Christmas Poem

Christmas at Sea

(by Robert Louis Stephenson)
The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
'All hands to loose top gallant sails,' I heard the captain call.
'By the Lord, she'll never stand it,' our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… 'It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,' he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Annual Christmas Fruit Cake Gala

With Christmas just around the corner
and lots of parties and food,
I thought I'd share a fun story I wrote 
for Faithwriters a few years ago.

The Annual Christmas Fruit Cake Bake-Off Gala

“Good evening. This is Cheri Bing, reporting for WHIP, in Quince Valley, Florida. I am standing outside the Capitol Convention Building, where we are expecting much to be happening here tonight. The Annual Christmas Cake Bake-Off and the State Christmas Gala are being held in the same hall because of a scheduling dilemma. 

“Tables are loaded with exquisite displays of culinary creations: a Black Forest Cherry Cake, a Festive Eggnog Cake, an Orange Marmalade Noel Cake, a Chocolate Yule Log, a Jewel Fruit Cake, and even a Coconut Cookie Tree. Band music is filling the air, and dignitaries are arriving by limousines. What a grand event this will be! 

“Here is Miss Linda Emmon, wife of Senator Meringue, arriving now, dressed in a yellow chiffon gown, topped with fluffy white stole. 

“Hello, Miss Emmons, could you tell us what you think of the Bake-Off and Gala occurring at the same time?”

“It’s an outrage! To think that we have to mingle with restaurant chefs and ordinary cooks. It’s enough to give me the shivers!”

“Thank you, Miss Emmons. Let’s go inside to get some other opinions. Here is someone in a dark plum outfit near the food tables.

“Excuse me, Ma’am. Could you tell me your name and what brings you here, tonight, the Bake-Off or the Gala?”

“My name is Candace Dumpling. I’m just here for the excitement. I love Christmas puddings, but I think any kind of cake or pie is scrumptious. I could just sit in a corner and eat one all by myself. Oh, this is so much fun! Did you know that because of the double scheduling, anyone can come…no invitations needed?”

“So, do you know any of the Cake Contestants?”

“Oh, yes, there’s George over there. He’s a peach, but a little young for me to date; still got fuzz on his chin…hee, hee!” 

“What’s the name of the band?”

“That’s The Concords! Aren’t they great? They’re whining, though, because they are squeezed into the corner and have to share the stage with The Pomegranate Ensemble, a foreign group for the Gala.”

“Well, thank you, Miss… oh, there she goes… Well, let’s talk to one of the cake contestants, Chef Ping Apple.

“Hello, Sir, what do you think of the competition tonight?”

“It’s quite a crowd all right! I hope things stay organized. I’ve spent twenty-three full hours working on my nine-layer cake. ‘Twould be a shame if anything happened to it.” 

“So you think you’ve got a good chance of winning?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I even brought my Granny, Ida Smith. It’s her recipe, and when I get the blue ribbon, I want to share it with her.”

“Well, that’s very considerate of you…and you, Ma’am, do you think he’ll win?”

“Hi, Dear. Yes, I think he has a good chance. My grandson may seem prickly on the outside, but he’s got a sweet inner core.” 

“Thank you, Mr. Ping Apple and Granny Smith. Now, I hear the music changing. It sounds like the Holiday Mixer Waltz. The floor is filled with swirling dresses of all colors: raspberry, cranberry, lime green, tangerine, and blueberry. 

“The Pomegranate Ensemble is now playing the Mango Tango. A couple dressed in black is strutting shoulder to shoulder across the floor, amid flickering specks of light. Wow! Look at them dip! What a pair!

“Anna Chiquita, dressed in a cream-colored skirt and satin slippers, is now singing ‘Feliz Navidad’, with The Pomegranates playing and people singing along.

“Now the Concord band has started playing ‘Holiday Hoe-Down Cobbler.’ The crowd is really getting into a party spirit. I think I better back out of the way. I can hardly hear myself, with all the clapping and foot stomping.

“Oh, no! Percy Simmons, with his sequined tuxedo, has backed into Mandy Rin, in the orange Chinese kimono. With her arms flailing, she’s trying to catch her balance, but grabs the edge of the tablecloth instead. Oh, no! There goes Chef Ping Apple’s nine-layer cake! It’s falling! It’s upside-down on the floor. He’s not too happy. Oh, I hope this doesn’t end in people throwing punches. I think it’s time for me to sign off.

“This is Cheri Bing, from station WHIP, in Quince, Florida. Merry Christmas!”

(with any purchase)

This story is included in
A Box of Christmas Candy
(A Country Store Collection)

Friday Fiction - In the Fog

I've gotten back into doing the Faithwriters Weekly Challenge
Here's my spooky entry for the topic - Fantasy.
(based on the photo at the end of the story) 


The fog closed in like a hungry invisible creature – stealing my vision, my hearing, and even my courage. 

My shirt clung to me in the chilly mist. All I could hear were the oars. 

“Splash” – into the silvery water, 
"Clunk” – against the oarlocks, 
“Drip, drip, drip” – back again. 

Day after day, I’d scrounged for clams in the sandy coves at low tide – a tiresome, boring job – until my hoe hit an old wooden chest. Stories were told of pirates along these shores, but I thought them only tales – until today. 

It’s mine. I found it.

The gray fog thickened. I couldn’t even see the water anymore. I felt like I was suspended between earth and sky – no up or down, no east or west. I stopped rowing with a frightening thought.

I could be heading into the open sea!

I heard a sound – like a far away lighthouse horn, but a wild and mournful bellow. I waited. It sounded again. Whatever it was, there had to be land, and I pulled my oars toward it. 

I stretched my arms and back, pushing my skiff through the water, until it grounded fast upon a sandy shore. Silence. The horn had stopped. The only sounds were the waves lapping the shore and a soft whisper of trees. 

Grabbing the coil of rope, I stepped over the edge. I slowly sloshed through the shallow water toward the shore and secured my boat. 

“HELLO!” I called, but I heard only the waves and whispering trees. 

I considered bringing my treasure ashore, but decided to leave it safely in the boat. I’d need only to wait until the tide turned. I hoped the fog would lift by then. I scrambled up beneath the dark trees. Under their sheltering branches, I laid my head on the crook of my arm for a few hours of rest. 

I awoke with a start!

Something had touched me – something I couldn’t see. My pulse beat in my ears. My eyes darted left and right. 

A shadow emerged from the fog – a creature, the size of a child, yet with the appearance of a very old man. He wore a large shell on a string around his neck. With his gnarly hand, he beckoned me to follow. We walked on and on, through dark pines and grassy meadows. He led me beside a smelly swamp and even across a swinging rope bridge. 

We finally arrived at a clearing with a fire in its midst. Its light revealed several more little men. Their clothing was dark, like mossy bark. Shaggy beards covered their faces, except for their eyes, which shone with reflected firelight. They stared at me without a noise. 

My guide offered me a steaming mug, and the others turned back to their discussion.

I took a sip. It tasted like honey cider. Sitting on a stump near the campfire, I listened. Their words were strange to me. They snacked on tiny shelled snails, cracking them like peanuts. 

Two men dragged a box into the clearing and opened its lid. They laughed and tossed some of its contents into the fire – which made the flames shoot sparkling cinders into the starry sky. 

It's my treasure! “Stop! You can’t have that! It’s mine. I found it!” 

They laughed and continued their game. Some tossed the coins up into the trees, where they got stuck high in the branches. It became a contest, and they all had a turn to see who could score the most. I shouted and tried to stop them, but the game went on until the box was empty. 

With their contest ended, they returned to their babbling conversations. I drank a few more rounds of hot honey cider until my mind got fuzzy with sleep.

I woke to a light flickering on my face. The sun was playing with fluttering golden leaves above me. The fog was gone – and so were the little men. There were no ashes or any gold coins. 

In only a few strides, I returned to the beach and also an empty skiff. With daylight to help, I searched for my missing treasure. I circled the tiny island with less than a hundred steps. 

Where was the forest, the swamp, or the swinging rope bridge? 

As I pushed off from shore, I noticed an over-turned stump. Its roots were positioned like arms and legs. Some moss hung down like a shaggy beard, and a large shell lay at its feet.

Friday Fiction - Bucky

This is an excerpt from my next novel, 
the sequel to A Home for Phoebe. 
She earns a penny a day for keeping 
a young neighbor boy out of trouble, 
but it's not easy. 


“Matthew! That goat is in the garden again!” Deborah hollered out the door, “Shoo! Shoo!”

The goat lifted his head and backed away from the flailing apron. His chin hair wobbled back and forth and he chewed.

Bucky wasn’t a cute little kid anymore. He weighed over a hundred pounds and sported two long horns. Every two or three days, Stanley would drive a tall iron stake into the ground to which Bucky was tied. Each morning, Matthew would slip the loop on the end of the rope over the end of the stake, and Bucky would munch on the grass and shrubs around it, clearing a circle each day. It was a good way to keep the lawn looking trim—as long as Bucky stayed tied.

He was getting so big that it took all of Matthew’s strength to pull him away from the garden. Sometimes, Phoebe was there to help. She’d push from behind, and he’d pull from the front until they got him closed in the barn. Bucky didn’t like being in there. He’d bang his head against the wall and bleat loudly over the injustice of being separated from his food.

Matthew couldn’t figure out how Bucky was getting loose. The rope wasn’t broken or chewed. The knot of the loop was still intact. He decided to watch and see how the goat was getting loose. Only Bucky acted very mild and obedient while Matthew sat nearby. Bucky would calmly graze around and around the stake and sometimes find a shady place to lie down for a nap and chew his cud. Matthew didn’t want to waste his time watching a sleeping goat. But it wouldn’t be long before his mother was hollering again about Bucky being in the garden.

Phoebe thought they ought to spy from a crack in the shed. Matthew’s father had moved the long stake to the back field behind the shed, where there was plenty of new grasses and flowers for Bucky to eat. He seemed content with his new surroundings, so Phoebe and Matthew decided to wait until the next day when most of the grass would be gone.

 “Here’s a good wide crack to watch him, Matthew.” She leaned her face against the rough boards.

Matthew scooted a crate next to her. “Let me see.” He gave a peek and then sat back. “This is going to be boring.”

Bucky lifted his head and looked toward the shed.

“Shhhh, he heard us.” Matthew whispered.

Bucky could see the garden behind the barn. He stretched the rope as far as it could go, but it didn’t come close to the carrot tops at all. He pivoted around and ran straight toward the pole.

“He’s going to butt it!” Matthew exclaimed.

But Bucky ran past the stake until the tension of the rope yanked on his neck, pulling his front feet off the ground. He turned and ran past it again, yanking on the rope the other way. He did this eight or nine times until the stake loosened in the ground and leaned at an angle. Then Bucky walked deliberately to it. He nudged the knot of the loop over the end of stake and he was free. He strutted proudly off to eat his fill of carrots and cabbages.

Matthew slapped his hand down on his knee. “That stupid goat is pretty smart!”

Phoebe giggled. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. I guess we better go get him before your mother finds out.”

Bucky didn’t want to be caught. He tromped through the green beans and peas, nibbling as he went. Whenever Phoebe or Matthew came close, he’d run off a few feet. Matthew tried to step on the trailing rope, but was pulled on his backside as Bucky continued on.

“OWWW! Come back here, you stupid goat!”

Phoebe found some wild clover and picked a handful. “Come, Bucky. Look what I have for you.” She waved the bouquet in front of the goat. He took a couple steps toward her. She backed up and he followed.

Matthew whispered, “Hey, keep going, Phoebe! He likes them.” Matthew stood up and brushed the dirt from his hands. “I’ll try to grab the rope while he’s watching you.”

“Come on, Bucky. Come get the delicious clover.”

Matthew crept forward with exaggerated slow motion steps until he reached the end of the rope. He grabbed the loop and twisted it around his arm. “I got it, Phoebe!”

Bucky wasn’t going to be caught that easily. He jumped and pulled and twisted and began running across the yard, pulling Matthew behind him.

“HEELLLPP!” Matthew’s feet dragged through the thistles and burdocks and rocks.

 Bucky pulled him around the house all the way to the front porch, where the steps anchored Matthew’s progress anymore. Matthew stood up and reeled the rope around his arm as he walked up the steps toward the cornered billygoat. “I’ve got you now.”

Bucky lowered his head and plowed into Matthew’s stomach, sending him sailing through the air. Phoebe arrived around the corner just in time to see him land head downward on the ground. She heard a CRACK!

“OWWWW! I’m dying! I can’t move my arm!”

Deborah ran out of the front door with little Sally on her hip. “What happened?”

Phoebe answered, “Bucky pushed Matthew off the porch. I heard a crack. I think he broke something.

(based on a true experience)

C . . . is for Call

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