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.


Repost: How to Be Ready for Christmas

Christmas tree, January 2007

I originally posted this last December, but thought it might bear repeating. I especially needed to re-read it as I find myself getting a little too frazzled this year. If you're plum out of patience or time due to the holiday crunch, just skip to the second to last paragraph. Here's wishing you joy and peace for the remainder of this year and all of the next.

"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 [edited: sadly, now three 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 | 2:00 AM | 0 comments


Meditation: Winter Solstice

After weeks of overcast skies, the sun has finally returned on this, the darkest night of the year. Today is the First Day of Winter, the day of the Winter Solstice. Tonight the darkness will last longer than at any other time of the year. Tomorrow, daylight slowly returns to supremacy, with light outlasting the dark.

Sunset is in just under an hour. Right now, the sky is my favorite color blue and offset with perfectly puffy clouds. The grass is actually dappled -- dappled! -- with sunlight. From inside my cozy (read: cluttered) studio, the wind blowing the leaves across the quiet street seems friendly and playful. Being outside is another matter: the current temperature is 27 degrees Fahrenheit, with that frolicsome wind making it feel like 12.

Midwinter in Southwestern Pennsylvania is a doleful affair. Grey grey grey is the order of most days. Sometimes it's the type of moody sky full of gradations of grey and luscious layers of clouds. I like those days. The dark, bare tree branches stand out in sweet relief against slate grey and blue. The world is my favorite palette on such days.

But those days are rare, it seems. More often, the world is a washout of whitish-grey, an opaque cloud of sadness shrouding everything. I don't even mind those days sometimes. A little bit of melancholy is always good for me. But lately, they seem to consume the landscape and last for months on end. In turn, I get anxious, lethargic, unfocused. I think this is getting worse as I age.

My brother moved to Arizona several years ago, but always comes home for a few weeks around Christmas and sometimes for a bit in the summer. He admits to missing the seasons we have here, the smell of tree and grass, so different from the smell of cactus and sand. But he can't move back. He's been christened in the sunshine of the Southwest. He tells us that things are easier there; people are more cheerful and friendly. And apart from two months out of the year when it's too hot to do anything, he says, it's always perfect weather for going and doing something. The Southwest is a continual grand adventure, all thanks to the sun.

But as much as I rejoice at the sight of bright blue days here, I don't think I could live in the land of eternal sunshine. After awhile the strong rays wear me out, jangle my nerves, make me twitchy and insecure. Besides, I like thick winter coats, striped gloves, colorful scarves. I've heard that the sky is perpetually blue in Colorado, even after snowfall. Perhaps Denver has the best of both worlds.

In the time it's taken me to type this, the sun has waned and everything has taken on that soft, lovely hue just before sunset. Twilight is my favorite time of day, when everything is blue, comforting, and mysterious. Try as I might to reset my internal clock, I am an undeniable night owl. The sun sets and I come alive. This is my time to think, create, connect, to be most myself.

Tonight, on the darkest night of the year, I embrace the gifts of the dark and wait for the coming light.

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add to kirtsy | 4:00 PM | 3 comments


33 Things for Me

My birthday was a few days ago (the 13th). I'm 33 this year. I'm very pleased with that number: it has good symmetry. It holds promise. My husband says he thinks this is the year we finally become adults. I prefer to think of it as continuing to come into our own.

James also asked me what I want for Christmas this year. I'd given him a wish list (at his request) but he said that nothing on it was "jumping out" at him and asked me to give it some more thought. There are plenty of things that I like and want and would appreciate receiving. But I realized that so much of what I desire isn't sold in stores and doesn't come in boxes.

So to celebrate growing up, coming into our own, and appreciating that we have more than we need, here's my wish list of 33 things I'd like to do, have, or be.

  1. 1. Learn all the words to "Carol of the Bells."
  2. 2. Have a surprise birthday party.
  3. 3. Get an MFA in writing.
  4. 4. Write a book. Get it published. Repeat.
  5. 5. Make perfect Yorkshire puddings.
  6. 6. Build (or buy) the cottage of my dreams.
  7. 7. Spend some time on the West Coast, specifically in Big Sur, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
  8. 8. Act in another play.
  9. 9. Go snow skiing.
  10. 10. Sip espresso in an Italian cafe.
  11. 11. See elves in Iceland.
  12. 12. Go back to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to visit my old haunts and see the places I missed the first time around, like Cornwall, Devon, and the Isles of Iona, Skye, and Mull.
  13. 13. Develop the patience to learn how to take better photographs.
  14. 14. Keep my house clean, tidy, and beautiful more often than it's not.
  15. 15. Attend TUBACHRISTMAS.
  16. 16. Remember to plant spring bulbs in the fall.
  17. 17. Drive a car with a manual transmission without fearing hills.
  18. 18. Be bilingual.
  19. 19. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight and strong body.
  20. 20. Visit New York City during the holiday magic of December.
  21. 21. Spend a week with my tribe gathered together in one beautiful place.
  22. 22. Live near the sea.
  23. 23. Go on a zero gravity flight.
  24. 24. Stay out of debt.
  25. 25. Write poetry again.
  26. 26. Skinny dip under a full moon in a warm pool of water.
  27. 27. See the Northern Lights.
  28. 28. Compost.
  29. 29. Make art on a regular basis.
  30. 30. Write everyday. (And not feel guilty if I don't.)
  31. 31. Get a pair of cat-eye glasses.
  32. 32. Live in a lovely small town with big city amenities.
  33. 33. Add 67 more things to this list.

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add to kirtsy | 8:19 PM | 11 comments


Featured in BlogHer "Soulcare" Post

I'm so pleased that one of my blog posts is featured in "Soulcare: What Gift Will You Give Yourself?", which is Rachelle Mee-Chapman's most recent BlogHer column. Rachelle is known online as Magpie Girl and is always full of intriguing, uplifting, and challenging thoughts on living the spiritual life. She has a knack for creating community wherever she goes, be it in person or online. In this week's BlogHer post, she brings together several women's perspectives on taking care of ourselves during the holidays. Please hop on over there for some great ideas and musings on how to be good to your soul this month. Then leave your own suggestion in the comments if you'd like.

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add to kirtsy | 1:01 PM | 1 comments


Yesterday's Lessons

What I learned from spending the day with a friend, a toddler, and a newborn:

  • I'm woefully out of shape. My muscles are screaming today after hoisting around a 35-pound kid yesterday and getting down on the floor to play with him.
  • Kids never stop. Ever.
  • Losing a few pounds is definitely a good idea. The waitress asked me how old my newborn was. When I pointed to my friend and explained that he was her six-week-old, the waitress exclaimed, "That's your baby? You look amazing!"
  • I'm still not ready to commit to having my own offspring.
  • When and if I am ready, I think one will be plenty.
  • Those minivans with the automatic doors are AWESOME.
  • I inherently know how to use THE LOOK and THE VOICE when a kid acts up.
  • Toddler poop is a serious mess.
  • Swaddling is a lifesaver.
  • Babies"R"Us is full of tempting consumer ploys to make me chuck my birth control pills in the garbage. (Tempting, but not convincing.)
  • Sometimes it's easier to just pick up the toddler than to hold his hand and let him walk.
  • Two-year-olds talk. A lot. And I understand very little of it.
  • Hearing a toddler shout "Lello!" when he spots his favorite color is just about the most joyous thing ever.

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add to kirtsy | 5:47 PM | 5 comments