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Confessions of an Ex-director

Once calendars change to December 1, airport authorities turn their attention from averting terrorists to halting the escape of Christmas program directors. Many seek asylum in remote jungles. The most desperate sign up for space shuttle flights.

Why this seasonal exodus? Until Advent, optimistic directors delude themselves that Christmas program rehearsals are going well. Yet choirs have forgotten their music every week. Sixth-grade clarinet players blow the wrong end.

With a turn of the calendar page to December, however, …

Christmas program directors run screaming from holly wreaths and The Salvation Army bell ringers.

Experts say victims of this psychosis, like Grandma, were obviously run over by reindeer. Which explains why anyone would become a Christmas program director in the first place.

The real drama begins when soloists and speaking roles are chosen.  Most Nativity plays include only one Mary, and 49 hopeful candidates — backed by 49 equally hopeful mothers — eye the role. Choosing an Infant Jesus from the cute babies in a nursery is a task no Middle East negotiator should tackle.

Amidst controversy, enter the Advent flu. …

It never picks off a candy cane who speaks one line. No. This deadly illness wipes out leads and entire tenor sections. The Annunciation loses something when a nauseous-looking Gabriel delivers his lines holding a barf bag.

Standing defenseless before hacking, germy choirs, instrumentalists and casts, the courageous director battles a shower of viruses unmatched anywhere in the universe.

But by law, directors are not permitted to die during Advent. So, gulping remedies and popping pills, they face weeks of practices. It is said there are no atheists in foxholes. This also holds true during Christmas program dress rehearsals.

Finally, the Big Day arrives …

… and the cast stuns the director with an incredible performance. They were actually listening when she begged them to warm up horns, annunciate words and not pick their noses.

To be sure, no production escapes imperfection. The angels suffer from static cling. Joseph still doesn’t know how to sit while wearing a dress. And as Wise Men and Shepherds adore the Baby, a borrowed donkey leaves offerings on the hay-strewn floor.

But flawed performances only remind leaders that the original event took place with no rehearsals, except in the Mind of God. And as weary directors everywhere breathe a deep sigh of relief and shelve Christmas music until next August, no one needs to tell them Christmas miracles still happen today.

Have you ever led or participated in a Christmas program? What moment would you most like to forget?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer

snow-bridge-1782614_640O my God, Nanook of the North, a.k.a, my husband, wore a parka and gloves as we walked outside. Too smart to comment, he nevertheless eyed my bare hands and head. But, OMG, when Your big hands toss the first snow like confetti, I want to sense and celebrate every flake.

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Coloring on the Tablecloth?

thanksgivingtablecloth    thanksgivingtableclothiiO my God, if I’d drawn on a Thanksgiving tablecloth as a kid—“No pumpkin pie for you!” But this tablecloth invited rowdy games of tic-tac-toe and connect-the-dots, and kids, young and old, colored it with gusto. OMG, thanks for that wild, wonderful three-day feast! And for the put-my-feet-up quiet now.


Weird Things for Which I’m Thankful

Welcome to my annual appreciation-of-the-odd list.

Wait. Isn’t gratitude against the law during an election year?

Too bad.

Before I dine, I’ll lose the whine and savor what’s extra-fine. Join me, if you’re so inclined.

  • First, I’m thankful the election is over. Enough said.
  • pressurepeachI’m thankful for my Pressure Peach, a squishy, foam rubber peach with a perfect blush. My sister, a weird, wonderful pastor who lives near Atlanta, hoped its therapy would keep me out of jail. Whenever I feel like punting my computer (or a few people I know), squeezing my Pressure Peach restores sanity and makes everything go just … peachy.
  • I thank God for blue jeans that “go” with 1970s T-shirts, button-downs and blazers, sequins or satins. Accessorized with jungle flip-flops or jeweled high heels, jeans go everywhere with everybody. Stains customize their charm. Rips qualify them for designer status. Baggy, saggy or raggy, fitted or faded, yanked from dryer (or laundry hamper in an emergency), jeans are this girl’s best friend.
  • I thank God pens, pencils and paper are still legal. I appreciate computers, especially since my handwriting rivals my two-year-old grandson’s. But my fingers still itch when I spy a freshly sharpened pencil, smell a new notebook, or watch ink flow like dark cream across fresh, untouched paper.
  • I’m thankful gas prices dropped. Sigh. Now they’ll rise a dollar a gallon because I said it. Or because it’s Wednesday. Or because Obama ate anchovy pizza. Still, I’m thankful.
  • I appreciate street lights. They remind me of Thanksgiving cooks — unnoticed until they take time off.
  • I’m thankful for my naked coffee table. No one-of-a-kind knickknacks mar its surface — precious evidence of sticky little grandkid fingers.
  • clocksteveI’m thankful for my mantel clock, all crystal and gold balls that dance in an infinite circle. It keeps lousy time, despite fresh batteries. But my husband gave it to me one Christmas with a note that said his love for me was timeless. So I don’t mind being late to appointments.
  • I’m grateful God didn’t outsource tree creation to me. I would have gotten the fall colors all wrong. I would have used Super-Glue to bind trunk, limbs and twigs in awkward lumps and would have forgotten roots. Winter breezes would have sent trees rolling like giant tumbleweeds, resulting in interesting insurance claims. God, however, engineers elaborate systems to anchor and nurture trees. With an artist’s eye, He arranges bare, elegant, black branches like lines of poetry.
  • I’m doubly thankful God also welcomes the challenge of caring for me and other higher(?) species. Especially during this election year.

What weird things make your odd-Thanksgiving list?





OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Pre-flight Meditations

airport-1543010_640O my God, riding a bicycle to the airport would have been faster than driving the interstates. Security officers searched me and my luggage again. And after tossing trash from my greasy airport breakfast, I realized I’d also tossed my boarding pass. … OMG, maybe You didn’t mean for us to fly?

Whoa, I’ll Be on Facebook Live?

coffeeii-1432034_640Hi, and how are you this evening? Liz Eckardt, the heroine in my books, Secrets of the Amish Diary and Murder Simply Played, and I are having a steaming cup of coffee and warm muffin together. Actually, we’re splitting one pumpkin cream cheese muffin because Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Though I’m probably eating more than she is. …

Liz and I just wanted to let you know I’ll be going live on Facebook next Wednesday, November 16 at 12:30 EDT to tell you a little about the 24-book Amish Inn series. All you have to do is go to Annie’s (my publisher’s) Facebook page and “like” it. Then you can ask any questions you might have about the books, such as:

  • How did Liz, a Boston lawyer, end up solving mysteries in Amish country in Indiana?
  • Why do the covers of Secrets of the Amish Diary and Murder Simply Played include a bulldog? Is he Liz’s, and does he help her solve crimes?

Let’s get our favorite mugs of something hot and yummy, kick back, and share fun moments on Wednesday as you get acquainted with Liz, her Amish cousin Miriam, Beans the bulldog, and other friends living in Indiana’s Amish country!SecretsAmishDiary0001murdersimplyplayedcover-2

Are You California Dreamin’?

rachaelpacificoceanIf The Mamas & the Papas oldie and the first frost sent your thoughts to sunny beaches, sapphire oceans, and picturesque seaside towns, then you have given in to California Dreamin’.

When faced with heralds of approaching winter, we Midwesterners often yearn for a warmer climate. We malign our forbearers for their less-than-insightful migration patterns. It’s all their fault.

During a recent business trip, though, I discovered Californians do not regard their 65-to70ish fall temperatures as warm. While ecstatic Midwesterners kayak in the ocean, the natives huddle around fireplaces, complaining bitterly of the cold.

Despite such hardship, everybody exercises in California. By law, they also must look good. Spandex is the buzzword. Comfy, saggy-baggy sweat suits, beet-red faces, huff-puff breathing and martyred expressions are illegal.

pacificocean-iiNevertheless, California does fulfill fantasies. In Indiana, I cannot drink morning coffee while watching sea otters floating on their backs and dolphins competing in the high jump. No postcard ocean embraces a golden shore while picturesque boats bob with the waves. On these mornings, I might move to the West Coast in a Monterey minute.

Except that the ocean smells fishy.

For centuries, poets and storytellers have lauded the briny, bracing scent of the sea. I find it akin to the perfume of unrinsed tuna cans left overnight in the recycling bin.

Sure, “fresh country air” surrounding an average Indiana hog operation does not caress the sinuses. However, unlike Californian hotel owners, Hoosiers do not throw open windows and doors so guests can savor the aroma.

I do love falling asleep to the rhythm of waves breaking on the shore. But one night, my slumbering mind translated the unfamiliar sound to all-night trouble. Did somebody let a bathtub run over?

God made some of us permanent landlubbers; we are designed to view the ocean, not sail on it. The flip of a gigantic tail beside a California whale-watching boat cannot compare to the flips my stomach makes with each wave. I never see awesome whale tails in Indiana. But I never have been seasick there, either. Not even once.

I miss my guy. I miss the brilliant glow of russet, gold, and flame-colored trees. After meetings end, I board a bus that plows a clogged interstate to San Francisco. In record slow time, we travel through vast fields of artichokes to the airport.

“I’ve driven behind combines that went faster than this,” I tell the driver, who appreciates my Midwestern insights.

pacificoceanWhen the last leaf falls from the trees, California Dreamin’ will overtake me. But right now, I can’t wait to be Back Home Again in Indiana.

Are you a California dreamer? Or does a different paradise fill your autumn dreams?









You Might Be a Camper If …

CamperSome people with zero moral scruples occasionally pretend to be campers. So with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, I describe below what characterizes the genuine article.

You might be a camper if …

… within 24 hours, you can’t distinguish your clean clothes from grimies. Clean dishes from dirty ones. Dry possessions from wet ones. And you really don’t care.

… in 97-degree weather with matching humidity, your first thought is “Let’s build a campfire!” Second thought: “Let’s eat blazing marshmallows!”— though you don’t particularly like marshmallows, blazing or otherwise.

… if ice cream from the camp store supplies 97 percent of your family’s daily calcium requirement.

… you don’t blink an eye when said camp store keeps milk, eggs and fish bait in the same fridge.

… cooking dinner using a saucepan lid and a plastic fork comes naturally.

… you follow strict freshness guidelines: If it floats to the top of the cooler, it’s probably not life-threatening.

… your family shares the land with other species with open heart and mind … though environmental empathy may waver if a family of snakes also chooses your campsite.

… in one weekend, you contribute more blood to the area’s mosquitoes than the Red Cross collects in a year.

… the sight of a bugless bathroom moves you to tears.

… all the money saved in camping rather than staying in a posh resort is spent on calamine.

… you swim in 52-degree water with your kids or grandkids at 6:30 a.m. (“You promised, Grandma!”)

… the pop-up camper collapses and you permit your spouse to convince you this is part of the adventure.

stevecamping… you translate “zero chance of rain tonight” to “wear floaties to bed.” Campers also master the art of sleeping with several family members under a steering wheel.

… having experienced sufficient family time, you strike private deals with the park ranger to lock spouse and kids inside the Nature Center.

Sceptics, having reviewed the above, question, “Why would anyone in her/his right mind leave a clean, convenient, air-conditioned home to vacation in the wilds?”

Campers aren’t in their right minds. (You haven’t deduced that yet?)

Still, though buggy, beleaguered, and occasionally not too bright, if you are a camper, you are uniquely blessed.

Now, you fill in the blank: You might be a camper if …

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer

coffeesheepO my God, thank You for coffee, my fragrant, snooze-busting joy any morning, but especially at 4 a.m. Thanks for my tea-drinking hubby, still buried under covers. And OMG, thank You that despite different brews, different views and different clocks, together we have coffee, tea, and Thee.

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer

Three generations of Cubs fans

Three generations of Cubs fans

O my God, 63 years ago, neither this guy nor I had any idea how our lives would intersect. Or that we would celebrate his birthday weekend with our son and his son. OMG, You are so good! (What fun!—even if the Cubs played their worst game of the season.)