The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

Stories. Anecdotes. A free round of words for everyone!

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.


How to be ready for Christmas

Christmas tree, January 2007

"I must not have enough obligations," I said to my husband. "I don't get why people stress out over Christmas."

Before you hate me, bear with me. I'm trying to bring tidings of comfort and joy here.

Yes, it's true: my holiday obligation list is pretty short. For starters, I don't have kids. From what I can tell, this cuts out about 90% of holiday stress. It means I don't have to fight other parents over a Freak-Me-Out-Elmo, or worry about finding non-lead-laden toys made in the U.S. of A., or queue up for hours on end hoping to score a Wii. (But if I did, I'd make jokes about having to "pii".) I don't have to field questions about the reality of Santa or why he isn't in the nativity scene. I don't have to put together a bike on Christmas Eve or worry that the kids will wake up in the middle of the night and blow the whole deal. I don't have to struggle with the pressure to buy mountains of presents to keep up with expectations or explain to impressionable young minds that Christmas is about Christ and not about who gets the most candy canes and DVDs.

The extent of our child-focused activity for Christmas (or any other time of the year for that matter), revolves around my husband's two Godchildren. Our overall shopping list is short. Beyond each other, it includes four parents, three friends, two kids, and one grown sibling. It's pretty manageable, even if a few of those folks are nearly impossible to buy for.

I don't break a sweat about sending Christmas cards. Most years, I don't even do it. Not because I'm boycotting anything, but because I forget, or can't be bothered, or run out of time, or don't find cards that I like. Every few years I have grand plans of making my own Christmas cards, like several of my crafty friends do, but it hasn't happened yet. (So if you've been wondering why years go by without getting a card from me, don't be offended. You weren't singled out for some slight or grievance; I neglect everyone on my list equally.)

I don't have an annual menu of holiday goodies to make, or dozens of cookies to bake for a swap or exchange or whatever you do with cookies when you work in an office, are a member of the PTA, or know your neighbors by their first AND last names. If I get around to making something special, like my dark and dense gingerbread cake (from scratch, thank you very much!), it's a nice treat.

Family gatherings are also rather limited, with a nice five-person get together on Christmas Eve and two bigger stops on Christmas day. But since the hubs works in retail and is pretty much MIA from Thanksgiving until New Year's, we've occasionally bucked the system and stayed home all day long on Christmas day by ourselves: just the two of us, whatever movies are on TV, and some tasty ham sandwiches. It may sound lonely, but trust me: it's quiet bliss when you haven't seen your spouse for more than a few hours here and there for a month.

We always get a fresh tree (even that year we technically stole one and then didn't put it up), but usually not until about 10 days before Christmas. This year we were early and got one the first week of December. It's been sitting in our living room for over a week without lights or decorations. We'll probably get to it by the beginning of the next week. There are several wreaths hanging around the house. Granted, they're autumnal wreaths of orange and yellow and brown, but wreaths nonetheless. I'll get the winter/Christmas decor out of the basement and up before Christmas Eve. And if I don't? Maybe I'll put it up in January. Or not. Because that's how I roll.

When people ask me if I'm "ready" for Christmas, I sometimes try to explain that I don't consider Christmastime something to get ready for, but rather, something to enjoy. When that would sound too pretentious or just be too exhausting to get into, I simply answer "Yes." And what I mean is: Bring it on! I'm ready for Christmas.

(Here comes the comfort and joy part.)

I'm ready for cold winter nights that sparkle with lights hanging from rooftops, with fake deer standing sentinel in front yards, with garland wrapped around lampposts. I'm ready for carols that remind us to take heart, to take stock, and to take pause. I'm ready for the gift of honoring the people I love with presents that will truly touch their hearts. I'm ready to find myself and my God in a hushed, candlelit sanctuary at midnight, full of mystery and secrets. I'm ready to remember that Christmas goes beyond the hype, the uber-consumerism, and the doorbuster sales. I'm ready to celebrate pagan rituals that have been co-opted into the Christian faith because the truth of God shows up over and over again in the myths and archetypes throughout the ages. I'm ready to celebrate the birth of the true Sungod Saviour during the darkest time of the year, when we need light and hope and a reason to get up on cold, dreary mornings.

I realize that your lists for baking, buying, visiting, and hosting may be much longer and more complex than mine. But I hope that amidst it all, you can be ready for Christmas, too.

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add to kirtsy | 11:50 PM | 2 comments


Wishing in Action

watercolor postcard created for chookooloonks postcard swap

Serendipity is one of my most favorite things in life. I find that the more I wake up to joy and live more fully and intentionally, the more that serendipity surrounds me. I don't know if my actions cause the synchronicity, or if it already exists and I'm just more aware of it. Either way, it fills me with joy and wonder. Does it matter if the chicken or the egg came first? They're both here now.

As I wrote in my journal yesterday afternoon, I found myself longing for something that I've been seeking for a long time. As I wrote about it, I found this phrase forming in my mind: "I wish...." My hand hesitated a moment before writing it. I almost changed the wording and wrote "I need..." or "I'd like..." or "I want...." Those phrases seemed more familiar to me than "I wish." But I felt compelled to wish. I briefly wondered why the idea of wishing, rather than wanting or needing, struck me as so significant.

Several hours later, I read this post on Boho Girl's blog which led me to this entry from Megg, explaining that yesterday was an ideal wish day. Apparently, some people believe that "cosmic forces" were lined up to make yesterday a powerful day for wishes, with the most powerful time for wishing being between 3:18 and 3:22pm. It was 3:16pm when I stumbled upon this. I immediately pulled out my journal again and made a list of my most fervent desires.

Does that sound kooky? Cosmic forces and what not? But here was a piece of serendipity and I decided to embrace it, kookiness and all.

Since writing in my journal the first time yesterday, when the word "wish" jumped out at me, I've been wondering about the nature of wishing. Is wishing merely an idle and empty pastime? What is the difference between wishing and wanting? Wishing feels more whimsical, something done in the dark on shooting stars, or with coins tossed into fountains, or on stray eyelashes blown from fingertips. Is wishing childish? Can wishing for something make it happen?

The cynic and realist in me says, "No."

But my hope-full spirit says, "Perhaps."

Of course, there are factors (known and unknown) beyond our control. And I'm aware that pursuing your dreams is easier when you have resources like clean water, plentiful food, safe shelter, financial security, and supportive loved ones. But when our basic needs are met, can we largely shape the reality in which we live?

Was yesterday really a more powerful day for wishes than other days? Can the hope and energy of thousands of people work in harmony to make any real difference in the fulfillment of our dreams? I don't know. But I think that wishing may be much like faith: being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. And like faith, wishing without action is dead.

What if by wishing more and whining less, we'd be more inclined to take action to fulfill our true nature? If we allow ourselves to dream as well as to pray and to act, can we work hand-in-hand with God to become our true selves and live our true lives?

Do those old adages really ring true? I always thought that "God helps those who help themselves" was merely propaganda for the Protestant work ethic. And that "You reap what you sow" was just a warning to behave ourselves. But what if these cliches touch on something deeper?

So I made my wishes yesterdays. The paradox is that I must simultaneously move toward them and wait for their fulfillment. Living a joyful, intentional, spiritual life is full of such paradoxes.

More and more each day, I'm okay with that.

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add to kirtsy | 9:13 PM | 2 comments


The Payoff: NaBloPoMo Prizes!

cupcakes diptych, caroline moore, sixhours photography

Remember when I told you that there were PRIZES! for completing NaBloPoMo? Well, I am victorious! I am the big wiener! (um, that's "winner" for those of you not savvy to hot dog or dachshund humor.)

I don't know how many people actually posted every day in November to be eligible for the prizes, but I do know that there are currently 6,312 members listed. And there were roughly 74 prizes to be had. (Quick! Someone who's good with statistics or gambling do the math.) Even if only a quarter of the listed members were eligible to win, I beat the odds, baby! (In cases like this, I might say, "What are the odds?" And my dad would be bound to answer: "In this case, 100%." He makes a valid point.)

See those cute cupcake kids above? They're from Caroline Moore (website and blog). Check out her Etsy shop, Sixhours Photography. She explains her work this way:

My work focuses on the transformation of personal spaces into surreal landscapes of life. The majority of my ideas are born out of a desire to capture common themes, experiences and stories from everyday life, but with an ironic twist. I see everything I do as a picture of the human mind, magnified tenfold, so that we see all the darkest corners.
Caroline gave me my choice of prints, and I almost chose her story will never be written because I like the subject matter, plus I'm a sucker for gingham and old typewriters.

I also liked this romantic image, called vintage flora.

And this one, called straight (which seems to describe my taste).

But much of Caroline's work is more subversive. The forgotten bride series expresses a strong sense of despair in a place that always makes me sad, even when I wasn't left on my wedding day.

This photo, called the best kept secrets, manages to be lovely and slightly disquieting all at once. I think my favortie detail is the tendril of hair on the woman's neck.

Laundry day is delightfully cheeky and deliciously dark.

And I find sprouts to be simultaneously creepy and hilarious.

I almost feel guilty for choosing prints that represent such a different side of Caroline's work. But what can I say? I have this thing for cupcakes. If you like the illustrations, she has a few more that are just as sweet. She also has some flower photography if botanicals are more your speed.

So thank you, Caroline, for your generosity and for affirming my belief that someone has to win contests, and it might as well be me!

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add to kirtsy | 5:16 PM | 2 comments