What I’ve Missed Most

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Spending time in the U.S. again, both in Florida and now in Texas, gives me a new foundation for making comparisons between Scotland—where I’ve spent the past seven years—and America. What I’ve missed most…

Family.

A plethora of churches, every denomination and non-denomination; plenty of “God Bless America” banners, and “Merry Christmas.”

Blue Cheese Dressing. For seven years, salads have never tasted this good.

Buffets. All you can eat from a colossal assortment of restaurants.

Free refills. On beverages at restaurants, along with wait staff who return several times, always with smiles and offers to top up iced tea, coffee, or sodas.

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Outdoor Christmas decorations replete with Nativity Scenes and awash with colored lights on houses, trees and along yard borders.

Sun and warm weather. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt in December.

Steak. Huge, affordable, tender steaks.

Houses of different colors. Here in Laredo, Texas, houses follow the rainbow. Outside colors include lilac, pink, turquoise, blue, purple, yellow, orange, magenta, lime green, red-brown, gold, Jesus Is Alive Green…house colors are only limited by the owner’s imagination and preference.

Cactus. Of all shapes and types—growing in yards and rock flowerbeds.

Wildlife. Including reptiles like turtles, snakes, and lizards.

Family. I’ve missed family most. Blue Cheese Dressing isn’t even in the running…really.

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P Choices: People or Phones

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It’s been wonderful beyond description spending time with people—meaning my family members in Tampa, Florida. This side of heaven, I can’t imagine anything sweeter—and now we are on our way to Laredo, Texas, to visit the rest of the family.

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Therefore, it wounded me watching a family at the table next to us at a local restaurant. Three adults sat on one side of the table playing with their phones. A toddler sat on the other side of the table—screaming. The child was crying so hard that her face was pinched, her cheeks wore white patches, and she was shaking. Not a single one of the adult women even glanced up from their phone screens.

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The child screamed so loudly that two elderly ladies in a booth across from the table motioned the waitress over and demanded to be moved somewhere else. And, still, the three adult women sat zoned out in front of phone screens.

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Psalm 127:3 says that children are a heritage of the Lord. Psalm 107: 41 says, “God sets the poor on high, far from affliction, and makes their families like a flock.” Those folks at the restaurant chose phone over people—over their own children and family. Tragic. Unbelievably tragic. Family is our only gift in this life that follows us into eternity.

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World’s Worst Shopper

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Perhaps I’m not the world’s worst shopper—but I must be close.

I hate shopping. Media hype insists that women have a “shopping gene.” I don’t. To me, shopping is a waste of time. I’d rather be writing, painting, walking, doing rockwork, mixing cement, taking photos of dangerous animals.

I already have everything I need. I couldn’t always say this. There were many times as a single parent when I counted out coins, sold my valuable coin collection to have enough money to go to the laundry mat, took additional jobs including climbing ladders to pick apples—did anything that was needed to get what was needed. But I am blessed. I’m not wealthy, I don’t have extra—but I have enough.

Ads are wasted on me. I’m too busy. Be it through the mail, on the computer, or on billboards, ads don’t sway me. I don’t see them. I don’t read them. For me, they might as well not exist.

If being broke transformed a person into a shopper, I should thrive in shopping malls. I lived under a bridge. I washed myself and my clothes in the river—winter and summer. I traveled around the U.S. looking for employment in states that paid more money to workers. I drove to new locations with everything I owned in the back of the pickup truck and slept on top of the load because I didn’t have money for a motel. But I hate shopping.

That being said, I love giving. And sometimes, giving to someone requires a shopping trip.

If my abhorrence of shopping seems weird to some folks, that’s okay. My assurance is in 1 Timothy 6:6, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain,” and in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned whatever state I am, to be content.”

I hate shopping—and I’m content with that.

Uvalde Bible Land (I did the cement work, not the figures

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Marine Climate & Common Sense

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Because I’m from Texas and grew up in southern U.S., I’m accustomed to hot temperatures and extended dry periods.

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Getting acclimatized to Dunoon, Scotland, has been a challenge. It doesn’t rain every day—it rains almost every day. It has probably reached 70F during the “summer” a few times, but it hasn’t gone much above that. Mostly, I wear the same number of layers, the same jackets—and at times even the same woolly hat—summer and winter.

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One of my pet peeves is labels because they are misused. Labels that judge, condemn and hurt are wrong and not beneficial. And I hate politically correct labels like calling abortion “choice” instead of murder, and attempting to soften the blow of transgression by calling sin “risky lifestyles.”

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Some labels create a chuckle: “Warning, take child out before washing.” Or on a garden implement: “Not intended for human consumption.” Way to go me; I eat hammers for breakfast and spit out nails for the rest of the day.

Now I’ve found a label that explains why we wash clothes and hang them around the house (rain outside) and it takes them three days to dry. We live in a “Marine Climate.”

Finally! A common sense label.

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It Has Happened

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It has happened. Trees shivering their leaves off limbs and me shivering right along with them in empathy, sympathy—or just because I’m cold.

I hate cold. I hate being cold. I hate winter. I have always hated winter. There are very few things in this life I hate: fire ants, scorpions inside the house, winter, being cold.

All three of my winter memories are bad. When I was eleven, I took three cute brown and white puppies home without asking my parents first. I expected my parents to see the puppies, fall in love with them, and agree we could keep them. They didn’t. I had to take the puppies back, walking several miles through snow in canvas shoes with holes in them and wearing no gloves. I suffered severe frostbite on my toes and fingers. To this day my fingers quit working when it drops under 75F, and since it is nearly always cold here in Scotland, I spend part of my working day at the computer sitting on my hands to warm them up.

My second winter memory is worse; cutting, stacking, and carrying ice-crusted logs into the house for the fireplace—without gloves. Our family was too poor to buy gloves. Have I mentioned about my hands? Pain as severe as slowly freezing human limbs is hard to describe—and even harder to forget.

The third winter memory is taking Luke to cut a live Christmas tree when he was four. He had the necessary outfit: snow boots, snowsuit, coat, and gloves. Being a single mom supporting her child—I did not. This was deeper and colder snow—if that’s possible, and we were in it for a long time while Luke searched diligently for the perfect Christmas tree. Me—wearing canvas shoes and blue jeans—by the time Luke found his tree I would have gladly settled for a tin can and a twig.

The good thing about being a writer is that it’s okay to stay inside working—until life intrudes and forces you outside. Then it’s still winter, I’m still cold, I still hate the winter.

Psalm 74:17 says of God, “You have set all the borders of the earth; You have made summer and winter.”

Since God made winter, He has a purpose for it. That means my job is to be happy for those who enjoy the winter and follow the advice in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks.”

So I am thankful. I am thankful that winter ends.

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Pinnacles

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The sad bad thing about reaching a pinnacle is that once you reach the apex, the rest of the trip is down. Another word for down is…depressed.

Not to worry; thanks to the joy of the Lord, I find it impossible to be depressed. But at the moment, I am sad to have the second in the Fog Busters Mystery series—young at heart detectives who are a bit older in body—finished and released because it means reining in my writing until after the first of the year. Writing is exhilarating. I only feel totally alive when I’m writing.

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To continue with research for the next Fog Busters, I climbed a mountain. A small mountain. Not all the way to the top. But it gave me the experience I needed of fighting through Scottish heather, bog, and tangled undergrowth including shoulder-high bracken, and falling into unseen holes in the ground. It also gave me a feel for what the older detectives would be experiencing since I’m nearly 67.

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The good thing about waiting to finish the third book of the series is the reason behind the wait. I’m visiting family members for Christmas. Spending time with family members trumps even writing. It will be a joy to see them again. And what a beautiful time of the year to visit—Christmas. The joy of the Lord is our strength and Christmas is the time we celebrate the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

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Writing can wait. Joy is immediate.

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It Won’t Happen to Me

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Positive, optimistic thoughts are fantastic. Except the, “it won’t happen to me,” syndrome that causes risky behavior to flourish.

Alan’s mom reached birthday number 102 in the hospital battling pneumonia. Others in her ward are battling smoking-caused illnesses. Those tempted to smoke should visit a similar hospital ward and hear the choking coughs and gurgling breaths. They should watch smokers throwing up food, coughing up brown yucky stuff, and struggling to stand and walk. They should note the pale complexions, hooded eyes, and collapsed veins that have been used for life saving measures. They should attempt to fathom the confused conversations of smokers whose brains are not receiving enough oxygen to function properly.

Reckless driving, drinking alcohol, consuming unhealthy diets are all avoidable and all powerful enough to kill, or to ruin a life. If the “it can’t happen to me” syndrome held true—tragedy would be eliminated.

God created a perfect world and never intended illness, death, sorrow, and tragedy to be a part of it. Sadly, when sin entered—it brought all its relatives. Folks do grow old, they do become ill. But let’s not make it our fault that our bodies are compromised.

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” 1 Corinthians 3:16&17

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Rainbows and Tears

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Most people love God’s colorful writing in the sky when rainbows stretch across the horizon touching the earth with ribbons of pigment. But most people sigh, grumble, and fume over clouds and rain—predecessors to vividly tinted sky.

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Just as one really can’t make lemonade without lemons—so, too, one can’t have rainbows without rain.

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Life is like that. Poverty, illness, injury, sorrow, death—life is filled with lemons and storms. No one likes hardship and pain. Yet, hardship and pain grow, strengthen, and develop us for success.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:3&4

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By Example

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Husband and fellow author Alan McKean and I strolled around the neighborhood. A neighborhood child ran up and asked, “What’s wrong with him?”

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

She pointed at Alan. “What’s wrong with him?” she asked again. “You’re holding his hand.”

How utterly sad that this child has apparently never seen a demonstration of love and thinks people only hold hands when they need help.

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Recently, I laughed at a video of a kitten watching its mother wash herself and attempting to imitate her actions. Even animals learn by example.

Children learn more from example than words. Research for my next Christian Cozy Mystery with the Fog Busters—amateur detectives young at heart and a bit older in body—took me to Peter Macnab’s “Tall Tales From an Island,” Mull in Scotland. It introduced me to pirate Alan na Sop who was viciously abused by his stepfather. He ran away from home, turned to piracy, and eventually returned home to be welcomed by his stepfather. When Alan realized his stepfather’s belated expression of affection was deceitful—aimed at cajoling him into killing a childhood friend so the stepfather could take over his friend’s property—Alan killed his stepfather and took over his family’s land. How much of the violence and robbery he committed after leaving home was a direct result of the example his stepfather had set for him?

Jesus said in John 13:15, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” What did Jesus do? He loved us so completely and unconditionally that He died for our sins so we could follow Him to heaven. He told us that we were to love others as He loves us.

Love is always the right example.

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Joy, Real Joy

 

Dunoon, Scotland sponsored a great event this past weekend, the Cowal Highland Gathering. Tens of thousands attended to watch and participate in the dancing and pipe and drum band competitions. The event wrapped up with a parade down the main street in Dunoon and fireworks at Argyll Ferries.

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The event is so popular that Western Ferries operated a four-boat service with around 550 sailings over a five-day period, and Argyll Ferries operated a three-vessel service during the games on Saturday. It was fun. It was wonderful to see families celebrating together and neighbors greeting one another. I loved watching the dogs that attended the event, so proud to be there with their families.

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It was great fun—but not all of it was joy. Sadly, we watched a teen stumble up the steps to the main street, marijuana joint in hand, pausing to pass it around to his buddies. The kid was so wiped out that he couldn’t walk—he could barely stand. That is not joy.

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Psalm 16:11 says that the fullness of joy is found in the presence of the Lord. Jesus said that the secret of full joy is found in living for Him. The games were fun and entertaining, but those of us who met at New Life Christian Fellowship on Sunday after the games experienced real, lasting joy; joy so full and overflowing that we took it home with us.

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