Summer Learning

Even though most schools are closing for the summer, learning doesn’t stop. In fact, learning outside of school can be one of the most valuable ways to increase our–and our kids’ and grandkids’–knowledge and understanding in various fields of interest.

From what I understand from working in the education field, and from personal experience, learning comes easier when we are enjoying ourselves and taking part in activities we are keenly interested in.

What are you looking forward to learning about this summer? Or, should I say, what fun things are you planning to DO this summer? (I’d seriously love to know–leave me a note below.) I believe that these concepts–learning, fun, doing–all go together.

If you are interested, Practical Homeschooling magazine just published my article on the subject, in their issue #146. I wrote it about a conversation with my young children, who thought I was insane when I told them I loved to learn. I think I convinced them that “learning” and “school” were two different things, by keeping track of all of our summer activities and showing them how much they’d “accidentally” learned.

The lines between school learning, learning at home, and home schooling have definitely blurred over the past year. If you find that learning at home has been a positive experience for you and your children, and you are planning to continue that in the future, you might want to have a look at homeschooling resources like this one. At $4.95 U.S./Canadian, you can’t go wrong!

What am I looking forward to learning this summer? I want to learn how to use all–or most–of the features of my new (to me) camera.

I have been struggling to learn how to use the manual settings. It’s partly re-learning, since my photography-teacher dad taught me how to use them in the 70s, before I got lazy with point-and-shoot cameras.

Yes, I have watched many videos and read lots of the manuals, but the most effective way I have learned about it is, you guessed, using it. Trial and error, and making mistakes, only nowadays without wasting expensive film and the cost of developing it!

I am fortunate that I enjoy walking and exercise, am a morning person (as are many animals), it is summer time right now, and that I enjoy the quiet and solitude of the forest. All of those give me inspiration to power on through the frustration, to try and try again to get good shots.

The hundreds, even thousands, of out-of-focus animals and flowers, and borrrring landscapes, have taught me valuable lessons. I still haven’t figured out how to take clear videos, unfortunately. Sigh.

If you want to see some of the shots that did work, have a look below. At any rate….

I wish you and yours many happy learning experiences over the summer!

Mergansers – the adult on the right kept attacking the other adult – stressed out from all those little ones? ha ha
Little one strayed a little to far into the neighborhood, the neighbors and I encouraged it to go home because its mother was worried, it disappeared into the long grass
Not sure exactly what kind of bird this is, but it seemed to want its picture taken!

Building a Writing Routine one Minute at a Time

For those of you who are writers out there, I am curious, do you actually have a routine that helps you be productive with your writing?

If not, is it because you don’t feel the need for a routine since you are consistently productive without one? Or did you try to establish some kind of regular schedule or goal-setting and it just didn’t work?

Routines?! Ugh

Personally, I have rebelled against routines all my life. I’m not sure why. Maybe they seem to remove the creativity and novelty from life. Or maybe they make life too predictable, and I’ve always loved surprises, unique experiences and new possibilities.

But now that I’m older, I appreciate how routines simplify life and make room for what is most important to me, things like family, friends, and writing. I’m even trying to establish a routine for meal planning! Unbelievable.

I’ve finally realized that I need a writing routine because it’s still not working to “get everything done on my To Do List and then write.” (I know people say it’s impossible to get everything done on your To Do List, but I don’t understand why, so I’m still trying to.)

A To Do List seems to act just like Facebook’s news feed: when you get to the bottom, it magically adds a whole ton more, so you can never, EVER finish reading your news feed. And it feels like for every item I cross off my List, five or ten items magically appear at the bottom.

The one minute a day challenge

In my last post I mentioned writing courses, and how helpful the Reedsy courses were. In one of the lessons of “Stop Procrastinating! Build a Solid Writing Routine,” they go through some ways of setting goals that will make it easy to establish a habit of writing regularly. One tip mentions having a tiny goal.

Oh sure, I thought. I can’t wait to see what they consider a “tiny” goal. With my schedule, I doubt if I can find the time to write even 100 words that are intelligent and meaningful EVERY SINGLE DAY.

But what they suggest is considering starting with one minute of writing, or three words. Every day. Until the habit is established, then adding more.

Well, I had to laugh. That just sounded funny, and fun. So I had to try it and see what happened.

(If you are interested, at the end of this post you can see 3 days’ worth of what I came up with, using various writing prompts)

So? Any thoughts? And by the way, if you do have a routine that works for you, will you share it?

I’ll close with a story that gave me a chuckle, about James Joyce, who was apparently a notoriously slow writer:

“A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair. ‘James, what’s wrong?’ the friend asked. ‘Is it the work?’

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always? ‘How many words did you get today?’ the friend pursued. Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): ‘Seven.’

‘Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.’ ‘Yes,’ Joyce said, finally looking up. ‘I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”

attributed to Stephen King

You might also enjoy this post, “Write Everyday, Right?”

**********************************************************************************

A 3-Day Sample of me attempting to establish a writing routine by writing one minute each day [Unedited!]

Day 1 Writing Prompt from the website Writing Fix: “Create a title for a story using unique alliterative words that begin with A, and write the story”

Adorable Avery arranged the alpacas

The chill of the morning turned little Avery’s short breaths into steam, and, as it bent down to nuzzle the clay bowl of breakfast scraps, Blondie’s breath puffed into Avery’s face. His face only coming up to the llama’s belly, Avery nevertheless barked out his annoyance. “Back! Back! You greedy girl! You’ll be last with such bad manners!” He turned away from the tan animal and squeezed his small body between two black llama’s even larger than Blondie. Setting down the bowl, Avery ducked under the necks of the hungry animals, then climbed between the round posts of the fence.

Giselda, Avery’s mother, watched from the window of their family’s small shack. She smiled, then closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun. “Gracias,” she sighed. She was watching a promise come true.

* * * * *

Day 2 Writing Prompt from the website Writing fix: “tiny pig dashing over the North Pole”

Dear tpdotnp: For crying out loud. It’s been three months. Surely you trust me enough to reveal the mysterious meaning of your username. Greg75

Dear Greg75: Okay. You’re right. I do trust you. Even though you chickened out. Tpdotnp

Dear tpdotnp: You know very well I got stuck in traffic. The four-car pile up? Remember?

Dear Greg75: Just joshin’. What are you doing right now? We could attempt another meeting.

Dear tpdotnp: I’m at work. Supposed to be working, but there are no customers, and my shoulder is still too sore to stock.

Dear Greg75: Sigh.

Dear tpdotnp: Why don’t you come on over?

Dear Greg75: Are you kidding?

Dear tpdotnp: No.

Dear Greg75: Give me the address and instructions on how to get there.

Dear tpdotnp: Black’s Photo in Southcentre.

Dear Greg75: See you in about forty-five minutes.

Delsie knew that Southcentre Mall was only fifteen minutes away. But she wanted to spy.

* * * * *

Day 3 Writing Prompt from the book, Writer’s Book of Matches, p.32 “What time is the next train?”

A man dressed in a suit and groomed sharply stood behind the yellow band of the light rail station, awaiting the train. Motionless, he stared down at the concrete beneath the steel rails for a minute without seeming to breathe or blink. It was 6:45 and the sun shined benevolently on this tardy friend, who was expected at a restaurant near his home, an hour’s train ride away. He inhaled deeply, silently releasing the breath. His expression wasn’t angry or sad; just thoughtful. Or neutral, without any thoughts. Or overwhelmed, with a crisis or a whirlwind of ideas creating noise in his head. Certainly he was oblivious to the sounds and people that came and went around him.

He looked tired now. Had it been the outburst of tears from the little girl who tripped going up the stairs to the parking lot? Clenching his jaw, he’d only glanced backward at her for a second before returning his gaze to the tracks. Was he willing the tracks to hum with the approaching train? Or did he even care if the train came? Did he care if he made it to the restaurant? Did he care if he saw his friends?

* * * * *

Okay, now that you’ve read some of my attempts, care to share one of your short writing practices in the comments section? Aww, come on…

Image courtesy of Pxfuel, https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-qzlak

Worthwhile Online Writing Classes

The amount of internet resources for writers is inspiring, but it can be hard to know which ones are the most helpful. Here are some discoveries I’ve made from my recent searches for writing classes.

First, as you probably already know, anyone looking for resources needs to have specific needs and goals in mind. “Unfortunately”, I can usually see the potential of almost any new information I come across as I bounce down rabbit trails, so I find it hard to keep my focus. (Which isn’t completely a bad thing, I guess, since the whole experience is educational, and then I can share it with you!)

I love to learn, take courses and challenge myself, so looking for learning opportunities for me is like a being a kid in a candy shop. And when I am in a candy shop, it’s pretty easy to choose what I want. All I have to do is look for brown. Brown means chocolate, and I have very little use for any candy that isn’t chocolate.

It was pretty simple to choose courses, too, in a process of elimination. I didn’t want to take any classes in person, or as part of a college curriculum. Nor did I want to be restricted by any online courses that had very specific attendance or completion times, especially since the ones I ran across were usually evening courses. I love getting instructor feedback, but at this particular time it wasn’t a priority.

I also avoided online courses that required socializing with classmates online. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love people and visiting with them! But when I’m focused on learning a new skill from an expert, I don’t find it helpful to spend significant amounts of time with my fellow learners. I prefer (what I’m calling) the traditional model of education–tell me what I need to know, give me examples, let me try my hand at it, tell me what I did wrong, let me try again. It seems more efficient to me.

I needed a short course to help me identify what skills I most needed to work on, rather than a course spread over several months or a year. So once I decided on self-guided courses, rather than reading documents, my first choice was video courses.

Then to further narrow down the search, I decided to start with recent recommendations by other bloggers to see which online platforms and websites kept coming up, and this website was one of the most helpful. I liked the way the author offered categories of writing classes, like “Best Course for Writing Creative Non-fiction”. So I concentrated my efforts on MasterClass, Udemy and Reedsy.

I started by visiting each of these to get more information on what courses they offered, and what they cost. I’d seen a MasterClass ad on YouTube with a writing class (Joyce Carol Oates!) that made me salivate, and was surprised to find that they are actually affordable! So I put MasterClass in my back pocket while I searched the others. (I need to pit them against each other before I make a decision.)

Since I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to writing until recently, I am looking to brush up on my plotting and editing skills, and to get help in motivating myself to re-establish a writing routine. (Aargh! “Routine” is not one of my favorite things!)

In the end, I actually signed up for classes with Udemy and Reedsy, who have the specific courses I want, and some were an excellent price, FREE! (I usually start with free or low-cost anything, and then if that doesn’t get me what I need, I pay. And if the price isn’t right, I do without!)

I am quite happy with both Udemy and Reedsy, and recommend them. I love the variety they offer, so I can focus very specifically on what I want to learn.

Now, you need to know that Reedsy isn’t a course platform, it’s an author services organization based in the UK. And the courses are not on video. But they connected me to three courses I was interested in:

How to Stop Talking About Writing a Book and Actually Start Doing It (in my case it was how to stop thinking about writing a book…)

Stop Procrastinating! Build a Solid Writing Routine

Novel Revision: Understanding the Craft

And they are teaching me what I want to know!

Then, I took my time researching Udemy courses, checking on:

  • the background of the instructors
  • how many hours of video content were included.
  • how much additional material was available for download
  • the content and ratings of students’ reviews
  • how many people had taken the courses (I shied away from the ones with less than several thousand students who had taken their course), and
  • how many ratings they had
  • how old the course was, and
  • watching some of the free lessons in the courses to see how the instructors deliver their lessons (immensely helpful!)

I love that they provide all the stats, ratings and comments on their courses up front! I find that Udemy has frequent sales where they discount courses by about 75%. Both of the times I searched for courses, they had amazing prices. Of the ones I purchased, the original prices were around $70-$100 for the courses, and after discounts I paid about $15-$18 (Canadian dollars). As a result, I signed up for more courses than I had time for, so I have only started one of them, which is going well.

These are the writing courses I have purchased (or signed up for, for free) from Udemy:

Starting to Write

Short story masterclass: learn from a prizewinning author!

The Easy Way to Write Short Stories that Sell

Get Your Fiction Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper

Editing Mastery: How To Edit Writing To Perfection

I’ve still got that MasterClass dream class in my back pocket. One day I’ll treat myself to it. In the meantime, these will get me closer to my writing goals without monopolizing my time.

Have a look online! I’m sure you’ll find something that will increase your writing skills, productivity, or enjoyment! I’d love to hear about it if you do.

Have you taken online writing courses? Do you have any recommendations of other online course platforms? Do share!

Online course/computer image courtesy of PxFuel.com – thanks!

Writing to Senior Pen Pals

Ah, the joys of writing!

And today I am referring to literally WRITING, handwriting, using pen or paper–not typing. I have found handwriting or printing one of the best ways for me to create and record my thoughts.

But here I want to focus on sending snail-mail letters to people as a way to connect and keep in touch.

Coincidentally, today I received a thank you message from a dear friend who just received my card in the mail. I’d commented that I felt closer to her sending a physical card than emailing or texting, and she agreed wholeheartedly.

Also coincidentally, today I read an article by one of my favorite bloggers who writes about the joys and opportunities of handwriting and sending snail mail. Barb at ritewhileucan.com is full of creative ideas and has a heart for brightening up someone’s day with a card or letter. She just posted about an opportunity to be a pen pal with a senior in a care centre, who are especially lonely because of lockdowns. I am looking into to adding one of these dear ones to my snail mail pen pal list. Thanks, Barb!

Interested?

Go to Rite While U Can and see more precious smiling faces of men and women with their written notes to potential pen pals!

There are also many other similar initiatives catching on around the world, in Canada, the U.K., Australia, to name a few. Check out these news stories!

Caring and Connecting Pen Pal Initiative, Canada

A Nova Scotia University Initiative

Kind-hearted Australians writing Letters to the Elderly

Sending Support Throughout the U.S.

You may be inspired to pen a letter or send a card to one of your loved ones, or one of the seniors at a website. If so, I hope you’ll post a comment about it below!

image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/@shkrabaanthony

Freedom with Writing

Are you, like me, dusting off some stories or manuscripts that have been filed away for a few years? If so, you probably want to find homes for them.

Or, you might be looking for periodicals that are in need of exactly the kind of articles you write.

 

 

Let me tell you about a website I recent discovered, Freedom with Writing.

Most of the online resources I’ve found focus on either non-fiction or fiction, but Freedom with Writing focuses on both, which I like. It’s free and couldn’t be simpler: they send you emails with valuable links to writing opportunities. Apparently, they have been going since 1999!

I can never just “scan” their emails, like I can many others. They are full of meaty information all the time. On top of that, the format is an absolute joy: clean, clear, simple, to the point, giving you in a glance exactly the information you are looking for.

Take their home page, for example. It looks similar to many other websites offering to help you find success. But once you start clicking on their links, you can tell they put in a lot of time and energy into digging up valuable information and passing it on to you.

 

 

They also lend a helping hand to newbies like me with various straightforward, useful articles, such as how to send in your proposal, or helping you understand the realities of the freelance life.

Here is an example of two entries I found today while browsing the information under “95 Technology and Science Blogs, Magazines, and Websites that Pay Writers”  on their home page.

The following is a list of 95 technology publishers that accept pitches directly from freelance writers, and pay for the writing they publish. Payment rates in this area tend to be higher than some other categories; blog posts for a programming site are often in the $200 to $500 range. If you’re not sure how to approach these publishers, then be sure to watch this free webinar.

And here are a couple from today’s “24 Free Writing Contests & Cash Grants (Up to $30,000)”, also on their home page.

 

Today, I STRUCK GOLD!  35 Themed Calls for Submissions (Non-fiction, essays, etc.)  This article is what inspired me to write this blog post. It is right up my alley!

Now, I tend to be overly trusting, so these days I scan reviews of EVERYTHING. I was happy to see that there are many others who agree with my positive reaction to Freedom with Writing. Here are a few:

Alex Tucker, Medium.com, and Make Money Online.

If you check out Freedom with Writing, let me know what you think!

Have fun dusting and getting your creative works out there!

 

[“laptop-and-diary-on-table-in-garden-4559527” photo courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels;

Gold photo courtesy of  James St. John at Flickr : “Gold-quartz hydrothermal vein (16 to 1 Mine, Allegheny County, California, USA)” ]

Notes of Encouragement while wandering in the Park

Two things happened recently, one good, and the other… also ultimately good.

The first is that the winter weather finally left, and it’s spring! That is definitely a good thing.

The second is that I was recently laid off from my teaching job. It felt bad at first. But if you believe as I do that God makes all things work together for good for those who love Him, it will turn out for the better. It will be exciting to see how things go!

Anyway, it certainly has its advantages in the short term:

 

 

The combination of these two things has brought about a wonderful change to my schedule. Now that I don’t have to rush around weekday mornings to prepare for–and drive to–work, I can go on early morning walks to the park!

Ahhh. When the sky is clear, I love to grab my camera, and walk a block to the urban park near my home, Fish Creek Park.  It is referred to as one of the largest urban parks in all of Canada, and here it is considered one of the BEST.

First, let me share with you some of the sweet messages of encouragement some very talented artists have created and shared since mid-March. These adorn one of the paths I take when I want the best chance of seeing wild animals.

 

 

 

Notice that not all of these have written messages, word messages. Some are merely pictures. Yet those still convey a message, don’t they?

And I think we’d agree that all give a message of hope and happiness, a warm feeling that yes, “every little thing gonna be alright”.

I hope these made you feel that way, too!

Next, let me share with you a few of the other joys of the morning walks from the past few weeks, mostly birds. More good vibes!

 

Goose and gosling

 

Mallard

 

Morning dew

 

Woodpecker

 

Smiling tree trunk, ha ha!

 

Bald eagle hunting

 

Pelican taking off

 

Yellow-rumped warbler?

 

It is my sincere hope that all of you are well and safe, and that you were able to take a few deep breaths of peace, joy and nature from these photos and messages.  God bless!

For your viewing pleasure: “First Novel”, a NFB film

I hope all of you authors and aspiring authors out there will get a chuckle from this 1958 film. I did, and as a writer I also found it encouraging.

First-novel_18516_XL_bAvVY9B
Actor Len Birman as the author in “First Novel”

While researching video viewing options online, I ran across many sources of entertainment and education (see below), including the National Film Board of Canada. I decided to check out this vintage work because it was about the writing life.

This 30-minute film, “First Novel“, dramatizes the struggles of a novelist. In spite of the excitement of finding a publisher for his book, he gets a reality check from the editor, a visit from a college buddy who wants help to write his own story, and neighbors gossiping about the faithful wife who goes off to work everyday while her bum of a husband “doesn’t work”. And of course he battles self-doubt, and the ever-present worry about the lack of money coming in (look Ma, no pension!).

It has the feel of a 1950s film or television show, wholesome and rather endearing. The author and his wife are being pulled by the typical dilemma of a writer, or any other artist: practicality, or “writing what you want to write and letting the money take care of itself”.

While I watched it, I tried to figure out the purpose of the film. Was it to encourage Canadian authors? (Or discourage them?) I kept waiting for someone to break into the story and say something profound to the would-be-authors in the viewing audience.

The script was co-written by the well-known award-winning Canadian author Mordecai Richler, no doubt inspired by some of his own experiences. “First Novel” also stars Len Birman as the author in one of his first screen appearances.

…And about those other online viewing options, here are a few gems that caught my eye:

PBS: News Hour, and Exploring Antarctica’s Threatened Glaciers.

Open Culture – “The best free cultural and educational media on the web” : watch Cary Grant in the classic comedy “His Girl Friday“, or listen to  Albert Einstein read The Common Language of Science .

Internet Archive – “A non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more”: a weather report from 1974, “The Day of the Killer Tornadoes” (not Tomatoes)

…and speaking of weather, I love the Weather Channel videos, like Let the Weather Come to You, or Rescuing a Moose. Or not so weather-related videos, like Chris Hadfield’s Guide to Self-Isolation.

Pluto TV: All Aboard (train trips in Norway, Spain, wherever–I can’t take my eyes off the screen)

YouTube: Classic movies

and, of course, YouTube: Kitten Academy Live Stream, just purr fun!

Happy Watching!

 

Unsung heroes in Canadian History

I grew up in the U.S. in a predominantly white neighborhood during the sixties and seventies. My city’s school system began forced busing when I was eleven years old, just as I was leaving elementary school and preparing to start junior high. It was a controversy that sparked violence and unrest.

From a social media group established for our 40 year high school reunion, I know that many people of all races suffered from this mandatory integration. Personally, aside from a couple minor incidents, my memories of that time are good.

I enjoyed meeting new friends of all races, and grew in my respect toward my non-white classmates. I am sure that the forced busing policy accomplished some of its goals to intermix blacks and whites successfully.

(If you’re interested, here are two articles I saved from the city newspaper in the early 1970s. One covers a sit-in protest by students, and another shows a more peaceful option for trying to find common ground among different races.)

So did that experience influence the writing of my third book? You decide.

Last year I was pleased to write another educational book intended for the Canadian school curriculum. It turned out to be my favorite so far!

This is the first biographical work I’ve done, and I so enjoyed discovering many unsung heroes!  It was nearly impossible to choose which to include in the book, but I am so happy with how the book turned out. I especially love the many full-sized photos.

Some of the heroes included are:

Rose Fortune, Viola Desmond, Addie Aylestock,

Oscar Peterson, Willie O’Ree, Portia White,

Drake, Phylicia George, and Eugenia Duodo.

I hope you’ll be curious enough to look up these great Canadians!

Black History in Canada is a series of educational books published by Beech Street books. My book is entitled Famous Black Canadians and intended for students in grades 4 through 6.

 

For any teachers out there, you can find the series at Beech Street Books‘ website and order from there, or from Amazon .

 

A German Christmas

Today my post is by a guest author, sharing first-hand memories of what Christmas was like for the children of Germany two generations ago.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

One of us always wanted to be the first to pull the 30th of November off the calendar, because Dec. 1 marked the beginning of the Christmas season.

The Advent calendar was taped on the window pane, the Advent wreath was hung around the kitchen lamp, the stores were suddenly full of wonder and magic and angel hair, and children began to write their Christmas lists.

Mama would say, “Remember, Sankt Nikolaus is keeping books on everything.” Every time she reminded me I tried very hard not to commit the slightest infraction of the rules and never say, or even think an unkind word. To my sister, the angel, that came natural, and the baby had no rules and couldn’t talk. To be quite honest though, I was always tempted to test Sankt Nikolaus’ omniscience – (or mother’s memory, which I suspected of being an able and willing informer). The only thing which kept me from being tagged incorrigible was the thought of Sankt Nikolaus’ fearsome companion, Krampus, who was known to lack understanding for temperaments such as mine.

I suppose the underlying idea which was being instilled in us was that “You can’t have what you wish for unless you earn it with virtue.”

Advent Calendar “Im Lande des Christkinds” (In the Land of the Christ Child)

On the evening of Dec. 6, (Sankt Nikolaus Day), the children in Germany eagerly await, or dread, the “hour of judgment.” Mothers prepare a festive table with Spekulatius and Pfeffernuesse (the traditional Christmas cookies) and lighted candles as a welcome for the honored visitors. Father is, for different reasons, always out until after “it’s over,” and wide eyed, fidgety children sit humbly on the living room floor. (But no matter how hard you try to look humble, you appear to be holding your breath and jump at the sound of the doorbell.)

Our Sankt Nikolaus was a tall, slender, awe inspiring, yet gentle, figure dressed in a white robe trimmed with gold braid. He wore a tall, pointed bishop’s hat set above kindly eyes and a resolute mouth made softer by the white, wavy beard. With a faint smile and soothing voice, he read from the list of nice and naughty things we had done, and he was surprisingly accurate.

“Well, I will see you all again next year, and I trust I will have nothing but good things to say. God bless.” He patted us gently on the head, winked at Mother and slowly disappeared into the hall.

Then suddenly Krampus appeared in the door. My little sister’s eyes widened, and she gripped my arm. And Krampus did look fearsome! Dressed in black from hood to boot, he carried a switch torn from a tree and a rope in one hand, and a sack flung over his shoulder in the other.

Without saying a word…his kind doesn’t talk…they just get physical…Krampus struck the floor with his switch as he aimed for my legs. At that point I thought I would faint. But then he turned on his heels and quickly left the room. How I wished Papa had been there to see such cruelty to helpless children! But fathers are always out of the room then because they have such important things to do.

Mother, who always had that twinkle in her eyes (a mixture of understanding and gentle reproach) looked at us and said, “Now, remember, you have time to make amends; so be good and keep praying for Christkindl to come.”

Every day until Christmas Eve was a new delight. Every morning we would politely take turns at opening a new window in the Advent calendar, would listen with both ears when Mama or Papa spoke, and were grateful for every encouraging note contained in the 24 little drawers of the Christmas House.

Frau Holly, the fairytale lady in the sky, was shaking her featherbeds and pillows just at a time when the layer of snow wore thin under the sleds, or the frozen leaves clung to the boots when we played in the nearby woods.

Frau Holly, you see, would shake the bedding so hard that the seams popped and all the feathers and down spilled out and made the sky white. We would catch the gaily dancing feathers and watch them melt in our hands.

And our little Bavarian town, surrounded by dark, dense, whispering pines, was the loveliest place on earth.

A day or two before Christmas, Papa would cut a fresh tree in the woods so tall that the star which adorned its tip would touch the ceiling. No one was allowed in the living room; all the hoping, the wondering, the preparing, was done in the family kitchen. At 6 o’clock on the dot, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of baked fish was served. The magic hour of 7 o’clock seemed an eternity away.

With pounding hearts and flushed faces and deep faith in Christkindl, we’d wait for Papa to ring the bell from the living room. Then we would all rush to the door at once, and there, in the opposite corner of the room, stood the Christmas tree, decorated with white and silvery balls and angel hair, white candles lit to bathe the room in shimmering light, and Wunderkerzen throwing off sparks reflected in children’s eyes.

Lit candles and Wunderkerzen (sparklers) on the Christmas tree

As Papa passed out the presents, the excitement melted into a warm and sublime feeling of happiness and love.

And I quietly vowed, from that day forward, to always be good and kind and forgiving … just like Christkindl.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Thanks Mom!  I can never hear this story too many times. I love you!

 

 Last summer, visiting my mother’s home town of Bayerisch Eisenstein, Germany, for the first time

For a first-hand telling of my own–rather humorous–childhood Christmases, showing the strong German traditions even while growing up in the U.S., you can read my article here.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoy hearing it. Merry Christmas! And may the Christ child, the Savior, Emmanuel, be with you always.

 

 

Photo credits:  The photo of St. Nikolaus and Krampus is courtesy of Terrie Schweitzer at Flickr, “St. Nicholas and Krampus”, https://www.flickr.com/photos/terriem/11285200115/.    The gorgeous advent calendar is courtesy of Richard Ernst Kepler [Public domain], https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Ernst_Kepler_-_Im_Lande_des_Christkinds.jpg.    The lovely winter scene is courtesy of MaxPixel CC0 Public Domain “Snow, Snowfall, Lantern, Lights, Light, Christmas, Mood” https://www.maxpixel.net/Christmas-Snow-Lights-Lantern-Light-Mood-Snowfall-1782614 .  The above black and white photos are from my mom’s scrapbook, and the last color photo is from my camera.

Banff Bison – Sustainability in Canada’s Ecosystems

Ever since I learned about Canada’s ecosystems while researching my book Respect Our World-SustainabilityI have had the topic on my radar. I am very thrilled about Parks Canada’s announcement that after 140 years of absence, bison have been reintroduced to Banff National Park!  Right in my backyard!

This is not only an ecological triumph, it is also a move to show respect and a spirit of reconciliation with our First Nations people throughout the country, who are very near and dear to my heart.

Treat yourselves to an inspiring story, and some gorgeous scenery in this video!