Real, Plastic, or Ceramic?

ceramic tree

Putting away Christmas leaves me a little blue. After all the lights, bright colors, candles, sparkle, ribbons, and decorations are boxed up, my house is bleak. Blah.

Last year I began a new practice of creating winter tableaus from bits and pieces of my Christmas decorations. I’ve found that it really lifts my winter spirits.

One of the items I kept out this year is a 6” ceramic lighted tree as shown in the above photo. Although this was a gift from my mother-in-law Rosalie, it reminds me of my own grandmother Elizabeth who had a larger ceramic tree that graced the dining room during the Christmas season.

As it turns out, ceramic trees have quite the history.

According to, ceramic parties were popular in the 60s and 70s. Instead of Tupperware or Avon parties, women with a knack for crafts found themselves at ceramic parties making all sorts of decorations. In November, the crafting focused on Christmas items such as Santas, nutcrackers, and, of course, trees.

I can’t picture my grandmother attending craft parties, so her ceramic tree was likely a gift from someone.

The tree molds were manufactured by a limited number of providers, and that’s why most of the vintage ceramic trees in existence today look so similar.

When the 80s rolled around, this type of group crafting began fading from popularity. By the 90s, people were purchasing ready-made products. says, “For the next 30 years, ceramic trees entered that awkward outdated phase that so often comes between trendy and vintage.”

Enter 2020 and the pandemic. People longed for comfort foods, sweatpants, and nostalgic Christmas decorations. Yes, ceramic trees made a huge comeback this past Christmas. Like me, folks had fond memories of ceramic trees from their childhoods.

For the many people who decided to forego the usual Christmas decorating this year (why bother when no one will be around to see your house?), the ceramic tree filled the need without too much effort.

I hope that next December people will revert to honoring their full Christmas traditions, whatever they may be, and not let the “it’s too much bother” excuse of pandemic times make us lazy.

My Christmas “stuff,” none of it rare or expensive, keeps the story of our family’s Christmases going strong. And I guess I’ll keep telling that story as long as people will listen.


Article from on ceramic trees

My blog from 2018 about live Christmas trees vs. plastic

Images of ceramic trees

Summary of “how-to” make your own ceramic tree. Note, there is a cute one-minute video at the end of the article showing children painting and accessorizing a pre-cast ceramic tree.


When Enough Is Not Enough


I vividly recall a children’s book I had. It was small in size with mostly words containing a trio of stories.

One of them told the story of a brother/sister set of squirrel kids named something like Frisky and Flossie. They went with their mom to visit an elderly neighbor. When the older woman squirrel greeted the three at her door, she suggested that the kids play outside while she and their mother visited over a cup of tea.

The squirrel kids spied an arbor heavy and abundant with plump, juicy grapes. As they looked at it longingly, the neighbor said, “You may help yourselves to some grapes.” The kids asked, “How many may we have?” The neighbor replied (unwisely, as it turned out), “As many as you want.”

Those little squirrels gobbled up the entire crop of grapes. When their mom and the neighbor opened the door to look for the kids, they saw the ravaged arbor. The mother was mortified and asked, “Frisky and Flossie, whatever have you done?!”

Frisky and Flossie unabashedly replied, “She said to eat as many as we wanted. Well, we wanted them all.”

Greed is an ugly characteristic for anyone to possess. Indeed, greed is noted as one of the seven deadly sins, although the synonym avarice is commonly used in place of greed. (Avarice is defined as “extreme greed for wealth or material gain.”) Perhaps there is a greed continuum around somewhere. You know, it starts on one end with a toddler hogging all the blocks instead of sharing them. And perhaps toward the other end is Tom Brady applying for and receiving a Paycheck Protection Program loan for nearly a million dollars for his health and wellness company.

Greed is most often associated with the obsessive quest for more money. But people can be greedy for power, material items, food, land, or social status. Or during a pandemic, for toilet paper.

Psychologist Erich Fromm once defined greed as “a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”

In my opinion, greedy people are rarely ever truly happy since they live in a continual state of thought that whatever they have, however much that may be, is not enough. Like Frisky and Flossie, they want it all, even if it’s at the expense of others.

It’s unfortunate that the “greedsters” existing among us now don’t have a wise person to guide them.

Because Frisky and Flossie’s mom had them empty their piggy banks. With that money, they bought fresh fruit (including grapes). Then they put in labor tying the fresh fruit to the empty arbor’s latticework so that the neighbor would find the surprise the next morning.

“Greed, in the end, fails even the greedy.” – Cathryn Louis


Tom Brady’s company took a Paycheck Protection Program Loan for $960,000

Mindful Availability For All

mindful availability

Writer Sue Monk Kidd authored a lovely article on mindfulness way back in September 1997. It appeared in a Christian quarterly journal called Weavings.

She said that when she began to observe her interactions with others to discover just how available she made herself, she was surprised at the lack of true attention she provided.

Kidd wrote, “I watch my restless heart, the mercurial way my mind sweeps from one thing to another, the way my ego holds forth, keeping me abreast of my own expectations, wants, and preoccupations—criticizing, comparing, competing, imposing views. I realize that I can be with someone, but on a deeper level, I’m not available to them at all. I have attention deficit disorder of the soul.”

Distraught in what she found in herself, she took up mindful availability as a spiritual practice. It was hard! Yes, it IS hard!

When I teach mindfulness as part of public speaking, I come clean with my students and share my own failings. When I worked and led a team of people, I seemed to be always so busy, busy, busy. Why, there was no time to stop typing an email or crunching numbers for a report when a team member would pop her head in and ask, “Do you have a few minutes?” Even if I did remove my hands from the keyboard or lift my eyes from the monitor, I would (surreptitiously, I imagined) sneak looks at work to be accomplished. I offered people who certainly deserved more just a fraction of my attention.

There is a Zen practice called meticulous attention. I’ve seen it also referred to as undivided presence. Simply stated, it is the giving of undivided attention to whatever is before us. If we’re eating, we would be focusing on the flavor, texture, and aroma of the food before us and not mindlessly cramming food into our mouths while watching TV or talking. Or if we’re soaking in a bathtub, ideally, we would be paying attention to the warmth of the water and noticing how it soothes our aching muscles and relaxes us. We shouldn’t let ourselves get distracted in the tub by checking Facebook likes on our phones or watching Adele parodies on YouTube. (Guilty.)

So the mindful availability we give to others is likely a work in process for most of us, me included certainly. But it’s a worthy goal to work toward for the rest of our lives.

Kidd says, “When you practice mindful availability, you are simply there with your heart flung open. Being such a rare quality of presence to another human is, in itself, a healing and transforming gift…One cannot be the recipient of mindful availability without being affected.”


Meticulous Attention article

NOTE: The Weavings Journal mentioned was taken out of print in 2017. There is still a website and you can find it here.

Weavings has been described as “committed to exploring the many ways God’s life and our lives are woven together in the world.” Each issue featured articles by various authors with a combined focus on a singular topic.

Put A Face On It, Will You?

Put a face on it

Jay Meadows is a public researcher who investigates health behaviors. He’s been studying pandemic fatigue which has settled in all over the world. Pandemic fatigue, described as our general exhaustion and impatience with the rules imposed to stem the spread, is now a contributor to the growing number of cases of COVID-19. People are demoralized about not having a “normal” life; they want to resume activities and enjoy socializing. And so they begin loosening up.

Meadows says there are two predictors of human behaviors regarding health issues that illustrate why people are now disregarding the important safety steps we took earlier in the year to prevent the spread.

  • Perceived susceptibility. In other words, just HOW likely am I, personally, really at risk to catch COVID? Magical thinking might lead us to rationalize, “Hey, it’s been nearly nine months and I’m still fine so maybe I have some type of natural immunity.” Or “There aren’t a lot of cases in my area, so I’m safe.”
  • Perceived severity. We ask ourselves, “Even if I do get it, will it be all that bad?” We look at President Trump’s case and think, “Heck ya, I can do that.” We hear anecdotal stories of people who caught the virus and recovered quickly. Even one of my readers (who is also a friend) and her husband were diagnosed and had very mild cases. My friend shared that had they not both tested positive, they would have assumed they’d had just some type of minor illness.

I’m going to add a third predictor: Ineffectiveness of our brains to process numbers well. Every day we are bombarded with new statistics. Consider these true, up to the minute data:

  • There have been nearly eleven million cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in the United States since March 1, 2020.
  • Nearly a quarter-million Americans have died of the virus.
  • Approximately 3% of cases diagnosed today will prove fatal.
  • New cases in the US have surpassed 181,000 per day.
  • In the past week in America, daily reported deaths from COVID rose over 8%.

Statistics can be mind-numbing. Our brains get overwhelmed with too many and we tune it out. What does it all mean anyhow? So we get lazy with our precautions and start whining about how uncomfortable masks are.

The New York Times has helped me keep my focus on the pandemic real and personal with their series called Those We’ve Lost. It is online and is updated every day. Here’s the explanation the NYT provides on their page: “The coronavirus pandemic has taken an incalculable death toll. This series is designed to put names and faces to the numbers.”

The COVID death stories that major news outlets cover are typically about celebrities or mildly famous people. While those folks are included in the Times’ series, ordinary, everyday type of people have their stories told in beautiful obituaries.

There’s the story of Rebecca Cryer, a Tribal judge and a survivor of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The obituary of Rev. John Vakulskas tells us of his decades-long ministry to carnival workers. Domenic Parisi was the barber who cut President Nixon’s hair. The stories include people who are described as a Sinatra fan, a prankster, a dinner party enthusiast, a miracle survivor. And then there’s Frank Cullotta, a former mobster in Chicago and Las Vegas who later joined the Witness Protection Program to testify against the mafia.

If you ever find yourself tuning out the news because you’re weary of pandemic updates, go to the Times’ page and put a face on the pandemic by reading a few stories of those who were taken too soon because of it.


The story behind Those We’ve Lost

Those We’ve Lost site

Rebecca Cryer


A Slippery Slope

a slippery slope

A dozen or so years ago, we had a winter storm that produced an unusual effect. On top of many inches of snow, a freezing rain transformed every outdoor surface to a hard, icy glaze.

My grandsons (then around 8 and 11) had stayed overnight and were eager the next morning to get out and ride their snow discs down the frozen hill in our backyard. So we bundled up and carefully traipsed outside. Using the ice-crusted snow as a runway, those boys flew down that hill.

What fun! But as they tried to walk back up the hill, there was a problem. Every attempt at a step simply had them sliding backward. We all laughed until our sides hurt, but then reality settled in. The boys were stuck there. Laughter turned into fearful uncertainty.

My husband and I tried various options such as trying to walk around the outside edge of the woods to work our way down to retrieve them. But we were unable to find any traction.

Finally, my husband tied several ropes together and, holding on to one end, he tossed the other end so it could slide to the boys. They took turns holding on to the rope end and being pulled up the hill on their tummies.

That experience truly defined the phrase “a slippery slope” for me.

It was at this point in writing today’s post that I went online to search a slippery slope to explain how the phrase originated and ruminate a bit on the types of slippery slopes we might find ourselves on. That sounds interesting, right?

But as I researched the phrase, I was surprised to learn that it has meaning in the arenas of critical thinking, logic, and even case law.

The term Slippery Slope Argument is looking at a possibility and coming up with hypothetical outcomes, often extreme, without showing any proof for said outcomes. It’s common for scare tactics to be used to induce emotional reactions.

An oft used example is found in the topic of (human) euthanasia. Those who fight against legalizing euthanasia use a slippery slope argument like this:

If we legalize voluntary euthanasia, where a terminally ill patient desires death soon rather than later, it will lead us to other actions that are morally indefensible. We could move on to involuntary euthanasia or non-voluntary physician-assisted suicide. Eventually, it will be legal for people to have other people killed.

My guess is that many of you will find that argument unsettling.

The term fearmongering (or scaremongering) comes to mind: “The spreading of frightening and exaggerated rumors of an impending danger to purposely arouse fear in order to manipulate the public.”

It’s good to pause and then back away from slippery slopes.


Video on fearmongering from FOUR YEARS AGO by Dr. Susan David, one of the world’s leading management thinkers and an award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist.

A site that explains common logical fallacies

One Side Or The Other

one side or the other

I’m suffering from election anxiety. And I’m not kidding.

Likely every single person reading this post LOVES America just as much as I do and holds a deep desire to be proud of the person who will lead our nation for the next four years.

So while we can agree on our love of the country and the desire to be proud, the two sides are polar opposite on nearly everything else. It seems we EACH cannot fathom how someone on the other side can believe what they hold to be the truth and the better choice.

As someone who aims to think critically, I have sincerely tried to understand how the other side continues to support their candidate and for an extremely good reason: I have a few dear friends and some much-loved relatives who are on the other side from me. I would never ever let this difference get in the way of friendship or love. Maybe that’s why this election anxiety is so front and center for me; I must pretend to ignore it.

But as the adage goes, “What we resist, persists.”

As it persists, one of the issues it causes me is writer’s block. Yesterday I shared with a good friend what this week’s post would be about. And I tried to write a touching story about my idea, I really did.

But it kept taking a political slant. Scratch-out after scratch-out ensued. So I tried typing directly on the computer. Backspace/Delete/Do you want to save this document?/No/Hell no.

In August I posted a blog called Writing About Writing. Maybe I should have titled today’s post Writing About NOT Writing.


USA TODAY article on election anxiety

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost


Real Or Just An Illusion

illusion defines illusion as “something that deceives the mind or senses by creating a false impression of reality.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book Talking to Strangers brought up an interesting topic of which I’d never heard: the illusion of asymmetric insight. I hate to break this news, but (unless you are very highly evolved) you suffer from it. And so does everyone else. Me too.

Basically, the illusion of asymmetric insight means that we believe that we know others much better than they know us, AND that we understand others better than they understand themselves. This also occurs with groups; we simply assume that our knowledge of other groups is more expansive than the other groups’ knowledge of our group.

From the site, “In 2001, Emily Pronin and Lee Ross at Stanford along with Justin Kruger at the University of Illinois and Kenneth Savitsky at Williams College conducted a series of experiments exploring why we see people this way.”

One experiment, which Gladwell put forth in his book, went like this. People were given partial words and asked to fill in the blanks. Here are a few examples; play along and write down your first response as to how you would fill in the blanks to make a word. Stop reading until you’ve come up with six words.

B O _ _   /   S T_ _   /   C H E _ _   /   S H _ _  /  G _ _  /  D E _ _

OK, STOP and write down your answers now.

For the record, here were my answers to the above:  BOOK / STAR / CHEER / SHOP / GAS / DEAL

When the subjects in 2001 completed the test, they were asked if their own responses pointed to any specific personality aspects. No, they couldn’t see any pattern or reveal any surprising tendencies; basically, it was just a list of words. But when provided with other people’s responses, and asked the same question, they came up with analyses such as that person must be unstable, he is vain, she is untrustworthy, etc.

For instance, if Person A analyzed Person B’s answers to the above quiz and found BOOM / STAB / CHEAT / SHOT / GUN / DEAD, they might offer the opinion that Person B is on the violent side. But maybe the person had watched an action movie the day before the quiz.

So while we “know” our own answers mean nothing, we believe we are able to “know” about other people from this little (but fun) quiz.

I think this goes a long way in explaining how people on social media get caught up in unpleasant behavior like name-calling, ridicule, taunting, contempt, bullying, and derision. The folks who behave like that believe they know the rest of us better than we know ourselves.


Article from

It Never Hurts To Ask


It’s been nearly four years since I shared with my readers in “A Permanent Mark” that if asked for a motto that is important to me, it is this:  It never hurts to ask.

Because if you ask and the answer is NO, you’re no worse off than before you asked.

Singer/songwriter Zach Williams has a great story that truly illustrates this point.

Zach went down the wrong path when he hit sixteen. Drifting away from his Christian upbringing, he got involved with drugs and alcohol which cost him a Division 1 college basketball scholarship offer. He dropped out of high school and went to work for his dad’s construction company for a year. Then he moved away to attend a junior college and made the basketball team there. Unfortunately, he drifted back into drugs and alcohol. Then a foot injury took him off the team, but the downtime led him to pick up a friend’s guitar; thus began his music life.

Moving back home to work with his dad again, he was a functioning addict worker by day and musician by night. In a moving interview (link is below) he shares that he used drugs every day just to get through.

Living this life for years (working by day to pay the bills and partying like a rock star at night), he met the woman who would become his wife when he was 30. They married and, as the bad choices continued, his wife finally issued an ultimatum: Get clean or the marriage would end.

Just after that conversation, Zach went on a European tour with his rock band. Not wanting to lose his wife, he says that while on a long bus ride he prayed for God to send him a sign that God cared enough to help him. The bus driver had been scanning radio stations and he stopped on a contemporary Christian station where the song I am Redeemed by Big Daddy Weave was playing.

The song struck Zach as being just what he needed to hear. He continued to listen to the song over and over on his phone. Zach called his wife and told her he was quitting the band and coming home. They spent some time repairing their family’s relationship.

Eventually returning to music, he started writing and performing faith-based songs.  The turning point came as he understood that, “God spoke to me and said these are the songs, these are the people, these are the places, this is the music that I have for you to write.”

Zach reflects on the seasons of his own life to write from the heart. He says when someone tells him, “Your song saved my life,” that is better than any music award he could win.

When he recorded the demo for There Was Jesus, a woman sang the duet with Zach. Listening to the demo with his producer, he remarked that the woman had a sound similar to Dolly Parton’s. “Wouldn’t it be really cool to have Dolly Parton sing with me on this song?” He says they had a good laugh over it because, come on, Dolly Parton?

But his record label reached out to Dolly’s people and she said she would listen to the song. The words and music had such an amazing impact on her, she listened to just a part of it before she removed her headphones and agreed to the duet even though she had never even heard of Zach Williams!

And the rest is history. The song went on to reach #1 on the Billboard Christian Charts. The two performed a portion of the song on the 2019 Country Music Association awards show which impacted an audience the song might never have reached otherwise.

But what if they hadn’t asked?

What if?


The music video There Was Jesus

Big Daddy Weave’s I am Redeemed

Interview of Zack Williams on Jesus Calling podcast

Another version of the song There Was Jesus with Riaan Benadé and Demi Lee Moore (I love the dog who sleeps throughout the recording session! Apparently, the dog is an electric guitar fan.)

Lifted Up Post “A Permanent Mark” from Nov 1, 2016

From Similar Root Words


Some meaningful words harbor negative connotations.

Consider the word “humility.” From the Latin “humilitatem” meaning insignificance, humility isn’t an aspect to which very many people aspire to these days.

Anther similar root word, “humus” (earth), means “on the ground.” Since most of us have been encouraged since birth to aim for the sky, shoot for the moon, and reach for the stars, who wants to be grounded? Grounded is another word with two opposite meanings; the positive spin on the word means steady and stable, and the negative spin means being punished or unable to fly. (Presumably unable to fly to the sky, moon, and stars!)

Even Wikipedia says, “Dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness.” That’s certainly not healthy for us.

But the Christian sense of humility provides a different view of it. “A New Introduction to Moral Theology” written by the Church of England clergy says we can’t exist without a sense of selfhood and self-awareness; they’re essential for us to fulfill the gifts of our personality and talents.

Their further definition says this: “Humility is not an attitude which denigrates the self improperly; that is a false humility which can be dangerous. Humility is the virtue which we see in Jesus Christ, a true understanding of his own relationship to God and to others, a sure sense of perspective and proportion.”

Brother David Steindl-Rast includes humility as one of the blessings of life. (See a link to my prior post below.) And he admonishes us to never confuse humility with humiliation. The Latin “humiliare” is the root word of humiliation.

A person who attempts to humiliate another is trying to reduce that other person’s own self-view and/or reduce the person in the eyes of other people. A person who uses humiliation is attempting to shame others, hoping they will lose their self-respect and the respect of others.

In a business blog from six years ago on Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell shares twelve tactics that foolish leaders use to humiliate others. He says that “showing disrespect invites disrespect.”

Of Rockwell’s twelve examples of the destructive heaping of humiliation on another person, (link is below) I believe the four I’ve noted are key for ALL of us to avoid because no matter what our position is in life, we are EACH a leader. (I’ve kept Rockwell’s original numbering.)

#4 “Innocent” sarcasm. Sarcasm is a coward’s way of saying what they really think.

#6  Interrupting while someone is speaking.

#10 Over-generalizing issues by using terms like “always.”

#12 Stealing honor that belongs to another.

The Church of England clergy reminds us that humility “is the light of God shining in the human person.”

Yes, I agree that (in the words of singer Jackie DeShannon) what the world needs now is love, sweet love.

And we also are in dire need of an ample portion of humility.


Prior post on Brother David

Leadership Freak blog on Humiliation

A portion of MICAH 6:8 says: What does the Lord require of you, but to seek justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? Listen for these words in the song “Courageous” by Casting Crowns

What the World Needs Now

Love Stories At The Park

love story

If we’re Facebook friends, you’ll already know from my posts that I spend some part of every day at a local park named Rady. Besides the children’s playground and covered gazebo with picnic benches, there is an oblong paved path around an open grassy area and the baseball field.

In addition, there is a dirt path through a garden section alongside a creek. So, it’s no surprise that Rady is a draw for walkers and runners, children, families, couples, and friends.

Not only do I walk there daily to exercise the dog and myself, but also to replenish my soul. Because love stories happen all around me.

If I visit the park mid-morning, I often see the young father who places his not yet 18-month old son by a stone bench and then moves 20 or so paces away. The dad says in an excited voice, “Are you ready?! Are you ready?! Get set, go!” And the child wobble-runs as fast as he can move those baby-fat legs toward his daddy who scoops him up into the air as soon as the boy is within catching distance.

Is there any sound more joyous than a child’s exuberant laughter?

Then dad sets the boy down with an instruction to go back to the starting point. And another round begins. “Are you ready?” Are you ready?”

They play this game half a dozen times or so. While the child physically tires out, I do not tire of watching them. I told the dad recently, “Watching you two makes my day.”

In the late afternoon, a man around my age gently leads his wife around the paved path. I don’t know if she’s a stroke survivor or has some other illness, but she doesn’t seem able to participate in the exchange of greetings. His tender patience in helping her around to get exercise in the fresh air is as sure a sign of love as I see.

In the early morning (my most typical time to be at Rady) a group of older gentlemen socially distance themselves around the center of the gazebo in chairs they bring from home. Usually, there are four who meet every weekday morning. Grace the beagle and I walk around the outside of their circle so they can give Grace a pat and inquire as to how her squirrel chasing is going.

It’s obvious that these men are good friends who honor the commitment to get up and out to visit for an hour. And if I happen to arrive after they’ve dispersed for the day, why, the next morning they tell me they missed us. I feel like an extension of their group. For this reason, I once took the guys some of my homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Frank, Milton, Joe, and Bill may not profess love for each other, but camaraderie is surely a form of love!

So yes, walking in the park is good exercise, and immersion in nature is good for the mind and body. But noticing the love feeds my soul.


Health benefits of walking

Yale article on health benefits of immersion in nature

Interesting article on mindful walking