat all the foods I eliminated from diet without too much worry of ill effects, except I’ve gone overboard having spent years not eating these foods and now I need to exercise even more.  I can’t really complain, because more exercise helps my sleep which is still meh.

All this to say, as we countdown to Christmas

please remember the greatest gift we can give ourselves is time.

There is no way we can predict where we will be in our lives one year, one month, one week, or even one day from now.  Life gets better; life gets worse.  And if you happen to be in one of the worse stages, just know that you are not alone.