Tuesday, December 26, 2017

O Christmas Tree

Christmas is the time of year when evergreen trees become special. Whether fresh cut, potted or artificial, decorated, they serve a different purpose. Besides making homes cheerier, they provide a festive atmosphere in stores and businesses.

The song, O Christmas Tree (or O Tannenbaum), written by Ernst Anschutz in 1824, praises the tree’s faithfulness for staying green and bringing us so much pleasure. It still does.

Themes, colors, shapes and purpose vary widely. I love the variety - modern, sleek trees, humorous themed trees and candlelit, historic trees. But we each seek our own design for our homes.

Birds sing on my Christmas tree, stars twinkle, friends and family members live on.

While decorating my Christmas tree I realized how much my collection of ornaments reflects my life. There are a few things from the tree my parents’ decorated when I was a kid, but they are so fragile, I don’t usually put them up any more.

I purchased many ornaments as souvenirs when my husband and I traveled.  Something small for the Christmas tree was much easier to carry home than a teapot or vase. I have a miniature stained glass of a volcano erupting in Hawaii; a streetcar from San Francisco; a miniature street scene from Charleston, SC;  a miniature beer stein from Germany;  Dutch wooden shoes from Amsterdam; Falling Water from Ohiopyle, PA; and a cowboy boot from Arizona; a ball from Southfork Ranch, Tx (Remember Dallas and Who Shot JR?)and a and ski-lift from Wisp and decorated ball of the historic train station from Garrett County, MD.

Some reflect our average life, such as books, cats, dogs, goats, peacocks, horses, cars airplanes, nativity scenes and picture ornaments. Our children are there as redheaded Cabbage Patch ornaments, Raggedy Ann and Andy, children riding horses, Big Wheels, bicycles, ballet slippers, Barbie, and a computer.

I also honor other people I care about and keep those who are gone alive on my tree. There is a fire truck for Uncle Ted and his family, a sewing machine for Aunt Mil and Aunt Mary, a cake for Aunt Dot, an airplane for Aunt Marty and Uncle Otts, a personalized stork for my niece’s children,  a soldier and patriotic items for Dad and Mom, a rose for my mother-in-law, a guitar and soccer ball for my son-in-law, footballs for my father and brothers, a book and teapot for Betty, a postman for Ron and many more for family and friends.

I still have some handmade ornaments from my children, the Prunty children and Hailey Stivers; painted oyster shells from Leanne Englar and delicate eggshells from my brother John.

When my children were very young, I set up a tree in the basement that they could decorate with their handmade ornaments and cheap giveaway ornaments I didn't want to use on the main tree. I still have some of them. Now they are sentimental.

I enjoy seeing themed trees in public displays and in other homes, such as all blue and silver ornaments, cartoon characters, ribbons or dolls. If I were wealthy, I would have differently decorated trees in each room. But since I am not, I love my personal tree.

Like my writing, it helps keep family and friends alive.

Let me know if you have a special theme for your Christmas tree or an unusual tradition. Enjoy the season and have a wonderful New Year.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Literary Community Wreath

What do reading a non-fiction book and helping to design a wreath have in common? To me, they just happened to come together at the same time.

I was reading The Write Crowd, Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life by Lori A May when my writing group decided to participate in this year’s Festival of Wreaths as a way to give back to the community.

In The Write Crowd, I read that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman believed it was our duty to engage the public, to help new writers or as we say today, to pay it forward. So, see the connection?
Author Kate Gale writes of being a literary citizen: “It means you are not only working on your own creative intellectual work, you are also doing something for the whole literary world.”

There are usually local and state organizations offering speakers, workshops and contests (which the Maryland Writers Association does). Join writing or reading groups or other organizations, such as City Lit or Lit Pub, to widen your circle of peers. You can make connections with online groups. Literary Journals and small presses often need volunteers. She gives many ways that you can be part of the literary ecosystem?

Some of the book's chapter titles include:
  • What is Literary Citizenship? An introduction
  • Immersion 101: Finding and Creating Opportunities
  • Community (re)defined
  • In Print and Online: Working with Presses and Journals
  • Community Outreach
  • In and Outside Academia
  • The Write Direction
  • The Write Direction: Customizing your Community
Now for my writing group and the wreath. Carroll Arts Center's Festival of Wreaths is one of the largest fundraisers for the County Arts Council.

The Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers Association formed a volunteer committee, which I joined. We held two meetings for discussion and planning. Everyone was assigned a project to do at home, choosing a favorite book and making a small replica of it. At the second meeting we put the garland (in place of a wreath) together. Committee Chair Lona Queen, added finishing touches.

It was on display at Carroll Arts Center. The last time it was checked, bidding was up to $50. All money goes toward center’s art classes and projects. We had to rush this project since so many members were participating in National Novel Writing Month in November and would not have time then to help with the wreath.

The Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Writers Association has speakers at most of our monthly meetings where we discuss, publication, writing and similar topics. A monthly critique group also helps writers who want some feedback on their works in progress. We have speakers on various writing subjects at most meetings and sponsor some writing contests.

We also work with other writing groups, such as helping with anthologies, That One Left Shoe (which was in the top 100 books on Amazon in the Fiction: Anthologies category in 2011. It also made it to #1 on the "Hot New Releases" list for that category.

Members also worked with another county writing group to publish an anthology, Christmas Carroll, several years ago.  Carroll County residents were invited to send in stories or poems that were vetted and published in the anthology. Local artists also submitted some artwork to give the book more visual appeal. This was an opportunity to help local writers have some publication credit.

This past year, the CCCMWA hosted a Flash Fiction contest and published a booklet that included the best, as voted on by six volunteer judges.

I am proud to be part of such an active group and find it encourages me to write more and sometimes to try my hand at writing in different genres. Everyone’s taste is different so if you want to be part of a writing community, find out what is available in your area and what you would most enjoy.

Feel free to let me know if you have other suggestions or just want to comment on what you are doing.