Category Archives: “Christmas Memories With Mom”


Dear Mom,

Many years ago, I read to you from author Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book of writing essays, ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING. I especially remember his chapter about investing dimes. It was a chapter I used as a writing exercise with my high school students in the Writing To Publish class I taught.  I loved what the chapter revealed about Bradbury, his priorities, and his writing habits.

In 1950, Ray Bradbury was a writer with a wife, children, and a mortgage. Although he sold many penny-pulp stories, he didn’t make a lot of money. He was easily distracted from writing by his children. When they wanted Daddy to come outside and play, he did. Good for the kiddos, but not so good for the writing.

Bradbury began making a daily trek to the typing room in the basement of the library at UCLA. He carried writing ideas in his head, notes on folded papers, and loose dimes in his pocket.  He learned that when he put a dime in the slot of an electric typewriter, he had 30 minutes to write nonstop, without overthinking or agonizing over which words might be better.  Write, write, write. He did it day after day, dime after dime.

It cost him $9.80 in dimes to write and finish the first draft of THE FIRE MAN…which later became the famous sci-fi novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.

I remember our discussion about the Writing On A Dime exercise. You liked to write in longhand on steno notebooks, especially in pencil. You liked the time to think and the feel and sound of a pencil scratching on the paper. You also liked to be able to erase words and write better ones. I was just getting started with an Apple IIe–oh, this was so many years ago!–but I admitted to you that sometimes it got crowded around the computer table with Jim and Molly waiting for their turns. Writing in notebooks was a nice, quiet, private change of pace.

During one of my visits while Dad was still alive, the caregiver stayed with him while I took you to the Ft. Scott Carnegie Library. We sat at a table in the corner of the quiet area. We each had notebook paper and sharpened pencils. I looked at the clock and said, “Go!”  The plan was that we’d each write for ten minutes.

As a writing plan, it wasn’t very successful. I started strong, writing sentence after sentence for maybe a full five minutes before I couldn’t resist peeking at what you were doing. You had made a list of things Daddy might like to eat, or maybe it was just a short list of foods, and you were doodling little pictures in the margins.

I wish I’d kept that paper, Mom. I’d frame it and hang it over my big-screen iMac, to remind me of writing on paper, scratching ideas with pencils, smelling wood wax in a charming wide-windowed library, and spending time with my mom. We don’t always have to write something profound or publishable, do we? Sometimes it’s enough just to be with a friend on a sunny day and spend ten minutes putting pencils to papers.  And doodling; doodles are good, too.

Last week I posted the winners of The February Poetry Contest. The idea came from a poem you wrote about fishing instead of writing many years ago, “My Great Hobby.” Last December, writers submitted their stories for another contest: “Christmas Memories With Mom.” That idea came from my time with you, too.

You probably don’t remember the stories or poems from the contests, but trust me, some really nice people and good writers met online and shared their writing ideas and talents because of you. During your life you watched things and people, jotted down ideas, doodled in the margins of your notebooks, and created poems, essays, stories and illustrated children’s tales that still trigger ideas in other writers today.

Good job, Mom!

Love, Marylin


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, teaching, writing, writing exercises


Dear Mom,

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas was make something special.  One year I folded white paper and carefully cut shapes that were then taped to the windows to look like lacy, happy, irregular snowflakes.  Another year I made “bird seed balls” and hung them with red ribbons from the trees; and a favorite year with teachers and neighbors (or so I thought) was when I washed out jelly jars and filled them with my own concoction of powered milk, cocoa, sugar and marshmallows, and tied the jar lids with gold rickrack.

The year that really taught me about “making things” at Christmas, though, was the year a neighbor tried to break a difficult habit by staying very, very busy.  She spent hours and hours and hours making a sequin/ribbon/mock-pearl and lace Christmas tree skirt.  Every stitch was by hand, painstakingly perfect.  A few days before Christmas, she was down to the finishing touches on the gold satin star–attached with lots of glittery beads–in the center of the the green felt.  She worked on it late into the night, then fell asleep on the floor next to the tree.  She awoke the next morning, shocked to realize she’d attached the star to the green felt with hundreds of beads and sequins, but without realizing it she’d also sewn the  star’s stitches all the way through to the skirt of her nightgown.

She called for help, and you responded.  Very creatively, I realize now:  you helped her cut a star-shape out of the hem of her long nightgown.  Then while she dressed in the bathroom and cried, you carefully trimmed away all the excess nightgown fabric from the underside, smoothed the ornate skirt around the base of the Christmas tree, and arranged the wrapped presents to cover the bumpy places. When you told me in confidence what had happened, I don’t remember you being critical.  The neighbor was doing the best she could to get through a hard time, you said, and she just needed a little help.

Through the years, Mom, you made place mats, table cloths, “O, Come Let Us Adore Him” wall hangings (one is pictured above, with every letter, bead and ribbon sewn by hand), and, later, you made Nativity scenes (a full set for each grandchild).  These things you created with love, in the spirit of Christmas.  But the real message you conveyed during the holidays–and every day–came from the way you always willingly helped others…and believed the best about their efforts.

Thank you for that message, Mom.

Love, Marylin


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom", Dementia/Alzheimer's, memories for grandchildren, neighbors

“Christmas Memories with Mom” Winner(s) Announced!

What a varied and amazing group of entries I received.  Thank you all for sharing your memories.  The stories were touching, funny, charming, sad…and wonderful.  Through your stories, I feel I know you as more than fellow writers. Now you are friends.

Three judges read all the stories–without consulting or comparing their choices–and this evening I received the scores.  When the totals were in, the first place winner was only a few points higher than two second place winners who were tied.  Such talent, and all three deserve a prize!

The first place winner will receive a $25 gift card to her choice of Starbuck’s or Amazon.  The two second place winners will each receive a $10 gift card.

And now–drum roll, please!–the winners:

FIRST PLACE:  “Christmas With Mom” 

by Leslie Hobson of King, Ontario

It’s that smell that brings it all back.  Some heady combination of pine tree, cinnamon candles and cookies.  The feeling in my stomach of anticipation so strong that I can’t sleep.  I sneak from my bed and watch her sitting by the Christmas tree–its multi-colored lights and the crackling fire are the only lights in the room.  She hums a carol softly to herself and I feel warm and safe as I tiptoe back to my bed.

This Christmas, she’s in a locked ward and ther memories are lost.  Sometimes she doesn’t know me–but I remember her.

SECOND PLACE (TIE):  “Gingerbread”

by Jaime Norwood of  Anthony, Kansas

 Gumdrop shingles.  Candy cane siding.  Frosted orange slice shutters.  Cobblestone hard candies of various colors.  Someone’s been eating all the chocolate fence posts, and I know who!  I caught her wide-eyed on Christmas Eve with cherry cream filling on her lips and a guilty little smile.  She breaks off the prized peppermint patty chimney all covered in icing, and hands it to me with a wink.

It’s a sneaky little secrt my grandmother and I share one delightful Christmas Day.

SECOND PLACE (TIE):  “Christmas With Mom”

by Mary Zalmanek of Monument, Colorado

 We knew that Christmas 2004 would be my dad’s last.  I could see the fears on my mom’s face, in her gentle attentiveness to him, in their sweet conversations.  I bought birthday and other special occassion cards that would be sent in the future from him to my mom, his children and grandchildren.  He signed them before he died in March.

I mailed a Christmas card from my dad to my mom in December.  A few days later, my mom called.  “Last night I dreamed your dad said he had a message for me, and today I got his card.”


With special thanks to all the writers who entered stories, to the judges who gave each entry careful consideration, and to author Jaye W. Manus, who loves good writing and supporting writers.  She will be posting the winners on her fiction blog.


Filed under "Christmas Memories With Mom"