Monthly Archives: December 2013

Merry Christmas Eve

Copyright 2013 Max Muir

Copyright 2013 Max Muir

There are so many memories now of Christmases from long ago … and others from not quite so long ago. Music and candles, the Christmas story and excitement flood my memories of Christmas Eve. Some component of the three of us kids were practicing in the afternoon for songs to be presented in the evening. Mom was doing her best to keep us on task, while finishing the last few tasks for Christmas morning. Dinner would come early and then we would leave for the church.

Christmas programs were finished, gifts were purchased and (mostly) wrapped, and travel plans had been executed. After a few days away from school, we were excited to see our friends once more, knowing that the next time we did, there would be stories to tell and new things to show off.

A sense of reverence would fall across the sanctuary as people began to imagine the momentous occasion they were about to celebrate. The birth of a tiny boy in a manger, his parents were just simple folk. Such an innocuous entrance for one who would bring the light of God to all humanity. Jesus Christ came to earth … holiness descended upon the world.

I’ve shared this poem that Mom wrote in 1969 before. Parts of it may seem dated, but they really aren’t. We have been given the gift of love and reconciliation. How we choose to accept and honor that gift is up to us.

Holy Child
Margie Greenwood
Dec. 13, 1969

Peace on earth! Good will to men!
The sounds ring out with bell-like tone.
Yearly, the tarnished words again
Stand starkly naked . . . alone!

Amid the tinsel, glitter, laughter,
The message of that grown Child
Who spoke of love, peace ever after,
The man who walked the second mile,
Is guiltily hidden deep down
Under mounds of gifts; pushed aside
By fur-clad shoppers who darkly frown
And snatch a bauble with greedy pride.

Peace on earth . . . a hollow joke
to children whose wide dark eyes,
Terror struck at a world blood soaked
Reflect the carnage and the cries.
Mars, god of war, with smoking gun
Stands on the corpse-strewn field.
Discord, his sister, Strife her son,
Triumphantly lift high the shield.

Peace! The lonely cry of long-haired kids,
Plaintive sounds of ancient songs,
Of gentle Friends . . . of Jesus . . . bids
Us hurry to right the devilish wrongs.
The perfect gift cannot be bought,
Nor gaily wrapped, but found again
Within oneself where love has wrought
The miracle: good will to men.

Lion and lamb, white man, black man;
Nations, people, reconciled;
Rejoice and sing, hand in hand,
to us was born that holy Child.

A Froggie Story by Margie Greenwood

Carol brought out a box of pictures and treasures when we were there for Thanksgiving and I grabbed some things so I could scan them. One piece was a short story my mother wrote about Carol and a bean bag frog. It’s so adorable, I had to share it.

These bean bag frogs were a favorite of Mom’s and apparently, Carol’,s too. Mom made them as gifts for several years. Each of us kids had one at one time or other. Such a simple pattern, so easy to make and they were a lot of fun. I’d forgotten about them until I read this. 

Carol and Her Froggie
A Short Story by Margie Greenwood

James Arthur’s sister, Carol, is two years older than he and she lived in the room across the hall with her big sister, Diane.

Three kids Sept 1969Now Carol is an especially beautiful young lady, with very curly brown hair, a ribbon bow mouth and snapping green eyes. She also has a dimple in the very middle of her chin. Sometimes Carol has a small case of the sulks and then her dimple grows very big as her eyebrows and mouth try to meet at her nose. Usually, however, she is smiling, laughing, and dancing.

One day a friend of Mommy’s brought her a funny green bean bag frog like the ones Mommy used to play with when she was a little girl. Mommy sat the frog on a lamp in the living room. When Carol came home from school that day, she knew something was different. She looked around the living room and there sat the friendliest frog you ever did see.

“Oh, Mommy. Can I play with it?” she pleaded.

Mommy said Carol had to keep the frog very clean since it was a special frog.

Carol tenderly lifted the frog from its perch and cradled it in her arms.

“You’re really beautiful, little frog,” she crooned. Carefully she carried the frog up to her bedroom and climbed up on her bed where she laid the frog on its back on her pillow. Then she got off her bed to look for a little piece of material to keep the new frog warm!

She searched through the toy chest, but couldn’t find anything suitable.

“Oh yes!” she said aloud. “I’ll use a wash cloth,” and she ran back downstairs to find the softest wash cloth she could find. When she returned, she looked at her pillow, but it was empty.

“I’m sure I put the frog on my pillow,” she said as she looked on the little bookcase beside her bed and on the floor. She even got down on her knees and looked under the bed. But she couldn’t find the frog.

Perplexed, she climbed on her bed again and slipped her bare feet under the covers for they were just a little chilly.

“Ohh! What’s that?” she shouted and flung back the blankets.

There was the bean bag frog lying on its stomach staring at her with its funny wiggly eyes.

“What in the world are you doing under there froggie?” she asked and started to pick up the frog.

“I was cold!” a strange, croaky voice replied.

“What?” said Carol, her hand hanging in mid-air. “I thought I heard a voice. Daddy, are you there? Are you playing a trick on me?”

Carol’s daddy thought he was quite a ventriloquist and often pretended he was speaking for one of their toys. Of course, Carol, Diane and James Arthur knew it was Daddy talking, but they didn’t want to make him feel bad, so they pretended their toys could talk.

Carol jumped off her bed and looked out the bedroom door. She peered under the twin beds. She even looked in the closet, but Daddy was not there.

“Maybe I just THOUGHT I heard a voice,” she said to herself and slowly walked back to her bed. The frog had disappeared again! This time Carol threw the covers back completely, and there was the bean bag frog down at the very bottom of her bed.

“Poor froggie, are you afraid of your new home?” and again, she reached out to pick it up.

“Certainly not!” The same deep gravelly voice replied. “It’s just that I’m still quite new, and I’m dreadfully cold.”

Carol stared in shock at the bean bag frog. It had to be the frog talking. No one else was around. James Arthur was outside, Diane was reading downstairs and Mommy was working in the kitchen.

She lay down on the bed with her head close to the frog.

“I’ve got a nice blanket here for you. See if this doesn’t help,” and she laid the soft wash cloth on the frog’s green back.

“Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you so much little girl. I say. What’s your name, if it isn’t too presumptuous to ask?”

“I’m Carol Greenwood. Why do you talk so funny? You don’t sound like my family?”

“Of course, of course, dear child. I’m made from imported English cloth. Hoist the mainsails! Watch the halyards there, boys. Lower the anchor, swabbie. Oh I do beg your pardon. I’ve got to watch my tongue. You see, my imported English cloth is stuffed with navy beans. I guess I’m just a very nautical English frog, aha, aha, aha!

Carol was extremely interested in the conversation and thought this was surely the most amazing thing that had ever happened to her.

“Would you be so kind as to sit me up, please?” the frog requested politely.

Carol sat the frog upright and then asked, “What is your name?”

The frog lowered its funny eyes and Carol was sure a little pink blush stole over its green plaid cheeks. The frog lifted one arm and beckoned Carol a little closer until the frog’s head was right next to Carol’s left ear.

“Ellie Mae,” it whispered and fell over sideways.

“What a beautiful name,” Carol exclaimed. “It just fits you.”

Ellie Mae peered up at Carol.

“Oh, do you really think so. It sounded so … so … so common. I thought Guinivere or Lady Sarah Heddington Thornton or even Victoria would have been (she pronounced this like a green bean) much more appropriate.”

Carol clapped her hands in delight. What a funny frog!

“Let’s keep this a secret, Ellie Mae. I don’t think anyone would really believe you talk anyway, so let’s not tell anyone quite yet.” Carol said.

“Certainly, my dear. It will be a jolly good show. Hip, hip, hoorah. Slip the oars, mates and hoist the anchor!” Ellie Mae cried.

Carol didn’t think Ellie Mae really knew what she was talking about, but it did sound cute. She picked Ellie Mae up and put her on her shoulder.

“It’s time for supper, Ellie Mae. Let’s go eat.” Carol ran lightly down the stairs and Ellie Mae clung tightly to her neck.

“Put the frog down, Carol,” Mother said, “and go wash your hands for supper.” Carol sighed and put Ellie Mae on the brown chair near the kitchen table.

“Be real quiet,” she warned. Ellie Mae gave her a big wink.

Paper Boxes

I love paper. I come by it honestly, my mother was an addict and taught me at a young age to love the stuff.  Mom kept Carol and me quiet by giving us a package of paper and sending us off to play. Fashionable purses and other fun things were created at the table. We played school and when Mom got involved, our creative minds exploded. She drew extraordinary paper dolls for us and from there we designed glorious clothes for those beautiful dolls.

A piece of paper meant a bigger world for me.

Owning a print shop made paper available on a large scale and let me tell you, after twenty years of having any paper at my finger tips, I was spoiled. But in the business of having paper around every day, I’d lost my joy at simple things. Now that I must hand over cash in order to have paper in my drawers again, it means more to me.

I don’t suppose I meant to get all philosophical. Really all I wanted to do was tell you how much fun I had making a little box this morning.

Paper boxesI made two of these so that I could have a lid as well. The bottom of the box is made from a 6″ square piece of cardstock and then I cut a 6.25″ square for the top. It was fun and it took me back about forty years to a time when a little pile of paper meant an afternoon of creative exploration. Oh, what I could have done with a Fiskars paper cutter back in those days!

Here are the directions – they get a little over-the-top detailed at the end, but all in all, a great little project and an opportunity for me to make a gift box or several this Christmas. I think the next time I make this, I’m going to print a Christmas pattern onto the paper, bring out the box of crayons and lose myself in the absolute joy of it!

Christmas Memories

Christmas at the Greenwood house was always interesting. How Mom managed to make it merry with everything else that was happening, I don’t know, but it was her favorite holiday and she made sure we had fun.

When we were very young, the whole family would head out to a tree farm for a tree. It couldn’t be any tree, it had to be fresh. In fact, it couldn’t just have been a cut, fresh tree, Mom insisted that poor Dad dig it out of the ground and keep the root system. He did that twice and both trees ended up at the cabin. One of them was so messed up, that the poor tree had a long trunk and a nice pine top. Neither of them lived very long, but long enough for Mom to justify her request.

Christmas 1971 - three kids on couchTwo of those and Dad discovered that he could find just enough money to purchase a very attractive artificial tree.

I remember walking through department stores and wishing for all of the latest toys and gadgets … yes, even in the late sixties, toys and gadgets were on my wishlist. We couldn’t afford them. I knew that. But, on the endcaps were all of these brightly packaged items that I knew I should own. Mom never apologized for not purchasing everything for us, she made it quite clear that we couldn’t afford it and oh, by the way, our lives probably wouldn’t be any worse for not having those things.

But, that isn’t to say she didn’t work to make Christmas morning amazing for us. I remember sitting with at least Carol, and probably Jim as well, in the doorway of the room where she worked. We heard the sewing machine going and she’d talk to us through the closed door, tantalizing us with creative descriptions, never giving things away.

She would send one of us to count the gifts under the tree, knowing that the anticipation would keep us occupied and ensuring that no one got more than another. Dad got caught up in creating gifts for us as well.

When we were young, he and Mom couldn’t afford play house items, so they built them. A fun refrigerator and stove with cupboards were made. He put them together, she painted the details. We played with those for years until we moved to Sigourney and they ended up in one of the kids’ Sunday School rooms downstairs.

Christmas 1970s 2For someone who didn’t learn to sew until she was in her twenties, Mom was amazing. I remember the year she made me a beautiful, brown, fake (not even faux, this was just plain fake) fur maxi coat (it was the seventies). That year she made a fabulous, big, floppy, stuffed white dog for Carol’s gift. There were always wonderful items of clothing for us and it never occurred to us that store-bought was better. She was awesome.

Dad always purchased at least one fun gift for us. There were roller skates and I was surprised to see that Jamie and Carol both received hockey sticks one year. That seems almost dangerous. There were big gifts hidden in other parts of the house and Dad loved nothing more than playing the “hot-cold” game with us.

Christmas 1970s 1My grandfather and his brother owned a printing shop in upstate New York. They sold it to his brother’s son, who turned it into a wonderful business, but one year we received this immense bolt of holly printed wrapping paper. Every year we would bring it down from the attic and use as much of it as we pleased and every year, we would take it back up. When we pulled the last of it off the center cardboard roll, we were aghast. It was time to purchase wrapping paper.

I wish I remembered all of the gifts that were in those packages, but they are simply things that have come and gone in our lives. The memories I have are vague and faded, but anchored in laughter and joy.

May your Christmas be filled with love, laughter and joy.

Bathrooms, Closets and Dead Men’s Shoes

This afternoon I was going through some old pictures I scanned a couple of years ago in order to burn them to a CD. My brother’s daughter is looking for pictures of my parents. She never knew Mom and what she knows of Dad was after he’d retired because of Parkinson’s Disease. That is such a compact period of time in his life.

1966 Diane in bathroomPictures have always been a vehicle by which we told stories. When I came across this picture, I chuckled, because I wanted to hear this story over and over, even if it was short and really silly. Even now, though, I think of Mom’s laughter as she told the story of finding me curled up on the floor of the bathroom, sound asleep.

Mom and Dad’s bedroom was at one end of the hall and the bathroom was at the other end. However, the television was in their room and they stayed up long after we’d gone to bed watching some of their favorite shows. Not only that, for some reason or other, their closet light was often on. So, when one of us kids would get up to go to the bathroom, our bleary-eyed half-asleep selves would walk to the light, rather than the bathroom.

That night, I had walked into their bedroom and Mom immediately knew what was happening. She managed to get my attention and gave me strict orders as to what I was to do next. I was to go to the bathroom, then go to sleep. I did exactly that. I went into the bathroom, and when I was finished, curled up on the rug and went to sleep. When they found me, a picture was required, because of course there would be stories to tell as I grew up.

Now, I wasn’t the only one attracted to that closet light. They couldn’t get my brother to wake up enough one night to redirect him and before Mom could stop him, he’d managed to pee in one of Dad’s shoes. Without a word, he went back to bed and Mom and Dad just sat there in bed, stunned into silence. They didn’t get a picture of that, but the story has stayed alive for more than forty years.

Because this is an equal opportunity story blog and I’m thinking about Dad’s shoes, let me tell you what Carol believed about his footwear.

When we were young, Dad visited a recently widowed woman, offering comfort to her after her husband had just died. She asked him what size shoe he wore and when it was the exact size that her husband wore, offered him two brand new pairs of his style of shoes. Of course he accepted. Not having to spend money on shoes would make it much easier to feed his family.

At dinner that evening, he and Mom more than likely talked … and laughed … about the fact that he was wearing a dead man’s shoes. Those words sunk into Carol’s head … for good. They must have laughed about that story for several years after that, because poor Carol believed that ALL of Dad’s shoes from then on came from dead people.

It wasn’t until she was out of college that she discovered it wasn’t true and Dad actually bought shoes to wear on his feet.

Our stories are always important. Pictures remind us how to tell those stories.  Pull them out as often as possible, laugh and enjoy the memories and the stories. Even now as your kids are older, they still want to hear their stories from your memories.

Pumpkin Bars / Cream Cheese Frosting

I love pumpkin. When I was young and mom would ask what dessert I wanted for my birthday, it was pumpkin pie before chocolate cake every time.

Pumpkin BarThis recipe for pumpkin bars is the best I’ve ever eaten. It is incredibly moist and the taste is out of this world. I’ve eaten other’s bars and am always disappointed. But I’ve never been disappointed in this recipe.

1 C. oil
2 C. sugar
2 C. pumpkin (1 can)
4 Eggs

2 C. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. soda
1/2 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon

Mix together and put in large greased jelly roll pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

If you’re smart, you’ll also use this amazing (and simple) cream cheese frosting recipe. It will cover the entire pan of bars. I always make plenty because my family seems to like it better than the bars themselves.

Cream Cheese Frosting

6 T. softened butter
3/4 lb. powdered sugar
3 oz. cream cheese (softened)
2 T. milk
1 t. vanilla

Mix together – spread on pumpkin bars (or anything else).

Deadlines, Writing and Food

I have a tendency to create deadlines for myself and when I push up against them, the next thing I do is is fight like crazy to meet them. It’s always been that way. I do my best work when I am meeting a deadline.

This week’s is for me to finish writing this novel. I’m so close. It’s no longer a matter of thinking about the creative process, it’s pushing through … writing and doing the work. There is nothing other than for me to keep plugging away. That’s something I do well. When in doubt, I work.

One M&MWhen it is time for me to hunker in and work, I hate having to think about other things, especially feeding myself. I want it to be easy, without any thought.

My family knows this about me, even better than I know it, I guess.

Two M&MsWhen I got home I found M&Ms on my desk. Max was ready for my addiction. There wasn’t just one bag waiting for me, there were two. He always has M&Ms for me, he’s found it to be much easier to put up with me if I have that mood-altering substance around. He was a little surprised when I packed both of them to come back with me, but I knew he’d have more for the next time I walk into the house.

If that wasn’t enough, Carol totally set me up for a return to writing. I came back with turkey leftovers and then she started cleaning out her freezer for me. When Carol cleans out her freezer, it’s a lot of fun! I got bagels and hummus and then she unloaded these awesome microwaveable Chinese dinners at me. I couldn’t believe it. Living out here in the sticks, my little grocery store doesn’t have a lot of exotic choices for food and good Chinese food is one of those things I miss … a lot

I don’t know if Carol was being nice to me or attempting to get rid of things she didn’t really think she’d use. She has a tendency to do that to me sometimes. I’ve always covered for her when it came to weird and odd foods.

Chinese FoodLong ago, she and I were invited to a party at a friend’s home. The woman was a world traveler and had collected beautiful items throughout her entire life. The floors were covered with not one Persian rug in each room, but there were rugs piled three and four high in each room. No flat space was left uncovered, they were filled with beautiful antiques.

Jane loved food and always put together extravagant and exotic dishes for her parties. That evening, Carol and I were chatting with other party goers and in a small room, surrounded by beautiful things. One of the tables had a tray filled with different types of caviar and crackers. Neither of us had ever eaten that before, so it was going to be a good opportunity to try something new. I put a little dab on a cracker and didn’t like it at all. Way too salty. Carol, however, took one bite and nearly gagged. Then, she didn’t know what to do with the rest of the cracker, so she handed to me, pleading in her eyes. I ate it. Of course I did.

We got into another room and someone handed Carol a cup of spicy tomato juice. She took a sip and … again with the eyes. She handed the cup to me and of course, I finished it, there was really no other choice.

It’s always been that way. Carol knows that I’ll take the gastronomical hit for her. But sometimes, she comes through for me and fills my cupboards and refrigerator with things that will take care of me while I dig down and work this week.

TB is covered. I got a big bag of cat food last week. He won’t starve either. I just need to find ways to keep him entertained when my brain is trying to assemble pieces of a plot into a chapter.