Advent story, part six

School was out for the entire week before Christmas and Alfred’s mother had lots of chores for him and Agnes. She always assigned the dirtiest projects to Alfred. Agnes’ asthma prevented her from doing so many things.

The house had to be scrubbed from top to bottom. The gingerbread baked for the gingerbread houses, the outdoor life-size nativity scene retrieved from storage and arranged by the front door. More decorations needed to be hung outside. “Isn’t this enough already? I haven’t even had time to go to my fort all week.”

“That can wait until after Christmas. You’ll have another week of vacation before you have to go back to school.”

“But, Mom…”

“No, buts. Just hand me that extension cord.”


            The animals stayed on his dresser with no more activity that week. The only thing Alfred was aware of was a glowing light over his dresser when he turned out the lights. But by morning, he forgot about the moving animals and got right to work. His mother kept him busy all day. Every day she asked him about his plans for a gift for his sister. Unable to give her a definite answer, he finally told her he had a plan. He didn’t, but had the impression that something would turn up.

Christmas Eve was on a Sunday that year. The children’s program was presented in the afternoon after mass. Agnes sang a solo. Luckily her asthma was under control that day. Sometimes her asthma attacks landed her in the hospital and the family kept vigil while she struggled for air. At those times, Alfred forgot how aggravating she could be. He felt sorry for her.

After reciting his memorized poem, Alfred was eager to get home. He sat through the rest of the program daydreaming about what he would get for Christmas. He planned to search through his room and wrap a recycled toy to give to Agnes. “She doesn’t ever like what I give her, anyway. What’s the point?”

It was dark when they finally got home and his parents got busy in the kitchen preparing a buffet supper.

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Advent Story, part five

“What does that mean?” Alfred asked.

“I come to announce the promised one. Wait with patience. He will appear when the time is right.”

Alfred wanted to ask more questions, like, “Who are you talking about? Why can’t I see you? Why do you talk in riddles?” But, something in the demeanor of the spirit made him hold his tongue. He stopped trying to catch sight of the—what was it? An angel! “Are you an angel?”

“Do you believe?” Alfred heard the question in his mind.

“Yes, yes of course.”

Without realizing how he got there, he was standing in the mudroom, removing his clothing. “Yes, I believe,” he said again.

“What do you believe?” Agnes asked. “Who are you talking to and why did you change your mind about going outside? Is it too cold for you?” Her tone irritated Alfred.

“I did…” Alfred changed his mind about telling her of the angel. He said instead, “I didn’t want to be late for my shopping trip with Mom. You want a Christmas present, don’t


you?” Agnes coughed. Alfred could hear her shallow, rapid breaths. In a kinder tone he said, “Maybe today I can find something for your collection that I can afford.” Why did she have to be so bossy?

He ran to his room and put the animals on the dresser. The angel was nowhere in sight, but a glow of amber light pulsed around Elsie and the sheep, even after Alfred turned the light off. “Bye, guys. Be good.”

Another unsuccessful shopping trip put pressure on Alfred to find something suitable for his sister’s Christmas present. He already had the wood birdhouse he had made for his father wrapped and under the tree. The special chocolates he and Agnes had made for their mother was hidden in Agnes’ room.

“But, Mom,” he said, “how can I find something she won’t turn her nose up at with the measly amount of money I have left?”

“Use your imagination, Alfred. You’re good at imagining things.”

the girl with the moss-blond hair

the girl with the moss-blond hair

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Advent Story, part four

He anticipated another snowfall in the morning as he closed his eyes on Friday night. “Maybe there will be another surprise for me by my fort.” But in the morning he was disappointed to see only a heavy accumulation of frost. It was beautiful hoarfrost, but Alfred wanted snow.

The cow and sheep on his dresser were making little sounds as though to get his attention. As he approached them, they moved to face him and nuzzled his fingers as he reached for them. “Let’s go see what marvels we can find this morning, guys.” They nodded in agreement.

There was no iridescent snow to lead him and no silver cylinder near his fort. The animals in his pocket, though, were moving and wriggling. He took them all out, careful not to drop them in the snow. Standing in the woods, Alfred kicked at the ground, his disappointment evident in his slumped shoulders. “No new animals are coming.” He looked at the ones he held. “You’ll have to be enough. Let’s go home.”

They shook their heads, “No.” Then all of them looked left as though to say, “Go that way.”

Alfred begrudgingly followed their lead, although he had lost hope of finding anything else. He trudged through the old snow, holding the animals in his palms until they all started jumping up and down, their motions saying, “This is it!”

Standing before an enormous stump of an ancient tree, Alfred could see nothing unusual. He walked around it. Nothing. He walked around again. Noticing indents in the tree at eye level, he thought that maybe he could climb to get a look at the top. He put Elsie and the sheep in his pocket and stretched up to grab the indent. He hoisted himself up and found more indentations, almost like a ladder.

The top of the stump was about ten feet above the ground. In spite of the hoarfrost covering everything in the forest, the stump and its top were clear and dry. Alfred looked around, expecting to see another miniature animal, maybe a horse or donkey, but there was nothing. The animals in his pocket were squirming. “It’s here,” they all said. Alfred looked again and noticed a glowing light near the far edge of the stump. He slithered on to the top and crawled to the other edge. As he reached out to touch the light, it moved and became larger. He felt a force lift him from the stump and set him gently on the ground. At the very edge of his vision he perceived what appeared to be a person in diamond covered clothing, but every time he turned his head, it moved to be at the edge of his peripheral vision. He heard in his mind, “Don’t try to see me directly, but look for what I enlighten.”

img_0339 img_0139

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a new poem



Please, tell me it isn’t true.

Hateful, divisive bullies win.

Diplomacy, tact and class

Are ground into the dirt.


A low day indeed

For all who honor decency

And kindness.

For those who respect

The personhood of all.


I am not an object.

I am a person who loves

My brother, my sister,

Yes, even the ideals

My country once embraced.


But, this, too, shall pass.

I wonder, though,

Will my home rise again

Over the smallness of greed

Bigheadedness and vilification?


Do decency and tolerance

Have a chance

In a world where winning means

I grind my heels into the soft and tender

Backs of those smaller or quieter than I?


We cannot survive divided against ourselves.

Hatred will never end by hatred.

Only love can truly conquer all.

November 9, 2016

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Advent Story, chapter three

On Saturday morning, just before dawn, Alfred opened his eyes sensing a change. He took his headlamp from the nightstand and aimed it at the window. He saw fingers of frost creeping around the edges of each pane. “I bet we got more snow. Great!” As an afterthought, he turned the light towards the top of his dresser. The cow was again standing, looking towards the window and the woods beyond. “This is too weird.” Alfred had an idea. “How would you like to go outside, Elsie?” It seemed to him that she nodded, or at least blinked.

He dressed and snuck down the steps and out the door, with Elsie safely in his shirt pocket. Heavy snow covered the walkway. Alfred tried to push through it but the going was tough. “What I need is an angel to brush a path for me. I want to get to my fort to see what’s happening.”

As though a magic hand swept through the snow, a path of lighter, shimmery snow appeared in front of Alfred. Walking along it, the snow wafted up like feathers around him. Alfred only needed to follow the iridescent snow. “I don’t know where it’s taking me, but I feel like I’m walking on air.”

In mere seconds he was at the base of his tree fort and the same silver cylinder stood, clean and shining just beyond. In the exact center lay three, snow white sheep, so small that when he reached to pick them up, he could easily hold all three of them in both hands. “They’re beautiful. Do you want to see, Elsie?” The cow moved in his pocket and Alfred picked her up and set her next to the sheep.

Eager once again to be in his room and examine them closely, he stuffed them in his pocket and ran home.

His mother called from the kitchen, “Breakfast is ready. I made your favorite, French toast.”

“I’m not hungry, Mom. Give my share to Agnes.”

“Well, okay, but you’ll need to eat something before we go shopping. You have to buy something for your sister and I know just the store where they have her favorite collectibles.”

“I’ll be ready. Just give me a minute.”

Alfred ran to his room, arranged the sheep and cow in a circle on his dresser, facing each other and said as he turned to leave, “You guys be good.”

Agnes stopped him at the head of the stairs. “Where have you been sneaking around this morning? I saw you go out the door, but I didn’t see any tracks in the snow.”

“Wherever. I just stayed close to the house.” How could he tell her about the miniature animals without sharing? He knew she collected miniature farm and village scenes. The cow would be just the thing, but…

Returning from the shopping trip, Alfred’s mother made him promise to try again next week to find something for Agnes. “I know you don’t always get along, but just think about what she would like. She can’t play outside in the cold like you do.”

School occupied his time that week, too, just like the last. There was no time to think about cows or sheep or presents for Agnes. Classroom work centered on preparing for the holidays and finishing projects before the year’s end. Again, no new snow fell.

He anticipated another snowfall in the morning as he closed his eyes on Friday night. “Maybe there will be another surprise for me by my fort.”



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Advent story, continued

A shiny, metallic object caught his eye just beyond his tree fort. “What could that be?” he wondered. Walking now, instead of running, he approached the foreign looking thing. Everything around it had a dusting of snow, but the silver metal cylinder was perfectly clean. Alfred walked around it, taking large steps to measure its circumference. “About nine feet around,” he guessed. It was just high enough for him to rest his elbows on, about the height of a kitchen table. In the very center of its flat, smooth top a miniature cow—Jersey, he thought—stood, its head raised as though looking at the sky.

As he reached out to touch it, he thought he saw the cow move a little, but his hand grasped it firmly and he raised it to his face to get a closer look. It was a perfect specimen, every detail true to life. It felt warm and soft to the touch—like a living creature. “That can’t be. I must be imagining things.”

Holding it carefully as though it was alive, he ran to the house. “Just wait until I show Agnes. She loves cows.” But a voice whispering in his ear warned, “No. Don’t show it to anyone. This is our secret.”

His mother was in the kitchen and as soon as he entered, she scolded, “Where have you been? You’ve got to get ready for church. It’s the first Sunday of Advent. Hurry up, now.”

“Okay, okay. I’m already dressed. I just need to eat something.”

He grabbed an orange and popped a piece of bread into the toaster. Spreading a thick layer of peanut butter on it, he downed the whole slice in three bites. “I’m ready.”

Mom and Dad, Agnes and Alfred piled into the car for the short drive to Saint Clément’s Church. The tiny cow lay forgotten in the pocket of Alfred’s snowsuit. He did not remember anything about it until getting ready for bed that night. After his bath he snuck down to the mudroom to retrieve the little cow from his pocket. He reached in, feeling for it. His fingers closed around a soft, warm object and he drew it out. It was the same cow. But instead of standing with its head raised, it was lying down with its legs tucked underneath and its head drooping and eyes closed. “How could that be? I’m sure it was standing when I picked it up. Or maybe I just imagined it.”

“Good night, Mom, Good night, Dad,” Alfred said as he headed up the stairs toward his attic room. He was eager to examine the cow more closely and wasn’t ready to show it to anyone quite yet. He set it atop his dresser where he displayed all his valuables. He nestled it next to a Lego castle, smoothing its hair back with one finger. “Good night, Elsie.”

School days that week were busy. Alfred’s favorite time at school was the noon recess. With the new snow there was plenty to do: snowball fights, fort building, packing down an area in preparation for an ice rink. Then after school, sledding with his buddies on the sledding hill next to the school. No new snow fell all week.

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An Advent Story

I wrote a short story last Advent about an unusual Creche. I will be posting it over the next months in short installments. Be sure to check it out each week.

An Extraordinary Crèche

Snow fell silently all night. Around the edges of the window, frost built and crept towards the center of each pane. Alfred opened his eyes to see the sunrise coloring the ice, making it look like golden-pink cellophane. He jumped up, throwing the covers into a heap at the foot of the bed. Hardly    noticing the cold, hardwood floor, he rushed to the window. “Wow, cool!”

His breath made icy patterns on the glass. Intrigued by the beautiful designs, he held his face close to the window and exhaled with open mouth to create more.

“I wonder if Agnes is awake. I’m sure her windows aren’t iced up. Her room downstairs is so warm. I bet she’d love to see this.”

Quickly dressing in his flannel lined jeans and wool sweater, he hopped down the steep stairs from his attic room. Pausing at Agnes’ door, he thought, “Aw, she wouldn’t care about a little snow and ice. She’d probably say it’s boring or too cold. Or, she wouldn’t want to mess up her hair. Or Mom would say she shouldn’t be out in the cold air with her asthma.”

He passed the door without knocking and ran down to the main floor. “Good. Nobody is up yet.”

In the mudroom his one-piece snowsuit hung right over the heating duct. “Mom is so cool. She always knows what I am going to need. How did she know it was going to snow?”

Alfred grabbed a hat and mittens from the basket, again grateful for his mother’s thoughtfulness. The cold air stabbed at his face as he opened the door. A wonderland of white stretched out before him making the lines and distinctions between lots and fields fade into nothingness. The woods looked as though they were miles away. Alfred jumped off the porch and was surprised at the lightness of the snow. The powdery white accumulation billowed away from him with each step. He made a row of snow angels along the walkway then, bored with them he sprinted toward the woods. He knew exactly where to find the break in the fence, even with the snow.

He made a beeline for his tree fort. “This must look really cool from above. I’m going to…” A shiny, metallic object caught his eye just beyond his tree fort. “What could that be?” he wondered. Walking now, instead of running, he approached the foreign looking thing. Everything around it had a dusting of snow, but the silver metal cylinder was perfectly clean.








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Morning Views

When I look out in the morning, I need to see nature. My eyes are not ready to focus on man-made lines. I want the soft green of fields or the expansiveness of the sea. If that’s not available, I can at least look at a plant or flower near my door or a small patch of lawn. As a last resort, I can view a beautiful painting with soft, natural colors and lines. If I am able to do that, I find my day rewarding and pacific. That’s not to say that everything is wonderful. There are still persistent, daily irritants, but my ability to let them flow by me like the flotsam on a stream is strengthened. I can understand that the person who pushes to get ahead at the store might be more of a hurry than I; or the person who responds to a question gruffly may be suffering a hidden pain. It is more difficult to let go of the day-to-day mistakes I make. If I remember, I realize my need to return to gazing with appreciation at nature. Sometimes I see, in looking at my own hands, the love they are capable of giving. Memories and possibilities spring up to connect me once again to this experience of earth.


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I am convinced: weeds have intelligence. Those pesky, long stemmed, yellow weeds talk amongst themselves as the mower approaches. “Lie down, she’s coming,” they say. I want to knock them down like a machete wielding madwoman, but when I look behind the mower, I see them laughing and dancing in the sunshine. How do they do that? If I were run over by a giant rotating blade I would be cut to shreds to lie bleeding on the ground.

Another thing: how do weeds know how to disguise themselves and grow near desirable plants, intertwining roots, taking advantage of shade and available water? What I thought was a healthy, fast growing astilbe turned out to be, on closer inspection, a struggling shrub surrounded by thistles. From a distance the leaves looked exactly the same. Horticulturists say that weeds grow in conditions similar to the plants they emulate. But what about horses tail among the carrots, or buttercups under the radishes? On the other hand, dandelions have evolved to be the bullies of the weed world. They grow anywhere without trying to hide. Maybe it’s better when weeds try to fit in. At least from the surface everything is beautiful.


Weeds Run Amok

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The changing light on the fields below our home creates an almost limitless variety of moods. I look out to see the golden light of the morning sun and everything is yellow and bright. On other days an ethereal morning mist diffuses light and the air feels as though it holds me close. Peace is almost tangible, maybe because I cannot see too far. Sometimes dark and sinister clouds encroach on unsuspecting fields. Corn stands proud and tall not guessing torrential winds will soon bombard their tenuous hold on life.

The noonday sunlight fades and washes out the color. Strange, it seems as though the opposite should happen. When evening finally comes, amber light again bathes the fields and creates growing shadows so opposite of morning. Illumination diminishes in calculated steps until the only light I see is from the stars. The fields are black: in appearance only, not reality. They are as green as they ever were. Only the light has changed.

In the darkness it’s difficult to remember the warmth and life force brought here by the sun. Maybe sleep will once again bring light around to succor me with healing rays.


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