Happy New Year


I put up the new wall calendar today. The calendar used to be the scheduling hub of the entire household. On it were all the appointments and events. If something needed to be remembered, it went on the calendar. These days most of the appointments never even get written on the wall calendar. They’re hidden away in my electronic calendar where they are far more useful to me. Yet the wall calendar is still useful. I come and look at it any time I need an over all view of the next weeks, months, or year. The kids reference it all the time when they need to count days or find out when the next school holiday is. So I spent an hour putting down the big events and birthdays for the year. Then I pinned it to the wall, moving it over slightly because the old spot had so many pin holes it was hard to get the pin to stick. Some day we’ll use piles of spackle to repair all those holes, but not today.

For now I’ll listen to the booming of the neighbor’s fireworks and glance at them out of my front room window, past the glow of the Christmas lights on our tree out front. The holiday season will soon be over, I should enjoy this last bit of it.

The Day After Christmas

On the day after Christmas I spend time trying to remember what I was doing before the holiday took over all my available project-focused energy. I also spend time reading and playing a game with my kids. Howard is more focused than I am, he’s back at the drawing table, ready to get the work done. I feel guilt that I’ve not been a better business partner in the past few weeks. I would like to be able to match his creative drive instead of feeling like I’ve been a drag on the entire system.

In just one week we’ll have a new year. I don’t know how I feel about that. I wish that I did. I wish I could have a clear emotion of optimism and excitement, though I suppose I’m glad not to be mired in dread. I guess I feel much as I did last December. Though we’re all in a better place now than we were then. I still can’t see a clear path ahead, but the trail isn’t so dark and we have more maps than we had before.

On the first day of 2015 I said “Maybe at the end of the year I’ll be able to look back and tell a story about how it went.” I find myself as reluctant to formalize that story now as I was to predict it last January. The year was what it needed to be. Some of the hard things were necessary. I suspect that some of them were not. This next year will have hard things in it, but I hope it will have more triumphal moments, times where we stand in a good place disbelieving that we managed to arrive there. I would like one of those for each of my children who have been struggling. Bonus if Howard and I get one as well.

The path to those moments are paved with hard work, so I suppose I should get to it.



It was not the outcome that anyone intended, yet somehow we ended up with shards of something that used to be whole. The shards were sharp, able to do more harm if they were not handled carefully. This is the story of many of my days these past couple of years. It is the story of yesterday when a person came to my house to talk to me about behavioral issues with one of my kids. The person departed and I was left with shards, not even sure where I fit in the metaphor. Am I the broken thing? Or am I the one who has to figure out how to clean up? Feels like both.

I went to my room and cried for a while. Then I talked with my child and we both cried for even longer, because harm has been done and needs to be made right. My child is both harmed and the one at fault. I have to spend energy preventing my mind from trying to analyze all of the moments that led up to the one where things were smashed. As if I could alter the outcome by finding decision points that led to alternate timelines. My mind also tells me that I’m blowing it all out of proportion. It is, after all, only a small broken thing. Clean up will be quick and we’ll move onward.

Except that I end up smashed (or cleaning up after smash) so often lately. Those tiny shards scatter themselves and sometimes I find my self bleeding because of shrapnel from something I thought I cleaned up long ago.

This too is part of the holiday. The house is filled with beauty, but also with things that are more prone to breaking. The pressure to make sure the moments are glowing and meaningful, also means that some of the fragile things will crack. I may be one of the fragile things. I am to be my best self, but that is difficult in a season which increases the demands on my limited resources. Even the articles, speeches, and pleas to simplify are commandments with which I must struggle to comply. Thus I find myself contemplating the shards of an ornament on the floor of the front room. Thinking about all the ways in which Christmas breaks people.

And also the ways that it heals people. And how sometimes things must be broken before they can become something else. And how the metaphor begins to fall apart before I’ve found my way through to an epiphany. I would like to have an epiphany. I would like to have a shining moment where I can clearly see that all the smashed days were necessary, part of a grand plan designed to help me and mine grow. I’m certain that some of them were critical. Perhaps yesterday was one of them. I’m also certain that some of them were just the result of human beings clumsily bumping into each other and accidentally doing harm. It would be nice to be able to see which days were which.

Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I’m better off treating all the smashed up days as if they were important. Maybe it is only in trying to find meaning in the shards of something broken that the brokenness gains any meaning at all. I do believe there is a plan, and it begins with me fetching a broom. We learn by doing, struggling, smashing, cleaning up, and moving on.

Christmas Tree


It is a Christmas tree like many others. Some Christmas trees are gorgeous, a treat for the eyes, and a thing for admiration. Mine is lovely, but in an ordinary way. If you were to line up my tree with a dozen others, it wouldn’t win any prizes, at least not if the judges were objective. But objectivity isn’t the point of Christmas, neither is competition. My tree is special and beautiful because it is mine, because it adds light to our house, because the mish mash of odd ornaments all have stories, because we’re the ones who haul it out to assemble it each year. I love that my tree doesn’t need to be special for me to love it. Or to put it another way, it is special because I love it. Even if no one but my family can see how special it is.

The Gift of a Cat


I’ve written about our cat before: how I found her, how we had to give her back, how she chose to come back to us, and how she became ours permanently. She has been ours since 2010 and she adds a lot to our lives. I thought my allergies would mean I could never have a cat live in the house with me. I’m very grateful that this turned out to be false.

Our cat is getting older now. She’s becoming an old lady kitty. Every day we get to have her is a gift, which is why I took the opportunity to photograph her under the tree among other gifts of this season.

Little Wooden Soldier


This little wooden soldier has been in my life for a long time. My first memory of him was when he was attached to a musical night light lamp in my childhood friend’s room. The soldier had two friends with him on a wooden platform and when the lamp was wound up, they went around carousel style. I think I was three or four. I remember playing with the lamp, winding it up, and eventually breaking the music box portion. These friends lived right across the street from us and they were more like auxiliary family rather than friends. Friend’s mom was an extra mother for me. She loved me, gave me many horse books, encouraged me in creative pursuits, and didn’t even get very angry when her son and I painted splotches on the walls of her house.

At some point my friend out grew his need for a nightlight. His mother, wise woman that she was, took the little soldiers and turned them into Christmas ornaments. It is possible that she did this just prior to them moving away. One of the little soldiers was given to me. He has hung on my tree every year since. When I pull him out of the ornament box I think about my childhood friends. I think about the woman who was so kind to me and who has since died. I’ll never get to hug her again or tell her thank you.

The soldier smiles at me and he keeps marching, reminding me of good things past and that good things are ahead too.

Christmas Cards


I love Christmas cards. They are a tradition that is waning as electronic communication takes over. I remember when my Christmas card wall would be covered with dozens of cards before December was over. These days I’m fortunate if we end up with ten.

Yet I know that Christmas cards are complicated. They seemed simple when I first got married. I just took a mailing list, printed out a cheerful letter, and dropped them all into the mail. I liked doing it. I liked reaching out an connecting with people whom I may have lost contact with during the prior year. I liked that each card carried an invisible message “I’m thinking of you.” Though at that younger age, I may have been less aware that the message was muted by my mass mailing approach.

Then I arrived in 1999. That was the year where I went through radiation therapy to kill a tumor in my neck that was not cancerous, but kept growing back. The radiation sapped my health and sent me into a depression. By fall things were better, but then in early December Howard took himself to the emergency room with chest pain and ended up in the cardiac ICU because he had myocarditis. I still hadn’t sent out my annual Christmas letter, and I couldn’t bear to write one. What would I say? “Merry Christmas from the hospital. Howard will probably be fine eventually, but we’re in crisis right now?” That was the first year I didn’t send a letter at all. I sat in Howard’s hospital room and signed the cards “Love The Taylers” then dropped them into the mail.

2000 was a better year for us, Howard and I both recovered fully and we’d launched Schlock Mercenary. 2004 was when I gave up mass mailing Christmas cards at all. We’d just quit Novell and money was very tight for the next few years. I let Christmas cards fall off my December to do list.

I miss them. I miss getting bright colored seasonally appropriate art in the mail. I loved the year that I got an Eid Al Fatr card. Yet I find that this year I feel about writing a Christmas letter approximately what I felt in 1999. I would have to choose between being appropriately upbeat for the holiday and being truthful about how this past year has felt for me. So I’ve compromised. I just spent an hour writing The Christmas Letter I Will Not Send. It tells of all the medical appointments and mental health issues. It talks about joy and bright spots that are all mixed up with stress and pain. It goes on for three pages with far more personal information than acquaintances are likely to want. Writing it was really good for me to do. It helped me see my year in summary, and I can see that it qualifies as a good year because we are all stronger and better than we were at the beginning. Most of it was not fun, but I’m not sorry for it. Writing the letter helped me see this in ways that I had not before. I suspect that most Christmas letters matter far more to the person who writes them than to anyone who reads them.

With that letter written and stored on my hard drive, I find that I still want to reach out to friends and family. So I will be sending out some Christmas cards. Each one will have a handwritten note. They aren’t trying to catch people up with all the events of my year. They just express love and gratitude to the recipient. I don’t know how many I’ll do, time and energy are in limited supply, but the ones I’ve done so far have made me happy. I’ll do a few more as I find time until I run out of December.

May you find the holiday traditions that bring you joy and let go of the ones that don’t.

The Story of A Wall Sconce

Almost three years ago I devoted a couple of weeks to repainting our front room. It was a project that required shoving all the furniture to one side, draping everything with plastic, painting and then repeating the process for the other side. I then had a lovely empty wall. I spent the next few weeks looking at that wall and planning what we should hang on it to finish making the room a beautiful place. I even went out and purchased a wrought iron wall sconce as part of my plans.

That January was the beginning of 2013, which was the year of massive transition in our family. Mental health issues emerged in not-to-be-ignored ways. I had kids transitioning schools, the oldest was headed for college, and there was a shift to be made in how our business was run. I wanted 2014 to be better, part of it was, most of it wasn’t. 2015 has been a rough ride as well, much of that because all the stress caught up to me and I’ve been trying to regain my balance. In all that time this wall sconce sat on the floor in my office. Sometimes it was tucked into a corner. Other times it got moved out into the middle of things because I was rearranging. It got knocked over. The glass cups went rolling on the floor and had to be recollected. I thought of getting rid of it more than once. My plans for the front room wall had changed anyway. I kept being annoyed by it, but not quite being willing to give it away.

A few weeks ago Howard saw it in my office and mentioned that it would look nice on the front entry wall where we’d recently removed a batik hanging. This was not the wall that I had nicely painted. This was the opposite wall that I’d meant to get around to painting, but never did. It sits there white, dingy, and waiting for me to decide if I really do want to knock open the front of the coat closet to turn it into a nook, or if I just want to paint and call it good. Howard was right, the sconce would fit there. Yesterday I decided I was done waiting. I didn’t have the energy to make big decisions about closets and nooks. I didn’t have time to undertake a big painting project. But I could grab a drill and drive in a few screws.

Two screws. Fifteen minutes. The sconce that has been underfoot in my life for three years is now in a place where it is lovely instead of annoying. Howard took it a step further and lit candles to go with it.

photo (2)

It is beautiful, and in the light of its candles, the wall becomes beautiful too. My mind wants to make a parable of this story, to find a single meaning. Instead I found several. When things are out of place, I can’t see their true value. Sometimes something which spends a long time being a problem can turn out to be wonderful. If I am patient I will get through the hard time and back to where I can make things lovely instead of spending all my energy surviving. Howard sees things I don’t and makes my life brighter.

Or maybe I should stop trying to assign meaning and just be happy watching the candles flicker.

Celebrating in Small Ways

When I was growing up December 13 was an important landmark during the Christmas holidays. It was the day when caroling began. Each year our family would pick a few friends or neighbors who we thought were having a particularly difficult holiday. Sometimes it was because their money was tight, sometimes they’d just experienced a death, sometimes they were facing an upcoming death, sometimes they struggled in other ways, sometimes we just wanted to express gratitude to a person. We picked two or three households then we would go and sing to them each night for twelve nights before Christmas. Each singing featured one of the verses from the song Twelve Days of Christmas only with our own words to match the small gift that we gave to them. I loved that tradition. I loved the singing. I loved the look on their faces when they realized we really were going to show up on their porch every single night. I loved the feeling that we were bringing joy to someone in a difficult season.

For various reasons this tradition did not work well in the family that I helped create when I got married. I tried it one year and discovered I do not have the gift for it that my mother has. (I wrote about it here.) It certainly isn’t something I would be willing to put into our lives now. I simply don’t have the emotional energy necessary to sustain that big production. But I would like to do something small that feels like giving. So I thought I might give a photo and a story about it for each of the next twelve days. They’ll mostly Christmas things, because that is what fills my house with beauty right now. Sometimes the stories will be small if I’m having a very full day.

I’ll begin with my advent candle. I wrote about it a little more than a week ago when I described what I hoped to do as an advent practice. Unfortunately I haven’t sustained the advent effort on a daily basis, but I still burn the candle and think careful thoughts when I find the time. Candles in December make me happy. This year’s candle is more decorated than most. I usually just paint numbers, but my sister-in-law offered this up as a Thanksgiving project. So I painted while visiting with people I love. In only twelve days the candle will burn down to a stub. Between now and then, I’ll watch it shine bright.