Good Reads – A Year in Review

It’s coming on to the new year.  A time of reflection for many and of making resolutions.  I don’t do resolutions much but I like reflecting.  That’s part of the reason I love recording what I have read in Goodreads and then looking back on them.  According to Goodreads, I read 46 books this year.  The shortest was the picture book Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills and the longest was Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  This not only shows the wide variety in lengths but also the wide range of my reading.  I read 8,993 pages – sounds impressive that way, doesn’t it!  However, it’s an incomplete picture of my reading.  It doesn’t include short stories, poems, essays, articles and other reading that didn’t include reading the whole book.  It doesn’t include Bible and devotional readings.  And it doesn’t include the things that I put down or those I finished but disliked. 

I made a decision when I started recording, rating, and reviewing books on the site that I would not record the ones I didn’t like.  To someone looking at my reviews without reading my profile, it might seem like I love everything I read.  I made this decision for two reasons.  The first is that I am all about encouraging reading and supporting writers so I hated to speak badly about them and perhaps discouraging others from at least checking them out (there was one exception that my entire book club hated and I reviewed a while back…but I digress).

The second reason that I don’t record the books disliked or even hated and quit on is a question of being fair.  Some of the books that I have read and didn’t like may have more to do with me than with the book or author.  An example:  I couldn’t finish Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones.  The reason actually has something to do with how well it was written.  As a teacher who was dealing with the death of a student, I just couldn’t bear the pain of the book.  As with anyone’s list of hits and misses, it may be that the ones I can’t read are the ones that others love.

I only list books that I can give three to five star ratings (and sometimes I leave off the three star ones for various reasons). This, of course, means that I get an incomplete look at my year in reading when I look back on it.  I am not reminded of the books that fell under the “Life’s Too Short to Read Lousy Books” column.  Some were just meh.  That’s okay. 

Those that make the cut are the books I want to remember and feel that I can encourage others to read.  As I looked back on my list from this year I was surprised by a couple things.  I felt like I read Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give so long ago and it was such a part of my reading life that I wasn’t sure I read it this year.  I don’t usually reread books, but on the list this year are several that I read more than once including The Hate You Give, The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, and For Everyone by Jason ReynoldsI thought about giving my copy of For Everyone away as Jason Reynolds encourages, but I just have to buy another copy to do that with!  I love it enough to read it again and again, and since it is so short, I can do that easily without significantly diminishing the time I have to read something new.  Finally I learned that ruminating on a book often changes my initial reaction.  I found that I went back and changed a few ratings – adding or taking away a star.  

MY LIST OF FIVE-STAR BOOKS OF 2018 (As always it is in alphabetical order rather than by how much I like them – that would be too hard!):



  • Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty 
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
  • The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See


  • Braving the Wilderness – Brené Brown
  • Educated – Tara Westover
  • For Everyone – Jason Reynolds
  • Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance
  • Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin


  • As Brave as You – Jason Reynolds
  • Hello, Universe – Erin Entrada Kelly
  • She Persisted – Chelsea Clinton
  • She Persisted Around the World – Chelsea Clinton
  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street – Karina Yan Glaser


  • I Am Enough – Grace Byers (PB)
  • Islandborn – Junot Diaz
  • Love – Matt De La Peña
  • Show Way – Jacqueline Woodson


  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Read by Tim Curry)
  • The Night Before Christmas – Clement C. Moore (Read by Jeff Bridges)
  • The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See (Read by Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimiko Glenn, Alexandra Allwine, Gabra Zackman, Jeremy Bobb, Joy Osmanski, Emily Walton, Erin Wilhelmi)
  • Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin (Read by Richard Thomas. Doris Kearns Goodwin reads the introduction.)


  • Leadership:  In Turbulent Times – Doris Kearns Goodwin (Read by Beau Bridges, Richard Thomas, David Morse, Jay O. Sanders. Doris Kearns Goodwin reads the introduction and epilogue.)

What’s in the Well?

“What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket.”  Years ago I had a Sunday school teacher who said that all the time.  It offers a truth.   

If you have ever had experience with the kind of well that allowed you to pull up a bucket of water, you know what this means.  If you’ve ever read the Bible, studied cultures where the women walk for miles to get the family’s water, or know history you can picture what I’m talking about.  But in this case, I’m not talking about the literal well and bucket.  It’s a metaphor for many aspects of life.

If we eat nothing but junk food, our bodies will let you know that what we’re putting in the well isn’t working for us.  We’ll lose energy.  We’ll gain weight.  Many of the vitamins and minerals needed to live a healthy life will be missing and cause health problems.  Such lack of nutrition will even affect our appearance.  The same is true for all aspects of our lives.

We are reminded often to take the time to wish someone well at this time of the year.  We go out of our way to help our fellow man – we pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child, take an angel off of the tree at church to buy gifts for underprivileged children, and drop money into the Salvation Army red bucket.  We take donations to the local food pantry, remember the elderly as we go caroling in nursing homes, and send cards to people we care about but don’t often get to see.  

We become more caring, more loving, more generous around the holidays.  But why?  Because everywhere we go we are reminded of the impact we can have as we do these seasonal things.  We hear stories of famous people like Tyler Perry or an anonymous donor paying off all of the layaways at the local Walmart. And maybe we pay it forward at the Starbucks or McDonalds.  We watch those Hallmark commercials that highlight family and the grandparents who need you to stop by.  And we call to make plans.  We watch Frosty and Rudolph and It’s a Wonderful Life.  We sing “Joy to the World” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” We ponder lines of lovely lyrics like “joyful and triumphant,” “peace on earth and mercy mild…,” and “sleep in heavenly peace.”  

There are many things that are feeding us the idea of Christmas cheer, generosity, and love.  We’re putting all of those feel-good ideas down in the well and they’re coming up in the bucket.  

The late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin lived his life with compassion and a sustained effort to end hunger.  One of the things I remember him talking about was how wonderful it was that people had all the food drives and thought about the hungry as the holidays came around but how much more wonderful it would be if they thought about it on Black Friday or December 26.  So what happens to all of that spirit?  

We quit putting worthwhile, loving, generous thoughts “down in the well.”  This, I think, it the part of what is wrong with our society right now.  We watch too much “news,” see way too many violent images, and hear too many negative ideas.  There is too much incivility and vitriol being taken in as we watch.  We have a 24/7/365 news cycle.  Obviously, for all of human existence things have happened around the clock.  What is different today is that we are taking it in all day, every day.  There really isn’t enough news to warrant this kind of coverage; therefore, these radio, television, and online sources rehash things over and over and over.  They bring in “experts” to opine on all things.  They take things that should never make the evening news and turn them into stories that last for days.   And they blow things up and completely out of proportion. 

Let me illustrate.  The horrifying story of the murder of a little girl in 1996 made headlines around the country and continues to make headlines every so often today.  JonBenét Ramsey was not the only child murdered that year.  Probably not even that month or that day.  But it happened on the day after Christmas when all of the lawmakers in Washington were at home, many businesses were still closed for the holiday…in other words, on a slow news day.  Sure she was cute and her family well-off and well-known in their community so the local news picked it up.  But those 24/7 news sources still had to fill the airwaves so the national news grabbed it too.  They continued to cover it over the next week for the same reason and by then couldn’t let it go.  They sensationalized it.  Sure it was awful and tragic.  But so were the deaths of all of the children who have died, especially those whose lives were tragically cut short in acts of violence.  Yet we don’t hear as much about the multiple deaths of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School as we do about the Ramsey case.  The news moved on.  Or in the years between the two events we have become inured to the violence because we hear it day in and day out.  That’s really frightening for what it would be saying about us.

Listening to a story recently I was given some food for thought.  I was only half listening until this point so I can’t even tell you who said it, but the person speaking on my radio made a distinction between news sources who are there as a public service to keep us informed and those who exist solely to make money and entertain.  It’s the difference between what we once new when Walter Cronkite told us “and that’s they way it is” and today’s talking heads who interpret the news as they bend it to their (or their network’s) point of view.  While I had never delineated the difference until I heard this, I instinctively knew it.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that depression has been something that I battle.  I’ve written about it and what it does.  I have found that one of the self-care things that I need to do to fight that depression is to be careful of what I’m putting in the emotional well.   Maybe you need to do the same – even if you haven’t been diagnosed with depression but just want to feel better and more content.  

I started by limiting my news to the updates at the top of the hour on the radio in the car, a half hour of local news, and the half hour of evening network news.  Some days I don’t tune in at all.  If there is something that I feel the need to know more about, I do some research and reading, but I don’t go to sources that will fan hysteria, hatred, name-calling, and incivility.  

If you aren’t liking what is “coming up in the bucket” in your emotional life, you might try thinking about what you are putting down in the emotional well.  Here are some areas that you can consider:

  1. The news.  Be sure you are watching good sources.  You should take in enough to keep you informed but not so much that you become obsessed or become emotionally distraught over the state of the world and things you can do little to change.  If you are too disturbed, take a few days off.
  2. Social media.  If you want to see an idea beaten, stretched, polarized, and exaggerated, there is no place like Facebook, Twitter, and many, many other places on the internet.  Shun the really polarizing ones.  Limit your contact with people who stoke fires on these sites and spread stories that don’t pass the BS meter.  Take a break from all of them when you find your emotional state being dragged down. 
  3. Entertainment sources.  Great drama is often uplifting.  But there is nothing like a great comedy that really makes you laugh!  Sometimes I have to look for lightness in my entertainment.  I find a light read, a rom-com movie, a magazine.  When I’m down, I avoid television shows that cause stress or show too many negative images. That’s when I go to watch HGTV – the worst that ever happens is they find nob-and-tube wiring and go over budget!
  4. Church and the Bible.  I find that things that help me to feel closer to God are vital at my low points.  It’s also at those moments that I’m drawn to stay home playing games online instead of reading something so worthwhile or going out and being with people.  But the worship service helps me to feel the goodness that is possible.  Granted, you have to be in the right church so that you are fed things that will lift you, but get up and find it.
  5. Music.  I love praise music.  I love great country songs that make my feet move.  I love jazz and classical music that make my spirit soar.  I love any song I can sing along to.  For someone my age, I defy you to hear “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” without immediately smiling and singing!  I made an iTunes playlist from my music and burned a disc of songs to lift me up.  I have now created Spotify playlists to do the same thing.  (I made a special one for Christmas because I don’t want to hear “Blue Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” or any other song that makes me sad!)
  6. Friends and Family.  Don’t isolate yourself, but be careful of the people you allow into your life.  If you are surrounded all the time by people complaining and angry, you’ll find out why the old adage about lying down with dogs became an old adage!  I’ve had times I became one of them!  Find people who will listen and show compassion.  Find people to laugh with.  Find people doing good work and helping others and then join them!  One of the best things I’ve done for myself was to begin working with New Hope Ministries – when I am working with people who have the heart to help others and I’m doing good work, it makes me feel better.

In order to turn ourselves around and maybe even society around, maybe we just need to be sure that we are feeding our souls and our spirits.  This isn’t a new idea.  It isn’t even original to me.  Paul gave this advice in the Bible long, long ago.  Paul, writing to the Philippians from a jail cell, offers this advice, “…as I close this letter, let me say this one more thing:  Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others.  Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.  (Phil 4:8, TLB)  

If I can’t be a good example, at least I can be a horrible warning…

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Have you judged someone’s attitudes and actions without knowing or contemplating where they are in their lives?  Have you lashed out at someone without feeling his or her pain first?  It’s an ugly characteristic, but one I have succumbed to way too often in my life.  Atticus Finch is not only my favorite literary character but a role model setting an ethical standard I admire, a standard that I’ve found lacking in my life.  Most recently, I found myself coming up short and causing pain to others and to myself.  Let me explain.  Maybe you will see something of yourself in here and can stop your tongue faster than I did!

I live a series of contradictions.  I’m loud and talkative but actually introverted.  I try to surround myself with people and things that will uplift.  I collect quotes, sayings, and verses that are joyful.  But I suffer from depression that leaves me on the floor seeking some way of getting up.  I’ve been told that I am seen as confident, bold, and outspoken.  I’ve had people tell me that I intimidated them when we first met.  That has always surprised me because it came most often from people who intimidated me!  Contrary to the way I seem, I know that I am always insecure, usually scared, and quite often reluctant to really voice what is on my mind on many subjects – especially personal ones.  I express myself better with written words than spoken ones where nothing comes out right and I just get tongue-tied and embarrassed. 

I try very, very hard to live my life with kindness, generosity, empathy, and compassion.  And yet there are times that I know just how far short of that I come.  I hold back to protect myself from hurt.  I judge.  I have some hot-button issues that give rise to anger and set my mouth into gear long before the brain is engaged.  I am suddenly this fierce, angry, immovable  force.  At these moments I say things that are far from kind and compassionate.  If I don’t say anything, I seethe.  And in either case, I stew. That means that just because I’ve managed to stop talking and have even walked away, it might not be over in my heart and soul.  

As I said, I have issues.  They are hard-wired to a button with a hair-trigger.  Stomping on that button will set off a reaction before I can stop it.  When I’m really low, just nudging that button will do it.  Then it will fester and the reaction can come back around days later, weeks later, and might live inside me for years.  I have a great deal of trouble going back and talking to the people who have received the wrath, apologizing or explaining myself.  It would involve vulnerability and the dropping of protective walls that I’m not ready to abandon.  Maybe not able to abandon.   But I’m trying to at least acknowledge and explain here to some extent.

The irony of these responses is that they are caused not by some righteous anger but by the weaknesses that have led me to being hurt in the past.  They are directly linked to the insecurity and fear that have made most of the decisions in my life.  

I’ve worked through some of the issues to the point where I can take a deep breath and think before I respond.  I can then usually push past or ignore things.  That doesn’t mean I won’t come back and revisit it later, but if I get beyond the initial knee-jerk reaction, I usually won’t go back and bring up the issue.  There is, however, part of my sense of self garnered over the years that I have not worked through and I guess that is because it is far more deeply ingrained and dangerous to me.  

Lots of forces over the years led me into adulthood feeling “less than.”  Less than strong. Less than athletic.  Less than graceful.  Less than acceptable.  Less than intelligent.  

I have long ago accepted my two left feet, lack of athleticism, and awkwardness.  My dad’s jokingly calling me “Baby Huey” as I got taller and more awkward took their toll, but overall I’ve come to terms with that.  I wish I could dance, but I can’t.  I would love to enjoy physical activity and athletics.  I know it would be really good for me, but it’s just not going to happen.  Maybe I accept those because, while I know that they are true, they don’t mean that much to me in the grand scheme of things.  I look at them as talents that I don’t have rather than as defining who I am.

It is the other two that combine to still hurt and rule my day-to-day living and cause the problem.  They aren’t about talents but about who I am intrinsically, ultimately, innately.  The feeling of being less than acceptable and less than intelligent have to do with many, many things from childhood onward that I won’t go into here.  The first is a constant struggle.  I’m not sure I’ll ever lose that.  I take everything personally and feel every little slight.  I never quite feel like I fit in or measure up.  I know I have good friends.  I know they invite me to join them doing things.  But what you know and what your insecurities tell you aren’t always the same thing.  

Feeling less than intelligent came along with the lack of confidence felt when you already feel like you don’t fit in.  Again, I won’t go into the things over the course of my life that led me to believing a narrative that I was being fed, but I know this is not true.  I may not be accepted but I am not stupid.  I will tell you where I drew the line in the sand.  

I lived with someone whose favorite description of me was “stupid as hell.”  I should have stuck up for myself and put a stop to it from the start.  However, I went into that relationship with self-doubt that was fed and grew there.  It hurt and part of me wanted to scream “I AM NOT STUPID!”  But I wasn’t sure enough of myself.  I didn’t want to chance being rejected so when he asked sarcastically if I had actually gone to college, I would jokingly say things like “no they let me teach because I’m cute.”  Most often I said nothing.

I can remember growing up hearing people say that abused women “liked” being abused or “wanted it.”  When I did some reading on the topic, I learned of the toll that is taken on the self-confidence and the very essence of who these women were.  I learned that they came to believe they deserved to be mistreated.  And I understood how that could happen.  They were often beaten down physically but were ALWAYS beaten down emotionally and mentally.  

This man never hit.  He never had rages.  But he steadily put me down and insulted me.  I didn’t speak up.  I didn’t stand up for myself.  I took it in and came to believe it.  When we split up, I wasn’t sure how I would ever survive on my own and take care of my son even though I knew I had a job that would allow us to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I was surprised when people told me afterward that they had never understood the attraction I had for him because they knew I was much smarter than he was! 

As I took the time to heal and reflect, I realized my role in what happened. My silence and acquiescence allowed him to continue and led to my acceptance of his words as truth. And I overcompensated for it.  I swore that I would never, ever allow anyone to call me stupid or insinuate I lacked intelligence again.  And I don’t.  I stop it cold.  And I often do it with a rage and outrage that I’m sure seem outsized to others.  Over the years I’ve tried to tame it with varying degrees of success.  When I’m in the throes of a depressive bout or when other circumstances have combined with it, however, I’m not quite in control of that anger.  And anger unchecked leads to behavior that often hurts others.

I know that in my efforts to take care of myself I have pushed people away.  I don’t care if I have pushed them away if they truly meant to treat me as “lesser than” and insult me.  But I know that sometimes that wasn’t really their intent.  I sometimes listen to their words without listening to their hearts.  It happened recently with a long-time friend whose words came from a place of pain and anger – anger not with me but with God and life and the world.  Even though I have been in a bad bout with the depression, I responded without truly being in a rage, but I’m sure my anger showed.   

His bitter response, in turn, caused me to feel the pain and anguish he’s been living with.  I know I didn’t cause it.  I know I can’t really do much to alleviate his suffering.  But now the kind, compassionate heart I talked about as I started this post is broken for him.  And because I couldn’t hold my tongue, see his anguish within that attitude, and love him through his hurt, I caused him more pain.  I caused me more too, because I feel very guilty for having added to his suffering.  

That’s what happens when we look inward only.  Unfortunately for those suffering from depression, it is a trap we fall into and have to constantly be vigilant about.  I wasn’t on guard and now two people pay the price for it. 

Once Upon a Christmas



I love fall, but I’m not a fan of snow and winter.  It’s the middle of November which should be giving me pretty fall colors and cool temperatures.  Yet in my last post I jumped into the Christmas season.  I bypassed Thanksgiving on the blog (already doing enough of that with my Facebook posts) and went straight into Christmas.  I do love Christmas.

IMG_2090Today as I sit in front of the fireplace watching it snow outside, I’m not feeling like I’ve rushed it all that much.  My beautiful fall mums are covered in white.  The branches of the trees out front have colored leaves under a coating of snow.  And so I’m back with Christmas.  I ended my last post with a promise to share some books that will get you into the spirt and make great gifts for the folks on your list! 

There are traditional stories that I love to revisit year after year.  What would Christmas be without the reading of the actual Bible story (you know, the “reason for the season”? 

Screenshot 2018-11-15 16.02.22
Listen to Linus

You don’t need to go to the old King James version…although think of the beauty of Linus reciting that next to Charlie Brown’s tree.  The Message, the New Living Translation, and other modern tellings give a beautiful account that even children will follow and love hearing read aloud as part of a yearly transition.  (Read Luke 2:1-20 and then Matthew 2:1-12.) 

Other traditional stories truly enrich the season.  At some point you should really graduate from the Muppet version, get through the George C. Scott movie, and read the original version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  I have a favorite edition with illustrations by Greg Hildebrandt, but I’ve seen so many others that are lovely and rich with illustrations that will bring in the younger audience and old folks like me.  I also have a gorgeously illustrated copy of The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.  The story will have your children remembering Burt and Ernie sacrificially giving in the holiday special, but the illustrations in the book pictured here give it the lovely period atmosphere.  I also found a charming version of Clement C. Moore’s A Visit From St. Nicholas (’Twas the Night Before Christmas) with the original Jessie Wilcox Smith illustrations.

There are other books that I have grown so fond of over the years that they are a tradition for me to read.  If you haven’t read The Polar Express with its rich illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg, it is high time you do!  The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, and A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg are stories adults will love disguised as children’s picture books.

You can giggle your way through Peggy Parish’s Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia or Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold.  Or you can roar with laughter with Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  (A word of warning that comes from experience:  when reading this aloud, allow extra time to regain your composure after fits of laughter.)  You can visit history with Cynthia Rylant, Tom Brokaw, Kate DiCamilo, Patricia Polacco, and Gloria Houston.  There are wonderful adult novels and novelettes by Deborah Macomber, Dorothea Benton Frank, Liz Curtis Higgs, and many other popular authors who will add to your own Christmas spirit.  Start with my list of tried and true below.  But don’t stop there!  Every year you can make wonderful new discoveries at your library or local book store.  So don’t forget to look for some new titles and share them with me! 

As I said in my last post, if you’d like to stop by to have a cup of tea and some music, for a story time, or to borrow any of these (or lots of others), my house will be the one with the wreath outside and a fire and welcoming spirit inside.

Screenshot 2018-11-15 16.24.27

My Favorite Family Christmas Reads:

  • The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson 
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck 
  • Christmas from Heaven: The True Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber by Tom Brokaw
  • The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
  • The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
  • Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco 
  • A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg
  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
  • Gifts of the Heart by Patricia Polacco 
  • Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  • Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  • Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano
  • Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold
  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg 
  • Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant
  • The True Gift: A Christmas Story by Patricia MacLachlan
  • A Visit From St. Nicholas (’Twas the Night Before Christmas) by Clement C. Moore   
  • The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston

Need a “Little Christmas”

Screenshot 2018-11-11 22.01.17

My mom was all about Christmas.  She really did it up big.  She went way overboard every year.  Every year we waited for her traditional claim that she was “cutting back.” She tried hard not to say it and we conspired to make her slip up.  She always did.  And when the proclamation inevitably came, we would hoot, call each other on the phone, and herald the news that it would be another good year.  One time she asked my teenage son if he still believed in Santa.  His response was, “Yes.  She has red hair and drives a…” 

Scan 32 - Version 3When I became an adult, I tried to keep up for years.  I can’t.  I’m not even sure I want to keep up in many of the ways that she did it.  It’s a lot of pressure.  When I took over some of her shopping and wrapping and baking as her health deteriorated, I wondered aloud why she was so happy doing so much all those years.  It was her way, and she was good at it.

But, alas, times change.  We don’t have huge family gatherings they way we once did.  My entire family came together for the first 55 years of my life first at my grandparents’ home and later at my parents’ home to join in the full day of festivities. It started with presents, stopped for breakfast, and continued with presents. The rest of the day was spent cooking and eating, playing games, and laughing over well-worn stories of Christmas past. 

Once my parents made their permanent home in Florida and Mom couldn’t travel, things changed.  We’re now spread out across two countries and five states.  For a long time now my brother has spent Christmas with his wife’s family.  My sister goes to visit with her children wherever they are in the country or they come to her in Virginia.  Once Mom passed away Dad started coming to my home, but he lives in Florida, hates the winter weather, and has now chosen to stay there, golf, and celebrate with his girlfriend and friends. 

My Christmas celebration has become more and more pared down with the passage of time.  We don’t buy and buy and buy the way Mom did.  My son and daughter-in-law host Christmas every year because, after working in a grocery store during the holiday season, his biggest Christmas wish is not having to wear anything but sweats and not having to leave the house all day.  She has decided that Christmas dinner should be simple and involve no hours in the kitchen that day.  So our Christmas feast will look a lot like a deli buffet.

My friends don’t host holiday parties. Denise and Joe have our “chosen family” over for dinner on Christmas Eve, and I have the same group at my home for New Year’s Eve.  Last year I went all out.  I took out the mountain of Christmas decorations I have amassed and inherited over the years.  I made the house look festive and hosted a Christmas tea.  I enjoyed the time with good friends and the little ones in their lives.  I pretty much maxed out the number of people I could have here for a sit-down meal but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves even with tight spaces. 

This year I’m pruning back another couple of traditions.  I always search out Christmas cards that have a picture and message that says what I would like to say to people.  They have to be just perfect and involve a pursuit that takes time.  Many years, I created and printed my own cards.  All of this became a chore that added pressure and anxiety to my holiday.  This year the scaling back starts with not sending Christmas cards in the same way I have done in the past.  I will still find the just right cards but I’ll only be sending out a few to those I won’t get to see over the holidays – and I’ll write personal notes to those friends and family far away.  If I’ll see you tomorrow, I give you a hug and wish you a Merry Christmas.  If I’ll see you on Facebook, I’ll design a wish for one and all to send out. I will do no more than I can handle and will not put pressure on myself to meet some arbitrary Hallmark expectation in sending cards.

The other thing that I am scaling back on is the holiday decorating. I had one year that I wasn’t going to decorate at all.  Mom had died and with her my Christmas spirit.  In the end I forced myself to get out all of the decorations and go through the motions.  I did it in memory of her.  I did it because I have grandchildren.  And in the end it was good for me because I really love Christmas and the decorations.

I have more of Christmas stuff than someone with a house twice the size of mine should have!  Every year I swear I won’t buy another bauble, ornament, piece of tinsel…not even another Nativity for my collection.  That usually flies out the window before Thanksgiving hits.  (Confession time.  This year it happened before Halloween, but it was a really different creche.) When I’m putting the decorations up, I am listening to Christmas carols or watching a Christmas movie.  I am seeing my treasures that have been hidden away for the whole year.  I take out some and smile a moment reliving with old friends the memories they bring.  Some come out and bring a surprise because I had forgotten them.  Last year I took them all out and made the house look as Christmassy as possible.  You know what?  It was WORK!  And these days, I’m the only elf putting them up!  The adults have their own to do and the grandchildren don’t have time either.

And the only thing more work that getting them out and placing them around the house is packing them up putting them away!  By then I’m no longer feeling all sentimental about them.  I’m not listening to the Christmas music.  It’s over.  And I want it to be done with!  I’ve turned grinchy.  And as for those grandchildren?  Only one of them even saw the full blow-out last year!

So this year, I will decorate only to the point where I can see a few beautiful things that bring the season alive for me without an overwhelming amount of work.  I’ll put up the tree.  I’ll put out at least some of my Nativity collection.  And I’ll hang the stockings by the fireplace and the wreath on the door.  That might be it.  I’ll sort through the things that can go live somewhere else, and I’ll save the rest for next year and cherish them then.

Curbing the things that add work and anxiety will hopefully free me to find the “all is calm, all is bright” of the season. I will do the things that gladden and hearten, helping me to truly celebrate and enjoy.  Maybe I’ll bake…maybe not.  I’ll make a few gifts…if the mood strikes.  I’ll wrap gifts with beautiful bows because I like to do that.  And I will certainly hold on to

the sentimental and lovely things that have invariably filled me with the true Yuletide spirit.  I will listen to lots and lots of my favorite music.  I’ll watch Christmas specials and tune in for a few of those cheesy and wonderful Hallmark movies.  I’ll take Lily to see Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at a local theater and the light display at a community park.  I’ll attend a special Christmas music event that a friend plans every year.  I’ll go to church.  And I’ll read Christmas stories – the ones written for adults and the ones for kids.  I’ll find an audience for some of them, and for other’s I’ll curl up and revel in the quiet warmth of a fire, a cup of tea, and a story. 

Along with my collection of Christmas decorations, I have a wonderful accumulation of music and books reserved just for this time of year.  In fact the depth and breadth of this assemblage forces me to start taking joy in them well before the arrival of Thanksgiving!  But that’s okay, because they are things I love, and they are not fattening, they’re not bad for my health, they uplift my spirit, and, perhaps best of all, they are shareable. 

So let me share with you, my friends, some of my favorites.  Today I’ll share the titles of some of my favorite Christmas music to get you started on the season.  You’ll notice I kind of like older stuff.  I love the traditional hymns and artists who sing these songs simply so that you can sing along.  You won’t find the sad ones.

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My favorite Christmas music:

    • Amy Grant – “Tennessee Christmas – I love all of her holiday albums but especially A Christmas Album, 1983 that introduced this song.
    • Kelly Clarkson – “Silent Night” featuring Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood – from the album Wrapped in Red, 2013
    • Bing Crosby & David Bowie – “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” 1977
    • Vince Gill – “Breath of Heaven” from the album of the same name, 1998
    • The Forester Sisters – “An Old Christmas Card” and “This Old White Doorway” from their album Christmas Card, 1987
    • Andrea Bocelli’s album My Christmas, 2009
    • Alan Jackson’s album Let It Be Christmas, 2002
    • Il Divo’s album The Christmas Collection, 2005
    • Martina McBride – “Do You Hear What I Hear” from White Christmas, 1999
    • And any Christmas music by Pentatonix, Michael Bublé, Michael W. Smith, Celtic Thunder, Straight No Chaser, and anything from the artists my mother and I sang along with over the years Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis and the rest.

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Later I’ll share some book titles that will get you in the spirit and make great gifts for the folks on your list!   And if you’d like to stop by to have a cup of tea and some music, for a story time, or to borrow any of these, my house will be the one with the wreath but not a lot of other things outside.

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How Far Away is Catastrophe? 2018-10-08 13.00.14


“Climate change is the canvas on which the history of the 21st century will be painted.”

 Mark Lynas, writing in “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.”

I’ve read stories about the most recent findings regarding climate change in many venues today.  (I am linking here to the BBC story because I found it contained a lot of good information, but it would be very easy to check multiple sites for the information.)  Scientists and researchers who study climate are warning of a climate catastrophe if nothing is done. There are those who still deny all of the scientific evidence. Our government has recently rolled back protections on our environment.  Many have denied scientific findings in the past and been proven wrong. Galileo was excommunicated from the church for his scientific findings, but he was found to be correct.  Me?  I believe the science.

Warnings of catastrophic consequences due to global warming and environmental changes are not new, but the date they have given for a dire impact is. And it hit me hard. 2030.   How old will your, your children, and your grandchildren be that year? I did the math for my family…

In 2030:
I will be 77
Dani will be 61
Laura will be 53
Travis will be 49
Ashley will be 44
Brittni will be 42
Chelsea will be 40
Kate will be 31
Megan will be 28
Chapin will be 27
Lydan will be 25
Samantha will be 25
Alyanna will be 23
Caydence will be 21
Lily will be 19
Cassidy will be 15

Who knows, I may not see it. But my loved ones will. I pray that we take this seriously and live up to our responsibility to do something so that they can all live long, healthy lives. Doing something now says that we believe these young people are worth caring about and saving. If the climate change science is right, we can save lives. If it is wrong, we will have a cleaner environment and we will not have harmed the future by doing better for our planet. Are you willing to risk your children’s lives?



1 SHORT STORY FROM RAY BRADBURY – “All Summer in a Day” – A story that had an impact on me years ago that I first read in a literature anthology when I began teaching.


10ish BOOKS ABOUT CLIMATE SCIENCE including one novel that illustrates the impact. 

  • Chesapeake Requiem:  A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift
  • Six Degrees by Mark Lynas
  • This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs The Climate by Naomi Klien
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman
  • Flight a novel by Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey D. Sachs
  • Comfortably Unaware by Richard Oppenlander
  • The Sixth Extinction  and  Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Rising:  Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
  • Climate Justice by Mary Robinson

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I am a Christian.  I say that unapologetically yet knowing that there are people who will make assumptions about me that may or may not be true.  I watch the things that some who call themselves Christians do in the name of Jesus, and I cringe.   A “church” shows up to protest at the funerals of soldiers.  “People of God” practice and espouse white supremacist values and violence against those of other races.  I witness the lack of caring and the degradation of our fellow human beings because they aren’t from the same social class, because of the way they dress or their tattoos, because the are gay or transgender, because they abuse drugs or alcohol, because their skin color is different, Screenshot 2018-09-16 15.58.17.pngbecause they are from another country and speak a different language, or because they practice a different religion.  These are decidedly not scriptural attitudes or behaviors.  I am often horrified and want to distance myself from the name of the church embarrassed by what these people do and the reputation they have given Christ.  To many people who are not involved in the church, these are the characteristics of all Christians because it is what they see in public venues and in the media – including from programming that presents itself as speaking for Christ. (Example, an evangelist on television stating that the events of 9/11/2001 happened as punishment from God for our acceptance of gays.)  These actions of hate are driving the public opinion against Christians.
I do many things wrong.  But I sincerely pray that I don’t do things that embarrass the Lord.  I hope that I don’t practice “situational Christianity” as some people do “situational ethics,” but I’m sure that there have been times when I have done so.  I have overlooked a situation or a person’s statement that challenges everything I believe for the sake of keeping the peace with friends, family, and co-workers.  I fall short – usually on the side of what I don’t do – because of a lack of courage.  But I know that I don’t condemn, look down on, hate, degrade, or do things to harm those who are different than me.  I have things that I don’t understand in the way others choose to live their lives and things that I fully disagree with, but I try to acknowledge that the person is still a child of God who is as fully lovable as any other child of God.  I try hard to speak in terms of actions or ideas in my dissent…but I know that I often fall short, very short, especially in my comments about one person.
Our leaders are no different than the rest of us. Our parents, teachers, pastors, stars, and leaders are human.  We’d like them to be perfect, or at least better than average, but they are mere humans.  Some seem too good to be true, and the public promptly sets out to bring them down a peg.  We can still look to leaders and mentors as examples without their being perfect.  The disciples, the apostle Paul, and other heroes of history were not perfect, but we still look to their example as they were trying to do their best and were people of character.
We don’t have to agree with our leaders on every issue.  If I held out for that as the measure of a teacher, a pastor, or a candidate, well, I would learn nothing, attend no church, and never vote.  However, I must agree on most of the things a leader espouses in order to follow and listen.  In the case of a political leader, I cannot support someone on one issue alone.  I certainly could vote for dog catcher based on a candidate’s stance on animal cruelty alone.  But there are very few positions that only have influence in only one area.  A candidate who has ideas I can support on just education, just taxes, just human rights, just immigration, just the abortion issue, or just…whatever one hot button issue there is would not be a candidate I could vote for.  Similar stances on issues are not enough either.  No matter where they stand on the issues, we should to be able to see character, honesty, and a true concern for others in our leaders.  We should know that what they say today will be the same as what they say tomorrow.  Obviously politicians are known for promising lots of things that they never accomplish.  We should, at least, have the comfort of knowing that they honestly would like to accomplish those things and that their promises are not based on convenient lies meant to gain our votes and nothing more.  We should know what their core values are not only through their words but through their actions both on and off camera, both in and out of the arena.
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This is why many people have a great deal of difficulty understanding how Christians and their leadership can back certain candidates or leaders.  The argument that most give of “well look at the other candidate” – whoever he or she might be – rings hollow.  We should never have to make a choice between two lousy choices.  We should be involved early enough that it doesn’t come down to that.  We can also jump ship on both political parties and vote for a different candidate or write in candidates.
In this blog I usually stick to my own thoughts and my words (albeit with lots of quotes).  I don’t often share articles here, but I am doing it for the second post in a row.  The article I am sharing presents some ideas and questions I have been very challenged to understand.
More often than not my blog shares my love of books by recommending titles.  I told someone this week that my next post would recommend books and so it does.   Here are some books (both for children and adults) on character and leadership and people who demonstrated it:
  • Believe It  by Nick Foles
  • Character Counts by Os Guinness
  • The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen
  • The Generosity Factor by Ken Blanchard and S. Truett Cathy
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • I Will Not Fear:  My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Beals
  • The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
  • Principle-Centered Leadership, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and First Things First by Stephen Covey
  • Profiles in Courage by John Fitzgerald Kennedy
  • Profiles in Courage for Our Time by Caroline Kennedy
  • Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson (picture book)
  • She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World and She Persisted Around the World by Chelsea Clinton (children’s book)
  • This is Our Time:  Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel by Trevin Wax
  • Uncommon Life by Tony Dungy
  • Unified:  How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country by Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy
BACKGROUND ON SHARED ARTICLE:  The article I am sharing is written by Dr. Benjamin L. Corey who “is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and who received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold.”  It appeared on the website which says of itself: is the premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality, and to explore and experience the world’s beliefs. Patheos is the website of choice for the millions of people looking for credible and balanced information about religion. Patheos brings together faith communities, academics, and the broader public into a single environment, and is the place where many people turn on a regular basis for insight, inspiration, and stimulating discussion.
I do not know enough about the website to comment on the site overall.  I do know that, while there are some elements here I would debate with the author, I found the article very thought provoking and illustrative of a dilemma I have in understanding things today.