Advent Day 1

I give you due warning: this is different from the usual content of this blog, but if you want to truly know what stories I’m telling my kids these days, here they are.  In addition to our fun Advent calendars and silly stories, I try to do a little reading with my kids each night that focuses on what Christmas is really about. I used to read from a children’s Bible, but they are just getting too old for that. Instead, this year, I’m trying to write something short for us, something that takes some of the important verses of the Bible but also is straight from me to them. I won’t have one for every day because that’s more than I can take on, but three or four times a week we’ll sit down and I’ll read, hoping a little truth gets through the impatience that this time of year generates. This is for my kids, but if you want to come along with us, you’re always welcome.


Hold a small Christmas ball ornament in your hand. Close your eyes for just a minute.

Feel where you are sitting.  Picture it in your head.  Now imagine that you are slowly shrinking.  You shrink down, smaller and smaller.  You are now so small that the room around you seems like a giant’s room and that round ornmant is a huge globe that could crush you. Shrink down even smaller, smaller and smaller until you can see that the shiny globe is actually made up of little atoms all bonded together. You are microscopic now and that Christmas ornament is as big as the world to you.  You see the atoms that form it, and you can easily tell that what seemed like a solid surface is actually full of wide open spaces.  Each atom has its protons and neutrons clustered in the middle with several electrons circling around them like planets around a sun, and in between…nothing.  Wide open spaces.  What is keeping it all together? What is holding that wide open space tightly enough together that when you zoom out it seems solid? What keeps it from simply flying apart? From becoming nothing? 

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:15-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Are your eyes still closed? Keep them that way. 

Now feel yourself growing again.  You get larger and larger until you are your normal size.  Picture your hands. Look down at them if you want.  Now you know that they, too, are really just a collection of tiny, microscopic parts, full of moving pieces with infinite spaces in between, and all held together by the power of God alone.  Without him, you would fly apart, those useful hands would cease to exist.

Close your eyes again.

Instead of shrinking, now we are going to fly.  Imagine yourself lifting up off of your seat and floating right out the window.  You are going up and and up.  You can see your house, your whole neighborhood below you.  You go higher and higher.  Now you can see the whole city stretched out.  You go higher.  The countryside is like a tiny model of itself.  You go still higher.  You are leaving the atmosphere.  This is all imagination, luckily, so you can still breathe as you go up and up and find yourself floating in space.  Space, empty and dark is all around you.  The Earth shrinks as you fly and further and further away.  You look back at it and it is just a little ball, no bigger than that Christmas ornament.  It is spinning in the empty openness of space.  You look down on it and it seems so small and unimportant, so fragile. The people who walk its surface are so infintesimally tiny that you can’t even see them.  Whole bustling cities have disappeared into nothingness.  You look up and see other planets, see the sun, hot and burning, but here you can see beyond it, and space stretches out so far, as far as you can see, so that even the sun doesn’t seem so very significant as you fly away from it.  Now you’ve gone so far that the sun is the size of that Christmas ornament and the Earth can’t even be seen.  Where is all that stuff that seemed so important?  Where is the you that was sure your every feeling and thought was the most interesting thing that existed?  Just a speck, as miscroscopic as those atoms you examined earlier. 

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭8:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

God is both infinitely large and also infinitely small. He is everything in between.  It was by his power that the universe was made and by his power that it continues to function.  It is by his power that you were made and by his power that your body holds together every second that you are alive.  It is his choice that make gravity work and keeps us all from spinning off into space.  Every minute of our existence only happens because he wants it to.  He is all there is, all that matters in this whole giant, intricate universe.  

Everything is about him.

That is where we start at Christmas.

That’s what we need to remember if we are really going to understand what happened when that same God brought himself down and confined himself inside one of these human bodies.  This is the God we are talking about.  The vast, limitless, all-powerful, all-sustaining God of everything.  We have to start here if we are truly going to grasp the miracle of what He did.

Isaiah‬ ‭40:21-28‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”


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DIY Lego Advent-ure

I’m really excited to share this with you all because I’ve been having so much fun with it!

The whole project came about because I already had a super girly Christmas countdown thing for my girls, and I wanted something equally special for Scott (who’s 9, if you aren’t keeping track). Like most people (I really hope we aren’t the only ones.) we have huge amounts of Legos filling a giant bin in a disarray of disassembled Star Wars ships, Superhero bases, and Hagrid’s hut complete with giant spiders. We’ve had the expensive Lego calendars in the past, and I’ve seen some DIY ones on Pinterest, but I wanted something a little more exciting, a little more personal, and a lot funnier.  Because that’s Scott.

SO!!  First I wrote the story in 24 parts. It’s intentionally ridiculous.  Because super-smart nine-year-olds love ridiculous.  Then I spent a couple of nights fishing through the bin to build the pieces that should go with it.  I was determined not to buy any new Legos for this project, so there are few goofy looking pieces (ahem, Santa’s “hat”), but it was fun to get creative with that huge pile.

Is this basically an excuse for a grown woman to play with Legos? YES! YOU SHOULD TRY IT!

Seriously, you have to try this.  Write your own story if you’re up for it (and if you do, and you send me a picture of the result, I will personally mail you a copy of my book for free). If not, feel free to borrow mine. You can get the printable version right here.  Don’t stress over it. If you don’t have a Batman, change it out for a different superhero (or Yoda or a girl or anything you want). If you can’t build a random vacuum that looks like mine, invent your own.  And though my girls would probably enjoy this, I made it for my son, so if you want to girl it up for the girl in your life, go for it. Do it your way! The point is to have fun. 

Okay. Enough talk. Here it is:

 1. This is Hal. Don’t lose him. He’s going to be very important to the story later. He may be cold. Build him a little shelter to keep warm while he waits for what comes next.


 2. Hal is an astronomer. This is his telescope. Make sure he is watching the stars tonight. There’s something he won’t want to miss!


 3. Hal is looking up at the universe when he sees this! It’s a meteor, and it’s headed straight for earth. By Hal’s calculations, it will hit on Dec. 24, just in time to destroy Christmas (and incidentally the whole Earth). It’s up to Hal to stop it!


 4. This is the President of the United States. He talking on the phone to Hal about a meteor. Why is he laughing? He doesn’t believe Hal! If the president won’t help, what is Hal going to do?


 5. This is the Christmas tree in the park in New York City. It’s big, isn’t it? Hal is pretty sure the meteor is going to land right here, but no one believes him. Instead, they just keep hanging more ornaments on the tree. Maybe you can add a few while you think about what Hal should do.


 6. This is Batman. Of course he’s real! Hal has called him to see if he will help. He is on board, but he doesn’t have any superpowers, so this isn’t going to be easy. Luckily, he’s really smart and has a lot of money. I’ll be he and Hal are going to come up with something great.


 7. Is this what you think it is? Yes! You are right! This is the beginning of a space ship! Batman and Hal are building it to fly up into space. Help them attach the wings. They only have a couple of weeks to get this thing built and figure out how to use it.


 8. What is this? It looks like a bunker! It IS a bunker! The president said he didn’t believe Hal, so why is he building a bunker to hide in? He made it in Christmas colors, but we’re not fooled. He doesn’t love Christmas. If he did, he wouldn’t be letting a meteor destroy it.


 9. Hal and Batman have been hard at work. They’ve built these giant guns to go on their space ship. It looks like they plan to blast that meteor right out of the air! Or wait, not air. Right out of the vacuum of space! Help them add the guns to the ship while there’s still time.


 10. What’s all this white stuff? It’s snow! Snow is falling fast and thick. This is going to make it hard to launch the space ship. Batman and Hal will need to figure out how to deal with this new complication. On the bright side, we can use the snow to cover the president’s bunker. Serves him right if he gets trapped inside!


 11. What a weird contraption this is! It was Hal’s idea to clear away the snow with this thing. It’s a giant vacuum cleaner! If they can suck up all the snow on the launch pad, they should be able to get their space ship off the ground.


 12. They did it! Hal and Batman have launched the space ship and are soaring through space toward the meteor. It wasn’t until they were in the air that they discovered this present hidden on board. Who could have put it there? Did Santa come early? Don’t peek inside! It’s not Christmas yet!


 13. Of course Hal opened the present. You know he couldn’t help himself. Batman would have waited, but then, he has the training and discipline of a ninja. Hal doesn’t recognize this weird thing inside, but the note sure is interesting. “In case of emergency.” Well, that’s handy. On this dangerous mission, emergencies are pretty likely.


 14. The space ship has arrived at the meteor, and Batman is preparing to shoot it to pieces. But what is this weird thing? It’s an alien! This isn’t a meteor! It’s an alien ship in disguise. 


 15. Watch out, Batman and Hal! The alien is shooting at you! Well, great. The alien has destroyed the guns on Hal’s ship. Luckily for Hal, he has Batman with him. With some fast flying, Batman manages to swipe the alien with one wing. The alien got knocked out! Good thing they made those wings so strong! Unfortunately, the meteor/alien ship is still hurtling toward Earth and that Christmas tree! What are they going to do? This is a serious emergency!


16. Like you, Hal remembered something about the word emergency. The present! He pulled out the weird object and yelled, “This is an emergency!” Then the whole thing unfolded into this. What is it? Could it be a giant hammer? It’s way too big for Hal to use. It’s even too big for Batman. Maybe if we attach it to the ship it will work?


17. Good job getting that hammer attached! With some careful flying and and a big swing, the hammer has smashed the meteor! Here are some of the pieces. You can break the rest up yourself. Of course, the danger isn’t over. There are meteor pieces flying in every direction. Look out, Hal! Look out, Batman!


 18. Oh no! One of the meteor pieces has knocked a huge hole in the side of the spaceship and Hal is floating out into space. Good thing he put on this space helmet before it happened. He has oxygen for a few minutes, but he won’t last long out there in the vacuum!


 19. Back on Earth, something interesting is happening. The secret service has delivered this wreath to the president’s bunker. It looks very pretty there on the snow, but it seems to me like it they could have used their time better digging out their leader instead of decorating.  


 20. Oh wait! The wreath was just a fake, so that any spies who were watching wouldn’t know the president had been trapped. Really, it’s an explosive device and it blows all the snow off the bunker! The president is free to come out now, and the first thing he does is make a call on his special red and green phone. Who could he be calling?


 21. Look! It’s Santa! The president has called Santa Claus! It seems he had a lot of time to think inside that bunker, and he feels bad for making Hal handle this crisis on his own. The president isn’t such a bad guy after all. Santa agrees to see if he can help Hal with the meteor.


 22. As you probably remember, when we left Hal, he was floating through space with only minutes left to live. Good thing Santa came to check on him in this magical flying sleigh! Santa pulls Hal into the sleigh and goes to look for Batman and the damaged ship.


 23. Why is Santa getting out rope? They’ve found the ship, that’s why. Batman picked up the unconscious alien floating through space. They’re going to tie him up and use the rest of the rope to tow the ship back to earth. Santa speaks alien, which is how they discover that the alien doesn’t understand Christmas. He saw that giant tree and thought it was a missile. That’s why he attacked. Sounds like someone has a lot to learn.


 24. Hal and Batman have saved Christmas! With a little help from Santa Claus. And now we have an alien who needs to know what Christmas is! Gather up the tree, the wreath, the present, and the snow. Give that alien some hot chocolate and this plate of cookies. Merry Christmas, alien! Merry Christmas, Batman! Merry Christmas, Mr. President! Merry Christmas, Santa Claus! And most importantly, Merry Christmas, Hal! You’re our hero.


So there you go! I just packaged these simply in brown lunch bags, wrote a number on each bag and slapped a bow on for extra festivity.  


I’m sure you could make them much prettier, but I know my son, and I know his disregard for packaging.  I decided to spend my energy on the story instead!

The following instructions will come with bag #1:

A Lego advent-ure awaits you! Open one bag each day, but be careful not to crush the masterpiece inside! Read the story paper inside to follow the action, and then feel free to play with the Legos as much as you like. Just be sure not to lose them! You’ll need those pieces later in the story, so find a central location to keep your heroes safe. Good luck!

What do you think? Are you up for it? There are still four days before December 1, plenty of time to get your build on.  

Posted in Christmas, Frogs and Snails | Leave a comment

Ocean Blue

I’m working up some really fun advent stuff to share with you later this week, but in the meantime, I just had to tell you about Ocean Blue.

Ocean Blue is the book my six-year-old is writing.  Yes, the one who can’t write very well yet, so yes, she’s illustrating it and telling me what happens. 

But, you guys, it’s lovely.

Here is the basic plot. “It’s not the whole story, Mommy. These are just, like, the details they would put on the back of the book to tell you what it’s about.”

Ocean Blue is a princess from a kingdom by the sea. She has blue eyes just the color of the ocean. She was adopted by a family because her parents were killed, or so they thought, and because she was adopted as a baby she doesn’t even know that she is a princess.  The new family she lives with is far from the beach. They live next to a volcano instead. It’s a sleeping volcano, so it won’t go off anytime soon, but it could explode someday. Ocean’s adopted sister is her best friend. Some bad guys show up [presumeably because they’ve been tracking Ocean?] and they threaten her family. They take her adopted parents up the volcano and threaten to throw them in the lava. Ocean and her sister have to go to the beach and collect all the blue stones and hand them over in order to rescue their parents.

Okay, seriously. It’s got borrowed elements like all fairytales, but that’s got some real possibility as a story. The two adoptive sisters against the world. A princess who doesn’t even know who she is. I’m kind of itching to fill in all the details, but I’d rather wait and see where Lucy takes it. Because, really, the mind that came up with this much will likely have so many more fascinating things in it.

Just a reminder, all, that in between the fighting over showers and vegetables and homework and winter gloves, having kids is so much fun.

Ocean’s home by the volcano, and the stones by the sea where her old home was. I’m thinking that no one without Ocean’s blue eyes can see those stones, which is why the bad guys need her to collect them. But we’ll see what the author thinks…

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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What I’m Thankful For

Matilda Lee Franklin-Dupress
Was always the perfect hostess
Her cuisine was divine
Paired with just the right wine
And the napkins were matched to her dress

On Thanksgiving, Matilda went wild
In her fridge the ingredients were piled
She woke up before dawn
Put her best apron on
Went to work on the turkey and smiled

But alas, perfect things are quite rare
For the universe finds it unfair
It is hard to say why
Everything went awry
But the blame likely falls on the chair

She stepped on it to reach her best pan
The chair tipped, she fell, flailing her hands
She hit the relish tray
And three pies on the way
They all flew off and hit the trash can

Matilda was shaken and bruised
And those veggies now couldn’t be used
A tear pricked her eye
As she cleaned up the pie
For her flawless plan now was confused

That’s the point when things really got bad
While she cleaned, all distracted and sad
The potatoes all burned
The oven switch went unturned
So raw turkey was all that she had

By noon clearly all was disaster
When her husband came in and he asked her
Are you doing okay?
She just pushed him away
And the tears came on faster and faster

Since Gerald Dupress was a boy
He’d found turkey impossible to enjoy
He gave thanks for his life
Poured some wine for his wife
Then ordered a pizza with joy


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Don’t Forget to Laugh

Can we take ourselves a little less seriously today?

Lately I’ve been writing and writing and thinking and then writing some more.  Working on word choice. Polishing things up. Trying out new things. Wrestling with big thoughts. That’s cool. It’s part of the process. 


Remember when we were just making up silly stories for our kids? Yeah, there was one about a house that defended its people against a monster.  And another one about the politest pirates on the seven seas.  

I think I need a few more super ducks in my life.

My husband, the world’s most serious man, is actually responsible for reminding me to lighten up this week.  He did it by telling my daughter a story. 

Once upon a time there was a Mexican turkey named Felipe. He lived in Mexico his whole life and never travelled to the United States because he heard that people eat turkeys here.  But one day, he got a chance to take a vacation across the border and he couldn’t resist.  He was having a great time until he realized it was November, the worst time to be a turkey in the United States!  Suddenly, he was in danger of being eaten! He ran to the other turkeys and they took him to the turkey cave, where turkeys go to hide out until Thanksgiving is over.  He stayed in the turkey cave until the coast was clear.  Then he went straight back to Mexico and never came to the United States again. 

Yep, that’s the whole story. It took about five minutes to tell, with whatever tiny bit of energy he had left over at the end of a long work day. But you guys, she thought it was hilarious. She has told it at least three times to different people since then. Only she gets the name wrong and calls him Felipo instead, which really just makes the whole thing even better.

I told you we were keeping it light. Nothing is lighter than me drawing a turkey with a sombrero on my Doodle ap. 

What do you think? Are you feeling inspired? If I can doodle a brown blob and call it a turkey, you could make up a story like that.  You know you could.

Let’s tell stories today and not worry if they aren’t masterpieces, okay? Heck, they don’t even have to make sense.  

I mean, they probably eat turkey in Mexico, too.  Just don’t tell Felipo.

Posted in Blame it on my husband, Fall | Leave a comment

The Last


Last red leaf of autumn
With all the rest turned brown
How did you come to be here
Still crimson on the ground?

Was it blind chance that left you
Hanging lonely on the tree?
Or were you extra stubborn
Like mules and goats (and me)?

Did you feel the cold wind 
And see your brothers fall
Then cling on extra tightly
And refuse to hear the call?

And in the bitter ending
When you saw you were alone
Did you feel a surge of triumph
Or shiver cold at the unknown?

Was it hard to finally let go
To feel your grip slipping away?
Or did it come as a relief
To float off into skies so grey?

It seems no more than wasted effort
That short delay of common doom
But, oh my last red leaf of autumn
You shine so brightly in the gloom

Posted in Fall, Poetry | Leave a comment

Lucinda the Liar

It’s always more fun when kids help make up stories, so we’re trying something new today.  Lucinda is a character that’s been rattling around in my head today, and I think she has the potential for unlimited adventures.  I’ll get the ball rolling, and then hand it off to the listeners to add in ideas.  If I run this by my kids, will you do the same? Then we can meet back here next week with some fresh new leads. Here we go…


“Where are you going?” Lucinda’s mother asked.

“On an arctic expedition,” said Lucinda, buttoning her parka with the fur around the hood.

“In this weather?” said her mother, looking out at the pouring rain.

“Yes, we must hurry before the polar caps melt,” said Lucinda. Seeing her mother’s face, she added, “Don’t worry, we’re taking an umbrella.”

Not five minutes later, Lucinda’s mother looked outside to see Lucinda gathering rocks in the rain. She was soaked to the bone.

“Lucinda!” her mother exclaimed, pulling the girl back inside. “You said you were taking an umbrella!”

“We did take an umbrella,” Lucinda protested. “My assistant was carrying it, but she was eaten by a polar bear.  They are very hungry at this time of year.”

“Lucinda, there are no polar bears and you don’t have an assistant.  If you tell me you are taking an umbrella, you have to actually take an umbrella. You’ll catch your death of cold!”

“Well, I can’t take the umbrella now,” Lucinda explained patiently. “It’s inside a polar bear.”

Lucinda’s mother gave up with a groan, but not before forbidding her to go outside again.

Lucinda studied the rocks in her pail and decided she had gathered enough samples for one day. It was best not venture out again, in any case. That polar bear might be getting hungry again.


Sunday dinner was a special affair. Not only were they eating at Grandma’s house, but Great-Grandma was visiting.  Lucinda’s mother made her wear her fanciest dress.  She even put a bow in her hair. 

Lucinda took the bow out when her mother wasn’t looking, but she didn’t mind the dress. It flared out when she twirled, exactly like the skirt of a ballerina.

“My, how big you are,” said Great-Grandma when Lucinda walked in the door. “How old are you now?”

“I’m fourteen,” said Lucinda.

“She’s eight,” said Lucinda’s mother, squeezing her shoulder.

“Then why’d she say she was fourteen?” asked Great-Grandma.

“Because I am fourteen,” Lucinda said. “I’m very small for my age. It’s a good thing, too. If I weren’t so small, the Royal Ballet would never have considered me.”

“The girl dances ballet?” Great-Grandma said in confusion.

“Yes,” said Lucinda. 

“No,” sighed Lucinda’s mother.

“What a little liar,” said Great-Grandma.

Lucinda thought about this all through dinner.  Her fancy ballerina dress was beginning to itch her back.  She couldn’t be a ballerina with an itchy back.  Besides, that last twirl on the front porch had made her dizzy. Ballerinas had to twirl all day, and being dizzy that long would not be enjoyable.

Being a liar, though, that sounded like fun.

Lucinda thought of all different kinds of liars: spies and magicians and actors and novelists and lawyers.  She thought she would be quite good at all of those things.  


All the next week Lucinda was a spy.  Her alias was an average eight-year-old girl, and it was the perfect cover story. No one suspected that she was actually a secret agent for the tiny kingdom of Hortensia.

No one suspected that when she volunteered to walk the dog, she was really scouting out escape routes in case her enemies found her.

No one suspected that when she offered to tidy the living room, she was really hunting for clues about the whereabouts of the Hortensia crown jewels. 

No one suspected that the reason she agreed to wash the dishes every night that week was that she needed to cleanse her hands of all traces of the invisible ink she had used to send messages home.

“What’s gotten into you this week?” Lucinda’s mother asked. “You’ve been so sweet and helpful.”

“Nothing,” lied Lucinda smoothly. “I just appreciate all you do for me.”

Actually, as it turned out, that last bit was even true.  After one whole week of dog-walking, living room tidying, and dish-washing, Lucinda felt more thankful for her mother than she had ever felt.


You never really stop being a spy, of course, but once Lucinda’s mission was complete and the crown jewels were returned to the Queen of Hortensia, Lucinda had time to focus on other things while waiting for new instructions.

Sneaking around had been extremely interesting, but Lucinda thought she might like to try some more obvious lying as well.  The next day, she went to the library and checked out a book about magic tricks.

In no time at all, she had mastered seven different card tricks.  Her friends at school were all amazed.

“How did you do that?” they asked.

“Magic,” said Lucinda.

“There’s no such thing as magic,” said Robert Grady.

“There used to be,” Lucinda said. “The world was full of magic long ago, but then the last magician accidentally fell down inside a volcano.  It took all his magic to keep from burning up, so he couldn’t get himself free.  He had been there for three hundred and fourteen years when I found him two weeks ago.  I threw him a rope and pulled him out all by myself, and he was so grateful that he taught me how to use real magic.”

“That’s not true,” said Georgia Fulton. “You made that up.”

Lucinda made a quarter appear in Georgia’s ear and smiled mysteriously.  

“Do you think he would teach me magic, too?” asked Robert.

“Probably not,” said Lucinda. “He’s gotten used to being alone and doesn’t want to see anyone but me. If you wanted, I could teach you, though.”

Robert and Georgia were eager to begin, but after their first lesson, they looked at Lucinda in disappointment.

“That’s not magic,” said Georgia. “That’s just a trick.”

“When I first showed you, did you believe it?” Lucinda asked calmly.

“Yes,” Robert admitted.

“That’s because I used my magic to make you believe.”

Robert and Georgia did not know how to argue with this logic, which is how Mrs. Hanson’s second grade class came to school on Monday to find three magicians in their midst.

Their wonder was better than any logic.


Restoring magic to the world was so thrilling, that Lucinda began to wonder what else she might be able to do.

And I am wondering, too.  What other “lies” might Lucinda tell and how might she make them come true?  It’s your turn to tell…

Posted in Sugar and Spice | Leave a comment

Counting versus Recounting

It’s that time of year when we all begin to think about gratitude.  The lists are showing up everywhere.  My Facebook feed is full of them.  One a day, lengthy lists, or random thankfulness.  It’s the question on everyone’s mind.

What are you thankful for?

Count your blessings.

I love it all.

There is something so right about taking time to be grateful, and making a list is a quick way to remind ourselves that we have so, so much to appreciate.

Still, sometimes I wonder if making a list is enough.  Sometimes I wonder if we need to take the time to tell our stories in order to truly feel the gratitude we ought to feel.

A list may tell how many things I have to be thankful for, but it doesn’t begin to express how deep that gratitude goes.  

A list will say that I am thankful for my husband, but that seems like too trivial a way to express how I feel about the man I called in college to come change my tire in the rain.  Not only did he drop everything to come, not only did he lie on his back in a puddle to make sure I could get safely home, but he took the time to show me how it was done, to make sure that the next time I ran over a nail, I wouldn’t be helpless.  We weren’t even dating, but already he knew how important my idependence was to me.  That same man climbed up on my roof last night to clean out my gutters after a long day of work and also didn’t bat an eye when I said I didn’t need to call a plumber to fix the clog in the sink because I could take it apart myself.  He called me on the phone after I got a rejection letter last week and began making plans for how to move forward, completely refusing to allow me to wallow in self-pity, and he also rubbed my feet when I dropped onto couch exhausted after our Halloween party.  These stories and a million more are what I mean when I say that I am thankful for my husband.  One word is really not enough.

A list may highlight the important people and moments in my life, but it doesn’t say why they bring me to my knees in gratitude.

A list will mention that I am so thankful to watch my oldest daughter grow and mature, but that’s a cliche if you don’t know about the little girl who raged at me day after day, losing her everloving mind over things like crust on her sandwiches and how much time she had in the playplace at McDonalds, screaming at me and kicking me and once even biting me.  You need to know the girl who slowly began to control that fury, only unleashing it on special occasions, like when her little sister touched her things or when I insisted that she wear socks with her shoes.  You need to know about the day that we went head to head, just like all those hundreds of others times, and I sent her to her room to cool off, and she came out a while later, still sniffing back her tears, and threw her arms around me and said, “I’m sorry for yelling at you, Mom.”  Am I thankful for that moment?  More than you can possibly imagine without understanding all that came before it.

A list may cover all the things that have made me happy, but it doesn’t help me find gratitude in the things that interrupted my plans, the things that caused me pain, the things that broke my heart.

A list will never mention the time we left behind our life’s work in another country to start all over again here, three kids in tow.  It’s not something I felt particularly thankful for at the time. But if I sit down and tell the whole story, I can’t help but mention how my husband was offered a job even before we left Argentina, how my extroverted oldest daughter arrived here just in time to start first grade and was caught up in no time, how happy our children were to be close to their grandparents and what that has meant to the grandparents.  The whole story reveals how I had to face my fear of failure head on and realize that life as a failure isn’t as bad as I would have thought.  And if I keep telling long enough, eventually it will come out that being here, where we never planned to be, meant that we were only minutes away when a dear friend’s life crumbled away and that we are still here to be a support as she puts together a new and wonderful one.  That one painful story introduces a whole new list of things to be thankful for.

So here’s my thought for Thanksgiving month: maybe we can take a few extra minutes and do more than count our blessings.  Maybe we can recount them, telling the stories of our blessings and being blessed by them all over again.

Maybe those stories can become something that our children can be thankful for.

Posted in Fall, The Storytelling Life | Leave a comment

The Greenhouse

MacGregor stumbled on a snaking root and sprawled headlong into the undergrowth.  The orange petals of a giant flower brushed against his face and he sprang back in horror, only to crack the back of his skull against a tree trunk.  

For a second, he was too stunned to move.  He leaned there, panting in the heavy air, gazing at the endless jungle canopy above through black spots that seemed to dance around above him.

The spots were just beginning to fade when he felt something curl around his ankle. Inky black tendrils of vine slid over the tops of his ragged boots.

With a cry MacGregor yanked his feet free and lurched away.  Sweat dripped in his eyes as he forced his legs to move at top speed, pushing through tangled growth and dodging low-hanging branches.

He was almost at the end of his strength when he burst out of the trees and felt the sun on his face.  The shock of it made him fall to his knees on the hard ground.  With a trembling hand he reached out and touched the packed earth.  There was no grass.  How long had it been since he had seen earth with nothing growing in it?

How long had it been since he had seen a clearing?

MacGregor’s last refuge had been a rocky cave, just large enough for him to lay down on the floor, in the side of a cliff of some sort.  Even there, the jungle had grown right up to the edge of the cliff and long vines had hung down over the opening.  It had been a miracle that he had found it, and he would have stayed forever, drinking from the condensation that formed on the stone walls, if hunger hadn’t eventually driven him out.  None of the plants in that area were edible.  He had tried, but the resulting stomach pain had only made things worse.

MacGregor felt the soft coarseness of dirt under his fingers. He hadn’t thought places like this existed any more.

Hardly daring to breath, MacGregor lifted his head to examine his surroundings.  

It was right there in front of him, larger than life and glittering in the sunlight that wasn’t tinged green from passing through leaves and branches.  A giant building, made of glass.

MacGregor stared it at, willing it not to be a mirage.  He blinked. It didn’t disappear.

Pushing slowly to his feet, he kept his eyes on the structure.  It had a giant, domed roof, also made of glass and topped with a golden knob.  MacGregor inched toward it, unwanted hope building with each step. Finally he was close enough to reach out and touch the glass.  It felt solid and smooth under his fingertips, clean and manmade, something else he never thought he would feel again.

MacGregor leaned forward, his nose almost touching the glass, then he jerked back suddenly, heart pounding.  A face! There had been another face on the other side!  Shuddering but unable to resist the fascination, he looked up again.  

A young woman stood just inside the building.  Her long dark hair was drawn back into a neat braid and her pale skin was clean. Clean! More astonishing, she was smiling, looking right at him and smiling a sweet and welcoming smile.  MacGregor stood up again.  

The woman gestured him forward and pointed to the left.  At first MacGregor found it impossible to take his eyes off of her, but as she continued to insiste, finally he looked where she was pointing.  A door.

A glass door, set in a glass wall, with shiny metal hinges untouched by rust.

Moving as if in a dream, MacGregor crossed to the door and opened it. He stepped into a tiny glass room, as humid as the air outside and even warmer.  He felt a moment of panic, but another door was right in front of him, and it opened just as easily as the last.  

MacGregor stepped through into an air-conditioned paradise.

The air was clear and dry. The sound of running water greeted his ear, along with another sound he hadn’t thought to ever hear again. Laughter. A warm, comforting smell met his nose, a smell he knew he ought to recognize but didn’t. Then it came to him: baking bread. Somewhere nearby, someone had put a loaf of bread in the oven.  Tears came unbidden to MacGregor’s eyes.

The young woman with the dark hair walked toward him, her smile warm and gentle. “It’s okay. We all felt that way when we arrived.”

MacGregor blinked as she reached a hand out for him to shake. Even this simple gesture seemed impossibly miraculous.

“I’m Holly,” the woman said. “Welcome to the Greenhouse.”


MacGregor had been at the Greenhouse for two weeks, but the constant fear that curled at the base of his spine had not let go.

Holly and the others told him several times a day that there was nothing to worry about, that he was safe here, that the Greenhouse had never been breached. This didn’t stop MacGregor from looking over his shoulder every few minutes.  

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Holly.  He had seen the evidence of her words. The Greenhouse was built entirely of glass, so that he could see outside, could see the way the jungle stayed back, never touching those transparent walls.  He had seen the stream that passed under one corner and out the other side, no moss on its banks, no leaves floating on the surface.  He had seen the stock piles of food supplies, the neatly ordered garden just outside the walls. No weeds. No vines.

He had eaten the bread, filled his stomach completely for the first time in months.  He had taken a shower, washed away every bit of the dirt and sweat and then dried himself on a huge towel. He had forgotten what it felt like to have dry feet.

Still, something wasn’t right. Something wouldn’t let him relax.

It was more than just the lingering terror of a war survivor.  It was more than post traumatic stress.  This was an intuition, a premonition.  Something didn’t add up, and his mind couldn’t stop working on the problem, even as he ate well and did his share of the work and held an actual book in his hands again.

There were no safe places anymore.  The jungle covered everything now.  Its carnivorous plants had consumed almost all of the animals a good many of the humans as well.  Most of those that had learned to fight, to stay free and alive, had succumbed to disease or poison as they attempted to find food in an animal-free world.  MacGregor had heard of cities built out on the oceans, of ships strapped together and people fishing for their survival, but he wasn’t sure if those were myths or reality.  In any case, the ocean was far away, and no one traveling far these days survived.

There were no safe places. The jungle had a mind of its own and it could move. It had ripped apart cities and tunneled its roots into bunkers and crumbled fortresses to dust.  

No, there were no safe places.

And yet, he stood in one.

No one could tell him why.

That was the thing that really bothered him.  No one could explain what kept the jungle back. An old man named Harry Spaulding and his two grown daughters had been in the Greenhouse the longest, but even they did not know who built it, or how.  When they had stumbled across it ten months before, nearly dead from starvation, it had been fully powered, fully stocked, but completely empty.  They had settled in and never left. 

Since then, people had trickled in, usually one at a time, though occasionally in pairs.  Now there were thirty-eight people in the Greenhouse, and it had sleeping room for dozens more.  

Who had planned this place and then never occupied it? 

None of the other thiry-eight seemed to question their refuge.  Exhausted from the struggle to survive before they came, they merely accepted this relief, shed grateful tears for it, grew to trust it.  Now they were living their lives as if such a thing were normal.  Two couples had gotten married since arriving at the Greenhouse, and one was actually expecting a baby. How they could be joyful at the thought of bringing a child into this horrifying world was a thing MacGregor couldn’t understand.  He avoided the pregnant woman as much as possible.

No one ever went outside, except to work in the small garden, and even then, they kept close to the glass walls. No one on garden duty had been attacked, they said.  Whatever kept the jungle away from the Greenhouse, it seemed to include the garden area.  

MacGregor was relieved that at least they didn’t suggest planting the garden inside.  Nothing green grew inside the Greenhouse.  Ventilation pumps brought in oxygen rich air from outside and pumped out the stale carbon dioxide air the humans breathed out.  Holly had showed him how it worked.  Maintaining the systems was one of her jobs.  

MacGregor had stared at the air pumps for several minutes, something about it tickling the back of his mind, but he had been unable to put his finger on it, and then Carol Spaulding had come by and told them there were fresh cookies in the kitchen, and Holly had dragged him off to taste them, smiling with that way that lit her whole face as he tasted chocolate for the first time in years.

The moment with the cookies and the light on Holly’s face was golden.  For a little while MacGregor felt that life truly could be good.

But that night on his bunk, the clean-smelling sheets pulled up to his chin, his mind went back to the ventilation system, to the dry air, to the scientific perfection of this place.  

Something wasn’t right.


MacGregor had been in the Greenhouse for two months when the next new arrival stumbled up to the glass walls.  The man was emaciated and too shell-shocked to even tell them his name.  The first night, he thrashed in his sleep and yelled the name Sonia over and over.  MacGregor took a turn sitting by his bedside, getting sips of water and vegetable broth into the man’s mouth and trying to not to see his own nightmares before his waking eyes.

Three days later, cleaned up and fed and decently clothed again, the man was able to tell them that his name was Blake.  Whether it was his first name or last wasn’t clear, but no one pushed him. No one asked him for his story.  No one asked anything at all.  They all had come here the same way.  For the first time, MacGregor felt a sense of belonging with this people.  He was one of them.  He even found himself reassuring Blake, as the man stared at him with haunted eyes.  It’s safe here.  You’re safe.

That night, Carlton Sparrow disappeared.

No one saw the old man leave the Greenhouse, but when they all sat down to breakfast the next morning, his place was empty.  A thorough search left no doubt that he was gone. After all, there wasn’t much room to hide.

At first, MacGregor felt a dark suspicion of the newcomer.  It seemed too much of a coincidence that Carlton’s disappearance would happen just days after Blake’s arrival.  When he said as much to Holly, though, she just shrugged and told him sometimes people wandered into the jungle. They never came back.  She seemed to take this as a matter of course, though MacGregor couldn’t think of any reason why a quiet old man would suddenly decide to leave safe haven and head into the deadly trees. He hadn’t seemed depressed.

Still, when MacGregor saw Blake later in the day, the man was barely able to sit upright.  It seemed ridiculous to think that he could have attacked anyone.

All of MacGregor’s suspicions were back, but he still couldn’t find anything definite to worry about.  Weeks and months passed. The Greenhouse remained safe.

Over the course of a year, MacGregor came to feel that the Greenhouse was home. It was a bit confining, of course, but there was always work to be done and plenty of company.  After his solitary months before arriving here, this normal interation with other human beings never got stale. Meanwhile, the garden flourished. They expanded it just enough that they were on the point of being self-sustaining.  Without his permission, hope began to sprout in MacGregor’s heart.

During that first year they had eight new arrivals and three more disappearances.  It wasn’t until the last one that MacGregor noticed that these comings and goings always seemed to even out the number of men and women.  He tried to shrug the observation off as coincidence, but it clung like a burr to the back of his mind.

Two more couples asked to be married.  MacGregor knew of at least three others who weren’t making it so official.

The Wilsons’ baby was born and thrived.  MacGregor saw the way the other women watched the child. He knew there would be more soon.

He began to spend all his evenings with Holly.  She liked to read books from the huge shelves out loud to him, and he whittled corn cobs with his knife.  He was getting pretty good, even if he did say it himself.  He was making a chess set.

One night before going off to bed, Holly kissed him.  MacGregor kissed her back in spite of himself.

A week later, three sisters stumbled out of the jungle.  They were all in their early twenties and looked surprisingly healthy for having spent so much time in the wild.  MacGregor assumed it had a lot to do with the long machete Ruth, the oldest, was carrying.  She looked like she knew how to use it.  He and Holly greeted the sisters and found places for them to sleep.  MacGregor saw their doubtful expressions and remembered all his own questions.  Somehow they didn’t seem as urgent any more.

The questions didn’t go away either.  

Two nights later, MacGregor lay on his bunk unable to sleep.  He thought of the look Holly had given him before bd.  They hadn’t kissed since that first time, but now he wished they had.

MacGregor got up and crept over the room where Holly slept.  There was almost no light, just dim emergnecy lights in the hallway, but when he opened her door, he could make out her still form and hear her peaceful breathing.

He almost walked away and let her sleep.  He wasn’t sure what made him step into the room.

The texture under his bare feet was the first thing he noticed.  It was soft and springy, nothing like the tiled floors of the Greenhouse.  It was a texture he knew.  

A sudden horror came into his mind, and MacGregor sprang back. He slapped the button on the wall and light flooded the room.  

Vines covered the floor.  Vines with leaves so dark a green that they almost seemed black.  Even as MacGregor watched, they crept up the side of the bed where Holly was sleeping.  

But the light had woken her.  Holly screamed.

The vines stopped their advance, wriggled a bit, and then pulled back rapidly, disappearing into a hole in the floor that quickly closed ast the tiles slid together.

MacGregor couldn’t move, his mind frozen with shock and horror. It was Holly’s sobbing that finally broke through.  Even as he ran to her, careful not to step where that hole had been, even as he took her in his arms, he knew what he had just seen.  He understood what it meant.

Still, he said nothing to Holly.  He held her until she was calm.  By then he had a plan. He had to be sure.

Together, Holly and MacGregor woke the others and gathered everyone in the dining room.  MacGregor explained and asked them all to stay put, to stay together until he came back.  No one argued. No one volunteered to come with him either.

It wasn’t until MacGregor was back in Holly’s room that he noticed Ruth had followed him.  Her machete was in her hand.  He nodded.

Together they pried open the false tiles and looked down into dark hole below.  MacGregor shined a flashlight into the abyss.  The light reflected back to him a few feet down.  Water, probably.  Nothing was moving.  

MacGregor dropped into the hole. Ruth was right behind him.  They headed off down the tunnel.  It didn’t go far before it slanted upward.  They moved more cautiously now.  

MacGregor stopped when his flashlight showed him exactly what he had expected to see.  The giant head of a reddish-orange flower waited just outside the tunnel.  It waved back and forth, even through there was no wind.  Its petals had been closed, but when the light hit them, they opened, revealing a space large enough to swallow a man whole.

Ruth gave a shout, and MacGregor tore his eyes away from the man-eating plant.  Vine were now wriggling toward them like so many snakes intent on their prey.  Ruth swung her machete in a vicious arc and severed the first reaching tendrils.

Both man and woman turned and ran back up the tunnel.  Vines such as these could be fought, but not in such an enclosed space.  

At the opening, MacGregor boosted Ruth up, and she reached down and pulled him up after her.  They threw the tiles back in place, knowing it wouldn’t buy them much time, and sprinted for the dining room.

When they burst through the dining room doors, a riot of color met them on every side.  The heavy fragrance of flowers was in the air.  Its sickly sweet scent filled MacGregor’s head.

He saw Holly and the others seated at the long tables, vacant expressions on their faces.  

“Everyone get up!” he yelled. “We have to go now!”

No one moved.

MacGregor seized Holly’s arm, dragging her to her feet.  He saw Ruth shaking her sisters.  

“THis place is a trap!” MacGregor urged Holly.  “We have to leave now.”

“This is a haven,” Holly said dreamily.

“No it isn’t!” MacGregor shouted. “It’s a farm.  They’re growing us, for food and probably for the carbon dioxide we breathe, too.”

“We’re safe here,” Holly insisted dully.

The perfume on the air was so heavy that MacGregor could hardly think straight. “No,” he protested, but not so forcefully this time. “No place is safe anymore.”

“They leave us alone here,” Holly murmured. She sank back down onto her chair, eyes drifting shut.

“No,” MacGregor said. They needed to leave. He knew it was urgent, but he couldn’t remember why. He forced himself to think. “No, they brought us…they need us…they’re…cultivating us.”  Yes, that was it, cultivating.  For food. For air. Like a garden. Like their garden outside. The corn was growing so well this summer. They would soon have things set up to last them forever. This place would be sustainable.  They could stay here their whole lives.  And be safe.  Safe.

MacGregor sat down next to Holly and took her hand in his. He saw Ruth still standing, looking around her in confusion.  It was always hard your first few days in the Greenhouse.  It was such a big adjustment.

MacGregor closed his eyes for just a minute.  He hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep.  Maybe if he just rested his head here for a bit before breakfast.  Ruth was breathing softly next to him.  He drifted off.

The windows in the ceiling opened and long stems of multicolored flowers withdrew out into the night.  The windows close again. 

The air inside the Greenhouse cooled.  The last of the perfume was pumped away along with all of the carbon dioxide the humans exhaled.

MacGregor dreamed of children splashing in a cool stream and woke to the smell of oatmeal cooking.  He smiled at Holly.  She smiled back.

The jungle stayed outside and watched from a distance.

Posted in Scary stories | Leave a comment

Wizarding World Indeed

It’s been a little bit since I posted anything. We can blame that on my kids’ fall break and vacations and house projects and friends and life and no time.

Or we can be honest and say I went here:

I am not a big fan of amusement parks. But if more amusement parks let me spend hours walking around inside my favorite books, I would be.

You guys, I went inside here:


I ate a feast at The Three Broomsticks with my family.


I popped into this and dialed the Ministry of Magic.

I drank butterbeer.  (It was perfect.)

I actually rode the Hogwarts Express. I can’t stop thinking about it.


And in the end I brought home a useful pet.

 This is not meant to be a travelogue or a visitors guide. I have no useful tips. 

This is just to say that I went inside the Wizarding World, and I’m having a hard time coming out.

I came home. Home to my life and my home and my overjoyed dog. Home to Indiana in October where the whole world is burnt orange and yellow and bathed in golden sunlight and even when it rains it has a gloomy perfection. 

I have not come back to reality.  Not in my head, at least.

Luckily, my job is make believe and all my kids want me to do this week is make them costumes from their favorite books. (Yes, my life is perfect. No, I don’t deserve it.)

So I’m giving my brain permission to stay lost for a little bit. Reality is overrated anyway.  

I’ll meet you back here in a few days for Halloween, okay? I think I have something to make you shiver.

I’ll write it down as soon as I finish this next daydream…



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