Saturday, December 31, 2016

FRESH STARTS, NEW OPPORTUNITIES

by K.J. Howe

Symbol of new beginnings
I'm honored to write the first blog in 2017 for the Rogue Women Writers.  Nothing is more exciting than a fresh start, and I'm quite excited for the year ahead.  In just over a month, my novel THE FREEDOM BROKER will be released--it's the first in a series about Thea Paris, an international kidnap expert who travels to the globe's hotspots to bring hostages back home.  And that brings me to the topic at hand today.

We all have rough days, weeks, years, and anytime I start feeling sorry for myself, I try to reboot my perspective, realizing just how fortunate I am to have my health, loved ones, a dream job, the opportunity to travel, the ability to learn new things, and the chance to challenge myself physically, intellectually, and the fortunate gift to enjoy life.  

Researching intensively in the kidnap world helps maintain that perspective.  While I have my freedom, so many others held in captivity do not.  But real-life experts work hard to bring hostages back to their families, give them a fresh start on life.  Like all beginnings, there are challenges inherent to such a wonderful event as coming home.

Kidnap experts share that the day a hostage returns home is actually one of the most difficult and exhilarating, all at the same time.  Picture this:  You're in captivity for an extended period.  It's kind of like a purgatory of sorts--you're locked up, you can't live your life, but thank goodness you're still alive.  Meanwhile, your family is also held hostage, as they worry about your well-being while working with a response consultant to negotiate for your release.  The world goes on without you.  You're stuck in a time vacuum where nothing changes.  Chances are you could suffer physical and mental torture.  Food is scarce, conditions are harsh.  And this lasts for a long time.  And then suddenly, you're back out in the world.

You're ecstatic.  Your family and friends are thrilled to have you back.  But things have changed, perhaps forever.  You're a different person now.  And a long adjustment period is ahead.  


I've had the great honor to become friends with former hostage Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq, his captivity spanning almost 1000 days.  One of five men taken that day, Peter was the only person to survive the ordeal.  Peter is one of the most impressive people I've ever met, one of my personal heroes.  Kind, intelligent, thoughtful.  After enduring such hardship, he now helps other former hostages.  




Peter shares that there are two main things to consider when a hostage is released:

1.  Time is a healer.  Adjustment isn't instantaneous.  Former hostages need to be patient with themselves.  Their family and friends need to be patient with them as well.  It could take literally years for them to feel comfortable again.

2.  It's important for former hostages to decompress by telling their stories, in their entirety, to a professional, a specialized psychologist.  Talking to journalists is fine if the former hostages are comfortable with sharing their stories, but it's crucial to share all the elements of what happened to them in a safe environment with a professional who can help them process what happened.

Peter shares that hostages need to confide in someone who won't get upset with what they tell them.  And that's not easy.  People might say they are comfortable hearing anything, but heartbreaking stories can really upset others.  Former hostages need a compassionate professional who can support them completely.

The two people who helped Peter most were Blue Cole, a hostage survival trainer and a military psychologist who met him when he was returned to the UK.  Blue had Peter do talks about "conduct after capture" for military units.  Telling his story over and over helped Peter process what had happened to him, allowed him to come to terms with the events of his almost 1000 days in captivity that included mock executions and other horrific events.

When Peter was exchanged for Qais Al Khazlli, his family, employer, and even Peter himself all expected him to just get "back on the horse," get back to his former life, and it's only with time that Peter realized that wasn't possible.  He needed to heal, to understand the trauma of what he went through, and then find a new path in life.  Released now for seven years, he is only now comfortable with the position he's in as an ex-hostage.  

Peter after being a hostage for almost 1000 days
Peter now, safely back at home.


There are so many lessons to be learned from Peter's experience.  When we suffer loss, tragedy, heartache in our lives, we do need time to understand what happened.  And we sometimes need help to process what we survived.  Most importantly, we need to allow ourselves to be different, as life has taught us a new lesson, and we've grown from it, albeit, a painful growth.  And we also need to realize that new starts are inspiring, an opportunity to be a more mature you, seasoned by life's hardships, and inspired to take on the world again.

As we cross the threshold to 2017, let's be kind to ourselves, allow us to admit the pain we've suffered, respect how we have grown from our experiences, and let us be excited about moving forward to new challenges.


Friday, December 30, 2016

HATING NEW YEAR'S

S. Lee Manning: I hate the New Year’s holiday. Always have. Well, not always. When I was a kid, it was the one day in the year when I got to stay up until midnight. I’d eat potato chips with onion dip and watch the stupid ball come down, usually with a babysitter because my parents were at a New Year’s party. I envisioned an elegant, fun filled evening of romance – an illusion I kept of New Year’s parties until I hit dating age and the pressure of having a special someone for the holidays – which I rarely did until I met my husband in my late 20s.


Now, much older and happily married, I still dislike the New Year’s holiday. As someone who tends to be a bit on the depressive side, I just get worse around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. So, at this time of year, with everyone making lists, time to make my list – of ten things I most loathe about this holiday.

1          1. Television news listing the most significant events of the past year. I know that journalists, like the rest of us, want to take the week off between Christmas and New Year’s, but this is just lazy. And, yeah, yeah, I know Trump won, and Aleppo was destroyed.  I don’t need to be informed that these were significant events. I’m already aware. Which leads me to…

2        2.    The annual listing of the people who died in the calendar year. Can you spell d-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-n-g? Or morbid? They died. I’m sad. I’m still mourning Carrie Fisher and now her mother. I have a black patch on my Jedi robe for Carrie Fisher, and a black patch on my umbrella for Debbie Reynolds, famous for Singing in the Rain, an oldie favorite.  But please, do we really need the parade of the dead that we get every end of the year? Wasn’t it sad enough to hear it once?

3       3.    On a lighter note – New Year’s hats. They’re stupid looking. Enough said.

         4.  Restaurant dining on New Year’s Eve. So, maybe you give in to the idea that you should do something to welcome the fact that you’ll be writing the wrong year on your checks – if you still use checks – for about a month and decide to go out to your favorite restaurant for your favorite meal. Only your favorite restaurant isn’t serving your favorite meal. It’s serving a $200 per person New Year’s Eve special. With Champaign – which is supposed to make up for the fact that your meal is $180 more than you wanted to pay. And you have to drink Champaign – leading us into number 5….

         5. Champaign. It’s expensive. It’s festive. We’re supposed to love it. I don’t. As generally served, it’s a sweet fizzy drink. If I want a drink, I’ll take Scotch. Glen Livet is very festive. If I want sweet, I’ll have a milkshake. But we’re supposed to drink Champaign, because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Kind of circular, but there you are.


6        6. The forced gaiety. This is especially true at parties, where you tend to not know half the people. The music is ear-shatteringly loud, and people who don’t know how to dance are bumping and grinding into each other. You’re supposed to be dancing along with them, with a brief period of kissing everyone within reach when the clock ticks down to the new year, even though you just want to flee for fresh air. Then there’s the forced gaiety of the people you see crowded into Times Square waiting for the stupid ball to come down as it does every year. Those smiles you see on the faces of people in the crowd on television – they’re either too drunk and stoned to know what’s happening or they figure this will be the last image their loved ones have of them.  Hence the grins to fool the families into thinking their last moments were good ones.

7        7.   People shooting guns or fireworks at midnight. Usually happens just after I’ve fallen into a deep sleep, having resisted the social pressure to stay up past my usual bedtime. Scares the dogs. Scares me, especially when idiots fire actual bullets into the sky, and yes, people sometimes do fire actual rounds into sky.  Don’t people realize that what goes up….

8        8.  New Year’s resolutions. No, I don’t make them. Why set myself up for almost certain failure once a year? I do that all the time. Don’t need to make a big thing about it.

9         9. The darkness after the holiday. After New Year’s Day, all the decorations come down. The trees, the strings of lights, even the scary Christmas balloons, they're gone until next year.  It’s the lights, bright colors or even just strings of white lights shining in the dark, that I especially miss. They
disappear, and we’re left with the coldest, darkest, and most depressing month of the year. January just goes on and on until it turns into February, the second most depressing month of the year. We could use some festive lights, at least until Valentine’s Day. And some more presents. Make every Friday in January a day to give one present to someone you love. Only not chocolate – I’ll still be fat from not having made a New Year’s resolution to lose the holiday weight. Books make really good January presents.

1        10.  Finally, let’s get to the essence of the holiday. New Year’s marks just how quickly time goes by and how fleeting our lives really are. This may in fact be the core of my whole shtick about New Year’s – because the holiday just underscores what I already know – “what heart heard of, ghost guessed: it is the blight that man was born for….” We are mortal. Time is short. Yada yada. All the hats and the Champaign and the fireworks and the forced gaiety are just trying to conceal that truly terrifying fact.

So, yay, another year gone. Take a deep breath and plunge into 2017. May the coming year be, well, tolerable.

Where’s the damn Glen Livet?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

AMERICA’S TOP TEN NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS!


No, the wine isn't poisoned. Happy New Year!
By Gayle Lynds:  Every year I wonder why there’s so much insanity around New Year’s resolutions.  People worry and plan, worry and make lists.  Now that we’re approaching January 1st, I’m getting nervous.  Did you know that of the folks who make promises for the coming year, only 8 percent are able to keep them the full 12 months?  Ouch.

And yet here we are again, millions and millions of Americans making resolutions.  Yes, millions!  Some 45 percent of us do so every year.

Did any of yours make the U.S. Top Ten?  Check them out....
1. Lose Weight  (I’m “yes” for this.  Too much culinary good cheer around here.)
2. Get Organized  (An on-going issue in my office.)
3. Spend Less, Save More  (There should be a semicolon, not a comma between the commands. Did I mention grammar is a good distraction?)
4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest  (Mine’s too full to enjoy it all.)
5. Stay Fit and Healthy  (See #1 above.)
6. Learn Something Exciting  (That’s one of the reasons I write novels – I get to learn lots of things, many of them exciting!  Wahoo!)
7. Quit Smoking  (People still smoke? OMG, give me some of that second-hand stuff!)
8. Help Others in Their Dreams  (Amen.)
9. Fall in Love  (Doing that every day with John, thank you very much.)
10. Spend More Time with Family  (If all of them would only move to Maine!)

Just reading the list makes me feel guilty.  Am I not aspirational enough?

I remember the year my mother, Marian, and her best friend, Marguerite, resolved to lose weight.  This was in the heyday of Jack LaLanne’s TV show.  Marian and Marguerite tied together rubber stretch bands and zipped on their pedal pushers to join Jack with weight training and calisthenics.  To improve their nutrition, they gave up butter and sugar, which terrified me because like any normal little kid I loved butter and sugar. 

Then Mom and Marguerite discovered sugar-free Jell-O and Dream Whip.  Yum.  I was saved.

Did they accomplish their weight-loss goals?  No, but they had a lot of fun.  Maybe “fun” should be on the list, too?

Okay, so if you’re serious about making resolutions, the good news is that those who explicitly make them are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than those who don't explicitly make them.

At the same time, there are those Americans who absolutely never make New Year's Resolutions – a whopping 38 percent.  My people.  Which is why, to avoid being a failure, I resolve yet again to make no resolutions this year.  But then there’s the clutter in my office.  O, well.

P.S.  A special thank you to the University of Scranton and the Journal of Clinical Psychology for statistics and references.  For more intel, visit Statistic Brain.

And finally, finally, the Rogues are doing another terrific SPY BAG GIVEAWAY of spy loot & our autographed books! See photo!


It's a random drawing so everyone has a chance to win. All you have to do to enter is reveal your #1 New Year's Resolution or Nonresolution by posting it HERE by midnight Monday, January 16th. 

Plus we invite you to subscribe to our mailing list by using the form on the award website and to follow our blog by using one of the two choices in the sidebar — either by email or RSS feed.

We hope to welcome you aboard to many Rogue adventures!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

GIVEAWAY — PASS IT ON!

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To kick off January 2017 and celebrate just over 6 months of the Rogue Women Writers’ Blog, we are hosting a GIVEAWAY! If you’ve been following us, you know we are a group of eight authors of espionage, intrigue, and international thrillers who blog on all things cloak and dagger.

As we ring in the New Year, the Rogues will be blogging about Resolutions, and we’d love for you to share yours with us. From now until Tuesday, January 31st post your answer to this question: What’s your #1 New Year’s Resolution?, on our Blog site, and be entered into a random drawing to win a spy bag full of books and goodies. Plus we invite you to subscribe to our mailing list by using the form below and to follow our blog by using one of the two choices in the sidebar — either by email or RSS feed.

THE PRIZES: Signed copies of The Assassins by Gayle Lynds, Too Bad to Die by Francine Mathews, Desert Dark by Sonja Stone, Dark Waters by Chris Goff, The Ninth Day by Jamie Freveletti, and Castle Bravo by Karna Bodman; The Freedom Broker ARC by K.J. Howe; plus, a replica of a WWII “Beware of Female Spies” sign, one ROGUE WOMEN WRITERS baseball cap; one ROGUE WOMEN WRITERS coffee mug, and Spy™ "rearview" glasses, all packaged in a nylon TOP SECRET drawstring shoulder bag.

Happy New Year! Thanks for logging in, and GOOD LUCK!!

Monday, December 26, 2016

A CHRISTMAS GIFT

by Chris Goff

The Bird Tree
We are now one day one post-Christmas, and one day closer to the New Year, which means resolutions are in order and post-holiday traditions are well underway. I have many fond memories of the holidays—cutting Christmas trees, ice skating on the lake, schussing down the ski hill, presents, Christmas Carols and Christmas Eve candlelight services. I remember Advent Calendars with pictures of Christmas scene, opening the final door to uncover an image of baby Jesus in the manger. But there's one Christmas I remember the most.

When I was nine, we went to Albuquerque to spend Christmas with my Aunt Lucy and Uncle Dan. He scared me. I was a little timid, and he was a Captain in the Army and tough as nails. He ruled with an iron fist. One very strict rules was "no candy." Which is when my cousin, Steve, hatched his plan.

To put this in perspective, I am an only child and I idolized my cousins—two boys, both older, both cute. They asked me to ride bikes into town, and gave me the money for the candy. Then, when we got home, we got caught, and Steve threw me under the bus.

My punishment? 

Chin ups on the kitchen chin up bar. Needless to say, chin ups were not my forte. So there we were, me a shamed, chin up failure, and my cousins who had come out clean. Which is when my Uncle Dan ordered me to come with him.

No parental unit in side, I did as instructed. Climbing into his van, I cowered in the front sea. Uncle Dan smiled. "No worries, Christy. I just need your help."

The next two hours left an impression.

Our first stop was the grocery store, where he purchased a large turkey, a large bag of potatoes, large bags of flour and sugar, canned pumpkin, spices. He bought yams, marshmellows, and frozen green beans. He loaded up four grocery bags full of non-perishable food.

The next stop was a department store. Leading me into the toy department, he waved his arm. "Pick out two presents. Anything you want. One for a boy your age, and one for a seven year old girl."

The final stop on our trip was at a large, white farmhouse outside of town. The paint on the house was peeling. Uncle Dan parked on the road above. 

"We're delivering all of this to the people who live in that house," he told me. Then he had me lie down in the knee-high grass at the edge of the road and told me to keep out of sight.

It took him two trips to deliver all the grocery bags and the sack with the toys to the back patio of the farmhouse, then I watched him ring the doorbell and run. Before I knew it, he was lying down in the grass beside me. Peering over the edge of the road, we watched a man, woman and two children step out the backdoor. They looked at the bags, then looked to see if someone was around.

Uncle Dan and I ducked.

Finally, they started to unpack the bags. We could hear their excitement. The mother and dad so grateful; the kids squealing with delight. On the drive home I asked Uncle Dan who they were. 

"Just a family in need."

That evening three soldiers from the base, who had nowhere to celebrate Christmas, joined us for dinner. My cousins mixed the kids Tang cocktails while the adults drank spiked eggnog and I learned the the meaning of Christmas.

In the years that followed, my family has always given something to someone in need. One year, my mom, dad and I gave boots to every member of a family with five kids in Evergreen. Later, my husband and I found a family in Leadville in need. The mother had MS and the father had recently lost his job. They had two kids, a boy and a girl, ages nine and seven. We delivered food and toys while our children watched from the van.

Today, the 26th, I will continue to celebration this season of peace, joy and hope with family and friends, and look toward the New Year with resolutions in mind. The first one being: Lose weight and exercise more. It's tradition.

Happy Holidays!!



Sunday, December 25, 2016

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Posted by Sonja Stone

Saguaro in the desert

Wishing you a festive day 
full of love, laughter, good health 
and great books.

Season's Greetings, 
from all of us to all of you!

--Rogue Women Writers

PHOTO CREDIT: http://623life.com/blog/view/id_3661/title_Merry-Christmas-from-the-Desert-Floor-in-Arizona/

Friday, December 23, 2016

MY RECOMMENDED HOLIDAY BOOKS


By Francine Mathews

Like everyone else at this time of year, I'm up to my elbows in house guests, menus, shopping lists and wrapping paper--not to mention, in my particular case, the overflowing laundry baskets of boys home from school. When exhaustion fells me for a few moments of rest by the fire, I have only one desire--to pick up a good book and dive into it. 

But my attention span is so frayed, I'm naturally turning away from nonfiction tomes intended to enlarge my mind and deepen my understanding. Late December is designed for holiday escapes--and this season's reads are well worth a few stolen hours on the couch.

First up: The Mistletoe Murder by the late P.D. James, a posthumous collection written by a master of storytelling when she was at the peak of her form. This is a slimmer book than I could wish--but the four stories, mostly set around Christmas, are drawn from fairly early in her career and are superb. Some feature her series detective, Adam Dalgliesh; the creepiest entrant does not. Short story collections are ideal for this season, when time is short and closure is useful before turning out the bedside light.

Next: Fields Where They Lay, by Timothy Hallinan. This is the latest installment of his riotous series featuring Junior Bender--a "fast-talking fixer to the felonious" in Hollywood. It is important to know before picking up this book that Junior is a professional burglar. He is also a serendipitous P.I. With a mordant sense of humor. If you like your murder mysteries slightly hard-boiled, in the Elmore Leonard or Donald Westlake tradition, Junior is for you. This was a Kirkus Best Book of 2016, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016, and a BookPage Top Pick for December. 

And for those of you who are looking for a holiday escape read entirely free of mayhem, I would suggest the book sitting on my bedside table right now--another collection of short stories, this time by Georgette Heyer, a doyenne in her field as revered as Dame P.D.--her field being the invention, out of whole cloth, of the Regency Romance. Heyer, who died in 1971, is perhaps the closest heir to Jane Austen in the English language, and her world of Corinthians and Diamonds of the First Water is beloved by many all over the world. Snowdrift and Other Stories reissues a number of her previously published short stories--with the added fillip of three entrants lost to time and the modern eye. Which is a fabulous holiday gift to Heyer fans. The book, published by Heineman in England, is available through third-party sellers on amazon.com for those of us who absolutely have to have it right away.

What are you reading in these dark winter months? Share your favorites with us!

Merry, Merry--

Francine




Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Holiday Story-A Street Fighter Learns Tolerance


If you're like me you may find yourself pretty exhausted with the year. I'm a generally optimistic person, though, which can be a bit unusual in my family. I come from a long line of realists and my father in particular was never one to pretend things were good when they were not. He had his share of challenges, and these made him become a friendly and tolerant person. I especially loved his tolerance. He was strong in his own beliefs, was willing to engage with others, and was also willing to adjust to make them comfortable. He figured it didn't diminish him to make others feel included. I loved that, but only now, and especially during the holidays, do I realize how special that openness can be.

But dad grew into his tolerance, it didn't come overnight. This was a guy raised on the far west side in what is still one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago, and who fought his way through. His school was a melting pot that would often boil over. He said there were the Italians, the Jews, and the African Americans and the groups stuck together and never mingled. When they would clash they'd meet in an empty lot and fight. Knives, baseball bats and fists. Rarely a gun but guns were around, make no mistake. Dad was a hot head and would fight at the drop of a hat. He told me "I was always angry."

He married my mom, an Irish girl from a nearby neighborhood, and she wanted to be a singer. She urged him to move to California. What is surprising is that he did, because Italian families like to stay close by and this was a break from tradition. What happened next changed my dad's life. 

They fell into a creative group and my dad, who never really embraced that side of himself, started reading Hemingway and writing songs. And he loved it. He said he'd never met people like that. They'd get together with the crowd and talk late into the night about literature and music and politics. The man that was truant countless times, fighting on street corners and barely graduated high school found a love for the arts and conversation.
Dad with his dog Sheba

In later years he moved back to Chicago and then to St. Louis and became a postmaster in a rural town in Missouri. By then he had friends of all religions and colors. There was a Buddhist monastery nearby and he enjoyed talking to the monks when they came to mail things home to far flung areas of the world. He started carrying a zippered document pouch with a wrist strap to hold his money and numerous packs of cigs, (always the cigarettes-he was a three pack a day man and died of lung cancer in 2013), and when a patron that he didn't know came in and pointed to it and called it a purse and denounced him as gay and a threat to the rest of the rural town, he laughed out loud. Told the patron that he wasn't gay but saw nothing wrong with being so. That patron had no idea who they were dealing with at that moment and how dangerous such a claim would have been had it been flung at him earlier in his life. He kept carrying the bag-he still didn't back down, but instead of fighting he would laugh. 

And now in my house we welcome all. We strive to say Happy Holidays to those who don't celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas to those who do and Happy Hanukkah, because he taught us that to be polite takes nothing from us and embraces others. On Christmas Eve we'll head to a Jewish and Christian family's house and by the light of a Christmas tree and a Menorah sing Christmas carols and other songs and will toast to peace and love and laughter. And we'll talk books and music and politics. The kind of night dad would have loved. And dad will be there in my heart and the heart of my kids and husband who loved him dearly and will miss him.

Happy Holidays to all! 
Jamie Freveletti

Monday, December 19, 2016

Getting Home for Christmas

...by Karna Small Bodman

During this time leading up to the Holidays, we have been sharing stories about our own celebrations, challenges and joys.  One of my own memories is about a book, one that enabled me to get home for Christmas, and it all happened many years ago (don't ask how many).

I was a freshman at the University of Michigan, excited and anxious to get home to what was always a grand family dinner on Christmas Eve where one grandmother who was born in Sweden would cook a turkey and serve lingonberries with it instead of cranberry sauce.  Lingonberries are more tart, but a Swedish tradition. She also made the most divine Angel Food Cake (OK, trite description, but that's what we called it).  And, of course, she would beat the egg whites by hand.

Meanwhile my other grandmother would quote Bible verses (my grandfather, who had passed away years before, had been a minister -- he called himself a "Country Preacher.") But the children all waited for someone in the throng to read their most favorite verses:



Ann Arbor train station
 
After dinner, since we were following many Scandinavian traditions, we opened some of our presents on Christmas Eve. Then we would go to the Midnight church service and later try to get some sleep while the young ones "listened" for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof.  I was anxiously anticipating all of these things as I packed up my suitcase, grabbed a book to read on the trip and headed for the old Ann Arbor train station.


When I arrived I saw a huge throng of students, teachers and town residents standing in the ticket lines.  As soon as they paid their fare and had their tickets, they rushed outside while I waited patiently inside for my turn. Finally I got up to the window and pulled out my checkbook.  Remember, this was back when there were no ATMs, banks closed at 3:00 and we always wrote checks for our expenses, especially on weekends.  When I asked what it cost for a ticket to Chicago, the harried clerk looked at me with my pen in hand, and barked, "We don't take checks from students. Some of them bounce. Cash only. Big rule!"  I didn't know anything about their big rules.  I knew I didn't have enough money in my wallet, and I quickly turned around, scanning the waiting room for
the sign of any close friend I might be able to ask for a loan -- although a quote from Shakespeare kept echoing in my mind, "Neither a borrower nor lender be."  It didn't matter because I didn't see anyone I knew standing around anyway.  By now most of the travelers were outside getting ready to board a train. At this point, the clerk simply shouted, "Next!"

As I was shoved aside, I was really distraught. I had no money, no ticket, and no idea how I was going to get home in time for Christmas.  I have a vivid memory of this scene and recall trying to brush tears away with the sleeve of my overcoat as I walked over to retrieve my suitcase and the book balanced on top of it.  As I heaved a dejected sigh and wondered where to go and what to do next, I heard a gruff voice shout, "Hey you!" When I didn't look up the order was repeated, "I said hey you. Come back here."  I turned around and saw the clerk waving at me with another beckoning call.  Did I forget my checkbook? Maybe I left my pen on the counter.  I went back to his window and looked up at him as he pointed to my luggage and asked, "Is that your stuff? Is that your book?" I nodded meekly waiting for another reprimand, though at this point I couldn't imagine what it would be.  Instead, his whole demeanor changed.  He had the beginnings of a smile on his face. He gestured toward the book and said, "I'm gonna break my own rule today.  Now I'll take your check." I quickly wrote out the amount, he handed over my ticket, smiled again and said, "Merry Christmas, kid." I grabbed the ticket, and at that point wished I could lean over and give the old man a kiss on the cheek, but I had to race to make my train.

Now why had he changed his mind? Why had he broken his own rule? Why did he decide to trust me after just looking at my luggage and my book? It must have been because I had decided to bring a certain book filled with great stories to read on that journey. One given to me by my Grandmother. (Not the Swedish one, the other one).


And on the train I read so many wonderful tales from both the Old and New Testaments. One of my  favorites is in Luke Two where the angel says to the shepherds, "This shall be a sign until you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger."
 
 
And so I made it home to celebrate a wonderful Christmas with several generations of our family that year -- with the turkey, the lingonberries, the angel food cake, the poem about Santa, the midnight service and the  many thoughtful presents.   Isn't it interesting how some memories, even ones involving small but important gestures from absolute strangers can stay in our memory bank all these many years?  Now I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and, whatever your religion or belief, a very warm wish for the Season.  Please leave a comment below and tell us some of your favorite memories.
 
Submitted by Karna Small Bodman


Saturday, December 17, 2016

HOME FOR CHRISTMAS?

by K.J. Howe


The holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy family and friends, rejoice in the season, savour fine foods, celebrate good health, and cherish our freedom--because, sadly, many people do not have their freedom.  Hostages across the globe will remain incommunicado from their loved ones at this special time of year, which is incredibly sad.  Still, we must always hold out hope, as there have been many heartwarming moments of hostages coming home in time to celebrate the season with their families.

One of the most significant hostage releases in recent history took place on Dec 6, 1990 in Iran.  During the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussain had captured over seven hundred Americans and a large number of British citizens, using them as bargaining chips--or some might say human shields--in an attempt to prevent the coalition forces from carving apart his military with surgical precision.  In August of 1990, a mere week after invading Kuwait, Hussein announced that all foreigners inside Iraq were to be detained and considered hostages against what he called "the increasing threat of western aggression."

While many people tried to hide or found shelter in various embassies, thousands were captured and held hostage by his regime.  When the coalition started operation Desert Shield, Iraq steadfastly refused to negotiate through normal channels.  Several episodes of "celebrity diplomacy" occurred when both Jessie Jackson and Mohammed Ali conducted short visits to Iraq that helped gain the release of a small number of hostages.  Shortly after Ali's successful visit, Iraq released the remainder of the foreign hostages so that they could be home in time for Christmas.  Although Saddam's exact motives remain unclear, it appears that this goodwill gesture was an attempt to forestall the impending Desert Storm.

Unfortunately, the use of hostages as part of international diplomacy and battlefield tactics has a long, torrid history.  From classical times forward, various monarchs, lords, and emperors would exchange relatives as collateral to ensure adherence to peace treaties, alliances, and other political agreements.  The status of the hostage, or closeness of the relationship of the hostage to the head of state, was determined by the importance of the agreement.  Even the ruler's children were used as hostages in certain circumstances.  These types of agreements even worked in cross-cultural circumstances, as Richard the Lionheart and Saladin exchanged hostages to reinforce agreements.  When peace talks broke down or promises were broken, the lives of the hostages were then forfeit.

In western Europe, with the development of the laws of war and international humanitarian law, the use of hostages, or any form of targeting non-combatants, was effectively banished.  Still, in certain regions of the world and among some powers, these modern standards have not be adopted.  The use of hostages, even by state actors, to achieve political or military goals continues to this day.  In Aleppo, the Russian-directed Syrian forces are using civilians as a negotiating tool with both the west and rebel fighters.  The Ukraine, backed by France and Germany, are trying to negotiate the release of hostages held both by the Russian Federation and the separatists directed by Russia, and are pushing hard to make sure these men and women are home before the holidays.  Let's hope they succeed so that families will be reunited.

Worldwide, families come together to renew their bonds and celebrate the values most important to them during the holidays.  That makes it particularly hard for families who have loved ones who are being held hostage.  Traditions and music remind family members of the ones who cannot join them, renewing the pain of separation.  Individuals like Muhammad Ali and Jesse Jackson have been able to pierce certain captors' armor and secure the release of hostages.  What if we all made an effort to help those who are being kept from their families?  How many hostages could we bring home in time for Christmas?



Friday, December 16, 2016

A Complicated Holiday Season


S. Lee Manning: It’s that time of the year. Houses decorated with lights. Christmas music everywhere. Santas in the mall. A little less omnipresent but still visible, menorahs and blue and white decorations.

As a non-observant Jew in America, my feelings about the season mirror my explanation about my religion: it’s complicated.

When I was a small child, my parents, first generation Americans and children of Russian Jews, didn’t want me to feel left out during the Christmas season as they had when young. We celebrated the secular Christmas. We hung stockings. We watched Miracle on 34th Street every year.
Presents magically appeared Christmas morning. I believed in Santa – and would listen trembling in my bedroom for the sound of his reindeer on the roof. We never had a Christmas tree, which I desperately wanted, but I was told that Jews don’t have Christmas trees.  It didn’t make sense, but that was the rule. At that young age, I didn’t understand that Christmas was at its core a religious holiday for a religion that I didn’t practice or believe in. I remember turning off a television program advertised as a Christmas special because there was this a lady on a donkey and her husband, and the show didn't seem to have anything to do with Christmas. Christmas was magic and Santa and flying reindeer - until my older sister spilled the beans about Santa Claus the year I was eight, and that was it.

My father, who in his own childhood had been chased and taunted for being a Jew, later let me know how much he actually disliked the season for imposing a Christian holiday on everyone in the country. He was not a religious man, but he felt it important for Jews to retain their identity as a people. His feelings were compounded  by the fact that while my parents, as American Jews, had not experienced the Holocaust, it occurred in their lifetimes, less than ten years before my birth. One uncle survived Auschwitz. Cousins disappeared into night and fog of the Eastern European killing fields. But despite all this, he and my mother still wanted me to have the experience of magic that Santa represents -until I no longer believed in Santa.
 
We switched to Hanukah. Back then, Hanukah acknowledgements were pretty much confined to the Jewish community. It was rare to see decorations except in Jewish homes or synagogues. For the eight days of the holiday, changing every year with the Jewish lunar calendar, we lit Hanukah  
candles. We got gifts, but not in the abundance that Santa had brought them. It was lovely, but it wasn’t the same all encompassing celebration that Christmas had been.

But neither was my attitude the same. Once I realized that my religious beliefs, and I had them back then, were different from those of Christians, Christmas became unsettling. I still liked the Santa Claus on every corner, the music, the lights and the bells, but the fact that I liked them made for internal conflict. Christmas underlined that my religion was different – that I was different. Back in those days before Supreme Court rulings, the Christmas songs at school were to welcome the arrival of the baby Jesus to save the world, a belief not shared by Jews. I sang along, enjoying the lovely melodies, but feeling slightly uncomfortable, as if I were betraying the generations of Jews who had been persecuted for having different beliefs from the Christian majority.

That uncomfortable feeling of betrayal was underlined by the real meaning of the celebration of Hanukah. Most non-Jews know that Hanukah celebrates a day’s supply of oil lasting eight days. What they don’t always know is that the holiday is a celebration of a military victory against a conqueror that wanted to force Jews to forsake their religion.

And in my school, I was singing songs to the baby Jesus.

Fast forwarding twenty years: by the time I met my non-Jewish husband, I was pretty much a cultural Jew. I’d go to services on the rare occasion I was with my parents for the High Holy Days, and I’d go to Passover Seders to celebrate freedom. But I didn’t keep kosher or Shabbat.  I believed that all religions had their truths, but I didn’t (and don’t) believe that any particular religion had a monopoly on what was good. I did believe, kind of still do, in an entity that would be closer to the Force than to the traditional God of Abraham and Isaac. Still, I was and am proud of my Jewish heritage.

So in our married life, we settled into a non-religious celebration of both our traditions, and this only intensified with the birth of our children. We lit candles for Hanukah; we had a Passover Seder, and we celebrated Christmas.

When they were children, my kids believed in Santa. I spent almost twenty years as Santa-mom, spending every spare moment from Thanksgiving to Christmas shopping and wrapping. We decorated a Christmas tree. We played Christmas music.  Magic and family fun dominated. The discomfort I had a child largely dissipated – in part because our celebrations were a family affair and not a religious ceremony and in part because there was wide acknowledgement of a multi-cultural country.  I liked that the holiday decorations in the mall included, even as a token, something for Hanukah. I liked displays on television that glorified multiple religious celebrations. Having fun at Christmas felt less like a betrayal when it became part of a multitude of holiday celebrations.

But lately things have gotten a little uncomfortable again. In the past year, there has been an increase in people who dislike having multiple cultures in the United States and who demand a white Christian country.  There has been a noticeable rise in anti-Semitism attacks along with a rise in attacks on Muslims. While the two groups may not be the same, the increase in religious intolerance seems to accompany the increase in people who feel victimized by the words “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” It’s not only that they want to say Merry Christmas themselves. They want everyone else to say it. Cups at Starbucks should say Merry Christmas. Sales staff at Macy’s should say Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays, even if someone’s wearing a yarmulke or a hijab.

I can almost hear my adored late father raving.

And I kind of agree with him. It’s one thing for me to choose to celebrate Christmas, in my fashion, with my family. It’s another to have it forced on me – or on anyone.

Hence my complicated relationship with the holiday season continues. This year, my adult children, my husband, and I are gathering again to celebrate the holidays. We’ll have a Christmas tree. I’ll watch my favorite Christmas movies, Prancer, and The Santa Claus. We’ll sing some Christmas songs. And on Christmas Eve, we’ll light the first Hanukah candle and honor the victory over those who wanted to destroy the Jewish religion.  It somehow seems appropriate this year that the two holidays fall together.




Wednesday, December 14, 2016

ONE WRITER'S IDEA OF HOLIDAY MAGIC

My granddaughter



Gayle Lynds:  Yes, magic still happens at Christmas, and here’s how I know.... 

Some time ago I was publishing regularly but still making little money.  The year of this story, I was on deadline throughout December, working long hours, from early morning until midnight.  That wasn’t unusual.  It seemed that year after year I’d had to work through the holidays.  I always met my deadlines.  I was the primary support of my family.

I’d grown up poor in Iowa, and every Christmas had been a crisis.  Would my father give my mother money to buy gifts?  More important — would he give her money to buy a Christmas tree?  He’d been hungry during the Depression, and what little money there was, was to be held on to, not spent.  The sight of an outdoor tree inside the four walls of a house didn’t capture his imagination.  The fresh piney scent didn’t charm him.  From his viewpoint, the popcorn strings, yarn ornaments, and school art projects decorating the tree should’ve been put to better use elsewhere.

So as an adult, living in Santa Barbara, California, I was grateful I could take care of my family, but at the same time I felt terribly guilty I wasn’t providing the kind of memorable Christmases I’d dreamed of for them.

The Christmas Eve this happened, we had two teenagers in high school and two young adults grown and gone.  Through the closed door of my office, I could hear the younger two laughing and talking, and their friends arriving to visit then leaving.  When I finally poked my head out, I smelled wet wool and pizza.  The box of family tree ornaments was waiting by the staircase.  My son and daughter were looking at it, too.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” my son reminded me.  “Aren’t we going to have a tree?”
   
Yes, the crisis of the tree.  I’d been delaying because I’d spent my allotted budget on gifts for them, and six-foot trees were a pricey $100.  Then I thought of my father, who by then had died.  He’d never seen any reason for a Christmas tree.  But looking at their expectant faces, I knew they saw a reason.  And truthfully, I did, too.  I wanted a tree.

I got my purse.  I had $20 left.  I handed the bill to my son.  “Do your best.” 

In my Santa Barbara office
With a grin, he whipped it out of my hand and went bounding upstairs to the front door, his sister on his tail.

I didn’t expect much.  After all, tomorrow was Christmas.  Most of the tree lots would be empty.  We’d be lucky to get something with a stump and a top.  Three feet tall at best, with broken branches.  I cheered myself up with the thought of how wonderful it would smell, and that small trees let you crowd the decorations.

I returned to my office, thinking kind thoughts about my father and wondering whether I was getting a little tight-fisted at the wrong moments myself. 

The first inkling the kids were back was a pounding on the outside door downstairs.  I ran out of my office.  There they stood, balancing a giant seven-foot tree.  It was gorgeous, and they carried it in, the glorious aroma wrapping me in a cloud of Christmas cheer.  Oh, it was beautiful — a Douglas fir with a hint of blue in the needles and so fresh a thin branch curled around my wrist without breaking. 

While we put on Christmas music and decorated, they described arriving at the neighborhood lot just as it was closing.  There’d been three trees left.  The owner had been offered an unexpected shipment in the morning, and since his sales had been good, he’d taken all of the trees.  Now he was quitting, and they could have whichever one they wanted for the biggest bill they had on them. 

“The best $20 we ever spent,” my daughter assured me, beaming.

There’s something about a Christmas tree that stands in front of a window, the twinkling lights reflected in the glass.  There’s joy and ritual and a promise of Christmases to come.  This is one of the reasons we adults work to support our families, whether it’s by writing novels or fixing plumbing or farming the land.  We do it for these moments, to be together now and to send them off into the future tomorrow.  That’s magic.

With this tale I begin the next series of Rogue Women posts about the holidays, our lives, and our books.  May you and yours have a season full of peace and joy. 

Do you have any favorite family holiday stories?  Please share!