A Frosty Christmas

We drove to Manchester airport to pick up Mom and Dad for Christmas. We drove northwest through the White Mountains in the thick snow and ice. 2 interstates were closed nearby but we continued slowly onward. Nonetheless, we took the road less traveled to Franconia and the snowy path led uphill to Robert Frost’s home.

Robert Frost is considered the quintessential American bard or poet. He lived from 1874 to 1963. Right before his passing in Boston, he delivered the inaugural poem for JFK.

Robert Frost won 4 Pulitizer Prizes and the Congressional Gold Medal. He was born in San Francisco but moved alot. He lived primarily in New Hampshire and England where he was influenced by Ezra Pound, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves. Frost went to Dartmouth and Harvard. He first published in 1915. He published 2 books called North of Boston and A Boy’s Will. His poetry quickly amassed a great following and by 1920, he was known all over America and beyond.

2 Writing Publishing Opportunities

There is a new climate change-focused website that is publishing prose and poetry. It is called XR Creative and can be found at https://www.xrcreative.org. I got a message from the Joplin Writers’ Guild about the new site so I submitted a story called Golden Child about a young boy during the climate crisis. If you want to submit prose or poetry, they are accepting entries. Check it out! Great stories and great opportunity to get published and share your ideas.

Also, I submitted 2 stories to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Remember these fantastic books in the 90s? I had several of them and I still have the Mother edition today. Love these books. I wrote a story about Christmas and one about dogs. The submission deadline for most of the Chicken Soup books is around March or May 2022. The website is super easy to use. Check it out at http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/submit-your-story.

Be Like Christmas

By J. Speer

Have hope like Ralphie,

Be a friend like Snoopy and Woodstock,

Be wild at heart like the Yeti,

And larger than life like the Abominable Snowman,

Be as persistent as the Nutcracker,

Be as perennial as Frosty,

Protect your family like a Polar Bear,

Ring true like Silver Bells,

Be loyal as a St. Bernard mountain rescue dog,

Get your angel wings by helping others like Clarence Odbody,

Never give up like Susan Walker,

Think fast like Kevin McCallister,

Be a blessing like Tiny Tim,

Dance like a Sugar Plum Fairy,

Be a guardian like Jack Frost,

Be mysterious like Kris Kringle,

Dream like Anna,

Sing boldly like Elsa,

Be brave like Olaf,

Be sweet like Cindy Lou Who,

Bake cookies like Mrs. Claus,

Make everyone smile like Cousin Eddy,

Work hard like Buddy the Elf,

Believe like Scrooge,

Forgive like the Grinch,

Shine like the Christmas Star,

Be generous like Santa,

Give what you can like the Little Drummer Boy,

Lead the way like Rudolph,

and love with your whole heart like Jesus.

A Motivational Group

Since June 2021, a new online business has been helping men and women to excel. It is a regular weekly Zoom meeting with folks from all over the country. It is Wednesday nights at 8:00 pm Central Time. It is $20 a month through this link here:

https://possibilityjunction.org/ampy

Every week, the group members encourage each other in our various projects or life issues to tackle. The instructor is a psychologist as well and teaches things like how to identify and replace negative thoughts, how to focus on contentment and gratitude, and how to build confidence in yourself. It is the best and most affordable group therapy as well as group encouragement you will find out there.

There are members from Washington and Alaska and Kansas and Vermont so far. It is beginning to grow as well as there are plans for a retreat focused on meditation, yoga, and writing. This is a fairly new group focused on progress, self-love, self-motivation.

I encourage you to join. It is worth 20 bucks a month in the friendships you make and the communal advice you receive. It also comes with a daily Facebook Messenger group with daily aspirations and positive duscussion. The class welcomes people from around the world too through the use of Zoom. If you are from Germany or India or Israel or Nigeria, you are welcome. The instruction language is in English, however, but the group is very welcoming.

Give it a try. I am glad I did.

After my class last Wednesday, I felt better so I wrote a story on climate change and a little boy. I submitted it to a publishing group and they agreed to publish it. Sometimes the little push of group encouragement is all you need for personal growth and to keep an optimistic perspective. As Mel Robbins says, we have a prehistoric conditioning in our brains to be seen, heard, and celebrated by the herd or group. This is a group that makes you feel visible and part of a team.

Attitude Determines Altitude

Positive people manifest their future. They are not just lucky. Positive thoughts lead to positive feelings and positive behaviors which can lead to positive outcomes.

In the book Who Moved My Cheese, a scientist studies lab mice going through a maze. The scientist discovered that there were some mice that persisted in going through the maze no matter how many times their cheese was moved. Then, the scientist found that there were other mice that would get stuck in the maze when their cheese got moved. The scientist determined that the magnitude of success was determined by how much time a mouse sat and dwelled on the missing cheese.

What’s the point?

Thoughts determine feelings which lead to behaviors which lead to outcomes. Don’t dwell too much in thoughts and don’t dwell on the negative for too long.

I’ve been reading through my old blog posts and realized there was a strong positivity when I first started writing in 2019 compared to writing in 2021. Three years have come and gone and my writing goals or “cheese” have been moved a lot in that time. It’s probably the same for you.

I guess it’s time for a refresher. It’s time to get back to the basics and remember the reasons we start writing cause that can get lost in the journey as pessimism and comparison can set in.

Early on, my daughter shared this song with me. It’s called You Can Be Anything. I guess it’s a good reminder for bloggers/writers out there to stay on the lighter, more positive and hopeful side of things. Replace the I can’t do this with I can do this. Replace this will never be successful with so what if it isn’t? Most artists and writers are not successful in their lifetime but posthumously. It didn’t stop them from trying to create and it shouldn’t stop you either.

Consider for a moment that one of the most successful artists of all time, Vincent Van Gogh, who’s paintings are worth hundreds of millions now……he was not a successful painter in his lifetime and he was misunderstood and mistreated and died in misfortune. But now look at Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The world is a lot better place with his paintings…..don’t you think?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRYuV2JAj00

Snowed In

It’s Sunday here. Our plans were to go check out the local ski resort. There’s downhill skiing there and a large indoor waterpark as well as cross country trails and snowshoe hikes. We didn’t get there though. It snowed another 2 inches overnight so we stayed here.

We played in the snow some, checked deer cams, and made Christmas cookies. Here is a pretty decent new recipe I tried for peanut butter cookies. They are pretty soft and yummy.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 pkg yellow cake mix

1/3 cup water

1 cup creamy peanut butter

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients together. Chill dough 1/2 hour. Drop dough by rounded tbsp onto a cookie sheet parchment paper. Roll dough balls in sugar, then flatten each in crisscross pattern with a fork (or put an unwrapped hershey kiss in the center of the cookie). Bake 10 or 12 minutes. Cool 1 minute and move parchment paper with baked cookies to cooling rack.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Got my Alabama tshirt on for the SEC Champions…
And some cozy winter socks…
Took down the deer stand and cams for the winter…
Found some strange tracks in the snow…
And made some holiday cookies!

More Enviro-friendly Vermont

We moved to Vermont from Kansas.

The first thing we noticed when we moved here is we had to bring bags with us everytime we went shopping. Gone were the days of Walmart plastic bags. I no longer store a giant plastic bag of little Walmart bags at the house. It took a while but we got used to it. Humans are creatures of their environment. Set the conditions right for them and they will adapt.

Second, we no longer found the fountain drink stations at the local gas stations. Those were practically gone too. They were replaced by water or coffee. We noted people are generally skinnier here too. Perhaps this is correlated.

Not a lot of people throw trash outside their vehicles here either we noted gladly as we live on a country road now in the mountains.

We started recycling more too. Most folks here haul their own trash and recycling apparently to the dump and station on Saturdays. We weren’t that motivated yet. So we paid the extra for trash and recycling pickup. At first, we piled a lot into the recycling bin. The recycling company had to send us a flyer more than once to be more discerning on what we kept. I think I’m still learning on this cause my husband now sorts through what I put in the bin and corrects it. Adaptation can be slower for some creatures than others.

The state of Vermont pays grants for homeowners to go solar energy. Other than that, we noted folks around here like outdoor activities: fishing, hiking, kayaking, etc. There’s a real pretty lake 9 miles away that has a beach for swimming but gone are the recreational boats like pontoons and ski boats. They must have some environmental law against them or something.

There are a few places with windmills but nothing like the quantity we saw in Kansas. As far as I know, I didn’t see the use of nuclear energy plants up here either.

Overall Vermont is quiet and peaceful. There’s a general feeling when you move here of do not disturb this pristine place. Now I understand why Vermonters are not superfond of tourists and especially folks from Massachusetts for some odd reason. The only Mass folks they seem to like up here are the Afflecks and Matt Damon. Everyone else…not so much.

Generally folks here seem proud of Bernie Sanders. I noted there’s not a lot of political discussion or angst or ire towards one party or the other. People are polite about differing political views. Being from Kansas, my background gravitates towards more conservative on the spectrum but I do appreciate Sanders fervor and passion to protect the working class folks’ wages and his fight against rising pharmaceutical costs. Just this last week, I was told I had to pay 1,400 for a drug for my husband for 1 month’s supply just because our annual deductible rolled over. Fortunately we used Good Rx but it still cost 560 out of pocket which was awful. I’m 5 miles from Canada. I wish I could go there to get my meds.

Yes, the only real downside here is also the upside….if you work from home. The snow and snow storms make daily commutes a challenge. But if you are a remote worker, you might love it here. Vermont has remote worker grants now and they are increasing their internet access across the state. If you like the environment and the outdoors and work from home, this just might be the ideal place to live. You can get reimbursed up to 7500 dollars to move here if you work for a Vermont business or work from home. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Working with folks from Vermont is ok so far. The work ethic is a little different from Kansas. Maybe it’s just me but people seem more chatty and less nose to the grindstone which is good and bad. Work seems less organized and at times on the verge of chaotic. Maybe it’s just me. When I am home for the weekends, I absolutely love this place but when I return to work…I sorta miss the easy functionality of work operations in Kansas. There’s less oversight there for business, less regulations, less extra red tape and bureaucratic slowdown, and paperwork filing. Working here feels like trudging through snow uphill all the way…a little frustrating and exhausting.

That being said, the worker laws are better here. We have something called state guaranteed sick leave. You can’t do random drug testing on employees without giving them plenty of notice. There are more union activities. I guess that’s good. My sister works at a labor law firm in Kansas City. She says Kansas is the “wild west” “anything goes” in terms of employer rights vs. employee freedoms. I think she might be right based on what I’ve seen in comparison. You wouldn’t know it because it’s not broadcasted much but the region of Kansas I came from, southeast, has some of the poorest counties in the nation cause worker wages are so low there. I’m talking lower than even West Virginia.

My husband loves the snow here. He’s a remote worker. On his days off, he just sits inside on the lazy boy in the warmth and watches it fall like we live in a snow globe. Yesterday we tried cross country skiing and rented a snowmobile. He’s dropped 25 pounds since our move from the Midwest. Me, not so much, maybe 5 lbs. But we are starting to adapt more, slowly but surely…him faster than me but we’ll get there eventually.

A Thanksgiving Blessing

On Thanksgiving Day…
May your pie crust be light and flaky.
May your family table be covered with delicious dishes.
May your favorite seat, chair, or sofa be cozy.
May you sleep in and be grateful for a day off work.
May your home be filled with light.
May the music in the background be soft and relaxing.
May your hearth be warm.
May your pets be happy and safe.
May your family be gathered from far travels.
May your friends always be near by phone or text or neighborly visit.
May your turkey be tender and your gravy not lump.
May eggnog or wine overflow.
May the laughter of children be heard.
May you enjoy the Macy’s Parade.
May your hearts be humble and glad.
May peace and joy be in the air.

Photo by Askar Abayev on Pexels.com

Thankless

By J. Speer

He had a thankless job.


Jerry realized this as he worked the toll road booth collecting change and dollar bills from travelers in a rush. It was Thanksgiving Day. The wind blew cold outside the booth. Snow flurries scattered here and there in the wind. He pulled his upturned collar closer towards his neck. Then, he blew warm air into his hands. He had gloves on but due to changing money, he just had the finger-less knit kind that could grip easily. His fingers were slightly numb.


The Oklahoma turnpike was unusually busy the days prior to Thanksgiving. For days, he collected tolls from this stranger or that stranger, from Minivans to Porsches or Teslas. He greeted each with a smile and sent them on their way with a good holiday wish. “Have a great Thanksgiving, folks. Be safe traveling,” he’d add with a short wave. Most zoomed past once they cleared the booth, so they missed his send-off. Some were curt. Most were pre-occupied. Yet, a few here and there wished him a happy holiday too.

Jerry was 44 years old. He had worked at the factory damn near most of his adult life until it shut down last Spring. He had seen the advertisement for the toll booth job on Indeed. It took him a while to put together a resume since he wasn’t used to job shopping but he did eventually. They called him right away. But he was low man on the totem poll, a new hire, which meant he would work through the holiday season. He bargained with another co-worker. Give me Christmas day and I’ll give you Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It took some hard negotiations but it worked. Besides, he had plans for Christmas. Palm trees and white sandy beaches……maybe a margarita in his hand or a mojito. Florida or Cancun maybe….if Dianne could go. Wishful thinking, he said to himself.


He’d been dating Dianne off and on for a few years now. It wasn’t too serious, just fun. He was a widower. His wife, Lee had succumbed to cancer 6 or 7 years prior. It was a harsh ordeal to go through and he decided to stay single afterwards for quite a long time. The kids seemed to like Dianne enough. His 3 boys and daughter thought she was alright but he knew deep down that Dianne would never take the place of Lee in their hearts. It was just casual. They were more like friends than lovers really.
The wind blew harder outside the booth. He looked over and waved at George and Lucy, the other toll booth workers. They all looked out in unison at the growing darkness outside and the thicker flurries coming down swiftly now.


It was pretty much dead…..not a lot of travelers around 5 pm on Thanksgiving Day. He figured everybody was warm and cozy inside homes celebrating and feasting on turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. His mouth salivated at the thought of it. He exhaled.


In the distance, he could see headlights making their way slowly in the heavy snow towards the booth lanes. The driver seemed cautious and moved from one lane to the other as if trying to determine which toll booth to proceed to. Whomever it was, they decided on Jerry’s booth.


It wasn’t a fancy car, just a 4-door sedan in navy blue with tan interior. Jerry leaned out his window prepared to smile at the passenger.


“Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you’re doing alright in this snow tonight,” he said.


He looked at the woman in the car. She was pretty and she smiled back at him.


“Thank you,” she said as she gave him her toll ticket.


“$3.50,” he said to her. He noticed she turned down the music and the heat in the car. She had been listening to the kind of music he preferred too. It sounded like maybe a Kenny Chesney song or Dwight Yoakem.


She dug into her purse and gathered the money. She dropped it into his hand.


“Not very busy tonight are you guys?” She asked him. He noted the curls framing her face and the dimple on her right cheek. She was lovely, just as lovely as his wife Lee had been.


“Nope, not at all. Glad to have your company actually,” he said.


“Ah, I’m traveling from my mother’s. Went to see her at the nursing home,” she said. Her eyes seemed misty a bit. “Is there a diner nearby? I missed Thanksgiving dinner. Due to COVID, we can visit the nursing home but not remove our mask near the residents. Can’t risk getting them sick.”


“That’s good of you,” he said. He leaned further out the window. Nobody was coming down the toll road, so he figured he had some time to direct her.


“Try Claudette’s down the road. I think it’s exit 42A. Should be on the right. Best food around this area. They should be open tonight I think for the truckers. Claudette’s good about that, always taking care of them guys and in turn, they keep coming back,” he added.


“Try the pumpkin pie. Best around.” He continued.


She looked at him a bit.


“Are you busy tonight…..I mean, after your shift?” She said hesitantly as if it had just dawned on her. “Maybe we could go together, seeing as how you gotta work for Thanksgivin’ and all.”


She extended her hand with a slight wink. “I’m Lisa.”


He took her hand gladly and paused a bit when she said her name. Almost like Lee, he thought to himself. Normally, he’d decline….but maybe.


She didn’t really know what had come over her either. Usually she wasn’t so forward with any guy but she had a rough day at the nursing home. It was hard to see her mother there…hard to see her decline and her mom seemed sad and depressed. Lisa had done her best to cheer her mother up. She couldn’t afford to have her mother live with her. Her mom needed a nurse’s care and 24 hr attention, around the clock care. She was worried for her mom.


The man in the toll booth had smiled when she drove up. He was a nice man and something about his kind eyes appealed to her. So she had asked him. Why not? She reasoned.


They went to Thanksgiving dinner at Claudette’s that night. They laughed and joked and had a good time together. He ordered the turkey dinner with turkey gravy and homemade mashed potatoes. She ordered the same.


A year later, that thankless job and that chance encounter led to a marriage. They went to the justice of the peace before Thanksgiving. Jerry had talked to the kids about it and they were on board. Earlier, in the year, Lisa had gotten her LNA license through a state grant and with Jerry’s help, had moved her mother back home. She took care of the kids and her mom during the week days. Meanwhile, Jerry had gotten a slight raise at work and was doing well. On the weekends, Lisa would pull a double shift as an LNA while Jerry stayed home to watch the others. She did this to supplement the family’s income.

Together, Jerry and Lisa put together quite a nice spread for Thanksgiving at his small home. He was no longer a newbie at work, so he was able to get off for both Thursday and Friday. The kids and Lisa’s mom had helped with the dishes. They had made Lisa’s mom’s best recipes. The group bowed their heads for prayer and each went around the table saying what they were grateful for. Jerry said he was most thankful for a thankless job which turned into a blessing in disguise by meeting Lisa. Lisa smiled and hugged him. She said she was so thankful for him and her new family and that her mother could join them. They all nodded and smiled.


In that little home full of heart, it really was the happiest of all possible Thanksgivings.

Pollyanna

We went to Littleton, NH to see the nation’s oldest ski shop called Lahouts. We bought some cross country skis as an early Christmas present to each other.

Littleton is also famous for being the town where Eleanor Porter wrote Pollyanna.

Pollyanna was a Disney movie with Hayley Mills. The original book is a children’s classic and was published in 1913. It tells the story of a very optimistic orphan girl who goes to live with her dour aunt in Vermont.

Today, you can visit her statue in front of the little public library and rub Pollyanna’s boot for good fortune and a glad attitude.

At Pollyanna Gateway, there’s a pretty array of colorful umbrellas and lights setup too. Here’s some pics of the main road.

Also, there’s a fantastic covered bridge in Littleton. It is long and has gorgeous views.

Outside of town is the Franconia State Park region. Mountains and hiking are plentiful here. Not far away is Franconia, home of Robert Frost, the famous New England poet.

And you can go see a marker for the nation’s oldest ski school or see Polly’s Pancake Parlor for maple syrup and pancake mixes outside Sugar Hill.