Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever--Still a Great Christmas Story

I promise I'm not lazy. It's just that this morning at church I was  reminded of my favorite Christmas story (other than the original one), so I dusted off a post from Christmas 2013. The funny, poignant tale of an almost de-railed Christmas pageant still brings me to tears, and the message behind it rings as true as ever. If you've never read it, do yourself a favor. Purchase a copy and make reading it a Christmas tradition

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Does the Christmas Story Confuse You?

What would Christmas be without a bit of confusion? Seven years ago grandson Brooks--two at the time--had this experience. Then a week or so ago, my daughter Kristin received an email from number two son's first-grade teacher explaining that when she had asked who in the class celebrated or knew someone who celebrated Hanakkuh, seven-year-old Bennett raised his hand. The teacher invited Kristin to come and share with the class ways in which she celebrates the Jewish festival.
It was a nice idea, and Kristin would’ve been only too happy to comply, but there was one little problem: She isn’t Jewish. And while she knows a lot about Christmas traditions, to my knowledge she has never participated in a Hanakkuh celebration.
When asked about it, Bennett said, “Mom, I thought you celebrated Hanukkah.” Further questioning revealed he’d confused Hanukkah with Advent—perfectly understandable in a seven-year-old.

I’m still laughing about this, picturing Kristin’s face as she read the email. But this episode also has me contemplating the idea that many Christians—even long-time ones—experience confusion about the faith they’ve chosen to follow. And not just at Christmas time.

And I think that’s okay.

One of the most reassuring statements I ever heard from a Bible scholar was “If you can’t live with questions, you’ll have a hard time being a Christian.” For years, I’d read with great interest books on Christian apologetics, seeking to alleviate my confusion with some of the more difficult concepts of the faith:
—Did all the Old Testament stories really happen?
—How is Jesus fully God and fully man?
—Why do innocents suffer?
—What is heaven like? Where is it located?
I felt I needed to defend my beliefs by presenting the logic or reasoning behind them. And when I couldn’t come up with absolute answers, I was frustrated. 

Being granted permission to have questions brought me to a place of peace and to a stronger faith. I now realize God doesn’t need me to “prove” His existence. He offered evidence of it long before I came on the scene. God doesn’t need me to answer questions people have been asking for millennia. And, frankly, I wouldn’t trust anyone who claimed to have all the answers, anyone who didn’t acknowledge a bit of confusion. The Apostle Paul himself admitted to seeing through a glass darkly, knowing only in part.

I still gain Christian inspiration from reading what Bible scholars and theologians offer in the way of explaining difficult concepts. But I read them for my own enlightenment and consideration, not with the intent of clearing up all confusion, whether mine or someone else’s.

The season of Advent is when Christians set aside time to reflect on Christmas—the time when God came to Earth as a baby. A baby who in adulthood willingly became the sacrifice to assure hope, peace, joy, love, and eternal life to all who believed in Him. 

Do I have the answers to all the hows and whys of this supernatural occurrence? I don’t. But I do know it happened. And about that, I have no confusion.

In this season of Advent, may you embrace the Wonder, the Awe, the Confusion, and the Certainty of the Christmas story.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Friendship International: A Miracle

My current English class includes these beautiful ladies from
Iran, Bangladesh, Morocco, South Korea, and China
Shortly after Some Form of Grace was published, a lady in my exercise class asked me if I would speak to a literature class she taught. Always looking for a way to promote my book, I told her I would be happy to. My book “gig” turned into an opportunity to connect with Friendship International, an international ministry that teaches English to a group of ladies from all over the world. 

I showed up at my first FI event—the 2018-19 welcome tea—unsure of what to expect, but it didn’t take long to get caught up in the excitement of both the staff and the returning students. Hugs and shouts of greetings and laughter filled the church assembly space. I quickly became aware that this program is not solely about teaching/learning English. It is about developing relationships and demonstrating Christian love a very tangible way.

Friendship International began in 1977, when a group of women from three area Southern Baptist churches began teaching English to international wives living near then Central State campus. The teachers began this ministry as a way to share Christ’s love, but they soon became aware of another need in their students’ lives—the need for friends, for community. Unable to speak English or drive and having small children to care for, the international ladies spent most of their time in their apartments. Their husbands, who attended classes during the day and spent evenings studying, provided their wives little relief from their isolation. After several months of prayer and planning and with the help of Dr. Ronald Paddock, the church ladies formed Friendship International Wives’ and Children’s Program. The name was later changed to Friendship International Women’s Program to include the expanding group of women who are in this country for a variety of reasons. The organization offers classes in English, Bible, citizenship, cooking, sewing, quilting, painting, embroidery, literature, and choir.
Nena Thomas who teaches the sewing class made
these darling Christmas trees--over 20!--to decorate the tables.

Friendship provides a place for ladies of different cultures and religious backgrounds to gather and be free from judgment for their countries’ politics or religious beliefs. So far this year, Friendship volunteers have had the privilege to share God’s word with ladies from thirty-five different countries. Few places in this world can lay claim to hosting to such an extraordinary event: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu women—and even those subscribing to atheism—willingly attending a Christian church gathering while aware a Bible message will be shared.
No matter the country or culture, women are women, sharing desires and hopes for a better world for their families and friends. Friendship International relishes the opportunity to encourage them in the pursuit of these hopes and to plant the Truth of God’s Word in their hearts.

This is my second year to participate in FI, and I have been blessed in numerous ways. Last week, we held the annual Christmas brunch. Along with beautiful decorations and delicious food so lovingly prepared by the staff, music was provided by the choir. Listening to ladies from all over the globe sing of the birth of Christ is a true Christmas miracle. I never felt the hope for "peace on Earth" more strongly. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Ending the Debate Over Ending Punctuation

A few weeks ago, my writing group called into question the use of  !? to end some dialogue in my work in progress. I staunchly defended my choice but failed to change their minds. Then—with uncanny timing—Facebook friend Gail Johnson posted about Benjamin Dryer’s recently released book Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. The title intrigued me—grammar nerd that I am—but the reviews are what convinced me to make the purchase. It’s not often a writing instruction book garners descriptions such as “utterly delightful,” “smart and funny,” and “brilliant, pithy.”
Also described as a "mind-blower" and
a "frankly perfect book."
A few pages in, I realized the book is deserving of its accolades. It truly is a book that “makes you smile and makes you smarter at the same time.” But what amazed me is that on page 65, rule #64 provides the answer to whether !? should ever be used. According to Dreyer ... it shouldn’t. He considers the use of it so completely wrong as not to be worth discussing. What!?

Far be it from me to challenge the wisdom of the copy chief of Random House (which Dreyer happens to be), but I contend there are times when a single mark of punctuation simply won’t suffice.  Take, for instance, these lines from my WIP. 

“That’s it, JJ,” Barb said, pointing. “My truck.”

My intention was to convey JJ’s simultaneous need for confirmation and amazement that Barb would be driving a one-ton sweeper truck. Does “That?” Or “That!” adequately express this mixture? 

I rest my case.

I suppose JJ’s emotional state could be described with words.

“That?” JJ hiked his eyebrows high on his forehead, and his eyeballs bulged from their sockets. 

But why go to all that trouble when the same effect can be achieved by two simple taps? Well, three. You also have to tap the shift key.

I agree with most of what Dreyer has to say in his book. (I’m sure he’ll be relieved to know this.) I agree the use of  double exclamation marks or double question marks is superfluous. Do we need to stress that a question is being asked or a character is expressing intensity of emotion? No! And Dreyer’s mandate that “periods and commas … are always (italics mine) set inside [terminal quotation marks]” makes me smile. Broadly and smugly. 

Dreyer does offer me hope in my struggle to gain approval for !? with the following revelation: “The dictionary takes its cue from use.”  If writers (as in everyone who writes) want “rest room” to become “restroom,” all they have to do is persist in using the latter. If we want to start sentences with “And” or “But,” now we can because we’ve insisted on doing it for so long. It makes sense that punctuation should follow this same process of acceptance—within reason. “Ladie’s Restroom” should never be legitimized no matter how many times it appears on the doors of ladies’ restrooms.

If you feel as strongly as I do that sometimes ?! is not only warranted but necessary, please join with me in continuing to use it. But because this path to acceptance could be a long one, I’m also asking you to do one more thing to expedite the matter. In the comments on this blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter, simply respond with ?! Feel free to respond as many times as you like, as that will increase its frequency of use.

PS While we're advocating for this mark of punctuation, we also need to come up with a name for it. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Mindful Walking Post 4: Serendipity

It has been a while since my last mindful walking post, but I assure you I’ve been trodding along at a steady pace. Most of the trodding has been at Spring Creek Trail which is about a five-minute drive from my house. This 2.5-mile trail which runs east from I-35 to Arcadia Lake’s Spring Creek Park has been open approximately two years. Why I didn’t discover it until this past spring, I can’t say. But what a glorious discovery it has proven to be.
Although my walking “bible,” Afoot and Lighthearted by Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, suggests walking be a time of technology detox, I take my phone with me on this trail because there is always a picture to snap be it of flora or fauna. All summer and into fall, I’ve seen white-tail deer,
On a single walk I saw seven deer!

 assorted butterflies and birds,
Can you see him? That little speck
of white in the middle? I need a
better camera!

colorful and interesting trees and vegetation.

Any suggestions?
I learned a bois d'arc and an
Osage orange are the same tree.
Just depends if you're in Louisiana
or Oklahoma.

Sumac--one of the foresters
told me he uses the dried berries
as a spice.

Roughleaf dogwood

These mushrooms--dozens of them!--popped up by
the entrance after a heavy rain.

I’ve observed the water level at Lake Arcadia go from dangerously high to could-use-a-little-more, but always the lake has provided photo ops of inspiring, tranquil scenes.

In past years, knowing the names of plants or trees or certain birds never interested me that much. But as I walked this trail and became more observant, I also became more curious about what I was seeing and photographing. (I know there are apps for that, but I wasn’t sure which one would work best, so I continued to walk in the figurative dark.) 

Last Saturday morning, after much deliberation, I decided to walk the trail rather than tackle all my weekend chores. When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw that Oklahoma Forestry Services had set up stations along the trail. There were signs and markers and also real live people to share their knowledge with curious walkers—like me. As I scrolled through all the photos I’d taken, the experts patiently answered my questions and gave me even more information about the forest I live in. (Yes, we Edmondites live smack dab in the middle of a forest.) It was one of my best walks ever! And to think I would’ve missed this serendipitous moment had I opted to do chores—which were still waiting on me when I got home. 

Put those chores on hold. Lace up your walking shoes and discover a new world right where you live!


Sunday, August 11, 2019


I guess, if you want to get technical, I wasn’t really censored. According to, to censor is to delete a word or passage of text, and Amazon didn’t do that. Instead, they refused to post my entire book review on their website because it didn’t “adhere” to their guidelines.
Admittedly, I was miffed. I had put considerable thought and time into my review of J. Ryan Stradal’s newly released book The Lager Queen of Minnesota. But more than miffed, I was confused. I’d raved about the book and given it a 5-star review. Grudgingly, I clicked on the link that would offer an  explanation as to why my review had been rejected, and after plowing through their guidelines, I was  still confused … and mad. As far as I know, I’m not related to Stradal, and this review wasn’t in response to a request or in return for money. In addition, I’d tried to be respectful—didn’t have any content that was “libelous, defamatory, harassing, threatening or inflammatory.” Hadn’t included any “obscenities or profanity, and [hadn’t] expressed hatred or intolerance…” yada, yada, yada. At least I didn’t think I had, but in these days of heightened sensibilities, who knows?

But rather than pursue the futile task of taking on the mega giant of e-tail, I decided to make better use of my time and post it on my own website. While my review might not reach millions of customers, it will still be read by thousanhundre … several of my discerning and faithful followers. Take that, Amazon! 

Without further fanfare—or griping—here is my review:


After reading Kitchens of the Great Midwest, I looked forward to another book from J. Ryan Stradal with both anticipation and apprehension. Many times when an author’s debut novel is an overwhelming success, the follow-up tends to disappoint. But this was not the case with The Lager Queen of Minnesota. I enjoyed this novel even more than his first one. Maybe it’s because of where I am in my own life that I loved his wise, kind, and tenacious protagonist and I appreciated Stradal’s treatment of … let’s say “women of a certain age.” As in his first book, I was captivated by his characters’ midwest idiosyncrasies —which I found both hilarious and endearing. I was also impressed by his vast knowledge of the beer industry. Having never been a beer drinker, I learned so much about the art and skill that goes into brewing a quality product. (I even googled what IPA stands for.) Most of all I loved his message about the importance of community. I’m a total sucker for any story in which the most unlikely of people achieve success through supporting and encouraging one another. As I did with Kitchens…, I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this uplifting story again and again. 
Also, kudos to Judith Ivey, the narrator of the audio version. Her talents as a seasoned actress contributed greatly to the delight of listening to the book.

That’s it. I don’t know … maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned people of the midwest have idiosycrasies. Maybe the phrase “ladies of a certain age” is offensive to some, but since I’m one of those ladies I didn’t think it would be a problem. Or maybe Amazon has a bias against people who don’t drink beer. 

Whatever the problem, I hope my review isn’t so offensive that it keeps you from reading the book. If you enjoy funny, fast-paced stories about plucky, multi-generational women, this book is for you.

 Caveat: It does contain strong language. 

Also, J. Ryan Stradal I hope you read this so that you know I tried to give you a riveting review on Amazon. And if you’d like to leave a comment, that would be great. 😁

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Grandparent Fail?

In the middle of my teaching career, I became a devotee of Jim Fay and his Love and Logic approach to discipline. If you’re not familiar with Fay or his theory, I’ll sum it up in one sentence: Children need to experience the consequences of their actions.

While this practice served me well as a teacher and a parent, as a grandparent I’ve been a bit reluctant to use it. I mean, that’s my privilege, right? After responsibly raising my own child and contributing to the development of thousands of others, haven’t I earned the right to be a bit indulgent, the right to do some spoiling? I’ve seen the memes on FB and the slogans on t-shirts—the ones that say things like If Mama says “no,” ask Grandma. So I know I’m not the only grandparent who feels this way.

But we all have our breaking point. And recently, after being in charge of my precious but energetic grandsons for two days, I’d reached mine.

On a sweltering Tuesday evening, we walked to the farmers market in a nearby park—we being grandsons Brooks and Bennett; their mother and my daughter, Kristin; my husband Bill, called G-Bill by the boys; and me, affectionately known as  Grammy Dee. In addition to the market, there were food trucks selling traditional fare but with unique preparation and/or embellishments. After all, this was Nashville. 

One truck sold specialty hot dogs that featured nine-inch wieners. But these weren’t just any ol’ wieners. They were organic, uncured, gluten- and casein-free, all-beef wieners. Most importantly, they were made from cattle that had been grass-fed and humanely raised. And since it would be a crime to smother such healthful food with canned chili and processed cheese, toppings ranging from alfalfa sprouts to dry-roasted sunflower seeds were available. As you would expect, these special “dogs” came with a special $9 price tag. But, hey, the health benefits were surely worth it, not to mention the peace of mind that came from knowing the cattle had enjoyed a good life right up to the point they were slaughtered and made into wieners.

Kristin and the boys stood in the hot dog line, while Bill and I headed over to the truck selling specialty grits. We’d made our way to the front of the line when I noticed a little toy-like box with two moving stick figures. It had been placed on the truck’s window shelf to collect tips. I was contemplating the rationale of tipping at a food truck, when Brooks and Bennet joined us. They proudly displayed their hot dogs that rested precariously on paper plates. Brooks’s hot dog was topped with mustard and what looked like pickle relish and a tossed salad. Bennett—who is a man of simple tastes—held a hot dog drizzled with catsup. That’s it. Catsup.

Brooks's hot dog

Bennett's hot dog

Bill and I oohed and aahed over their choices and bet them they’d never be able to eat hot dogs that big. They grinned and insisted they’d have no problem at all. 

And then they spied it—the tip box. 

With the certainty of a Vegas bookie, I predicted what would happen next. “DO NOT TOUCH THAT BOX,” I said quickly and firmly. “YOU WILL SPILL YOUR HOT DOGS.” 

But who was I kidding? It looked like a toy. It had moving parts. They were young boys. There was no way they could keep their hands off that box. Before I could re-issue my warning in a louder voice, they’d both reached for it, and splat, Bennett’s hot dog—without a single bite missing—hit the dust.

Bennett, Brooks, G-Bill, and Grammy Dee stared in shocked silence at the dog in the dirt. Bennett was close to tears, and a contrite Brooks began to explain it was really his fault because he’d knocked Bennett’s hand. I’m sure all the grown-ups in the line were expecting Bill and me to say, “That’s okay, we’ll buy you another one.” But we didn’t.  

For two days, I’d been lenient. The boys had lounged around in their pajamas most of the morning. They’d watched way over their quota of television and eaten way over their limit of sugary treats. I’d spent a small fortune taking them to the movie and buying snacks. I’d purchased them books at the bookstore and a dozen donuts of their choice. Looking at that hot dog lying in the dirt, I felt the time had come for a little love and logic. I felt awful, but Bennett would just have to wait until we got back home to eat. 

It was a hard test…for me. We all gathered at a picnic table, and four of us ate our meals while Bennett sat beside us looking like a starving waif in a Dickens’ novel. The fair thing would’ve been to make Brooks share his hot dog, but that wasn’t do-able. It was slathered with mustard, and Bennett was not starving to the point that he would resort to eating mustard. 

With the resilience of a six-year-old, Bennett quickly recovered. He excused himself to go over to the playground, and by the time we left the park, he’d forgotten about the hot dog. When we got home, he scarfed down chicken nuggets and a fudgecicle and was perfectly satisfied. 

Grammy Dee, however, is still haunted weeks later by that sad little face at the picnic table. I fear she will never completely recover.  

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Taming of the Screw

I don’t know if it’s a common occurrence or I'm just special, but ANY home repair or improvement project I’ve ever attempted has NEVER followed standard procedures. There is ALWAYS a complication that isn’t addressed in the easy-to-follow instructions. Given this pathetic history, I don’t know why I thought I could take down an old set of drapes and replace them with sheer panels. But in a moment of weakness—or delusion—I decided I was up to the task. I mean, what could be so hard about removing a few screws and pieces of curtain hardware and putting up a simple rod? Right? 

Did I say a “few” screws? Those drapes were professionally installed, and I contend that had this house been flattened
The old drapes had been installed in 1985.
It was time for a change.
by a tornado or earthquake, those drapes would’ve still been attached to the wall. I removed no fewer than twenty-eight screws, most of them with a three-inch screwdriver because anything larger wouldn’t fit in the space between the rods and the wall. 

I took my time, constantly reminding myself there was no hurry and that calm persistence would eventually pay off. My progress was slow but going smoothly, and I was thinking of hosting my own HGTV show when I came to that #*&!@ twenty-eighth screw. The one in a very hard-to-reach space.The one with the stripped head.

The culprit.
I should insert here that the tools at my disposal are limited. Early on, Bill and I learned that we should never attempt home repairs or projects together if we intended to stay
married. We also determined attempting them as individuals

wasn’t such a good idea, either, so we’ve never invested in
Every tool in my arsenal was
was employed in my war against the screw.
anything more than your basic tools: screwdrivers (lots of screwdrivers), pliers, drill, duct tape, and toilet plunger. In any normal situation, those should get the job done. But, as previously stated, normal never occurs for me, and this project was no exception.

This is why Spackling is my best
friend when it comes to
doing home projects.
For hours, I tried every size and type of screwdriver we owned, succeeding only in mangling the head more. I ran next door to my neighbor to borrow a mini-hacksaw, thinking I could saw off the head. That resulted in scraping a huge chunk of plaster from the sheetrock. At that point, I was hours into this project, dripping with sweat and seriously considering knocking down the whole dang wall with a sledge hammer. 

Had I been thinking straight, I would’ve given up and called the handyman we keep on speed dial. But I didn’t do that. I didn’t do it because this battle had become personal. Now it was Dee Dee versus the screw. It was Dee Dee against that one-and-a-half inch piece of metal that weighed a tenth of an ounce. I told myself, “ You is bigger, you is stronger, and you is smarter than that screw.” 

The screw was small and not very smart, but it was still
a formidable opponent. I'm thinking of having it bronzed.
I headed to Lowe’s in search of some magical solution. I explained my problem to a man in the tool section. Not a salesman, mind you, but a burly guy with lots of tattoos and a cart full of caulking tubes. He explained to me that I could drill a hole in the center of that screw and it would come right out. I was skeptical, but who was I to argue with a man who knew how to caulk?

Back at home, I dusted off our forty-something-year-old drill and proceeded to attack the screw head. It was slow going—probably because the drill bit was also forty years old. I gave up on that tactic after seeing no sign of progress. But I did not give up on my project.

I stood on my step stool and studied that screw, determined more than ever it would not defeat me. That was when another idea came to me. I grabbed the hacksaw, but this time instead of attempting to saw off the head, I slid the blade back and forth across the top of it, deepening the groove. I measured the depth with my thumbnail and realized I was making progress. I sawed some more. Before long I was able to fit the edge of the slot screwdriver into the wedge. I pressed hard and twisted and … the screw turned! Only a millionth of an inch, but that was enough to encourage my flagging spirit. Again I pressed hard and gave the screwdriver another twist. The screw turned a little more. With new found hope and energy, I continued: press, twist, press, twist … and with one final twist, the screw released its death grip on the wall. Victory has never tasted so sweet.

As I was writing this post, UPS delivered the new curtain rod to my front door. We’ll see if this one goes up easier than the old one came down. Given my history, I’m betting it won’t.

The rest of the story...

To my surprise and delight, the new rod and sheers went up with relatively few problems and with a total of six screws. So to borrow another title from The Bard--All's Well That Ends Well!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mindful Walking Post 3: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

My neighborhood is small-ish (forty houses, two streets, two cul de sacs). I’ve lived in it for almost thirty years, plenty of time to become familiar with the houses and the terrain. Usually when I walk here, it is with the singular intent to exercise, to reach my goal of daily steps. I might occasionally stop to talk with a neighbor, but I seldom take the time to notice or appreciate the surroundings. However, one of the challenges Bonnie Smith Whitehouse presents in  Afoot and Lighthearted is to walk in your own neighborhood and see it as a tourist or newcomer might--to make discoveries in a place you thought you knew. Yesterday, with that thought in mind, I set out.

You might’ve seen the Facebook meme that suggests Oklahoma change its name to “Ark”lahoma. All spring and into summer Oklahomans have experienced torrential downpours of earth-altering, damn-breaching proportions. Since a creek winds behind my neighborhood and empties into a commons area, I figured much of what I’d "discover" yesterday would revolve around changes the recent rains have brought—erosion, uprooted trees, deposits of new dirt. But while there was some of that, there were also some very pleasant discoveries.

Okies are a tough, determined lot, and my neighbors are no exception. We don’t live in a gated community of McMansions or on manicured acreage. But we do take pride in our homes and in the small amount of ground we’ve been allotted. We work hard to make our space attractive for ourselves and for others. To my delight yesterday, I found that in between the recent deluges, my neighbors have continued to work in their yards and on their houses and have produced lush little gardens and photo-worthy vignettes. 

During my walk, I found ... 

 beds of brightly colored flowers and lush greenery ...

welcoming oases for birds (which abound) ...

and cheerful spots for humans to "sit a spell."

I’ve always thought we have a pretty neighborhood, but until I  took the time to notice, I never fully appreciated it. I think if I really were looking through the eyes of a newcomer, I would see it as a lovely and pleasant place to live.

"...explore the neighborhood, view the at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down."
                                          -Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

My challenge is that you take Whitehouse's advice: Stroll through your neighborhood and see it for the first time!