Tag Archives: Holidays

The spirit of Christmas

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Two young boys, huffing and puffing, drag a Flexible Flyer up worn wooden steps, banging and scraping. The boys are dressed like dark woolen snowmen from their watch-capped heads to their over-sized snow boots.

Mother stood over Little Sister, dressing her for the occasion – knitted cap tied under chin with a scarf, multi-layered clothing, and hand-me-down boots.

The three siblings slurged through heavy snow in the driveway, past the mint and white Chrysler with its push button start, into the snow drifts. The children are on a mission; they have their assignment.

They trudged a couple hundred yards – past the now-bald monkey ball trees – until they set foot on the school grounds, then ‘round the back to the dumpsters.

The school’s Christmas tree adorned the large lobby of Lora Little Elementary. After final classes marking winter break, the tree was dragged from the lobby and tossed unceremoniously out the loading dock doors. The tree is forlorn now, marked by several bent and broken branches and bent and wrinkled tinsel.

True to the elementary school tradition, this tree is twelve feet tall and wide as a 1950’s Buick. The Flexi Flyer is a scant few feet long, but none of the logistics mattered. If they did not rescue this tree, they would have no tree.

The three siblings dragged the tree past the sledding hill where one brother would break his leg, past dead weed-choked fencing where the other brother would contract poison oak, past the school’s towering metal and chain swing set where sister would jump, fly!, and dislocate her elbow.

Out of the schoolyard and down the home street, sliding down the driveway, around the house and into the back yard.

Much like Paul Bunyan, Older Brother dispatched his Boy Scout ax from its leather pouch and commenced to chop the tree to a manageable height so it would fit in the rec room.

They set the tree in a teensy, dented tree stand. They re-arranged the leftover tinsel then added their own stored decorations. Paint-flaked ornaments with misshapen hooks, delicately and laboriously placed upon bent and broken branches, until the tree brought the spirit of Christmas into the home.

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Being Quiet, Listening, and Creativity – by Mickey Baxter-Spade

MIckey Crimson GraceWe take on so many roles and it gets complicated and crowded. Most of us keep our lives full. Mine has been that way. It seemed quite “normal” after all – mom raised eight kids and I seldom saw her take a break.

Over the years, it has become abundantly clear to me how important to my creativity it is to be quiet and listen. The more quiet time I allow myself, the calmer my life becomes. Little things have more importance. As strange as it may seem, I get more accomplished. When I work, I’m more focused. And when I play, well, I play.

I find that I paint because I must. It is an important part of making my life worthwhile. No doubt about it, painting is the best way I know to express what is important to me. Sharing the abundance I see in nature through my painting is a visual statement of my celebration of life.Mickey card

When I paint, it is not only the interpretation of a flower, a landscape, or a still life that brings joy. It is also the interaction of watercolors. Each pigment makes its own contribution to the whole – each color can change. Yellow with blue becomes green, red combined with blue creates purple, and yellow and red meld together as orange. By adding cool, clear water they are transformed into delicate translucent tints of those colors. A vibrant red can become a delicate pink. A glorious purple can be a soft lavender. So many combinations, so little time. When using acrylics, I prefer to work in multiple layers of translucent color layering until I have the depth of color that pleases me.

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When a painting emerges (like magic!) consider for a moment the difference between creating a painting, planting and nurturing a garden, writing from your heart, preparing a healthy meal to share with family and friends. Is there a difference, really? Doesn’t each nurture the soul? When creating, I believe we leave an essence of our love and passion for what we do.

Tomorrow morning, as you open your eyes, look at your day as if you were seeing for the first time. Notice the incredible colors around you. Note the gifts in your life. If there is work you need to do, do it. Enjoy every minute. Take breaks, breathe deeply, and exhale slowly.Mickey card 2

Make time for you, it could be taking a walk, reading a book, dancing, or meditating. In less than fifteen minutes you could do something for someone you love. Send a hand written note to say “Hi,” emails don’t count. Put a note on your spouse or child’s mirror telling them how you appreciate them. Bringing happiness to others through your creativity has a way of lifting your heart as well as bringing joy to the recipient.

Now turn on your favorite music and begin your creation, whatever that is for you. Here is a little mantra to help, “Thank you for another beautiful day to create.”

Wishing you beauty everywhere you look.

***

Mickey Baxter-SpadeMickey Baxter-Spade is a self-taught artist who began her career by opening her first teaching ceramist studio at age twenty-four. After fourteen years of teaching and a move to Colorado, she changed the direction of her art and began painting murals. Her clients are primarily residential but also include five-star resorts, hospitals, churches, and commercial settings.

Mickey’s art career now includes a line of greeting cards, fine art, and hand-painted heirloom Christmas ornaments. She has also found joy in writing her blog and a bi-monthly newsletter (sign-up on her mailing list!) in which she hopes to inspire others to take a chance and follow their dreams.

Connect with Mickey on her website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and on Pinterest.

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Bring peace to the holiday tug of war

DSC01855I’ve posted this article a few times, usually after people start talking “holidays” or when I  hear Bing Crosby in TV commercials. I even got paid for it once when it was published in the print version of Valley Living for the Whole Family, Winter, 2011.

If you have a lot of family to plan your holidays around, this article may be helpful.

Holidays of yore

During many a holiday season – when I was in my 20s and a new mom – I spent an hour in the car getting to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, my husband and I would pack up the car and the toddler and drive to my mom’s house in the morning and then to my sister-in-law’s house in the afternoon.

Not the holiday I dreamed of

After the holiday, I was wiped out and angry. Every year I vowed next year would be different. I was not having the Christmas I truly wanted, and I was frustrated. But, I didn’t know how to talk to my spouse about my holiday dreams.

Why do we run run run?

But why do we do this? Why do we run run run during the holidays? According to Kim Leatherdale, a licensed counselor and therapist in Oldwick, New Jersey, women are naturally pleasers. We want everyone to be happy; we want everything to run smoothly. As a result, we rarely get to relax and enjoy the holiday. And we rarely have the opportunity to form our own family traditions. Many of us have not had the Christmas we dreamed about since we started our own family and succumbed to all the family pressure.DSC01721

The holidays are coming!

Talking about holiday dreams and preferences is not something most couples discuss before a relationship develops or even after you say the “I do’s.” But as the holidays approach, you hear little snippets about what others continue to take for granted. Your mother-in-law might hint about the menu for her Christmas brunch or you might overhear your mom on the phone with your sister planning the Christmas Eve dinner.

Talk now

Perhaps now is the time to discuss holiday plans with your spouse. Decide on a time to sit down and talk about it – just the two of you – before the invitations and expectations start to pile up.

Sit down with a checklist 

Communicate – According to Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Wexford, PA, don’t imagine that your spouse is a mind reader. Sit down and talk about what you liked and did not like about last year’s holiday and discuss what’s important and not important. Be willing to listen and compromise. Be open to each other’s ideas of how to handle the holidays, demanding relatives, and a demanding schedule. (Fifty percent of the responders to my survey said they felt pressure from a spouse more than anyone else.)

Start your own traditions – When you are living at home with mom and dad, that’s your “bubble.” Once you are married, that should be the most important relationship – you need to move your bubble to surround you and your spouse. According to Kim Leatherdale, if you want to start new traditions in your own home with your spouse, do it.

Tune in to the kids – Be aware of your children’s needs and desires, within reason. If your teen daughter wants to see her BFF on Christmas Day, allow an opportunity for that to happen. Invite the BFF to visit on Christmas Day and talk to her parents ahead of time.

Be aware of feelings – Leatherdale suggests you be aware of others’ feelings but don’t feel responsible for them. Understand that your mother-in-law may be upset with this new plan, but you are not responsible for making her happy – she is. And once you and your spouse decide on a plan, sit down with the families and discuss it together.

Take turns – Has the holiday schedule of visiting been a little lopsided? More time with one family or the other? Decide to take turns – this year we go to your mom’s house for Christmas Eve, next year we go to my mom’s for Christmas Eve. And every year we spend Christmas Day at home!

DSC01723De-stress the day – Wake up, grab the mug of coffee, relax and open gifts, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.”Ask visitors to drop in after 12:00 (or at a time designated by you), and ask them to bring a covered dish like a brunch casserole, a crock pot of chili, or a pan of lasagna or enchiladas. And why not use paper plates? You are de-stressing your holiday – don’t ratchet it back up by having to cook and clean up all day. If you must cook the big turkey, do just that and ask everyone else to bring the extras.

Recession adjustment – Are you feeling the pinch from recession or a lost income? Perhaps it’s time to start a tradition of having a family gift-giving pool or purchase gifts just for family members under a certain age. Or use this time to teach children compassion – collect the money usually used for gifts and make a contribution to a local charity. Or collect the kids’ old toys no longer used and give them to a homeless or women’s shelter.

Have a sourpuss?

I polled about 30 people – young and old, parents and children, husbands and wives. I found that a handful of responders had family members who sulked because they weren’t getting their own way. Again – you are not responsible for that person’s feelings. If it’s necessary to spend part of a day with that sulky person, have an out – plan to go for a walk or to the park for an hour or plan a visit to the local science center or museum (check ahead for holiday hours!).

Complications from divorce

After a divorce, you need to be even more flexible. Add to that a new blended family or additional in-laws. I celebrated many holidays and birthdays a week before or a few days after the actual date on the calendar. I would remind myself that it’s not the date that’s important, it’s the people I spend time with. Don’t push and pull your parents or children into knots just so you can have the same Christmas morning that you’ve had for the last twenty years.

Holiday dreams

Communication and a little forethought is all you need to plan a holiday dream. And may all your holiday dreams come true.

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The English Rose give-away winner

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On Christmas Eve Day I posted The story behind The English Rose with an announcement for a special holiday give-away.

The winner of the holiday give-away for $20 worth of The English Rose pens/pencils is Esther Miller. Congratulations, Esther!

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It’s never too late

Even if you didn’t win the give-away, you can still connect with Collette on Facebook or email The English Rose at englishroseest2011@yahoo.com.

I hope you enjoyed the holiday posts. Next up – a special four-pack of guest blogging tips.

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The story behind The English Rose

English Rose 1About Collette, The English Rose

I am a Military wife of 11 years; my husband is active duty Air Force. We met while he was stationed in Spain and traveled to England for classes. I am British by birth, hence The English Rose name. We currently live at Eglin AFB in Florida and have four wonderful children together, one of whom is special needs.English Rose 8

The business started when I used one of my pens at a store and the cashier asked me where I’d purchased it; I explained I had made it. The cashier asked if I sold them; when I said no she said I should. From there, everything just fell into place.

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Ordering on the page is easy – you can hit the Order Here Tab located at the top of the page by the photo album, or, if you prefer, email me at englishroseest2011@yahoo.com. From there we discuss exactly what you would like for your customized order.

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Connect with The English Rose 

Connect on Facebook or email The English Rose at englishroseest2011@yahoo.com.

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Writers

Wouldn’t these pens or pencils be a great give-away at a book signing or conference? You can have them personalized with your name and website!

Special holiday give-away

Make a comment on this English Rose guest blog and be entered in a random drawing to win a $20 gift of English Rose pens or pencils. A comment must be made by midnight of Christmas Day. Winner will be announced December 26.

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A Jarhead’s Night Before Christmas, by Jeffrey Hollar

Twas the night before Christmas – Fallujah, Iraq.

Not a creature was stirring, we hadn’t seen jack.

The weapons were stacked by the door within reach,

In hopes that they wouldn’t get sand in the breach.

The troops were all nestled down snug in their cots,
With dreams that next Christmas they’d do Toys for Tots.
And I in my skivvies and woolen watch cap,
Had just settled in for a 40-wink nap.

When out on the fenceline arose a commotion,
I sprang from my rack in a flurry of motion.
I low-crawled my way to the door in a pinch,
And peeked ’round the corner about half an inch.

The moon on the crest of each wind-shifting dune,
Lit the place up damned near bright as was at high noon.
When what to my sand-stinging eyes should appear,
But a gunmetal sleigh and eight armored reindeer.

By the way that he handled the rudder and stick,
I knew that the pilot was Gunny St. Nick.
More rapid than gunships his coursers they came,

And he cursed them all soundly and roll-called each name:

Now Eightball! Now Cowboy! Now Joker! Now Fuller!
Now Nimitz! Now Halsey! Now Dewey! Now Puller!
To the top of the fence! To the top of the wall!
Let’s shag it! Let’s shag it! Let’s move it out ya’ll!!

As targeting lasers reach out in the night,
And hit their objective at speeds close to light
They shot towards the barracks as speedy as hell,
With their cargo intact and the Gunny as well.

And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof,
The synchronized pace of each marking-time hoof.
And before I could guess at the Gunny’s next tricks,
He crashed through the wall in a shower of bricks.

He was dressed all in camo from cap down to boot,
With his uniform tarnished with cordite and soot.
A ginormous ruck he set down on the deck,
And he looked like a MEF just unloading their tech.

His eyes – how they smoldered! His visage – how freaky!
His cheeks red as coals and his nose rather beaky.
His slash of a mouth was decked out in a scowl,
And his whiskers were trimmed like the horns of an owl.

A big chaw of Redman distended his cheek,
And the juice that he spat left his mouth like a streak.
He had a lean face and a great set of abs,

That when he would tense them could crack shells of crabs.

He was stringy and taut, a real tight-ass no foolin’,
And I found myself quaking and just short of droolin’.
With a glance of his eye and a shake of his head,
I figured out soon he was someone to dread.

He said not a peep but got right to his task,
And left the guys goodies for which they’d not ask.
Then grabbing a line that they dropped from the sled,
He climbed like a monkey way high overhead.

He hopped in his cockpit and gave a loud whistle,
And away they all flew like a Patriot missile.
And I heard him exclaim as he took to the sky,
Merry Christmas to all and to all Semper Fi!!!

Jeffrey Hollar

From Jeffrey Hollar –

I am a husband, father, stepfather, veteran, poet & author, and too many other things to consider. I am a writer without genre writing whatever seems to work on any given day. Jeffrey blogs at The Latinum Vault. You can also find him on Twitter.

God bless our men and women in uniform.

Service photos from Photobucket Madcat91 and Huey197.

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Hanukkah Memories, by Karen Pokras Toz

In my household, my side of the family celebrates Hanukkah. My husband’s side of the family celebrates Christmas. My husband and I collectively with our three kids, celebrate both. It’s important to me that each holiday is celebrated separately – with equal importance and wonderful traditions that my children can take with them.

As a child, I always looked forward to Hanukkah. My parents decided early on that in place of a Christmas tree, we would decorate a giant Menorah that my father made out of wood and an old bed bolster. Our Menorah was about seven feet tall and four feet wide. We would decorate it with tissue paper first and then hang Hanukkah cards on it that we had received over the years. I loved looking at the cards every year, and we were pioneers in recycling! We were the only house in the neighborhood (probably the only house anywhere) that had a giant decorated Menorah – it was a big deal.

Then we would move over to our smaller ‘normal’ sized menorah, where we would light the candles and say the prayers. I remember it was always coveted to be the one to light the candles (and usually resulted in a fight between my older brother and myself).

My aunt would always come over, and at some point, my parents would start bringing out the presents. In many households celebrating Hanukkah there is a small gift each night of the eight-night holiday. However, in our household, my parents would pile up gifts around the giant Menorah for a single day celebration.  That’s not to say I grew up in a wealthy household or was spoiled. In fact, I was neither. But my parents did want us to have gifts to open. I can remember one year in particular, my parents wrapped up grapefruit and oranges just to make the pile bigger. For us, opening was the best part.

The day of course would end with a great meal and a rousing game of dreidel.

I don’t know whatever happened to our giant Menorah, but I hope that my children are enjoying the Hanukkah traditions that we have incorporated into our family.

However you celebrate your holidays, I hope you find yourself surrounded by the people you care most about!

Nate Rocks the World,  by Karen Pokras Toz

Nate Rocks can do it all: part super-hero, part all-star athlete, part rock-star… part fourth-grader?

Ten-year-old Nathan Rockledge cannot catch a break. After all, life as a fourth-grader can be hazardous what with science projects to deal with and recess football games to avoid. Everyone, including his best friend Tommy, seems to have bad luck when hanging around Nathan. Throw in an older sister who is a royal pain, a dad who is stuck in the past, and a mom who keeps trying to poison him with her awful cooking, and poor Nathan’s life as a fourth grader appears to be completely doomed.

Armed only with his sketchpad, his imagination, and his wits, Nathan Rockledge navigates the perils of the fourth grade in style, to emerge heroic, as Nate Rocks, proving that even a ten-year-old can accomplish great things.

Karen Pokras Toz

Karen Pokras Toz is a writer, wife and mom. Karen grew up in Orange, Connecticut and graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Finance. She also attended the University of Richmond, where she studied law and business, receiving both a JD and an MBA. Karen has spent the last several years working as a tax accountant, writing in numbers. She recently discovered a passion for writing with words. In June 2011, Karen published her first children’s novel Nate Rocks the World. She is currently working on the second book in the Nate Rocks series to be published in 2012.

Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Association of Independent Authors (AIA), and the Independent Author Network (IAN). Karen enjoys gardening, cooking, and spending time with her husband and three children.

Connect with Karen on her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter. You can find Nate Rocks the World on Amazon here.

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