The Best Day of the Year

WhooHoo!! My most favorite day of the year.pn6iimgm-wo-joshua-hibbert

The shortest daylight of the year.

Here in mid-North America, we spend much of today in twilight.

Maybe you weren’t aware  there are 3 types of twilight.

Civil Twilight: This is the brightest form.  It’s light enough you can see to do outside chores.

Nautical Twilight:  This dates back to the time when sailors used the stars to navigate the seas. During this time, bright stars can be easily seen with naked eyes.

Astronomical Twilight: The sky is no longer illuminated by the sun. All stars can be seen.

There were less than 9 hours of daylight today….

But that’s okay…

The Earth is now tilting back the other way. (Sorry Australia).330px-axialtiltobliquity

We’re headed back into the light.

We’ve come through the night.

Perhaps through the long darkness you found comfort by giving, sharing, and supporting each other. Bless you.

Take heart and continue your kindnesses.

Light is ahead.

Merry Christmas, my friends!!

(To my friends in Oz…you know I love you, but WhooHoo! It’s our turn to head into the light!)

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How Not to Give Criticism

photo-1442458370899-ae20e367c5d8

I’ll get to the point, just wait a minute.

Okay…no matter how old I get…I still keep learning something. Whether I want to or not.

I needed to hand out criticism to a committee member. What I would like to use is the kick-butt approach:It goes like this: ” For the love of St. Pete, we’re talking about the book fundraiser, Lulu. After the meeting is over, we can talk about  your achy knee and  strange-mole problem and all the books you’ve used to diagnosis yourself..”

I’ve used this kick-butt technique a couple of times. I felt kind of skunky afterward..  But no one was insulted enough to volunteer to take over chairing the meeting, which would’ve been a nice side benefit to offset the skunky feeling..

So I switched to the ol’ interrupt-and-refocus technique.

“LuLu what in blithereens does your topic have to do with what we’re talking about— which at the moment, is the BOOK FUNDRAISER?”

Again I feel skunky for such a shut-up-and-get-with-the-topic approach. But that quickly goes away because LuLu can relate anything to the latest topic. She simply says (quite officiously) “Well, just wait…I’m getting to that.”

Five minutes and four doctor visits later, she finally reports that she has books that didn’t help at all and she’s going to put them in the book-fundraiser…if we ever get one planned.

So finally I used the OREO technique. (A suggestion for improvement is sandwiched between a couple of compliments)

“Lulu, wow that sounds like you’ve really done a lot of thorough research into in-grown toenail problems. How about you  hold those thoughts until we finish talking about the fundraiser,then we can hear your amazing information after the meeting.”

Mother Mary, Joseph, and all the baby donkeys!!!! It worked. WhooHoo. (and no skunky feeling)

There’s only one catch. I have to hang around after the meeting and listen to the FULL info dump on toenails.

I learned more than I ever wanted to know. But I figure someday it’ll be me, blathering on about the ridges in my fingernails or accidental  farts or how I don’t sleep well during a full moon.

Someday I may be lonely and the only way I know how to relieve my desperate ache is to join committees so I can be with people and hijack  conversations so I can talk about myself.

I hope they know the OREO Technique.

By Ismael Nieto

By Ismael Nieto

Have you ever dealt with a conversation hijacker?

A Change in Death—Or Not

Thank you for sending notes and letting me know you’ve missed me. I appreciate that.

860293834_4c8f575321_qI finally finished writing the latest Lutheran Ladies Circle novel, and it’s become wildly apparent to me that there’s been a CHANGE in the way we treat death.  Maybe that’s because lately, I’ve spent so much time with morticians.

The main character in Melody Markett’s Crash Course on Life is female funeral director with a checkered past (which she’s carefully hidden). I knew very little about the undertaking process, so I spent time with  folks at mortuaries, crematoriums, and cemeteries.

I discovered a bunch of fascinating details, which my red-ink-happy editors  cut because: “…while it’s intriguing, it doesn’t move the plot forward.”

Well, phooey!.  But then I realized…”Hey, I can share some juicy idea-bits with you.”  So start the organ music and let’s look at a few changes.

GROWING UP in the ‘50s.

Save the dress:

My grandparents (and every old person I knew), had one good dress or suit in their closet which they might wear on special occasions, but they’d be sure to let their nearest relative know, “This is the dress you need to bury me in.” It didn’t matter that the clothing was twenty years old or two sizes two small. The mortician could fix that. Even before people were dead, they were planning what to wear.

And then there was a wake:

But because we’re Lutheran, we didn’t call it that. It was visitations at my grandparent’s Covering-Earshouse, and all of us kid-cousins (who’d been banned to play in the yard) were constantly in trouble. These were the days before attentive parents provided toys and activities, so we hooligans made our own amusement: digging for worms, having dirt fights, or sneaking under the fence to explore the crawl-space beneath the Baptist church down the street. If we were caught and scolded back to the yard (to continue flinging dirtballs), an adult would come out of the house and yell at us for being too rowdy or noisy.  “For the love of saints! Be quiet out here! Your uncle is dead! Have some respect!”

We couldn’t figure out why a dead man would care about our ear-splitting screams. And why did the adults get to laugh and tell stories that carried down the block?

Funeral Parlors

When funeral homes bundled their services into packages, many of our family activities went away—moved to a more professional, air-conditioned, padded-chair visitation room where there was nothing for kids to do but kick each other and dare the youngest cousin to go touch dead Aunt Mildred’s hand.

And then the popularity of cremation brought an end to even more childhood exploits.

CHANGES FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY…New traditions are beginning.

Living Funerals:

These are being embraced by folks with a “fatal” illness. A small group of friends and156097132_d7c96f8eed_q family gather to tell the dying person the heartfelt things he/she wouldn’t have gotten to hear at their funeral. It breaks isolation and allows others to know the dying person is willing to talk about his illness and death, and there’s no need to feel uncomfortable about visiting.

Pre-Dead

If you’re important enough, the NY Times or perhaps even your local newsrag will write your “advance” or “draft” obituary while you’re still alive. A journalist must be ready. The uncomfortable part is phoning the pre-dead for an interview. (I can attest to this. I’ve written two obits for live interviewees who wanted to “make sure the paper got it right.”)

Video Obituaries

A home DIY project (or you can hire a professional), folks are making videos and delivering their own obits to be watched at their funeral.  Maybe you’d like to leave someone a message  that you would’ve never uttered in life?  A company will allow you to create any message you choose and they’ll send it for you after you’re dead.

UNCHANGING Traditions

PicnicOne thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that death may be final, but as long as a person is remembered, they live on.

Sometime over this Mother’s Day weekend the family will head out to the cemetery, armed with picnic baskets and garden implements. We’ll cut and trim and tidy.  Mom did it for Grandma. Grandma did it her mom. Great-grand did it for those who came before her.

And then we’ll spread picnic blankets under the nearby trees and raise a glass of lemonade and a snickerdoodle to those long-gone saints. The kids will throw worms and grass at each other. The adults will tell family flower-galleryplayer.jpgstories and laugh—remembering.

It’s tradition.

Happy Mother’s day, Mom. I’m keeping the tradition alive.

(If you’re interested in the story that evolved out of all this research, check out the book tab above for Melody Markett’s Crash Course on Life.)

The Chickens of Change

Let me get this out of the way right now. I think chickens are stupid.

peepsNow….before some of you get your feathers fluffled, let me give you my chicken credentials, so that you know…that I know these fowl dummies.

I grew up in the era of getting little purple, pink, and pastel-dyed chicks for Easter. No…
not the marshmallow kind..

chicks_Easter

The live kind.

Oh…stop gasping!!!  Remember, this was the era of no seatbelts, leaving kids in the car while you went into the grocery store….and people smoked in every closed building.

Live chicks were no big deal. After they grew their coming of age-pullet-feathers, we put them with the other chickens. The weather-hardened ones. The ones who stood around, gawping as a chicken hawk soared down and took them for a little road trip. The ones I put in a box and they’d go to sleep because they thought it was night. The ones who couldn’t figure out how to get back on the other side of the fence to their chicken buddies—even though they were standing in front of the open gate….You know…the  stupid ones.

Maybe if I wouldn’t have put the purple or pink chicks with the dumb ones, they would’ve grown up to be geniuses. By the time I was old enough to stop receiving baby chicks for Easter and start asking for a chocolate stash, I was convinced that chickens didn’t have the good sense God gave a whisk broom.

That’s why this trend of urban chicken farming, amuses me. I have a friend who waxes on for fifteen minutes about the pleasurable sounds of chatty chickens. For her, it’s a whole brilliant, new world of discovery as she talks about when they roost and how to get an egg that doesn’t break in her hand.

I keep my mouth shut. Why?

“Stardust Melody” 1927
One of the most recorded songs of the 20th Century

Because years after I became too cool to raise color-tinted chickens, I discovered “good” music. I once went on and on about this great new song. I even sang a couple of verses for my Dad. He let me have my moment of discovery. It was a while before he told be that “Stardust Melody” was a hit when he was young. It was just making the rounds again.

Oh.

Things change. Things stay the same…kinda the same…

I still think chickens are stupid.

The Lutheran Ladies Guide to Movie Etiquette For Morons

I know the title seems rather harsh, but I didn’t know what term to use for someone whose

We like going to the movies…or used to….

actions fall between blockhead and half-wit. Let me explain…

We like to catch a matinee every month. Five of our last six outings have been pestered by people whose brains have been disconnected from their social skills. Honestly! We’ve decided that movie watching behavior has gone the way of  the typewriter and the corded phone.

Let’s have a short refresher course in Movie-Watching Etiquette in case anyone needs a reminder of these transgressions.

CHOSE YOUR SEAT

Maybe it’s been a hundred years since you’ve been in church. There’s a reason why people sit in the very back pews. It’s so they can slip out easily.  The same rule applies at the movies. So, if you :

  • have a bladder problem
  • need to call the baby sitter
  • or plan on getting a free refill on that half-gallon of soda and bathtub of popcorn you bought at concessions….

Then for the love of everyone’s knees…SIT BY THE DOOR.  Don’t climb over people.

And if you do have an emergency and must leave, WALK SIDEWAYS down the row. Nobody wants your bedonkadonk in their face.  Or…heaven forbid…your crotch.  Just shuffle like a normal human being would down a sidewalk and move out of the row.

THERE’S A REASON MOVIES HAVE A RATING SYSTEM

Just because you can haul a child into an R-rated movie if they’re accompanied by an

The Eye of Sauron as portrayed in Peter Jackso...

adult, doesn’t mean you should.  So when a child cries because aliens are probing innocent beach party-goers or psychos are jumping from behind every tree, or the Dolby sound system is rattling the tubes in your kid’s ears…it means your child isn’t enjoying the movie.  The rest of us aren’t either. As a matter of fact, you may be the only one in the theater, ignoring your kiddo , watching the flick. Your bliss won’t last long. Someone will  get management and you’ll be asked to leave.

So why not save everyone the hassle?  Go to the child’s age-appropriate film in the first

Image representing The Walt Disney Company as ...

place. All of us have paid our dues and sat through more Disney, Pixar, and Hannah Barbara movies than we can count. Please…Adult-up and do the same.

JUST SHUT UP

“Oh, my.” one of the Lutheran Ladies will say, when I quote this rule. But these three words cover a legion of movie sins.  We think the problem originates because folks are used to sitting at home, talking back to their TV. People cuss the news, moan at the weather, sneer at reality shows. They’ve trained themselves to talk to their entertainment.

How else can anyone explain why some people narrate the movie?   If you’re guilty of being a movie commentator, you need to know that you don’t need to tell us:

  • “It’s Glenda, the good witch,”  “He didn’t really die,” “Sauron did it,” or anything that’s happening on the screen. We can see it for ourselves.
  • We’re not  talking about emotional gasps, laughs, and moans that are a natural part of movie enjoyment.  This rule is for those folks who share their running commentary of what’s happening.
  • As brilliant as your observations probably are…people paid to hear the movie, not you commenting on the action.

This Just-Shut-Up-And-Enjoy-The-Movie rule, takes care of:

  • sucking the last ounce of liquid out of your cup
  • rattling your Raisinettes
  • filling in your movie-friend on what he/she missed when they went to the bathroom
  • and just because you’re texting, doesn’t mean you’re not talking or disturbing anyone.  Shut it off.

Aunt Ula has a longer list of movie sins. (She should know because she’s broken most of them and been asked to leave.) But nobody wants to read a blog that long.

Actually most movie problems can be solved if folks simply remember one thing.

Movie-watching is a community experience.

You’re not alone at home. Or as they say in the movies…

You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

Do you have a movie-watching etiquette pet peeve?

.

Photos: Theater:Joeybls Photography; Saurons Eye-Wikipedia; Disney-by Crunchbase; dog-yuankuei; Dorothy-Wizard of Oz-FanPop

The Best Compliments—Ever

When I’m having a tough day, there’s a special compliment I pull out and imprint on my brain….

It’s from a woman who emailed me saying: “I was receiving chemo and reading your book outloud. All of us in the room were laughing so hard, the nurse came to check on us.”

The compliment made me cry. Little did the reader know that I’d written the book for my mom. She died before I finished it. The reader’s words were balm to my soul.

My writing critique group analyzed the mysteries of what  makes a GREAT compliment.  The warm words you haul out when days are dark and the laughter is scarce?

Here’s a start.  Feel free to add to the list…or even argue with it:

The Secrets of  A WARM COMPLIMENT

Recognize the person’s character. It’s easy to say, “That was a  (good meal, nice piece

Your smile reminds me of the Laughing Cow. NOOOOO…that’s not the compliment you want to use.

of writing, kind gift, nice outfit….blah blah,whatever ).

So go one step deeper. Compliment the character trait. The willingness of the cook to take time to create such a  tasty meal.  Or the openness of the writer to share so deeply. Or the talent of the giver to craft such a lovely gift or outfit.

Anybody can give someone a piece of chocolate,  But the compliment comes from recognizing the behind-the-scenes personal effort (thinking about them, spending time and money, and delivering it—that takes intent and concern.  It’s like a kiss to the soul when someone else

You have a crocodile smile. Er…I mean a BIG smile. Forget it. That won’t work either.

recognizes the depth of your efforts.

Make the compliment specific. I like to hear the words, “Good job,” but I like it even better when someone says, “They way you describe this character makes me laugh and cry in the same sentence. “Nice smile,” becomes even more personal when it’s “Your smile makes me feel important.”

Do You appreciate it or not? I have a friend who hands out compliments in this manner: “It’s a good thing you’re small, or you couldn’t wear that dress.
WHAT?
I have begun replying, “Is that a compliment or a complaint?”

C’mon. Don’t be stingy. If you appreciate something, commit to saying say so with, “I really

Your smile helps my heart laugh and remember the world is good.

liked it when….”  “It meant a lot to me when….”

Be genuine.  I bet everyone has received a fake-O admiration. It’s like pouring sour milk over a conversation. Thanks for the Blaaaah feeling I get from your pseudo goodwill. If you don’t mean it–don’t say it. But surely there’s something positive you can say about a burnt meal or a bad hair-cut. Even if it’s about how they have the character to deal with it (eventually laugh about it??)  and go on.

So now share with me please….

What’s a compliment you pull out on your crummy days?  Why is it special?

Photos by: Jo Jakeman, fdecomite, Delirante,Vanessa Pike Russel

Weasel-y Troubles and Donuts of Comfort

Don’t you hate it when someone tells you, “Troubles produce endurance”?

I want to stomp my foot, clench my fists and yell.  I don’t want endurance. I want myWeasel_Dead weasel-y troubles to roll over, four stiff legs in the air with big Xs on its dilemma-like eyes.

I want comfort. Like fat donuts. Or hot buttered bread.

I recently told a baker this and he educated me that yeasty products can be mixed two ways.

THE SPONGE METHOD.
Stirs the four, yeast and half the needed water into a slurry.  It’s made several hours ahead of time. Later when the complete dough is mixed, it can be shaped and baked after 1 rising.. (This allows the baker to sleep through the night.)

Bread dough which has risen and is ready to go...

THE STRAIGHT DOUGH METHOD
Is the way we do it at home.  Mix the ingredients. Let it rise. Knock it down. Let it rise. Knock it down again and then shape it.

The straight dough method requires more “hand discipline.” It takes longer. It gets “knocked down” more often.

It also produces a better textured bread with fewer holes and a deeper flavor and  aroma.

So I sigh…
I suppose that’s like us…traveling through life.

The “hand discipline”, the “knocking down” creates a better product. The works of our hands become more flavorful because of what we’ve been through.

Phooey!!! It seems no one escapes life’s knocks.  Not even bread.

But you can bet, while I’m learning my lessons…I’m padding the blows with prayers, a few fatdonut-01 Cup-of-peppermintdonuts (and maybe a hot chocolate, too.)