December 25, 2013


If you are reading this on Christmas Day… well thank you for taking time out of this special day.

Today’s post will mean more to my family than anyone else. It is written by one of my sister’s in law – another Ann Marie, about Christmas morning in my mam and dad’s house. My mam Betty is gone almost 9 years and as I prepare this post, my Dad Christy is ill in hospital – so I don’t know what kind of Christmas morning in it will be in my parents’ house – Number 45.

Ann Marie has captured the magic of what Christmas morning was like in my mam and dad’s house. I hope that those of you who have never been there, will get a glimpse of our special times together.

Number 45

 Car doors slam
Gate latch clangs
High heels click
Through open door
Welcoming clamour and
“Happy Christmas” chorus

Small hall jammed
Perfume filled air
Colour and style
Through the crush
The parade of
Squishy Aunty hugs
Scratchy Uncle hugs
Gentle girl hugs
Bashful boy hugs
Bewildered baby kisses

Divert to kitchen
Dishes in sink
Smell bread-sauce simmer
Cold Red lemonade
Hot reviving tea
Back into hall
Sitting on stairway
Excited children chatter

Into living-room
Heart of home
Irreplaceable Betty hugs
Mother to all
Christy bear hugs
King of clan
Bestowing his gifts
Perhaps a special
Wall-paper wrapped

Ceiling strung streamers
Fairy-lit tree
Santa on door
Wrapping paper rustle
Hub-bub, babel and
Kris Kindle banter

Families begin farewell
Return to reality
But we leave
Buoyed up and
Blessed by the
Loving Christmas spirit
of Number 45

I actually got more submissions than I needed. So there’s another couple of posts to come over the next few days.
Thank you all for submitting and reading. And have a fantastic Christmas Day!

December 24, 2013

Day 24 - Santa's missing??? oh no... not on Christmas Eve!!!

Today and tomorrow we’ll have contributions from some of my family. Today is the turn of my niece Katie. Katie has been writing since she was old enough to write. I remember her as a small kid, coming up with all sorts of tales and handing me little boklets of stories to read. She usually writes stories for children, but at this time or year aren’t they the best stories?! :)

FYI to those outside Ireland – we usually call him Santy and not Santa :)

Missing Santy by Katie Keeley
Once upon a time in the North Pole all the elves were busy rushing around preparing Santa’s sleigh and loading it with presents. They were all very excited because tonight is a very special night. Tonight is Christmas Eve and Santy would be flying all over the world to leave everyone presents underneath their Christmas tree. Only on one condition though, that they were on the nice list and that they were all fast asleep when he arrived at their house.

When it came time for Santy to set off on his long journey around the world, there was only one problem …….. Santy was nowhere to be seen. All day, no one had seen him, which the elves thought peculiar, but soon forgotten about it in all their busy preparations. He wasn’t in his workhouse and he wasn’t in his bedroom getting ready either.

“Where could he be?” asked Mrs Clause. She was standing in the middle of the elves massive workshop with all the elves standing around her. Each elf was totally bewildered at how Santy could’ve gone missing on Christmas Eve.

“Who knows” said an elf.

“How are we gonna find him on time for Christmas?” asked another elf.

“Yes, if we don’t find him soon, no one will get their presents in the morning” said another elf. Suddenly an idea struck head elf Jolly Snowflake like a bolt of lightning.

“I know who can help us!” he exclaimed.

“Who could possibly help us?” said Mrs Clause, with a lot of worry in her voice.

“Cloudy of course” said Jolly Snowflake with a clever smile on his face.

“You’re right” said Mrs Clause “Why didn’t I think of that?” All the other elves cheered at the thought of someone finding Santy in time for Christmas.

Just at that moment there was a loud crackle and a loud pop and a cloud of smoke and silver glitter filled the centre of the room. Everyone turned to look as the smoke and glitter cleared and saw a very tall snowman appear in the centre of the room.
He wore a purple top hat and green woolly scarf. His eyes and mouth were made from coal as well as his buttons that closed his silver cardigan that was made from snow. He had sticks for arms with a glove on each end as hands. He had no feet and he seemed to glide across the workshop floor.

“Cloudy! Just the snowman we were looking for” said Mrs Clause she made her way through the crowd of elves to where her frosty friend was, but before she could say any more, cloudy interrupted.

“Mrs Clause, I come with worrying news” said Cloudy.“My goodness, what is it dear?” asked Mrs Clause.

“It’s Santy, he’s stuck out on the frozen lake, there was an avalanche and he’s pinned to the ice by a massive heap of snow from the waist down” said Cloudy. He was all in a fluster and was very upset that he couldn’t bring better news. There was a kafuffle amongst the elves, while Mrs Clause stood in front of Cloudy speechless.

“What’s even worse is that the ice beneath him is beginning to crack” said Cloudy in an even louder voice.

“What do we do?” an elf spoke up. Mrs Clause began to think while everyone around her broke out into a nervous chatter.

“Silence” Mrs Clause said suddenly finding her voice. All the noise stopped and all the attention turned to the woman. “Here’s what we’re gonna do..” said Mrs Clause. She went on to explain how they were going to save Santy and right in the nick of time.

In no time at all Mrs Clause’s plan had been put into effect. Along with seven other elves they rode on the backs of Santy’s eight reindeer through the darkening sky towards the frozen lake where Santy lay stuck on the breaking ice. They all carried shovels and planned on digging him free. When they reached the icy lake, the reindeers landed and slid to stop only feet away from where he lay.

“Thank God you’re here, quick I may not have much time before the ice breaks completely” said Santy desperately reaching out his hands towards his wife and elves. Immediately Mrs Clause and the elves started to work on shovelling the now off of Santy’s waist and legs to set him free. With every movement they made there was a loud crack from the ice below as it shifted beneath them. Soon there was water coming up between the cracks.

“We have to move quicker or we’re all lost” said Mrs Clause. Just as the ice were Santy lay dropped into the ice cold water, the last bit of snow was moved and in the blink of an eye Santy moved to dodge the drop into the water. No one spoke or wasted any time and they all hopped onto the reindeer and the flying animals took to the sky. Santy and Mrs Clause rode on the same reindeer as they flew back to the workshop and as nothing had happened Santy was sitting in his sleigh ready to begin his nights work.

With a smile, a wink of his eye and a crack of his reigns, Santy took off in his sleigh.

Now we reach the end of our story and that is how Santy was saved on that cold Christmas Eve.

The End

photo credit: LadyDragonflyCC – >;< via photopin cc

Find out more about Katie Keeley and her writing
on her blog KaytoPotato
or follow her on Twitter @katie_cait

December 23, 2013

Day 23 - An Advent Reflection

John Ivory is a wonderful photographer. I love the pictures he takes. I used one in my last 10 Day You Challenge post. I asked him to send me one that he had taken around Christmas time, and give me his thoughts on it. I was not expecting this… amazing. Thank you John.

An Advent Reflection by John Ivory

Thank you John for this powerful image

The photo above was taken in Dublin’s Henry Street on Nov 25th, 2012 – the week before Advent. The streets were pretty busy. Christmas shopping was beginning to ramp up in the city centre.

One of the things that strikes me about the photo, both when I took it and even more so looking back on it now, is the movement – the passers-by rushing between shops to avoid the rain – giving a very real sense of this poor young man being ‘passed by’ in this world.

The sense of wonder and expectation of Advent we experience as children gives way as we grow older to a different experience. I’ll wager that most of us cherish the homeliness and comfort of winter nights by the fire, the glow of the lights on the Christmas tree, time spent with family and friends rekindling some of the spirit of our childhood Christmases, keeping the magic alive for our young folk. But where is the sense of wonder and expectation for that young, rain-soaked man sitting on the pavement in Henry Street this time last year? Where has that dream gone wrong – for so many people like him?

For over a decade, our country experienced unprecedented growth and prosperity – and all the excesses that go with that. Now that is over and where are we at the end of it? Statistics would suggest that we have more destitute people, like this young man, than in living memory, not to mention countless families who now live from hand to mouth. Hardy a legacy of which to be proud – and it is all too easy to blame politicians and bankers but I don’t want to stray off topic.

Where does the young man above fit in this scheme of things? How many of us, myself included, default to the position that it is someone else’s problem? It’s up to the government; it’s up to the charity organisations. When it comes to encountering poverty and need, I often feel like one of those blurry people in the photograph, rushing on by. Someone else will look after it.

What has all this got to do with Christmas? More precisely, what has become of the Christmas message? Peace and goodwill to all people. Our tradition of giving at this time of year is largely a material giving – but have we lost a certain sense of giving of our goodwill – and our time – to help create a better world for all? Our boom times brought out the best in us as a nation – our ability to make our mark on the world and succeed at a global level – but also brought out the worst in us – unprecedented greed (and perhaps most of us were a little guilty of it) which ultimately contributed to our downfall. More than ever, for the most vulnerable in society and to instil a true sense of social justice in our children, we need to demonstrate the selfless side of our nature. It is important here to remember the whole raison d’être for Advent and Christmas – to look forward to and celebrate the birth of Christ whose life message was love your neighbour as yourself.

It is all too easy to wonder what becomes of people like this young man. It is all too easy to ask questions – not so easy to come up with answers. It is all too easy to pose questions of the establishment. It is less easy to pose these questions to ourselves. If we are to take on board the true meaning of Christmas, then maybe Advent needs to be a time to ask ourselves some questions – such as, cutting to the chase at a personal level, what am I doing to ease the plight of this young man and the many like him? Instead of just passing by in a blur, is there something tangible I can do?

At the moment there is no blog to direct you to. If John listen’s to his Aunty Amo, he will get one up and running so that we can all enjoy his photos on a regular basis. I’ll keep you up dated.

December 22, 2013

Day 22 - Muinteor Helen shares her Christmas traditions with us

Today’s story is from  Helen of #howIlearn fame. I met her online and contributed to the #howIlearn series on her Education blog. The series of posts was later made into a book. (Information below). Here Helen shares her love of the Christmas season and all that goes with it

Over to her…

Helen’s Christmas by Helen Bullock
Waking up Christmas Eve as a child was one of those days where it always seemed liked anything could and very often did happen. The traditions we had growing up are as much a part of my 2013 Christmas plans as they were when I was seven. Now I’m twenty seven I appreciate them even more.

December 24th will see me jump into my trusty Lucy and drive the long long road to Cork with Christmas FM blaring out and me singing along tunelessly, I haven’t a note in my head but I won’t let that stop me! Along the way I’ll ring my Dad to find out the plan of action (as if I don’t know), my Dad and sister will be in town, shopping and probably avoiding my mother in case she gives them a load of jobs to do. I’ll join them in town in my cleaning avoidance!

Christmas Eve night is a special night in our family. we always go to my Gran’s for tea and ham sandwiches. All my cousins, aunts, uncles and extended family turn up to Gran’s house and squish in. My granda will hold court in the living room right next to the tree, it’s the only time of the year that he’ll allow us to choose what’s on tv, always a Christmas film and it doesn’t take long before the Dads find themselves engrossed in it too. Out in the kitchen my mom and my aunts will all be sat around the kitchen table with my Gran and my cousins chatting away. My Godson will be hounding me to check Twitter and the Santa app to find out where Santa is and how soon he’ll be in Cork.

As kids Santa always got a few sweets from the Roses tin, a mince pie, some milk and a beer. Rudolf was left a few carrots and a note reminding him to share with the others. Now we’re in our twenties we have a Christmas drink with mom and dad and head to bed. Even at my age I find it quite hard to sleep Christmas Eve and my sister will wake us all up at 8am…..bloody 8am, worse then a school day.

If I’m lucky I’ll manage to roll over Christmas Morning doze til half eight but I’ll really be pushing my luck after that! While I love the presents my favourite part of Christmas is the family time and the traditions we’ve built up over the years. Opening our stockings on December 25th was pure excitement, Santa put all sorts into the stockings when we were kids, from gloves to underwear, to chocolate coins and the odd toy. Now that we’re a little older Santa still leaves us socks, sweets, chocolate coins and last year he gave me rubber gloves with large Daises on them and some tee towels. Santa has gotten very domesticated in his old age. I may be in my late twenties but that doesn’t stop me curling up and sitting on the side of my parents bed to open my stocking with mom, dad and my sister. Some traditions are just too perfect to change.

Santa has fantastic wrapping skills, he always uses brown paper, like the stuff you wrap school books in. He scrawls our names across the packages and leaves them under the tree. When we do finally make it into the living room that brown paper is still the first thing we see. We take it in turns to open pressies, everyone gets a go. Sooner or later mom will go to the kitchen again to check the turkey and make more tea.

At some stage in the morning we have to get dressed, every year we go to my aunts for Christmas drinks and nibbles. There’s something so fun about getting all glamed up for the day and wearing your newest and best dress, putting on heels that are sure to kill you and going visiting. Spending time with the extended family is great, the younger cousins are full of the joys and wonder of Santa’s visit and can’t wait to spill the beans as to what Santa brought them. The aunts and uncles discuss how long the turkey will take to cook.

Christmas night is one of those lovely lazy evenings where we all sit around and watch TV together. The usual discussions will ensue, mom wants to watch Downton Abbey but none of the rest of us watch it so do we record it? Will we watch the Royal Family? What about the Dr Who special? If we can face them the box of roses will be passed around and the parents will be spotted nodded off on the sofa. There’s a high chance I could drift off too. During the evening I’ll ring himself and his family to say Happy Christmas and find out how their day has been. I know it seems weird that we spend Christmas apart but I don’t think either of us could imagine Christmas without our family traditions.

Christmas is family time and while I don’t live in the same house I love going home for the few days. Almost as much as I love heading back to my own flat to himself!

Happy Christmas everyone, have a great day and enjoy your traditions!

Thanks Annmarie for the chance to share my Christmas with the world

photo credit: Rob Sheridan via photopin cc

You can find out more about Helen Bullock and her writing
on her blog Anseo a Mhúinteoir
or you could follow her on Twitter @howilearn & @AnseoAMuinteoir

December 21, 2013

Day 21 - Do you have - Great Expectations' this Christmas?

I have known Ana since I moved back to Ireland in 2007. Originally from Argentina, Ana has lived in Ireland many years and is not just a writer, she’s a creative crafter, artist and cook. (See photo below) It’s lovely to have an international perspective as part of the story collection.

Over to Ana…

Great Expectations by Ana Mullan

I come from Argentina, Buenos Aires, to be precise, where at Christmas time is summer and the weather is hot and humid. Due to the influence of immigrants from Spain and Italy the main celebration is on Christmas Eve. No set menu for the evening, but one thing if for sure, in many homes people will eat walnuts and panettone, and drink champagne. Of course, these are the memories that I have, I haven’t celebrated Christmas there for the last 30 years.
Christmas brings a lot of emotions in families and not all of them are happy ones. In my small household of three, it was a time when sad memories came to mind, especially in my mother’s situation, which it didn’t make for a nice time for me.

After I got married and came to live in Ireland and had my children, that was when I really started to enjoy Christmas.
I loved the cold weather, the cosiness of being by the fire, the magic of the darkness and the candles, and the real tree.
Though my memories of Christmas at home were not great, I decided I still wanted to keep the tradition of celebrating Christmas Eve. So our children grew up with the two celebrations which we still try to carry on as much as possible.
When they were small we would invite some friends and we would have cheese fondue plus some other finger food. After that we would take out a flanelgraph and we would re-act the Christmas story. Lights would go out, the torch would come out and the children would take turns at placing the figures while Seán would read the story. This became part of their museum of memories, to which this day they still talk about.

Christmas Day was a bit more of a challenge for me. I had never cooked a turkey and all its trimmings before, so there were a few mistakes made.
One year I decided that a turkey was too much for us,two adults and three small children, so I bought a free range chicken. Trying to be organized, I put everything in the oven before we went to church but by the time we came back, the chicken was “well done” and the potatoes were almost cremated!
Another year the electricity went out on Christmas Eve and didn’t come back until late at night on Christmas Day. We had invited friends from nearby for dinner and they ended up having to cook the turkey and bringing it over and my next door neighbour, who had a gas cooker, cooked the potatoes and the vegetables, and passed them over the wall once they were ready.

This is an Advent Star
made by Ana’s own fair hand :)

We didn’t have much money but we tried as much as possible to make it a special time. We follow my husband’s tradition in relation to buying the presents for the children: something to wear, something to play, something to read and something to eat.
One Christmas I decided to give the family a present. I have been making brooches that I sold in craft shops in the area and did quite well. The local electrical shop allowed certain customers to buy and pay by installments. At that time we had an old small black and white television and I managed to buy a colour one for Christmas. On Christmas morning I unveiled the new TV to surprised little eyes.

At Christmas one can have very high expectations of the day, we do love magical things, but as I mentioned above, things don’t always go exactly as planned. Those things that were mistakes or little misfortunes today they are the memories that I smile about.

The first Christmas was far away from perfect, things didn’t all go according to plan, nor there was financial abundance to celebrate it, however it is the Christmas that we still talk about.

You can find out more about Ana Mullan and her writing
on her blog Ancora Imparo
or you can taste some of her yummy food in Dublin at Third Space

December 20, 2013

Day 20 - the story from Gabriel's perspective

Sandra Orr is our storyteller today and she introduces it herself… “Christmas 1990 saw me being commissioned for my upcoming work as a nurse/midwife in North Africa. The story imparted to me on that day was Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel. The power of saying ‘Yes’ to God’s invitation to join Him in everyday mission has stuck with me ever since. Never underestimate the power of your ‘Yes’ and the tragedy of your ‘No, no way!’. I just wonder where would we be today had Mary told Gabriel to ‘Buzz off’”

Gabriel’s Entrusted Mission by Sandra Orr
Heaven’s whisperings spoke of God’s musings. Rumour had it He was looking for a trustworthy courier to send on a very important mission. To planet Earth of all place! Groan! The angelic hosts were well versed in how self-seeking and strong-willed human kind had become. They often wondered if their divine Creator ever regretted creating this speck in the universe He so fondly called ‘Earth’. Not so much the creation of the planet but that of its occupants. Occupants He called ‘His people’. All the angels knew the ‘Ouch’ of failed missions to planet earth. To people who more often than not refused to trust the words heralded to them from on high. The cheek of them!

Gabriel shook when his name echoed through the heaven – the rest of the angels breathed a sigh of relief. As a trusted messenger of old, it was no surprise he was chosen for the task. A summons into the courts of the Most High confirmed recent whispering – God had a very important mission to accomplish. Crystal clear, no room for error or confusion, Gabriel was briefed and commissioned with a sword of light and a seal of authority before being despatched from the courts of God.

The journey to earth was long and lonely but Gabriel appreciated the time to contemplate his task. The lone stars of the outer galaxy bowed at his passing and after some time the glistening lights of the Milky Way were seen on the horizon. This myriad of stars cheered Gabriel on his way. Gabriel drank in the grandeur of it all. What a mighty God he served!

Flashing past Pluto and Saturn he paused to bask in the sun’s warm rays before sliding on the rings of Jupiter. It wasn’t until he passed planet Mars that Earth came into full view. Sitting on the Moon Gabriel stopped to clearly identify his point of entry into the earth’s atmosphere. His instructions were clear – east of the Mediterranean Sea, north of Egypt, the land of Palestine. Gabriel recognised his need to muster up some courage at this point. What happens if she doesn’t recognise him as a messenger of the Most High? What if she does but still tells him to ‘buzz off’? What happens if she doesn’t understand the enormity of the invitation he has been entrusted to deliver? What if she does yet answers “No way! You must be joking!” He could already feel the cold chill of disappointment having to return to heaven with such a response. God’s falling countenance was hard to witness.

Gabriel took a deep breath, smoothed his wings, straightened his gown, firmly gripped his scroll and set off for his final destination. Palestine was a minute country with many towns and villages. Passing the city of David he steered north to the Galilean village of Nazareth. It was late afternoon as he entered the village. Some shepherds were still lingering with their flocks at the fountain and the streets were starting to be cast in dusk shadows. His Master’s directions enabled him to easily locate the house of the maiden tucked away at the end of a narrow street. Phew! He found her alone – in the kitchen awaiting the return of her father and brothers from the fields for their evening meal. Her mother had not yet risen from her siesta. He waited until she stepped back from stirring the boiling pot on the fire before announcing his presence. The last thing he wanted was to frighten her or cause her harm. She was created in the image and beauty of God. A privilege denied to angels.

At the appropriate moment Gabriel cleared his throat:-

“Good evening Mary! You are beautiful with God’s beauty both inside and out! God be with you.” Mary stood transfixed and rooted to the spot. Thankfully she seemed to recognise this messenger of the Most High. God had chosen wisely.“Don’t be afraid Mary. God has a wonderful surprise for you!” Gabriel did his best to be as convincing as possible. “You see Mary, you will become pregnant and give birth to a baby boy. You will call his name Jesus. He will be great and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever and His Kingdom will have no end.” “But how will this be?” A perplexed Mary responded “For I have never slept with a man, not even my fiancé Joseph.” “You see Mary, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will hover over you. The child you will bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God.” Mary pondered. Gabriel felt a little more assurance was called for. “Mary, even your cousin Elizabeth, who was said to be barren, is now with child. Actually she is six months pregnant. You see NOTHING is impossible with God”

Gabriel could see that moment of truth being embraced in a trusting heart. He could hardly contain his excitement at what was potentially coming next.

Mary’s words poured forth like sweet honey from a comb. “Yes, I see it now: I am the Lord’s handmaiden, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.”

This was truly the greatest moment of Gabriel’s life as a messenger. He sensed the enormous significance in that three-lettered response ‘YES’. The way ahead was now open for God to fulfil His purposes. There was hope for this fallen human kind.  The key to that hope lay in this young maiden. And she said ‘yes’. His excitement could be contained no longer. Such was the reason for his abrupt departure from her presence. There was no time to be wasted in returning to deliver her response. No lingering in the galaxies allowed. God needed to know as soon and as fast as light could carry him.

“Hey God, You wouldn’t believe it She said ‘YES’!

photo credit: angelofsweetbitter2009 via photopin cc

‘A Cracked Pot – tales from the heart of life’s journey’ 
is available at Scripture Union bookshop Dun Laoghaire under the pen name Lizzy Wilson. 
You can follow Sandra Orr on Twitter- @zibla17  

December 19, 2013

Day 19 - What are you giving for Christmas?

Katina is a fellow Tribewriter. One of the many writers I know but have never met. :) I’ve learned so much from being a part of the Tribe Writers community and it’s great to have a contribution from one of the gang.

Katina has some Christmas gift alternatives for us…

What gifts are you giving this Christmas? by Katina Vaselopulos

The night of Thanksgiving, multitudes of people left their families and cozy homes and ran to the stores! To wait in lines… to push and be pushed… to seize the opportunity of great discounts! I understand some of the bought items could be much needed. Others surely were meant as Christmas gifts. Still, I doubt if all were necessary.

I am not criticizing any one. We all have our own reasons for doing what we do. Possibly, because I chose years ago not to be a consumer, it is easy for me to see such custom as unnecessary and detrimental to wellbeing.
I don’t plan to do much shopping for Christmas. This year, the gifts I will give to my family and friends are not things bought in stores. They will come from my heart. Though they will be costing me awareness and effort, I pray, they will be precious to those who’ll receive them. I trust that God will assist me in budding with such gifts, so as to be able to offer them to others.

This year I will give,

1…The Gift of Good Example
I will live life in such a way that I can be a role model for my family and others to follow. I will demonstrate to them that, especially through hardships, faith protects us from breaking. Trusting that God has laid under us a net of supporting family, friends, and even strangers, we can survive anything and come out stronger and better people.

2…The Gift of Encouragement
Everyone needs encouragement once in a while. Life and the world can only be better if we do our part. I will offer my family and friends many cheering words, hugs and gentle taps on their shoulders. I will tell them to believe in their ability to be and do better. I will do my best to lift them up. I will provide a warm, kind, and loving heart to everyone who needs it

3…The Gift of Humility
I will admit my mistakes and humbly ask for forgiveness. Time and again I will use the words, “sorry it was my fault.” I will bring myself down from the pedestal of pride and share with others my life’s humbling experiences, inviting them as well to dive into the healing pool of humility.

4…The Gift of Circumspection and Prudence
Before I talk, I will remind myself how powerful words are; especially so, when the judgmental mind attempts to criticize. I will keep my opinions to myself and not give unsolicited advice either. If someone asks, I will ground her into her own heart, where wisdom and solutions reside.

5….The gift of Tolerance
I will be tolerant of my own imperfections; much more, though, of others’. By accepting them as they are, both in appearance and spirit, I will liberate those around me from my narrow-mindedness and preconceived notions.

6…The Gift of Appreciation
Every day, I will help my family understand how grateful I am for having them in my life; for journeying on the same path, learning lessons from each other.

7…The Gift of Patience
I will often remind myself that behind impatience lies fear; that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I will help those around me understand that we have to be patient with our own mistakes and falls and those of other; not to agonize or be impatient, as they are lessons in disguise; not to give up but learn from them, trying again and again, until we become skilled at being patient.

8…The Gift of Presence
These holidays and throughout the year, I will be there, committed to help and encourage, to lift and praise, to teach by my example. To those we are away, with a letter or a phone call, a post or a comment; to those around me, with my whole body and soul.

9…The Gift of Thanksgiving
Blessed with many treasures, I will convey my gratitude, not only to God but to everyone I know, family and friends, teachers and guides…Gratitude for my family, children, and grandchildren, my husband and my mother…for health, and even for the pains that teach me to be patient and compassionate to others… for God’s love and provisions… for those who help and inspire me to write.

10…The Gift of Love
Finally, I will open my heart and let love flow like spring water, nurturing everyone who drinks from it. Gratefully I will accept love as it will return, blessing my spirit.

There is no monetary value to the gifts I will give this Christmas. Being committed to those aspirations will be hard work, as I am still a growing soul. I know however that those around me will appreciate my gifts and use them as a road map for their own journey.

What gifts are you giving this Christmas?
photo credit: via photopin cc

You can find out more about Katina Vaselopulos
on her blog Journey With Katina
you can email her katiakantzia [at] msn [dot] com

December 18, 2013

Day 18 - our youngest contributor tells a Christmas story

Aoife Copland was 7 when she wrote this story. But that was years ago… she’s 10 now :)
She is the daughter of an earlier contributor Carolann Copland. Aoife is an avid young writer and is definitely a talent to keep an eye on.

Her Christmas story from 2010…

A Christmas Story by Aoife Copland

A long time ago, there was a little girl named Lizzy and a little boy named Peter. Lizzy and Peter were sister and brother and they lived with their father who owned an inn in their town. The innkeeper had a stable outside their inn with a manger in it and an ox.

One day Lizzy and Peter went to get some water from the well and they saw a man followed by a donkey and on the donkey was a woman. The woman had a bump on her tummy and Lizzy and Peter knew that she was going to have a baby. The town was packed with people and their inn was full because they all had to get registered in Bethlehem.
Lizzy and Peter went to bed that night and Lizzy woke up in the middle of the night because she heard a donkey. She saw a light coming through her window from the sky and when she looked out her window she saw a shining star. Lizzy woke Peter to show him the shining light.

“Lizzie, you’re dreaming again,” said her brother.

“No! No! Peter, come and look out the window.”

They couldn’t wake their dad so they crept barefoot outside to see what was happening. They saw a donkey and they went down to him. He was inside the stable. They went inside the stable and there was the woman they saw on the donkey in the daytime sitting beside the man they saw pulling the donkey. Lizzie and peter looked into the manger and they were amazed. The woman’s bump on her tummy was gone and now there was a baby in the hay. It was a baby boy.

“What’s your baby’s name?’ Lizzy asked.

The woman smiled and she said “Jesus”.

photo credit: bscarlettc via photopin cc

Some more of Aoife’s writing is featured
on the Carousel Creates blog in the Carousel Kids section

December 17, 2013

Day 17 - This day next week is... Christmas Eve

Johanna and I are both in the ‘WE’VE JUST PUBLISHED A BOOK’ club. Information about Johanna’s book is below. She’s another writer that I’m just getting to know and I’m so thrilled to have one of her stories as part of this collection.


Christmas Eve by Johanna Buchanan
The thing was Caro had never thought of herself as a bah-humbug sort of person. Yet, just a few minutes ago she had snapped at Hannah that Jesus hadn’t been born in a barn just so she could get a pair of designer jeans for Christmas.

Hannah’s eyes narrowed and she told Caro she was ruining her life but that was an accusation that had been hurled at Caro so many times over the last few months that it sailed right over her head this time. Hannah realised it the minute the words were out of her mouth and she recovered quickly. “And you’re like the Christmas Grinch.”

Caro’s nostrils flared and Hannah smiled triumphantly, knowing that had hit nearer the mark. Then she flounced off with all the scorn of a frustrated fourteen year old fashionista. Caro breathed a sign of relief as she heard the kitchen door slam shut with a satisfying bang. It was very nerve-wracking living with a teenager.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down, warming her hands on the mug. She knew why Hannah’s barb had rattled her so much – it was because all the women in work had more or less agreed with her assessment earlier in the week when Caro had explained that she wasn’t allowing any Christmas advertisements into her home this year. Five heads had turned to look at her reproachfully. They had all been chattering good-naturedly about which ad was best this year – the one with all the girls going out on the razzle or the one with the good-looking couple and their tousled-haired children opening the hall-door to some long-lost (but still beloved) relative. Or something. Carolyn hadn’t really been able to follow the conversation because she had taken to taping anything she wanted to watch so she could fast-forward through the breaks.

“What?” She faced down their stares. “Those ads are designed to extract money from people, which they don’t have, for stuff they don’t need, to give to people they don’t see from one end of the year to the other.” She sniffed piously and then felt guilty as the frivolity in the office evaporated and her colleagues turned resentfully back to their desks.

But Caro refused to be cowed by them.

Last year Christmas had been an endurance test. Fitful nights stressing about how she was going to make everything perfect for everyone. Distracted days, racing through her work so she could get off early to race around the shops, mindlessly shoving festive fare into her basket. Two for the Price of One – or was it Three for the Price of Two? She couldn’t remember the details now – but they hadn’t been pretty.

This was the year the Cassidy clan were going to celebrate the true nature of Christmas. There would be presents, of course there would. But just a few tasteful ones (maybe even hand-made if she ever got to the end of her to-do list). None of your iThis and iThat gadgets. They would walk in the woods at the back of the house, take part in the carol service at their local church, get midnight Mass. That’s what it was all about, Caro decided. Holiness, not Ho Ho Ho.

But by the time Christmas Eve rolled around Caro was wondering if she had made a huge mistake. Everyone in the house was miserable. Her lovely husband Rob had dropped a massive hint that he was giving her a giant bottle of her favourite (and super expensive) perfume, but under open challenge from Hannah – staring at her over the trifle ingredients – Caro had to lie and say she just wanted a small, token gift this year. The disappointment in his eyes reminded her that sometimes the gift really is in the giving. And then she started to worry that the bargain dressing gown she’d got for him would look like a present from a miser. Or a woman who hadn’t put one thought into her gifts when in fact she had done nothing but think about them for weeks – trying to get the balance exactly right between tacky over-kill and cheerful generosity.
They’d missed the Carol service night because Caro had to stay late at work and the whole walk in the woods thing hadn’t materialised either because everyone was up to high doh trying to get their last minute bits and pieces done.

But then, on the stroke of seven, the whole atmosphere in the house somehow changed. It dawned on everyone that whatever they hadn’t done by now was not going to get done, and they may as well give up on it. And one by one they started to relax.

Hannah worked off her teenage angst by making home-made mince pies and dished them up with such pride she looked about seven instead of fourteen. Rob was making secret rustling sounds from the front room, evidently wrapping his presents.

Caro had been sitting down for longer than she had in a month, just drinking in the peace and quiet of this particular Christmas eve. The fire was crackling, the candles were flickering. Even Sheba, their old collie, was playing his part, snoozing on an old rug beside her feet.

It was almost like a Christmas ad.

And then Caro remembered this was exactly how it had all played out last year too.

You can find out more about Johanna Buchanan  and her writing
on her blog Johanna Buchanan Writes
or you can follow her on Twitter @buchananjohanna

She is the author of The Cinderella Reflex available for Kindle here 

December 16, 2013

Day 16 - a tear jerker of a story! Get your tissues folks :')

You know, I can’t remember how and when we met. Think it was Twitter, might have been TwitterXmasSingle recording, could have been at a writery thing. What I do know is that Trish is a great friend. She’s full of laughs and great stories and poems. This one’s emotional.

Tissues at the ready?

Last Christmas by Trish Nugent

Sean sat listening to the radio for a few minutes before turning off the ignition. Wizzard was playing. He certainly did not ‘wish it could be Christmas everyday’. He wished it was all over.

It had started to rain, small spitty spots on the windscreen. He turned on the wipers. They swished back and forth in rhythm to the music.

The door of the building opposite opened. A woman with a rain mac over her pink track suit came out. Breda, the canteen lady looked up at the sky and tut tutted. She tied a matching rain hat under her chin and pulling her brown shopping trolley behind her, she hurried up the street and round the corner out of sight.

‘Driving home for Christmas’. He used to love this one, but now it just reminded him he had no home to drive home to anymore. No one to drive home to. His house was no longer a home.

Rain lashed against the windscreen now. He turned off the wipers. He couldn’t see out the window. Tears ran down his face. What was he doing here, sitting outside the office? She wouldn’t want to see him. Too much time had passed. It was too late. Her life was without him now. Fecking christmas songs. Why did they have to play them incessantly on the bloody radio. ‘It’ll be lonely this Christmas’, crooned Mud.
He turned on the wipers again. Swish swish swish. They wiped the rain away. He wished he had a wiper to wipe out the past.

Maybe that would be for the best. Erase everything. Block it all out.

As he turned on the indicator to pull away, the door opposite opened again, and there she was. Curly brown hair to her shoulders, her floppy fringe covering her eyes. She was wearing her cherry red with the fur collar. He had bought it for her last Christmas. Was it really only a year ago? It felt like another lifetime.

Sheila tied her belt tightly around her and opened her umbrella against the rain. She looked up suddenly and saw him. They stared at each other as the rain beat down. She looked transfixed, rooted to the spot. A look of shock on her face as if she had just seen a ghost.

Which he was really. A ghost of Christmas past. He moved to open the car door as she made a step towards him a spark of light now in her eyes. Then the office door opened again and a man came out behind her. Putting his arm around her waist, he ushered her towards the navy BMW parked outside. She turned her head to look back, before the car pulled slowly away. As Wham sang ‘Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. The very next day you gave it away,’ he wondered if she was thinking of this day last year.

The day that had changed their lives forever. They had sat in the hospital room watching the small screen of the portable scan machine, searching for the little white flashing dot that had shown up so clearly only two days previously. ‘There’s your baby’s heartbeat,’ the nurse had smiled at them. They’d held hands and just stared in amazement at the screen. Now there was nothing but grey and black fuzzy nothingness.

‘I’m so sorry,’ the doctor now said ‘your pregnancy is no longer viable’. She looked at them with pity in her eyes. ‘The nurse will be back to prep you for theatre. We’ll do an erpc today and you can go home tomorrow.’ Sheila lay motionless in the bed as the tears flowed down her cheeks. Sean felt helpless. ‘I’ll leave you alone for a few minutes to get your head around things’, said the nurse.

Get your head around ‘things’? How could you get your head around this. Their baby was gone. Never had a chance to be born. Never got to meet his or her mammy and daddy. Never took the first breath of life. ‘No longer viable’ the doctor had said.

Christmas time, a time for family. Their family was ripped apart that Christmas. After he’d collected her from the hospital the next day, he dropped her to her mother’s house, where she stayed until the New Year. When she eventually came home, they avoided each other, when instead they should have been comforting each other. He blamed himself. If he had come home and got the decorations from the attic like she’d asked instead of going for a pint with the lads, their life would be so different now. He was so happy to be finally about to become a dad. As he celebrated with his mates, one pint turned to two,then three. He’d arrived home hours later singing, ‘So here it is merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun. Look to the future now, it’s only just begun.’

That’s when he’d found her up on the landing, at the bottom of the ladder into the attic where she had been lying for God knows how long in the dark. Unable to move, unable to get to the phone to call for help. They said there was no reason that they couldn’t have more children. No permanent damage had been done and they could start trying again within a couple of months.

They were wrong. Too much damage had been done. There was no trying again. As the weeks went by and Christmas turned to New Year, they grew further and further apart. First, they had slept in separate rooms, then in separate houses after she’d moved back in with her mother again. They’d been living separate lives for months now. Both missing each other so much but unable to talk about their loss. As Christmas approached once more, the memories of last year came flooding back. He realised he couldn’t carry on any longer without her. He loved her too much and he knew she still loved him. He hadn’t imagined the small flicker of hope in her eyes, when she’d looked at him earlier, had he? The rain had stopped now and the sun peeped out from behind the clouds.

As Mariah Carey sang ‘I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need….’ the passenger door opened and Sheila slid into the seat beside him. ‘My favourite song’ she said, placing her hand on his. ‘All I want for Christmas is you’.

photo credit: Mylla via photopin cc

Find out more about Trish Nugent
and her writing on her blog Trish Nugent, Writer
or follow her on Twitter @trishanugent

December 15, 2013

Day 15 - Christmas plans reveal a surprise history in today's post...

Rita is another of the participants from the Beginner’s Creative Writing course. I loved having Rita in the class and I’m absolutely delighted that she is still writing  Usually she had us in stitches when she read her work. Today she made me cry.
Oh the things that Christmas plans can reveal…

Here’s her story…

The Key by Rita O’Brien
As she made her way up the stairs into the attic, Norah wondered to herself whether she was crazy to be putting up Christmas decorations when she was going abroad for most of the festive season.

Her best friend, Aileen, had suggested it in July while they were in Galway on a day out with the local active retirement association. For both of them, it was the perfect solution to their annual dilemma now that they were widowed and their children had moved away from home.

“How will we break it to the kids, though”? Norah had said when they’d started trawling the internet for good deals in the sun.

“Break it to them… in, breaking bad news, do you mean”? laughed Aileen. “Are you joking me? Sure, they’ll be delighted to get us out of the way for a change!”

And she was right, judging by the number of sons and daughters who’d offered them a lift to the airport before they’d even booked their flights.

By the middle of August, they’d arranged two weeks half-board in a four-star hotel overlooking the marina in Puerto Banus on the Costa del Sol, departing from Dublin on December 22nd. It was pricey, but neither of them had been on a foreign holiday in the years since their husbands had died.

Aileen had been widowed first, seven years earlier, when Matt collapsed suddenly as he finished his shift at the fire station. She wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy what she had to go through in the first year without him. The loneliness was one thing, especially after her three sons settled back into their own lives less than a month after the funeral. But she never realised that she’d feel so vulnerable being on her own with a house to manage. If it hadn’t been for Norah and her husband, Jim, she didn’t know how she would have coped. She felt blessed that, ever since then, she only had to mention a dripping tap, a blocked drain or a dodgy door handle to Norah, and Jim would be around with his toolbox almost straightaway. No matter how long it took, he wouldn’t leave until Aileen was sure that he had the problem sorted.

Then, four years after Matt’s death, Norah’s life was shattered when Jim was killed in a collision with a drink-propelled driver on the short journey home from Dublin Airport after a golfing weekend in Scotland. His two friends, Dermot and Alan, broke the news to her on the doorstep. She was so distraught that Alan had to phone her daughters while Dermot brought Jim’s golf bag and luggage upstairs out of Norah’s way.

At some stage, one of the girls must have moved them into the attic because Norah never thought about them again until now, when she spotted them on the floor behind the trunk labelled ‘Christmas’. She pulled the dust-covered suitcase towards her and was about to unzip it when she realised that it was locked. It occurred to her that she could get a Stanley knife to cut through to the contents, but Norah felt that it would be sacrilegious to destroy one of the last things Jim had touched before he’d died. Without warning, she felt a wave of grief wash up through her entire body.

Then, her tear-filled eyes settled on the bagful of golf clubs beside it. Reaching across, she noticed that the pouch on the outside of the dark green Slazenger bag was bulging and unlocked. Her hands trembled as she touched the zip and moved it cautiously to the right, the entire length of the pocket. Dragging the bag closer to her under the overhead light, Norah struggled to make out exactly what it was that was stuffed inside.

She barely recognised the dark blue hand towel that Jim had ‘borrowed’ on his way to the driving range one day and had never put back. It was caked so hard with dried earth that it was liable to flake apart if she tried to unfold it. Next, her shaking fingers touched the bone-dry, shrivelled remains of the kid leather golf glove she’d bought him for his last birthday. With great care, she prised it open so that she might fit her own hand inside. Then, Norah’s throat tightened as she felt something flat, hard and stone-cold inside. A key was wedged so tightly into the thumb that it almost pierced the leather.

She struggled to work it out of the glove and as she placed it in the suitcase lock, the thumping of her heart was amplified through the cold, silent, emptiness of the attic. Less than five seconds after the lock popped open, Norah was touching Jim’s golf sweaters, lifting them to her face, getting the faintest hint of the smell of him through the musty dampness that had probably been caused by still-wet raingear being packed at the last minute on top of the woollens.

Inhaling tears as she descended the narrow attic steps, Norah let the suitcase slip from her hand and the contents scattered all over the landing carpet beneath her. Then among the jumble of socks and shirts, she noticed a perfectly wrapped package, tied with a pretty blue ribbon. With clammy hands, she clumsily undid the dainty bow and outer wrapping. Inside, she saw Jim’s handwriting on a tiny card like those that he usually tucked into her birthday and anniversary bouquets.

“To my soulmate, the love of my life”, he had written, “I’ve missed you so much all weekend. I bought your perfume so that, by smelling it, I could pretend you were around me all the time. Forever yours, Jim xxx”

Overcome with a burning sensation of happiness and excitement that she hadn’t felt in years, Norah opened the gift box to find a fragrance that she didn’t recognise. She removed the stopper and breathed in the sickly sweet scent of honeysuckle mixed with vanilla.
Aileen’s favourite.

December 14, 2013

Day 14 - remembering the Reason for the Season

I met Susan online while doing the AtoZ Blogging  Challenge last April. Later she got in touch to say she’d be visiting Ireland and asked if I could recommend where they should stay/visit. A few emails later and it was decided that she and her family would stay with us. We had a great few days together and it was lovely to get to know another writer from Canada.

Her story reminds us of the reason for the season…

Christmas Truth by Susan Barclay

One of my most memorable Christmases reminds me a bit of the old television program, ‘To Tell the Truth’. The show featured a panel of celebrities who had to guess which of three contestants was telling the truth about his or her unusual career or life experience.

I was about five at the time. My four-year-old cousin, Donnie, and his family were visiting from New Jersey. His Dad had lost a leg to cancer and wasn’t the easiest person to get along with. When Donnie and I were told to go to bed and go to sleep or Santa wouldn’t come, we did our best to comply. But the night was early and we were young. Besides, we were super-excited about what we might find under the tree the next morning, and sleep is impossible when you’re in such a state.

While the two of us lay side by side in my mother’s double bed, I practiced tying a bow in Raggedy Ann’s apron. Despite my mother’s efforts to teach me, I still hadn’t mastered the art.
My uncle passed by the open door and saw that we were still awake.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Trying to tie a bow,” I said, reasonably.

“Well, stop it and go to sleep,” he said. “Santa isn’t going to come as long as the two of you are still awake.”

I lay still, and Donnie did too. My uncle partially closed the bedroom door and couldn’t see that our eyes remained wide open. Quietly, I tried to make another bow. And just as I succeeded, we heard sleigh bells ringing outside the house.


But no. Suddenly I knew the truth. It was my uncle ringing those bells.

Belief in Santa died that night, though a stronger realization came. My uncle was more complicated than I knew. Given black and white, I’d painted him black, but perhaps he was grayer. And now I also knew I was capable of doing things. Big things. Bigger even than tying a bow in a doll’s apron string.

When I look back, I can still see that little girl, lying under the covers in a darkened room on Christmas Eve. And I know that the event didn’t destroy the magic of Christmas for me. While I discerned the lie, I gained a larger truth. The holy day isn’t about Santa, or about the giving or receiving of gifts. Saint Nicholas would agree.

Christmas is about the Christ child and what He came for. He wanted us to know who we are and who we can become.
He wants the truth to set us free.

photo credit: Rdoke via photopin cc

Find out more about Susan Barclay and her writing 
on her blog Notes from Inisfree
or follow her on Twitter @writerchick35

December 13, 2013

Day 13 - Counting down to a little bit more than Christmas

I met Orna, through the glorious joys of Twitter. We’re now in a writing group together and though she’s a little busy these days with a tiny bundle she’s been blessed with, Orna still managed to add a story to the collection which I’m delighted about.

Inspired by recent events I’ll wager… 

The Countdown by Orna Richella

It had all crept up on her. Weeks ago this Saturday had seemed so far away. Kerry had tried to be prepared and spent hours planning what had to be done and how she could do it all. She had written detailed to-do lists. There were even lists of lists as she organized the lists by time and type. The reality was that much on those lists still had to be done as she had been so sick and exhausted. Then the worry about the tasks undone had begun to creep into the dark hours, stealing her sleep and leaving her shattered every morning.  It shouldn’t matter so much, but she wanted it all to be perfect, she felt she would be a failure if she could not manage all she had planned given the time she had had to prepare.

The meal plans were written for every day, but she had yet to do the shopping.  The letters needed to be finished and put in the post. The laundry was washed but waiting to be ironed so she could dress the bed in the guest room.  The cleaning….if only she had the energy to finish the cleaning.  The in-laws were due the weekend after so everything needed to be sorted now. Before. Normally she had all her presents bought and wrapped weeks before. That half sorted list now particularly grated on her nerves. It reminded her of how she was not even able to do her own normal.

Every year Christmas seemed to creep up on her a little bit more but she was always able to pull something special out of the bag with a bit of physical effort and a late night shopping/wrapping/decorating session. This year was different. This year she needed it to be special. Perfect. Because this was the first time she would be the ringmaster. Everyone was coming to her home for the big day to be there for this most special of Christmases. She stared at the alarm clock, the digital dial counting down in fluorescent green numbers and felt the panic rise and the sense of dread at letting everyone down and not coping.  It was here. Saturday had come. In a couple of hours she would be checked in and wouldn’t be coming home until it was all done. The bag was packed and by the door. She could hear Mark snoring gently beside her so relaxed. None of this depended on him.

Slowly the light crept under the blind, sharp and sparkling on the frost-filmed world outside.  As the room awoke from the gloom Kerry said a quiet prayer for help and the strength to get through it all. Calm settled around her unexpectedly as she thought of the first Christmas. The story of a family beginning in the most unremarkable yet amazing way. The true reason for all the celebrations hit home to her and she realized all would be fine. By tomorrow at latest all the unfinished lists and tasks would be meaningless as she would be holding her very own miracle. Because this Christmas would be the best ever…because it was all about the birth of a child.

photo credit: JJLosier via photopin cc

Follow Orna Richella on Twitter @ornarichella

December 12, 2013

Day 12 - Christmas in Crumlin

I met Annette at Carousel Creates. She hadn’t written for a while ( or if she had, she hadn’t had a chance to share it) but boy when she got going… amazing stuff. She’s had a story published in The Tallaght Echo and got a new Writer’s Group started in Ballyroan Library. She’s a great friend and I love her stories.

Here’s her Christmas one…

Christmas in Crumlin by Annette Bryan

The disco lights were flashing to the beat of the music and the party was in full swing. Someone had fallen against the big Christmas tree in the corner and the angel at the top looked like it had one too many. Everyone from the youth club was enjoying the festive season.

“Anyone around on Christmas eve, who would be willing to help out with the old folk’s hampers” the D.J. announced.

“Yea right!” Anto shouted up from the dance floor.

Everyone was giving it loads to the sound of Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody”

I was in the middle of the floor shaking the head and playing the imaginary guitar with the rest of the gang letting it all hang out. We were having the craic. There was lots of food laid on and someone had managed to sneak in a bottle of Club Orange laced with Vodka. So everyone was having a good time. The mere idea of knocking on doors handing out hampers just didn’t seem cool and it could ruin the image.

You couldn’t get into the ladies cloakroom after a quick set. All the jumping around and imitating Slade was better than a workout in the gym. So, the makeup had to be put back in place, the hair fluffed back into the afro, and the teeth checked so that there was no lipstick on them. The smell of deodorant engulfed the air you would need a gas mask at times. Then everyone was back out on the dance floor and ready for the slow set.

“Which of yis’ would like to dance?” a voice came from behind where I was standing.

Next thing I knew I was being gently pushed around the floor locked in the arms of a six footer. As we lurched around the dance floor arms locked around each other.
Sr. Rap’er gather’s voice came into my head.
“Always leave room for the Holy Spirit otherwise boys will think your free and easy,” she would say in her well tuned Dalkey accent.
Well I wonder what she would say if she saw me now I thought, with a grin on my face! It would definitely warrant confession from Fr O’Hanlon.

“What are you grinning at?” asked Mike. His eyes dancing in his head. I couldn’t make out what colour they were. Were they green or were they brown?

“That DJ is gas. Who from this lot will help out with Christmas hampers?” I said.

He got very serious and tilted his head to the side and gave me a look that would cut you in two. His head jolted in my face as he eyeballed me.

“Well I’m dong it and I couldn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.” he said and stormed off.

Something told me he wasn’t impressed.

“What happened?” asked Jacinta when I walked back to the girls in the corner of dance hall.

“Don’t know! He mustn’t like me,” I replied with a laugh.

“Odd Ball,” said Jacinta rolling her eyes up to heaven.

“Very appropriate Jessie,” said I laughing my head off. It had just dawned on me he had two different coloured eyes.

We went into a fit of laughter and continued on dancing.

Christmas Eve was boring as usual. All the presents were wrapped and we were all waiting on the day to arrive. Da was moaning about not being able to hear his programme on the radio. Mam was busy hoovering the house. “Better get out of here,” I thought, “or I will be spending the rest of the day with my sleeves rolled up.” Whenever I appeared I seemed to trigger a must-do list in Mam’s head. Will you do this or that needs to be done. Domestic Goddess. Not me.

When I arrived at the Youth Club it surprised me how many had turned up. Everyone was handed a Santa hat on the way in. Then it was all go, wrapping sugar, tea, butter, Christmas cake, Pudding and a Chicken. They were placed in the middle of the Christmas paper that had green holly and red berries repeated all over the sheet. It looked lovely and the red ribbon tied in a bow held it all together. I rolled up my sleeves and got dug in. Odd Ball was the man in charge and he gave me a wink when he seen me come into the hall.
“Deck the hall with trawls of holly fa la la la la la la la la” could be heard all over the place.
“Stuff the turkey’s h…,”and before it was continued Mike let a playful roar.
“Now, now boys be nice we have ladies in our company,” and so the morning went.
Everyone was in great form and the atmosphere was electrifying. The craic was ninety.

The smile that greeted us from the elderly people did my heart good. Marcella lived on her own. When she opened the door of her one-roomed flat she directed us to the table in the middle of the room. She wiped a tear from her eye with the corner of her apron that was once white with holly printed all over it. Through the years it had faded and was now a greyish colour. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmaswas crackling away on her tiny gramophone. The smile grew bigger on her face, as she tried hard to hold back the tears. She was so grateful for her hamper and she thanked God out loud for the Youth of Crumlin.

The sound of Christmas carols could be heard echoing all over the flats complex, groups of teenagers congregated outside each block singing one carol after the other. While others knocked on the door to deliver the hamper.

The snow was falling as each of us made our way back home to warm and comfort that awaited us.
It was such a joy to bring some happiness to those who were less fortunate than us. It gave me the most fantastic feeling in the world. One that has remained with me all my days and I will keep with me forever.

photo credit: Calsidyrose via photopin cc

December 11, 2013

Day 11 - Everyone loves Christmas ham... don't they?

Another contribution from the Beginner’s Creative Writing course. And another participant who was far from a beginner. Karen’s writing always surprises and delights me and I’m so glad that this collection includes something from her.

Over to Karen…

Emmaline and the Christmas Ham by Karen Huber

Christmas made her vomit.

Well, not Christmas so much as her aunt’s ham. Thick, salty shards of cured pork, juice pooling at its base. Emmaline grew to hate this winter excursion, knowing what awaited her on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.

She sat alone on the red vinyl backseat of her mother’s Plymouth Reliant, queasy with anticipation. The car was a beast, a camouflaged one, threading it’s way along the narrow, winter-white Kansas highway. Emmaline’s stomach shrunk with every mile marker.

She can’t remember how it began. She assumed ham had always been a Christmas staple, cut into manageable bits for her baby teeth, rejected by her chubby fingers. Aunt Cora swore up and down she’d never had a problem with it before, but Emmaline wasn’t so sure.

“Come on, Emmaline,” her aunt had begged, oversized knife and fork in hand, “I know you like it. Ham is what we’ve always had for Christmas dinner.” The knife a honey-tongued menace as it folded her a hefty slice. “It’s this or nothing. No pie. No ice cream.”

Aunt Cora paused, giving weight to her words and the seriousness of the crime.

“Nothing, till you eat your ham.”

That was three Christmases ago. Like a pleasing child in want of dessert, Emmaline ate the ham. Two fork stabs went in and within five minutes, more than her fair share of breakfast, lunch and dinner came flying out. She spent the rest of the weekend in the basement, hiding her head inside the pilly, purple sleeping bag her grandparents gave her that year. Not even a day old and it was the first vomit casualty, washed and dried three times in two days. She waited out her sentence until it was time to go. A long weekend was all her mother could afford and a Christmas off work is woefully short.

The following year Aunt Cora and her five boys came to Kansas, filling Emmaline’s tiny house with dirty socks, G.I. Joe action figures and the smell of baked ham. Then it was Easter and another Christmas at Granny’s, another ham and another ruined sleeping bag. Now, at ten, Emmaline found herself back in the Reliant, headed the way of Colorado ham and a holiday of misery.

What most don’t know about Colorado is that its eastern half is flatter than Kansas, the belly of burnt fields hidden by snow and fog. There’s not a mountain in sight, at least for a while. Emmaline hated this part most: leaving her home behind and the safety of the Kansas prairie, heading deep into a Colorado-nothing, hoping for a peek at something spectacular. Waiting forever for a sign.

“Pit-stop, hon,” her mom called from behind the steering wheel, peeling off the road and into a nearly empty parking lot. It was their last chance, literally. Last Chance, Colorado; at least, that’s what the sign said.

Emmaline perked up, lifting her head from the crook of her elbow. “Oh, right, ice cream.” A gargantuan effort was required to open the car door against both the wind and her angst, but the desire for a dipped chocolate cone overcame the ham-inspired dread.

Frozen air hit her lungs hard. Mom fidgeted with her purse by the restaurant’s door.

“Emmy, come on, sweetie. It’s almost closing time. Gotta order and get going. Christmas Eve, baby.”

Her mother called her baby, even though she’d be 11 soon. Emmaline was, in fact, Deb’s only baby, so she let it be. She knew her mother loved her, worked hard for her and made sure these trips were as painless as possible. In the house of her big sister, Deb would soon find herself useless. Emmaline’s eyes would trace her mother’s steps as she wandered aimlessly through a country kitchen, unsure of which dish needed reheating or what pot needed stirring. These were their last few hours of peace. And her mother needed the treat as much as Emmaline did.

A bell decked with mistletoe rang as they entered, placing their order at the counter, a mere pass-through from the small diner’s kitchen to its dining area.

“Why do they call this a Dairy King and not a Dairy Queen?” Emmaline asked her then. It was a safe question, an easy one to answer, having trained herself to swallow the hard ones, the questions without an answer.

“That’s just how they do it out here, I think. A small town thing,” Deb answered absentmindedly, drumming her fingers on the linoleum. Who knows why they do the things they do out here? Who knows why they even make this trip? Who can even remember the first time they came, when it was the three of them on an adventure? Who can remember a dad sneaking bites from his daughter’s cone?

Her mother’s sighs filled the air between them; Emmaline turned to look at her. She squinted in the florescent lights and tried to picture Deb at ten. Did she have her daughter’s freckled face? Did Granny braid her hair? Apart from the obvious height gap and the crinkled lines fingering Deb’s eyes, they alone were like each other: blonde curls and crooked smiles and dainty hands. This gave Emmaline comfort, knowing they would face the holiday together. Two yellow stars in a sky of darker hues.

In that moment – the road of family and mountains and honey-glazed nightmares stretched wide before them – Emmaline remembered the sad answer to all her hard questions, a Polaroid memory clearing, sharpening under the glare of diner lights:

On that day they stood together at the door, her mother holding a document too big with hands too small. Her memory felt their twin hearts break into a million shards as he drove away in the snow. A lukewarm ham left on the Christmas table, the juice of salty tears pooling at its base.

As Deb grabbed their treats and headed for the door, Emmaline made a silent promise to not throw up this time. I can do it, she thought to herself, grabbing the dipped cone from her mother, remembering the curve of his smile, wide with chocolate at the corners.

photo credit: Jersey JJ via photopin

Find out about Karen Huber and her writing
on her blog River Into Words
or follow her on Twitter @karenohuber 

December 10, 2013

Day 10 - Mercy at Christmas

What a treat! My lovely husband has written a story for the collection. Richard would never call himself a writer even though he is a blogger. Almost all of his writing is non fiction, but he has come to a few writing events with me and has tried his hand at fiction the odd time. So I’m not always a bad influence on him ;)

So.. a rare fictional story from the better half…

Mercy by Richard Miles
It was a dull, grey day. Not much different from all the other dull, grey days that had characterised what seemed like months on end. As she looked out of the window, Julie sighed deeply. Nothing about today looked promising. She knew she had to go and face it, but how much easier it would be if the clouds would clear. Somehow things were always better when the sun was shining. She breathed deeply again and opened the front door.

As she walked down the street, she felt an increasing sense of foreboding. What if things turned out badly? What if they didn’t understand? What if…? She felt so fed up that she ran out of what ifs.

At last she saw the big gates in front of her. She pressed the buzzer and slowly they opened. As she walked up the long, tree-lined drive her spirits dropped even further. She knocked at the door.

Julie waited for what seemed like an hour. Her mind flashed back to that fateful day two weeks previously. She remembered clearly that she had thought that there was too much artificial snow in the window display, and anyway Santa’s beard was meant to be white, not a dirty grey.

Then later she had been impressed by the appearance of the woman when she had turned up at the apartment to claim the baby. Immaculately dressed in a dress suit, and expensive looking shoes, the sort that Julie knew she could never afford! She was probably in her early thirties, the same as Julie. She hadn’t realised at the time that this lady was a judge, but that became clear after a few minutes of conversation.

“Of course, you know that you are in violation of the law of the land regarding kidnapping,” she had said. “And as such there are custodial consequences for a breach of such a law. I know; I pass the sentences!”

Julie had only been able to mumble a response to this woman who was dressed in a smart suit, part of her admiring the fact that, as a female of around her age she had risen so high in a male dominated legal profession.
Today was different. The door opened and the woman who appeared was barefoot, but with immaculate nail polish, and dressed in a scruffy polo-necked top with torn jeans.

“Come in, won’t you?” The tone of voice was not that of the imperious legal enforcer that she had encountered before.

Julie was led into a sitting room, which was smaller than she expected. She sat on a hard, upright chair.

“Won’t you sit on the sofa?”

“No thank you – I am quite comfortable here.” was the bewildered mumbled reply.

Julie was still trying to get her head around what was going on. She had been expecting to be told in no uncertain terms that she had been completely in the wrong and would therefore be facing a court case probably ending in a jail sentence.

Instead, this relaxed informally dressed judge said, very gently: “now tell me what was going on.”

“Well, umm,” started Julie uncertainly; “you see I really wanted a baby and I can’t have one and I saw him outside the shop in his little buggy, and well I just started pushing it and before I knew it, I was at home. Then you came and knocked at my door and I didn’t know how you found me, and…..” Julie burst into tears. She looked into the corner of the room and saw the beautifully dressed 7 foot real tree with the lights and decorations perfectly placed. She thought of the ragged tinselled one that she had at home. Why had the judge asked her to come to this grand place? She had seen Julie’s small apartment!

“You realise” said the judge “that stealing a baby is a serious offence. As I said to you, there is a custodial sentence attached.”

“Yes I know and…”

“I’m not going to prosecute you.”

“What? But I’m guilty.”

“And so you are. But I’m choosing to show mercy. As a judge, I am in a position to do that.”

Julie just did not know what she felt, there were so many emotions vying for position.

“But what about the custodial sentence,” she eventually spluttered

“Believe me,” said the judge. “Losing a child for two hours is a severe enough sentence in itself! But I forgive you; and what is more, I would like you to come here for dinner on Christmas Day.”

Julie was completely speechless by now. All she could think of was what had she done to deserve this judge’s mercy?

“I know what you are thinking,” the judge said. “And by the way you can call me Elizabeth. You’re wondering what you have done to deserve me being lenient to you. I’ll tell you – absolutely nothing! If you were in any way deserving, it would not be mercy.”

Julie still didn’t really understand, but was extremely grateful none the less.

“What better time of year to show it?” Elizabeth added

Suddenly Julie remembered the quiet man that was with her on their previous meeting. “Where’s your husband?” (She assumed he was the husband, after all Elizabeth had handed the baby to him!)

“He’s gone down to the food bank – there’s a delivery this morning, and he wanted to be there. Hopefully, if you say yes and agree to come for dinner on Christmas Day, you can ask him to…’

Julie interrupted, astounded. “What? You’re inviting me to dinner on Christmas Day?”

“Yes I am. We’d love you to come and spend Christmas with us. My husband wants to tell you his story; it’s quite remarkable. At one time he would have been grateful for that food bank that he now volunteers with. Someone showed him mercy too.”

photo credit: Adventures of KM&G-Morris via photopin cc

Find out about Richard Miles and his writing 
on his blog Thinkings 
or follow him on Twitter @richjm612

December 9, 2013

Day 9 - Crime doesn't pay, even at Christmas :)

Ken Baker and his wife Val live in the Midlands of Ireland. They enjoy conversational theology, turf fires and good food. They help to pastor a few groups of Christians here and there, and Ken is writing a book on Jesus the Comedian and has written today’s post, which he tells me is a true story… 
I haven’t met Ken yet, but look forward to it.

So here goes…

Criminality at Christmas A Cautionary Tale by Ken Baker

Strange as it may seem, in my life-experience, Christmas is forever tainted with the merest brush of criminality.

We had this tiny house in Lancashire one Christmas: a neat little two-up two-down terraced cottage facing a row of shops. Our four children slept upstairs so Val and I slept on a bed-settee arrangement in the front room. In the middle of the night, an alarm began to sound. It went on and on. Val peered out of the window and alerted me to the fact that the shop directly opposite was being burgled. A van had pulled up outside and two men had simply forced the door and were loading electrical goods into the back of it. “What should we do?” I said “Wuh?” and so she decided to phone the police. The police station was perhaps five minutes drive away, but they were loading that van pretty fast. The policeman said, with a great deal of excitement in his voice “Keep them there! We’ll be on them in a minute, the rascals.” Val wasn’t quite sure how to accomplish this directive. She asked my opinion but apparently I snored back at her.

So being a valiant woman, she opened our window and called across the street, above the noise of the alarm. “Hoy, you there. I can see you.”

They looked across the street, a little perturbed, and then mentally digested the possibility that the police had already been called. They leapt into the van and tore off into the night.
The van backfiring was actually the noise that finally woke me up.
And as one van left, the police car arrived, flashing importantly. They knocked at our door and I answered, somewhat blearily, that the criminals had just left. As if I was a kind of answering machine.

The two young chaps looked at me crossly, and one asked if I had not received the message to keep them there. I apologised for that and they took my name more fully, as if I had suddenly made the transition from model citizen to suspected accomplice.

The next day, however, the shopkeeper arrived at our door and presented us with a toaster in recognition of our services to the dwindling stock of his shop.

We still have it.

But the policeman’s attitude to me (and my own total non-participation) stung me a little, and I nursed a little guilt about the whole affair, which sprang gently to the surface every time my toast popped up.

The following Christmas, as if on cue, we had a house in Didsbury, Manchester, and once more we were sleeping in the front room (though the bed-settee had been upgraded slightly).

I heard a noise.

A scraping noise only a few feet away from my head. I looked up through the frosted glass front door and saw the shape of a man leaning against the door. But it wasn’t my door. It was Next-Door’s door. Next-Door was an elderly, frail and somewhat deaf old lady called Mrs Fretwell whom I had spoken to now and then and who lived alone.

I manoeuvred furtively across to the telephone and summoned the police. After I had completed the call, I noticed that the shape had vanished. I felt somewhat disappointed but then I heard the scraping sound again. It was now coming from the rear of the property. The blaggard (there’s no other word for it) was now in the back – Away from the street-lights! I realised.

Just then the police-car streaked up and skidded to an impressive halt. Three burly figures in black and a female who seemed to be in charge, emerged SWAT-team-like and I bustled to greet them. She accosted me in a whispered conversation. “Don’t slam the doors, boys. Where is he?” “Round the back.” “OK, you two, that way. We’ll take the other way to cut him off.” They disappeared. I was so excited. A moment later, there was a scuffle, and then this man was frogmarched roughly towards car, street-light, and moi. “Do you know this man?” They asked me. “No, officer, I have never seen him before.”

The policewoman looked worried: “Only he says he lives here.”

I denied this flatly.

“He says his mum has locked him out for drinking and he’s trying to get back in.”

I looked blank.

“Well, he also says his uncle and cousins live down the street, so we better check.”
There was no need to wake anybody because house-lights had flicked on up and down the street Home Alone style. They knocked at the appropriate doors and I stood at my front door, watching, a little apprehensively. I saw the policemen interviewing what now seemed to be a small crowd of about twelve or so people in pyjamas. One by one, they looked at the Suspect and then glanced back at me. I started to feel uncomfortable.

The policewoman returned, looking a little grim-faced.

“We’ve checked out his story and he does actually live here.”

“Oh. I…” (Couldn’t think of anything to say).

An unpleasant pause.

“So that’s that. Goodnight and thank you…uh…for your diligence.”

It was a reprimand. The group of people down the street seemed to glower at me as they broke up and disappeared one by one into their houses.

Which left just two people on the street. Me and him.

He looked at me somewhat meaningfully and then resumed scraping at the front door. “Ma… Let me in. I’m sorry…”

I couldn’t believe that she had heard nothing of the whole thing.

The scraping went on for a couple of minutes and I couldn’t bear it any longer. I re-opened the front door. “Do you want to sleep on the sofa?”

“Oh yeah, ta.” He followed me in with alacrity and went straight to the sofa. I went upstairs and manoeuvred my way in between my kids and slept there.

It had been a long night.

photo credit: Stéfan via photopin cc

You can find out about Ken’s other books here
or follow his antics on Facebook here

December 8, 2013

Day 8 - today's post is one about this particular special date in the Christian calendar

Ann Marie Part is my guest today. She is a connection I’ve made on Twitter and I was so thrilled that she wanted to be involved in this Christmas blog fest.  This post is a bit of a church and state  history lesson and I think you’ll enjoy Ann Marie’s own connections with the date and her explanation of its significance for a number of reasons.

Over to her…

December 8th a significant date in the History of Church and State by Ann Marie Part

The 8th of December holds particular significance in the Irish psyche as a Holy Day of Obligation when schools close and Catholics are obliged to attend Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. For generations it was the day that officially heralded the arrival of the Christmas Season when country cousins came in their droves to Dublin and the capital was abuzz with excitement, but as well as being a precursor to Christmas the Feast of the Immaculate Conception itself is an important date in the Catholic Calendar while the 8th of December also marks a number of historical anniversaries, not least of which is this author’s birthday.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary without sin by her mother St. Anne, hence my name Ann Marie and every day I thank God that I didn’t end up as Immaculata (which I could never have lived up to) or Cepta (which would have undoubtedly left me with the nickname ‘Septic’). Debate about Mary’s conception without sin goes back centuries within the early Church but it was not until 1854 that it became official Catholic Dogma, when Pope Pius IX made the infallible declaration that being conceived without original sin meant that Mary was from the start effectively a pure vessel for her later conception of Jesus.

Ironically there is a general misconception about the Immaculate Conception with many mistakenly believing that December 8th refers to Mary’s conception of Jesus, which would of course be the shortest pregnancy in history if He was to be born two weeks later on Christmas Day. That particular event is celebrated by Catholics as the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25th exactly nine months before Christmas, though this confusion I am happy to report has won me a lot of bets over the years.

Those familiar with the story of Lourdes will know that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception also has a particular meaning as it was only when a young country girl told Church investigators in 1858 that the lady in her visions called herself ‘The Immaculate Conception’ that her story began to gain credence and it was on December 8th 1933 that the same young girl Bernadette Soubirous became St. Bernadette following her canonization by Pope Pius XI.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated worldwide and indeed December 8th is actually a Public Holiday in Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Colombia, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guam, Italy, Liechtenstein, Macau, Malta, Monaco, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, San Marino, Seychelles, Spain, Vatican City, Venezuela, and parts of Switzerland.
Masses, novenas, parades, processions, bonfires and fireworks mark the day and in Rome it is celebrated with a ceremony at the Spanish Steps presided over by the Pope; while in Panama it is a National Holiday and also Mother’s Day.

The Feast also has a double resonance for the predominately Catholic island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. December 8th 1941 marks the date that America found itself involved in World War II but at the same time as the US Navy Fleet was under attack in Pearl Harbour Japanese Imperial Forces also attacked and occupied Guam while the islanders were preparing for the annual procession in honour of their Patron Saint “Santa Marian Kamalen”. Islanders believe that it was their cultural identity and tenacity coupled with deep faith and devotion to Mary that sustained them through the horror and brutality of that period. In 2002 a law in Guam attempted to eliminate this holiday for locals but it did not succeed due to public pressure. Typhoon Pongsona struck the island on December 8th that year though the revered bejewelled wood and ivory statue of Santa Marian Kamalen survived as it had through WWII, earthquakes, fires and three robbery attempts since it was found washed up on the shore of the Island over three centuries before.

Closer to home December 8th also marks the anniversary of an important event in Irish history that went on to have far reaching and divisive effects on Irish society for generations and that was the public repudiation of the Anglo- Irish Treaty by Eamon De Valera in 1921. The Treaty had been signed by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffiths with the British Government on December 6th but was rejected by De Valera upon their return particularly because of the Oath of Fidelity to the British Crown. When it was endorsed by the electorate in June 1922 inevitably Civil War followed. Families, friends and communities were bitterly divided by the violence that ensued and the rest as they say is history, though ironically another person who died as a result of violence on December 8th was John Lennon who was assassinated in New York on the day of my 12th birthday in 1980 and as we all know he had dared to ‘Imagine’ a very different world though even in a different world I would still want to be born on December 8th because everyone remembers your birthday!

You can follow Ann Marie Part on Twitter @partannmarie

December 7, 2013

Day 7 - a Christmas story from the Carousel

Carolann Copland, founder and director of Carousel Creates, is a great friend and writing mentor. She published her first novel ‘Summer Triangle’ in October this year and it’s a great read. When she isn’t teaching in a primary school children, she is teaching writing courses to adults and children, as well as running writing workshops at the writers’ centre in the Dublin mountains.

Her story…

Midnight Mass by Carolann Copland
More snow fell. I could see her through my window sitting at the bus stop. The single deckers had come and gone, yet she was still there and now the buses had stopped for the night. She was wrapped in a blue shawl that shimmered in the light from the street lamp. I watched her lift her Lidl bag up onto her lap and hug it close to her. I felt drawn to her but stayed where I was, staring at the woman child. She leaned her head forward and rested it on her bag.

Our Christmas tree lights flashed from the corner of the room. Leaning to turn them off, I stopped after pulling the first plug. That would be too final. It would mean it was time to switch out all the lights and go to bed and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. When I closed my eyes I would see her. On her bench. Freezing. Staring at the bag. Santa’s presents littered the room. He had stuffed the stockings to bursting point and eaten his cake and drunk his whiskey and gone off to eat and drink in other houses the length and breadth of the world. Imagine. I had more cake and I found myself wondering whether she’d like a piece. Would it remind her maybe of where she was supposed to be?

I couldn’t hear her from where I was but when she sat up straight suddenly, I could see from her face that she was in pain. I ran outside; the cold gripping. Each crunch of the fresh snow filled me with dread. I could hear her wails now and standing at the kerb waiting for a car to pass I could see the scarlet pool at her feet, seeping into the snow. I thought of my mobile and turned, unsure. Maybe I should try to bring her home before calling for help.

When I reached her she pulled the baby blanket around her and her crying stopped suddenly.

‘Go ’way.’ Her voice was hoarse.

‘I will,’ I said. ‘Soon. But would you come into the house and rest for a while first?’

She shook her head fiercely and pulled the bag closer to her.

‘Where’s your baby, love? Is it at home?’ I wanted to get her moving. I reached over and held her hand. No gloves. She was ice.

‘I forgot to leave the bag,’ she cried. ‘He has no clothes or nappies or anything now.’ More drops of blood fell on the snow and the girl cried with the pain again.

I tried once more. ‘We’ll bring your bag to the baby. You’re right. He’ll need all his things. What’s your name pet?’

‘Maria,’ she sniffed. ‘Is it midnight yet?’

‘No’ I said. ‘A half an hour to go.’ I put my arm under hers and pulled her to standing.

‘I left him with the baby Jesus,’ she said. ‘They’ll find him at midnight mass.’

Find out more about Carolann’s writing and teaching
on the Carousel Creates website
or follow her on Twitter @carouselcreates

December 6, 2013

Day 6 - a family struggle at Christmas

I met Linda at the course I facilitated in Sept/Oct. Every time she read, it was obvious she had learned something and put it in to practice. I look forward to reading more of Linda’s work as we’ll see each other regularly in writer’s group we’re both in. I reckon there’s lots of great stuff to come from her.

Here’s her Christmas story…

Snow by Linda Hickey

I believed until then, that Jonathan and I were a couple that could survive all of life’s blizzards.  We met in the canteen of the architecture building during our first week at UCD.  I noticed Jonathan sitting with a group of girls in the corner.  I loved his brown curly hair and that old leather satchel that he carried around with him.  We were together most of the next five years and left for London when we graduated.  Our time there was filled with hope for the future and we settled down to designing homes for wealthy couples living in the city.  We always wanted to come home to Dublin so when we had saved enough money, we invested in a small site on a quiet road in Ballyroan.  When the house was being built, I fell pregnant with our daughter Lucy.  Her birth was the happiest time in our lives and we loved her more than we could have expected.

That December, Dublin was covered in a thick quilt of white snow.  The recession had reduced our business to a handful of clients.  Jonathan took care of the site visits and I worked on the house designs in our home office.  Every morning I would bring Lucy to school, greeting the First Class teacher as Lucy rushed by to meet her friends.  A week before Christmas, the parents were invited in to the classroom to hear the girls singing carols.  Lucy was so excited and changed in to her angel outfit before breakfast.  She went off to school in a flurry and I promised not to be late for her performance at twelve o’clock.

Jonathan was out with a client and I switched on the computer but didn’t feel like working.  I went to clean Jonathan’s desk and grabbed a cloth with some polish.  I sat in his large leather chair.  As I looked through the drawers it felt odd to be looking through his possessions.  We had known each other for fourteen years but I felt that a distance had grown between us.  I pushed this thought away and continued to look through his things.  In the depths of the bottom drawer, I felt the smooth surface of a box with curved corners.  Filled with unease, I opened the box and saw the gold necklace with the white pearl pendant.  It couldn’t be a Christmas present, I thought.  We had a pact this year not to buy gifts for each other until business improved.  Still, the discovery gave me a strange feeling that was unfamiliar.

When Jonathan came back from his meeting, I called him in to our office.

“I found this in your drawer”, I said, presenting the box.

“Oh, it’s nothing”, replied Jonathan.  I wasn’t sure that I wanted to hear the truth.

“Who is it for?” I said, feeling that he was slipping away from me.

“Does it matter…” replied Jonathan.

“I want to know“, I said, my voice rising to a shout.  I was glad we lived in a detached house, not wanting anyone to hear me.

“We haven’t been close, for a while… ”, offered Jonathan.  I felt a scream well up inside me.  All the tension of the last few months erupted from inside my chest.  But I made no noise.

“What are you trying to tell me?” I hissed.

Jonathan was silent.  I looked at him and saw that he was far away.  He wouldn’t let me catch his eye and I felt so alone.

“Jesus, Jonathan, I know things have been difficult with the business and everything”, I bargained.  Jonathan was silent, his discomfort filling the room.  I wanted to beat at his chest with my fists as if I could bring back the man I had known before.

“We really have to go”, said Jonathan, cutting me off and looking at the clock.

We grabbed our coats quickly, and made our way out to Jonathan’s jeep.  The journey to the school was slow because the snow had frozen again.  I watched out the passenger window not wanting to look at him.  I wished there was something you could take for this kind of pain, that heavy feeling that settles in your chest.

We are late and take our place by the door of the classroom full of expectant parents.  The girls wear white with wings and halos.  Lucy stands in the back row because she is the tallest in her class.  Her halo, made at home by her father is bigger than all of the others.  The wire coat hanger is bent into a round shape much larger than the circumference of her head.  It is covered with gold tinsel that has been on our Christmas tree for the past seven years.  I listen to the girls singing and let my eyes close.  The teacher conducts the group encouraging and prompting the girls.  They sing “Hark the Herald angel sings” and “peace on earth and mercy mild”.  I feel such emotion that I want to let go and cry great big Christmas sobs.

The recital ends and excited girls grab coats and bags and wave goodbyes to the teacher.  I carry Lucy’s wings so that she can put on her coat. But she wants to wear her halo.  And so our angel offers her left hand to me and her tiny right hand to her father.  We three step carefully onto freshly fallen snow towards the waiting car.  And I wonder what the New Year will bring, but for now, I know that our daughter will hold us together.

photo credit: Great Beyond via photopin cc

December 5, 2013

Day 5 - thoughts on an Irish Christmas from an Australian

Pam Longe is a lovely friend. We used to go to the same church in Dublin. Pam is Australian and is living back there now, but she has fond memories of Christmas in Ireland. A very different experience…

Here are her memories of her first Christmas in Ireland…

Christmas with a Difference by Pam Longe

Pam & her husband Muz

My name is Pam and from 2007 to 2009 my husband and I lived in Dublin, Ireland.  It was a wonderful experience, despite it being so far from home – Australia.  We loved travelling and experiencing everything Irish.  As Ibn Battuta said ‘Travelling will leave you speechless, then it will turn you into a storyteller’  So I’ve been writing of my experiences since.

Maybe it’s the Northern Hemisphere influence, but growing up, most of our Christmas cards were snowy Christmas scenes, with carollers rugged up against the cold, carrying lanterns to light their way. Santa was often seen squeezing down a chimney while the reindeer waited patiently on a snow-encrusted roof.

It’s our first Christmas in Ireland and we hope against hope it will snow and we will experience a Christmas of our childhood dreams. The forecast isn’t promising though. We want to make our Christmas here special, as we are aware just how far we are from family and friends at a time traditionally known as a ‘family time’.

In November we decided to make Christmas cards to send to everyone back home. We headed into the gorgeous gardens at Merrion Square, armed with a few Christmas decorations. We found a lovely blue spruce tree and hung a few red baubles on it. We set up the camera on the tripod with the time delay and took some photos of us posing with the tree. We rug up, I’m in my lovely European red coat and Murray has a thick scarf around his neck.

After we have our photos printed, I am happy to spend time indoors as the days are now very cold. I create our cards and have many trips across to the An Post office to mail off our creations to Australia.

We are only too aware of the emotional slump we could find ourselves in being alone at Christmas, so we hatch plans with an Aussie friend who lives in Oxford. Where can we be guaranteed snow? She has a friend in Sweden, but we’d have to hire a car and cram in with people we don’t know. Austria is always snowy at Christmas, but as we figure most things will be shut and it could be fairly quiet. Eventually Jen decides to come to Dublin and the plans are made.

She brings her contribution – a Fortnum and Mason plum pudding, and I have secured a brandy sauce that is guaranteed to ensure a very merry Christmas! Turkey and vegetables are purchased, as well as champagne. We buy red placemats and a decorative candle, as well as a small Christmas tree. I decide it needs lights, as the days are so short and I enjoy switching the lights on at 4pm every afternoon and thinking they probably bring some cheer to the office workers across from our balcony window.

We spend the days leading up to Christmas just soaking up the atmosphere. The shops in our village have Christmas trees out the front, with lights and the French Paradox, the exclusive wine shop, has one decorated very creatively with wine glasses and lights. The houses all have wreaths on their doors, many with tiny white lights which look wonderful in the gloomy afternoons. Many houses have fairy lights in the bare trees in the gardens. We take a trip into Grafton Street to photograph the Christmas lights. Despite tights, jeans, boots, gloves, hats and coats we are chilled to the bone after an hour. It is two degrees.

Christmas Eve is very dead in Ireland. A lot of people seem to go ‘home’ for Christmas, which means driving to their families who live in the country, for their traditional Christmas feasts. Needing to get out, the three of us head over to the Herbert Park Hotel for a drink and share a cheese platter and enjoy catching up on news of our families and life over the past year, and planning our next trip together. We watch families in the lounge of the hotel; children giddy with pre-Christmas excitement, and find ourselves caught up in it all.

Christmas morning we sleep in and then drag ourselves out of bed to ring our families back home as they are watching Carols by Candlelight – a family tradition. We have some croissants and coffee and open our presents with the camera clicking away. My mum has thoughtfully sent presents for Jenny too.

We scan the skyline – clouds, but no rain or snow – so no white Christmas for us, but we are warm and snug inside our apartment and the turkey is starting to smell very nice as it roasts in the oven.

We eventually sit down to an impressive lunch about 1pm and toast our friendship and our families, far away.

What is it about a hot roast lunch that makes you feel so full and sleepy? We succumb to our stupor and all have a nap, deciding we are too full to eat more and will ‘split’ our meal and have the pudding for dinner.

After more calls back home, we realise we have actually talked with more relatives at Christmas this year than when we are home. Jenny has also bought some DVD’s to watch, so armed with our pudding and intoxicating brandy custard, we decided to watch Mamma Mia. We have had a few champagnes by this stage and think, what the heck, it’s Christmas, so we decide to play the ‘sing along version’. Jenny can sing, but has had a cold. I think I can sing, and have been coughing for four weeks already. Murray can’t sing and admits it, but we don’t let it stop us. Pierce Brosnan can’t sing either we discover! We sing along at the tops of our voices, between mouthfuls of pudding, and agree the custard just might go off if we leave it, so we’d better finish it off.
We make a last couple of phone calls to those who are just putting their turkey in the oven back home, and decide to call it a day and head off to bed. We are off to the cinema tomorrow to see – what else? – Australia!!

We agree there is nothing quite like a Northern Hemisphere Christmas and there is nothing like spending Christmas with good friends when you can’t be with your family.

December 4, 2013

Day 4 - The Case for Christmas

Today’s story is from Michael Slator. Michael is one of a group of people who attended a Beginner’s Creative Writing course which I facilitated in Sept/Oct. Like a number of others on the course (some of whom you’ll hear from later in the month), Michael did not write like a beginner. He has a wealth of funny stories to tell and kept us regularly entertained over the 8 weeks. His story today is wonderful, very heart warming and well… I think you’re going to love it…

The Case for Christmas by Michael Slator

Driving the four hours to Donegal I had time to think of the anti-Christmas comments I heard the night before

“Sure, it’s a cold dark time of the year”.
“I think it’s a sad time of the year”.
“Jeez it’s not Christmas already is it”.

They all thought I was going mad when I said I love everything about Christmas.

We are lucky that we avoid the loneliness many other pensioners face at Christmas. We spend the holidays with my son and his wife and their three children. We usually arrive while the excited children listen to the radio as Santa Claus calls out the names of children and places he will be visiting that night. As the elves help with packing the sleigh all ears are cocked to hear if Santa Claus mentions a Sean, Emily, or Joseph from Donegal and when these names are called their eyes and feet dance in frenzied excitement as confirmation of his coming is heard.

Finally we hear Santa Claus is on his way and now comes a very traditional part of Christmas Eve. The family ritual of lighting the Christmas candle at dusk is carried out by the youngest person in the house and this year it will be two year old Joseph.

When Sean and Emily his older siblings lit their candle we put the candle on a large deep soup dish covered in holly with an ample supply of red berries swathing the candle. We made a taper from newspaper which we lit from the pine log fire, and put the lit taper into a chubby dimpled fist. With the assistance of Daddy the un  co-ordinate hand was guided to the wick causing the candle to splutter into a warm gentle light casting shadows on the walls which dance as the candle flickers sometimes catching a down draught breeze from the, recently cleaned for Santa Claus, chimney.

It is then that for some mystifying reason a sense of quietness and whispering voices descend on the house. Young ears are strained hoping not to hear the sound of a bell or worst still a sleigh or hooves landing on the roof and you not tucked up asleep in your bed or cot.

This is a unique night as the children volunteer to go to bed early allowing Santa Claus start his world wide delivery service and the children perhaps instinctively know he needs all the time he can get to manage this miraculous task.

But before bed and with everyone in pyjamas and onesies we sit around in candle light and sing carols. There is something about singing carols by candle light in the depths of mid-winter that is evocative of childhood and it touches me deeply as thoughts I assumed were long since buried come flooding back to me. I fight back my tears as “Silent Night” is sung with fervour and sweet voiced innocence by my grandchildren.

Thank God for Rudolf and Frosty the Snowman and the jollity these songs bring and on their cheery notes the children make their way uncomplainingly to bed. All tucked snugly in their beds I now read “The night before Christmas” and as Saint Nick is mentioned slowly the eyes close and then closing the door I make my escape as quietly as the poems mouse and join the adults downstairs.

A place is made for me on the sofa and surrounded by those who are precious to me I sip my glass of mulled wine as the sprouts’ and who likes white turkey meat are mentioned. I am not really listening but instead reflecting on Santa Claus bringing me my predictable socks and jumper as I sleep but really if he forgets I forgive that overworked man.

And then I sadly think of the Christmas detractors and I have to say to them,

Keep Christmas; Christmas with its burning of the pine log – the dreams – the fantasy - the warmth – and above all ,the sharing, the caring and the giving. And if you are fortunate like me and experience these things also, you know why I love Christmas.

photo credit: f2point8 via photopin cc

December 3, 2013

Day 3 - Christmas moments of solitude

Today’s post is by good Twitter bud. Ken Armstrong has had writing produced for radio, theatre, and film. He’s also had some short stories published. His blog is probably my favourite of all blogs. He has been a great encouragement as I’ve made my journey towards becoming a writer.
If I had a bucket list, having a coffee (or a beer, I’m not fussy) with him would be on it.
I just love his take on the benefits of moments of solitude at Christmas.

Over to Ken…

Insular by Ken Armstrong

Thinking, as I do, about why I like Christmas, I tend to come up with the same answers that most people do. You know the ones, I won’t harp on about them.

Perhaps one reason that I like Christmas is a little out of the ordinary, I’m not sure. It’s best described in the title of the post. ‘Insular’.

Christmas insulates me from the real world for a short time and I love it for that reason. The type of work I do just… stops until the New Year and my world closes in upon itself to become almost entirely about family and rest and bad TV and good books.

Through the year, the world and I are in pretty close contact pretty much all of the time. The insulating quality of this mid-winter holiday is a welcome break from all of that. Apart from some family and friend gatherings in the early moments of the holiday, it’s a quiet reclusive time and it’s enormous good fun.

One of my favourite memories of this type of Christmas insulation is quite a recent one – I would guess seven or eight years ago. The boys had got a Nintendo Gamecube for Christmas and it was a big hit. I was unimpressed with the games Santa had brought so I did some research and went out and bought ‘Legend of Zelda, The Wind Waker’ – for the boys, of course. Then I sat up all night playing it.

And this is my memory – 3.30am, fire dying in the grate, lights low, couch pulled up close to the television, large box of Roses to hand, playing the game. My wife and boys tucked up safe and warm in bed and my only two concerns in the world a) How to swing that little adventurer boy across the hold of the pirate ship and b) whether to have an orange or a strawberry crème next.

It probably reveals more about me than I normally do in writing but the insular moment I experienced that night remains very special to me.

It may seem odd or even a bit psychopathic to cite a memory such as this as a favourite. Where are the family moments, the revelry, the companionship? I have those too. But this one has a special place.

Happy Christmas to you all.

I wish you an insular moment to treasure.

Find out about Ken Armstrong and his writing
on his blog Ken Armstrong Writing Stuff
or follow him on Twitter @kenarmstrong1

photo credit: LollyKnit via photopin cc

December 2, 2013

Day 2 - all about the Christmas journey...

It’s only Day 2 and already I realise what an inspired idea this was. But that’s only because I know all the treats that are ahead of you during this guest blog fest.
Today it’s Allison Hudson. She is from Canada, living here in Ireland. We had heard of each other quite a bit and have a number of mutual friends and were finally brought together by writing. The other thing we share is our love for Jesus 

Here’s her thoughts on Christmas…

Christmas Journey by Allison Hudson

the long, dull drive, all day on the straight, grey highway
finally, the diamond willow bushes appear beside a gravel road, and we arrive
the family farm, grandparents and coloured lights, cats and crunch of snow
awake with contented joy, my magic begins
(there is no magic in staying home)

games at the kitchen table of an evening: scrabble and trivial pursuit
fascinating reflections of lights in the dark frosted window
flavours of mandarin oranges, homemade snacks and peppermint chocolates
the early dusk of prairie winter wraps us in cosy, spruce-scented light
(magic of love and laughter make this my other home)

church on Christmas Eve: candles and Silent Night
moonlight on snow glowing blue and coyotes howling
back at the farm, the bonfire high, fed by the year’s deadfall
we, my brother and me and sometimes cousins, sent to bed early
(even the magic of anticipation can’t keep us awake for long)

silence settles over farm and house; stockings stuffed and ready
the tree, adorned with generations of crafts and antique glass
shelters the gifts that lie in wait for morning’s excitement and bustle
the darkness soon gives way to light of day
(Christ has come; the magic is here)

an adult now, and far from home: I miss the farm
and my family, all our traditions, and the prairie winter
but now it’s my job to try to make the magic for my two girls
we start our own traditions, teach them of His love
(memory is strong, and magic lives)

You can follow Allison on Twitter @Nikiwan72

photo credit: campbelj45ca via photopin cc

December 1, 2013

A whole host of Guest Posts for December. Christmas stories from around the world...

I’m not a bad Mrs Claus am I! :)


Having completed NaNoWriMo AND publishing my first book in November I’ve decided to celebrate other writers (and take a break  ). I’ve asked friends and family for 24 Christmas stories – some fact, some fiction; which I will post, one each day from today until Christmas Eve.

I’m delighted to welcome a host of different people to the blog for the month of December. There’ll be everyone from published authors to people who are just starting out, seasoned bloggers to some who do not write very often but wanted to share a story. We’ll have Canadians, Irish, Americans , Australians… and you! If you’d like to contribute, you’d be welcome to. But hurry up – I have a few spaces left and I want all the stories up on the blog ready to ‘appear’ each day, by December 15th.

As a little incentive… all contributors’ names will go into a hat and someone will get a signed paperback copy of ‘The Long & The Short of it’ 

So, the first story is our advent calendar of Christmas Stories is by Tara Sparling. I’ve just got to know Tara recently. She has a wonderful blog about the writing and publishing. I’m looking forward to reading the novel that I know is in the process of preparation for publication. As well as all that, she is the best craic to hang out with. Love that I’ve gotten to know her.

Here’s here story….

GUESS WHO? by Tara Sparling

My mother would sit on the stairs crying when they went. It’s practically all I remember of the late 1980s. Tommy was the first to go, then PJ. The twins, gone.

The rest of us wondered if they would look the same when we saw them again. Every year on their birthday they would go and get the same haircut so nobody could tell them apart.

“I can always tell them apart,” Mam said once, awful annoyed altogether. “Are you telling me I don’t know my own sons?”

But when Tommy was leaving, she didn’t. Maybe they went to the barber’s that day thinking the family mightn’t miss them as much if we couldn’t tell which one of them had gone.

About an hour before the train, she threw her arms around PJ, crying. “You’ll write,” she said, hugging him tight. “And we’ll get you home for the Christmas, with the help of God.”

“Mam,” said PJ, grinning. “I’m not Tommy.”

She nearly didn’t forgive him for that.

The twins thought it was a great adventure. They only went separately because PJ had to stay at home for six months to finish his apprenticeship. They’d never spent more than three days away from each other before and they had never lived away from home. Mam said at least they would be together again soon, living in their bachelor pad, seeing all the sights from the top floors of the tallest half-built buildings in London.

But they didn’t get home for Christmas. The flights were too expensive, the boats all booked up. That year, she didn’t sit on the stairs. She went crying into the sprouts instead.

“They’ll be fine, Mam,” I said. “Just put a bit of streaky bacon in with them or something and we’ll eat them all up.”

We got used to it in time. The table no longer groaned with the task ahead and there was plenty of elbow room for everyone, so it wasn’t so bad sitting next to Eddie with his stupid left-handed eating anymore. There was more than enough stuffing and no fights over who took the last of the gravy or why Angela always had to have a wing which everybody knew was the worst part of the turkey.

Mam found other things to cry into – the soup, the mince pies and the brandy butter. Once I found her crying upside-down into her new chest freezer. “I’ll never have them home again for it,” she sobbed, scavenging the bottom for frozen breadcrumbs.

After a while Mam stopped mentioning the twins all the time. But that was when they finally came home. There was a rap on the door on Christmas Eve and Mam threw off her apron, her hands fluttering over her heart like nervous little birds when she saw who was standing there. They had brought girls with them. They had come for their dinner and to tell us that they were getting married and moving back home.

After that, we never had a problem with the haircuts. We simply went by which wife was standing beside them at the time. It wasn’t foolproof, but Mam was happy enough with it.

Find out more about Tara Sparling
and her writing at her blog
Tara Sparling Writes
or follow her on Twitter @tarasparling

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