Morning Coffee: It’s the Most Stressful Time of the Year

ChristmasWe could easily change the words to a popular Christmas song and for many it would be a more truthful description of the holiday season. I know I can get overwhelmed by all the preparations: cards, gifts, baking, decorating, and multiple trips to stand in line at the post office or the grocery baking aisle. Fighting for a parking space at the mall! Every year I tell myself I’m going to worry less, do less, sit back and enjoy more. Every year I fail; except for this year. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, I retired from my day job the end of August. This means no more commute times, no more long hours in a busy-at-the-end-of-the-year real estate office. I couldn’t have done half of what I did this year if I still had that on my plate. Not only would I have had less time to squeeze it all in, but the time I would have wouldn’t be very productive if I was stressing out…or just plain too tired. And to keep the Christmas spirit going while I went about my preparations, I turned on Christmas music or one of the wonderful Hallmark Christmas romance movies.

Second, I gave myself permission not to worry about my writing until after Christmas (except for this blog). Do I feel guilty about this? Sometimes. Do I miss it? Absolutely. But it’s about setting priorities. Christmas only comes once a year and stepping back a little to enjoy it doesn’t only make me happy, but it makes my family happy. Isn’t that part of what being a wife/mother/daughter is about? It is for me. I expect I’ll be able to return to my novel after Christmas with a renewed energy and no regrets over what I just gave up.

Whatever you choose to do in celebration of the season, I ask that you do it with joy in your heart and no regrets.

A very happy holiday to all my friends in the blogosphere!

Morning Coffee: “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

DickensI’ve been trying to decide which holiday special/movie is my favorite, but the list is so long. There’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, in black and white, of course. “A Christmas Carol”, again in black and white, starring Alastair Sim. Also, “White Christmas”, “Holiday Inn”, “A Christmas Story”, “Christmas Vacation”, and who doesn’t love “Christmas With The Kranks” and “Elf”. This doesn’t begin to list them all, but at the top there really is just one for me–“A Charlie Brown Christmas”. No other can melt my heart with just the opening notes like that one can.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted on December 9, 1965. I was in first grade. The Peanuts cartoon strip had been fast-growing in popularity through the 1950s and 1960s when Coca-Cola commissioned Charles M. Schultz to create a half-hour Christmas special. This was a low-budget deal unlike any other project for television. The script was written over weeks and the animation completed in just six short months. Actual children were hired to do the voice-overs and, instead of the standard laugh track of the time, jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi was hired to write the sound-track. This unorthodox approach led the producers and network to predict it would be a disaster. Instead, it achieved high ratings and critical acclaim and would go on to win both an Emmy and a Peabody award. It has broadcast at least once every Christmas season since, the sound-track has sold millions of copies, and if you want to watch it more often, and not just during the holiday season, you can buy the DVD for your personal viewing pleasure.

Charles M. Schultz always knew growing up that he wanted to be a cartoonist. He was born in Minneapolis on November 26, 1922, and lived in St Paul with his German father (a barber) and Norwegian mother. Growing up, Charles was fascinated by cartoons and spent Sundays with his father reading the funnies in the local newspaper. When he was a senior in high school his mother encouraged him to complete a correspondence course in cartoon drawing through the Federal School of Applied Cartooning (now the Art Instruction Schools).

After a stint in the Army during WWII, he returned home to teach art at his alma mater and to publish the occasional single-panel cartoon in The Saturday Evening Post. For three years he had a weekly panel in the St Paul Pioneer Press. His first Peanuts cartoon appeared on October 2, 1950. He was 27 years old and it would be seen in seven newspapers nationwide. By the time he retired in December 1999, his strip would be syndicated in 2,600 newspapers world-wide and he had books published in 25 languages. Charles M Schultz died from complications of colon cancer on February 12, 2000, in Santa Rosa, California.

Charles M. Schultz had a dream. He wanted to be a professional cartoonist. He pursued that dream and look where it got him. I don’t believe there’s a single person in this world who doesn’t know who he is, who doesn’t recognize the characters of Charlie Brown and his little sister Sally, Lucy and Linus VanPelt, Peppermint Patty, Pig Pen, Schroeder, Marcy, and, of course, Snoopy (a/k/a The Red Baron) and his little yellow-feathered side-kick, Woodstock. We can all learn a lesson from him…believe in yourself, work hard, and anything can happen.

Morning Coffee: Mistletoe

ChristmasI’ve been busy decorating our home for Christmas and found myself wondering: why do we kiss beneath the mistletoe? When you think about it, it is a rather odd custom. Why mistletoe? Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that steals nutrients from the host and can harm some trees. Why not a more cheery and aromatic choice like a pine bough? So I went to my favorite source for “the history of…”,, and this is what I found.

Like so many customs, the power of mistletoe goes back thousands of years to a time when it was used to cure anything from menstrual cramps to spleen disorders. Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, touted it as a balm against epilepsy, ulcers, and poisons. Mistletoe and romance goes back to the Celtic Druids of the 1st Century AD. Because mistletoe stays green year round the Druids believed it to be a symbol of vitality and used the plant to restore fertility in both humans and animals.

Mistletoe also played a role in Norse mythology. The god Odin’s son, Baldur, was prophesied to die. His mother, Frigg, the goddess of love, secured an oath from all the animals and plants not to harm her son. But she neglected the lowly mistletoe. The god Loki fashioned an arrow from the plant and used it to kill Baldur. An alternate ending to the story has the gods resurrecting Baldur. Overjoyed, Frigg then declared mistletoe to be a symbol of love and promised to kiss all who passed beneath it.

Mistletoe continued to be linked to fertility and vitality well into the Middle Ages. By the 18th Century it had become a part of Christmas celebrations. Scholars can’t agree on a reason for this jump from sacred healing herb to holiday decoration, but it’s believed the tradition of kissing beneath the mistletoe began with the English servants and then spread to the middle class. (Perhaps they were familiar with the Norse myth of Baldur and his mother Frigg; although that seems unlikely based on the limited education of the serving class.) Custom had it that men were allowed to kiss any woman caught standing beneath the mistletoe and refusing that kiss meant bad luck. A second version of the custom had the kissing couple pluck a single berry from the sprig for each kiss. They were to stop kissing when all the berries were gone.

I went to Wisconsin DNR’s website to see if mistletoe grows here in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the traditional “kissing” mistletoe with its large leaves and big white or red berries is not native to our state. You can, however, find the eastern dwarf mistletoe, a small and not very showy shrub not at all what you think of when you think mistletoe. It grows to a height of only a couple centimeters, making it the state’s tiniest shrub, and grows predominantly in the swamps of northern Wisconsin. You can learn more about it at