Day 12, Story 12: When Suzy Came to Town

Rosemary Clooney’s “Suzy Snowflake” LP from 1951.

Pulling up to the hotel, Suzy was already exhausted. Thanks to a major snowstorm across the Midwest, she’d been flat out for three days. Of course, the sledding window was small and the snowfall was melting, less than 24 hours later. A sense of futility was snowballing in Suzy’s soul, big time.

Mother Nature’s email wasn’t super clear, as usual, so Suzy was relieved to see the sign in the lobby. It read, “Seasonal Reps,” with an arrow pointing to the ballroom.

“Here we go,” she thought, as she dragged her powder blue roller bag to the barebones check-in table. Suzy noticed dozens more nametags than usual. “Jesus, the Leprechauns are here?” she muttered to herself. 

It was clear that Mother Nature had something big planned, given the insane number of attendees. She’d flown everyone and their imaginary nephew in for this one.

“Hey, Baby New Year. What up, Nian,” Suzy said with a nod as she passed the oddest odd couple ever, one wearing a diaper and the other with teeth like high-quality steak knives. They cordially raised their glasses of champagne as she passed.

Depiction of Nian from “The Story of Nian – a Chinese New Year Folk Tale.”

Typically, it was open seating but this time, seats were assigned by month and grouped by season. Suzy saw 12 long tables that stretched toward the front, where Mother Nature had her own table and was already holding court. “What is this, Hogwarts?” she wondered. 

Of course, The Great Pumpkin was chatting up Mother Nature, up in her face and desperate for legitimacy as usual. “Kiss-ass,” she scoffed.

Suzy scanned the room over to the right for table 12, for December, nestled between tables 11 and one. The frontline December crew hadn’t yet arrived, including her nemesis. She wondered if he’d be at table 12 or assigned to the late fall fam. “Late fall? More like late fools,” she joked to herself. Summer months had been taking more and more from October, pushing the fall months out further and further.

Then from behind her she heard a low crackling sound, like the thick ice of a frozen lake breaking. His laugh sent chills down her spine–and not in a good way.

“Well, Jack Frost, as I live and breathe,” she said, overtly feigning enthusiasm.

He was already drinking his first vodka on the rocks. “Coming in cold as usual, Suzy Snowflake” he sneered. “Honestly, I’m surprised you made it. Then again, that stormfront didn’t amount to much beyond slush, even in Minnesota. Should we start calling you Suzy Sleet?”

Suzy rolled her eyes. “We don’t all have the distinct pleasure of going around killing crops and dreams willy nilly,” she retorted.

Jack Frost drawing by Margaret Ashenbach.

Jack, as usual, only half paid attention. “Look–the fucking sugarplum fairies are here. Bunch of lightweights.” He took a big swig. “They have no business being anywhere near winter.” The ice clinked in his glass as he gestured toward the tulle-clad set.

“God forbid winter have any charms or enjoyment to offer,” replied Suzy, ignoring the sexist implications of his remark. “People certainly aren’t getting any of that from you.” She picked some stray fuzz off the shoulder of her white cashmere peplum sweater and let it float to the busy mish mash of hotel carpet.

“Whatever, goody two shoes,” said Jack. “Shouldn’t you be tap-tap-tapping on some kid’s windowpane?”

She laughed, hiding her annoyance, “Talk to Rosemary Clooney.” It’s not like Suzy wrote that damn song. Jack knew full well she hated it and had barely anything to do with it. He brings it up when he’s really trying to get under her skin. She wouldn’t let that happen.

A breeze swept across the ballroom. That was Mother Nature’s gentle but very real signal. Time to take their seats. To Suzy’s dismay, she discovered that she and Jack were seated right next to each other at the middle of their table. 

Old Man Winter took his place at the front, of course, with Tomten by his side and a couple of elves across from them. The old boys club looked exhausted as they’d traveled in from the North Pole and Scandinavia. 

Plus, Old Man Winter had been less predictable lately, skipping town when expected to stay and showing up in places like Texas. The wear and tear was beginning to show.

Suzy waved and jumped up as her favorite rep and one of her oldest friends, The Snow Queen, strode up and took her place on Suzy’s other side. They clasped hands and started to catch up as the spring and summer reps continued settling in. 

Lady Midday and The May Queen performatively hugged before finally finding their spots. “Bitches in heat,” said The Snow Queen, nodding in their direction. They chuckled. Man, did Suzy love her.

Autumnal steward of barley harvests and benders, John Barleycorn was already slurring his cockney accent when he shouted, much louder than necessary, “Stop faffin’ about you twats!” We snickered. The carefree attitudes of the warmer season reps would never not chafe the cold weather crowd. Especially these days.

John Barleycorn (found on StoryArchaeology)

Finally, Mother Nature stood. The air was still and the silence, instant.

“Thank you all for coming on shorter than typical notice,” she began. “It truly warms my heart to see you all together. All four seasons, all 12 months, a full seasonal bounty indeed.”

“Ugh,” Suzy thought to herself, brow deeply furrowed. “Why do hearts always need to be ‘warmed?’”

And right on cue The Snow Queen leaned over.  “Uh—implicit bias much?” she said out of the corner of her mouth. They fist bumped under the table in solidarity. 

Mother Nature continued, always a striking sight with her glowing ebony skin, innately regal presentation, head held high, “I’ll get right to it. You all know why you’re here. We’re facing an urgent climate crisis.” The “t” on climate and “s’s” in crisis were so sharp they could cut glass. 

“What you may not know is how we are going to combat it. The short answer? It’s going to take all of us. And I mean all of us.”

She explained, “A crisis of this magnitude calls for unprecedented measures. I’m using my executive powers to circumvent the seasonal caucus and infighting that has stalled progress for too long. It’s no longer a choice. It’s our natural and moral obligation to act.”

“No shit,” said Jack under his breath. Meanwhile, the spring and summer tables stirred. To us it was obvious. To them, this was a highly sensitive topic.

Mother Nature paused thoughtfully, gazing across the room, table to table, making intense eye contact with as many reps as possible. “We can do this! We have a plan. A plan in which each and every one of you has an essential role to play.”

She took a beat and adjusted her notes before diving into the details.

“Punxsutawney Phil, from you we need an eight-year stretch of consecutive declarations of six more weeks of winter. No letting up.”

Everyone gasped. “Eight years. Holy shit!” squealed The Snow Queen. 

“Yas queen!” Suzy replied. Wide-eyed and hopeful, the two exchanged huge smiles of excitement.

Record scratch.

“Suzy, we’re going to need you to step it up, especially in the Northeastern United States and across Siberia,” said Mother Nature with a directness that felt like a punch in the face.

Suzy’s cheeks turned from alabaster to crimson. “Step it up?” she thought. “Tell Jack Frost to step the fuck out of my way! Tell Heat Miser to step it down!” A flurry of angry thoughts clouded her mind. It took every measure of composure Suzy had to not flake out.

Across the room, she saw Heat Miser slowly turn his smug face in Suzy’s direction to taunt her. But just then, Mother Nature continued, “Heat Miser—that means we’ll need your full cooperation. We’re placing some common-sense limits on your range as of today.” 

His head swiveled back and his face melted into a deep frown. Suzy felt her shoulders drop and spirit rise. 

“Hell yeah,” whispered the Snow Queen.

“Screw that guy,” said Jack Frost, in a rare note of camaraderie.

“That’s right,” Mother Nature said, squelching a sea of murmurs. “This burden does not only fall on the shoulders of the fall and winter reps. Balance must be restored throughout the year. I think we all know that. Each of you must be prepared to stretch far beyond your comfort zone. It’s crunch time, legends.”

Turning again toward table 12, Mother Nature addressed someone who would really rather go without mention, ever. 

Corn Maiden by Gerald Dawavendewa

“Tomten,” she said, “we know you’re really comfortable with the whole Christmas vibe, but you could be creating some spring magic as well. I’m asking you to serve as a seasonal bridge, a peace keeper. Help Blue Corn Maiden with vegetable gardens or something. Get creative.” 

Already barely visible due to his small stature, Tomten sunk down in his chair, extremely uncomfortable with the attention and the idea. This is a guy whose whole identity is built on laying low. 

Mother Nature turned to tables four and five, April and May. “Your work is artful as always. What we need from you now is patience. Bloom times have been creeping up and it’s throwing off the entire progression. We know you mean well, but remember–spring shines brightest after a long winter.”

Suzy saw Blue Corn Maiden nod in agreement. “She’s so damn cool,” thought Suzy. Blue Corn Maiden, of Hopi fame, was pretty much the only springtime rep who had her respect. She’d been through more than anyone, yet knew her purpose and truly served the people. Suzy saw that Blue Corn Maiden never got her due, much like herself.

In Suzy’s case, for what felt like eons, she dealt with Jack Frost dominating the entire winter precipitation game, giving no credit to her at all and, a while back, forcing her to attempt a PR campaign that backfired. 

That song she’d disavowed was supposed to elevate her brand, and take her rightful share of the winter limelight from Jack, but all it did was cause people to take her even less seriously. But maybe, just maybe, “be an obnoxious jerk” would no longer be a winning strategy in this new era—for Jack Frost, Heat Miser, or anyone else. 

Finally, Mother Nature turned her attention to summer. The June, July, and August reps all straightened in their chairs. Among them were flower fairies of all kinds and lightning sprites in various hues. Little Miss Sunshine sat with hands resting in her lap, appearing as innocent as can be in her yellow gingham dress, in contrast to the formidable Lady Midday, that brutal, Slavic summer demon who fancies herself a crop crusader. Heat Miser, as usual, seemed sweaty and nervous.

Lady Midday (Poludnitsa) found on Myths and Folklore Wiki.

“You know I admire your commitment, your enthusiasm, your drive. People love you and find joy in your season’s embrace.” Everyone else was grossed out by the coddling but also on the edge of their seats at this point.

“But your strong numbers, all those record-setting temperatures… they’ve turned the balance of the seasons into a winner-take-all contest. We’ve forgotten that the seasons all share a common goal: supporting the cycle of life. 

Fall, winter, and even spring shrink each year. Wide swaths of the earth are parched. Thirst and hunger are growing. As ice recedes, tides rise and disaster unfolds.

You are hurting your own bottom line as the glories of your season fade. Flowers and trees need rain. Beaches need sand. Sunny days need shade. People need relief.

I’m calling on you to scale back for the good of all—yourselves included.”

“‘Bout time,” whispered the Snow Queen, heartened by the much-needed and rather momentous call-out.

“Damn right,” said Suzy, amazed.

“This better stick or we’re screwed,” added Jack.

A bubbling energy infused the crowd. The chatter rose when, unable to raise a hand, The Great Pumpkin stood to ask a question.

“Oh gourd, now is not the time, GP,” said Suzy. “Get ready to cringe to death, everyone.” Both The Snow Queen and Jack Frost stifled their laughter.

“You know I don’t just show up for just anyone,” The Great Pumpkin began, as if that mattered. “I just want to say how great your plan is and that I will do everything pumpkinly possible to help. You’ve been an incredible leader, Mother Nature, and I want to thank you. With you as our champion, we can tackle the climate crisis once and for all!” 

He turned his giant orange head to face the rest of the reps and tried to instigate a round of applause, eliciting just a smattering of awkward claps.

“Shut up!” shouted a rowdy John Barleycorn, to some laughs and some disapproving looks. This interjection served as a release, and the reps all burst back into their discussions, positive energy percolating along with uncertainty.

Everyone felt the wind pick up in the ballroom. A napkin fluttered up and snagged on The Great Pumpkin’s stem, Blue Corn Maiden’s silky hair blew back in a most glamorous way, and Peter Rabbit’s nose twitched to catch a scent carried in. 

Then, all was still and quiet again. Mother Nature continued, “You know what else is at stake here? All holiday traditions, which innately depend on connection to the seasons.”

The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren

This point hit home. The elves exchanged worried glances, sugarplum fairies held hands, and a small coven of witches tapped their brooms on the floor, their way of applauding in agreement. 

Somehow the energy in the ballroom had changed, infused with an aura of shared understanding. Mother Nature concluded her remarks, and servers emerged with their platters, pitchers of water, and wine bottles.

Suzy felt something like—though she’d never admit this—proverbial warmth. She looked around at all the crazy souls gathered.

She considered their collective endangerment, mind-boggling array of quirks, shared sense of vulnerability, and centuries of ups and downs, and it all caused her to soften a bit. Even toward The Great Pumpkin. Even Heat Miser and yes, Jack Frost.

He, too, seemed to have shifted.

“I really think we can do this, you know,” he said to Suzy as they ate their dinner of so-so chicken marsala, over-cooked broccoli, and rolls.

“You know what? Me too,” said Suzy. 

Later that evening at the hotel bar, Suzy did something no one could have seen coming even on the clearest, crispest winter day. She performed her song. Yes, that song. 

As they recognized the retro sound of the opening note, the entire audience shrieked with delight and began shouting encouragement. “Oh hell yeah!” cried an ecstatic Blue Corn Maiden.

Reps of every season rushed over to the karaoke stage and joined in as Suzy belted out the lyrics.

The Snow Queen lifted her glass of ice wine and turned to Jack Frost. “Here’s to anything being possible, after all.”

“…If you want to make a snowman

I’ll help you make one, one, two, three

If you want to take a sleigh ride

Whee! The ride’s on me

Here comes Suzy Snowflake

Look at her tumblin’ down

Bringing joy to ev’ry girl and boy

Suzy’s come to town…”

The end

Note: All 12 stories can be found here. Happy holidays, however and whatever you celebrate!

Day 11, Story 11: Vintage Ornament Catalog

Spread from a vintage German Christmas ornament catalog from source Artgaze on etsy (unwatermarked version available for download there; I had a large print framed for holiday display)

#1943 – Tree topper, silver with green accents, 30cm

I remember my first Christmas in existence. The postal service was bogged down by a snowstorm. By the time I arrived, the tree was already decorated. 

He lifted me from the box and held me up for all to see. Then, atop the ladder as he stretched to the highest bough, I snagged. My spear-like tine scraped the ceiling, causing him to cringe and leaving a gouge in the plaster.

I was too tall.

He darted away. I’d been abandoned. Crestfallen and reeling, I began to doubt myself. I’d come all that way, and there was no point. How ironic!

But soon enough, he returned with a saw. Ornaments shook, needles flew, and tinsel shimmied. I saw a couple of pretty glass bells and a fallen angel on the shag carpet, no worse for wear. He cut slices from the top of the tree, not once but twice so that I would fit just right. 

His family clapped and cheered. I’d found my place at the top of the world.

#1773 – Parakeet clip ornament, 5cm (body) + 6cm (tail)

Jenny had begged for a pet budgie, but the family just couldn’t take it on that year. Dad had recently lost his job. 

And Jenny could tell when her mom was Mom worried. An indent would form between her eyebrows, when she thought Jenny wasn’t looking. 

Besides, they already had a dog and a cat and both could be real jerks. The dog thought he owned the place, but the cat really did—and came dangerously close to taking me out on several occasions over the years. 

Anyway, when her mother saw me in a catalog, she got the idea. Jenny opened my box on Christmas morning and smiled. The card read, “One day, I’ll become a real bird.” 

Yeah, we’ll see about that.

#363 – Silver spherical ornament, houses with snow and sunset, 7cm

I was a housewarming gift, and unexpected kindness, for a family of five that had just moved to a new neighborhood. The winter move was stressful, and they didn’t know anyone in the area. 

The elderly couple next door also had three daughters, long since grown. They remembered being in the young couple’s shoes when they themselves moved in many years ago.

Seeing the Christmas lights that the family managed to hang soon after the work of moving in, the couple figured a special ornament might be a fitting housewarming gift and welcome.

All the couple really knew was that, at the very least, it was a nice thought and that it’s the thought that counts. They didn’t know how right they were. 

The young mother was pregnant again, and had been feeling tired and alone. The move made it all worse. So when the couple came by to introduce themselves, it was a bright spot in her day.

After thanking them for their gift and seeing them out, she set me down and finished making dinner. I was sure she’d hang me on the tree after that, but she did not. She picked me up and walked right past the tree and into the kitchen.

That year, I never found my way to a branch. I wound up hanging in the window by the sink, where she could more easily admire me throughout the day. 

#744 – Golden rose ornament, red and green detail, 5cm

I now hang on Pip’s tree. But years ago, Pip chose me for her dear grandmother Adeline, whose carefully tended rose garden was its own fantastical, sorbet-hued world when in bloom.

I was the last ornament Adeline ever collected, and the favorite of her long lifetime.

#483 – Red-capped acorn ornament, 3½cm

I was a loving nudge, in the form of an early Christmas gift from a mother to her daughter Emma, then a young woman. Emma was an aspiring writer, but since graduating she had not succeeded in publishing a single word. 

Nor had she found a creative job to replace the administrative assistant role she’d adamantly insisted would be temporary.

As she opened the tiny box and laid eyes on my charming form, her mother said, “Don’t give up before your roots have a chance to grow.” Emma kept me, and her mother’s words, on her desk until she published her first short story. 

Now a successful author, Emma has as many published books to her name as ornaments on her Christmas tree. Now as old as her mother was then, Emma still carries that spark of encouragement. And I’m as shiny as ever.

#976 – Green pinecone ornament, 9cm

Judging from all the stories, I wouldn’t be here if not for a golden retriever named Buster. 

Apparently, there was no one he didn’t love. Buster was genuinely excited to meet, see, sniff, visit, and generally be around every human he encountered. When it came to energy and enthusiasm, he had a lot.

But he was always getting into trouble, mainly gastrointestinal, because there was nothing he wouldn’t eat. Dubious mushrooms, rolls of toilet paper, dropped movie night popcorn before it even hit the ground, a twenty-dollar bill, entire chicken wings, a cooling pan of brownies. It was a lot.

He mellowed as he aged but pinecones remained a weak spot. The two boys would try to keep the yard clear of them, but Buster always seemed to find one, as if he had a secret stash. 

This unkickable pinecone habit drove the family absolutely mad. The resulting digestive issues led to expensive vet visits and gag-inducing messes, inevitably deposited on rugs. They wished so much that Buster could just learn from his mistakes. But he never did.

Buster was 11 when he became seriously ill, and not from pinecones. If only it were that simple. His condition dramatically deteriorated over the course of just a couple of months. He lost interest in eating altogether. Pinecones lay in the yard, untouched. Visitors, ungreeted. That’s how his family knew that Buster had found all the joy he would find in this life, though it had been a lot. The time had come to say goodbye.

The parents and sons all surrounded the very good boy. They thanked and held Buster as he took a contented last breath.

The rock that marks his grave is etched with a pinecone and his name. 

It is an honor to witness how Buster’s spirit bounces back to life when the family sees me each year. Of course, his memory must also be lovingly recalled at the sight of his favorite “snacks,” and there were a lot.

#1733 – Peacock clip ornament, 7cm (body) + 8cm (tail)

My first time around, I was flying high. Marcy ordered me and eleven others destined to become the decorative stars of the annual tree that towered over the great room at about 15 feet tall. Minimum.

I was proud of my role, and certainly well cared for. Each holiday season, the staff diligently dusted and buffed to ensure we all sparkled in preparation for display. 

Marcy had a passion for over-the-top holiday decorating, which she would direct while cradling a martini between two long fingers.

Several children and many grandchildren later, however, things changed. It seemed we’d fallen from favor. The fabulous Marcy had faded away, along with her glamour. Christmas came and went. We stayed in a dark box on the cold floor.

Time is so hard to gauge in the absence of light and traditions. But eventually, I wound up in a Seattle thrift shop. It felt good to be admired again. I soon caught the eye of a young man named Theo. Next thing I know, I’m back in a box.

I’d guess it was just a day or two later when I was suddenly jostled and heard a familiar song: “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”  A little girl’s face peered down at me, and her hand pulled me back into the world.

She jumped up while holding me carefully in both hands, and ran around to show me to her grandparents, baby nephew, aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone. “It’s the peacock from the Nutcracker!” she said over and over. “Isn’t she pretty?” 

They all replied, “Yes, Mallory!” or “Wow, Mallory!”

It was a tradition for Theo to take her to the ballet each Christmas in Seattle, where the production always featured a peacock dancer. Far and away Mallory’s favorite part of the show.

Once again, I found myself front and center on a Christmas tree. A small tree, but as merry and festive as any I can remember.

The end 

(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day through 12/24, and available ever after.)

Day 10, Story 10: Tiny

Dedicated to moms everywhere and all those who work so hard to make holidays bright for everyone else. (Kid version below.)

Image source: Fatherly

Mom was up late as usual. Her focused face and under-eye bags had a blue cast in the festive glow of her laptop, by then the only source of light in the house. She was Christmas shopping online, wine in hand, sleep nowhere in sight when she heard a strange sound coming from the kitchen. Kind of a twinkling. 

Everyone else was blissfully asleep and unaware, as usual. Figuring the cat was up to something, she reluctantly got up to investigate.

In the open silverware drawer lay Tiny, their shelf-hopping elf. “How the hell did you get in here?” she wondered. Mom had planned to move him before bed but had yet to come up with another brilliant idea for his god damned charming antics.

As she reached to grab him and close the drawer, he hopped up and said, “Why hello!”

“What the fuck!” screamed Mom. Her heart did a backflip and she nearly did too, stumbling and scrambling in fluffy slippers with no traction at all. Then she stepped on her robe and fell on her ass.

She looked up and saw Tiny’s spry hat and alarmingly alert eyes–the top half of his permanently smiling face–peering down at her from behind the drawer front. “Mom?” he said timidly. “It’s just me, Tiny.”

Mom looked at the wine bottle on the counter, then back at Tiny.

“This is not happening,” she said, standing up and straightening her robe. “And I’m not your Mom.”

“Okay, Mom” said Tiny. “I understand. It’s not easy making the holidays so magical for everyone.” He rolled his eyes dramatically, waving his skinny felt arm as if casting a spell.

Mom tilted her head to the side and narrowed her eyes. The way she does when considering a consequence for someone’s actions.

“I mean, he’s right,” she thought to herself. Then shook her head.

“That’s why I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” said Tiny as he hopped out of the drawer, using a spoon as a ramp, and onto the counter. 

At this point, Mom was too stunned to say anything. She was having a dream. That was the only explanation.

“You’ve been doing too much, Mom” said Tiny. “I’m concerned about you.”

“Ha!” A loud, sharp laugh cut through the midnight air. Mom couldn’t help it. This was just too ridiculous.

“I’m serious, Mom,” he continued. “Take it from me. I’m supposed to ‘report’ on your kids like some creepy spy. News flash: No one gives a sugarplum!”

“Are you my subconscious?” Mom asked, half serious.

“Nah, I just get it,” said Tiny. “Here’s the thing. My gig? Not so hard. Let me take it on. I’m not going to be taking Skittles baths or parachuting from chandeliers, but I’ll move around and make it fun for the kids. Don’t worry about me–you’ve got enough going on.”

More guffaws. “My main source of support comes from… a doll!” snorted Mom, now laughing hysterically. Once she started, it was hard to stop.

Over her punchy giggling, Tiny exclaimed, “There you go! You deserve some fun, too, you know.”

Catching her breath, Mom said with feigned enthusiasm, “Oh yeah, great, let’s do it.”

She paused, suddenly serious. “Just don’t forget or I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Okay, deal! Now go get some shut-eye, Mom. Being exhausted isn’t very merry.”

“You know what? I will. Clearly, I need the sleep,” she said. “But first, I have a question: Why do you keep calling me Mom?”

“Isn’t that your name?” Tiny asked.

Mom sighed.

She headed over to the couch to shut down her computer, then shuffled back to the kitchen to dump the rest of her wine in the sink. As she turned off lights before finally going upstairs to bed, Mom realized Tiny had disappeared. “Good, the hallucination is over,” she thought.

A few hours later, Mom hit snooze on a screeching alarm. The kids rushed in and jumped onto the bed. “Mom! Dad! We can’t find Tiny!”

Mom and Dad exchanged looks. Her wide eyes communicated, “Oh shit, I forgot again.” She felt a pang of guilt. 

“Well, keep looking,” said Dad. “You know how sneaky elves can be!” And the kids ran off.

“That ought to buy us another snooze,” he said. “They’ll get over it.”

Despite another thirty whole seconds of searching, the kids could not find Tiny. Which was peculiar, since Mom had not moved him. But the cat could always be blamed, probably accurately, if needed.

After breakfast and as if preparing for a sojourn in the Arctic, the kids began putting on their boots, puffy coats, mittens, and over-sized backpacks full of snacks and half-assed homework, before heading out to the bus stop. There had been a couple inches of snow and the world looked more wonderful, less brown.

Then they saw him. “Tiny!” The kids rushed over to Mom’s purse by the door, where Tiny’s pointy red hat could be seen peeking out.

They pulled Tiny out and discovered a sticky note on his hand. In almost microscopic handwriting, it read, “Help Mom, or you’re on the naughty list PERMANENTLY!” It was signed with a smiley face followed by “Tiny.”

“Whoa,” said the kids, and Dad in unison. 

After they blew out the door like a human tornado, Dad turned to Mom in the oddly sudden quiet. He said, “I get the message. And you’re right. I’m going to do more to help out, especially for Christmas.”

Mom tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “Right,” she said, knowing full well she had not written the threatening, miniature note.

“I’ll order some gifts to start. I mean it,” he said, then went to make coffee.

Mom turned to Tiny, who’d been left laying haphazardly on the bench in the entry. 

She could swear she saw him wink.

Another elf on the shelf gone homicidal. (Source: Pinterest)

The end

Kid version: My nephew’s birthday falls very close to Christmas, a holiday he loves. And he was very excited about this story, as it centers on his own household’s “elf on the shelf” named Tiny. So I customized my original kid-friendly version of this story just for him, and he loved it! He’s a wonderful boy, an admirable big brother, and a remarkable handball player (in addition to other sports). Here it is, in case it could be of fun or use to anyone else. By the way, based on this success, demand is soaring. I’ve promised custom stories to my other nephews and my daughter Stella!

(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day through 12/24, and available ever after.)

Day 9, Story 9: The Olive Egger

The star of the family flock was an Olive Egger named Louise, truly a legend among hens. 

The daughter and animal lover of the house, Lily, was really the only one who could pick her up. Not her father or brother. And usually, not her mother Jane. Lily and Louise had somehow bonded when the now impressive chicken was just a fuzzy flightless nub. 

Lily found the contented clucks of her favorite chicken therapeutic. But for everyone else, especially Jane, Louise was not a source of relaxation. Not at all.

Jane once had to treat Louise’s scratched eye after a hawk attack—though the hawk fared worse—and her attempts to capture the hen had all the action and suspense of a sporting match. The thing is, Louise never, ever panicked like the rest of the flock. She was calm, focused, utterly determined, and highly skilled. 

Truly, Louise could put the NFL’s most elusive running backs to shame. Jane would have her cornered, only for Louise to defy gravity by deftly leveraging wall-as-vertical-launchpad. She would bend down, thinking she had her, at which point Louise would go up and over her useless hands with a quick ping-pong maneuver. Or Louise would pull a lightning-fast nutmeg and leave Jane red-faced and out of breath. Smooth as butter, easy as pie. That was classic Louise. 

Sometimes Louise would sit on the window sill outside the breakfast nook, side-eyeing the family as they ate. While Louise’s signature cheek poufs gave her an unserious look, and Olive Eggers tend to land in the middle of the pecking order, she was in charge. 

Louise even had solid pack status in the eyes of the dog, a squat corgi mix named Sam. They knew this because of what happened when Lily let a couple of curious neighborhood kids into the yard after they asked her some questions about the chickens. 

One boy, about five years old, bent down to try and hold Louise, and Sam growled at him, a deep, low warning to back off. Stella picked up Louise, and handed her to the boy, and all was well. There was a chain of command. 

Sam didn’t have the same protectiveness toward the other chickens—at least not that they could tell. Sam’s seal of approval seemingly solidified Louise as a part of the family.

When an ailing raccoon languished like a furry drunk in the small creek bed just beyond their backyard fence, Louise did not leverage her apex status within the pecking order to lead the other girls to safety. She stood at the fence and shrieked as if outraged at the raccoon, her followers chiming in from behind her. “Our neighbors must love us,” sighed Jane.

vintage tan brown stripe feather image

After letting the chickens out into the yard one early winter morning, Lily came in to show her mother the egg that Louise had just laid. It was much brighter green than the usual muted tones. “Interesting,” they thought, admiring the unexpected vibrancy. And they left it at that.

The next day, Louise seemed lethargic. Lily thought she was yawning, but Jane could see that she was gaping, a sign of respiratory distress. Illness loomed. 

Instantly, Jane regretted getting chickens in the first place, and letting sensitive Lily, who had been struggling to find her place and her people at school, get attached. The timing was unfortunate, adding loss on top of anxiety and loneliness. 

Jane worried about the rest of the flock catching the mystery ailment. They hadn’t yet lost a chicken in a year and a half of keeping them, and the prospect was hitting harder than expected. She felt a bit guilty, but kept her anxieties to herself.

They decorated the coop for Christmas, hanging a wreath with lights to brighten up the flock’s home. Lily said it might make Louise feel better. But the legendary Olive Egger’s condition only worsened over the next couple of days.

While she left the coop, Louise never went out through the run’s open door to hunt, peck, and explore with the others. Another chicken even had the audacity to peck at her. Louise’s perch atop the hierarchy was lost. By all measures, she was plummeting.

They tried getting Louise to drink, and only Lily succeeded in dipping her beak into a small cup of water. But Louise was disoriented and unable to control her neck. Soon she couldn’t even stand for more than a couple seconds at a time. Jane realized that while well-intentioned, their efforts were just prolonging the agony.

Jane decided that if Louise continued to deteriorate, she’d need to put her down. She agonized over how to explain all this to Lily. Again Jane wished that she’d never taken in the chickens, and the inevitable heartache that came with them.

As dusk fell on the third day of illness, Louise somehow found the strength to return to the coop from the run. Jane talked to Lily about the prospect of Louise’s life ending soon. That they’d miss her, but that Louise would no longer suffer. That Louise lived a wonderful life, to the fullest. 

Lily did not cry, at least not yet. She was sad but thoughtful and, frankly, it seemed to Jane, handling it better than her.

Jane didn’t sleep well. When morning finally came, she got up early to check on Louise. But before heading out, she heard little footsteps behind her. Lily said she wanted to come out with her, and Jane felt a jolt of alarm run through her.  But there was no way around it. They’d have to face this together.

The walk out to the coop seemed a mile longer that day. And sure enough they found, upon opening the back coop door, that Louise had died. 

Louise was slumped in the corner of the coop, beneath the roosts where the rest of the flock sat. Tears rolled down Lily’s cheeks. “Why did this happen to her?” she asked her mother.

“There’s no reason, Lily.” Jane put her hands on Lily’s little shoulders.

“Chickens who live free get to enjoy fresh air. Bugs. Room to run, and even sort-of fly!” Jane laughed gently. “But you know, that also means they’re exposed to dangers. Like bacteria and viruses from wild birds, or attacks from predators like hawks and foxes.”

“Maybe we should have kept Louise in the run. All the chickens should stay safe in there,” said Lily.

“Yes, they’d be safer. But you know how adventurous Louise was. I wonder what kind of life she would have had if we never let her explore?” Lily tilted her head to the side, thinking it over.

Jane gave Lily a hug, and then reached into the coop. She lifted Louise gingerly when an impossible flash of color caught her eye. Under Louise, nestled in the wood shavings, was a blue egg. The hue was dreamy and tranquil, with a slight tint of green like tropical waters. Light, earth colored specks added warmth. It was comforting somehow, and reminded Jane of sea glass. 

Lily’s eyes widened, and a hint of a smile could be seen at the corners of her mouth. “It’s a gift from Louise,” she sniffed.

Mom said, “I think you’re right. What should we do with this gift?”

Lily thought for a moment then said, “Let’s use it to make pancakes on Christmas morning. It’s what Louise would have wanted.”

Her mother nodded, then felt the spark of an idea. “Yes, and I know what else we can do.”

On Christmas morning, Lily emptied her stocking while Mom used Louise’s last egg in a batch of chocolate chip pancakes. “They taste extra good today,” said Lily, “Louise would be happy about that.”

Of course, Jane didn’t just crack and discard this seemingly miraculous last egg. 

Lily went to open the presents under the tree, and stopped in her tracks.

There on the tree, right at Lily’s eye level, hung a new ornament that glowed in the morning light. It was Louise’s blue eggshell. So very fragile, and all the more luminous for it.

Lily said, “Thank you, Mom! Now we have a way to remember Louise and how she was not like any other chicken.”

Jane gave Lily a squeeze and replied, “Yes, exactly. There will never be another Louise.”

The end

(Note: Previous remaining holiday stories can be found here, released each day through 12/24, and kept available ever after.)

Day 7, Story 7: The Hunger

A short memoir in 3 parts.

My wonderful daughter, Stella. (Taken during her first Christmas season.)

This story is dedicated to Erin, Sylvia, Rocio, and Hatice.


At 31, I was the neurodivergent mother of a neurodivergent baby. But I didn’t know that. Not about my daughter and not about me.

She nursed just as the books say a baby should, for about a week. Then she battled. The breast, the bottle, me. 

My sanity frayed because I knew there was a problem that no one else could see.

I craved empathy like a drug addict in withdrawal. I searched day and night and found it nowhere. Not even for sale. Therapists, several lactation consultants, a postpartum doula for Seattle rockstars—we couldn’t have afforded her anyway—seemed to serve only judgment. So that’s all I ate.

We both starved. 

Sick with anxiety, I lost 30 pounds in the first two months of my daughter’s life. I tried drinking olive oil. Straight up. Part calorie loading, part penance. I gagged and spit it up. Just like my baby when I tried to feed her. 

It felt as though a lifetime of not-quite-rightness manifested in an inability to feed my own baby. In the early days, when not alone, I faced doubting doctors, and well-meaning but dismissive or outright annoyed others.

I became a mom not when I gave birth to my daughter, but when I pushed through to the other side of despair, for her.


Part 1: The Tube

Stella was born in August. Four months later, baby’s first Christmas was different than I expected. 

Stella’s cheeks were red and raw due to frequent attaching and removal of various medical tapes. I tried different types, hoping to secure her nasogastric feeding tube to her face while inflicting the least possible amount of dermatological and psychological damage.

Meals were not bonding moments. They were medicalized ordeals. Picture, if you will, a portable pump. Like an old school gaming system with a few buttons and a digital read out–but you only win if you can stop playing. 

Along with the pump there were large syringes for gravity feeds, plastic IV-style bags that connected to the pump and smelled like new shower curtains, and hypoallergenic formula that soured quickly. 

The nasogastric tube went down Stella’s throat and into her stomach. When I tube-fed her, I felt more like a surgeon than a mother. Before each tube feeding began, I used a stethoscope to listen as I sent a puff of air, from an empty syringe, down the tube. A telltale popping sound would indicate that the tube was in her stomach. Rather than a lung. 

Then it was time to hook up the tube and run the pump. I’d monitor Stella carefully for any gagging or gurgling. 

Mishaps were common. Sources of trauma. Stomach contents would come up and out of the tube. Blood would surround the tube in Stella’s little nostril. The pump would malfunction and feedings would need to be started all over again. 

The worst of the worst parts was that the tube would come out regularly. It’s astonishing to me, in hindsight, that the emergency room was the only available source of help. Not only were these constant hospital visits expensive, they were time-consuming, exhausting, and traumatizing for my daughter.

After all the waiting, tiny Stella would lay on a hard bed in the harsh light of an exam room. With masked strangers hovering over and holding her down, the tube would be replaced while she screamed. The kind of scream that alerts a mother’s brain to a threat to life and limb. 

The tube would then come out again the next day, maybe the day after. 

So I learned how to put the tube in myself. This process requires planning and calm. First, you lubricate the tube, then you force it down the throat, somehow hold it in place with one hand while making sure baby doesn’t grab or pull the tube and also taping the end of the tube to baby’s face with the other. Finally, you check the tube’s placement with the stethoscope and puff of air and popping sound.

During one replacement effort, my nerves and her screams caused the tube to go in her nose and out her mouth. A little jolt of horror. I tried to insert the tube while she slept. It half-worked once.

To get enough nutrition from a tube, a baby becomes a machine. Stella needed to be fed every three hours, and feeding could take up to an hour. I worried that my extreme tiredness would lead to mistakes. What if the tube wound up in her lung? 

I lived with the fact that this whole disaster unfolded because my milk caused my baby pain. Every time she nursed, she wound up in agony. She would cry and turn away. In hindsight I realize she was fighting for her life. We both were. 

Instead of feeding, she would gnaw her fingers, which smelled of stomach acid.

I worked around the clock to get enough calories into her. I used a spoon, a tiny cup, a small syringe, causing it to simply run down her throat. This wasn’t “feeding.”

Thanks to this continuous labor, she “ate” just enough to get by, before the tube. She didn’t lose much weight, and she did grow longer, but she didn’t gain any weight either. 

I just needed to try harder. ‘You have to hold her like this,’ said one lactation consultant. ‘You haven’t established a proper latch,’ said another. ‘You don’t seem comfortable. Let her come to you instead of leaning toward her,’ said yet another.

Later I would realize that one of them was at least partially right. Being neurodivergent, I was so used to following the lead of others, so used to being wrong, I couldn’t relax and let someone come to me. Not even my own baby. I felt I had to bend over backward, or forward in the case of nursing, to keep an interaction from falling apart.

At first, no one believed me. But then she started to look pale, even a bit gaunt, with a grayish cast. Her resistance to nursing or bottle-feeding turned into an all-out aversion. By then, the problem was so severe that a feeding tube was necessary. It wasn’t inevitable. 

With the benefit of hindsight, I sometimes wonder how it all would have played out if I was neurotypical and communicated neurotypically? What if I was more reasonable, less brutally honest? More clear, less direct?

“We just have to get her through this,” I would think constantly. After all, she was a healthy baby. She just hated to “eat.” That’s all.

Meanwhile, my daughter and I were alone for up to 12 hours a day, five days a week. Compared to my pre-pregnancy self, I was skin and bones. I couldn’t take care of myself. I really couldn’t.

We didn’t have access to a car most days. Freedom came from taking walks, between tube feeds, through the park and by the shops along the strip near our rented house. Stella and I would stop in just about every day at my favorite coffee joint and paper goods boutique, and the grocery store. 

Here and there, as usual in an area of Seattle so close to downtown, I’d see syringes on the ground during our long walks. They were wedged into the cracks of sidewalks or nestled in the mulch of garden beds. Part of the infrastructure. 

These syringes were functionally different from those I used to feed my baby, but syringes all the same. I noticed that my reaction to seeing discarded needles on the ground was no longer involuntary disgust or general frustration with a system that doesn’t care for people. Concern became visceral rather than abstract. I thought, “That’s someone’s child.” 

Stella and I venture out for one of our walks.


Part 2: The Choice

In the thick of the tube feeding haze, Christmas season in full swing, I watched television while Stella napped. A holiday-themed diaper commercial showed angelic infants dreaming in their bassinets with a carol-turned-lullaby as soundtrack. Their smooth, round cheeks were unmarred. Their peacefulness complete. Against my will, bitter tears burned my eyes. I found my entire self twisted with envy, boiling with rage.

Until one week before Stella’s birth, I worked as a copywriter at an ad agency. I’d written prose about large cinnamon rolls and slightly larger ski resorts. I could imagine the creative brief, concept, pitch–the entire process that resulted in that carefully targeted manipulation. But the nerve hit was so deep, beyond the reach of rationality. In the part of me that knew I was defective.

Since then, there have been so many revelations and reversed courses in my path through motherhood, far from any well-worn route. But I now look back to this low, just me sitting alone in the artificial glow of an overwrought diaper commercial, as a catalyst.

During that moment, I knew I couldn’t stay there, in that dark place. Jealousy doesn’t sustain you. It drains you. Anger isn’t nourishing. It eats you. 

I sat in my fury and envy. Confronting the ugliness, I made a choice to not feed it with self pity. It was not going to be easy. I didn’t know how. I just knew something had to change. If not for my sake, then for Stella’s. It was a start, or a promise to start.

That decision soon led me to write. I’d started a blog, half-heartedly. Perhaps I could use it to keep my feelings, unlike the formula, from turning rancid. 

I shared updates with the family on how Stella was faring and how we were managing. Her latest milestone, most recent medical appointment, and how much she was taking in by tube–each milliliter accounted for in a spreadsheet I referenced in reports to Stella’s doctors. Increasingly, I also shared my experience in the struggle.

In the weeks that followed, the blog became a beacon. I began hearing from mothers, across my city and around the globe, who’d found our story. Their babies, too, refused to eat and were given feeding tubes with no plan for weaning from the tubes. No end in sight.

I got to know several of these women, sharing phone calls and emails, desperation and encouragement. We did the same anxious things and thought the same anxious thoughts. Our feelings, stories, and longings were not just similar, but practically identical, despite our differences in cultures and backgrounds.

There was Erin with her grace, sense of humor, and a baby boy who seemed a lot like Stella and was born within days of her. Hatice was passionate, honest, and generous, and even sent Stella presents from Singapore. With Sylvia, originally from Costa Rica, her soul was so torn apart that it made her courage all the more moving. Rocio showed such depth of devotion and commitment to her premature son, helping him overcome his feeding aversion after months in the NICU.

I still marvel at how we were all able to connect on a little virtual island in the middle of the internet ocean. Alone, together.

Thanks to them, I began to realize that I wasn’t a failure or problematic or a pain in the ass for complaining to doctors constantly. I was a mom, doing her best in a challenging, isolating situation. 

We had empathy for each other. And soon I started to develop empathy for myself. When perceiving an absence of empathy from others, I no longer experienced a free fall into anger, allowing me to be more present. I now had a foundation to stand on.

By the time Christmas came around, I had developed a bit more confidence. I found moments of peace even in the face of the same tube-centered reality. I started to tune into Stella and trust my instincts, rather than look to “experts.” That’s when things started to change.


Vintage “Happy New Year” card

Part 3: The Leap

After months of tube feeding, Stella hit a plateau. She never took more than about half of what she needed calorically for the day by mouth, the other half by tube. And aside from some anomalies, that’s where she stayed.

I knew that the tube had to come out. The pain that caused Stella’s feeding aversion was gone. Also eliminated was the pressure from me in trying so hard to get her to nurse, which worsened the aversion. She’d had time to learn that eating was not a threat, not a precursor to pain.

The tube had become more of a hindrance than a help. Making swallowing difficult and allowing a gateway for reflux. Overfeeding was easy, since there was no hunger gauge and only a prescribed amount of formula per day, so vomiting was common. Yet most of her doctors seemed to believe that one day, Stella would miraculously take all calories orally, and only then would the tube be removed. I disagreed. I found research to support my gut.

This situation has become more common. Tube feeding of babies, and resulting tube dependency, has exploded. This is partly due to an increase in premature births, with babies needing more time to gain the strength and oral motor skills that typically develop during a full-term pregnancy.

Also, it’s now easier for hospitals to send parents home with tube-fed babies. The digital pumps are small and portable. But technology advances so much faster than our understanding of its human impact. 

Many babies similar to Stella, following resolution of reflux, milk protein intolerance, or whatever caused eating refusal, remain on tubes. Sometimes for years and years. I knew we had to give her a chance. We had to remove the tube, and see if she would reconnect with hunger and eat enough to thrive all on her own. 

Just after New Year’s, we took the leap. I remember Stella’s smiling, tube-free face that day. How nervous I was, but also hopeful. There was only one thing for me to do–offer the bottle when she showed hunger cues. The rest was in Stella’s hands. No more battles. 

In those first days, she did take more from the bottle. But not what a baby needs to grow and stay healthy. 

After two weeks without the tube, she hadn’t gained weight and Stella’s pediatrician leaned toward putting the tube back in. Panic coursed through my veins and, heart pounding, I told him that she needed more time. He agreed to support one more week without the tube.

Right around the three-week mark, it happened. Seemingly all at once. 

Whereas previously Stella would scream, cry, and panic at the sight of a bottle, she started to lunge and grab at the bottle. She’d even cry when it was taken away empty. Stella drank more than double the amount of formula in one day than she ever had before.

Her occupational therapist declared, “Stella has internalized the joy of eating.”

Trauma leaves a mark, but so does the experience of pushing through. After Stella’s dramatic turnaround, on those days when she ate less, I’d still worry despite knowing all babies are in fact not machines but humans whose hunger varies from day to day. Yet I also fundamentally trusted myself to handle challenges and fulfill the needs of my child. That may have been the biggest miracle of all.

The change was thanks to a baby who knew what she needed, an overwrought Christmas diaper commercial, a largely unknown blog, and fellow mothers who gifted me with understanding. 

The tube was gone. Stella wasn’t hungry anymore, and neither was I.

Not the end (just the beginning)

(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day through 12/24, and ever after.)

Day 6, Story 6: Elf Awareness

I get it. The holidays are here. You’re, like, super busy. Checking your email, buying presents, dressing up your dog, all that human stuff.

But once in a while, especially at this time of year, you need an elf’s perspective. 

As you can see, I’m an elf and as you can guess, I have some pretty unique insights. So, for Christmas’ sake, lend me your unpointy ear for just a few precious minutes.

It really boils down to one question.

Have you ever thought about how amazing Christmastime is?

For really real.

Just take a whiff of cinnamon, for example. 



Or consider your Christmas tree. 



Don’t even get me started on ornaments. 


I mean, what!?

Relatedly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t put a spotlight on Christmas lights.



Oh and speaking of houses, you’d better not be taking gingerbread for granted. 



Also, let’s not overlook the concept of candy canes. 


Gonna say it again. What!?

Lastly but not leastly, do you know how lucky you are to be with family at Christmastime?


What. Wow.

Okay, by now, I’m sure you get the idea. Christmastime is pretty darn wonder-filled if you really stop and think about it. Take it from an elf.

Hmm? Oh, yes–please go ahead with your question. 

What about Santa? 

Yeah, he’s alright.

The end

(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day through 12/24, and ever after.)

Day 3, Story 3: The Wait

Art by Alice of ArtfulStudioRU (etsy).

Devon wasn’t known for his patience. His mother would laugh really hard at that because it’s such an understatement. But we’ll start there.

When he was very small and buckled in his car seat during stop-and-go city traffic, he would flail in displays of unrestrained frustration at being restrained. He’d yell with all his might, “Go faster, mama!” It was during this era that Devon’s mother mastered the art of deep breathing.

At school, Devon struggled to wait–for recess, his turn, or in line. Whenever he tried to help get things moving, he’d see annoyed faces glaring back at him.

Getting bundled up to go out in the snow was always an unpleasant ordeal. He was “done” long before he was ready. Devon hated the loud, rough fabrics and the staying still. He got so antsy, he’d try to up and leave mid-snowpants-pull. Of course, escape attempts made it all the harder to button, snap, zip, and cinch. For his mother, it was–another opportunity to hone deep breathing techniques.

Being stuck in one place, when every fiber of his being told him that the snow was out there waiting for him–it was downright painful. He wondered, “What if the snow is starting to melt? Will everyone be done playing by the time I get out there?” Desperate to be released, he’d cry, “I don’t need a hat!” In most situations, however, he was the one being shouted at.

His teacher would say, “Please stay on task, Devon!” 

His coach would say, “Devon! Stop playing around on the bench.”

His mother would say, “I need you to be patient and pay attention, Devon!” 

Even his classmates would say, “Calm down!” or in the case of one socially savvy girl, “Can’t you see that now is not the time?” They were supposed to be his friends, so these barbs hurt the most.

He felt powerless to defend against constant daggers of criticism. Sometimes, he tuned out and faded away, retreating into a muted and murky gray area in his head. That way, he wasn’t really present. He was an astronaut floating in space, loosely tethered but not connected to other people. It was lonely. He’d lose touch with what was happening and miss what was said, but he could avoid being scolded. 

Devon was at his best and happiest when playing, running around, or doing just about anything outside. Especially when there was snow, which cushioned every surface and opened up new possibilities to explore, go fast, leap, and land where he may.

One December day, after an agonizing preparatory saga, he burst outside in the aftermath of a generous snowstorm. Kids were digging forts in snowbanks, building snowpeople, sledding down whatever slopes they could find, making and stockpiling snowballs for upcoming battles, and generally making merry. His favorite kind of day.

Devon piled and packed snow to build up the modest hill of his front yard, and did run after run. While charging back up with his sled, he glimpsed a vibrant flash of green on the snow alongside their white house. He convinced himself it was nothing. 

On the next ascent, he saw the curious green protrusion again before it vanished. The shape resembled a very pointy shoe. “Not possible,” he thought. But Devon was inquisitive and had to go look. Upon approach, he saw tiny footprints and a trail of brown crumbs. Devon followed them to the large holly bush by the backyard gate. His coat and gloves made it easier to push aside the spiky leaves and take a peek.

Devon could not believe his eyes, brain, or luck. On the lowest branch sat a ginger-haired elf, in a vivid green suit with silver curlicues along the cuffs and collar. Her pointy green hat was twisted like soft serve ice cream, and her green boots swung just above the ground as she snacked on a gingersnap the size of her head.

“Aw, gee, I knew you were going to find me out!” said the elf. She didn’t seem too bothered, though. “I’m Ginger, obviously. Sorry to eat in front of you, but you know, that’s dinner on the road for you!”

Devon could only stare, slack-jawed. She went on, “Aren’t you going to ask me? Whenever I meet a kid, the first thing they do is ask.”

A bug-eyed Devon replied, “W-w-what do they ask you?”

“They ask what list they’re on, of course,” said Ginger. “Don’t you want to know if you’re naughty or nice? This is highly sought after intel, D!”

“Oh, right! Yes, I do want to know. Which list am I on?” asked Devon, who now needed an answer immediately.

Ginger’s laugh sounded vaguely like a jingle bell.  “I knew it, Dev!” Taking a more serious tone she said, “Listen, here’s the thing. You’re on the nice list, but you’ve been deemed ‘at risk’ for naughty classification. You’re on the edge, kid.” She finished the last of the gingersnap. “I come south to investigate these cases so Santa can make the final call before the big haul.”

Devon’s heart warmed–because he was on the nice list, which he certainly wasn’t banking on–then immediately sank at the news of his perilous position. Anxiety started to creep up from his stomach to his chest. He felt slightly ill. “Why am I ‘at risk’? I always try my best to do the right thing, I swear!” 

“I believe you, Dev-O” Ginger said, “It’s just that a few instances of–how shall I put this–waiting intolerance have been flagged in your file. I’m not saying they’re accurate. I’m just saying that’s what some reports have merely suggested.”

Noting his defeated expression, she added, “Oh, Devi-Boy. Don’t worry! We’ll get it straightened out. I’ve been keeping my eye on you and you seem like a good kid. Have a little faith in yourself, ay?”

It was hard to have much confidence, given all the negative feedback he’d been getting lately. But Devon took a deep breath, the way his mother often did, and said, “Okay. But how will you decide?”

Ginger brushed crumbs off the front of her coat as she explained, “Here’s the deal, Devster. You’re going to go about your day, all la-de-da and fa-la-la-la-la, and at some point you will face–oh, let’s call it a ‘challenging situation.’ I can’t say what, how, or when. But it will happen, and it will reveal essential truths about your character. No big deal.”

“Sounds like a pretty big deal,” said Devon, his brow furrowed.

Ginger said, “Nah. You do you. Just be yourself, and I’m sure it will all work out fine, D-Money.”

Devon was not reassured.

She turned away, then swiveled back around. “Also you’re not supposed to know about this or me so none of this ever happened–got it?”

“Got it!” said Devon, eager to please. He walked back to the front yard, wondering if this encounter had really happened and if so, what crazy challenge lay ahead, and whether he was up to it. He was quite worried, and when he was worried, he knew the best way to feel better was to get moving. So he threw himself into the business of snowman making.

All was rolling along nicely until the girl next door complained that he was taking too much snow from her yard. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to!” he cried, reversing course. The ball was now up to his waist in height, dwarfing all other snowman bases in the vicinity, but he wasn’t satisfied. Devon used his body weight to nudge the lopsided sphere down the skinny side yard.

Suddenly, from the bend in the street just a few houses down came the furious whirring of wheels spinning on ice. A car was stuck on the small slope that preceded the turn onto their stretch of road. Instantly alert, Devon swiveled his head and instinctively headed in the direction of the noise.

Meanwhile, little Aubrey had just sledded down her driveway. Unlike the previous times where she bailed out early, this time she tried to go as far as she could and landed in the middle of the street. Right in the path of that car.

The kids all froze. But Devon didn’t hesitate, not for a millisecond. He sprinted toward Aubrey and pushed the sled back toward the driveway with his foot before smoothly continuing along the side of the road at full tilt. Waving his arms frantically to catch the driver’s attention, he ran around the bend and disappeared from view.

The whirring stopped. “Yeah, Devon!” The kids cheered.

Sweating in his heavy gear as he trudged up the hill, Devon re-appeared and saw his mom out on the front steps, looking concerned. “Mom! We need some sand for this car!” He knew what to do, because his mother’s car had been in the same spot more than once. She put a bag of sand in a sled and together they went to help the driver. 

Aubrey’s mother had come out from her house and got the full run-down from the kids. When Devon returned, she told him, “You’re amazing, Devon! You really jumped into action. Thank you for looking out for Aubrey!” 

Aubrey gave him a hug. Devon beamed. He did not feel adrift or unsure. He felt grounded.

After all the excitement, it was time for a break. Devon’s mom made peppermint cocoa with marshmallows. She sat watching him, thoughtfully, as he slurped spoonfuls.

Devon had been so engrossed in what was unfolding in the street that he’d forgotten about the elf and the challenge. The realization hit him like a lightning bolt. He shouted, “That was it!” Devon sprang from his chair and went to throw on his boots. “I forgot something! I’ll be right back, Mom!”

No sooner did he turn the corner of the house, when he found Ginger sitting on the gate. She munched on a gingerbread man as big as her torso.

“Well, this situation is pretty cut and dry,” Ginger said, taking another bite. Devon held his breath.

“You’re on the nice list, Mr. D. All the way. In fact, you don’t belong anywhere near the naughty list. This is a classic case of a get-up-and-go boy living in a sit-down-and-stay world. I see it all the time,” she said. “You always do your best, I know.”

“Yes!” Devon jumped up and down. “Thank you, Ginger!” As thrilled as he was about his nice list status, he was just as overjoyed to know that, finally, someone understood. “Thank you so much! I can’t wait for Christmas!”

“That’s what it’s all about, D-Train,” she said. “My work here is done.”

Ginger climbed down from the gate and paused. “You know it’s a shame–you’d make a great elf.” And with that, she was gone, presumably off to her next “at-risk” investigation.

A couple weeks later, on Christmas morning, Devon found many of his wishes wrapped up under the tree. The tag on the last gift simply read, “Merry Christmas! XOXO, Mom.”

Devon shook the present, hearing no sound, before tearing the silver wrapping paper. With barely a hint of irritation, he ripped the stubborn tape that sealed the box, and pulled away layers of red tissue paper.

There lay a new snowsuit. With soft, smooth fabric, a hood, a single, sleek zipper, and gloves attached to the ends of the sleeves. 

To most kids, this toyless surprise might seem like a useful yet disappointing gift. Not to Devon. 

His mother explained, “You love the snow, and I think this will make it so much easier to get out there! Also, I’ve been thinking, why don’t we have a run break in the middle of getting ready?” 

He turned to his mother, eyes bright and arms open. “I was waiting for you to understand. Thank you Mom!”

“I just had to be patient and pay attention,” she said.

The end

(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day from 12/13 through 12/24.)

Day 2, Story 2: The Last Evergreen

Hey, come on in! Thank you for stopping by tonight. That wind is a fright. So glad you made it.

Look, you’re covered in dust. Go brush yourself off in the mudroom. Then you can rinse your face in the kitchen. You’ll feel better. There you go.

Here, have a seat, child. I made us some tea. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and there are some things I’ve been meaning to tell you. Things I want you to know. I’ll get to it.

If I don’t wake up tomorrow, Christmas morning–Lord willing–or sometime next week or in the new year, I will have said my piece. And that means I can go in peace. After a century on this planet. Heck, imagine that. One hundred years.

Now, to you, they’re more like a myth. But to me, they were part of life. The evergreens. 

Yes, I should explain. Technically I’m talking about conifer trees here. They had pointy needles instead of the flat, broad leaves. Both a leaf and a needle did the same job, really. But needles played the long game, all year long. Built for ice, snow, and wind. Holding on.

Since they were green in winter, come Christmastime, heck, we’d cut down small trees from a farm and bring ’em indoors. It’s true! To brighten up the dark time of year. A symbol of eternal life. Isn’t that ironic? Well, back then it was tradition.

Sure doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve without a Christmas tree. But having you here with me sure helps. 

Anyway, it wasn’t just in winter. Evergreens were wonderful to be around, really, in every season. I remember the smell of dried cedar tips on a summer hike. Heck, it was heavenly! Always gave my brain a little lift. Kept me going.

There were so many kinds, too. And I loved all of ‘em–firs, pines, cypress, junipers, cedars, heck, I mean all of ‘em. 

Growing up, my favorite was a Colorado blue spruce out front, right by my bedroom window. It was powdery blue, which seemed gentle, but then the needles were so sharp. That tree was planted when I was born so I guess you could say we grew up together.

The evergreens were important. They made lots of life possible, and kept it protected. Especially in winter when the other trees were bare, they were homes and food to animals. There were moths and butterflies that laid eggs on red cedar branches–they sought ‘em out every year. Huge ponderosa pines were shelters for elk and bears. All kinds of creatures depended on ‘em. Big and small.

Conifers had cones. It’s there in the name. Now, they really fascinated me. Cones were really capsules for seeds, protecting ‘em until the time was right to take root. Heck, you really couldn’t engineer a better system if you tried! Nature will outsmart us every time. ‘Course, some cones had pollen, not seeds. But that’s beside the point. 

Cones grew on branches in the spring. Some were like woody pineapples, or carved flowers. Some were spiky grenades, defending those seeds. But there were others, heavy and sappy and shaped like eggs–perfect for throwing if you didn’t mind sticky hands. Small cones were like berries, just waiting to be picked. Isn’t that something? Heck, I thought so. Each type of tree had its own way. Just amazing. 

I especially loved seeing the fir cones that sat on top of branches like little owls. Other cones hung like ornaments, which always reminded me of Christmas, even in the worst heat of summer.

When I was little, I collected cones. Wow, did I collect ‘em. Heck, I had hundreds, and counting, but then it was outlawed and you had to leave ‘em where they lay. Of course I understood. Everyone knew I loved ‘em, too. They called me “Pinecone Girl,” can you believe that? It annoyed the heck out of me because pines are only one dang kind of hundreds of dang conifers. 

My uncle taught me a lot about ‘em. He fought wildfires for a few years when I was real young, and I’ll never forget it–he once brought me back a sugar pine cone he saved. Heck, it was over two feet long! Best gift I ever got. I wrapped it in a blanket and carried that thing around like a newborn. I was so dang proud.

The thing is, a cone was supposed to be a kind of safeguard. For the next generation of trees. I used to think about those trees, doing their darndest to survive against all kinds of threats and, still, they put a lot of energy into growing those cones. Not for show. To support life! And not their own.

Heck, if only humans had done the same, I know. I know it. 

I remember when we started losing the giants. First Phalanx went, the biggest pine of ‘em all. Then General Sherman,  after 3,000 years. Heck just imagine that. Hurts my heart even now. Then it was the Centurion and Menara. People mourned around the world. It was more than trees we lost.  I was still a young woman then. 

Wasn’t just one thing that did the evergreens in, you know. It was a long run of dominoes, like the kind my grandfather had. Each falls a bit faster than the one before. There was no more snow to protect their roots in winter and water ‘em in the spring. Trees grew weaker and more vulnerable to invasive beetles and those beetles grew bigger and faster as the world warmed. There was fungus and disease, all sped up by the warming that turned forests into darn petri dishes and tinder boxes. One change tipped into the next until all the evergreens came down. Heck, they brought a whole lot with ‘em. I felt nothing but doomed for a long time.

And you know what? For a while, I never thought about what I could do because I was so focused on what I lost. And heck, the evergreens were one of so many things lost. To me, they were more than trees.

Of course, I had my daughter. Your grandmother. And I even thought about you then, long before you were born. I started to feel like “doomed” just wasn’t an option. Struggle, oh heck yes. Inevitable! Doom, no.  Not for me and not for you. 

You know I did try. I want you to know that. For a while, I used seeds from my cones to plant trees way out back in the forest. What was left of it anyway. Through trial and, well, many errors, I figured out ways to protect the saplings. They didn’t survive but each tree did a little better than the one before. 

Heck, the last evergreen I planted was four feet tall when we left. Besides all the mulching and the netting, I planted it near a granite ridge to try and stop it from burning and I set up a rain barrel to water it–’course it wasn’t full very often or very long. Then, heck, the fire came through. We lost everything. Moved on and never looked back, just trying to get by. 

Good question. How do you carry on when everything is falling apart? Well, I’d say you know this about as well as anyone with all you’ve seen in your life up to now, in the world you came into. I’d say, you mourn what’s lost but you also grasp what’s there. You find even, just, that one thing–whatever makes you feel alive. You grow it. You appreciate the beauty of it. Whatever the heck it is. Could be a song. Could be feeding people, or making ‘em laugh, like your mama always does. Heck, I saw a miracle in a pinecone, something most people probably never thought about. You find your path toward something you love, and you take it. Away from “doomed.”  It’s simple, but it’s not easy when things are falling apart. Though if you do find that path, you might see that other people want to come along.

And here’s what I need you to know. 

After a few years of service, my uncle got sick from the smoke. His firefighting days were over so he gave me his lockbox. Standard issue. A little beat up, but sturdy. Made of steel. He figured I could use it to store my cone collection. And heck, that’s what I did. 

This sounds crazy, I know. But what if–what if those cones are out there? Buried in the ash and earth? Steel doesn’t burn easy. Heck, that was the whole point! So it’s possible. Heck. It really is.

Could you go back there, where the old house was, and take a look around for me? I wish I could. Heck! The wind alone would take me out. There’s nothing out there to break it. I’m asking you to carry my little bit forward. The seeds or maybe just the story. Either way, I hope some good can come from it.

Thank you, child. That’s the best dang Christmas gift I’ve ever had the fortune to receive. Well, it’s at least a tie with that sugar pine cone!

Tell you what. If it’s out there and–Lord willing–you find it, well, I know you’ll take good care of that cone, and the rest of ‘em, when I’m gone.

Heck, I know you will.

The end (unless we act)

Note: Because I don’t think my young nephews, who are following these stories, should carry the weight of imagining all Christmas trees gone from the earth, I whipped up another more kid-friendly take on the concept of The Last Evergreen. You can find it here!

Support Save the Redwoods League.

(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day through 12/24.)

Day 1, Story 1: The Snowflake’s Journey

Hello! I see you’ve noticed me in the morning sun. I was hoping you would. Please know that while my delicate form may seem miraculous, and my spirit bold for traveling all these miles, I sure-as-shooting-stars didn’t start out this way.

Have you ever heard the saying “as pure as the driven snow”? The truth is, we snowflakes all start out riding the coattails of dust. That’s right–dust! 

I want to share with you the cold, crystallized, and sometimes wonderful truth of it all. And how I wound up here, on your mitten.

A wee speck of moisture in an airborne ocean, I was. No different from trillions of vaporized kin, I remained anonymous but content for a while. How long, you ask? Who can say? Time moves slowly up there. Until it moves fast.

One uneventful day, I detected a shift in the air and in my soul. A deep yearning welled up in my molecules. A growing suspicion that I was destined for something greater. This pull was vague but undeniable. I decided then and there to follow this conviction wherever it may lead. To let it, and myself, take shape.

Not long after, a tiny castoff from a wayward westerly meandered aimlessly in my general direction. At odds with my grandiose thoughts, I was drawn to this run-of-the-mill particle. Through some inexplicable alchemy, we bonded.

We went together like thunder and lightning, which are really one and the same. I had no idea what this would mean for me. I felt scared. Everything was up in the air, so to speak.

Remembering the calling I felt, I considered the possibilities. Perhaps this was the beginning.

Just as I acclimated, and could no longer imagine life without this new part of me, a chill brought new change. Swift as the Kuroshio current, temperatures dipped and a process of metamorphosis was precipitated. 

The roundness of my ethereal being transformed into crisp, angular sharpness. I became multi-faceted, with six delicate branches. Through blasts of cold and warm air, my newly formed arms morphed, refined, and extended, as if reaching out for an unknown future. 

So began the fall from all I’d ever known. As you can probably imagine, it’s a dizzying descent from the upper atmosphere to this rough-and-tumble earth. There were times when I thought I might melt. Times when I felt I was moving sideways instead of forward, which in this case was down. Uncertainty abounded yet I knew I had to carry on. 

I’m not sure how long this expedition lasted. In fact, I began to wonder if there was even a destination at all when lo and behold, at long last, I alighted at the North Pole. 

There I was, perched on the highest tip of a reindeer’s antler before a quick shake of his head loosed me once again. I drifted and swirled briefly until landing at the foot of a young elf.

Like you, she must have been struck by my elegant structure, the artful handiwork of Mother Nature herself. No sooner had I settled, when the elf scooped me up into a perfect sphere of a snowball. And she had an arm!

Suddenly, I was airborne in a way that defied the laws of physics as I had thus far experienced them. This velocity was breathtaking. Straight and purposeful like an arrow. I felt alive but also nervous. Where would this trajectory lead? Over the head of a mischievous toy maker who ducked just in time and–smash! Into the back of Santa’s sleigh, it turns out. Upon impact, a flurry of new and familiar sensations crashed together.

I was disoriented, yet oddly fixed in place. Back to feeling like just another face in the cloud, yet thankful to be part of this festive scene. Of all the places to wind up, I found myself here! 

I glimpsed an old neighbor on an ice sculpture, but there was no time for hellos. Bells and cheers rose, and so did we. Up and away from the earth. Most astonishing! 

We quickly reached Santa’s intended elevation and again I experienced a way of flying that I could not previously have conceived. Soaring as part of a team. Without the foggiest clue about where we were going, I was eager to see what lay ahead.

A few rooftops into our trip, we hit turbulence. The reindeer bucked. There was a jerk and jolt, a dip and a drop, and my fellow frozen passengers and I began plummeting. We were a helpless clump in free fall until a passing nor’easter scattered us.

That very gust brought me here to your front yard. I found myself surrounded by fresh-faced snowflakes. They’d just arrived and sparkled excitedly in the moonlight. To them, the world was new. In them, I saw my younger self.

The night’s stillness was broken by the scraping of beastly snow plows, passing by then fading away, growling into the distance. The darkness of night bowed to the blue glow of dawn, stars now barely visible in the wake of a nimbostratus. As the sun emerged, I saw red birds foraging red berries and soon, there were rosy cheeked children bundled up and venturing out into a landscape remade.

Then I saw you! Marching out from your yellow house, the color of high noon on a sunny day, you carried a silver sled. You shielded your eyes from our brilliant albedo, boots sinking into powder.

I detected a sense of awe and kindred spirit. A new feeling bubbled up. I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Behind you, a much smaller child came out to play. He wore a fuzzy hat the color of pine needles and a look of determination. He tried to run but could only trudge as if pulled back by an invisible rope, due to his short stature and our impressive depth. Unfazed, he plodded his way to an enormous snowbank.

This temporary mountain towered over him. No matter. Step by step, sometimes pulling himself up with his insulated hands, he fought to reach the summit. Ah, but just when triumph seemed assured, he lost his footing, and rolled bumpily down the steep slope until landing face-first in the snow. 

He cried seemingly inconsolably, wailing skyward to curse the heavens. Snowflakes stuck to his eyelashes and tears poured down his flushed face. But you were there to comfort him. You gently picked him up and dusted him off, and all was calm. This was moving to me, as I know how traumatic a fall can be. 

Next, you surveyed the land and a look of creative inspiration came over your face. You began balling up snow and rolling the ball, gathering emotional steam and physical mass with each step. I watched as this process continued into late morning. 

You stepped back to assess your work. There were three imperfect spheres, stacked with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on top. It was pleasing to my eye, despite the lack of elven ease and precision. This was a labor of love.

A woman came out and handed you a striped garment. You wrapped it around what I assumed was the neck of what I began to realize was an abstract human form. Rocks became steely eyes, a carrot gamely took on the role of nose, and a small branch formed a wry, knowing smile. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. 

After another brief evaluation of your work, you turned in my direction and bent down to grab more snow. Once again I had the fantastically odd sensation of being raised up, against gravity and instinct. This time I felt nothing but joy.

You patted the handful of snow carefully, adding round cheeks to the snow human’s face. 

As you finished sculpting, I remained on your mitten. And then I caught a glint of sun and your eye. Perhaps it was chance. Perhaps I didn’t want to let go.

Ahem! Well, that’s that. There you have it and here we are. 

Yes, it’s been quite a journey, indeed.  Meeting you this Christmas morning has made it all worthwhile. 

Would you look at that? The sun is now high in the sky and the day is warming. Won’t be long now!

Farewell, friend, I’m onto what’s next. I do hope I’ll see you the next time around.

The end for now

(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day from 12/13 through 12/24.)

12 Christmas stories for 12 days!

You are invited to read 12 festively original stories in the 12 days leading up to Christmas.

I was eager to do some creative writing, and the holidays provided plenty of inspiration. You can find the stories posted here each day, December 13th through 24th.

These tales will vary greatly in tone and topic. Hoping it will add some fun to your holiday season!