25 01, 2021

Pandemic Puzzle Panacea

By |2021-01-24T16:11:51-06:00January 25th, 2021|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|1 Comment

My love of puzzles began as a child and hasn’t diminished as I’ve grown older. The joy I find in working puzzles has been a blessing with this pandemic isolation.

There’s always been a puzzle on a table around my house. I graduated from working puzzles on the dining room table or a card table set up in the bedroom I shared with my sister to a real puzzle table made especially for puzzles.

I loved that puzzle table. Plenty of room for all the pieces.

Plus, the proximity to the roaring fire was wonderful during those long, cold Colorado winters.

 

Sadly, there was no place to set it up in the new house when we returned to Texas. I’m back to a card table in a corner of the living room.

Covid-19 has fueled a pandemic puzzle pandemonium as an antidote to the boredom it’s brought. Lots of people are working on them, and many are posting their finished products on Instagram with different hashtags like #puzzleaddict.

Solving a puzzle can offer a diversion and take the mind off everything else that’s going on. Creating order out of a pile of chaos gives the solver a sense of triumph over anxiety.

Psychologists say figuring out where each puzzle piece goes, categorizing, sorting, and searching for pieces all serve as “play therapy,” which can mitigate anxiety and other stressors. Puzzling also offers tactile lessons in patience…most of the time.

I looked for a new holiday puzzle last year. Demand for puzzles made the search nearly impossible. Last March, one game maker reported U.S. puzzle sales up 370%.

I was so excited when I finally found one I liked on Amazon, but I goofed when ordering, I didn’t read the fine print.

The puzzle arrived, and I discovered the pieces were not standard cut, but random, weird sizes cut on angles and curves. My pandemic panacea flipped into a tactile lesson in frustration.

Fitting the pieces together is taking forever. Using sorting boxes for pieces hasn’t even helped. I’m starting to wonder if Santa and the deer will be complete by Easter.

4 01, 2021

Discovering My Nativity’s Provenance

By |2020-12-26T10:23:05-06:00January 4th, 2021|A Writer's Life, Holidays|4 Comments

If I had decorated for Christmas this year–which I didn’t–I would now be taking decorations down and storing for next Christmas.

We had a painter working to rejuvenate the outside of our almost forty-year-old home. He did a fabulous job painting and power washing. The house looks clean and fresh. Unfortunately weather delays meant he didn’t finish until December 23. We decided it was too late to put up decorations only to take them down three days later.

Not decorating gave me extra time to read subscription blogs, which had piled up like old newspapers used to do.

Image via Megan Hanlon

Imagine my surprise when one of my favorite blogs, Her View From Home popped up with a picture of my nativity angel and a heart-warming blog.

Turns out Her View from Home blogger, Megan Hanlon had the exact same manger I have when she was growing up. Only the angel she’d named Gloria and loved playing with as a child had gone missing by the time she inherited the set.

I’d received my nativity set as a thank-you for an estate sale I’d done many years ago. I always said someday I’d research its origin, or provenance. Never did.

Ms. Hanlon wanted a replacement Gloria to share her memories with her children. She searched the web. Finally, on eBay, she located “a white box with an outdated Sears & Roebuck Trim Shop logo and a picture of four figurines: a guitar-playing lad, a bearded man carrying a basket of bread, an angry camel, and a ginger-haired angel in a blue dress draped with a banner that proclaimed “Gloria.” All the pieces were there according to the listing.

She’d found her Angel Gloria replacement and, thanks to her blog, I now know where my set came from and its age.

Figures were missing from mine too—the four additional characters. I only had Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus and a homemade manager structure. No sheep or shepherds, no camel,  no “guitar-playing lad” or “man with a basket of bread,” and no Magi.

Missing Magi didn’t matter to me. Those kings didn’t show up at the manger anyway, but arrived later where Jesus lived as a small child. The sheep and shepherds I substituted from other sets. I’d bought a shepherd playing bagpipes in Ireland that I use. Still no man with a bread basket, but I may search eBay to complete my set with those original pieces.

For sure, next year when I set up my nativity for Christmas, I’ll be smiling and thinking of Ms. Hanlon’s children playing with her Gloria angel.

You can read her touching blog about “Finding Gloria” here.

21 12, 2020

A Much-Needed Holiday Tradition in a Pandemic Christmas

By |2020-12-21T05:56:23-06:00December 21st, 2020|A Writer's Life, Holidays|0 Comments

A long time ago, I began including newsy letters in our Christmas card greetings. In the beginning I wrote out the notes on individual cards.

With the introduction of word processors, I began to mass produce the letter. I know, I know some people loathe mass printed letters in cards, but I love them.

Keeper of things that I am, I have copies of every letter I’ve written, and there are a lot. The youngsters in that first picture card are all now parents and two are grandparents!

Last year for Christmas, we copied and compiled all the letters into notebooks for each of the children.

While it was never my intent to record family history, the letters are a memoir of sorts.

Reading through them sure brought back memories for all of us.

 

We’ve moved a lot between our military years and corporate days. I count Christmas greetings from friends with letters inside a real blessing, especially since our in-person visits are limited these days.

This year more than ever, we need to count blessings. Name them one by one as the old hymn says. If you don’t like the Christmas letter idea, it’s still a good idea to take some time to write down what’s been good this year. Remembering happy, positive things can, in turn, lift our spirits.

After the year we’ve had, I’m all for lifting spirits. How about you?

As 2020 comes to end (at last), it’s time for Chicken Wrangler Sara and me to begin our annual holiday break. See you back here on January 4 with new thoughts and views from the front porch.

Until then, enjoy the archives. We’ve been doing this since February 20, 2012. Hard to believe, isn’t it? There’s lots to browse.

7 12, 2020

Christmas Traditions during a Pandemic

By |2020-12-01T15:07:54-06:00December 7th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Holidays, Writer's Life|0 Comments

Christmas 2020 will be different. That shouldn’t stop us from all our traditions.

One of my familiar things to do is watch A Claymation Christmas Celebration. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed a real treat.

The program aired on CBS TV in 1987 and  won a 1988 Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. We watched the show live and then for years afterward popped our video in the VCR to kick-start the holiday at our house. It’s available on YouTube nowadays.

The animation is something called stop motion clay animation that rivals some of today’s high tech productions.

So what’s the story about?

Two prehistoric dinosaurs one named Rex, an intellectual tyrannosaurus, and the other Herb, a dimwitted, bespectacled styracosaurus with a voracious appetite, are the main characters. The pair guides you along a typical small town’s Christmas choral celebration with various Christmas carols preformed. The California Raisins are special guest stars.

Throughout the story, Rex tries to explain the true pronunciation and meaning of the term wassail. Different groups sing their rendition, all of which are lyrically incorrect.

Finally, a large truck loaded with elfin, cider-swilling townsfolk arrives, singing the correct version. When one of the townies explains wassailing means going around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols and getting treats and cordials, Rex’s theories are validated, much to his delight.

My favorite carol from the show is “We Three Kings.”

The Walrus ice-skating to “Angels We Have Heard on High” is a very close second.

 

If you want, you can watch the full thirty-minute show on YouTube here.

For repeated viewing, you can purchase your own VHS video from Amazon or a DVD with Will Vinton’s Claymation productions for Easter and Halloween.

19 10, 2020

Digging Ditches and Writing Novels

By |2020-10-19T08:29:12-05:00October 19th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life, Writing Craft|1 Comment

I’m working away — in fits and starts — on the next novella in my Fitzpatrick Family series. But something’s bothering me about the story. The words aren’t flowing.

I attributed my lack of word flow to pandemic brain fog and put the manuscript aside to watch the drainage ditch being dug in our front yard.

Distraction comes easy when you’re stuck.

The ditch work on the main road in our subdivision had finally been completed. We live on a side street and, after three years, it was our turn.

I stood watching like an awe-struck kindergartner listening to his teacher read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel named Mary Ann. Written by Virginia Burton, it was my son’s favorite story book.

steam shovel, Judythe MorganThe shovel bucket started at the top of our rise then went down the slope adjusting the depth with each shovel load.

One scoop after the other. Not one scoop on our side of the street and another scoop across the street.

But one after the other down our side of the road. dump truck, judythe morganScoop – dump, scoop dump. Inching slowly  down the slope.

Scoop – dump, scoop dump. One after the other.

Kinda like a timeline when plotting a story.

As that thought flowed through my head, I realized what was wrong in my Fitzpatrick Family story. My timeline was out of kilter. I’d gone from one side of the street to the other.

Scenes were happening sequentially, but the reader would quickly figure out the passage of time I’d written didn’t allow enough time for what needed to happen.

Like the steam shovel ditch digging, I had to proceed one shovel width at a time to get a properly sloped ditch.ditch Or, in my case, a story timeline that didn’t confuse the reader.

21 09, 2020

Pandemic Fatigue and the 2020 Craziness

By |2020-09-20T07:25:21-05:00September 21st, 2020|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|0 Comments

September is the height of the hurricane season on the Texas Gulf coast. A month loaded with angst as we watch the weather forecasts. This year in particular it’s a nightmare.

Add the pandemic-induced mess of 2020 and I feel like I’m teetering on the brink of crazy.

Days run together. I lose track of what day it really is. My memory’s totally shot. Argh.

Recently, I inserted my Wii Fit DVD into the player to do my exercise. The disc wouldn’t run, I tried to eject said disk. It wouldn’t jump out.

After several failed attempts to get the disc out, I gave up. A short time later, Hubby-Dear asked me what the Wii Fit DVD was doing on the table with the TV remote.

I’d never actually inserted the disc!

Other times, I load clothes in the dryer. Come back later to fold and find I never pushed start.

Attachments don’t make it to emails I’m sending.

Multi-tasking becomes a multi-mess. Stuff ‘s misplaced constantly. Minor things, I know. But, for me it’s frustrating. It makes me crazy.

Maybe, like me, you feel you’re losing your mind while trying to keep it all together and stay focused at the same time.

Well, we’re not crazy because things aren’t normal right now. We’re coping as best we can. Any way we can.

We’re feeling stressed for very real reasons. Who wouldn’t with all the COVID-19 hype? Newscasts filled with horrid visuals of violence and civil unrest. Tropical storms spinning into hurricanes and reeking unfathomable damage. Fires burning unchecked. An ugly presidential election on the horizon.

Any one of which would be troubling alone. We’re got all of the above pounding us daily.

We have “pandemic fatigue,” which means daily stuff may take a little longer to accomplish or may not go as planned.

That’s okay.

We’re getting through these weird times. One day at a time. The next months will likely be the toughest yet. We’ll struggle more, but, I’m confident, we will come through.

All we have to do is stop and breathe. Slow, even breaths. In for one-1000, two-1000, three-1000. Out again one-1000, two-1000, three-1000. Repeat.

Seriously, STOP. Take deep breaths then proceed.

It’s helped me. So do M&Ms, but breathing is so much healthier.

Next time you’re feeling crazy and want to pull the covers back over your head, try taking a few deep breaths. I think you’ll find those provide calm in this uncalm world.

24 08, 2020

Familiar Things in Pandemic Times

By |2020-08-24T10:13:20-05:00August 24th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Finn and Buster, Writer's Life|0 Comments

The limbo of this pandemic keeps just hanging on. Familiar is gone.

It’s hard to adjust to this new normal. At least around our house. Hubby-dear gets out of the car twice when we make our necessary supply runs. Once like normal-happy and carefree. Then again when he returns to put his mask on. I do the same.

We miss the old ways and familiar.Finnegan MacCool, judythemorgan.com

Our Finnegan MacCool does too. How do I know? I found his baby lovey, a blue elephant, beside his bean bag recently.

The little elephant came with him when we picked him up four years ago and it was always the one toy from his basket of toys that he’d carry with him. The breeder’s daughter bought it for him.

We met Finn at eight weeks but, with a long car trip from Colorado to Texas scheduled, asked the breeder to keep him an extra couple of weeks before we took him home. We didn’t think it’d be good idea for a young puppy to be confined in a car for such a long drive.

She agreed and her daughter, Taylor, said she’d watch out for our baby Finn. Taylor was in junior dog handling training for their show Old English sheepdogs. She was thrilled to have Finn to work with.

When we picked him up, she wanted to be sure he had his special lovey to comfort him in case he missed her. At first, he did miss Taylor. Blue elephant was always with him no matter what other toys he had. Other times of stress like the move back to Texas, he’d find his blue elephant to keep close.

Then as he settled into his new surroundings, he kinda forgot about blue elephant. Until this pandemic and blue elephant has reappeared.

judythemorgan.comI don’t blame him. I’m looking for familiar things too. Are you?

17 08, 2020

Walking, walking

By |2020-08-17T07:31:23-05:00August 17th, 2020|A Writer's Life, Exercise, Writer's Life|0 Comments

Walking is my most favorite exercise next to being in the swimming pool. When we lived in the mountains, some days I walked 5+ miles. Lovely weather, lovely views.

My four-legged boys always went with me. Most times, hubby-dear did. We walked no matter the weather.

walking in the snow with an Old English Sheepdog, judythe morganThat’s Toby and Buster walking with me. Toby crossed over the Rainbow Bridge before we moved to Texas.

Old English sheepdog, Judythe Morgan, man walking his dogNow, Finnegan MacCool joins Buster and me.

We don’t have the cool weather walks any more or the mountains. Our view is filled with massive, hundred-year-old oaks that shade our way.

And we go early in the mornings before the sun rises enough to crest the treetops.

Buster’s thirteen so he doesn’t move as fast. Finn turns around and checks on us often. He does not grasp social distancing.

Even though we’re in the dog days of AugOld English sheepdog, judythe morganust with its heat indexes in the triple digits where we live now, I still enjoy getting out of the house for lots of reasons.

Walking’s safe and an easy form of exercise. No added athletic skill needed, no training, or special equipment required. Well, you do need a good pair of walking shoes, but then you need good shoes anyway.

Walking is easy…you might say automatic. No thinking involved with the exception that you do need to make sure you don’t trip or walk into something.

Walking allows our five senses to experience what’s around us. The sound of a bird’s song, the breeze rustling the leaves. The scent of fresh cut grass. The sweet aroma of honeysuckle blooming on a neighborhood fence.

Walking reminds us of the real world around us. One that isn’t from the news or a movie or a tv series. Sequestered inside we sometimes forget the good that’s outside our door.

Walking can help us feel better physically and mentally. When I walk the dogs placing one foot in front of the other and taking in the sights refreshes my brain and my spirit.

Walking can take our minds off these troubling times of this pandemic.

My walking companions and I recommend going for a walk. We always feel better when we do. You might too.

29 06, 2020

The Homegrown Tomato Quest Continues

By |2020-06-27T10:19:04-05:00June 29th, 2020|A Writer's Life|0 Comments

Growing tomatoes in our yard is such a struggle. I woke up to this scene recently.

It wasn’t a stormy night so, what had happened?

I suspected a deer.

They’re in our yard All. The. Time. munching down on whatever suits their fancy.

Not usually so close to the backdoor when they’re in the backyard.

I must have frightened them when I turned on the kitchen light and they got a whiff of Finn’s scent.

But where had the tomato cage gone?

It was too dark to explore, so I took Finn and Buster for their morning constitutional, came back inside, and had a cup of tea while I waited. When daylight arrived, I found the telltale footprint beside the downed bottle tree. Plus, a piece of the patriotic pinwheel that was mounted on the tomato cage.
I searched our front and back yard but found nothing.

Somewhere in our neighborhood there must be a deer with a tomato cage stuck to its body.

Or, a neighbor woke to find a tomato cage in his yard with a broken patriotic pinwheel attached. He probably scratched his head and said, “Huh?”

The pot has now been righted and the plant re-staked. Only two tiny green tomato casualties, thankful. Hopefully the survivors will eventually mature and produce Hubby-dear’s homegrown tomato.

But people, I tell you this quest is a REAL struggle. What can happen next?

25 11, 2019

Thanksgiving Week? Really, Oranges?

By |2019-11-24T18:27:44-06:00November 25th, 2019|A Writer's Life, Holidays|1 Comment

We’ve been watching our two orange trees beside the driveway. Every day the oranges slow turn from green and hidden in the leaves and branches to orange and shouting, “It’s time!”

This weekend they screamed, “Now!”

Here it is Thanksgiving week, the time when there are a million other things to be doing in the kitchen besides squeezing oranges.

But no. The oranges couldn’t wait.

Hubby dear selected the most need-to-be-picked ones and loaded the picking crates and bucket.

Twice.

I prepared the sink area. Because orange juice tends to squirt when juicing, I drape the counters and cabinet doors with towels. Makes cleanup easier-no sticky floor or counters. I also sit on my vintage kitchen chair while I work.This is our third year of juicing. We have a system—an assembly line. He washes then slices the oranges in half and pitches the halves into the colander. I run the juicer and pour through the strained until the pitcher is full then pour the strained juice into quart jars. He seals, dates the lids, and carries to the garage freezer.We recently found a great, small freezer at a garage sale unbelievably cheap and it’s now the orange juice freezer.We prepared five gallons of juice this weekend and there’s another five or more crates on the tree starting to whisper our names. It looks like, while the rest of the world is wrestling and grabbing for bargains on Black Friday, we’ll be into orange juice manufacturing.

I know I’ll be happy come February when I’m sipping fresh orange juice. And, some lucky people on our Christmas list will be excited too.

Except right now, I’m not happy with the oranges. I need to be baking!

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