“The Christmas Letter,” Dec. 12, 2017

There was a time in my life when I sent Christmas cards. Real ones, signed and addressed by my own hand and stamped with a genuine U.S. postal stamp. Looking back on it, it seems like a long time ago.

Every year, in November, I’d choose a card with a scene that, for me, conveyed clearly the meaning of Christmas. Then I’d order it in bulk, depending on how many I wanted to send.

I wanted to send lots. More every year. While I waited for the cards to arrive, I’d compose a letter to enclose. It would be very clever, or so I thought, bringing anyone who might be interested (or not) up to date on my life and those of my children, our latest challenges and accomplishments and such.

If I focused a bit more on achievements than on set backs, what can I say? I’m a mother. [Read more…]

“Waiting for the Gift of Christmas,” Dec. 5, 2017

Tomorrow or the next day, I will decorate for Christmas. Yes, time is ticking. Isn’t it always? I’m not worried. Christmas will happen at my house. All the things I need or want to do will either get done or they won’t. And it will still be Christmas.

Pretty soon I’ll wade hipdeep into shopping and baking and decorating. But not today. Today, my husband and I are still recovering from a 12-hour drive from California, where we visited family, to our home in Las Vegas, where we can sleep, hallelujah, in our own bed. [Read more…]

“Falling in and out of Love,” Nov. 28, 2017

I don’t know how it started. I was busy in the kitchen when the fight broke out. It wasn’t a real fight, just a disagreement. One minute, they were fine, happy and laughing.

Then somehow, feelings got hurt. Tempers flared. And one of them went storming out to the patio to sit alone, looking sad. [Read more…]

“The Magic Words,” Nov. 21, 2017

Henry is 6, totally engrossed in building some kind of Lego magnificence. But he stops flat-out and whips his head around to focus, body and soul, on me.

Why? I just whispered in his ear the Magic Words.

What are the Magic Words? They are a long-kept, closely guarded family secret that I share only with family, friends and anybody who asks.

OK, I’ll tell you. But first, I want to talk about the holidays. [Read more…]

“Thanksgiving 2017,” Nov. 14, 2017

Say thank you. That’s the first command I drilled into my children. They’d comply in their baby-speak with something that sounded a bit like “thank you.”

Other commands met with less success: Get off that roof. Stop hitting your brother. Do not put the dog in the dryer. Be home by midnight, or else.

If you’re a parent, much of what you say to your children seems to fall on deaf ears. Then one day your kids grow up and you hear them repeat those same things to your grandkids. [Read more…]

“A Window on the World,” Nov. 7, 2017

Lucky me. My husband and I are spending time in a cottage by Monterey Bay in California, visiting our kids and grandkids and friends in the area. It’s like being on a cruise ship without the motion sickness and shuffleboard tournaments. [Read more…]

“Mail Call,” Oct. 31, 2017

   I hate to pack. I put it off as long as I can. My husband and I plan to drive tomorrow from our home in Las Vegas, to the coast of California, where we hope to help our grandkids polish off their Halloween candy. Assuming there’s any left.
   But instead of packing, I just pulled out a basket of unopened reader mail — several months’ worth — and started reading.
   Opening “snail mail” from readers is always a treat, never a chore. But it can be a bit time consuming, so I put it off until I have a few free hours. Or until I want to avoid packing.
   Most reader mail arrives in emails on my computer or in posts on my website or Facebook page. I’m nothing if not connected. But I still receive a good bit of handwritten mail.
   Readers often write several pages in reply to something  they read in my column: A story from childhood; a memory of a loved one; an image of a sunset or my sister trying to shoot me.
   For a storyteller, it’s a gift to tell a story and have someone tell you theirs in return. I write about things I care about: Family and friends, love and loss and other everyday, ordinary matters of the heart.
   Readers, in turn, write to me about similar things and what those things mean to them. I count on them to do that and I’m never disappointed. Often they write about loss — the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the closure of a chapter of their lives — and how they are struggling with grief. Those letters are hard to read, but they’re an honor to receive.
  Sometimes readers send me books they’ve written, memoirs that would be fascinating, no doubt, but unfortunately, I will never have time to read them. Let alone, to endorse them.
   One exception is a book I just received: “Barry Baskerville’s Marvelous Memory,” the fifth in a series of mysteries for children, starring a young Sherlock Holmes fan. It was written by Richard Kellogg, a reader/friend in upstate New York. My grandkids will love it.
   Also in recent mail was a note from a reader/friend in Ohio, who sent me a photo of his grandson on his 16th birthday, and a copy of a column I wrote about that boy 16 years ago, the day he entered the world. (Happy birthday, Gregory, so glad you were born!)
   A reader from Kansas sent me a gorgeous photo of a great blue heron, taken by Tom Dorsey of the Salina Journal. (Oh, my!)
   One reader — thankfully, only one — wrote to inform me that I am old and gray and I should go away. (He was partly right. I am old by some standards, clearly by his, but thanks to Julia, my beloved hairdresser, I’m not gray. And someday, yes, I’ll “go away.” But, sorry, not today.)
   A church member in Arkansas asked for a copy of column to reprint in a church bulletin.
(Thanks! It’s on it’s way.) And a kind reader in Ohio sent me a key chain inscribed with a Bible verse I’d mentioned. (“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” — Micah 6:8.)
   A Clemson grad from Alabama sent his Clemson alumni sticker for me to give to my brother, who is totally blind, but is a huge fan of Clemson football. Somehow I misplaced the sticker and went digging in the recycling bin, until my husband found it by the sofa. You’d be amazed what you can find in a recycling bin when looking for a sticker. My brother doesn’t own a car, but he will proudly display that sticker on his walker.
   That basket of mail held hundreds of letters from readers around the country, who all said, in effect: We’re different in ways that make us interesting; but in the everyday, ordinary matters of the heart, most of us are very much alike.
   I didn’t have time to read them all, but it’s a start. Now I swear I’m going to pack. As soon as I mail that sticker to my brother. 
   Wait. Where did I put it?

[Read more…]

“Children and Fire, Fear and Love,” Oct.24, 2017

   For days, my husband and I followed the news of the wild fires in Northern California. It was our home for many years before a job change landed us in Las Vegas. And it’s still home to many of our family and friends, including our children and grandchildren.
   Despite heroic battles by hundreds of firefighters, thousands of families were being forced from their homes.  We knew all that, but tried not to worry. Then the phone rang.

[Read more…]

“The Gift of Old Friends,” Oct. 17, 2017

Growing up, I would hear old people say, “There’s no friend like an old friend.” I thought they said it because they were old and young people made them feel older.

Now that I am one of them, I know that’s why they said it. Most of us would prefer to be with people who make us feel younger, not older — or at least, more alive than half-dead.

But feeling young and alive is not really about age. It’s about attitude and openess and a healthy sense of humor. And maybe a decent night’s sleep. Friendship transcends age. The years between us make no difference. But time itself — how long we’ve been friends and the memories we share — is the glue that strengthens our bond. [Read more…]

“A Day for Good News,” Oct. 10, 2017

For weeks, the news had been filled with stories of death and devastation, hurricanes in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico, and earthquakes in Mexico. I was hungry for a taste of good news.

So on Sunday, Oct. 1, I phoned my brother in South Carolina, to hear him brag about Clemson’s latest victory. Joe is totally blind and totally devoted to Clemson football. He told me all about Clemson’s win the previous day over Viginia Tech, how well they’d played and how proud he was of them. He’d have said all that even if they lost, but he’s a bit more enthusiastic after a win. [Read more…]