Monday, December 5, 2016

The Christmas Tree

I stand in the center of a grove, surrounded by towering beauty. I look around me, admiring the perfect arms of the ones closest to me. I envy the symmetrical way their boughs stretch out at the bottom and gracefully taper to a point at the top. I am shorter than the rest and am jealous of the way they stretch towards the sky, tickling the puffy clouds floating by.

The soft breezes bring crisp air, and I know the best time of the year is quickly approaching. Soon white tufts of cotton will fall from the heavens and settle on my branches, making me proud to wear a dusting of soft snow. Dressed in a coat of white makes me feel just as pretty as the giants standing next to me.

It is the time of year when packs of families come to choose their favorite to take home and dress up in necklaces of silver tinsel and earrings of red and green. I have always wondered what it would be like to shine in a window with ribbons and bows tucked beneath my skirt. But for the past five years, I have never been chosen. In those five years, I never seem to grow an inch.

Here come the children, dressed in padded clothing and black boots. They squeal while their golden-haired dog sniff my trunk. Maybe this will be the family who chooses me.

“This one is too short and too scrawny,” growls the man as he shakes my branches.

The dog starts to dig a hole around my base. “I think it’s infested with bugs,” cries the child as he pulls the dog’s leash.

“Here’s the best one!” announces the teenager, pointing to the neighbor on my right.

They fell my giant friend and carry him through the forest, high on their shoulders, to their car. My spine slumps a little further, and my arms droop to the ground.

As the veil of night shades the sun, the weekend ends its storm of activity. Several of my friends have been chosen, but I remain, a little shorter, a little more crooked, one of my boughs chopped off by a careless hatchet. I start to weep as the rain washes away my white cloak.

The morning sun shines a little brighter because the farm appears a little thinner. The warmth fails to lighten my spirits.

I observe a little girl and her parents off in the distance slowly making their way in my direction. I try to stand taller, but my crooked back pulls my crown forward. When they reach my tuft of land, I study the little girl. Her crutches wrap around her elbows and stretch to the ground. Her feet turn together toe to toe. She slumps forward as she braces herself firmly in front of me.

“I want this one!” she announces, pointing at me.

“But it’s smaller than the rest and it doesn’t stand straight,” argues her father.

“It’s just like me,” the little girl observes.

“Then this is the one we shall choose,” states her father.

They gently release me from my forest home and wrap me in twine. The ride on top of the car is both exhilarating and scary. They give me warm water to drink and display me in their living room in front of the picture window, just as I have always imagined. They dress me in silver and gold shiny bobbles; drape me in a red feathery boa, and string blinking lights around my arms. They hang the heavier ornaments on my backside so I stand a little taller. They hang larger ornaments on my side to hide my missing bough. The father lifts the little girl up so she can crown my head with a star. I smile at my reflection in the window. I have never felt more beautiful.

I will miss my friends at the Christmas Tree Farm, but I know that I was planted with the ultimate goal of some day glowing in a family’s home.

Monday, September 5, 2016

"Love Lost and Found" - a short story

Maggie sits on a blue and green beach towel spread over the grainy sand. The lake glistens like a turquoise gem as water and beach worshipers enjoy the warm weather. The small Minnesota resort town of 6,000 swells to almost 9,000 in the summer with vacationing sunbirds, roaming teenagers, and drunken college students. Summertime in lake country starts Memorial Day weekend when docks are rolled into the water and ends Labor Day when boats are winterized.

            A muscular young man paddleboards with his faithful black Lab braced for action at his feet. Maggie had seen him lifting weights at the community center when she attends Zumba class. She envies his four-legged devoted companion, knowing they must depend on each other for love and devotion. She fingers the gold heart necklace she’s worn for many years as a reminder of a love she had once found long ago.

            Off in the distance, a young couple bounces on a wave runner that glides through the water, kicking up a spray of angel wings behind them. Maggie stares at the driver and swears it is her old boyfriend, Matt. Wet from the lake water, his black curly hair glistens in the sunlight, and his smile spreads across teeth too large for his mouth. The couple wave to a passing speedboat. Yes, she is certain it’s Matt. The girl straddling the wave runner behind him, her arms around his waist, looks familiar also.

            Pontoons blaring with music and crowded with families drinking sodas and beer cruise the shore. A lone fisherman tosses his line off the pier in hopes of bringing home some Sunnies for dinner. Closer to her blanket, three young children run into the water, splash and scream, then run out of the water, only to repeat the process over and over again. Maggie rubs the back of the sleeping baby lying next to her on the blanket. She wonders if Gracie will love the sun and water as much as the squealing children on the beach.

            Thinking back over the first three months of Gracie’s life, Maggie couldn’t help but smile. She did it. She escaped the insecurities occupying the dark crevasses of her mind that resulted in three bad relationships with men she thought she loved. Maggie shutters at the memories.


            Nick was her first love and live in. The attraction sparked when she started working at the pub on the beach. She had felt his black pearl eyes following her around as she waited on tables. He introduced himself, and after a few weeks of spending every moment together, they decided to share the rent on a small beach cabin. She suffered through his dominating personality and control over her every action. The fighting and temper tantrums resulted in his fist nearly missing her cheekbone and thrusting through the living room wall. The potential for physical abuse woke her up, so she moved out.

            Eric entered her life as a dark raven trying to escape a protective upbringing by his psychotic mother. Maggie was attracted to and loved his barbaric sense of humor and morbid view on everything from cemeteries to serial killers. When his put downs and insults eventually weakened her self-esteem to suicidal thoughts, she finally freed herself from his talons.

            Matt was closest to becoming her ‘til-death-do-us-part partner. Dull moments were non-existent while dating Matt. They waterskied after making love on a beach surrounded by cattails; they rode bicycles on gravel through a wildlife preserve; they hunted ducks at 6:00 in the morning after staying up all night watching the stars shift across the sky. Matt’s wanderlust turned into wander lusting after any pretty girl who walked across his path. Maggie had caught him kissing the redheaded bank teller behind the pavilion when she thought he was working the nightshift. She wondered how many other girls he had pledged his love with a gold heart necklace.

            Lonely and lost, Maggie focused on her job at the pub. Driven, she worked her way up from being a waitress to bartending. The tips increased proportionally to how many times she batted her eyelashes. The flirting worked to put extra money in her purse, but the drunken bikers soon discovered she was as cold as the frozen lake in winter.

            As the bartender in the most popular pub on the beach, Maggie saved enough money to become a partner when the other partner left to open a restaurant in The Cities. She enjoyed the rowdy excitement of summer in the bar when daylight hung around until 10:00 at night; she craved the attention when she wore her long strapless sun dresses to work; she even loved the long cold winters when cross country skiers hurried in for a hot buttered rum.

            Maggie convinced herself she was happy and had everything she ever desired. But she wasn’t, and she didn’t. The pit of her stomach ached when she walked through the door to her silent living room each night after listening to the loud music and clucking laughter at the pub all day. She loved and lost three very different men in her life, and she convinced herself that no one would control or influence her ever again, except herself.

            The pub consumed all of Maggie’s time, and she eventually tired of the late nights and smoky tavern. She had accumulated a decent savings account from tips and profit sharing from the business, so she pondered the idea of adopting a baby. She knew she had the money to support another little human being, she just wasn’t sure of the life-long commitment it required. But down deep inside she longed for love again; unconditional love with no strings attached.

            On a quiet afternoon in the middle of the week, while she was waiting on tables at the pub, she overheard a conversation between two young women. Two words stabbed her in the heart, “abortion” and “adoption.” They rolled around in her head that night, “abortion,” “adoption.” If only she knew these two women, she would console them, stating that she would adopt the baby; she could love her baby.

            The small resort town didn’t have an adoption agency, but she inquired at the hospital about a potential adoption. She ensured her desires of adopting a baby were known there and around town.

            After connecting with the proper agencies, Maggie was approved to adopt, and she prepared herself for motherhood. It was an open adoption so she met and spent time with the single young lady, Jill, who accepted Maggie as the nurturing mother of her child. They became friends. Jill never shared with her the name of the father, but assured her that he had signed a waiver releasing himself of his fatherly rights. When Gracie entered the world, Maggie’s life changed. At last she had found someone she could love unconditionally, and someone who would love her in return.


            Gracie’s cries startle Maggie back to the present. While consoling the baby she hears a violent explosion and sees bright yellow flames flash at the dock. The sunbathers stand up and stare. Children scream and cling to their mothers’ hands. A voice yelled, “Oh my god . . . the wave runner . . . with the two riders . . . slammed into the fuel pump at the marina!” Maggie couldn’t tell if the riders had escaped the inferno by jumping off the watercraft, but her gut told her the worst had happened. The horrific sounds of screams, yelling, crying, and finally sirens all ring in her head as smoke billows around the water and boat slips.

            Maggie picks up Gracie and holds her close, grateful that they are safe on the beach. The muscular man from the paddleboard hurries over to stand by Maggie, his black Lab obedient by his side. He introduces himself as Adam, and his dog, Dutch. They both feel helpless as the firemen work on extinguishing the fire. The paramedics finally arrive and strap the couple to boards, their charred bodies unrecognizable. The sirens start again as the ambulance speeds down Main Street to the hospital.

            Maggie feels an uneasiness in her stomach even though she realizes how fortunate she and Gracie are. The wave runner could have come up on the beach and injured many people, including them. Her anxiety increases, so she excuses herself from Adam, gathers up her towels and baby bag, straps Gracie in her stroller, and hikes up the street to the hospital. She asks the front desk about the couple who had just been admitted, and since the nurse couldn’t divulge any private information, she simply reiterates the severity of the burns. Maggie feels compelled to sit in the lobby and wait just in case she overhears any news.

            A middle-aged couple rushes into the hospital, obviously distraught. Maggie studies their faces as they approach the front desk and are quickly ushered down the hall to emergency. As she watches them disappear, she searches her memory and realizes they are Jill’s parents. She shakes her head in disbelief when she remembers seeing their photograph sitting in the living room when she visited Gracie’s birth mother. They are Gracie’s grandparents.

            The sliding doors open, and a trim woman with long black curly hair hurries to the receptionist and announces who she is. Maggie knows this woman very well. She is Matt’s mother. The receptionist guides her back to emergency. The hospital doors open again, and the pastor from the church downtown enters the hospital. He’s carrying a Bible in both hands near his heart. Saddened by what she just witnessed, Maggie reaches for her gold heart necklace, but fingers her bare neck instead. Her necklace is gone.

            Maggie ties a bonnet over Gracie’s black hair sprouting with curls, secures her in the stroller, and hurries outside, the humid air engulfing them. Adam and Dutch are standing on the lawn outside the hospital, waiting for Maggie. Upset by the events in the hospital waiting room, Maggie buries her head in his shoulder as uncontrollable sobs shake her body. Adam says, “Let’s go get a cup of coffee.”

            They walk to a dog-friendly coffee shop on the beach. Once settled at a table on the deck, Maggie feeds Gracie while she and Adam talk about their past. A television catches their attention as the screen flickers inside the coffee shop. The local news begins its broadcast by flashing two photos and headlines that read, “Tragedy at the Lake.” An announcer states, “Matt Schultz and Jill Pederson were killed today in a freak accident when they lost control of their wave runner. It slammed into the fuel station on the marina. Burns covered 90% of their bodies, and they were pronounced dead on arrival at St. Mary’s Hospital.”

            Still in shock, Maggie shares her life story with Adam . . . how she and Matt were lovers . . . how his infidelities broke her heart . . . how she made the decision to adopt Jill’s baby . . . how Jill and she became friends. Adam listens with compassion; unable to express his concern and newfound desire for this woman and her baby he just met on the beach.

            They decide to go for a walk on the beach. Contented, Gracie has fallen asleep, so they push her in the stroller along the concrete path that borders the sand. Workmen in orange vests are cleaning up the disaster at the marina.

            Dutch spies a duck and escapes down to the water’s edge. Adam chases after him, secures his leash, and walks back to the path to join Maggie and Gracie. Just before he reaches the path, he stops, stoops down, and picks up a shiny object from the sand. When he catches up to Maggie, he hands her his discovery, obviously pleased with his treasure. “Look what I found. It’s a gold heart necklace. It would look great on you.”

            Maggie can’t believe Adam found the gold necklace that Matt had given her. Without saying a word, she accepts the heart and vows to give it to Gracie someday when she tells her about her father, Matt. She also silently promises Gracie that she will soon meet her grandparents.

            Maggie thanks Adam and kisses him, realizing he could be the lost love she has been searching for.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Expiration Dates

            Hubby bought a 38-ounce bottle of ketchup two summers ago when I wasn’t around to supervise. The stamped expiration date is April 28, 2016, but it hasn’t turned blue, and it smells okay, so I’m not going to waste it by throwing it away. The last time we bought a gigantic bottle of ketchup was in 1992 when both kids lived at home and the four of us smothered it on everything from eggs to calves liver (another story I might have written about in one of my blogs about dieting.).

            My children used to get a big chuckle out of rummaging through my refrigerator and pointing out the jars and packages that had expired. At first I was embarrassed by their mockery, but then I read an article about expiration dates being pointless. Reference this video that explains why. Personally, I believe the expiration date stamp is so food companies can sell more of their products. Instead of worrying about the date stamped on the sweet pickles, I rely on a very dependable source . . . my nose . . . and I have a pretty accurate sniffer. The nose knows! As for my left overs not injected with preservatives, I secure them in my 20-year old Tupperware and mark the date on a piece of masking tape. Okay, so I’m a little OCD . . . I’m comfortable with that.

            There are other things that have expiration dates . . . here are just a few:

High Heels
            Wearing high heels definitely expire after three hours. Any longer than that will deaden the balls of your feet, and your ankles will tip over. When I was a teller in a bank, I tortured my little doggies by wearing those plastic high heels from Payless Shoes for eight hours . . . a ridiculously long time. I would slip them off periodically during the day, but then my swollen feet would cry, and I’d end up walking to the car after work like I’d just dumped in my pants. I’ve wised up in my old age and have replaced my high heels with flip-flops to protect my attractive bunions the heels caused.

Cocktail Parties
            My expiration date for a cocktail party is about two hours. I’m not one for small talk, which lasts for about five minutes when you begin the conversation with “Boy, it sure is hot.” I usually end up talking to Ms. Diarrhea Mouth and getting trapped by the wall as I casually take small steps backwards away from her. If I’m at a friend’s house, I can circulate for about one hour, and then I’m in the kitchen cleaning up. Recently we’ve been what I call “running with the big dogs.” Let me explain. Hubby is a terrific golfer, so all the guys want to play with him in order to get some free tips. Golf attracts some pretty influential people, and occasionally we are invited to small gatherings hosted by the country club elite. The other night we went to an engagement party at someone’s lake cabin. This “cabin” is about three times the size of our modest home, and I’d have to take out a loan to buy the hand towels on display in their “powder room.” After about one hour I tired of comments such as “I lunched with an old friend in Paris last week, then flew to Morocco for a quick visit with the king,” or “You’ll have to come by for a cruise on our new pontoon I just ordered. It has leather seats and a wet bar.” They have no intention of inviting Trailer Trash Trixie for a cruise on their Cadillac pontoon, so I mentally planned a grocery list for my big visit to Central Market the next day.

Hair Color
            Six weeks is the maximum expiration date to attack the roots, five weeks is optimal. I’ve been coloring my hair for almost thirty years. I think my original color is somewhere within a dark brown hue, but I have a hunch it’s pretty much all grey now. Going to a stylist gets pretty expensive, but if I tried to color my own hair I’d drip more brown on the dog than I would on my roots. Once the roots start to show, it’s all over. The grey sprouting from my colic can be very subtle at five weeks, but it becomes a neon sign on the 36th day.

            I only worry about expiration dates when it involves my comfort, my ADD, or my vanity. Food? Eh, not so much. That’s what my nose and Pepto Bismol are for.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Burger Time

    It’s been 10 years, since I ate at Burger King. Husband, however, gets a hankering for a Whopper every once in awhile. This comes from a man who eats chicken and fish seven days a week, won’t eat sausage, and has low-fat yogurt every morning for breakfast. The last time he had a craving for Burger King, I passed. Today is a new day.

            We arrived in Minnesota two days ago. My pantry is bare and I really need to go to the grocery store (and state-run liquor barn), but we have one vehicle, a new diesel truck. Hubby isn’t ready to turn the key fob over to wife just yet. I’ve learned a long time ago to not mess with a man’s truck! Around 11:00 a.m. he states that he wants to go to either Burger King or McDonalds for lunch, and he actually asked if I wanted to go along. I considered this my way of entering the vegetable aisle at Central Market, so I agreed, as long as we made a stop at the grocery store. He agreed. He asked me which I preferred, Mickey D’s or Booger Palace. Not wanting a flat, tasteless piece of cardboard, I chose the King.

            He ordered the Whopper meal deal. Since this will probably be my last visit to BK for another decade, I ordered the bacon burger with cheese, meal deal. It was advertised as having A-1 sauce on it, which was the deciding factor. I went to get my drink, squirt ketchup into five of those little tiny cups, and searched for a clean table. I always have a mixed drink when I go to the fountain, half Diet Coke and half Cherry Coke. The Cherry Coke adds a little flavor to the seltzer fizz that usually comes out of the Diet Coke spout.

            I opened the wrapper on my burger and the grease had already saturated the wax paper. It’s a good thing I grabbed a handful of napkins (I usually take some home for the dining room table) because I used every one of them. I found two 6-inch diameter beef-by-product patties squeezed to a height of an eighth of an inch, sliding between two minuscule buns. The bacon was barely warm and the processed cheese square hung out one side. As I ate, I searched for the A-1 sauce, but apparently the cook forgot that part of the deal. I kept eyeing husband’s Whopper, wishing I hadn’t been such a pig and opted for the healthier lettuce, tomato, and special sauce burger.

            As I watched the other patrons entering the restaurant, I could tell they ate at Burger King a lot. At least I can still see my feet. Then I started to feel my own belly expand and my stomach object to all the grease it was forced to digest. My veins began to harden, and my legs buckled from the added dose of cholesterol. Quick, give me a statin! I’ve always been a good girl, however, and eaten everything on my plate, except the French fries. I couldn’t choke down any more of those little twigs.

            After lunch, we drove by Central Market. It was packed! Cars were lined up down the road to turn into the parking lot. The marquee was flashing, “Mega Meat Sale Today Only.” No wonder. We are in carnivore country. Turning right, we headed towards Wal-Mart where we knew we could get bread and milk without having to fight the herds – well, almost. It is Wal-Mart, after all.

            With so many delicious pubs around lake country where we live, we have a huge choice of yummy grass-fed, all-beef hamburgers. And we can always wash them down with an ice-cold beer. I love the hamburgers in these pubs, not the factory-made pressed meat of a chain. No more Burger King for me.

            Disclaimer, just in case Burger King is reading this: Okay, I admit it, I really enjoyed my Burger King hamburgerJ.