Saturday, December 15, 2018

Some Thoughts at Christmas

We have had a wonderful year of topics for our Round Robin blog and we are winding up 2018 with short stories or excerpts from a longer story that highlights the Christmas spirit. I have only ever written two specific Christmas stories, both for my grandsons, and which have over the years sunk without trace. Maybe that's a good thing! I couldn't think of any passages in any of my books which could really be likened to the spirit of the Christmas season but have to say that after moving around so much as an army brat, Christmas to me has always meant a family gathering, wherever it happened to take place.

During the war years, this was always at my grandmother's house where a blackout curtain had to be draped across the windows in front of which stood our live tree. My cousins and I looked forward to decorating it, including clipping the holders for real candles onto the branches. We never knew which dad or uncle might be home on leave, but if none of them was, then my grandmother lit the candles. Health and Safety today would have a bird about those candles! Decorations were always branches of fir, mistletoe, and holly. I don't remember who started it, but it became something of a tradition to outline the edges and veins of the holly leaves with silver paint and this kept us kids occupied while my gran, my mum, and aunts prepared food. 
Ivy Cottage

For a number of years, I lived in a 300-year old Cotswold house. When I first saw the house I thought the living room, with its exposed oak beams and open fireplace, would be the ideal place for a family Christmas, and it was. One year my boys took charge of acquiring the tree. I never asked where it came from, I don't think I really wanted to know, but it was so tall they had to take about 3-feet off the top so we had a tree and a bit. Another Christmas my daughter bought her eldest brother a beanbag and packed it in a big appliance box. Give cats and kids a box and they will have endless fun with it. I laughed myself silly as my son converted the box into a bus and his sister and one of the dogs squished in behind him. As they were young adults at this point there may have been some alcohol involved. 

A few years ago I was pet and house-sitting at a lovely country home in England. That year was wild and wet and with so much flooding washing out roads and leaving debris everywhere, I decided to not risk the trip to visit my family but stayed put. I've never minded being alone but appreciated the phone calls with my children even more on that particular Christmas Day. To keep the flavor of the season I had my table decoration and a
Christmas dinner from Sainsbury's grocery store and finished the day curled up on the sofa with the two dogs watching TV.

For me, Christmas is not so much about giving gifts as spending time with family and friends and none more so than when I can spend that time with my nearest and dearest. My DDH (dearly departed husband) and I did not buy each other big gifts but instead donated what we would have spent to charities of our choice and simply spent the day alone together. One year we binge-watched all the Star Wars movies. Another year we had a turkey and trimmings picnic on the living room floor, never to be repeated as it proved too much of a temptation for our two dogs. 

Christmases come and Christmases go, and now I'm happy to enjoy a gentler side of the season. I don't worry anymore about the commercialism of it all as that's something I have no control over. It's up to each individual how they choose to celebrate, or not, after all. What I like is having come to a place in my life where I am happy to celebrate the joy and peace of the season and so I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Round Robin Blog for November

The question we were asked this month is: How has writing rewarded you? What has it cost you?

I can honestly say that writing has rewarded me far more than I ever expected. In terms of what it cost me? Maybe a few friendships along the way but life is all about checks and balances and I have made many more friends in the writing community.

Being an army family we moved to the beat of its drum so I never knew how long we would be in one place. The reward, though, of each new school was discovering its library and there, I excelled because I read books way above my grade and so became popular with the librarians who were often the English teachers, too. Yes, I sucked up big time in order to get my hot little hands on more books than the curriculum required.

In my early teens, I switched from reading to writing. I was absolutely convinced I had what it took to be an author. Sadly, my tales of Virginia, Girl of the Golden West, went nowhere due, in retrospect, to the largely purple prose of the author. I tinkered with writing, gaining along the way prizes for essay writing at school and good passes in English Literature and Grammar (taught as separate subjects back then).   

Once I left school, writing faded into the background as I discovered boys, movies, and rock n’ roll – not necessarily in that order. However, I was always writing something, even if it was only an annual report for work until I decided to write a book for my daughter. The book was If Wishes Were Horses and took me two years to complete but it satisfied me in a way that reading didn’t. There was nothing better than curling up with a notebook (yes, I wrote in longhand) beside a blazing fire with the dogs snoring on the hearth once the kids were in bed, or shutting myself in my room on Sundays with a flask of coffee and a pile of sandwiches.  

Over the years I know my writing has caused coolness in some friendships because of the days when I’ve said ‘no’ to this or that proposed outing because I wanted to write. The times, mostly with family, when I have been uncommunicative because I was deep in my story have not necessarily been understood. Joining a writing group was the best thing I ever did because, being with other people who ‘get it’, is just the best. Overall, writing has given me much more in terms of satisfaction than just about anything else, so for me there has been far more reward than cost.

Check out these other fine writers and see what they have to say:

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Encouraging Children to Read

How do you encourage reading in children? Good 
question, but I have no idea how people go about teaching children to read these days.

I can only fall back on how I encouraged my children to read in the 60s. One thing I did do, for which I was seriously mocked, was read aloud to my baby bump. After she was born, I read to my daughter every day. We had rag books which could be washed and re-read and there was always one stuck in her pram. By the time I was pregnant with my second child, my daughter and I read books together to the new baby bump and then the same with my third child, even if the book was only a picture book of farmyard or zoo animals and we read the name of the animal.

I used my local library all the time and my kids were encouraged to pick out a book for
themselves and one that I would read to them. They all started with author Angela Banner's Ant and Bee books. They particularly enjoyed Ant as he was often naughty while Bee was a bit more sensible. Simple three- and four-letter words were repeatedly printed in red (like the old Reader's Digest advertising letters) and the parent (or whoever) read the black print text. It wasn't long before my kids were reading the whole book for themselves. Other series were the Beatrix Potter and Ladybird books.

There were always books in our house and I followed the routine set by my parents. We didn't have TV until 1956, and only then because I regularly disappeared to the next-door neighbor’s house to

watch The Lone Ranger. Once we had done our school work and reading, then we could watch TV. My children could watch the children’s hour programs from 4.45 pm until 6.00 pm and then the TV was switched off and the reading began. They read a page from their books, each helping the other, and then I would read a chapter of the family book to them. The last book we read as a family was Watership Down.

In between times, while other parents refused to let their children read ‘rubbish’ comics, mine had their pick of whatever they pleased, one comic each per week which they all shared. They had their pick of the Dandy, Beano, Bunty, and Beezer and often, the day after getting their comics from
the local newsagent especially, several of their friends would magically appear and sit and read them, too. Whatever the cost of these comics was well worth the expense as the kids devoured them. I'm not sure if my neighbors noticed any improvement in their children's reading but all the kids were encouraged to read the words and not just look at the pictures.

I hear today that parents are encouraged to not teach their children to read at home as that is a job for teachers and schools. I don’t agree, especially with early reading programs like Hooked on Phonics and LeapFrog readily available. I can’t think of a more pleasing aspect of being a parent than sitting with your children and sharing the written word. My children are now all in their fifties and still avid readers. I like to think they had a good start with what we shared as a family.

Visit the following authors to see their opinions on the subject: