Never Challenge your Sweet Grandma, She’ll Cheat

The best part about the holidays are the cards, the kind that require a stamp, not the click of a button.

I blame my grandma for these die-hard feelings. Her holiday decorations were her cards and I took up the cause as soon as I was old enough to afford stamps. I can’t remember when the family issued a “friendly” challenge to receive the most cards but soon it was down to just me and my grandma.

As the years went by, I might have accused her of pulling a Pete Rose (for non-Cincinnati Reds fans that means cheating). She might have responded by sending me this photo. So then official (agreed upon) referees had to be recruited to ensure card count accuracy and start/end dates were extended to increase our odds. It was on.gma1Suddenly she started organizing a holiday card exchange program for her entire apartment complex, her bingo club and even got my aunt’s 1st year class involved in making cards. I took my battle to the internet and organized as many card exchange programs as my social groups would tolerate.  As hard as I tried, I could never defeat my grandma. During her last year, she was transferred to an assisted living home and due to poor health was unable to send out her cards. Not accepting her defeat, I asked an aunt to copy her address book. So along with sending out my cards, I sent out all her cards with a message to send correspondence to her room at the assisted living home. I regret not being back in Ohio to see her but I heard her room was bursting with holiday spirit from all the cards. Thus, during our final year of competition, I made sure my grandma beat me to smithereens.

gma2I really miss her.

This year I found a way to honor her and reminisce about having a large quantity of quality cards.  As a volunteer holiday decorator for the Pittock Mansion, I convinced my group to decorate our room with the theme of “Holiday Cards”. I begged and pleaded for cards from my family, friends, and social acquaintances, resulting in hundreds of cards to use as decorations. We have a tree stuffed with gold Christmas cards, we made wreaths out of children’s crafted cards but my masterpiece is the Christmas card tree frame (102 inches tall, 55 inches wide, and with ten themed tiers that took me two days to constructs with 3 rolls of duct tape). If you are in the Portland Oregon area, it’s a great place to visit during the holidays. If not, here are some photos –

IMG_0171IMG_0133card2

PURE GRIT: A Story of Friendship and Courage

The holiday season is when I miss my family the most. It’s when I really notice the long distance between the States and Europe, where they all live. It is also the time of year when I am forever grateful of my friends and how much support and encouragement I gain from them. They have become my family and I lean heavily on them, especially my women friends.

And so it seems fitting that as we enter the frenzied holiday season, we take a small break and talk about PURE GRIT. An amazing book by author Mary Cronk Farrell that tells the story of how American World War II nurses survived battle and prison camp in the pacific. The courage of these women will astonish you and the strength of their friendship humble you.

I am very happy to welcome Mary to See Jane Publish for an interview about her thrilling and well researched book. One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of PURE GRIT, but first, here’s a blurb from Mary’s website:

Nine hours after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they attacked American bases in the Philippines. One hundred American military nurses stationed at those bases were hit with an on-onslaught of wounded and dying men–but the women had never been trained in combat medicine!

They had deployed to the Philippine Islands to enjoy a life of ease in a tropical paradise. But now, Army and Navy nurses rose to the occasion and learned combat nursing while bombs exploded around them.

When American forces retreated into the jungle, the women went ahead and set up combat hospitals. They were the first large group of American women ordered into combat. When American forces eventually surrendered on Bataan and Corregidor–the women were captured by the Japanese and 77 of them spent three years in prison camps before being liberated by General MacArthur’s men in 1945….PURE GRIT tells the story of these brave women’s survival through diaries, documents and rare historical photos. This little known story of courage and sacrifice will renew your faith in the resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

And now, my interview with Mary:

1) Tell us a little about the events that lead up to you deciding to write this book.
I was trying to write fiction when I first heard about the WWII POW nurses. I’d been struggling after my first novel came out, having all sorts of doubts about whether I was real writer, and whether I should keep plugging away at it.
I knew instantly that these women’s story deserved to be told. I had never learned about women prisoners-of-war in school and I thought today’s kids should not suffer the same deficit. But writing the story would be the hugest research project I’d ever contemplated, so that kind of scared me and I put it on the back burner while I finished my novel. It was when my agent had no luck selling my novel that I found the courage to jump in and tackle this story. I didn’t know if my writing career would survive and I figured it might help to learn how these women survived their ordeals, which were much worse than anything in my life–months of nursing on the front battle lines, three years imprisonment, starvation, disease, homesickness and isolation Read the rest of this entry

It’s a Party: Holiday Wreath Tradition

wreath2This past weekend I gathered friends and family together for what has become an annual tradition: A Christmas Wreath Decorating Party.

It began over ten years ago, when I was all thumbs at wreath wrapping and bought craft supplies at the Big Box Store places. The grand vision at that time was something along the lines of wouldn’t these make great hostess gifts. Since then, there’s been quite the shift.

1. I’ve become the mountaineer hostess, gathering all the “forest” supplies.

2. My wreath crafting skills have gone from sucko to pretty good.

3. Summer garage sales are my go-to source for everything from wreath frames to ribbon and flocking and shiny decorations.

Just add a dozen or so guests, music, wine, snacks… and hilarious Christmas themed hats for all (also a garage sale score, and entire box of 30 brand new Christmas hats for $3 last August).

While I haven’t exactly felt like celebrating anything this past month, and very nearly cancelled the party because of some heartbreaking circumstances, I’m feeling immensely grateful this day-after the party. I’m blessed with good friends and family, and it makes me happy to be able to share the abundance.

Winter dreaming

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In nature, winter is a slower time. Water freezes, birds hunker down, bears hibernate, Jessa reads…

Or wants to! But like the rest of you, I’m rushed with holiday fervor. So much to do! So few days on the calendar! Us Janes are taking the month to tell some winter tales, to reminisce a bit. In between mad-housing, of course.

Speaking of houses… That’s the winter memory I want to share today. About how one of the bestest Christmas present of all time that my sister and I ever received, back in the day, was a Barbie Dream House.

Yes, it was pink and girly. And I have no doubt my parents still find small plastic pieces of Barbie-ware decades later strewn in odd corners. But, wow, the adventures that were had in that house… Barbie lived there with a few friends including Starr (was that her name — with the glorious brunette curls and floral etched-on underpants?) and Ken and the other Ken who looked exactly the same as the first Ken except not so dashing because the first Ken was a soldier who had lost his leg in battle and kept secrets stashed in the socket. Sometimes the Star Wars jawas invaded the Dream House in their stolen landspeeder and TIE fighter. Wagon trains of Breyers horses stopped there on their way out West, meaning out to the garden. There was a dinner party once, admittedly, but it ended with Malibu Ken (Barbie had a lot of guy friends) getting stabbed with G.I. Joe’s knife. Barbie was armed with her pink hair dryer but it was really a gun. Long story.

That was the point of course: the stories. Between the ones we made up (we had a list of tropes for the Breyers horses; what I would give to find that now…) and the ones I read in the books I loved even then, my childhood was full of stories.

Luckily, my nephew and niece are great readers so I can get them books and gift certificates to book stores for pretty much any occasion. But I wish I knew more about comics and video games and could share those kinds of stories with them. I feel like I have the nerd cred (see 70s toys above and yes I’m psyched for The Force Awakens!) but I don’t have the time, which sort of bums me out. So many winter dreams…

And at least in my memories I’ll have the Dream House.

(I suspect my parents would be happy if I took it in real life too ;) )

What was one of your extra-awesome childhood gifts? Got any suggestions for good action-adventure video games (though not necessarily bloody — never mind the Barbie dinner parties)? Please share.

If your holidays have been too adventurous already and you need some down-time, I’ve compiled a list of some books on sale here for your reading pleasure. Most of these offers are limited time only.

happy holidays

Black Friday, Credit Card Debt, and Gratefulness

Is Thanksgiving really Thanksgiving without blockbuster deals, frenzied shoppers storming bog-box retailers, and all the media hoopla that goes with the official start of the Christmas season? Has the American “Black Thursday-Friday” eclipsed the actual meaning of Thanksgiving?

Pretty much, yeah. It has.

But the good news is that my least favorite holiday of the year hasn’t eclipsed gratefulness. If anything, more and more people are finding ways to be grateful on a daily basis. I am.

2014 marked some major changes in my life. For over a decade I have more or less been able to support myself through creative gigs and the occasional census/post office/temp gig. This year, I felt the sting of both inflation and credit card debt and wised up to the fact I needed a job. A real job.

It was a huge corner to turn and I am grateful to have navigated it. Grateful to be earnestly paying down that credit debt every two weeks.

I’m also grateful for the six-plus amazing years spent with a Bloodhound by my Frankie Rose Nov 1side – and often at my feet as I wrote. Frankie was eight and a half. She cascaded quickly. I’m grateful for veterinarian Deborah Rotman who came to our home and eased Frankie out of her pain, allowing her fall asleep one final time. In our arms.

Some things are just more important than a fat Thursday newspaper filled with ads, airport traffic jams, and 4 a.m. live news coverage from malls across the United States.

Sure, consumerism has blasted away every shred of the original meaning of these upcoming holidays (What pilgrims? Jesus who?), but it doesn’t mean we can’t find balance and gratefulness.

Every. Single. Day.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t be grateful for your 60” TV for only $299! Or that I won’t be grateful for my half-price Fred Meyer socks that come with free coffee and free donuts on Friday morning. I just saying there is a lot more to holidays, and LIFE, than shopping.

Happy Thanksgiving. May you find gratefulness every day for the next 365.

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