“Trespassers, trespassers,” the trees whispered, so faint the words caught in the wind, somewhere between fantasy and reality.
And so begins my travel essay, Ambergate Chestnuts, which has been accepted for publication by the online travel journal, Intrepid Times. A huge thank you to Jennifer Roberts, Intrepid Times Senior Editor, for accepting the essay, as well as her kind words!
The essay details a hike in England’s glorious Peak District and a chance encounter with a charming grandfather and his naughty grandson. I will share the publication information once Ambergate Chestnuts is live on the site.
When life grows turbulent, I find comfort in imagining myself in a boat with Jesus Christ, navigating a restless sea. The imagery comes from Mark 6:45-51:
“… Christ saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake… He spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then He climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.”
This nautical passage and lesson were first introduced to me by Rev. Karen Hunter (Grace Episcopal Church) in a sermon several years ago. It has stayed with me all this time, as has many of her other writings and sermons. For me, they embody the Christian message of forgiveness, hope, charity, and love.
So I decided a few months ago to share her work through a website I have been volunteer-managing for St. Francis’ Episcopal Church in Grayling, Michigan. St. Francis’ is currently without a full-time priest, and I thought Rev. Karen’s essays from Grace’s newsletters* would make the perfect interim blog. You can find the the blog here, and I hope it will be as inspirational for you as it has been for me.
My niece, 13-years-old at the time, was with me for the Mark 6 sermon. We left the church and turned to each other, saying almost in unison how much we had enjoyed the sermon and that we wanted to be in a boat with Christ. It has since become a catch-phrase for the two of us, sharing a sacred moment and an important memory of how words can give spiritual solace. But even more importantly, it is a reminder of how Christ’s presence is never far away, and how gifted writers and speakers, like Rev. Karen, can bring Him even closer.
The other day, while standing in the front yard, I studied our Christmas tree. Framed by the living room window, it gleamed with red, blue, and green lights. Snow drifted into my shoes, and Rascal, our short-legged, 17-year-old dog, waddled into a snow pile.
A combination of either corgi/German shepherd or black lab/basset hound (depending on the veterinarian you consult), Rascal struggled. I scooped him up before the snow could completely swallow him and placed him on more solid ground.
Early evening settled around us in a peaceful softness—dusky blue light seeped into the white landscape, streaks of red and pink painted the sky a rosy glow, and early stars highlighted the heavens. Rascal rubbed his nose in the snow and stared into space, as if he too appreciated God’s choice of palette.
Our Christmas tree, I decided, had exceeded all expectations. Taken from the Manistee National Forest, it was one of my family’s best trees, not our typical Charlie Brown selection. Homemade decorations, from pine cones and ribbons to twig reindeer to ornaments fashioned by young nieces and nephews, hung from its branches.
While the charm of our tree might have been unexpected, even more surprising had been Rascal’s complete disregard for tree etiquette. Back inside, Rascal once again ignored the tree, refusing to skirt around it, as if the tree were invisible. He made his unsteady way toward my husband on the sofa. Cutting beneath the tree, Rascal’s back rubbed against the lowest branches.
The result of this constant short-cutting is that Rascal wears a perpetual coat of pine needles, which he scatters throughout the house. At first, I frequently swept or vacuumed, but I have surrendered, unable to keep up with the shower of needles. His lack of manners even forced us to secure the tree to the wall when Rascal’s wagging tail tipped it over.
Like the biblical Joseph and his coat of many colors, Rascal too was betrayed by his first family, starting life as a stray, but the similarities end there. Taken in by my sister and her family, greatly loved by my nieces, Rascal has also lived with my mother, and now my husband and I have become his caretakers.
In the end, we have been more his people rather than he being our dog. His genes might have given him a slightly odd physique, but they certainly made up for it in lovability and longevity. For the past 17 years, he has been present through some of my life’s greatest sorrows, unknowingly comforting me and imparting vital lessons.
As Rascal taught me during the Christmas of 2021, expect the unexpected, embrace it if you can. He brought the northern woods inside, spreading needles and twigs everywhere he wandered, forcing me to choose between patience and grace or annoyance and harshness. I chose the former, hoping those two attributes will accompany me wherever I go.
I have been blessed to care for this eccentric mutt, one of God’s helpless, sweet creatures who has shown me companionship, love, and selflessness, made even more meaningful during this season of gratitude.
December 2005 replays in my mind like a Frank Capra movie. The marquee reads: It’s A Wonderful December, but no bank auditors or near-death experiences mar my memory. Time has smoothed the rough edges until all that remains are ski tracks disappearing into deep woods. In my mind, the month was spent on skis, devoid of sleeping, eating or working.
And, based on the snowfall we received, that might have been a possibility. The snow began to fall during early December, leaving our already sleepy corner of northeastern Michigan even drowsier, covered in a thick, white blanket. Ice formed over our inland lake, which moaned and groaned as if protesting the early invasion, and animal tracks crisscrossed our yard.
Cross-country skis leaned against the wall next to the front door, and snow-shoes littered our entryway, slush melting around them. Discarded boots hovered nearby. The snow eased, but the temperatures dipped, preserving our winter wonderland.
One morning, while driving to the Black Mountain Recreation Area outside of Cheboygan, Mich., we took a corner too fast and spun off the icy road. Our car landed in a ditch. Within minutes, a vehicle stopped, and three men tumbled out. Ski boots covered their feet, and they jumped into the ditch with us, pushing and shoving our little car.
Soon the conversation turned to skiing — trail conditions, deep snow and winter’s blessings. Our car was almost forgotten as we swapped stories and shared memories. It seemed as if the early snowfall had infected them the same way it had us, and nothing could damage the cheerful mood. Another Good Samaritan with a truck eventually pulled us out of the ditch. The skiers, their conversation still on snow, clambered back into their vehicle.
Later that month, just before Christmas, we observed Rogers City’s annual holiday celebration. Dozens of trees in Westminster Park brimmed with lights. The moment spun with emotion, and I half-expected Jimmy Stewart to walk down the street, wishing me a happy holiday.
Then, a few days later, the rain arrived, melting the snow, as well as the magic. It was the moment in a Frank Capra movie when the main character tears up, and the audience leaves with a moral message. December 2005 taught me that when nature beckons, I must stop and listen. And if she leaves a gift at my doorstep, crooking a finger at me to step outside, then I have no choice but to follow and unwrap it slowly, enjoying the moment while it lasts.
And I hope you too have similar moments during the upcoming season, where the true meaning of Christmas reaches out and holds you, wrapping you in a peaceful embrace that stretches across the winter and into next year.
(A version of this essay first appeared in the “Quiet Sports Colum” of Whisper in the Woods (Winter 2007/2008).)
This inspirational tale of heartbreak and courage is an intriguing mix of strong characters, redemption, romance, and even a touch of mystery. The plot revolves around 19-year-old Libby Brown’s fight to regain a sense of normalcy after becoming a paraplegic when a snowboarder hits her while she is skiing. Gone are her hopes to attend the Olympics and instead she must learn how to adapt to a life in a wheelchair.
The author, C. Lee McKenzie, has created realistic characters from Libby to her parents to wheelchair-abled friends. Harley, Libby’s buoyant, optimistic friend, is particularly refreshing and inspiring. An amputee, Harley never allows herself to feel anything but enthusiasm for her future. The story is strengthened by the ongoing search for the snowboarder who caused Libby’s accident and was part of a dark alliance to remove Libby from the Olympics.
This is the third young adult novel I have read by Ms. McKenzie, and her writing never disappoints.
An enormous thank-you to NetGalley for providing me with the ARC.
After reading the Wall Street Journal’s five-part series about Facebook, I have decided to permanently delete my FB account. The headlines from the two articles that cemented my decision are: Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Many Teen Girls, Company Documents Show and Facebook Employees Flag Drug Cartels and Human Traffickers. The Company’s Response Is Weak, Documents Show.
And, since I was my sister Kelly’s legacy contact, her account will also be removed. Please know that I didn’t come to this decision lightly, but I truly believe she would agree with my conclusion. However, her website Quilting Cancer is still active, and you can read her writings there, reliving her courage, optimism, and amazing perseverance. You can also purchase her book Quilting Cancer through Amazon (all proceeds go to charity).
She left us five years ago on October 8, 2016 and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. For many of us, she was truly a guiding light, someone who always listened, emanating empathy and patience, despite her own challenges. And I hope, as we approach this five-year anniversary, that her memory clings to all who knew her, making us better people because of her influence and reminding us, that no matter what life throws us, we can conduct ourselves with dignity, graciousness, kindness, and fearlessness.
Another one of my short stories has found a home. Flash Fiction Magazine has accepted Snake Wrangler and the Scorpion Kid for publication. I am always thrilled when an editor likes my work, but this story became the basis for my novel Deathstalker Two-Step, a murder mystery. So, of course, I’m hoping that this is foreshadowing of more good news to come. The writing business is a funny place–you can go through literally years of rejection and then all of a sudden your work is accepted. So to all my writing friends: keep pushing forward and never give up. A publishing contract might be only a few pages away!
I just found out that my short story, The Cowboy and Miss Austen, has been accepted for publication by Inwood Press for its Small Hours anthology. I wrote this story years ago but it’s one of my favorites (a dude-ranch cowboy finds solace in Jane Austen’s books when a guest at the ranch dumps him), so I’m thrilled that it has finally found a home. Yay! It goes to show that perseverance often pays off!
During the spring of 1997, my niece Shaelyn and I stepped into a star-filled night bursting with a celestial glow. Incandescent light from streetlamps pooled nearby but never washed over the dark corner where three-month-old Shae and I stood. She rode in my arms as we left behind my grandfather’s house. Adult chatter and inactivity had stirred Shae into an inconsolable restlessness for which the only cure was movement.
Shae tilted her head back, seeming to forget the dull world we had escaped. The inky night and slivers of twinkling lights mesmerized her. Squirming, she flung tiny hands to the heavens, grasping at the solar system.
My wishes were more earthbound. I simply wanted to memorize the evening, carrying it with me forever. It was one of my earliest experiences as an aunt, the first time I fully understood the breadth of a child’s imagination and a hint at how inspiring my nieces and nephews would become.
As the years went on, Shae never lost her desire for motion. One afternoon, while watching her ride her quarter-horse Billy during a 4-H competition, she again appeared restless. It was easy to imagine Shae and Billy sprinting across the arena and leaping over the fence.
In my mind, she bolted along the sagebrush-dotted fields. Her brown braid bounced on her back. Turquoise eyes narrowed into slits as she surveyed her escape route. Then she vanished from sight, a tiny speck galloping toward the Owyhee Mountains.
That scene grew in my imagination. Taking pen to paper, I transported Shae back to the late 1800s, added a lariat to her saddle, and ended up with a novel, The All-True Adventures of Shaelyn Cheyenne.* Her wonderful name—a mixture of Celtic princess, Shaelyn (meaning “one whom is noble” or “from the fairy palace”, depending on the source)—and rodeo queen, Cheyenne—had always deserved to be part of a title or on a marquee.
But the real Shaelyn was, of course, my preferred companion over the fictional one. From bike rides to Barbie dolls to books like The Napping House and a love for Harry Potter recorded books, we shared hours of entertainment and companionship.
I was there on the first day she skied and later marveled at her ability to snowboard. The poetry she wrote for a high school project impressed me with its depth—yet she was completely unaware of her talent—while her ability to mimic always made me laugh.
And now the girl who wanted to capture that starry night almost 24 years ago has her own baby, Hayden Kelly.
She has opened her heart to not only a daughter but a family, including husband Joe and two-year-old Max. In Shae, I see her mother, my sister Kelly—both full of unconditional love and selflessness.
Shae continues to inspire, to be everything that I observed when she was a girl; however, her influence has strengthened beyond merely adventures and games. She has grown into a loving parent, niece, and sister.
In a sense our positions have reversed—when she was little, I tried to be her example. But now I follow her lead.
Happy birthday, Shae! Here’s to many more starry memories and a lifetime of inspiration!
* The plot involved a quest to rescue a kidnapped mythical horse—think the 1960s TV show The Wild Wild West.