A Letter to Santa

(Post by Virginia Allain)

For about 10 years I wrote a weekly newspaper column promoting the public library. I was the library director and it was a good opportunity to get our message out to the public.

I’m sure there are thousands of librarians out there right this minute trying to think of a topic for their December library column. Now they have not only the newspaper but their web page and Facebook fan page to write posts for. Below is my column that other libraries are welcome to adapt for their own local paper or library blog.

Don’t worry about sounding greedy. Santa is used to long wish lists.

Write a Christmas letter to Santa - librarians

What does a library want for Christmas? Write a letter to Santa with your requests.

A Librarian’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa, the library has been really good this year. We will try to be even better next year. Please get us a Dial-a-Story for the children to call. It has a new story for each week of the year and only costs $1,500 for the equipment and tapes.

We need $9,000 more in donations for the Reading Is Fundamental project. Then we can give books to 7,000 at-risk children in our community. If we can raise that, the federal government will also give $38,000.

We’re really hoping to get a Youth Services Librarian this Christmas. We want one who will hold story times and start a junior Friends of the Library group. Please get us one with a Master’s degree in library science.

The library doesn’t have a chimney, so just leave the presents in the book return bin. Have a Merry Christmas.”

Christmas village library with lighted windows

My lighted library that I display at Christmas.

A Martin Family Thanksgiving

Ten years ago, Gail’s daughter Virginia wrote this memory of a long-ago Thanksgiving.

thanksgiving family photos

“Almost forty years ago. It’s hard to understand that so much time has passed. I look at the black and white photos. On the back of the photos, I’d written 1968 and the names of the people in the pictures. Of course, I knew their names without having to look on the back.

There’s Mom, looking so youthful. She would have been 44 then and years younger than I am now. She paused while removing the turkey and stuffing from the oven so I could snap this photo. She’s wearing the white sheath dress with the leaf pattern for the occasion.

Another shot shows Shannon, age 10, helping Dad fill the relish plate. There are olives, sweet gherkins, and cinnamon apple rings. Shannon looks so sweet in her jumper and a white blouse with a peter pan collar. Her black hair reflects the light and she’s wearing glasses. Her face is serious with the responsibility of helping with this holiday meal.

The round oak table is set with the white ironstone dishes. My grandparents gave that table to my father many years before. He ate at that table from childhood onward. Instead of a tablecloth, there are placemats. Beyond the big round table, a card table will accommodate the little ones. Even with the extra leaves in, the oak table couldn’t hold the expanding family.

The windows and curtains help me identify the house we lived in then. It was on North Emporia. The next summer we moved to State Street.

thanksgiving family photos

There’s a photo of me, looking much trimmer during those college years. All that walking across campus, I guess. In the photo, I’m setting out the desserts on the desk that was serving as a sideboard. I recognize Mom’s German chocolate cake. The four pies are probably rhubarb, pumpkin, cherry, and a pecan pie. Although the photo lacks color, my mind fills it in. I’m wearing olive green stretch pants, the kind with the stirrup, and an olive green paisley shirt. It looked good in the sixties.

There’s my older sister, Susan. She wears a navy maternity smock and there’s her son, Paul, just a toddler then. Peering into the shadowy background of the photo, I identify her husband, Ron. Only a few years after that, he died in a car accident. I wish I’d taken more photos.

Here he is again in the group photo of the family ready to sit down for the Thanksgiving feast. Larry and my sister, Cindy stand just beyond Ron. This was while they were dating and their marriage still a year away. Now their children are grown with families of their own. Next to them is Karen, who was still in high school. She’s wearing a polished cotton dress with wide cuffs that Mom made for her. Our brother, Owen, isn’t there. It’s the Vietnam War era and he’s away in the army.

The table is filled with serving bowls. I know their contents even though I can’t see the details in the photo. There is cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, deviled eggs, and stuffing. In later years, more favorites were added such as five-cup salad with the orange slices, whipped cream, bananas, maraschino cherries,and little marshmallows.

The next photo shows Mom and Dad as the meal finishes. The family always lingered around the table, telling stories and enjoying the company. Soon we put away the over-abundance of food for a few hours and cleared the table for card games. Nolo was a favorite and also Spoons. Later in the evening, the food reappeared for a buffet. Still sated from the earlier feast, everyone managed to nibble on their favorite dishes and squeeze in another piece of pie.

The final photo from that long ago day shows Mom and three of my sisters in the kitchen “washing up.” Actually, Mom was washing the dishes, Shannon drying them, Cindy putting them away. Karen brought the plates into the kitchen from the table.
I’m thankful that we had that time together and now I have the memories of those good times saved in these photos. Our lives have moved along. I live far away. We are older now. Marriages have come and gone. Health problems crop up. Shannon and Ron are gone.

Still, when that special Thursday in November comes around, I know my family will gather. They will eat turkey and sweet potatoes. They will share laughter and storytelling and card playing. The little ones help fill the relish plate. New toddlers sit at the children’s table. The women will clear the table and wash the dishes. There is still much to be thankful for.”

Comments from That Post on Our Echo:

What a great memory piece about a warm and loving family. I really enjoyed the way you used the photos as you told the story, and adding the part about what people were wearing was nice. Brought back memories of favorite outfits I had in the 60’s. Very nice writing. Nancy Kopp

Very nice! This piece has the feel of “remembering Manderley” from the novel Rebecca. (My memory tells me that Shannon’s jumper was red.) Karen Kolavalli

Hey, Virginia, your memories took me back as if it was yesterday. Almost like in the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof,” when he sang “Traditions.” The food is always great at Thanksgiving, but it truly is the getting together as a family and or with friends that make it so wonderful. After Larry and I married and moved out of state, coming home for Thanksgiving was always such a treat. Cynthia Jo Ross

I do have an earlier memory of a large family get together where we as little children set on a stairway with our plate on our knees. One child to a step all the way to the top. Cynthia Ross

I remember that one, too–I believe it was at Howard & Marge’s big house in Madison. Karen Kolavalli

Your story exudes a warm, familiar, family feeling. Yours was a family blessed. BJ Roan

Your story seems very similar to what I remember about the family gathering for Thanksgiving in 1988. I love the adds memories about the colors in the clothes and the description of the photos. K.D.

Oh Ginger, I read this through my tears. A wonderful, affectionate, joyous, nostalgic, heartbreaking memory of holiday dinners at my sister’s home, many of which are in my memories too. Carol J Garriott

Great memories from the black & white photos. Takes me back to last year when I posted my Thanksgiving memory “We Gave Thanks Prairie Style” where I added the pen & ink sketches that Shannon drew. Enjoyed your memories, Mom (Gail Lee Martin)

Self-Publish a Book of Your Poems

If you’re a poet wanting to share your poems with friends and family, think about turning them into a book. Here’s my experience with this.

My sister writes great poems, but she wanted a way to showcase them. I assembled them into a self-published book that she loves. It is available for her friends and family to order a copy online without excessive cost to her.

Collect and Sort the Poems

If you’re an organized poet, maybe you already have all of them in one place. If not, then gather your scraps of paper and get the poems typed into the computer and saved in a word processing program.

Edit and Polish the Poems

Look the poems over to be sure you’re happy with the wording of each one. Read them out loud to check the flow of the words and the resonance of each. Have a friend, whose judgment you value, review the poems and query you on unclear wordings.

Cover for Ride a Stick Horse

Cynthia Ross – The cover for her first book of poetry.

Paste the Poems into the Book Software

I recommend Blurb.com where you can download their BookSmart software for free. You can also use any of the photo book programs out there that you might like such as Shutterfly. Get the poems into the publishing program that is going to turn it into a book.

Match the Poems to Pictures

You don’t have to have photos or artwork with the poems, but I think it makes a visually appealing book with them. Make sure the photos and artwork are your own or that you have permission to use them.

We used my photos with her poems. Being in color, it did make the book cost more. You could use black and white photos or smaller photos if you want to keep the book more affordable.

Blurb Books inside prairie woman poems cindy book

Two pages of Cynthia Ross’ book, Prairie Woman Poems

Rearrange and Check and Publish

Read through the book in draft form to see that the topics of the poems flow in the way you want. With my sister’s poems, I grouped pages of poems on topics like childhood, writing, relationships, etc.

Spell-check and get several people to look for typos, design mistakes, and other errors. Upload the book to the publisher. Order a copy for yourself and tell all your friends where they can order a copy.

Prairie Woman Poems by Cynthia Jo Ross Blurb Books

Self-published poetry book by Cynthia Ross (tips for how to do this)

What to Say in a Sympathy Card

Sadly, I’ve been writing sympathy cards nonstop for the past week. Fortunately, I keep a pretty good stock on hand. The losses seem to keep on coming. I may have to restock my selection of cards.

Put the right words on paper - Writing a sympathy card.

Put the right words on paper – Writing a sympathy card.

I used to get tongue-tied trying to express my sympathy but am getting more fluent these days. Perhaps practice helps or else I’ve absorbed the words from Hallmark and other greeting card providers and that’s what flows from my pen.

Here’s an example of what you can write:

  • “Our hearts are sad for you and your family at this time of great loss. (insert name) was so special and loved by many who will miss him/her very much.”
  • Tell a story of a good time or memory of that person.
  • “Try to find solace in your many memories of the good times you shared. Sending hugs across the miles.”

Here is another example:

“Thinking of you at this sad time and wishing you comfort in the days ahead. Keeping you close in our hearts and in our prayers.”

(Article first published on Niume by Virginia Allain)

Decorating for Thanksgiving

Nature celebrates the harvest season and cooler weather with a burst of color. Bring some of that color inside your home to enjoy. Here are ways to do that.

thanksgiving fall bouquet

Oranges and yellows – perfect for fall or Thanksgiving decorating.

Pick up a few pieces each year after Halloween and Thanksgiving when autumn leaves, pumpkins, gourds, chrysanthemums, and other traditional fall decor goes on sale. Even jack-o’-lanterns can be used beyond Halloween if the back view is a plain pumpkin. Just turn it around. Over the years you’ll build up a good-sized selection to fit your seasonal decorating needs.

Store the items in a large bin with heavier items on the bottom and more fragile items like silk flowers and leaves on the top. Bring out the bin when it’s time to decorate for fall.

Look around for areas to enhance with the fall items. Fill the traditional places like mantels and tabletops. Add a swag or wreath to the front door. Don’t be shy with the groupings and colors. Put enough pieces together to catch the eye.

Thanksgiving display

The cardboard pilgrim figures are easy to store for next Thanksgiving.

I like to change the feel of my entertainment unit with the seasons. By creating autumn vignettes on each shelf, it makes a colorful wall in the living room.

As Thanksgiving draws near, add some pieces that relate to that holiday’s traditions. Think turkeys, pilgrims, and cornucopias.

Decorate outside the home too with corn shocks, pumpkins, and scarecrows.

Tips & Warnings If you use candles, be sure they are set apart from anything that could catch fire (silk flowers, leaves, etc.).

Post by Virginia Allain

Forgotten Heritage

forgotten heritage pixabay

Forgotten Heritage – a poem by Gail Lee Martin

Old abandoned school houses
left to rack and ruin.
windows broken, porches sagging,
surrounded with trash and tall weeds.

Built so long ago by our ancestors.
now no one cares that they once sheltered
the children of sturdy pioneers
who labored to learn from McGuffy readers.

We’ve flown to the moon,
talked across the seas and
can fly faster than sound and this
knowledge came from those humble beginnings.

All those old schoolhouses should be
shrines to our ancestors whose
thirst for knowledge of a better life
led us to fame and prosperity.

comments on the poem pixabay

  • Posted 02/11/2007 by Carol J Garriott – Very nice, Big Sis! It’s always a treat, in my ramblings, to come across a still-standing school house, abandoned and crumbling tho it may be. As I stand here fiddling with the camera, I wonder if what I hear is the wind in the tall grass or echoes of children’s voices.
  • Posted 02/07/2007 by Virginia Allain – Oh, I like this! It’s always so sad to see buildings like an old school, a railway station or church allowed to fall into ruins. They would have so many stories to tell if they could talk.
  • Posted 02/07/2007 by K. L. Farnum – I agree, I think, what I hate or dislike the most is to see forgotten farms, and barns falling in. I loved it when the family farms were the place to go for fresh eggs, and veggies.
  • Posted 02/09/2007 by Susan Hammett Poole – From the advantage of time, I agree with you that the “old ways” held many, many good things and should not be tossed out with the trash. We are products of all that existed before us. Even if the old buildings are no longer there, it is well to remember and to tell their stories. ~ Susan
  • Posted 02/13/2007 by Karen Kolavalli – I love the story you tell with this poem. Like you and Carol, I’m drawn to abandoned buildings from our past and wonder what stories they could tell us. I’m a big fan of “If Walls Could Talk” which airs on HGTV–these are stories about what folks learn about their houses when they restore them and find out their history.

(Originally published by Gail Martin on the Our Echo website)

November Memory Prompts

November Memories
Think back through the Novembers of your life. What did your parents have to do to prepare for winter when you were a kid? Describe the November weather in your area.

Memory prompts for November

Think back to November days from your early life. Write about those times.

What type of heat did you have? What activities changed with the weather? Baseball to basketball or snowballs. What were the roads like when you were young?

Of course, the best of November is Thanksgiving Day! I would like everybody to timeline their Thanksgiving Days. Maybe remember one every ten years, starting at the age of ten.

The children's table at Thanksgiving Nov. 1975

The children’s table at Thanksgiving Nov. 1975 (Gail Lee Martin’s grandchildren)

I described my memories around the age of ten in “We Gave Thanks Prairie Style” but need to add to them as my family life has changed through the years. Try to include the menu, cooks, the carver and the guests. What else did you do besides eat fabulous food?

(This is part of a monthly series of memory prompts created by Gail Lee Martin for the Our Echo website)