Sunday, December 8, 2019

"The Year Christmas Came Before Advent" Published

This article appeared in the December 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor."

The Year Christmas Came Before Advent
by Janet Sobczyk, 2019

(This photo of our Advent wreath wasn't submitted with the article.)

Recently I was perusing the holiday section of a children’s library and noticed there are so many picture books about some character or another saving Christmas. The message seems to be that humans (and animal characters, too) will go to great lengths to make sure Santa comes. The last illustration usually shows the character who did the saving, surrounded by smiling loved ones. 

That is the real message. Christmas is saved when people can be with their loved ones. Preserving traditions around important holidays keeps families bonded together. But what happens when family members can’t make it home for the holiday? Often times the answer is to move the date. With tight work schedules and travel from long distances many families opt to celebrate a holiday on the weekend before or after the actual date. And that’s perfectly fine. 

When my siblings and I grew up we all settled in different states: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado. My brother who is now in Colorado was in the Air Force, so his state changed several times through the years. 

In the early years we still managed (or attempted) to get together for Christmas with my parents. I remember one of the last years we all gathered at their house, bad weather was an issue. Everyone from close states made it, but my sister from MN had to find a motel for refuge from the storm. 

Mom was so upset with the worry of everyone arriving safely that she couldn’t enjoy Christmas Eve at all. “We can’t start anything until she gets here” was her refrain as we tried to come up with things to do that evening. So, at the risk of one daughter missing out on a fun moment, the rest of us had a boring time. We did thoroughly enjoy Christmas Day together when she arrived the next morning. But the lesson I learned was to expect that these things can happen and just enjoy being with the ones who can be there. 

So now my own children are grown and some of them have to travel to get home for Christmas. I understand the worry of my mother better now. When the weather is bad, I’m inclined to say, “Stay put and enjoy whatever you can make of it, wherever you are. We can be together another day. It’s not worth risking lives.” 

Although weather can always be a factor, another issue that faces young married couples is finding ways to be with both sides of the family. That’s especially hard when the parents and the in-laws live in different states. It’s only fair to alternate, so that’s why three of our five children will not be home for Christmas this year. That’s okay. We just moved our celebration to another date. What’s important is that we can be together, right? Well, the only time that works for all of us this year is…. Thanksgiving weekend. 

We’ll have the big turkey dinner Thursday, shop and put up the tree on Black Friday, then have a ham dinner and presents on Saturday. It’s a perfectly logical plan, and I’m sure we’ll have a great time. But it strikes me as odd that we’ll be done with Christmas before the first day of Advent. 

By the time this December issue of Your Country Neighbor comes out, we’ll be done. As everybody else endures the crazy Christmas rush, we’ll be done. As people are busy wrapping gifts, ours have already been opened. 

Hearing Christmas carols throughout December might feel like hearing them in January. Enough already! Or maybe I’ll feel the way a friend predicted, “Just think. You’ll have time to sit back and enjoy the music and lights.” And the nativity set, with everything it symbolizes: family, faith, hope of salvation. Add some eggnog and Christmas movies and we’re good! 

"From Grief to Acceptance to Hope" Published

Buckets of Hope: Recovery from Grief and Loss

    My daughter's birth story has been published in this wonderful book by  Kat Crawford.

Buckets of Hope is about recovering from different types of losses and contains the inspirational stories of 26 writers, as well as Kat's own remarkable story of grief and recovery.

"From Grief to Acceptance to Hope" is my narrative about recovering from the shock and sense of loss at the birth of my youngest daughter (with special needs) to begin a wonderful journey of hope. 

Thank you, Kat, for inviting me to join your compilation project! 

It's available on Amazon for $10.99 paperback or $2.99 Kindle here:

"The Prank" Poem Published

This poem was published in the November 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor."

The Prank
by Janet Sobczyk, 2019

Plant a fragile sapling 
dig, settle in the dirt 
fill in, shore up 
enjoy over long seasons 
notice it growing 
unfolding into the sky 
delayed gratification at its finest. 

Plant a plastic skeleton 
dig, settle in the dirt 
build joists, lay the deck 
enjoy impossible anticipation 
for next homeowner to uncover 
maybe, someday 
delayed gratification most painful. 

Won’t it become Poe’s telltale heart 
lying under the deck 
rasping a dry call to be found? 
Won’t the prankster pry up one board 
show someone, anyone, everyone 
for a shocked look, appreciative chuckle? 
How could he not?

The inspiration for this poem was a Facebook post by “Dad Joke of the Day”: “Redoing the deck, so I went to Party City and purchased a skeleton. Now in 20 years when the new homeowner needs to redo the deck……” The picture showed a realistic-looking, plastic skeleton half-buried in the dirt under the joists of the new deck in mid-construction. Creepy!

"Small Town Mansions" Poem Published

This poem with my 3 photos was published in the October 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor." A weekend anniversary trip inspired this poem. The time away was lovely, and museums entertained, but the historic mansions captured my imagination.

Small Town Mansions
by Janet Sobczyk, 2019

I’m not a good traveler 
bulging bags are a drag 
long drives don’t appeal 
crammed itineraries exhaust. 

I prefer quick, nearby trips 
a small town stay 
two hours away… 

Quaint museums, small cafes, 
renovated B&Bs with shady porches, 
photo opps, historic stops 
and quiet time to read are what I need. 

A stroll down this town’s Mansion Mile 
reveals treasures bold 
where stories and glories unfold 
and time travel seems possible. 

Imagine living here in the 1800s 
as rich folk with servants and gardeners 
long dresses, hats, starched shirts, spats 
horses and carriages on cobblestone streets. 

Imagine living here now 
as middle class folk with money woes 
trying to maintain a money pit 
in a town with a hard-hit economy. 

The glorious chateau 
sits next to a burned-out bungalow 
that may get revived 
or remain a dive. 

Time ravages all 
some mansions crumble and fall 
others get rebuilt next to weeds and silt 
a mismatched neighborhood.

"A Labor of Love" Published

The article and photo appeared in the September 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor."

A Labor of Love
by Janet Sobczyk, 2019

This summer I moved a library. 

I didn’t move near a library. I literally moved a small school’s library from one room to another down the hall. Actually, students helped pack the books into boxes last May. Then they stacked them in the lobby. 

In July I began sorting them out because the new space is smaller than the old library space was. I weeded out duplicates and old books that hadn’t been checked out in years. I looked at every book card to make sure so I wouldn’t get rid of a well-worn favorite by mistake. 

The second day into the project someone asked for donations for an organization that ships thin, paperback books to a school in Uganda. They received five large boxes; it felt great to see them put to good use. 

The rest of the weeded-out books were boxed for a charitable organization here in Omaha, then we loaded them into two school vans. I drove one of the vans myself and acted like a mother hen as they were unloaded. I love books, and needed reassurance they would make their way into children’s hands from there.

The huge pile of books to keep I had already loaded onto the shelves as fast as I could. The goal of getting the lobby cleared out by the start of school had been a palpable weight on my shoulders, but the mission was accomplished. Organizing the books in ABC and Dewey order will still take some time, but it’s looking like a library already.

I know the administration appreciated all my work. However, when my daughter (a student at the school) walked in and immediately found items she wanted to check out, that was all the thanks I needed.

"The BSB" Published

This article appeared in the August 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor."

The BSB 
Janet Sobczyk, 2019 

It happens every year at this time.

One week I’m enjoying the laid-back, less-busy days of July, and the next I walk into a Back to School sign at the grocery store. Literally! I’m clumsy.

That first jolt doesn’t sit well. I know some parents are more than ready for school to begin. But my insides churn at the thought of all the summer things I haven’t done yet. Sure, I’ve stayed up later and slept in sometimes. I’ve enjoyed walks, tended flowers, and slurped ice cream cones. But what about my list?

I start every summer with a long list of want-to-do’s. The list includes recreation ideas and projects around the house. A quick look now shows very little accomplished. Time to go into summer overdrive.

First, I schedule a gathering with relatives, and a trip to visit my sister. Next, schedule the school physical and eye exam. Then prioritize the projects. Painting, cleaning, organizing. I’ll clear out the garage on the next cool day. Sort old photos on a beastly hot day. Okay, the huge pile of pictures might not get done. Winter’s a good time for that, or next summer. I’m good at procrastinating.

Time to make another list. A long shopping list of back to school supplies and clothes for a growing daughter. I dread starting this because it can be an expensive outing, and it signifies to me the end of summer. Yes, there will still be plenty of hot weather through September, but when school starts in mid-August, it’s all over.

I dread making that list, but I actually enjoy getting it done. At home I label and help pack each item into the backpack, double-checking the list. There’s something about new school supplies that makes me feel like anything is possible. It’s a fresh start that’s better than New Year’s Day.

The backpack then sits and waits patiently to be called into action. It’s last year’s model, but should make it through another year. When new, it sat up straight and ready to go. Now it slouches, and a pocket is torn, but it’ll hang nicely on my daughter’s back for the annual, first-day-of-school photo on the front porch. Smile!

By now I’m smiling at the thought of it all. The routines. The activities and events. Seeing kids and parents I haven’t seen all summer. It will be a good year.

Yep! I’ve caught it. The Back to School Bug!

"Marvelous Millie" Published

This article and 2 photos appeared in the July 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor."

Marvelous Millie 

by Janet Sobczyk, 2019 

We recently adopted Millie, a 15-month-old Miniature Schnauzer, from the Humane Society. She’s very well-mannered with only a couple of flaws: a penchant for nibbling plants, and a misconception that we expect her to be a big, brave guard dog. The latter is probably why she was surrendered from her original apartment home.

Her pointy, radar ears don’t miss a thing. Sometimes a sound outside will bring a low growl while she assesses the origin. Other times she immediately sounds the alarm with a piercing bark meant to scare off burglers, roaming critters, and any brave leaves that rustle down our sidewalk. Unfortunately, her “intruder alert” doesn’t seem to deter salesmen from knocking at the door.

She tries to appear brave, but is actually skittish. Taking her on walks is an adventure because so many things seem new to her. Our usual course takes us past a school yard and close to a baseball backstop. The first time she saw that tall, chain-link structure she sounded the alarm and examined it from every angle. She kept scolding it, barking over her shoulder, as I led her away. An overturned garbage can brought the same reaction.

Even though she’s over a year old, she is still very puppy-like, which is quite a change for our household. The last three dogs we adopted were senior dogs that were very calm and seldom barked. We cared for them in their final years, knowing our time would be short. It felt good to be there for them when their original owners couldn’t be, but it was hard to see their rapid declines. I wasn’t ready to go through that again, so we chose a young dog this time.

The last puppy we adopted was 15 years ago. That puppy was a Schnauzer-Terrier mix and very similar to Millie except in color. Sophie was black, but Millie is silver. We have fond memories of Sophie growing up with our kids, but frankly, I’d forgotten the sheer joy that a playful dog can bring to a home. Old dogs don’t chase balls or go very far on walks. Millie loves walks and balls and stuffed squeaky toys. She even entertains herself by tossing the toys in the air and chasing them. Or maybe she’s showing off to remind us it’s play time.

With five people in our household she doesn’t lack for a playmate or a comfy lap. She loves us all and spreads her affection liberally. Aside from her bark, she’d make a great therapy dog. She has the ability to bring one’s stress level down within moments of welcoming her onto a lap. For example, I recently experienced some computer glitches that made it impossible for me to accomplish a task on time. I was ready to burst into tears. Instead of throwing the laptop I picked up the dog. Her snuggles worked wonders! My frustration melted like an ice cube in a glass of tea at a July picnic.

 Speaking of July, the 4th will be here soon and so will fireworks. I can only imagine Millie’s reaction to those. I better shop for a thunder vest for her, and maybe doggie ear muffs, if there is such a thing. She’s tiny in stature, but I can imagine her on full alert, telling off those noisy, flashy intruders, ready to brave the unknown for her new family.

"Spring Cleaning" Poem Published

I'm behind on posting my published pieces, so I'll try to catch up.

This poem was published in the June 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor" and is a reprint of my blog post from April 2013.  The original post had this photo of Mom and me in the yard, which I didn't submit for the article.

Spring Cleaning 
by Janet Sobczyk, Omaha, ©2013 

There’s something about the first warm days of spring
that makes me want to clear leaves out of flowerbeds,
sweep the porch, clean out the cars, and
wash my windows and curtains.

I don’t feel that strongly about those things
at any other time of the year, so why then?
Maybe it’s because of my mom,
who set a fine example for years.

Twice a year, spring and fall, without fail,
she would go full speed cleaning the house and cars.
She washed walls, windows, and floors.
Always top to bottom, of course.

All the furniture would be moved, cleaned, rearranged.
The vacuum would probe every corner.
Sometimes tiny treasures were found
under the couch or behind the console TV.

As a child I enjoyed watching her.
Sometimes it was best to stay out of the way
before being enlisted to lend a hand.
But I always enjoyed the finished results.

Rooms that almost glowed.
Everything seemed so fresh and pretty.
I loved the novelty of furniture in new places
and clean windows open to the breeze.

This is the first year that Mom is not spring cleaning.
She talks about wanting to work in the yard
and needing to clean windows.
But she doesn’t have to now; she is in “assisted living.”

She can’t quite adjust to having things done for her.
After so many years of spring and fall cleanings,
she still thinks it needs to be on her to-do list.
I guess a woman’s work really is never done.

"Thinking About Lost Books" Published

I'm behind on posting my published pieces, so I'll attempt to catch up.

This new article appeared in the May 2019 issue of "Your Country Neighbor" along with my reprinted cinquain poem and photo that was posted on my blog in October 2017.

Thinking About Lost Books
by Janet Sobczyk, 2019

Today the spring weather beckoned me to clean, and my husband did some rearranging in the basement. He came across the small, college-dorm-sized ‘frig we have that hasn’t been opened since we moved last July. He checked inside. What’s that green thing?! A moldy packet of beef jerky? No. It was the manual to the ‘frig… almost unrecognizable. It must’ve been slightly damp when plopped in there for safe-keeping. Now it’s useless. Not to mention gross.

It reminds me of the time a box of our books got damp. I didn’t consider it a big loss because it was my husband’s college textbooks from the 1970’s. The smell of mildew made me nauseous; the dumpster became their fate. But it struck him as sad. A tangible piece of his youth was lost.

The thought of those damaged books reminds me of a photo I took of discarded reference books. I snapped it in the waiting room of a grimy auto repair shop.

Mildewy books also remind me of the time our neighbor’s basement flooded from a burst pipe. They were gone on a winter vacation and we had agreed to look after their house. When we discovered the water shortly after they left, we worked quickly to salvage photos, papers, and her wedding dress. Most of their items were in plastic tubs (thank goodness!), which taught me the value of investing in plastic instead of cardboard boxes.

The loss of books feels especially distressing because I love to read and I love libraries. I recently read “The Library Book” by Susan Orlean, which is about the Los Angelos Central Library fire of 1986. It was a devastating fire that injured 50 firefighters and damaged more than a million books. I had never heard of it before, and the book explains that the nuclear reactor melt-down in Chernobyl during the same time took all the press attention. Reading it made me appreciate the heroic efforts made by the librarians and volunteers to salvage whatever they could.

That book also made me think about Ray Bradbury’s book, “Fahrenheit 451” about a society where all books have been outlawed and burned. I barely remember the details since I read it so long ago, but I recall the shock I felt at the thought of burning perfectly good books. And losing their vast stores of knowledge.

“Salvaging whatever they could” reminds me of the current flooding in the Midwest. I’m lucky to be living on high ground, but photos of houses and farms submerged break my heart. Livestock and farmland have been devastated, homes ruined, books and photos and memorabilia gone. Lives were lost trying to rescue others or simply trying to escape. In her book, Orlean quoted an African saying, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”

Somehow that makes the loss of each person who ever walked this earth seem larger to me. It makes me appreciate the words they left behind in the pages of books or in the stories told to their children. And it makes me want to preserve my own library. Not just my collection of beloved books, but the stories in my heart yet to be written down.