Peace In The Crazy: Signing Off For Christmas

Are you ready for Christmas?  Is your winter wonderland beckoning while you dream of a white Christmas, roasting chestnuts ’round an open fire and jingling all the way? No?  Well don’t worry – me neither.

Last week I made endless lists – to do; to buy; to bake; to clean; to organise; to run around like a headless chicken – and by no small miracle, these have now merged into one, final list.

Christmas 2012 (4)

(c) Sherri Matthews

With two days to go before my family arrives I am pushed to the wire, but at least the Christmas tree is up and decorated.

Ahh…Christmas trees.  Such things of beauty when doing what they are supposed to do, such as stay in place.   Unlike the year when I walked into the living room only to find the tree lying on the floor surrounded by broken ornaments and two, wild-eyed kittens.

In an effort to make everything so darn perfect for that one special Christmas Day, it seems that we may as well write an open invitation for misadventure to walk in through the front door.

For one thing, no matter what, every Christmas one of the kids got ill, usually the night before they were due to take part in a nativity play.

I’ve lost count of all the times candle wax has gone where it shouldn’t have.

Then there was the year when the Christmas cake I had spent hours lovingly baking and icing in my determination to bring my English roots into the American ‘Holidays’, got covered in ants.

And let’s not even touch the subject of Christmas road-rage (good job I was on the ball when that idiot on the roundabout cut me up).  So much for goodwill to mankind.  I’m not perfect, I know, but I try, I really do.

I like to think it is as perfect as it can ever be when I take in sights such as the Christmas beauty of Sherborne Abbey (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Christmas is as perfect as it can ever be at times such as these…breathing in the quiet solitude of Sherborne Abbey,what joy struck my heart as I marvelled at its magnificent beauty. (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Yet, we hold onto the hope that Christmas will indeed be perfect and put ourselves through so much to meet this ideal.  Stress piled upon more stress.

Earlier in the week, I was traipsing through a shop pulling one of those plastic shopping baskets on wheels behind me.  It was crammed to overflowing with all those things we don’t want to run out of over Christmas like food bags, laundry detergent, kitchen foil and yes, toilet paper, the biggest pack I could find (I’ve got a house full this Christmas, say no more…).

Yet to do my grocery shopping across town, I desperately made my way to the check out to the strains of ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ booming out from the speakers accompanied by the constant thud, thud, thud of items falling out of my basket onto the floor.

‘Tis the season.

But, putting all this aside, I know that when I’m sitting on the sofa with a glass of chilled Prosecco on Christmas Eve with my family gathered around, it is all worth it.

It really is the season…isn’t it? 

I don’t think there are many of us left who believe in this ‘myth’ of the perfect Christmas, but I do believe that it isn’t all doom and gloom.  Yes, there are those who are alone: My dad is one of them.   Ever since he was released from prison at the end of November I haven’t heard a word from him, which is what I expected. I can but hope and pray that he is being looked after wherever he is.

Taking time out to visit the Christmas Tree Festival last weekend and then sharing the photos here with you all brought me great joy amidst all the craziness.

The ‘knitted’ tree proved to be the most popular, but there is one more ‘knitted’ photograph I saved until today…

Knitted Christmas Nativity, Cheap Street Church, Sherborne But the angel said to them,  "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."' (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Knitted Christmas Nativity, Cheap Street Church, Sherborne
But the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”‘
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

No matter where you are or who you are with, I wish you a Christmas filled with joy and hope and a New Year filled with every blessing;  I wish for you a smile from a stranger, a kind word or deed from a friend and peace and calm to live in your hearts.

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I’m signing off from blogging now until the New Year. I’ll say my goodbyes, but I look forward very much to catching up with you in 2015.  Thank you all, dearest friends and family for taking the time to read anything at all that I happen to scribble, and then for leaving me such loving and beautiful messages.  It’s been a tough year in many ways but one that has also brought so much that is good.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all…and in the incomparable words of Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol…

‘God Bless us Every One!’

Love, Sherri xxx

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Of Angels, Christmas Tree Festivals And A Flash Fiction

Every year for one week in December, Cheap Street Church in the quaint English market town of Sherborne, Dorset, holds a Christmas Tree Festival.

Each tree is decorated by a charity or local club. This is what greets you upon first entering the church:

Entrance to Cheap Street Church, Sherborne, Dorset, England (c) Sherri Matthews

Entrance to Cheap Street Church, Sherborne, Dorset, England
(c) Sherri Matthews

Before walking along the side isles of the church to admire all the beautifully and uniquely decorated Christmas trees, my attention was immediately caught by the three trees twinkling prettily above the podium in front of the beautiful organ pipes…

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

…then back down again to this sweet little nativity scene:

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Each tree is adorned with hand-made decorations in keeping with the theme of the group or charity.   Twinkling brightly away within the tranquility of the church setting,  it is lovely to be able to peacefully walk around, taking time to pause quietly and remember the real reason why we celebrate Christmas.

This aptly named ‘Feed My Sheep’ tree was made by the Food Bank, a wonderful organisation helping those in need:

Food Bank Christmas Tree (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Food Bank Christmas Tree – Feed My Sheep
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Here is the Royal British Legion’s entry:

British Legion - In Remembrance (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Royal British Legion Christmas Tree – In Remembrance
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The varied designs are all crafted so beautifully with love and care:

This one stood out for the miniature books made by the local library:

Literary Club (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Sherborne Library (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

But I adored this Christmas tree made by a local knitting club.  If you look closely, you’ll see that the strand of Christmas lights are all knitted, as well as the lovely little Angel on top of the Christmas tree:

Knitting Club Christmas Tree (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Knitting Club Christmas Tree
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

I was so taken by this little Angel, and perhaps it is by no coincidence that Charli has asked us to write our flash fiction story this week about, well, Angels!  Anything at all, so long as it is 99 words, no more, no less.    Thinking of English market towns, their churches, their shops, their pubs, and of new beginnings, here then is my flash:

Angel’s Light

Gripping the steering wheel so hard that her knuckles turned white, Misty drove into the darkest corner of the car park and switched the engine off.

In the quiet and gripped by a sudden panic, she wondered why she had ever agreed to come on this blind date.

Walking across the dimly lit car park towards the pub’s entrance, a bright light suddenly shot across the sky. Misty looked up at the pub sign, now mysteriously illuminated, as she stopped short: ‘The Angel’.

A strange peace came over her then as she saw him walking towards her, smiling brightly.

*********************

This post is also in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge of ‘Twinkle’.

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A Blue Coat For Christmas: Gone, But Not Forgotten

One Christmas morning while staying with my dad and his new wife, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I tore open the wrapping paper.

There it was, my heart’s desire, the most wonderful gift I could ever have hoped for – a wool, midi-length, navy blue coat befitting the military style of the early 1970s with brass buttons and red stripes on the cuffs and pocket flaps.

It was the coat of my dreams.

During my stay that Christmas, I remember walking down the stairs from Dad’s flat in Brighton, resplendent in my new coat, thinking how with it I must have looked, as I headed out to the seafront with my brother.

There, we strapped our roller skates onto our shoes and skated up and down the promenade for hours while Dad was at work.  Life was as normal then as it would ever be.

When tired from roller skating, we gathered up what loose change we could muster from our pockets and whiled away the afternoon hours playing games at the arcades on the old pier before heading back home in time for tea.

We didn’t know it then, but that was our last time playing on old West Pier: Dad moved away from Brighton the following year and it would be another thirty years before I was to return.

Shut down in 1975 for safety reasons, it remained unused for decades.  When it burnt down in 2003, it became derelict.

West Pier, Brighton, England (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

West Pier, Brighton, England 2012
(c) Sherri Matthews

West Pier was further damaged in February this year due to the severe battering it received from the storm surges that assailed the south coast all last winter, splitting it in two.

What will become of what remains of this historical landmark looming out of the English Channel overlooking Brighton Beach?  The pier of its golden days is gone, but not forgotten.

My coat stayed with me: I was in love with it and wore it everywhere.  I must have gone on and on about it, never realising for a moment how much it pained my dear mother who could not have afforded such a present.  How could I, as a girl of eleven or twelve, understand such things?

I would soon enough but not then, not then.

She only complimented me on how nice it looked. I wasn’t used to such lavish Christmas presents; it was the most extravagant gift I ever received.

The following year, my brother and I were fortunate enough to go on a field trip with our school to France and Belgium.  I wore my coat with pride, but I wore something else: my beautiful, lilac patterned midi-dress lovingly made for me by my mum.

I still remember the softness of the cotton lawn material with its ruffled hem falling to its fashionable length of mid-calf, the drawstring ties at the front of the bodice and the long sleeves, gathered at the wrist.

I absolutely adored that dress.

Matched with long, white socks and blue, sling back shoes with the merest hint of a heel, I was ready to go.

Something from Mum and Dad.  Can’t be bad, the best of both worlds.

Looking the Part. In Belgium, 1974, Brother and Sister (c) Sherri Matthews

Looking the Part. Or so we thought. In Belgium, 1974, Brother and Sister
(c) Sherri Matthews

The coat; the dress; the shoes. All gone, but not forgotten.   Just this photograph and my memories as a warm reminder of a time in my life very much defined by the style of the day.  Not to mention my brother’s nifty little ensemble.

When he said he didn’t mind me posting family photos on my blog, I hope he realised what he unleashed.

Actually, I like to think he enjoys these trips down memory lane, blue coat or not.

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This post is in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten.

Posted in Childhood Memories, Family Memoirs, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 105 Comments

December’s Guest Storyteller, Sherri Matthews

Sherri:

When the lovely and talented Sarah invited me to write a piece of flash fiction for her monthly Guest Storyteller feature, I was both honoured and absolutely delighted. Sarah is a speculative fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy author who also writes flash fiction, Haiku and tanka poetry (and posts some lovely photos too!) on her wonderful blog, one I greatly enjoy reading. I hope you will too, and also enjoy my guest story entitled ‘Chocolate Umbrella’, a seasonal story about a little girl’s discovery that she isn’t the only one in her family with a secret. Thank you so much Sarah, it has been a pleasure :-)

Originally posted on Sarah Potter Writes:

Sherri

Sherri is a freelance writer, published in a variety of national magazines, websites, and anthologies.  She is writing her first book, a memoir, and regularly publishes articles, memoir bites, flash fiction and poetry on her blog.  Having lived in California for twenty years, she now lives with her hubby, daughter and two cats in the West Country of England, where she walks, gardens and takes endless photographs.

You can connect with Sherri at

Blogwww.sherrimatthewsblog.com
Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/aviewfrommysummerhouse
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/sherri-matthews/60/798/aa3
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/103859680232786469097/posts

Memoir Book Blurb: http://sherrimatthewsblog.com/memoir-book-blurb/ )

 #

Sarah says: Welcome to my blog, Sherri, and thank you so much for contributing a most poignant and seasonal piece of flash fiction. In Sherri’s words: “This is about a little girl’s discovery that she isn’t the only one in her family who is keeping secrets”.

#

Chocolate Umbrella 

Emma knew magic because Daddy made…

View original 430 more words

Posted in Flash Fiction, Guest Blogs | Tagged , , | 36 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge

Lines and shadows, every pastel-painted wooden hut evenly spaced,
all converge
as they blend away into the distance.

Beach Huts and Shadows

A convergence of beach huts at Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

A convergence of beach huts & shadows at Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Memorial Benches line the grassy slope overlooking the sea, in peaceful solitude.

Memorial Benches overlooking West Bay, Somerset (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Memorial Benches overlooking West Bay, Dorset
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

A gathering of beach huts converge along the seafront, curving down towards the sea.
Little Wooden Boxes.

Budleigh Salterton August 2014 (34)

Budleigh Salterton Sea Front (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

A foam-washed wake from a ship’s stern splits a vast ocean;
then fades into the curved horizon.

Picture 329

View from Cruise Ship Arcadia’s stern – Caribbean, March 2006 (c) Sherri Matthews

And then, back on land, a path shimmers, radiating with light’s hope as it converges
into the darkness at the top of its climb…

A Path in Somerset (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

A Path in Somerset
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

…only to find light’s welcome on the other side.

Walk to Ranworth Church, Norfolk Broads, England (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Walk to Ranworth Church, Norfolk Broads, England
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

 

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A Merciful Interview: Bite Size Memoir

Money is on my mind. Not so much because Christmas is fast approaching, but because of my disgust at the way the media whipped us up into a frenzy of Black Friday shopping last week.  Watching the news that night, I know I wasn’t the only one to be horrified at the scenes of violence unfolding in one department store in Bristol as muggers shoppers pushed, kicked and punched their way to a great deal on a television set.

Must be worth it then.

What has happened to our society?  I bet those televisions weren’t even top of the line (as if that makes it better), but cheaper models with the lowest spec, the store managers wanting them off the shelves before bringing in the all-singing-all-dancing specials just in time for Christmas.

But they were dirt cheap, so they must be worth the violence.

The other reason I’ve got money on my mind is Lisa’s prompt for this week’s bite size memoir which is ‘interviews’.

As with most of us, I have many job interview memories that spring to mind, some good, some bad, but the one speaking loudest to my heart this morning is a different kind of interview, one that took place in 1994 and changed the course of my family’s life forever.

In 150 words, no more, no less:

The Merciful Interview

Thanks to the madman neighbour, we lost our home, savings and good credit rating.

Desperate to move, but unable to buy another house, we scoured the paper for house rental ads, only to meet with despair: either no pets allowed, or no longer available.

Then, at last, we found the ‘perfect’ home in a safe, quiet neighbourhood.  One worry though was that small pets were allowed, but we had a Labrador.

Eldest Son and our Lab/Collie Bonnie - 1984 (c) Sherri Matthews

Eldest Son and our Lab/Collie Bonnie – 1984 (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

We arranged to meet the owner the next day. As she showed us around, I knew this house was the ‘one’. Swallowing hard, I asked about our dog, promising full accountability.

“No problem,” she smiled. “Your dog is family.”

Hours later, after interviewing other prospective tenants, she called to tell us the house was ours. Her decision changed our lives. We lived there for five, happy years because a stranger gave us hope and the chance to begin again.

Posted in Bite Size Memoir, Family Memoirs, Pets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 119 Comments

A Day Of Thanksgiving

Where has the year gone?  Didn’t I just write about my Thanksgiving memories, an American holiday that I embraced in my adopted home for almost twenty years?

Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday here in the UK, but for my family, this time of year gives us another excuse for celebration: younger son’s birthday.  Once again, all my chicks will back in the nest, which makes this mum very happy indeed.

In California, the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday as it’s now known) was our traditional day for buying our Christmas tree.  In later years, this meant going to a nearby farm and selecting a living tree and reserving it, but we didn’t bring it home until after son’s birthday on the 29th.

Even so, this was very early by British standards.  It was a novelty for me to see so many people putting up their outside Christmas lights and decorating their trees the day after Thanksgiving.  Here, most people wait until closer to Christmas.

I rather liked the idea of decorating early though, and embraced it soon enough.  Now, I keep to my American ways and get the decs up as soon as possible.

Quite what my distant relatives would have thought of this, I have no idea. The story goes that my great-grandfather waited until Christmas Eve before going to Covent Garden (in London) to select a fresh turkey and a Christmas tree.

Later that evening, the family gathered around the tree, singing carols as they hung the decorations.  It all sounds very traditional, Dickensian even, but my blood runs cold at the very thought: how on earth can anyone pull off Christmas with so little preparation?

Although, if you were to ask my husband, he would say ‘Very easily!’  Indeed, as someone who waits until Christmas Eve to do all his shopping, I would say that he has it down to a fine art.

But enough about that.  Christmas will be here soon enough.  Meanwhile, please know that I shall be thinking of those of you enjoying Thanksgiving tomorrow as you tuck into your turkey with all the trimmings.

Our turn isn’t too far off…but a birthday to celebrate first and then I will take a short break from blogging until next week.  I hope that this holiday season brings some time of rest for my friends on the other side of the shining sea…

My cats have the right idea about relaxation:

Yes, right there, that's the spot... (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Yes, right there, that’s the spot…
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

I am so thankful for the many blessings in my life and for you dear family, friends and loved ones.

Wishing all my dear American friends a very

Happy Thanksgiving!!

See you soon…Love Sherri x

 

 

 

Posted in CATalogue, Family Memoirs, Family Traditions, Friendship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 80 Comments