Sunday Brunch: Thoughts on Community

Suunday Brunch

Once I month, I write a column called Sunday Brunch at Modern Creative Life. Going forward, I’ll be doing weekly Sunday Brunch posts here, as well.

It’s day twenty-seven of the Dog Days of Podcasting, an annual event where twenty or thirty people attempt to post a podcast episode every day for thirty or so days. Originally founded by Kreg Steppe, it was his attempt to get back to the old-school days of podcasting, when it was very much an indie – even underground – hobby, and shows weren’t as slick and commercial as they are now.

I was not involved in that first year. And I wasn’t invited into the project by Kreg, because I didn’t know him. In fact, at the time, I barely listened to podcasts at all, though I remember attempting to – unsuccessfully – several years before.

In any case, this is my fifth year with the project – challenge – whatever. But it’s only my third year truly participating in the community that has coalesced around the challenge.

And that’s what I want to talk about in this piece.

Community.

We all have several communities that we interact with during our lives. When we’re very young, we have the community of our family and immediate friends. For me, that community extends to people who aren’t biological relations, but who have been in my life, my family’s life, since before I was born. Helen, Robert, Tess, Cheryl, and Alisa you represent the core of that group. I don’t tell you enough – maybe not ever – but I love you all.

As we get older, we have the community of our school friends. Sometimes that community is an extension of the first, but for me, it really wasn’t, and honestly, I haven’t kept in touch with most of my friends from school – from any of the schools I attended (there were many) – but Jennifer from USF,  Geoff, Joy, Juliette, and Robert from Fresno, and Toby from Modesto – even if we don’t talk a lot, even when we don’t agree on everything – I’m glad to have the contact we do.

Our lives often go in directions we never expected. Our interests develop, fall away, change, and grow. In my early twenties, I started playing online roleplaying games – MUSHes – and found a new community among other players. Some of them I only know online. Many I’ve met in person, shared meals with, cried with, laughed with, and hugged (but never enough). I met my husband that way – in fact, I can legitimately say I met Fuzzy on another planet, since we met on a Pern MUSH (but not the PernMUSH).  But Elana, Jeremy, Clay, Veronica, Julia, and Victoria are all in my life because of that kind of gaming.

More recently, I’ve found another game-related community in the Klingon Marauders fleet on Star Trek: Timelines. I’m using their handles because while I know some of their real names, I don’t know them all, but Stones, O Captain, Deli, Rowden, Admiral Scarborough, Khalessi, Videm, Grease Monkey, Q, McCracken, and the much-missed Worf – I don’t think any of you realize how much you mean to me.

Communities come in various forms. I’ve had church communities and choir communities, and a community of fellow improvisers. I have a small community of writing friends – Debra, Becca, and Roxanne among them and I have a group of friends that began as fans of an epic fanfiction series I’m still writing, and have become close friends, advisors, and even, when needed, a sort of Brain Trust: Berkley, Elizabeth, Caroline, Clariel, Fran, Hannah, Karla, and Selena you have been my supporters, my cheerleaders, and my friends, and I’m grateful for all of you.

Sometimes, communities overlap. Clay introduced me to Tabz, and through her podcast dramas in the Buffyverse, I met Kim, Heidi, Robin, Crystal, Brian, Jancis, Mark, and Nuchtchas. (Yes, O Encaffeinated One, we met through Tabz before I was part of DDOP). It was Nuchtchas (and Tabz, but somehow, I remember it being more Nuchtchas) who invited me into the Dog Days of Podcasting, who gave me pointers, and encouraged me until I’d figured out what I wanted BathtubMermaid to be. (I’m happy with the content now.)

Clay and Brian, on the other hand, introduced me to Sage, and it’s through her that I got to know Jancis better, and actually interacted with Kymm (that’s Kymm with a Y) whom I’d been crossing paths with for years doing Holidailies.

And then there’s the Dog Days Peeps. I can’t name any of you without wanting to list all of you, but Kreg and Chuck have been incredibly welcoming since Day One, so they get special shout-outs. You’ve never made me feel stupid for not knowing how stuff worked, or unwelcome because I wasn’t an original member of your circle. Thank you for that. And Jay, thank you for coming to play in my sandbox.

As is the nature of living organisms, Communities ebb and flow. Sometimes you’ll have intense relationships with only a few members of a community and more casual ones with the rest. Sometimes you’ll feel like there are people who don’t ‘get’ you, or you don’t really understand. I’ve come to learn that this is normal. It’s not bad or wrong, it’s just life.

The vast majority of the people in my most frequently inhabited communities, I’ve never met in person. But this doesn’t diminish the connections we have. Together, we’ve been through marriages, divorces, births, deaths, successes, failures, hopes, fears, dreams, and brutal realities. We’ve watched storms together, and prayed for those in the center of those storms to be safe. We’ve mourned the loss of cultural icons together, and shared opinions on new projects (I’m talking about you, Star Trek: Discovery.) The fact that much of this happens online isn’t relevant.

We don’t always agree on politics, on religion, on whether or not Tecate really is the best beer (though the first sip of the day – of anything – is absolutely the best), but when one of us is in trouble, we reach out.

From all of you, I’ve learned, or been reminded, that the only stupid questions are those that go unasked, and that accepting help when you need it is just as important as giving it when you can.

Thank you, all of you, for being part of my communities.

World’s Biggest Chew Toy?

Maximus, 2017

 

My dog, Max (Maximus) will be nine in December. This story may or may not have taken place exactly as described, about eight years ago.

World’s Biggest Chew Toy?

When my husband finally walked in the door three hours after his usual arrival time, I didn’t greet him with a smile and a kiss, but instead accused, “You’re late.”

 

“I said I’d be a bit late, when I called” he replied, with his usual Midwestern calm. “There was a problem and I lost track of things.”

 

“Three hours is not a bit,” I snarked. “Twenty minutes is a bit. Three hours is unacceptably late.”

 

“What’s really wrong?” He could always see right through my behavior.

 

“Everything I write is crap,” I said. “And my column is due tomorrow. I forgot to pay my cell phone bill and it cost seventy-five dollars to get it reinstated.  I ruined dinner and I’m too tired to cook anything new, and your dog ate my t-shirt.”  I was in tears by the time I finished my litany, but my husband was smirking. “Stop laughing! It’s NOT funny!”

 

“Not to you,” he said. Then after a beat he added, “Come here.”

 

“You were late.” I pointed out. “You come here.”

 

He crossed the room and pulled me into his arms. The tears started flowing again, but he just held me and let me cry out my frustration.  After a few minutes, I felt calmer, and I lifted my head from his chest.

 

“Better now?” he asked.

 

“A bit,” The faintest teasing note colored my tone.

 

He kissed me on the forehead, and then peppered my lips with tiny bunny kisses. I smiled in spite of myself, then began kissing him back. The mood was beginning to shift to something more passionate when there was a canine shriek from outside.

 

“Where’s the dog?” my husband asked, only just registering the lack of a canine presence.

 

“Out in the yard,” I said. “I was afraid I might do something horrible to him.”

 

“You wouldn’t have,” my husband said. “You love your dog, but we should go see what he’s up to.”

 

We walked hand-in-hand through the house and out to the yard. He pulled the door open, and I yelled, “Maxwell, come!”

 

There was no response.

 

“Max! C’mere Monster Dog!”

 

A scuffling noise , closely followed by a frustrated growl, came from the side of the house.

 

“Maximus, come!” My husband had to try.

 

“Looks like we go to him,” I said. I went back inside to grab a handful of treats and we went to investigate the latest doggy disaster.

 

Max, our big, spotted, mutt, was playing tug with the brick veneer at the corner of the house. The porch light highlighted the crumbled bits of mortar on the ground.

 

“Maximus, stop that!” I ordered, as my husband yelled for the dog to come now!.

 

Max trotted over, a chunk of dusty, red brick in his mouth, and a smug expression on his doggy face. He dropped the brick at my feet and sat, waiting expectantly for his treat.

 

I wanted to throttle him, but my husband sensed that, and said, “Good sit, Maxwell.”

 

I tossed a treat, and Maximus caught it effortlessly.

 

“C’mon, Max,” I said, and we went back inside.

 

“Crate him, and I’ll take you out for sushi,” my husband offered.

 

“Deal,” I said. I ordered Maxwell to bed, and accepted his slurpy kisses before locking the door and feeding him another treat.

 

Later that evening, over sushi and plum wine, I quipped, “You know, when the shelter people warned us that this dog would eat us out of house and home, I didn’t think they meant it literally.”

 

My husband merely laughed and poured more wine.

 

 

 

 

 

Flash-Fiction: Oskar and Harmony

 

 

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_vukvuk'>vukvuk / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

This is an unfinished piece written just before dinner last night. I was working on something different, but related, and this is what happened instead.

 

His arrival was always heralded by raindrops.

He would open with a tease, a tickle. Just a tiny hint of drizzle. If she didn’t immediately rise to meet him, he’d turn up the waterworks, make them into a soaking rain over the place in the sea where sirens dwelt between gigs.

Harmony would lift her face and arms into the cascade of bubbles, give a flick of her tail, and twist and turn in the newly oxygenated water. It was common knowledge that sea creatures got a little giddy during rainstorms, after all.

Spiraling upward through the frothy water, she would break the surface just in time to catch phase three of his greeting to her: a single arc of lightning that sent electricity humming through every fiber of her being.

And there he’d be, floating on a mattress of soft fog, just above the peaks and troughs of her beloved waves, her man. Her god. Oskar. Today he was sporting hair and a beard that matched the slate and granite colors of the rocks that formed her favorite jetty, and eyes that were the same bruised-purple as the sky before a storm.

They didn’t talk much, when they were above. His voice was the sound of a sledge-hammer, booming and forceful. It made the waves break far from shore and scattered fish in all directions.

As to her voice. Harmony was a mermaid. A siren. Her voice was meant to lure sailors to their watery deaths. When she used it on Oskar, she was never sure if he was staying with her because he wanted to, or because her voice was somehow compelling him.

Then again, when they were nested together on his bed of fog, they didn’t really need to speak to communicate, especially once they’d determined how thick the bed had to be before it was considered ‘land’ by the elemental magic that allowed her to split her tail into legs.

But when they were in her world, below the waves, then it was a different story. Her voice had no power over him when they were beneath the waves. And his…

Have you ever been swimming and been surprised by a thunderstorm, or been diving and felt a motorboat go by? That’s a taste of the way Harmony experienced Oskar’s voice underwater: feeling it more than hearing it. It was tangible, a physical grumble that was best appreciated when one of them was draped over the other.

Harmony had never planned to fall in love with a thunder god. The bird and fish who fell in love had it easy compared to Oskar and herself. But when they were together, when she was wrapped in his arms, and he rumbled sweet words to her or she felt his joyous laughter, she knew it was worth figuring out.

100 Days of Notecards – 2017 edition

100Notecards-Day000

Almost every year between the summer solstice (today!) and my birthday (August 17th, I like bath stuff, coffee paraphernalia, perfume, and funky jewelry. I don’t like blank journals.) I end up descending into a creative slump.

With the Dog Days of Podcasting coming at the beginning of August, and my rule that I have to do something productive and something creative every day (and yes, sometimes they are one and the same) I thought it would be wise to start generating ideas for the daily podcast and other writing.

A few years ago, I participated in The !00 Day Project, where lots of people pledged to engage in an act of daily making (whether that was art or something else) and document it on Instagram. I took a break in the middle, but overall I really enjoyed the project.

Last summer,or… maybe it was the summer before… I tried to do 100 Days of cooking, but kept forgetting to take pictures, so while it was a tasty project, it wasn’t a terribly useful one.

This year, I’m doing notecards again.

I’ve got a bunch of 3×5 post-its, because after I snap the picture of my notecards, they go on the front of the fridge for anyone who visits my house to read. (The visual aspect also helps me keep going, because I get a kick out of the brightly colored notecards slowly taking over the stainless steel of my fridge.)

So I’ve started again. Today.

The rules:
100 Days.
100 Notecards.
1 sentence, scene, or snippet of dialogue per card.

Enjoy!

Great Writing Requires an Awesome Hat

Awesome Hats

This piece originally ran as part of my Sunday Brunch column in All Things Girl on 12 January 2014.

A few days ago, I made a post on Facebook about how while most of the country had been in the throes of a polar vortex which made temperatures plunge into the sub-zero ranges, I had been in the throes of a writing vortex. I gave the credit for my recent habit of writing in excess of 5,000 words a day to a green hat my friend Jeremy made for me several years ago.

It’s true that this particular hat has been my headgear of choice this winter, but it’s not the first “writing hat” I’ve ever had. It’s also true that was not my first-ever writing vortex, but it’s the longest, most productive such period I’ve had in probably a decade, and that includes at least four successful completions of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

For me, both the hats and the vortices began with Jo March, my favorite character from Little Women, which I read for the first time when I was six. At first my mother read the chapters aloud to me at bedtime, but eventually I grew impatient to know what came next, and I improved my reading ability so I could find out. That was the last book we read together in that way; now we just trade books back and forth.

In any case, the image of Jo with her special writing clothes on, scribbling away in her attic atelier, is one that instantly entranced me, and I’ve been using my own form of writerly cos-play to keep the muse active ever since. Sometimes that includes whole outfits; but mostly it involves hats.

My first writing hat was a black velvet beret, big enough for me to tuck all my hair into (at a time when I had long hair, even) and adorned by a red bow. At least, it had a red bow until the bow fell off, and after that I decorated it with a succession of funky pins – gold stars, silver fairies, a bar pin featuring a jazz trio – things of that ilk. I wore that hat forever, and not just to write. It was a trusty friend through my high school and college years, until I finally killed it by accidentally melting it to death with a curling iron.

In retrospect, the curling iron vandalism might have been a sort of homage to Jo March as well, albeit an unintentional one.

My second writing hat was also black and velvet, but this time it was a baseball cap. I love baseball caps because when my hair is long enough for a pony-tail, I can stick it through the gap above the adjustment tab. This one was pretty plain, but I jazzed it up with a giant dragon-fly pin. Once, I wore it to work (it was a hat-friendly workplace) and my supervisor looked at it and said, “That dragon-fly is scary. And awesome. Carry on.”

I still have that hat, but I don’t really wear it to write any more, mostly because my hair is too short for a pony-tail, but partly because that dragon-fly pin is really heavy.

When I was performing with the Dallas ComedySportz troupe several years ago, I shifted my usual headgear from hats to bandannas – do-rags in the current parlance – collecting them in a wide variety of colors and styles. My favorites include a black one with lavender and green dragon-flies, and a white one with black and gold paisley patterns. I like these “kerchiefs,” as my grandmother would have called them, because they keep my hair out of my face without hurting my scalp (like a too-tight or too-heavy pony-tail can) or being too hot or heavy. I also like them because they make pirate fantasies much more accessible, but that’s another story.

So, why am I now wearing a green hat that can be a watch cap or a beret? Well, first, my friend made it for me, and I miss his daily presence in my life, so this hat is a connection to another very cool, creative person. The other reason is that, until yesterday, it’s been legitimately cold here in Texas (and not just in a cold-for-Texas kind of way – it was 23 degrees earlier this week.), and when you keep your head warm, you retain your body heat. It’s never been a secret that I like to have cool air when I sleep, but when I’m awake and writing, I prefer to be comfortably warm, and the hat has helped keep me that way.

Unlike Jo March in her garret, I don’t use the position of my hat to signal the state of my muse or telegraph my mood, but the presence (or absence) of some kind of headgear absolutely alerts my husband to whether or not my “genius is burning.”

Can great writing be accomplished without an awesome hat? Of course.

But wearing a hat, and channeling a favorite character (even if it’s a character of your own creation) makes writing – great or not – a lot more fun.

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and “fall into a vortex” as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace. Her “scribbling suit” consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally, to ask, with interest, “Does genius burn, Jo?” They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on; in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew; and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew; and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow, did any one dare address Jo.”

~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Counting the Days

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_bajneva'>bajneva / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

I’m not feeling the Christmas spirit. I could blame the severe hypothyroid condition which is sapping all my energy, or the cold I have on top of it, which is just exacerbating the situation, but whatever the reason, I’m just not feeling the magic.

My tree stands in the dining room window, lit, but naked, as if it’s tottered in drunk from the cold, unsure of whether or not it really belong here, and of what might have happened to its shoes, or, for that matter its pants.

I’ve mostly decorated the mantle with my motley crew of Victorian Santas, but it feels like they’re mocking me this year. Like they aren’t interested in anything except being tucked away safely between layers of tissues and bubble wrap, waiting for next year, when I might be in the mood again.

Maybe it’s the political climate that has me feeling this way, like I’m caught in some kind of limbo.

Maybe it’s the Texas weather, chill, grey, murky, but with no sign of precipitation coming any time soon.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Who knows.

I started Holidailies wanting to write fun stories about holiday magic and everyday magic, and I haven’t written in over week. I wanted to do a podcast project with a bunch of other Doggies from The Dog Days of Podcasting, but I feel like there’s no point because I don’t have anything new or interesting to offer.

My characters whisper to me, ever more insistently, to progress their stories, and I just tune them out.

I’m not depressed, at least, not clinically.

I’m just tired. And feeling stale and burnt out.

The cold ashes of a two-days-past fire.

And even opening the doors on the advent calendar isn’t helping this year.

So, I’m counting the days to something new.

I don’t know if 2017 will be better or worse (dear God, I hope it’s better), but at least it will be different

Won’t it?

Flash-fiction: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_fotoall'>fotoall / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know
It’s a long road back
I promise you

 “Hi, sweetie. I’m checked into the hotel, and I’ve got The Nutcracker on the television. I’m sorry we couldn’t see it together, but I know you’re having a great time at the ballet with Grandpa. I miss you, sweetheart, and I love you.”

The voicemail system wouldn’t leave her leave a message that was any longer. It was the 20th of December, and instead of being home with her daughter, putting up their apartment-sized tree and watching cheesy Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel, Rose was in yet another hotel room, in yet another city, preparing for yet another sales presentation in the morning.

Being a single mother was tough enough when she was home full time, but with her recent promotion, Rose was on the road nearly two weeks of every four. It was only temporary, of course. A new sales rep was coming on board after the holidays.

Until then, there would be four more nights of hotel sheets and hotel shampoo and hotel food, and the knowledge that she was missing all the holiday traditions she and her seven-year-old daughter had established in their life together.

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree

“Hi, honey. I’m sorry I missed you. I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel listening to a man play Christmas songs on the piano, and sipping peppermint hot chocolate. Grandpa promised to record your choir concert tonight – did you get the flowers I sent? Did you like the chocolates? – We can watch the video of your show when I get home, okay? I love you.”

It had to be the Peterson account that made her late for her evening call with her daughter. They were one of the oldest clients her company had, but they demanded special care. Sure, they’d provided a lovely meal, but the filet mignon had tasted like sand, especially when they were eating it in a restaurant decorated with a chocolate Christmas village. (She snapped a picture with her phone to show Daisy.)

“Is this seat taken?”

Rose looked up to see a man about her age, maybe a little older. Brown hair with a touch of gray at the temples, expensive suit with a whimsical Christmas-themed tie (Peanuts? Really?) and brown eyes that twinkled pleasantly. Any other night, she’d have said no.

“How can I say no to a man who’s willing to wear that tie in public?” she said, by way of an answer. “I’m Rose.”

“Michael,” he said, trading his name for hers. He settled into the seat across from her, adding, “My son picked out the tie.”

“You have a son?”

“Charlie; he’s eight.” His expression grew slightly sheepish. “I have to confess: I overheard you leave that message, and thought another parent would be a safe person to share a table with.”

Rose softened toward him. “I was trying to reach my daughter, Daisy. She’s seven. Her school’s winter concert is tonight, but my meeting ran late, and then there was dinner and…” she trailed off. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” he said. “I wish I were home with Charlie, probably about as much as you want to be home with your daughter. I had to leave him with my sister.”

“You’re divorced?” It was a safe bet. Single fathers always went for the silly child-provided ties.

“Widowed,” he answered softly. “My wife died last January. This is our first Christmas without her.”

“I’m so sorry,” Rose said. “That can’t be easy.”

Michael shook his head. “We’ll manage. We have to. What about you? You mentioned a grandfather…”

“Divorced. Daisy’s father and I dated in high college, got married too young, and ended things when she was one. He’s a good father, but he’s active duty army. Deployed.”

“Wow. Do you… is he safe?”

“I hope so,” Rose said. “He usually manages to get time on the satellite phone on Sundays, but this Sunday is Christmas, so…” She paused, and sipped from her drink. It was peppermint hot chocolate, as she’d told Daisy in her voice message, but the mint came from a healthy shot of peppermint schnapps. “I’m sorry; I don’t usually talk this much to total strangers.”

“We single parents have to stick together,” Michael said. “Don’t apologize.” He stared at her cup. “What are you drinking?” She told him, and he grinned and flagged down the server. “I’ll have what she’s having… and a plate of those butter cookies.”

It was a pleasant hour or so, Rose reflected later, sipping the beverage that warmed her in more ways than one, and sharing the lightly-lemon flavored half-moon cookies with her new… friend? Acquaintance? It didn’t really matter. She likely wouldn’t see him again.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

“Hi, Daisy. I’m at the airport but there’s snow here in Chicago, and my flight is delayed. I know tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, and I promise I’ll be home in time for pancakes and seeing Santa at the firehouse. Remind Grandpa to ask Anna to have your red velvet dress ready for tomorrow night.  I love you.”

The weather had caused the delay or outright cancellation of so many flights, but Rose had gotten lucky. She was flying away from the storm, not into it, and even though her original flight had been scratched, they’d found a seat for her on the ten p.m. to Denver. She wasn’t thrilled about having to drive the hour-plus home after midnight, but at least she’d make it home for the holiday.

And they’d bumped her to first class for her trouble.

Settling into her seat, Rose accepted the offer of a single glass of red wine, and arranged her neck pillow so she could look out the window and still be comfortable.

They were about to close the aircraft door when there was a flurry of activity and a brown-haired man appeared in the aisle. For a moment, she wasn’t entirely certain he was her companion from the other night, but then his tie – Calvin and Hobbes this time – swung free, and she smiled.

“Rose,” he greeted. “We meet again. Is Denver home for you?”

“Michael,” she responded. She sipped her wine before sharing, “I live about an hour away from the airport, in the mountains. Georgetown.”

“Oh, I know it well. Quintessentially cute, tucked in at the bottom of the switchbacks before Guanella Pass.”

“Okay, no one knows that…”

“They do if they live in Silver Plume.”

She couldn’t help it; she goggled at him. “Silver Plume kids go to school in Georgetown.”

“They do.”

“So if either of us were ever home…”

“We’d probably have met at parents’ night. I’m loving the irony.”

The plane had pushed back from the gate while they were chatting, but Rose barely noticed. What would have been one more excruciating flight had become a pleasant interlude in a month of disappointments and frustrations.

They chatted amiably from take-off to landing, parting ways in the parking garage, though Michael had insisted upon walking Rose to her car before going to find his own.

Inside her vehicle, Rose texted her father an update on her status while she waited for the engine to warm up. She’d forgotten to ask for Michael’s last name, but she could always ask Daisy about a boy named Charlie, one grade ahead of her.

Or not.

She saw him stowing his suitcases – like hers, one was full of presents for a waiting child – in the trunk of his car as she drove through the nearly-empty parking structure toward the exit. Impulsively, she pulled over and rolled down the window. “Hey, Silver Plume!”

“Georgetown!” he grinned at her. “We’re not using first names anymore? If you call me ‘Colorado’ does that mean we’re breaking up?”

She laughed. “Tomorrow morning, nine-thirty, the Happy Cooker. Daisy and I do ritual gingerbread pancakes and then see Santa iat the fire station down on Main. You and Charlie should join us.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah!” She hesitated. “Make sure  he chooses a really good tie.”

They exchanged numbers, just in case, and then Rose put her car back in gear and headed home. The Christmas lights on their vintage Queen Anne-style home were switched on, waiting to welcome her back, and she smiled as she wheeled her luggage up the stairs.

Inside, her father was sitting at the kitchen table working a crossword puzzle. “Hey, traveler,” he greeted, rising to enfold her into a flannel-clad hug.

“Dad. You didn’t have to wait up.”

“Now, you know that’s not true.”

“Okay,” she said. “Would you mind heating up some water for tea? I want to peek in on Daisy.”

“She was out like a light, last I checked.”

Rose smiled, but she climbed up the stairs anyway, and kept her footsteps as quiet as possible as she moved down the hall to the end room where her daughter slept. The door was cracked open, as usual, but she pushed it wider so she could see her child’s still form.

She’d kicked the covers off again.

Rose moved into Daisy’s room and settled the sheets and blankets back over the little girl’s shoulders. Then she placed a gentle kiss on her daughter’s forehead.

The child stirred in her sleep. “Mom?”

“Yes, Daisy. It’s Mom. I’m home.”

“Good. Love you.” And she was asleep again, just like that.

“Love you too, sweetie,” Rose whispered. She retreated to the doorway where she remained, watching her sleeping child, until she heard the low whistle of the tea kettle.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

 

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, based on a poem by Buck Ram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash-fiction: They Grow Up So Fast

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_gpointstudio'>gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

They had just pushed the button to illuminate the Christmas tree when the power flickered out. It came back a few seconds later, but the blackout had lasted just long enough to disrupt the time on every digital clock in the house.

“Mom, I think we lost internet!” Her son was leaning over the upstairs balcony railing.

“That happens when the power goes out,” her daughter shouted upwards. “Anyway, you were standing next to me when the lights went out… you teleported didn’t you.”

“Geez, Sam, rat me out, why don’t you?”

“Patrick, do not blame your sister for your own actions. The internet will reset in another minute or so. Please come back down here – and use the stairs. Samantha, tattling on people only makes people resentful.”

“But you know the power glitches every time he does it.”

Helen sighed. “I know. But your brother is starting puberty and his power is fluctuating.”

“You mean he’s getting hormones?” The ten-year-old imbued the word with a sense of wonder. Well, really it was affectionate mockery and wonder.

“Yes.”

“Didja have to tell her that?” Patrick had returned to the first floor of their house.

“It’s a fact of life, Patrick. And at least you’re a boy. When Samantha gets to that stage a few power fluctuations are the least we’ll have to worry about.”

Patrick glanced at his sister. “Wow. That kinda sucks.”

“Yes,” Helen agreed. “It ‘kinda’ does. In any case, we’ve talked about this before: no big magic in the house – it alters the electrical fields and affects all our technology, not just the power grid.”

“Teleporting isn’t big magic.”

“Maybe not for you,” Helen countered. “But displacing the mass of a human, and then reintegrating that mass in a new location takes a lot of power, even if you’re not feeling the effects yourself.” She paused letting her words sink in.

“So, how do I practice?”

“Well, you’re thirteen now. I think it’s time you started Magical Education Classes. When the winter break is over, we’ll see about getting you enrolled.”

“Is it true there are all-wizard schools, like in Harry Potter?”

Helen chuckled. “Oh, if only. Just think how much easier life would be without your friends constantly asking if you could just make their homework appear or speed the time ahead so they didn’t have to go to gym. No, Magical Education is sort of like… you have friends who do their Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah classes after school, right?”

“Yeah, sure. Zachary Schwartz has been bragging that Lady Gaga is performing at his party.”

“Well, this doesn’t come with pop singers, but Mother Margery at the Episcopal church teaches a Coming of Magical Age class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You’ll be doing that.”

“Mother Margery’s okay,” Patrick allowed.

“Mom, are we ever gonna light this tree? Dad’ll be home soon.

“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry,” Helen apologized. “Yes, let’s do it right now.”

Mother and children gathered around the decorated tree, and Samantha grabbed for the remote with the button that controlled it.

Helen put a loving hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Would you mind if we let Patrick do it his way, just this once?”

The younger of the children took a beat to think it over. “I guess,” she shrugged. Then she glared at her brother. “But if you make the lights go out again, I’ll tell Josie Frye that you like her.”

For a moment, Helen thought her son was going to argue the point. Instead, he said. “I won’t. I promise.”

Patrick faced the tree and closed his eyes, just concentrating. After a moment, the lights on the tree began to glow, softly at first, then more brightly, one at a time, from the light on the bottom row in the back, all the way through the circuit.

“Did it work?” he asked, a bit uncertainly.

“It’s beautiful,” Samantha breathed.

Patrick opened his eyes. “The regular power will keep them on,” he said. “I just got them going.”

“That was cool,” Sam pronounced. “Dad’s gonna love it.”

Helen stepped away from the tree to dim the room lights. Her husband would be home from work shortly, but she was enjoying this precious moment. All too soon, Patrick would be too old for tree-lighting, and Samantha’s magic, when it manifested, would likely have nothing to do with electricity.

They grow up so fast, she thought.

Image Copyright: gpointstudio / 123RF Stock Photo

Flash-fiction: Poinsettias

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_barbamauro'>barbamauro / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

 

“They say that things just cannot grow
Beneath the winter snow,
Or so I have been told.”

 – Sarah Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson, “Winter Song”

The signs on the greenhouse doors warn against the use of magic in six different languages, but even so, it’s tempting to do just a tiny warming spell to ward off the chill. Inside, Ophelia knows, the air will be warm and humid, but outside it’s Deep Winter, and she resents having her fingers go numb on the walk from the main house to the greenhouse where the Work is done.

With a mittened fist, she presses the button for the intercom, waits for the buzz, and then announces. “Ophelia Bloome. Incoming.”

Hold for retinal scan.

She peels her hat away from her eyebrow and lowers her scarf just enough to give the scanner an unobstructed view of her right eye.

Scanning… scanning… scanning…

It always seems to take longer when the weather is cold, Ophelia thinks, but if she mentions that to Gran the old woman will tell her it’s Nonsense and remind her that Everyone Knows Cold Makes Computers Work More Efficiently. (Gran always spoke as if every word was capitalized and amplified, the result of a lifetime of living with a husband who excelled at situational deafness until age finally took his hearing away for real.)

Identity confirmed. Good morning, Ophelia. Please come inside.

It’s her imagination, isn’t it, that the computerized security system is always much more polite once the scans are complete? It doesn’t actually have a technopixie working inside it, imbuing it with personality, does it? That would be dangerous for the plants.

The outer doors swish open, just like the doors on Star Trek, and Ophelia steps into the airlock. Vestibule, she corrects herself. It’s just a vestibule. This is real life, not science fiction.

With the outer doors closed behind her, she strips off her outerwear, trading her snowsuit and boots for denim overalls and sneakers. Then she triggers the inner doors, which don’t so much swish as creak.

The inside of the greenhouse is a technological marvel, with heat lamps and misters and every kind of measuring implement ever invented to track growth rates and division patterns, to determine optimal climate zones and confirm hardiness. Even the ceiling was programmable on a section-by-section basis so that day-lilies could thrive next to night-blooming cactus if the Gardeners so desired.

“You’re A Bit Late This Morning,” Gran announced too close to Ophelia’s left ear.

“The coffee maker was infusing every cup with Daydreams,” the younger woman explained. “Alex had to shake me out of them twice, and then I had to return the favor, before we figured out it was time to descale the thing.”

“Magic Builds Up Just Like Minerals,” Gran explained. “Your Grandfather Is Supposed To Maintain The Kitchen Gadgets.”

“Well, maybe you can remind him of that,” Ophelia suggested with only a hint of a smirk. “What’s on schedule for today?”

“Poinsettias.” The old woman pointed a gnarled finger at the farthest corner of the mile-square space (like many magical edifices it was bigger on the inside), under an arch of candy canes. “You Know They Call Them Flors de Nochebuena In Spanish?”

“Yes, Gran. But I didn’t know we Worked with them.”

“Of Course We Do!” The old woman had a way of making Ophelia feel like a six-year-old more often than not, and her loud speech didn’t help. “Come, Child.”

Dutifully, she trotted along behind her grandmother on the moving sidewalk that ran down the center of the building. There were golf carts, as well, but Gran preferred to walk, and on the days Ophelia had to Assist her, she walked, too.

At the poinsettia grove, both woman stopped, and the older one activated one of the touch panels and called up a recipe. (She preferred that term to ‘spell,’ but really, the two were interchangeable.) “Read That Out To Me, Child.”

“One part Spirit of the Season, one part Hospitality, and two parts Pleasant Dreams,” Ophelia read from the digital display. “To be Worked by someone in the first third of life, and someone in the last.” She looked up, understanding, suddenly, why they would be doing this project together. “Oh… Gran.”

The old woman didn’t speak, just took up her position at the Working station, and jerked her head to the left so that the younger one would follow suit.

It took two or three hours of concentration, but when they were through, the red, pink, and white plants glittered faintly in their foil-wrapped pots. They’d been infused with Holiday Magic, and were ready to be loaded onto the conveyor belt that would take them out of the Shielded greenhouse and onto the loading dock, where Alex would ensure they were packed into temperature controlled trucks for delivery.

Hours later, Ophelia was curled up in her favorite chair in her cottage on the family property. The winter storm had killed the electricity again, but she’d Enhanced her Roku-TV so that she could get Netflix without it, and with cheesy holiday movies playing on the 40-inch screen, a pot of spiced tea, and a crackling fire, she couldn’t imagine being any cozier.

The holiday season had officially begun, and Bloome and Greene Florists was looking at a banner year.

Once Upon a December

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_michaklootwijk'>michaklootwijk / 123RF Stock Photo</a>This is not a #MusicAdvent post. It’s also not a #Holidailies post.  Oh, and it’s not a #DecemberReflections post either.

This is an admin post warning you about what’s going on with the Bathtub Mermaid this December.

Because I like to challenge myself (or because I’m insane, possibly both) I’m doing a triple cocktail of Holiday Blog/Twitter/Instagram projects, and may (or may not) be combining them.

(Actually, I may be doing a fourth project at the same time, but that will only be 12 days, and not 25 or 31)

So, here’s the lowdown on what to expect.

Today (1 December 2016) is the first day of MusicAdvent, in which people share a song every day from now til Christmas. This year, the challenge is to chain the songs together, so that each song somehow connects to the previous one. I came this|close to using “The Alphabet Song” or  “Alligators All Around” because that way the instant connection would be that they’d be in alphabetical order, but that would be cheating. So, you’ll have to go follow me on twitter (see my link in the sidebar) to find out what song I start with.

Today (1 December 2016) is also the first day of Holidailies, which I’ve been participating in for over a decade now. If you visited this space, or listened to my podcast, in October, you know I also participated in the darker version of that project, #HorrorDailies. But this month is for the original.

And finally, today (1 December 2016) is the first day of December Reflections  which I’ll be doing mostly on Instagram (link in sidebar).

Oh, and that fourth project? It will be a 12-day podcast thing, like a mini-version of Dog Days of Podcasting, and you’ll be able to follow that at BathtubMermaid.com when it begins.

Now, if this all sounds a bit ambitious, please remember that I reserve the right to skip days when necessary. (12/21, for example, I’ll be on a plane).

I hope you’ll take the ride with me this month. Some blog entries may incorporate the music or photo from that day; some may not. Let’s see what happens.

Oh, who am I kidding. This is totally a holidailies post.