Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Parent Compensation Fund

By  Lacey Gunter

par·ent
noun
1. a father or mother

2. a gym mat

Does your house ever feel this way?

I adore my kids and I love playing with them. It is great to just giggle and laugh and romp around and use your imagination with them.  But in all my preparations for being a parent, I don't remember much mention of on the job hazards beyond giving birth.  I mean there were the obvious discussions of the physical trials of lack of sleep and sanity in the early infant months and the emotional trials of parenting toddlers and teenagers. Maybe even a few jokes about risking death when teaching a teenager to drive. But I never once remember people mentioning how often they get jumped on, head butted, elbowed, poked in the eye, stepped on, whacked in the face or pinched.  I never remember seeing this in the job description.

It started really early with my kids. I remember when one of my children was about 6 months old and he discovered he could pop his head forward and collide it with mine. It didn't seem to cause much pain on his part, but the squealing and animated faces on my part made it seem like a funny kind of peek-a-boo to him.   The little guy had no idea he was actually hurting me, he just thought it was fun.  But it got to a point where I either had to hold him way out in front of me or facing away from me if I wanted to avoid a good conk on the head or a bruised cheek.

My kids are very kind and loving children. They just love to jump on my husband and me or randomly throw objects into the air or whip things around while sitting in our laps.

We spend so much time money and effort trying to help our kiddos avoid hazardous situations and like, no time at all helping parents learn how to avoid black eyes or the random kick to the stomach. Parenting is like a full contact sport. Sometimes I wish I had my own helmet and full body protective gear. If anyone knows of a great passive self-defense class, pass on the info. I'll be there with bells on. In the meantime, I say we start a Parent Compensation Fund. Are you with me?
 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Two Things Caretakers Need to Remember

by Mare @ ADVENTURES IN THE BALLPARK 

I had a rough evening with Mom today.  She's 94 and has some dementia, and I help her shower, and tonight, she wasn't very happy.  She didn't like something I bought her, she was impatient with the fact that I've not connected with her physical therapist yet (we keep missing each other), she kept at me about helping her with a letter she's been writing, and she didn't like the towel I used to help her dry off.

On the mile-drive home from my parents' ALF, I felt the pressure of tears. I've been helping my parents (Dad is 91) for five years, and I've watched them gradually decline.  Every month or so, they have a medical issue, or a further slip in mental acuity. Overall, I'm able to cope, but once in awhile...it hits me that these are not the parents I grew up with.  Their lives have become very small.  Their memories are short, their complaints are close to the surface.  They are adamant that they can do everything they used to do, but they really can't.  I am usually the bad guy, the one who sets the boundaries, says no, but behind the scenes, makes sure they are OK. 

I am a caretaker.  I never thought I'd be doing this, but here I am.  I love my parents, and God sustains me.  I'm not complaining.  I'm just realizing that as we age and our awareness/abilities disappear, we are left with what seems to be simply the flesh.  And the flesh is weak and tired and grumpy. 

My parents were never like this before.  They are dedicated Christians who raised four children and buried a son when he was 23.  They worked in the church tirelessly all of their adult lives. They opened their home to friends and strangers alike.  Any loving kindness I have ever extended, I learned from them.

The Mom I helped tonight is not the Mom who raised me and became a friend/spiritual guide to me.  But, it's not her intention to be testy; her brain is simply deteriorating. It's wearing down and wearing out, and frequently, misfiring.  This is what the flesh does.  It was never meant to be permanent.  It's here for awhile, and then it turns to dust.  It helps to remember this.

I will meet the spirit of my Mom again one day, when we are both gone from this life.  I believe we will be reunited in heaven, whatever form that takes.  The flesh will be a thing of the past, and we will be at peace.  It helps to remember this too.


Monday, January 19, 2015

How to Make Your Novel As Compelling As Downton Abbey

by Kasey Tross

Mary and Matthew. Because if I have an excuse to use a photo of Dan Stevens, I will.
Photo from this article in which Dan Stevens mourns the lost art of romance. *sigh*


I am an analyzer. When I find something I like, it’s not enough for me just to enjoy it- I feel a need to analyze it and pinpoint exactly WHY I like it, and once I figure that out, I want to know HOW to do it myself (this is why half of the meals I serve at my house are replicas something I’ve eaten at a restaurant). Ever since I started writing more seriously it’s gotten way worse- I can’t watch movies or TV without saying, “Hey, how did they do that?” 

And so it is with Downton Abbey*. I found myself enraptured with the sparkling gowns, the polished furnishings, the handsome men and elegant women, but it was more than that- the show seems to have this quality, this magnetic power that, unlike the majority of pop culture, is not fueled by sex, violence, crude humor, or supernatural elements (although in many ways the culture of early 20th century England does feel a bit supernatural at times). 

So what is it about this show? As per my usual fashion, I broke it down. And now, dear reader, I am blessing you with my findings.**

1. Everybody has a secret. For real. EVERYBODY. The butler, the baker, the candlestick maker. This is nothing new- it’s a well-known trick of the storytelling trade to give every character a secret, but I also noticed that in this show there are two kinds of secrets: the Sword Secrets and the Shield Secrets.

Sword Secrets- These are the stuff blackmail is made of. These are the secrets that can cut someone down and pretty much destroy their life. They are wielded by both the noble and the not-so-noble, both as offensive weapons and defensive weapons. In short, everybody in the show is armed. Which makes for some really wonderful nail-biting conditions.


Thomas has a whole arsenal of these at any given time- you can pretty much think of him as a black market arms dealer as far as Sword Secrets go. Edith’s attack on her own sister with a Sword Secret set a whole storyline in motion, the repercussions of which were felt for several seasons.

Shield Secrets- These are the secrets kept to protect, and I think these secrets can be even more powerful to the narrative than the Sword Secrets, because they introduce an element of sacrifice and demonstrate genuine love in a way that is far more compelling than mere romantic confessions. Shield Secrets are a perfect example of how so often it’s the words that are not said which say more than those spoken aloud. 

Anna’s traumatic experience is a prime example of this- she keeps it a painful secret out of love for Mr. Bates, because she knows that the consequences of telling him could lead to his ultimate downfall, and she loves him too much to risk losing him, so she endures silently, creating an emotional gulf between them. 

The beautiful “upstairs” version of a Shield Secret was when Mary chose to keep silent about her feelings for Matthew because she couldn’t bear to wreck the happiness he had found with Lavinia. That revealed something very selfless and noble in her character that might not have come out otherwise.

2. Complex characters. At the outset of the show, it becomes clear that there are some characters who are just flat-out, downright evil. *cough*THOMAS*cough* There are other characters who are obviously generally kind and good, and then a few more who fall somewhere in the middle. 

Yet as the show goes on, we see those evil characters demonstrating these periodic little hints of goodness, so as much as we want to hate them completely, we just can’t. Despite all of the horrible, terrible, lowdown things Thomas has done to the characters we love, it would still hurt a little bit if he died. He's still awful, but the tiny glimmers of humanity in him make us love him anyway. Same with O’Brien. SO annoying.


And then you’ve got the good ones- and even the “good” ones you’re not so sure about all the time. Lady Cora Grantham is an endearing mother figure, but then periodically she says or does something that just makes you say, “Wow, that was really rude.” And yet, it is still in keeping with her character because of the time and culture she lives in. Lady Mary consistently struggles with pride and the internal tug-of-war between what she should do and what she wants to do, and she doesn’t always make the best decisions. Which brings me to...

3. Obstacles- This show is chock full of obstacles, and watching to see how the characters handle the obstacles is really the meat of the show, and it provides that gripping element because the characters are so multifaceted, you’re never quite certain what they’re going to do. The “right” decision might seem clear to the viewer, but we know that the character hasn’t always taken the high road in the past, so we are left wondering which path they’re going to choose- have they learned from their mistakes or will they crash and burn again?



In other situations, the right decision isn’t so clear: characters are either left between a rock and a hard place or provided with several murky choices with no clear right answer. In those situations the viewer can’t help but ask themselves what they might do in a similar situation, and then they can’t help but stay tuned to find out what happens next and whether it was really the right choice.

The best thing about these obstacles is that the majority of the time, the obstacles arise as a result of a character’s decision. On occasion problems just drop in from outside sources, but most of the issues are a direct repercussion of a character’s actions, making the characters crucial to the narrative, and making them forces for action (rather than being acted upon), which makes them significantly more interesting (I think).

Okay, that’s not all I’ve figured out, but that’s all for now. The show has many more elements I could get into- let’s not forget how the acting can play such an important role in a television show or movie as well. None of this would work with lousy acting, so let’s applaud those moments when Matthew makes a sideways comment to Mary that on the surface sounds innocuous, but obviously means, “I am still in love with you,” and glances down and away and then back at her again for just a split second with the briefest of smiles wanting her to understand but not wanting to give himself away either. And then she looks down too and smiles, and then just for a second their eyes meet, and then they both glance away and take deep breaths.

Downton Abbey: 'There’s a wedding, a funeral and a sex scene. Guess which one I’m in... - Downton Abbey's Matthew Crawley (Dan  Stevens) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery)


Gotta love it. Seriously, though- watching well-acted TV shows and movies is a great way to see what feelings look like to help you write them into your work. 

(By the way, I’ve broken Matthew & Mary's relationship down too, in all of its convoluted glory, and maybe next time I’ll dissect that for you.)

Now it’s time to study your own WIP and ask yourself:

1. Does anybody have a secret? Is it a Sword Secret or a Shield Secret?

2. Are your characters 2-D or do they have aspects of both good and bad in their personalities? How are these qualities demonstrated?

3. Are the obstacles in your story a direct result of characters’ choices? How do the characters’ actions further the narrative, either in a positive or negative direction?

There. Now go Downtonize your story. 


*Author’s Note: I am not watching Downton Abbey this month, as per my usual “Fast From the World” each January. So don’t you dare comment with a spoiler, because I haven’t seen any new episodes yet. ‘Kay? ‘Kay. And don’t talk to me on February 1st, either. Because I’m going to be...busy.

**For another sampling of my expert story analysis, check out this post: On Falling in Love and Robin Hood

Friday, January 16, 2015

Resolutions V. Goals

I’ve completely given up on setting New Year’s resolutions.  Forget it!  I’m not going to participate in this annual tradition ever again.  Why not?  Because I’m an awful resolution-keeper.  Seriously, I’m the worst.  In fact, I’m so bad at keeping New Year’s resolutions that the end result is often the exact opposite of the resolution. 

2010:  Lose 20 lbs.  <Result: Gained 25 lbs. after eating leftover Christmas treats while filling out my resolution list.>

2011:  Plant a garden.  <Result:  Planter box accidently built over a fire ant nest.  All of my seedlings were used as ant food sources and underground birthing stations.  That, and my inability to water my young plants more than once per month, probably led to my green thumb shriveling and turning black.>

2012:  Learn to play the trombone.  <Result:  There is wisdom in learning an instrument when we’re young.  My over-reliance on the ‘Idiot’s Guide to Playing Brass Instruments’ as my personal tutor probably didn’t help my efforts.>

2013:  Cook dinner once per week.  <Started well (baked chicken, string bean casserole, dinner rolls, cake).  Lasted one week.  Now, my kids are back to ramen, cheese crisps, and pbj’s until mom gets home and starts a more balanced and nutritious dinner.>

2014:  Post to MMW Every-other Friday:  <Uhm…..>

So, I’ve decided to abandon the practice of making resolutions and to set goals instead.  What’s the difference, you ask? 


A resolution is something you intend to start or stop.  It’s myopic in nature; an issue is solved and one move’s on to the next issue; whereas, a goal, by definition, is expansive. 

A goal rewards a person for pointing one’s self towards achievement, then moving in the direction of success, and hopefully, finishing one’s expectations if possible.  The main difference is that there are micro-successes along the way, as if the journey were more important than the final accomplishment.
 
Thomas S. Monson, a latter-day Prophet of God, once gave some sage advice regarding three goals that can serve as a reliable framework for all other personal goals (Ensign, Oct. 2007):
1.      Study diligently.
2.      Pray earnestly.
3.      Serve willingly.

While these might seem a little abstract and endless in nature, I noticed that these three goals fit nicely over my previously mentioned resolutions.  Take, for example, my resolution in 2011 to have a garden. 

I did not take the time to do any real degree of study and research on preparing, building, planting, and caring for a proper garden.  I simply built a box, filled it with mulch and fertilizer, dropped a few seeds in, hoped for rain, and sat back and awaited my vegetable bounty to grow.  I should have been researching soil preparation for my region, consulted a planting/harvesting matrix for my area, and learned the glories of soaker hoses and proper weeding techniques. 

Next, I should make my garden a part of my personal and family prayer, that the Lord will bless our efforts, inspire us to correct errors, and to show gratitude for our bounties in whatever size and shape we might harvest them. 

Lastly, I did not serve my resolution to garden.  That might sound odd, but like serving a person or a righteous cause, there is a time allotment required.  In the case of my garden, I failed to give the appropriate amount of time to watering, weeding, and worrying over my tender starts.
 
Wow!  Those life-structure goals from President Monson can really work. 

So, for 2015, I’m setting goals instead of resolutions.  I’ll study more diligently what it will take to make the life improvements I hope for; I’ll pray hard for help in making those life improvements; and, I’ll serve more earnestly the people and causes that I should in order to show the Lord that my care for someone or something other than myself is worthy of His care for my hopes and dreams. 


Oh, and a fourth ‘goal’ while I’m at it:  Do a better job of listening to advice from prophets.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lies I Tell My Child

By Katy White

Since outgrowing my childhood flirtation with lying (Molly ate all the cookies! Not me!), I feel like I've been a pretty honest person. I try not to lie to people or mislead them. And while I may embellish the occasional story, it's usually to make me look more ridiculous for humor's sake, not less. So I feel like that gets me a pass.

Having a child, however, makes me feel like there's not enough flame-retardant material in the world to keep my pants from going up in flames.

Here's a short list of the lies I tell my child:

-This is Auntie Em's favorite shirt. You should wear it!

-Cousin Stella sent you these shoes. Try them on!

-Daddy is going night night and Mommy is going night night and your best friend Daisy is going night night and Grandpa is going night night and Jesus is going night night and Puppy is going night night and (insert literally everyone she could ever imagine) is going night night...

-This is Nana's favorite food! I bet you'll love it!

-We only have ten seconds to get in the car, or we can't go to the store! (In fairness, I always manipulate my counting so she's in the car by the count of ten, but sometimes that's the longest ten "seconds" you've ever imagined).

-Olive goes potty on the toilet. Do you want to go potty like Olive? (For the record, Olive is like 15 months and nowhere near going potty on the toilet. But she lives twenty states away, so I'm not likely to get busted on this one).

-You have to sit in your chair, not Mommy's, for lunch, because it's Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or every day ever. (Seriously, just sit in your chair, kid.)

Etc.

And you know what? I don't feel even a tiny bit bad. Sure, I suppose I need to start parenting on a more values-based system (we sit in our chair because that's respectful, we go potty on the toilet because it's part of growing up and helps us learn, etc.), but I don't feel bad. Because here are the truths I tell my child every day:

-Momma loves you.

-You are the most special, wonderful, beautiful, hard-working, determined, kind, loving girl I could ever imagine.

-I'm so proud of you for trying so hard.

-I love you.

-You can do it.

-I'm sorry.

-Because I love you, I want you to understand...

-Jesus loves you.

-I love you.

-I love you.

-I love you.

No parent is perfect, and maybe we all lie to our kids a little (or maybe it's just me.) But the most important thing I can do it tell my daughter the truth of how much I love her and how much she is capable of. Right?

Now with that said, it's Thursday. Please sit in your chair for dinner.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reading out of your Comfort Zone

by Anna Jones Buttimore


A friend joined a book club because she loved reading, and read several books a week, but all within certain same genres: sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian. Recognising that it was probably time to widen her interests, she hoped that having to read books she wouldn't usually have chosen for the book club might broaden her horizons and introduce her to some new authors. Needless to say, it did.

She later convinced me to join. Through that book club I discovered some of my favourite books, including "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series by Alexander McCall Smith, which I highly recommend but would never have chosen for myself. I am currently reading through Maya Angelou's seven-volume autobiography. Again, not something I would ever have thought I might enjoy.

If you find yourself always in the same section of the library, looking at the spines of books by known and trusted authors, why not try branching out a little? You never know, there could be some real gems just waiting to be discovered.

If you need a little more encouragement, take a look at this 2015 Reading Challenge, or ask friends and family for their recommendations. Or you could even join a book club.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Raining cats and dogs" and other weird stuff we say

English is a bizarre language. No where is this rendered more apparent than in the faces of students who are strangers to it. I had a Swiss foreign exchange student in my English class one year.  He spoke French, German and Italian fluently, and his English grammar was perfect. You would have taken him for a native English speaker too, had he not made the occasional idiomatic blunder:

"I need an umbrella. The dogs and cats are watering," he said one day.

"You mean 'it's raining cats and dogs,'" I offered.




He frowned and put the phrase into his translator. "Either way, it makes no sense. Where does that come from?"

I didn't know. It was a phrase I had used all my life, and I had no idea where it came from. A little research revealed the following gems from our language:

"Raining cats and dogs"

The phrase goes at least as far back as 1651, where it appeared in a collection of poems. As for why we say 'cats and dogs'? One particularly disgusting theory is in these less-than-hygienic times that a hard rain would wash dead animals into the streets. More likely explanations are that the animals in question are corruptions of the Greek cata doxa, meaning "contrary to experience or belief," or the Latin catadupa, meaning cataract or waterfall.

'Saved by the bell'

For most of us, it conjures up images of the popular after school show.  However, the phrase may have a far darker origin. In the days before medical science became more science and less superstition, the possibility of being buried alive was a very real fear for many. One invention purported to prevent that included a string that ran from the deceased's finger all the way up to a bell above ground that could be rang should the dearly departed find themselves very much alive and six feet under. A more likely theory is that it originates in boxing, where a boxer is spared losing by the ringing of the bell at the end of the round.



'Let the cat out of the bag'

Back to those finicky felines:  why do we call it 'letting the cat out of the bag' when we divulge a secret? This phrase might go back to livestock fraud, in which an unwitting buyer purchased a litter of piglets only to discover, once the bag was opened and the transaction complete, that they had been swapped out for a litter of worthless kittens. This seems to defy logic, though: to confuse mewing and oinking and the weight and feel of either animal simply because they're bagged seems a little ridiculous. Another theory refers to the 'cat o'nine tails,' a knotted cord kept on board ships to punish errant sailors. It stretches the bounds of belief, perhaps, but if it had been kept in a bag and used to punish the loose-tonged, perhaps the idiom makes a little more sense.


The origins of most idioms are lost to time, unfortunately, but it's fun to think about how our wacky mother tongue developed over time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Feedback - YAY or YUCK?

Feedback
One of the biggest tools in any area of career is feedback.  Why is this so important?  Because it gives us the outside outlook that we need to see where we can improve.  Most of us cringe when we hear the word "feedback" or "constructive criticism".  Why is that?  It is probably because where most people have the best of intentions, and good information to give, they lack the ability to communicate that feedback in a way that will help, not hurt them.  

The American Management Association (AMA) has a great article that really breaks this subject down.  It shows how to approach this subject better, and where one can improve.  They give four questions that really focus in on the quality of your feedback.  They ask;

Do you know how to give feedback such that the other person:
1. Wants to hear it?
    - Trying to give feedback to someone that doesn't want it is like talking to a teenager.  They think they know more than you, and whatever you say is to make them look bad or wrong.  The trick is to use your language to your advantage.  

2. Can understand it and act on it?
    - How clear are you?  Is it vague and general or specific and detailed?  Do you give examples?  By giving your input, will they know how they can change that behavior or characteristic?  We need to make sure that our language helps us to move them in the right direction.  Asking them questions on your feedback will help to know if you are achieving your objective.

3. Doesn't get defensive?  
     - The last thing you want to do is get them defensive and/or discouraged.  The whole point is to help them improve, not shut you out or kill their motivation.  

4. Respects your opinion?  
     - Respect is really important in feedback because it can help in making the difference between positive feedback and negative feedback.  They will CARE about what you have to say because they look up to and respect you.  

There is a book I recently read, that talks about the importance of getting feedback as well.  I have read a LOT of books lately, so I have to go back through them and find which one it was in and add it to this post later.  

The last part I wanted to add was the suggestions that they give on the AMA article, at the end.  They put it so well, I am going to quote it;

"Here are a few suggestions to get started: 
1. Refine your feedback skills—take seminars, read books, get coaching. The time invested will pay back handsomely in terms of increased employee morale, motivation, and productivity. 
2. Ask your staff for feedback on how you give feedback. Ask for specific examples. Ask them for suggestions on how you can make it more constructive. 
3. Make sure when you do give feedback that you think it through clearly. Avoid fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approaches. 
4. Make sure you give examples. Describe what you saw and heard, rather than abstract judgments like “unprofessional” or “didn’t act like a team player.” 
5. Don’t exaggerate to make a point. If the person has done something twice, don’t say “You’ve done this at least five or six times.” 
6. When giving the person feedback, stop and ask her for her take on what you’re saying. This not only helps you get feedback on how the conversation is going… it helps make sure it IS a conversation, not a monologue."

Giving and getting healthy feedback really is an art form.  You have to practice it and be willing to continually change and master it.  It's not easy, but I promise that you can see a significant difference as you do!  

Rock this week! ~~

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Faster.....faster!

by Lacey Gunter

So, as I mentioned in one of my November posts last year, I am working on developing better illustration skills to be able to both write and illustrate picture books. After watching several drawing videos, I have heard multiple artists state emphatically how drawing and sketching are learned skills. One of the videos stressed the idea that it is great to be capable of drawing a nice representation of something, but to really master it you must practice drawing the object or thing over and over and over until it is very easy to draw the object in a very short amount of time. He emphasized the connection between practice and time, the greater the practice, the shorter the time it takes to be able to draw a good representation.

I thought about how this might apply to writing.  Does consistently writing every day help you to become faster at writing a story or a manuscript? I'm not really sure whether this is true.

While mulling this over, I happened across an article written by an experienced illustrator about her creative process.   She talked about how at the start of a project, getting those first ideas too come out was such a grueling process and it was like wrestling with the characters. But once she got a certain way into the process, things finally started to flow and eventually flood out.  Yet no matter how many times she had done this, the initial part of the process was slow and difficult.

This idea seemed to better fit the bill for me in describing the writing process. The creative process seems to always be so slow and difficult at the beginning. But once you got far enough into the process, your practiced skills and abilities take over and allow you to speed through the rest of the process.



So, yes, perhaps writing every day will help you to become faster at writing the story, conditional on whether you have convinced your creative genius to come along for the ride yet or not.

But maybe for some of you, even that is too narrow of a conclusion? Are muses as varied as writers? Do some muses show up more frequently after dedicated time and practice, while others are as wild as the wind and will never consent to be tied down?

I have yet to find a connection between dedicated practice and the free flow of creative ideas for me. If I had to describe the way my creative process worked, I would probably say my creative juices start to flow only at the last possible moment after all else has failed. 

On the outside this might look like procrastination.  But to me, all those sessions of hoping and mulling and thinking and trying would suggest otherwise, even if they only resulted in blank pages. Then again, someone might make the argument that all those sessions were simply practicing.... If only I could figure out how to get that eleventh hour to come quicker. (Cringe!)

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Grinchy Christmas

by Mare Ball @ ADVENTURES IN THE BALLPARK

It's January 9!  Where has the year gone!?

Last time I turned round, it was December 24th, and I was at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL (three hours north of us) being evaluated for rheumatoid arthritis.  I was referred up there after some blood work came back high for RA.  My days have been up and down since, and Christmas didn't really happen around here in the usual way.  Expected family didn't come, because I wasn't home in time, and a few gifts were handed out over a week's time.

I didn't prepare a holiday meal, and we didn't have the whole family around for the 25th.  I made a cherry danish for Christmas morning breakfast, something I'd never done, and we watched Miracle on 34th Street, a movie I had never seen from start to finish. We had a meal with my parents in their assisted living facility, and called it a day.

Christmas came anyway. Without a fat turkey, pumpkin pie, or even a Christmas tree. It came without our "grab bag" activity, or trays of sugar cookie cut-outs I usually bake. We didn't even get to church, we were so exhausted from the trip up and back to Mayo.

But, you know what? Christmas came anyway.  Which made think about the first Christmas.  It had no glitz and sparkle either.  A frightened, unwed teenager spilled her blood onto hay and dirt in a cold stable with smelly animals nearby.  Her finance, Joe, was probably just as terrified.  What did he know about birthing a baby?  And then royalty arrived with some valuable oils that brought healing and restoration to aliments and wounds. They were probably exactly what Mary needed for her cold, labor-weary body.

And that was it. The King had arrived. The angels sang as a divine child entered our filthy world. The world would never be the same. But, then...time to pack up and get back on the donkey for an arduous trip.

The greatest, and simplest, story every told.

As unusual as this Christmas was for us, I loved it.  We just didn't have the time or energy for all the regular preparations, and, in the end, it was liberating. I spent more time pondering the Christ child and his humble appearance on Earth than I ever have before.  Without all the hoop-la, Christmas still came.

"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  

The Grinch had it right. 

 


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