Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas - Military Style

As an Air Force brat, most of my childhood was spent overseas. Holidays were grand, especially Christmas. Families in the States went over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house; we created our own home-away-from-home festivities.

 The base was decked out with lights and a huge tree stood on the lawn by headquarters. The decorations around base reflected the country we were in. In Germany, big nutcracker soldier figures surrounded the tree. Their mean-looking faces scared me to death.

Spain was a wonderland. The lights that made Madrid’s buildings come alive flowed over onto the buildings on base.
Nativity scenes were the heart of Spanish celebrations, so a living nativity scene was near the tree.
In Spanish traditions, the 3 Wise Men bring the gifts so wisemen ornaments hung on the tree and large figures scattered around the base.
To a junior-high kid, everything was magical.
Mom worked hard to make Christmas special. The strict weight limit for household goods when moving overseas didn’t allow for Christmas trees or rooftop Santa sleighs. Every year, we went to the Base Exchange to buy a 4-5 foot tree. We made decorations for the tree and for our windows. And, my favorite: Christmas cookies! Santas, reindeer, snowmen, painted with every color of powdered-sugar icing imaginable. Homemade fruitcakes, candies…that’s the smell of Christmas to me.
Gifts were a challenge. Our wishes were defined by the pages of the Sears Catalog. If things weren’t ordered in October, the boat didn’t get them there in time.

The best part was Armed Forces Radio. On Christmas Eve they played carols and The Night Before Christmas. One year, I remember panicking when the announcer said jets were sent to investigate a strange object seen on radar. Were they going to shoot down Santa’s sleigh? Didn’t they remember it was Christmas Eve?! I slumped in relief when the pilots radioed back that Santa wasn’t a threat.
We quickly learned that Christmas isn’t made up of decorations, it’s a matter of the heart. Neighbors filled each other’s houses for a potluck dinner of pot roast or ham, with all the trimmings. One of the dads read the Christmas story about the Baby in a manger, the shepherds, and the angels. Of course, the kids showed off all their gifts.

It doesn’t matter where you live, that’s the true joy of Christmas.

Sherry Carter is a retired engineer, slowly being reformed into a Bible-study author. She draws on over 30 years experience as a Bible teacher to give depth to her writing.

She's the grandmother of two perfect children and a sports fanatic (especially the Oklahoma Sooners). She and her husband of 42 years live in west Texas and are servants to their retired-racing greyhound.

Above all, she wants to grow closer to God and to learn from other believers as they travel down this path of faith. Journey along with her by following her blog, Sherry's Light Blog, her Facebook page, and her quarterly newsletter. Her first Bible study, Storms of Life, won the 2007 Award of Excellence at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference. It's available at amazon. com,, or at local bookstores.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Musings 2013

Is it just me, or does Christmas come sooner every year?

Hobby Lobby and Michaels had the Christmas “stuff” out just after the fourth of July. So I understand that if you are making gifts for the holidays, you need to start early.

However, Kmart, Walmart, Penney’s, and others were knee deep in Christmas including carols on the PA system before Halloween had faded. What happened to Thanksgiving? It may get a shelf or two of tableware, napkins, plates, and a turkey centerpiece. Guess we don’t need much merchandising to eat turkey with the relatives.

It seems the merchants have been pushing Christmas since August. Now that Thanksgiving is out of the way, the push toward the actual holiday has begun. Stores were open on Thanksgiving day and evening. Since Thanksgiving came late in November, the retailers are frantic to make all their Christmas profits in three weeks instead of four. (Another way Thanksgiving just got in the way of spending that Christmas money.)

Of course then the After-Christmas sales begin. I won’t be surprised to see stores open on Christmas Day to get whatever money people failed to spend on the before Christmas sales, the Black Friday sales, the lowest prices of the season sales; on and on it goes.

The holiday shopping season is six months long. No wonder it feels like Christmas comes sooner every year.

Maybe the post-holiday letdown comes sooner too. I find the need to decorate one tree (let alone the seven or eight some decorate in their homes) makes me feel tired. Getting the boxes from the attic, stringing the lights, cleaning the windows of dog nose prints in order to put candles up in the windows, moving furniture to incorporate the tree and room for six adults on Christmas morning, baking the cookies and country ham, and writing the Christmas cards. The tasks seem overwhelming before I even begin.

However, all that’s important will somehow get accomplished. Presents will be purchased as fairly as possible (Does Dan need another gift to balance how much we spent on Brad?). Wrapping will occur. Travel plans will result in family time all together. And we will relish it all, whether the traditional cookies are ever made or not.

Just when the commercialization of Christmas has taken its toll on one and all. Christmas Eve finally arrives. With a collective sigh, my family attends a communion service including meditation on the birth of Christ, the carols from the hymnal, and a time of quiet prayer.

Charlie Brown: Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

Linus Van Pelt: Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please.

Linus Van Pelt: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

Linus Van Pelt: That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. (

Yes, this is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. The holiness of the night of Christmas Eve settles around us. If only it lasted all year.

 Dr. Seuss got it right in The Grinch:

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

 In the end of it, Dickens’s Scrooge has the final word:

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

Perhaps it’s not that Christmas comes earlier every year, but that Christmas is put in storage for six months after the sales of Christmas baubles and gifts have ended. Perhaps the question for us is how to keep Christmas in our hearts all the year long.

Love of God, our fellow man, of family and friends knows no season.

Come Christmas;
quickly come,
and stay with us
the whole year long.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Winds of Change - Cha-Ching!

The Winds of Change


Courtney Pierce

A thirty-four-year ritual in our house will soon begin: The annual counting of the change. My husband and I amass these little discs of dreams throughout the year. The holiday rite takes place, without fail, on Christmas Eve while watching A Christmas Carol (the version with Alistair Sim). Like two Ebenezer Scrooges, we hunch over the piles of quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies, and the occasional paper clip that found its way in the bowl. Bets are made on the total haul in our quest to beat last year’s number. We don our rubber gloves to roll and roll as tears stream down our faces when Scrooge’s heart is made whole.

For twelve months of the year we pay for small items with only paper money, as long as the price is in uneven pennies. Return change is then thrown into a bowl, or three, on the bureau. The spoils are split fifty-fifty to spend however we choose. Race to the finish with a dollar purchase of mints, gum, or a package of Ramen. Yes! Three quarters back!

The meaning of the ritual changed over the years.
 Photo by Stuart Miles
In 1980 we played this game out of necessity. An extra hundred bucks at the end of the year was a welcome windfall. We were always broke; student loan payments left us with nothing to do something fun and indulgent. Do we buy a vacuum cleaner or go out to dinner? 

A few years later, having nabbed decent jobs, we spent our change booty at Tower Records in San Francisco. We’d come home with armloads of albums and beta hi-fi video tapes (superior technology to VHS, per my husband) with concert footage of our favorite bands. Completely indulgent.

Our careers grew, and so did the change kitty. In the nineties, we were told by our CPA to create a budget and save. So we did. The change went in the bank. We moved four times to grab the swinging ring of a promotion. Our change pool contributed to the renovation and decorative touches of each house. It helped to build equity and security.

The millennium approached, and our change contributed to a travel savings fund. We’d never taken a vacation—a real vacation. Time to see the world every fall: Switzerland, Britain, Italy, and Spain. It didn't get any better than walking the ruins of castles on the Isle of Skye, paid for in part by change.

Photo by Vlado
In 2001, the winds of our change blew toward others with a donation to help victims of 9/11. The wind started to blow closer to home. We lived in Houston at the time, so Hurricane Katrina’s recovery efforts received our change in 2005. In 2008, we helped our neighbors put their lives back together after another whirling dervish, Hurricane Ike. This felt good and right.
 Photo by Stuart Miles
Something started to happen, though, as we made more money and bought more gadgets. Our change spoils decreased. We’d finished rolling our coins even before Scrooge declared: “I haven’t lost my senses, Bob. I've come to them.” We had changed, and so did the change. We don’t use cash anymore. Instead, we debit, credit, auto-pay, and reward ourselves with loyalty points to make purchases in cyberspace. What happened to our change? We miss the plentiful jingle that comes with a personal smile. Thank goodness for emoticons.

But one thing didn't change. We continue to collect our coins and combine them with the donations we make to our favorite local causes. It is, after all, a tradition. We have what we need—more than what we need—but many don’t. Coins can go a long way to help our two- and four-legged friends. My husband rescued a baby owl and paid for its rehabilitation, so some of our recipients even sport wings.

Photo by Anakmll
As long as we have change, we’ll promote change.

Happy Holidays!

Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer and lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband of thirty-four years and bossy cat. After a twenty-year career as an executive in the Broadway entertainment industry, she moved home to finally write the stories that were rolling around in her head. Courtney is currently completing a trilogy of mystery and magical realism about two Baby Boomers whose lives are forever changed by a magical artifact found at an estate sale. She is in the Hawthorne Fellows program at the Attic Institute and will be Vice President and board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association in 2014. 

Follow her series on her blog: Her first two books, Stitches and Brushes are available in soft cover and E-Book at,, and The final book of the trilogy, Riffs, is due out in spring, 2014. She is currently working on a new mystery thriller for release in 2015.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Going Back to School

I have always loved college campuses. Maybe it's because I skipped the grand college tour when I was in high school, opting instead to focus on my first choice school. Maybe colleges remind me of being young, with unlimited possibilities stretched out in front of me. Or maybe it's because they all have bookstores.

So imagine my excitement when I was offered a job as an adjunct professor at a local college. Not only would I get to teach, but I’d have an all-access pass to a college campus -- as a member of the faculty. Professor Hess. Pretty cool.
I teach one psychology class on Tuesdays and Thursdays -- lessons in early childhood development presented to a room filled with wannabe teachers. They’re nice kids. Polite. Respectful. Decades younger than I am.

Having a teenage daughter helps me to keep the age difference in perspective. Instead of thinking of my students as being decades younger than I am, I think of them as being just a few years older than she is. This helps ensure that I don't come across as a geezer, and helps me to find interesting, contemporary ways to approach the material.

Teaching these kids makes me feel younger. Not only that, it makes me feel smarter. It's been thirty years since I sat where they're sitting, and the preparation required to teach this class well involves not just reading the textbook, but also tracking down other information that makes me delve more deeply into the subject so that I can have information that's both up-to-date and complete. I'm digging into resources and topics I'd never read on my own, and finding myself hungry for more. Parts of my brain that had been on autopilot for decades are waking up and wondering where my intellectual curiosity has been all this time.

When I retired a year and a half ago, I knew I didn't plan to retire for real just yet. But I never dreamed I'd find another job in education, let alone one that I'd enjoy as much as I enjoyed being a counselor.

And my new position allows me to go to the library or the bookstore -- or just sip iced tea by the fountain in the quad -- any time I want. 

Best job ever.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


When the Pope posted a selfie – self-portrait – a lot of people were stunned. Thankfully, he didn’t make a silly face. I must admit, when I see some of the silly and strange selfies my teenage granddaughters post on line I’m puzzled and confused. Why would you want your friends and all those Facebook people to see you with your tongue sticking out? Okay, I get it. They do it because they can and it becomes a competition to see who can post the silliest pictures.
            I’m post pictures on Facebook too. It’s fun to share pictures of me with my grandchildren, book signings, and other events in my life. But eventually, you reach a point where the pictures must be culled down. Many that were funny or important at the time seem a waste of space a month or so later. How many pictures do I really need of my blooming azaleas? They bloom every year after all.
         The best part of selfies is that you are in them. Those are the ones friends and family will want to keep. When my father died, my brother and I had to dispose of his belongings. Our dad loved to take pictures. He had several cameras and hundreds of albums filled with snap shots. He did a fair amount of traveling and he took pictures of everything. Literally.
         When we started going through the pictures we made an interesting discovery. Of the thousands of pictures he’d taken over the years, we would only be keeping a small fraction. Why? Because he wasn’t in most of them. We only wanted to keep pictures of our dad. We found a few of him standing in front of the dude ranch he visited. One of him on a horse. A few of him beside a sign declaring his location. Unfortunately most of the pictures he took were of trees, mountains, prairies, sunrises and sunsets, rivers and snow scenes. Are you seeing a pattern here? We ended up tossing out all his pictures. The scenery had no value to us. Only his image.
            I came home and started sorting through my own collection of pictures. I found the same problem. Too many pictures of flowers, the Christmas tree at various angles, and my kids playing ball, but from such a distance that you couldn’t distinguish one boy from the other.
So the next time you’re on vacation, make sure you take enough pictures with you as the center piece. Those pix of the Washington monument are fine for your own memory, but unless you’re in the photo your kids won’t keep them. Give your family memories and pictures they will want to keep. Mom and dad at Disney world, Grandma and Grandpa in front of the Grand Canyon, brother and wife at Mardi Gras.

They’ll thank you for it.

Lorraine Beatty is a multi-published, bestselling author born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. She and husband Joe have two grown sons and five grandchildren. Lorraine started writing in Junior High and has written for trade books, newspapers, and company newsletters. She is a member of RWA, ACFW and is a charter member, and past President of Magnolia State Romance Writers. Away from writing she sings in her church choir, loves to garden, spend time with her grandchildren, and travel. I love to hear from my readers. Visit her at

Plantation Christmas Weddings. A collection of four inspirational contemporary romances set in four antebellum homes in Natchez, Mississippi.

Monday, December 9, 2013


By Kathryn Bain

The holidays can be a lonely time for some, especially those who live by themselves. They are single, divorced, or the kids have grown and moved out. But it can also be lonely if you’re married to someone who is not a believer.

A lot of people live with a spouse who scoffs at their faith. It’s hard to go to church functions when it’s just you. Going alone is no fun.

The best way to fill that empty void is to find another person in the same situation (preferably of the same sex so there’s no temptation). I’m sure with just a bit of effort, you’ll find several wanting to enjoy a church function but not wanting to go alone. And even some married couples will be in the need of company, especially if they have a sick spouse or their partner is working on the night of a special event.

Drag that stay-at-home spouse with you. Don’t allow them to sit at home having a pity party just because they don’t have their husband or wife to attend with them. And if you’re a married couple in church, you probably know someone who doesn’t have any family who attends special functions with them. Pull them aside and invite them to join you. Three’s a crowd only on a date.

If you’re planning to go solo, get some of the other singles together to attend with you. If enough get together, it could turn into a party.  You might even want to consider doing a quick dinner before the church function.

And don’t forget, no matter how many times you have to do things by yourself, you’re never really alone, Jesus is always with you. Bible verse Matthew 28:20 reads, … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Celebrate Christmas with friends and family whether they believe or not. And if you find yourself going to a church event alone, find a friendly face to sit next to. It’s about celebrating Jesus’ birth. And alone or with someone, we should always keep that in mind.

Kathryn J. Bain began writing more than twelve years ago. Her fifth book, Beautiful Imperfection, will be available September 29, 2013. She is the former President of Florida Sisters in Crime and is currently the Public Relations Director for Ancient City Romance Authors. To survive and pay bills, she has been a paralegal for over twenty years and works for an attorney who specializes in elder law. She has two daughters and a dog named Gretchen. Her first grandchild, Hope was born in May, 2013. Kathryn grew up in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. In 1981, she moved to Boise, but it apparently wasn't far enough south, because two years later she headed to Jacksonville, Florida and has lived in the sunshine ever since.