Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 5: An Inch Off!

Yes--a whole inch is gone from the old belly! Though I can't say it is all from the result of adding safflower oil to my diet--I have been eating a LOT of salads, too--I'm pleased. I can't wait to see how much more change at the end of these 14 days. It's really TOO easy to do this, so what's stopping us all from trying this? I have had no trouble incorporating this oil into my diet. The amount is minimal and it is relatively inexpensive--and the it doesn't taste bad either!

So, day 5 is showing a little progress--hoping I will have more good news to report in the next few days! But for tonight, it is New Year's Eve and we'll be celebrating in our family with a quiet night at home. We'll play games, eat some good food, and watch the ball drop at Times Square at the appropriate moment.

My prayer for all of you is to have a blessed and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Onward with the Experiment--and Other Things

Day 3 was pretty much the same as day 2 and day 1: nothing new to report. Day 4 is turning out the same, too, and so far, I'm not seeing any loss of inches around my belly. I'm SO impatient!

One good side effect though: I'm eating more salads now--mostly because I fell in love with the lime vinaigrette that I made with the safflower oil. Yum. It has that sour/tangy/salty kind of taste that I often crave through the day, and since I discovered boxed spring mix lettuces don't have that icky "plastic bag" taste, it's easy to mix a salad up and put it in the fridge.

I also found out that being on the treadmill with music going helps me stay on it and actually work harder as I groove to the music. (Well, "groove" is a relative word when used with me--I mean that I kind of move better and faster.)

Anyway, I' listening to old Christian rock bands and it is FUN. I love Greg X. Volz's music and his "The River is Rising" CD is AWESOME to listen to as I walk.

So though I'm not really seeing any results from the safflower oil yet, I'm doing better with eating and exercising. The key will be to see how long I can keep it up. A week is about all I usually can stand of "healthy" living before I slowly revert back to old habits. In the mean time, I am having a little more fun with watching our for my health. That's go t to be a good thing, right?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 2: Great Safflower Experiment

Well, so far, it hasn't been difficult at all to incorporate the safflower oil into my diet. And the best part is that it doesn't have a flavor, so anything I put it in tastes "normal".

Last night, I made pasta salad and added 2 teaspoons of oil to the cooked pasta before mixing in the other ingredients. There was no oily taste--2 teaspoons is so small. This morning, I had my usual one egg omelet, and used 1/2 teaspoon of oil for the pan. Again, no problems. At lunch, I had a sandwich (no oil), and for dinner I made spaghetti. I added one teaspoon of oil to the sauce and brushed a little on the rolls before adding seasonings. I made a citrus vinaigrette using an orange and 1 1/2 teaspoons of safflower oil to use on my salad. Yum.

I think it's too early to measure anything, but I can't wait to see results. (Typical Dee response to any weight/inches loss plan!)

The funny thing is that just trying something is making me feel better and also giving me incentive to tame the Beast (aka--TREADMILL). We'll see how long that lasts.

So that's the report for day 2. Signing off until tomorrow!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Great Safflower Experiment--Belly Fat Be Gone!

I read results from a recent experiment at Ohio State University in which safflower oil was seen to reduce belly fat among women with type 2 diabetes. According to the report, the women added close to 2 tsp. of safflower oil per day to their diet. The oil seemed to help their bodies target the belly fat to be burned first, thus reducing the inches of fat on their tummies. This also helped to control their blood sugars.

I'm thinking as I read this: "Are you kidding me? For less than $6 I can try something that has been shown to work in a research project?" Yes. So today I bought myself a bottle of safflower oil and added 2 teaspoons to my pasta salad. I decided to create a ticker to keep track of how many days I'll be trying this experiment. I'm not going to tell you how many inches I'm starting with, but I WILL post any lost inches on here.

My birthday is exactly 14 days from today so I figure that will be a good time to report my own results. If it works, what an awesome b-day present I'll be giving myself! Stay tuned--I'll blog about any results--good or bad--that comes from this not-so-very scientific, but oh-so-fun experiment!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rattling On

Here's an observation that struck me tonight as I was looking through the book of Job: Job and his friends (if that's what you can call them) rattled on for THIRTY-EIGHT chapters about Job and his troubles! They were questioning and complaining...analyzing and exhorting...and God didn't stop them. On and on and on they rattled.

It made me think: I do that. I moan and complain and rattle on and on sometimes, and God doesn't stop me. But, when He does step in and take on a conversation with me, His words are ALWAYS right to the point and there's NO hiding from His truth.

I love this part when God begins His conversation with Job (chapter 38, verse 3): "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me."

And then God proceeds to do just that (verses 12-13, 16-21):

"Have you ever given orders to the morning,or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?"

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?

Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?

Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?

Tell me, if you know all this.

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?

Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?

Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!

Oh boy. It's the Creator of the universe asking Job these things! Wow.

I imagine that Job shrank to his puny human form. When I'm reminded of Who God is, I do, too. When I read God's conversation with Job, I tremble at God's power. His words remind me that God is not about to be put in a box, or delivered up for inspection. Instead, I need to back down and relinquish the right to rattle on when it overtakes me.

But there is also a sense of relief in realizing once again that it is not all up to me. The power and glory of God is revealed all around me--at all times--and, even in the worst of times. I can "stand down" and let Him guide my life, and know that He has it all under control--and without my puny human help!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Fiction: Christmas Miting

© By Dee Yoder

The early morning frost coats the branches of the pines surrounding them like thick sparkling sugar. Every now and then, a horse trots past their car, the ringing hooves against the blacktopped road announcing it long before they can see it. Each buggy is examined, and each time she sighs when the Old Order Amish family inside is not her own.

“How long do you want to stay?” he asks softly.

“Do you mind if we wait a bit longer?”

“We need to be at the Stevenson’s by noon, Honey.”

“I know…I was just hoping that this year…” her voice trails off as they hear another horse-drawn buggy approaching. She leans forward and presses her forehead against the windshield of their car. She watches closely as the buggy nears their parking spot at the side of the road. He wonders how many more Christmas mornings in the future they’ll be doing this same thing, but when he glances at his wife’s eager face, his bristling heart gentles.

“Not Daet and Maem, I’m afraid.” She eases back against the seat and looks down at her joined hands in her lap. She sighs again. “I need to see them on Christmas morning…just once more, Jacob. I know last year, it was hard, too…but after this, I promise, no more.”

He leans over and takes her left hand in his, wrapping it in loving comfort. “I know. I don’t mind waiting just a little longer. Bishoff Miller is very punctual with the start of church, so they should be coming along any time now, Leah.”

She reaches to click on the radio. “Let’s see what kind of Christmas music is on, Ok?” she asks brightly. The sound of a church organ permeates the quiet atmosphere of the car, and they both smile as they lean their heads back to listen. Leah sings along.

“O, come all ye faithful…joyful and triumphant…*” she breaks off as another buggy catches them unaware.

Leah immediately recognizes Sparky’s manner and she wonders how she could have thought that any of the other horses she’d been watching that morning were him: the way he trots...the way he lets the collar ride his broad shoulders…and the spark of excitement he shows in his prancing legs and bobbing head. Her hands ache to pat him and groom him. Then her eyes move quickly from the horse to the buggy. There’s Daet!

His beard is still nicely shaped—not jagged in its natural curve as some Amishmen’s are, though he never dares to trim it…against the Ordnung to trim his beard. His white eyebrows rise above his blue eyes like winged birds, and the soft expression on his face surprises Leah. She hasn’t seen that look in a long time. The shunning that she and Jacob received two years ago after they’d claimed to be “born again” had brought nothing but censured, reproach-filled looks from her Daet. But this Christmas morning, his face looks kind and gentle.

She swiftly scans Maem’s face. Tears form at the corners of Leah’s eyes as she takes in the graying hair and rosy cheeks of her Maem. It’s shocking how much older she seems, Leah thinks…have I caused that? “Oh, Maem…” she moans aloud. Jacob, still holding Leah’s hand in his, squeezes it hard.

Maem suddenly turns her head toward the spot on the side of the road where Leah and Jacob are sitting in their car. Leah sees her eyes recognize her daughter’s face. Maem’s calm expression suddenly changes as a look of longing passes rapidly over it. Leah raises her right hand in greeting…but Maem breaks the bond and looks away. The buggy passes by.

Leah begins to cry, her heart breaking anew over the harshness of the miting that she and Jacob are under. No contact…no simple greeting…no “Merry Christmas” from her family again this year. She watches the buggy until it disappears around a corner far down the road.

Jacob reaches across to her and pulls her tight against his chest. She can hear his heartbeat and its familiar sound eases the pain in Leah’s own heart. They lean against one another for several minutes while the music of “Joy to the World”** flows from the radio.

“Let every heart prepare Him room.” Leah sings it as a prayer. She wipes her eyes, and looks up at Jacob with a watery smile. “Let’s go now. We don’t want to keep our adopted family waiting…it is Christmas day, after all.”

Daet= Dad
Maem= Mom
Ordnung= letter of strict rules which govern each local church and the lives of the Old Order Amish. The rules may be added to or deleted from the Ordnung by each presiding bishop.
Bishoff= bishop or presiding church leader

*”O, Come All Ye Faithful” words and music by John Wade, 1743
** “Joy to the World” words by Isaac Watts, 1719; music by Lowell Mason, 1836

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Fiction: Walnut Fudge and Christmas Secrets

© By Dee Yoder

Mama and Daddy took the Studebaker into town this evening as soon as Daddy came home from the mine. Mama’s eyes held Christmas secrets, and Daddy laughed and kissed her cheek when she whispered what she wanted to get.

“Grandma said she had some pennies saved back, Daddy,” I told him before they left. “She wants you to get a peppermint stick for each of the little kids.”

“Ok, Son. Go get it from her and then we’ll be going.”

We waved them off, five pairs of eyes watching out the kitchen window as the old car lumbered its way through the heavy snow toward town.

“Well, let’s get cracking, Kids!” laughed Grandma as soon as the car disappeared from view.

Jason and me and Mary Anne went out to the barn and hauled the canvas sack of black walnuts out from the space under the loft. We’d collected them in the fall and hidden them away just for this night. The chores we’d done had earned us the money to buy extra sugar and all the fixings to make black walnut fudge. With the Depression dragging on, Mama had told us sadly that she couldn’t afford to make the traditional pans of fudge for Christmas Eve, but we were giddy with excitement to think of the surprise she and Daddy would have when they got home that night, and the sweet treat from our shared efforts was just the thing to make our Christmas complete.

Grandma and Susie had the milk scalding on the cook stove, while Tara buttered the pans and measured out the precious sugar. Grandma had fiddled with the Crosley radio while we were outside, and now the sounds of the Andrews Sisters and Perry Como cheered the warm kitchen with a happy rendition of “Winter Wonderland.”*

We poured the walnuts out on the hearth and started cracking the hard shells. By the time we were done, we had black hands and a few cups of shelled walnuts.

“Ok, Kids, the milk’s ready and the bowls are set out here on the table. C’mon around and lets get this fudge stirred up,” called Grandma. We gathered close and formed an assembly line. Grandma poured the hot milk, I added the sugar, and the little ones dumped in the walnuts.

Before long, the sticky sweet fudge filled the pans and the air with chocolately, walnutty flavors and smells. We sighed as we set the last pan on the windowsill to chill. Grandma went to her room and got her Bible, and we sat in a circle at her feet as she read the Christmas story.

“And it came to pass that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed…”** she read. We smiled as the familiar words filled our imaginations with scenes from long ago.

It was close to bedtime before Mama and Daddy came home. Their cheeks were rosy, and they brought a crisp snowy scent in with them as they unwrapped their mufflers and peeled off their gloves.

“What’s that lovely smell?’ Mama asked suddenly. Her eyes darted to the windows and she spotted the pans of fudge cooling on the outside sills. She and Daddy exchanged a glance and then laughed.

“So much for our surprise, right, Honey?” Daddy smiled. Mama brought the wrapped package they’d brought from town to the table. The brown paper crinkled as she unfolded it, revealing a small pan of Black Walnut fudge.

“Daddy did some work for Miss Pringle last week and she paid us in fudge!” Mama exclaimed. “But the joke’s on us--now we have fudge coming out our ears--think we can eat it all?”

To show her proof that we could indeed eat it all, we cut the fudge into large pieces and gobbled down the small pan full of chocolaty, nutty candy in no time flat.

“Time for bed, Little Ones,” Mama prompted.

Later, as the snow fell softly outside and the radio played merrily in the background, Grandma, Mama, Daddy, and me sat around the fire. I watched lazily as Mama filled the stockings with oranges, peppermint sticks, and pencils. Then smiling broadly, she dropped a few walnuts into the stockings and their familiar shapes made lumps in the rounded toes.

Daddy grabbed her and pulled her onto his lap. “I think I could stand another piece of that fudge, honey,” he laughed. “Somehow it tastes better this year than ever before.”

*Winter Wonderland: Music by Felix Bernard and Lyrics by Richard B. Smith, 1934
**Luke 2:1, The Holy Bible, King James Version

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Madison Community Christmas Concert--I Made It!

Tonight was the Community Choir Christmas concert that I've been practicing for since November 1. I wasn't sure if I could handle it--NaNoWriMo was starting, and more importantly, the health problems I've been dealing with since October of 2007 made me feel very unsure of being able to stand and sing for a length of time without struggling with low blood sugar and dizziness. But, I've missed music in my life for SO long, and I wanted to give it a shot.

So I went to my first practice and it was WEIRD. Not because of the people or the director, but because of the location: my old high school music room. I hadn't walked in that school room for 35 years! Yet, within minutes, it all came back--sight-reading new music, learning my part (second soprano--or "slacker soprano" as one of my tenor friends calls it), and the art of blending my voice with others. Our choir was a mixture of folks older, and much younger, than me, but I loved it right from the get-go.

I didn't miss a single practice, learned my music, and struggled week to week to control the health issues that threatened my resolve. But finally--FINALLY--the night of the concert came and I was as ready as I could be! In my right pocket: glucose tablets to get me through the performance--and in my left pocket: Kleenex and lip balm. I planned my doses of quick sugar: one after the second after the fourth...and one at the end...and a left-over tab--just in case.

Well, I used them all, but I made it through! If you've ever experienced serious health problems, then you can understand my feeling of victory tonight--I did something NORMAL! And not just normal, but soul-feeding. I took back a part of myself that had been missing for, oh, so long. I knew my Jewelly sisters were praying, and I knew my family (who was in the audience) were rooting for me, and I knew God was saying, "I know you can do it--I'll be right there with you. Let's go!"

I've posted a link to photobucket of one song loaded from our camera video (the real video camera stopped working, of course). The song is called, "Unto to Us", and the picture is a bit shaky because my poor son had to hold the camera up through the entire performance, but here's the video. (Click the link to hear the song.) I hope you enjoy it! By the way, if you look in the second row, middle, just beneath the choir director's arm, you can see me--once in a while-LOL)

Community Choir

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fiction Friday: A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Christmas

Welcome to Fiction Friday! I decided to post this Challenge entry story (the topic was Home for the Holidays) just for laughs. Most of the "adventures" really happened to me, but not all at once, thankfully. This story proves that getting there really is half the fun--Ok--whatever. Anyway, enjoy this seasonal salute to travel, and for more great fiction, check out Karlene's Homespun Expressions.

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Christmas
© By Dee Yoder

My plane landed at JFK international airport at 11:30 PM. My inland flight to Columbus left at 11:55 PM...from LaGuardia…across town…in New York City…on Christmas Eve…and it was snowing. Right.

This was just another in a long line of travel mishaps for me that Christmas. It had begun in Bonn. I’d left my hotel in plenty of time to get to the airport, but when I’d arrived, I’d discovered that the Lufthansa flight was canceled due to a mechanical problem. Ok. I’d rather not be on that plane anyway. We passengers were directed to a waiting area and put on stand-by until the next available flight. “Stand by.” They really mean that.

I’d hustled to find a seat when someone got up to use the restroom. It was fair play, but the lone traveler like me was at a disadvantage. I’d waited until I thought my bladder would explode, but you know…there’s only so long. I’d hauled my luggage with me because, of course, without a plane, my bags were homeless. And when I’d come out from the restroom, my seat was taken. (If it hadn’t been, I’d have looked to see if the rapture had occurred.)

Finally we’d “queued” up to board our flight, and let me tell you something about Germans…they aren’t British. They don’t “queue”. The whole group had stormed the ticket counter en masse, and I was left fighting to get within arm’s reach of an agent. But I’d soon discovered that an elbow is a useful body appendage.

After I’d gotten on the plane, I was seated in the smoking section. I get migraines from cigarette smoke…the kind that makes me puke, so all the way across the Atlantic, I’d heaved my guts out. At one point, the latrines were all full, and I’d been desperate enough to use “the bag.” Later an attendant gave me a bottle of soda water to “clean” my sweater. Right.

After living through the migraine sufferer’s flight from you-know-where, I was happy to land on U.S. soil. Once in the terminal though, and told the good news about La Guardia, the stampede was on for all of us to get a taxi…in New York City…on Christmas the snow. Right.

It happened that a priest, a rabbi, and I shared a taxi (Yes…we got one!) to LaGuardia. I was trying not to think about the fact that I smelled like…well, you know…and that we were crammed in this car with what luggage that wouldn’t fit in the trunk stuffed between us. The rabbi was sitting on the jump seat facing the priest and me and the pile of suitcases. We lucked out and got an aggressive (i.e. “crazy”) driver. He drove everywhere but on the road. At one point, while I was trying to convince myself that we weren’t REALLY riding on two wheels on the side of the highway divider, I glanced over and caught the priest crossing himself.

But we lived and made it to LaGuardia in time…we thought. We three struggled into the terminal, lugging our stuff, just in time to see our plane disappearing into the snowy sky toward the Midwest. It turns out the flight was overbooked (what else?), and we couldn’t get another one until morning. We were stranded in New York City…on Christmas Eve…whatever.

We decided to take turns watching each other’s stuff while we slept on the floor…oh man! And the cold bums off the streets that slept along beside us? Well, let’s put it this way…we napped with one eye open and our hands balled in fists.

Dawn came and we finally got on our flight to Columbus. We decided we might as well go the whole way together, but have I mentioned that priests and rabbis can be grouchy after sleeping on a floor all night? It didn’t help that the Santa we greeted when we got off our flight in Ohio growled at us and said, “What’s so merry about being in an airport at 9 AM on Christmas morning?” Right.

We three amigos said goodbye to one another at the door of the airport. The rabbi laughed and said he’d be able to tell “a-priest-a-rabbi-and-a-Pentecostal” jokes with impunity from then on, and the priest gave us each a blessing. I just said “Thanks for the memories” and got in my rental car.

Did I tell you that my family wanted to go cross-country skiing as soon as I hit the door? Right.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Quill Contest: Second Place!

I was honored to win second place in the Fall Short story contest for The Quill--a literary magazine that is distributed in the Toledo, Ohio area by Kevin Moore! I was very happy and excited to win! Today, I found out I also won a book for coming in second, "Writing Your First Novel" by Ann Rittenberg--glad to have it.

The story I entered has been posted in this blog twice--"Gonna Be a Mighty Fine Christmas". It was written to honor my dad and the kind of man he was--and the kind of boy he was, too. It's under Friday Fiction in my drop down menu above, if you'd like a chance to read it. I was SO happy that his story touched the judges enough to win second place. Thanks, judges and Kevin!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blog Awards

I have two blog awards to post today. One came from my friend, Andrea, and one from my friend, Lee.

Andrea gave me this Circle of Friends award. I hope you will check out her blog.

For this award, I'm supposed to tell you five things that I love to do. Here goes:

1) Read a good mystery all night
2) Bake when the mood strikes
3) Watch old black and white movies
4) Drive around with my family to look at Christmas lights
5) Get packages in the mail

Thanks for passing this award to me, Andrea!

The second award comes from Lee:

Thanks for passing along the Superior Scribbler award, Lee.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Loose Threads

I woke up this morning and had strings of loose threads jumbling around in my mind. I have blog posts that I'd like to get written, a story sequel to write, more writing on my second novel, and revisions to be made on my first. And there is also the threads of the things having to do with Christmas...daily chores...cookies to bake and candies to make...people to contact and songs to be learned...the floating strings of thoughts in my mind are endless, it seems!

I can only take care of these kinds of strings by making lists. If I write them on a sticky note, and put them right on my laptop, then I find I can go down the lists, mark off what's finished, and empty my head of all those jumbled threads.

For instance, right now I'm thinking about the ex-Amish men that are downstairs with my husband and Joe Keim doing their Bible study. I'm thinking of how cool it is to look out my window and see their trucks--all lined up--construction gear loaded in the backs of their pick-ups, cars poised to take off and head out into the world on this cold Saturday morning...but first, they're filling their spiritual vessels with the Word. What an image: big tough workers...letting the Lord lead their lives and soften their hearts. That thought makes me smile, and also makes me glad I stayed up late to bake the guys a loaf of spicy pumpkin nut bread to go along with their coffee and the sweet Words of God.

Then my mind shifts to the writing projects that are drifting around waiting for me to make time to let their characters come back to life. I'm thinking of the tiny of island of Unst...and what will happen next to the widowed woman who is on Unst trying to discover what became of her did he disappear? What help or hindrance do the island people give her? She waits---just off stage--for her story to continue.

And what about Leah Raber, the MC in my Amish novel? Her story is finished, but she needs polishing, and I can imagine her standing off to the side, tapping her foot, impatiently waiting for her story to gel and shine.

And then, there is Annie...little Annie...the MC in my new novel. She is a child and has the enthusiasm and impatience of childhood oozing out of her pores...she wants to jump around and SHOUT her story...she's waited SO long for her tale to be told to the world--nearly a lifetime. She is anxious to pop out of my head and leap onto the page! She loves telling her story--just WHEN will she get to finish telling it? I mentally pat her head and tell her to be patient...I plan to return to her world soon...I hope.

Underneath all of these thoughts, as if that isn't enough, a song is rolling onward: "Sing! Sing joy to the world! Sing! Sing joy to the world!" This is the first line to one of the songs I'm going to be singing in the upcoming Christmas concert I'm doing with the community choir. It makes an interesting little under-note to all the other chaotic thoughts floating around in my head, don't you think?

If you're like me, thought-threads like these are never really gone, but are on the fringes of my mind every day. Taking care of each of them, one at a time, is an infinite chore because just as soon as one is finished and marked off the lists, another one pops alive to float and badger and add to the seeming chaos.

Whatever the many threads on my lists, I like to keep in mind that talking it all over with God should be my first priority every morning. I like what God is saying to me in this passage:

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth. Ephesians 1:6-8
When I read that, then I know that all the loose threads that make up my lists can be a part of God's plan for me. I just need to ask Him which thoughts are in line with His plan...which thoughts need to go on my to-do lists in order to fulfill those "long-range" plans He has for my life. That's exciting--the God of the universe will help me tame those loose threads into lists that go somewhere and mean something in His world!

What are you making mental lists of? Is it story lines? School work? Household chores? Christmas happenings? Let me know how you tame the loose threads that make up your to-do lists. And in the meant time, let's think about how much God wants to use our loose threads to weave our lives together...a beautiful mosaic of thoughts and deeds to His glory!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! With family and friends around the table, it was a very special day. Here are a few of my favorite people: Tim (brother), Barb (sister), Joseph (son), Arlen (husband), Rachel (adopted ex-Amish daughter), Eli (Rachel's fiance), and Bernice (mom).

I thought of all the blessings we have: a home, PLENTIFUL food, decent health, and a Loving Father who is with us every day and whenever we gather as believers. In this photo: Joseph, Arlen, Matthew (great-nephew), Jarrod (nephew), Autumn (great-niece), Rachel, Eli, and Mom.

No matter how we celebrated the day, it's clear that God has blessed us as a nation, and stopping for one day to acknowledge those blessings is a great privilege. Around our table this year was Rachel, Eli, Bernice, and Rena.

How about you? Did you have a blessed Thanksgiving? Did you celebrate in a rambunctious and laugh-filled group, or did you have a quiet, peaceful gathering? Until next year, let's keep that thankful feeling in our hearts everyday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

50,000 Words!

Well, I met the challenge and reached the 50,000 word count goal on my second book, The Powerful Odor of Mendacity! It is now one half finished. I'll keep writing until the end of November, and maybe I'll have a couple more chapters fleshed out by then. I'm happy to say that the writing for NaNoWriMo this time wasn't nearly as difficult as it was last year. I think having one NaNo under my belt helped me have confidence this time that I could finish and WOULD finish! Last year, I was choked with doubts nearly all the way through. This time, I knew it was a task I could accomplish.

So what now? Well, I have my first book to revise, and this second book to finish. Then there are other stories to write for the Faithwriters Challenge, and stories to write for The Quill. And classes to take and edits to do...the writing doesn't end with NaNo, but the chores are sweeter knowing that the base for another book has been built. It's a good feeling!

Here's the best part: I can wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING and know that on Friday, the biggest part of the NaNo work is over!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fiction Friday: Phyllis's Seeds

Welcome to Fiction Friday! I'm posting a story I wrote to honor my best friend's mom. Her mother was a lovely, quiet lady who questioned how God had used her life. I hope you enjoy it. For more wonderful fiction, go to Sheri's at A Candid Thought.

Phyllis's Seeds
© By Dee Yoder

I looked at my watch as the pastor closed his sermon. I couldn’t wait to stand and stretch my stiff legs. With the last “amen,” I maneuvered my way out of the pew and over to Shelly and her mother.

“Hey there,” Shelley, my childhood friend, greeted me.

“Hi. How’s the job hunt going, Shelley?”

She rolled her eyes. “Not very well, but I’m hoping to get something soon.”

I glanced at Shelley’s mom, Phyllis. Her eyes were red, and she dabbed at them with a delicate lace hankie. As she saw me watching her, she laughed gently. “Oh, don’t mind me. I was just thinking about Pastor’s sermon.”

“It was a good one,” I responded a bit guiltily. I hadn’t focused on it as much as Phyllis had, obviously.

“Yes.” She grew quiet. Shelley looked at me and shrugged. We both knew something was going on with her mom, but we didn’t pry.

Finally, Phyllis looked at me with an embarrassed smile and said, “I guess I got to thinking about what he said. You know…the part about how many people we’ve led to the Lord in our lifetime.” She paused and glanced at her twisted hankie. “I’ve taught Sunday school here my whole life, been on the ladies’ committees, and attended revivals and services faithfully, but I don’t think I can say that I have ever led anyone to Christ.”

Of all the things I expected from Phyllis, that was the last thing I thought I would hear. “But, Phyllis! Think of all the seeds you’ve planted,” I was quick to reassure her.

She shook her head. “No. Somehow, that isn’t what I’m thinking about today. I mean, I know about seeds, but what about fruit? Where’s the fruit of those seeds and the fruit of my life?” Her eyes refilled with tears. “I think I’ve failed God somehow.”

I glanced at Shelly and saw quick tears form in response to her mom’s confession. “Aww, Mom,” Shelley patted her mother’s hand. “We all have days when we wonder if we’ve really made a difference or if we’ve ever planted a seed that will grow.” She shrugged. “Somehow, we just have to have faith that God is nurturing those seeds. He’s watering and weeding those tender plants.” Phyllis nodded, but I sensed that she was not content with the answer.

She smiled. “Well, it does no good to stew over it, I suppose. Now, what have you girls got planned for this sunny summer day?” Our conversation moved on, but Phyllis’s question stayed in my heart for many, many years. I often asked myself the same questions she had: where was the fruit? Would I ever know what became of the seeds?

One day, I got a phone call from Shelley. Phyllis had slipped into eternity. We cried together, and Shelley asked me if I would read a Scripture at her mom’s funeral. We went on to plan the next few days and I choose the Scripture I would read

The day of Phyllis’s funeral came. One by one, family members and friends stood to recall Phyllis’s influence in their lives.

“She was the best sister I could have ever had. Many times, I was lonely and she came and got me and took me to lunch. We laughed and laughed…I will never forget her.”

“Aunt Phyllis always had time to talk to me. If I needed her to pray, she did. She told me over and over again how much I was loved by God. I thought of that, and knew that if Aunt Phyllis said it, it must be true.”

“Grandma Phyllis never condemned me or turned me away when I had questions. She loved me unconditionally.”

“She prayed with me over the phone, and later, I thought of her smile and her tenderness and I decided to give my heart to the Lord. As a friend, she was patient and kind.”

My turn came to read the scripture. “Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like…? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.’”

I closed my Bible and looked around. “You are Phyllis’s seeds. You are Phyllis’s garden. Today, I know God has welcomed His faithful sower with open arms.”

In loving memory of Phyllis Swaisgood, who planted many seeds for the kingdom and now knows what became of them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Friendship Award

My new friend, Lee at tossing it out, gave this award to my blog. I'm honored! Here's the gist of what the award means:

"This award is bestowed to blogs that are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-promotion. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are gained. Please give more attention to these writers."

I have Jewely sisters who are wonderful, supportive friends, and their blogs are blessings to those who read them. I'm adding their names to this list of writers who should absolutely be added to all reading lists!

Here's my list:

Jo at An Open Book
Laury at In My Daddy's Arms
Vonnie at My Back Door
Sara at Fiction Fusion
Beth at Laughing at the Days
Peej at Patterings
(and Sunny--you're on this list, too!)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fiction Friday: Summer of '64: Aunt Carol's Freckled Love

Welcome to Ficrion Friday! I've missed the last three weeks, but wanted to be sure to participate this week. Thanks for reading! And to read more fiction, or to add your own ficiton, head over to Vonnie's My Back Door blog.

Summer of '64: Aunt Carol's Freckled Love
By Dee Yoder

In 1964, I was a knobby-kneed girl with glasses too big for my face and an ornery attitude in my head. I’d discovered that mouthing off was a fast way to make my mother implode. Interestingly, my parents chose that summer to take their first vacation ever—without me.

They packed me in the red Chevy Bellaire and dropped me off, my pink poodle train case dangling by my skinny legs, at the door of Aunt Carols’ house. The kisses and waves they threw my way as they drove off wasn’t enough to convince me that their hysterical glee wasn’t aimed at getting away from me. I watched the cat-eyed taillights grow dim in the distance before giving in to Aunt Carols’ pleas to “come on inside, Darlin’.”

Aunt Carol bulldozed her way through her clan of five boys, and led me to the den. She pointed to a pull-out sofa and instructed me to shove my train case into the corner, beside the ratty-looking floor pillows her boys crushed every night as they watched TV.

“Darlin’, I am just so happy to have a little girl in the house! I surely am! You make yourself right to home and don’t let those boys of mine get to you. If they bother you in the least little bit, just come tell me and I’ll be sure to tan their little behinds.”

She leaned down to hug me to her soft body, and her strawberry blonde hair fell over her cheeks. Up close, I could see just how many orangey freckles covered her face and the pearly skin of her arms.

“Aunt Carol, you have so many freckles!” I exclaimed.

“Darlin’, if I didn’t have these freckles, I’d be an albino for sure. C’mon in the kitchen while I get lunch on the table. You can choose the Kool-Aid, ‘kay?”

I followed Aunt Carol to the kitchen, and wondered why she had a Southern accent when she and her family had lived outside of Chicago all the years I’d been around.

As she took the Wonder bread and peanut butter out of the cupboard, I questioned her about her accent. She laughed again and gave my nose a tweak before going about the business of spreading lots of gloppy peanut butter all over the slices of bread she placed in rows on the counter top. My mouth watered as I observed how generous she was with the spread. At home, Mom strictly rationed the amount of “junk” I ate. It appeared that at Aunt Carol’s house, hunger was not going to be an issue. Gluttony, might, though.

Aunt Carol smiled at me. “Well, now I didn’t always live here in Chicago. I was born and raised in Memphis.” She licked the butter knife before plopping it into the dish pan. She put her hands on her generous hips as she thought about her next sentence. “Let’s see...I think I came here as a career girl in the summer of ’53. Met your uncle and got married a year later.”

She interrupted herself to point me to the Kool-Aid collection in the pantry. “Top shelf, Darlin’. I gotta keep the boys from gettin’ it, or they’d make Kool-Aid the live-long day. Now, what was I sayin’?”

I climbed on a stool and perused the stash of fruity powder packets and was happy to see my favorite flavor: lime. Aunt Carol got the round pitcher down and slid the sugar canister to me.

“Yes…I came up north to be an artist, Darlin’. I was good, too. But nothin’ could keep me from marryin’ your uncle, and so I ended up here, with all these boys…and well,” she shrugged. For just a second, she looked sad, but then she laughed and waved me out to call my cousins to the table.

I puttered around with Aunt Carol that day and the days that followed. She showed me how to draw, and tucked me in bed always with a kiss and a smile. Before I slept, she’d whisper, “It sure is nice to have another female in the house.” Her pronouncement each night made me feel that it was special to be a girl.

Imagine my wary parent’s amazement when they returned to take me home: their spunky girl was miraculously replaced with a sweet angel. As we drove away, I looked back at Aunt Carol standing in her door, and heard her call, “Come on back and stay with me again, Darlin’…real soon!”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Annie, Annie, Annie

So much is happening to poor Annie Thomas, the MC in my latest novel, The Powerful Odor of Mendacity. I have a little over half of her story written, and she has had to deal with strange faces at the window, the eminent death of a teacher's child, the break-up of a very good friendship, and the teasing and taunting that go with being the new kid in school.

In all of this, is the Viet Nam war, which makes itself known to her innocent world through the TV news broadcasts. And soon, more unrest will come through that screen, too. She's seeing the mod scene and the go-go boots of her older sister and her friends. Her world is changing, and she's part of that, but is too wrapped up in childhood and budding adolescence to notice.

What will Annie have to learn next about herself and life? One thing is for sure, she'll do it with attitude.

What are your MCs learning? Are they facing conflicts and trials that seem impossible to avoid?

Let's keep rolling with our NaNoWriMo projects. I'm looking forward to hearing how your stories are growing, too!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Word Counts Are Taking Over My Mind

I'm dreaming word counts, thinking word counts, and comparing word counts. What's happening to me? NaNoWriMo--that's what!

It's one of the side-effects of trying to write 50,000 words in one month...all that word count obsession. I was out doing a little early Christmas shopping and guess what was on my mind? I was thinking I sure hope I get home in time to add to my NaNo word many words do I have banked toward Thanksgiving? I falling behind?

If you're working on NaNo, too, it's unavoidable to become obsessed with word counts. I have some advice: give in and let the obsession have its way! We only have to remember: in a few more weeks, the word count brain worm will retreat into history again and we'll finally be at peace.

Until then, hang in there and--Viva la count!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Serious Issues: Please Pray!

I'm taking a break from NaNo posting to talk a little bit about some serious issues.

I read recently about a man who sexually abused his little girls repeatedly. His wife knew about the abuse, his church knew about the abuse, and he was told to stop it, yet he continued.

I read about another man who plotted to kill his wife. They had several young children together but he'd already left her three times before for other women. His girlfriend (one of many) finally murdered his wife while she slept. The man, wanting an alibi, left the house so his children would discover the grisly murder scene--their mother in a pool of blood. The son who found his mother's body was under ten years of age.

I read letters to a son from his mother. The son had moved out of the house and the parents were heartbroken. The family sent letter after letter begging him to come home. If he would only give up his wicked lifestyle, they had plenty of room for him at home. The letters are heartbreaking, but the son stayed away. He knew he couldn't go home because his "sinful" lifestyle was simply this: he wanted to stop being Amish and he wanted to be a born-again Christian.

All of these scenarios are true stories, and all of them happened to the Amish. I could tell you many, many more. I love the Amish, as a group of people (and my in-laws) they have taken some good Biblical principles and managed to live a gracious life. But if you believe that there is nothing wrong with this group of people, then you are living in a fool's paradise.

Like all groups, there is sin, and the devastating effects of sin, among the Amish. Does that surprise you? You may be wondering, if they're Christians, why do these things happen? Well, why does it happen among our own English churches? Because, like the English, the Amish are not immune to the powers of the Prince of Darkness any more than we are. And more importantly, in many Amish communities, very little of the plan of salvation is preached!

Lifestyle is preached. Tradition is preached. Adherence to rules is preached. But Jesus Christ's sacrifice for sin? Their sin? Many know nothing or little about that. They call themselves a Christian group, and yet we know they have no power to change their own hearts. Only Christ can remove their sin.

Wearing a bonnet and driving a buggy does not guarantee salvation. Having piety and charity and hard work ethics do not guarantee salvation. Showing your good side and being gentle do not guarantee salvation. And being trapped in a world that allows no growth, either spiritually or personally, is not a pleasant and happy lifestyle and does not guarantee salvation.

I don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of the Amish world; I've not lived it, and if you've not lived it either, don't pretend you know how "perfect" it is! But I'm no longer naive to the inherent faults of this lifestyle. God did not intend for the sacrifice of His Son to mean so little.

If you love the Amish...if you adore their "simple" lifestyle (that one makes me laugh--try living like a pioneer for a while and come back and tell me it is simple--those women, children, and men work hard for that simple life)...if you want to see this lovely, hard-working group of people in heaven someday, then get on your knees and pray for them! Don't just admire them from afar. Admiration is a poor substitute for salvation.

I challenge those of you who love the Amish to put feet and hands to that admiration! Get involved in the Mission to Amish People ministry. Take time to get to know your Amish neighbors. Witness to them in a loving and personal way. Wrap your heart and your soul around this people and pray for God to open their spiritual eyes.

This is a mission field that is ripe for the harvest, but if we ignore their souls because we admire their lifestyle, we do them more harm than good.

Contact me if you'd like more information about how you can help. There are ministry opportunities galore for those who have a willing heart and open hand. The fields are ripe, but the laborers are few. Reach out and show true Christian love and grace to the Amish.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38 NIV

25% Finished? You're Kidding!

Oh boy--I'm nearly 25% finished with my NaNo novel! I'm amazed, but I have to admit that this story has been in my head for most of my life. Not so hard to write something that's been thought about over and over again for years.

I'm having fun and enjoying the characters that are coming to life!

Have you been thinking of your NaNo project for a while? Does it make it easier to write if you're familiar with your story and characters? Keep me posted on how you're doing! We're in this together--let's go!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Is NaNo Going for You?

It's the third day of NaNoWriMo! I'm curious: how is NaNo going for you so far? If you're new to NaNo, what are some of the things that you're discovering about NaNo that you didn't expect? Or is the experience as you imagined it would be?

Here's what's happening with me: I'm discovering that I REALLY like my MC. I feel as though I'm living in Annie's skin and head. I love it! The settings are nostalgic and it's bringing back many memories of a time in America that was painful, chaotic, exciting, and totally different from any other era.

I'm also more relaxed this year, and realizing that reaching a word count goal is more than possible for me to accomplish. In the past year, I've finished the NaNo novel I started, and am now working on revisions. I have no doubts that I'll reach my 50,000 word goal (barring unforeseen circumstances), so that aspect of worry isn't as strong as it was last year.

There are so many more of my writing friends participating in NaNo this year, and I'm rooting for all of them to finish! What an accomplishment it is to win this contest--let's go!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Woo Hoo--It's Started!

OK--I'm tired, but I've officially begun the 2009 NaNoWriMo! I posted 2,035 words this morning (1:38 AM). My goal was to hit 1800, so I'm really glad to be getting a cushion started in case plans go awry and I can't write one day.

Like I said, I'm tired, so this is a short post, but I'm already having loads of fun with this story. Can't wait to see what happens next!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Agents, and Publishers, and Queries...Oh My!

I decided to go through my Sally Stuart's book and kind of get an idea of how many agents and publishers are around. My book is 2 years old, so it's not up to date as far as preferences go, but it does give me an idea about who will even LOOK at new authors.

It's daunting. Very. I'm in the revisions stage of my Amish novel. My novel is not the usual "put a bonnet on it" kind of book. It tells some stories that aren't very nice to know about, but it's based on TRUE stories that ex-Amish shared over the last year. I know parts of this book may upset loyal Amish fiction readers, but I had to write the truth. The WHOLE truth. There are great aspects of Amish life that many love and appreciate, but there are some things about Amish life that are NOT always happy. My trouble is that I have no idea, at this point, where my book fits in with the genre categories. Is it modern? Is it historical? When I contact an agent or publisher, what genre do I choose?

And just when do I query? Do I need to have the entire manuscript revised before I even query? Or do I need to have the first three chapters polished only? I read many agent blogs, but I still get confused about what is considered appropriate timing. Ack! There are so many unknowns to the new author on the writing road!

How about you? Have you queried an agent or publisher? When did you decide to query--was it early on after your book was written, or did you wait until the entire manuscript was revised and edited? What advice can you offer this novice book author? I can't wait to read your suggestions and experiences!

Friday, October 23, 2009

New WIP Starting Soon!

I'm at the point where I'm working on two books at once. It seemed like an impossible task to my sleep-deprived brain when I first decided to do that, but I'm finding that going back and forth between books is kinda fun. Of course, my second book is only at the outline stage...I'm saving the actual writing for the NaNoWriMo kick-off on November 1st!

But having two books, two sets of characters, and two time frames going at once has been interesting. I can enjoy the story of Leah and her Amish ways, and then dip right into the turbulent and quirky world of Annie Thomas. Ahhh...I forgot to introduce Annie and her story to you.

Annie Thomas is a girl on the edge of womanhood. And she's growing up during America's most troubled years. Her story takes place between the summers of 1966 and 1968. The working title of this book is "The Powerful Odor of Mendacity", and yes, it's based on a short story I wrote for the Faithwriters Writing Challenge a few months ago. I loved the character in that story, and with encouragement from Jan Ackerson, I decided to expand Annie's tale into a full-sized book. I'm so excited to get to meet her again! (Annie that is...I'd be happy to meet Jan again, too, know what I mean.)

I won't say that Annie is me, but she's got a lot of my personality in her, and she's got spunk. I hope you'll enjoy getting to know Annie as I tell her story, and I promise to add a few excerpts on here from time to time.

So--I'm excited to soon be writing again, and excited to get going with NaNoWriMo, too. I hope to hop on here a couple of times in November to let you know how the whole crazy NaNo thing is going.

Here's the short story of Annie I wrote for the Writing Challenge. I hope you enjoy the read.

The Powerful Odor of Mendacity
©by Dee Yoder

One morning, Kinsey and Peach took me downtown. My sister and her friend never went anywhere with me, so right away I was wondering what was up. We rode the bus to the Square and hopped off at Reed’s Department Store. The sun was shining so brightly, I got an instant headache, and my headband made it worse. It was stabbing into my scalp with its tiny teeth like I had a hungry piranha stuck up there.

At the store, Mr. Rivers swung open the door and held it as Peach sashayed through like she was Princess Grace. I mumbled my thanks and followed them inside.

“Hey, Peach, look at that,” Kinsey pointed at a skinny mannequin. “Pink from head to toe!”

“Law, Kinsey, I saw a girl wearing that same outfit on American Bandstand last week!”

They giggled. I rolled my eyes. Man! I could have been down at the creek with David and Royce Withers catching crawdads and, instead, here I was, burning daylight with these two goofs.

"C’mon, you guys. Why’d I have to come? Let’s go get what we came for.”

“Stop whining, Annie. Heaven knows we wouldn’t have brought you if Mom wasn’t sick.”

“Why’d Mom want me to come with you two turds anyway?” I asked.

“Ugh! You’re so disgusting!” Peach flipped her hair and swayed her skinny hips off toward the Lingerie Department.

My sister looked at me like she was staring at an ugly bug. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way she could curl her lip up so far. “Come on,” she finally sighed. She led the way to Peach, who was fingering a pink, lacy slip.

“Do you see them?” asked Kinsey.

“What?” Peach answered dreamily. She acted like she was in love with that slip.

“You know, them. It.”

Peach met Kinsey’s eyes, and they looked at me and smirked. My headache started beating my brains out. Uh oh.

“There’s a powerful odor of mendacity in this room!” I shouted.

“Shh! You weirdo! Don’t yell like that!" My sister smacked at my arm, and then narrowed her eyes. "What’d you say?”


“Shut UP” Kinsey whispered between clinched teeth. She pulled me over into the aisle with the brassieres. At least, that’s what the sign said: PLATEX BRASSIERES 20% OFF.

Peach strolled over and said, “You just like to use big words because you think it makes you look smart. I bet you don’t even know what that means. Where’d you even hear a word like that?”


“What movie?”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Peach raised her eyebrows to Kinsey and said, “Law, law.”

My sister put on her snotty, hoity-toity face. “ Mom would never let you watch a movie like that! Where’d you see such a thing?”

“The Withers and me hid in the bushes over at the Twi-Light Drive-In”

“I’m telling Mom!”

“Like I care.”

I started back toward the front of the store, but Kinsey pulled me to a stop. She and Peach circled me like two ranch hands trying to rope a mustang.

The next thing I knew, they were holding up one of those BRASSIERES and trying to measure the stupid thing against my chest! My head swam, my cheeks turned hot as coals, and I started fighting them off with both fists.

I heard a confusing mix of voices as Kinsey and Peach tugged and wrapped those awful bands around me, until finally, they stopped, exhausted.

“We’re getting this one,” said Kinsey with tightly pursed lips.

I watched as the two girls hurried to the counter and paid for that thing. Kinsey motioned for me to follow and we left the store and got back on the bus. Shame melted me to the seat. The bag carrying the monster underwear seemed to me like it was pulsating.

“Mom, we’re home!” Kinsey threw the bag on the chair, and she and Peach took off upstairs.

She turned once and gave me a look of near pity. I shuffled into the den, where Mom was lying on the sofa. She opened her arms, and I knelt into them, face hidden.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t go, honey,” Mom said.

“It was awful!” I cried. I could feel her stroking my hair.

“Annie, everybody has to grow up. It’s the way God planned it.” She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “The Bible says, ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’* Someday, you’ll know God did a beautiful job making you into a lovely young woman.”

“I’ll never wear it! Never! ” I said fiercely. Mom just smiled and kept stroking.

*Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mystery Guests at the Holiday Table

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up soon, and if you're like me, you have family dinners to attend as these holidays approach. I was thinking about how quiet my family dinners have become over the years. My small group usually consists of just me, my husband, and son. Once in a while, we add my mom or sister and brother-in-law.

But in the past, if Mom or one of the aunts hosted dinner, there would be a huge group of people eating at the table, or tables, as the case may be. The funny thing is, I always saw people I didn't know from Adam. Often they were friends of grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or maybe a second cousin or two. The worst thing about having mystery guests at the holiday dinner is that you don't know what to say to them.

It seems rude to ask " I know you?". And maybe they wouldn't necessarily appreciate the third degree: "Where do you work? Are you from this area? Who do you know at this table?"

Once I can make a connection to someone that we BOTH know, I can usually chat for a minute or two about the person we have in common. But after that, again, there's a stand-off of silence. Somehow, I always think I'm obligated to make the mystery person be welcomed, since it IS my family, but I honestly can feel myself start to wilt under the pressure of making conversation with someone of whom I have no previous history. Beyond asking, "Would you like gravy?", I struggle with what to say.

And, what's up with me not being able to remember ANYONE'S name now-a-days? Is it menopause? Even if I only have to remember the mystery person's name, I find myself thinking, "Now, what was her name? Jill? Jamie? Jessica? Oh, rats!". Then I spend a lot of time thoughtfully chewing my roll and looking like I'm thinking deep thoughts to keep from having to address the mystery guest by name. It is just TOO embarrassing to have to ask for her name only seconds after she's already told me!

I think it's fun and exciting to have large family gatherings for the holidays (as long as I don't have to do all the cooking), but there's something nice too, about the small, cozy dinners we've been experiencing over the last few years. I know that, when I sit down to share the meal, I will know every single person at the table.

Then again, how much can I REALLY know my teen son? Now there's a mystery guest even an expert conversationalist can't crack!