A different kind of Christmas warmth…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… or not.

In my corner of the world—northeastern Indiana—while we don’t always have snow for Christmas, we’re accustomed to cold weather as the days close in on the yuletide celebration. This December, however, has been unseasonably warm—almost ridiculously so—leaving us with absolutely no chance of a white Christmas.

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Many moons ago as we celebrated our first December 25 as a married couple, the mercury hit a record high of 64 degrees accompanied by a very high “low” of only 55. I was incredibly bummed as I tip-toed around mud holes in the foggy, rainy/drizzly conditions. I felt cheated of the joy of my favorite time of year.

I guess I’ve matured over the years because, while I’ve oft repeated in the last couple weeks how “it doesn’t seem like Christmas time with the weather being so warm!”, I’m not bummed. Actually today as I hit the grocery store and begin to cook and rearrange the furniture to accommodate 40 people in my living/dining room area, the weather is the least of my concerns. I’m bustling with fun ideas for entertaining each age group, with special attention to how to fit in each of the looked-forward-to traditions as our time together this Christmas Eve will be a bit short due to work schedules. As family from out of state are unable to make the trip this year, we’re hoping to include them in the festivities via an online connection. Better than not “being” with them at all. So, yeah, there’s much more important things to conDSCF6702sider than the weather.

Oh, I love the look  of freshly-fallen snow blanketing the ground, and a chill in the air does make it feel more like Christmas. Should we wake up on Thursday and/or Friday to find the weather predictors got it all wrong, I wouldn’t complain. To be greeted with a white Christmas would be very nice. But I’m not counting on it. Nor am I wasting even a second on wishing for snow or cold.winter snow scene

And once the group arrives on Christmas  Eve, I’ll forgot about the spots on the family room carpet that refused to disappear despite repeated scrubbings or the even-shabbier-than-last-year kitchen cabinets that we’d hoped to have replaced by now. Nothing will matter except being together to celebrate GOD’s greatest gift to mankind—HIS son born in a manager, destined to be the Saviour of the world. Our hearts will be filled to overflowing with the warmth and joy of CHRISTMAS. Oh, I can hardly wait…

What about you? What are you most looking forward to about CHRISTMAS this year?

 

 

Please… No More Disregarding Thanksgiving!

Despite the number of businesses and retail stores already decked out for Christmas, we are in full Thanksgiving mode aDSCF8242t our house, maintaining our “no Christmas until after Thanksgiving” rule and loving every minute of it. Right down to the pumpkin spoon rest on the stove, the 3-leaf compartment snack dish on the bar and the Beanie Baby turkeys (yes, we have two!) on the bookshelf.

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While I admit to some mental Christmas planning, we are fully immersed in an unseasonably warm fall and again, loving every minute of it. Especially the colorful mix of summer flowers still in full bloom next to the rich autumn hues of pumpkins and gourds. Christmas is a mere, distant blimp on our radar at this point.


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It saddens me to see people disregard Thanksgiving in favor of the more exciting holiday that follows it. And every year it seems the rush-through-Thanksgiving-so-we-can-get-to-Christmas mentality gains momentum. Several years ago, retail stores who routinely opened their doors to eager shoppers at 6 or 7 am on the Friday after Thanksgiving opted to open earlier. And then earlier. And then even EARLIER until the Black Friday craze encroached on Thanksgiving Day.

But the tide may be turning. Outdoor and fitness retailer REI announced not only will it not be open on Thanksgiving, it “is canceling Black Friday this year. No promotions, no hourly sales, no doorbusters, no waiting in line.” A small handful of the outdoor gear retailer’s approximately 12,000 employees will be on call, while the rest get a paid day off.

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Other retail establishments have announced firm plans to be closed on Thanksgiving, allowing their employees to enjoy the day with family and friends. Check out a list of Thanksgiving honoring businesses here. I think I’ll be studying this list and shopping from as many of these retailers as I can.

I plan to indulge in all things fall and Thanksgiving related for two more weeks leading up to what I hope to be another tradition-rich holiday spent with family.

I’d love to hear what you enjoy most about Thanksgiving. Share in the comment section below.

We the People

God Bless The United States of America.

God Bless The United States of America.

 

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…” The U.S. Constitution

On July 4th we the citizens of The United States of America are celebrating our countries 239th anniversary. As countries go, we aren’t by any stretch of the imagination the oldest governed country in the world. There are actual populated cities on this earth that are far older. But for what we may lack in age and maturity, we certainly make-up with in brashness, can-do spirit, and audacity. Is that good? I don’t know, any perspective less than a hundred years old I immediately consider suspect at best.

Regardless of my nation’s sometimes bloody, sometimes noble, sometimes idiotic, sometimes unfair, and sometime brilliant past or present, I do love my home and nation – warts and all. Our US flag stands for a great deal, some bad, but so much more that is good.

Consider how many people from around the world would move to the US at the drop of a hat. Think of all our Latin American neighbors sneaking in against or laws and policies because they would rather live here than their own nations. I work at a University and meet many students from other nations who would rather stay here than go back to their own nations as their academic careers draw to a close. Many struggle to stay, some are not so successful.

No matter what people may think of the United States of America, it is for me the most wonderful place to live in the world. If you were born in a different place and take offense at my statement, I truly hope you love your home as much as I love mine. My wish for you is that you will work hard to make your nation a great and a wonderful place to live.  As for me, I will endeavor to help my home maintain our national identity as “one nation under God, indivisible with justice for all.”

Is our country perfect? What does perfect mean anyway? Is their room for improvement, absolutely.  But if we don’t learn to work together and face our difficulties with civility and respect, the alternative will always be bleak.

 

Name one thing you love about your home in the United States and one thing you would change for the better.

 

My Creativity is Like a Pot of Soup…

“The next person who drags me away from this room is going to bear the brunt of my very focused wrath!”

Such was my warning to all in my household after the holidays had let a thick layer of dust gather on my keyboard. My family just chuckled and went about their business. But at least I was allowed an hour or two of uninterrupted writing and illustrating. I had to work on a manuscript, get a blog entry sorted out, do some critiques, prepare a few school presentations, and continue working on an illustration project. Upcoming deadlines felt like someone had thrown a fifty-pound backpack on me. Christmas and New Years had been fun, but it was time to come back down to earth.

Then came the phone call from my mom’s facility.

“Your mom has bumped her leg!”

Now, you must understand, my mom is 96 and no injury is a simple thing anymore. What started out as a blood blister the size of a toonie, soon became a major hematoma. All plans for the week were cast away in a split second. After many doctor’s visits and trips to Emergency at the hospital, we now had a huge ulcer on her leg that required constant attention. Once again, my keyboard was gathering dust.

When my kids were small, I denied myself most artistic and creative endeavors because I knew my personality. When I allowed myself to get into something creative, I was like a kid with a video game, a seagull with someone’s lunch: I did NOT want to let go! So consequently, to be the best parent/taxi-cab I could be, I waited until the kids were out of school and finished with organized sports before I pursued my creative outlets.

But now with an aging parent, I am back into the same role I had as a parent of younger children. Only now, my darling little mom (who was and still is my hero) has memory and health issues that need constant supervision.

God has given me creative gifts, but he has also put people in my life that he expects me to care for. And even though at times I have to be pulled away from my work to care for them, God is all about relationships too. And I never want to regret not spending as much time as I could with those I love. Of course there are times I must meet deadlines, but if I’m really honest (and organized), I do have time to look after my mom.

And I usually benefit just as much as those I’m caring for. Often my loved ones sneak into my stories, and my illustrations. It’s no surprise after raising two boys that I’m comfortable writing in the voice of a young male. And my mom’s sayings and witticisms have wiggled into my older characters’ dialogue.

My creativity is like a pot of soup that I have to put on a back burner every now and then, but during life’s sidetracks, the soup is being flavored with each relationship and struggle. So each time I come back to being creative, I am slightly different than I was before, but better.

Yes, I still get frustrated when I have to once again shove the pot on to the back burner, but seriously, how can you resist spending time with fun people? In case you’re wondering, my mom’s a beach babe and I’m the star in Hungry Games.

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So, how do you manage when you are hauled away from your creative projects?

 

Giving Thanks for Books and Reading

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA As both an author and a reader, I am thankful for everyone and everything that contributes to creating and enjoying a book.

I’m thankful for my eyesight, which I’ve come close to losing a number of times. I would’ve learned to read Braille, but how would I have been able to appreciate beautiful fonts and book covers?

Which leads me to being thankful for artists, designers, and photographers who make the presentation enjoyable. And the manufacturers of computers, layout programs, ink, paper, binding materials, printers, and large presses. Plus all the individuals who invented them or use them to produce books.

Although I’m a fan of printed paper, I’m also thankful for electronic devices that allow people to read more books conveniently.

I’m thankful for editors, publishers, and literary agents who never tire of reading others’ work and improving upon it (at least that I’ve seen admitted).

Speaking of improving another’s work, I cannot express enough thankfulness for critique groups. The critique partners I’ve had the honor to share manuscripts with are worth their weight in gold. And I give thanks to beta readers who read pre-published work for the love of reading and who offer their invaluable opinions.

I’m thankful for bookshelves and those who build them (including my loved ones–and you know who you are). And everyone who sells and buys books for bookshelves in schools, stores, and public libraries.

I give thanks for electricity and reading lamps and, on behalf of readers from centuries past as well as those who use them still, gas lamps and candles.  Oh, yes, and sunlight. May darkness never hinder our reading.

Most of all, I am thankful for my Creator who guided me to write and for my country, where I am free to think, to write, and to read what I wish.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope it includes reading a good book!

cynthia-toney Cynthia

Don’t forget THANKSGIVING!

We gather together to ask the LORD’s blessings…

The countdown to Thanksgiving Day marches on here in the great U.S. of A. Yet the closer we get to the fourth Thursday of November, the visible traces of the upcoming holiday become fewer.DSCN5929

The fall/thanksgiving décor and supplies in many stores has already been downsized or put away all together to make room for items of an entirely different color scheme. A few items in all their brown/orange/earth tones glory grace the bottom of the clearance cart and, despite my sadness that Thanksgiving doesn’t get the attention it deserves, I happily snatch them up. Because Thanksgiving is in full swing at our house.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home; All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.

On Saturday I rearranged the pumpkins adorning the front of the house in an effort to make them look more prominent and well… nicer. A few have showcased our landscraping just shy of file8521254958107seven weeks while the rest have stood guard for at least a month. Their bright hues have faded a bit. Some are riddled with the holes of rottenness—only visible from the back, of course. Several deemed too far gone found their way into the garbage. Those remaining, now dusted liberally with snow, will faithfully execute their duties until November 28—the day after Thanksgiving—at which time they will be relieved of their assignment.

Okay, okay, that’s a bit much, I know. But seriously, it seems every year Thanksgiving gets less thought and consideration. So for quite a while now, in protest of this chronic and worsening malady, Christmas is banned from our home until after we thoroughly celebrate and enjoy Thanksgiving.

Now please understand, we love Christmas too. Oh, boy do we! The decorating, the cooking and baking, shopping for gifts, and of course our annual Christmas picture and letter—the one my kids would weep endlessly about should we decide to skip it. Mmm, hmm. We go all out in celebration of the awesome gift of the Christ child—but not until Thanksgiving’s over.

The excitement of combing through recipes, planning menus and preparing shopping lists has begun for the three IMGP8302Thanksgiving Dinners we’ll share first with our church family then at two extended family gatherings. But tonight were feasting on all the fall-sprinkled pumpkin and leaf shaped sugar cookies our tummys can hold. No need for “DO NOT TOUCH” signs as this time these favorites are just for us—no special event or dinner or gift—just us. Yummmm…

2013_11_11_7382-1morgueI challenge you and your family to not skim over Thanksgiving in the rush to get the next, very worthy holiday. Savor the time with family and friends. Throw yourself into the celebration and take time to be thankful.

What’s your very best Thanksgiving memory?

Do you do Halloween?

When I was a kid, everyone I knew participated in Halloween’s most popular event:  trick-or-treating. When I say everyone that includes all the people from my conservative-minded, small to medium sized Christian church. One of the best places to trick-or-treat was the pastor’s house—they gave out good stuff!

We lived in the country, hence, we were not subjected to the likes of “designated trick-or-treat days and times”. Heck, no, we trick-or-treated multiple times during the week of October 31—as many times as our mom would take us, her insisting OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe not miss one of the church’s little old ladies’ who apparently lived for seeing all the “kids” in their costumes. Sometimes heeding the designated times when we headed in to our “town” friends’ homes—but not always. We were rebels, I tell you. And serious masqueraders, too. You see, our costumes always included a mask or some sort of face-disguising mechanism, with the goal being to stump the person who opened the door. This poor or lucky person depending on your perspective HAD to guess until he/she uncovered the trickster’s identity. None of this bare-faced, lazy masquerading for us. No, siree. And we only went to the homes of people we knew, never strangers. Fortunately, we knew a lot of people, most of whom prepared weeks in advance for visiting tricksters.

And then a few years later, like overnight it seemed, trick-or-treating and all things Halloween were suddenly awful and terrible and of the devil. Say what? By then I was past the age of actually going trick-or-treating and didn’t have children yet so my immediate interest in the subject was minimal, but still, I struggled to grasp the sudden change.

In the next couple years, many in our conservative-minded community got on board the “we don’t do Halloween” bus and took quite a stand, citing the centuries-old origins and practices surrounding the holiday. As parenthood loomed in our future, we felt compelled to check out the “new” evidence suddenly wrapped around the very events that held manyfile0001449116966 fond memories for both me and my husband. We didn’t delve too deeply into the history and traditions of the holiday but enough to discover some things we’d never associated with our innocent, fun-filled Halloween traditions. Yeah, some of the stuff was pretty yucky and nasty and evil. But what did that have to do with us and our Halloween traditions of wacky costumes, stumping our friends and neighbors and hoarding massive amounts of candy?

We eventually settled on a happy medium. We’d never been into the really scary stuff anyway, so we set a precedent of no super scary costumes—monsters or really gross creatures. Or stuff like the devil or corpses. Costume decisions became a family affair, requiring agreement from both parents. No springing an idea on us the day before.  After much discussion, our daughter once wore a pair of black pajamas with the major skeletal bones outlined in white with glow-in-the-dark glasses that imitated facial bones. After all, skeletons ARE a real fact of life and not necessarily scary or evil. Right?

I love all thinPumpkings fall and wasn’t about to give up my favorite season because some people had deemed Halloween, pumpkins and every other staple of fall to be evil. Pumpkins are cute and fun and make for mighty tasty treats. They are not evil. And the gorgeous rainbow of fall colored leaves? Nothing morbid about them. God’s handiwork at its finest.

So, we put a big emphasis on fall. We decorate with pumpkins and leaves, inside and out. We stockpile canned pumpkin and actually schedule whfinal12ich of our favorite treats we will make when, leaving room each year for scrumptious new recipes. Sometimes we entertain with a fall theme—everything is either shaped like a pumpkin or leaf, has pumpkin as an ingredient OR is orange in color.  It’s just fun.

A few years ago, our church weighed in on the Halloween debate and decided, rather than to protest Halloween or join forces with those who’ve denounced any and all celebration, to host a family friendly outreach event—Trunk-or-Treat—during the local city’s trick-or-treat time slot. Since our church is 6 miles from town, we rent a pavilion at the park, line the parking lot with family-friendly decorated car trunks or truck beds from which candy is distributed to trick-or-treaters. In the pavilion we serve hot soups, an array of home-baked goodies, hot and cold beverages. And we visit with people. We ooh and ahh over their cute little ones. We make new connections and renew old acquaintances. We share church info, when asked, and trunk or treathave brochures on hand. We welcome 500+ people from the community at no cost to them. A fact that many find quite difficult to believe.

You do this for FREE? Every year? Wow…

Yep, we do. It’s a lot of fun. Quite a bit of work too, but many hands pitch in to make the evening a success.

So, that’s how we do Halloween. What about you? Do you do Halloween?