Changing Rhyme Schemes, or: The not so perfect Christmas poem


T ’was the week before Christmas,
and I have to admit:
I wasn’t feeling the spirit;
not one little bit.

The stockings weren’t hung,
I didn’t know where they were!
This weather’s not festive.
It just makes me say “brrr”.

The world’s done crazy,
bad guys in control
and the good guys are lazy,
so we’re left in a hole

that would make the Grinch happy
with his heart way too tiny.
He’d think that this world
would be his kind of shiny.

Now, I’m not a Scrooge,
so don’t be mistaken;
I’ve just been so busy
my spirit was taken.

There hadn’t been time
to put up a tree
and entertain the family
(when it falls on me).

To save electricity
we hadn’t strung lights
to bring us some comfort
on those long winter nights.

My wife, deep in finals
for her last month in school,
and me writing fiction
like a publishing fool.

It seemed the holidays
would miss her and me
and even the dog
(who had wanted a tree).

So one night I came in
cursing the cold
and the ice, and the snow,
and all things in that mold.

But as I reached the door
feeling achy and slow
the oddest thing happened:
I was pelted with snow.

And then, with a curse
that would make Chef Ramsey proud
a man fell off the roof,
and his heavy bulk ploughed

right into the bush
I’d forgotten to trim,
which was now for the best;
or he’d have broken limbs.

He wore a red coat,
now all grungy and stained.
Twigs filled his beard.
His expression, quite pained

showed that his night
hadn’t gone very well.
“No, it hasn’t,” he said,
“In fact, it’s been heck.”
(Hey, he’s Santa. Santa doesn’t cuss.)

“A fighter from China tried to shoot the sleigh down;
The NSA’s bugging my base on the ground.
Over Syria I tracked three SAM missiles, inbound,
and I lost my left boot to a mad basset hound.

“To half the kids, thinking of me makes them sneer,
Alec Baldwin demanded some imported beer.
A hungry hunter took down half my reindeer,
and some ACLU moron tried to ban me, this year.

“My elves lost their insurance to that government goof,
my sleigh fell apart; seems it’s not so rustproof.
My big toe got smashed by Blitzen’s big hoof,
and to top it all off – now I fell off your roof!”

I could see the man’s point;
Things weren’t going so hot.
The way things are going,
he might have been shot

flying over some big city
where people are armed,
and don’t have much pity
for who might be harmed.

And care must be taken
when entering a house
where he might be mistaken
for some burgling louse.

But after a moment he smiled at me.
“It’s not really as bad as I make it to be.
Things always come up that you just can’t foresee,
Like when I got too close to that big honkin’ tree

that you really should trim, don’t you agree?
I wrecked when I swerved; think I fractured my knee.
And the sleigh’s now a wreck – see all the debris?
Think I’ll trade the thing in for a brand new Grand Prix.”

“Are you insane?” I asked him, I thought quite nicely.
“Sorry if I’m seeming a little too feisty,
but you almost got killed, and your sleigh is broke down,
and I think I saw Rudolph on a light pole downtown.”

“Don’t worry about Rudolph,” he said, with a grin.
“He’ll just hang out, relax, and kick back some gin.
I shouldn’t let him drink and lead teams, I suppose –
but how do you think he lights up that red nose?”

“How is this not so bad?” I asked when he paused.
“My insurance won’t cover a wrecked Santa Claus.
And those deer are destroying my roof with their paws.
Don’t you think you were breaking some low flying laws?”

“Don’t fret about that,” He replied with that grin.
I never leave traces – now, where have you been?
Christmas magic will fix this, and also my shin.
so stop being moody – up with that chin!”

“It’s been a rough year,” I tried to explain.
With writing included, I’ve been working two jobs.
Our health has been iffy, and there’s been some pain,
And my wife’s college finals have given her probs.”
(lems. Problems. What do you want from me? I write prose.)

Shaking his head, St. Nick gave me a look.
“You had a bad year? Why, you published a book!
You have a great wife, and a home, and a dog,
and hundreds of followers reading your blog.”
(Well, dozens.)

“So you had a bad day! Suck it up now, and think
of the ways in which your life doesn’t stink.
Your family all loves you, and they’re not too bad.
No felons on death row, no deadbeat dad.

You’ve water to drink, and your cupboards are stocked,
and you haven’t been charged by the feds that you’ve mocked.
As for the rest, yes, we sometimes get sad,
but Christmas is more than having and had.

It’s about faith, and caring, and having some hope,
and doing for others, and learning to cope
with the cold, and the snow, and occasional dope.
So be of good cheer, and that kind of trope!”

It’s possible my heart grew three sizes that night.
Well, probably not, but I must say the sight
of St. Nick tooling off in his brand new Grand Prix
Gave me hope for us all … and especially me.

So my wish to you is more of the proof
that I picked up that night when he fell off my roof.
I hope that you see metaphorical dawn –
And don’t have a sleigh mess to clean off of your lawn.
Happy birthday to my wife/partner/editor/web guru/soon to be college graduate Emily!

A Lovers Dance
By Ernsalite Menard
A lovers dance is patient and kind
It feeds your heart, soul and mind
It brings you joy and happiness within
Knowing that he or she will be with you
Through thick and thin.

Christmas Around The World: They Think We’re Odd


            Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson honungradon nagwutut. Ojenyunyat osrasay!

            No, I didn’t position my fingers wrong on the keyboard. It doesn’t quite have the flow of “Merry Christmas”, but I’m told that’s the way the Iroquois say it. Turns out most Native American tribes don’t have a term for “Happy Thanksgiving”.

            Just as they have different ways of saying it, people around the world have different ways of celebrating the holiday season. Just to give you an idea, I looked up some of the ways Christmas is celebrated around the world.

For instance, South Africans often have an open-air lunch for Christmas. It’s summer down there, after all.

            Try an open-air meal here in the Midwest for Christmas and you’ll spend the rest of the holidays getting thawed out.

            And yet South Africans don’t hang bikinis from their nonexistent fireplaces; just like up here, children hang stockings, probably from the air conditioner.

            In Ghana, Christmas season coincides with the cocoa harvest, so for them it’s a time of profit while they also make the rest of the world very happy.

            Like here they have a big meal, with includes such items as okra soup and a yam paste, called fufu. Fruitcake doesn’t sound so silly now, does it?

            On the subject of food, Alaskan holiday treats involve maple-frosted doughnuts and – yum! – piruk, also known as fish pie. After eating the pie some adventurous young Alaskans indulge in the dangerous sport of breathing on polar bears.

            In Australia, Santa often arrives on a surfboard or a boat. I mean along the coast, of course. Australians have a Christmas Bush, a native plant with little red flowered leaves, which knowing that place is probably poisonous. They have a Christmas pudding with a treat baked into it, and if you find it you get good luck. Back during the gold rushes Down Under, those treats often consisted of gold nuggets. Break your teeth on those and … you don’t mind.

            In Austria, the beginning of Christmas is marked by the feast of St. Nicholas. Nick would go around asking children for a list of their good and bad deeds … while accompanied by the devil. I can’t help thinking the kids took that pretty seriously.

            Not to be outdone, Belgium has two Santa Claus ... Claus’s … Clauses … Santas. One is St. Niklaas, the other Pere Noel. They often get into WWF style cage fights to determine which gets to drive the sleigh.

            No, actually Pere Noel goes to those who speak the Walloon language, which is kind of like the Balloon language only not so inflated. He goes first on December 4th, on what amounts to a welfare visit, then returns on December 6th to bring presents to good kids, and twigs to bad one. What happens to bad kids who want twigs, I don’t know.

            St. Niklaas goes to the part of the country called “Flemish”, where they speak Dutch instead of French. It’s kind of like the difference between speakers in Massachusetts and South Carolina, in that they live in the same country but can’t understand each other. But St. Nicholas isn’t there to celebrate Jesus’ birth – he delivers presents on December 6th, his own birthday. I guess Christmas itself must be pretty anticlimactic.

            On the other side of that, in Egypt and Ethiopia Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. I’d imagine they’re pretty darned sick of Christmas songs by then.

            In Brazil, they believe Papai Noel comes from Greenland, which as we all know is white. But when he comes down to South America he wears silk clothing – remember, summer down there. The surfer shorts and Hawaiian shirts are a bit jarring, and more than once he’s come close to getting his sandal-clad feet smashed by reindeer hooves.

            Bulgarians make Christmas wishes around the fire while eating blood sausage. You heard that right.

            Canadian celebrations are more or less similar to those in the US, except Canadians traditionally sit around practicing their politeness and comparing frostbite scars.

            However, in Nova Scotia there are wandering hoards of masked mummers (also a movie starring Brendon Fraser), who go around making noise and daring people to guess who they are. On the other side of the continent, Eskimos (who are no longer called that) have a big winter festival called Sinck tuck, in which they dance around a fire made of sleighs, Santa outfits, and pretty much anything else that will burn.

            In Costa Rica, models of the stable where Jesus was born are so big they fill an entire room. They would then have room for the animals, which I’m sure would make it more realistic but also a nightmare for the cleanup crew.

            The Czech Republic is where the good King Wenceslas, famed in song and story (well, one song), comes from. His Christian beliefs and overall goodness infuriated his mother, who apparently thought he wasn’t bloodthirsty enough (maybe she should have fed him blood sausages?) so her other son murdered him on the church steps. You won’t find this in modern day Christmas TV specials.

            On Christmas Eve in Denmark, parents secretly decorate the tree with homemade wood and straw baubles, which you can now order with free delivery from

            For Christmas in England, it traditionally rains.

            In France kids leave their wooden shoes, called sabots, in the hearth to be filled. Sometimes they’re left too close to the flames and catch fire. This leaves Pere Noel scorched and believing it was done on purpose, an act that to this day is called sabotage.

            And finally, Christmas in the Bethlehem is … kind of traditional.

            However you celebrate Christmas, make it a fun one and, as they say in the Philippines: Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!

            I’ll bet their holiday banners are bigger than ours.

Christmas short story in insert

For those of you who might be around northeast Indiana, I should have a short story in the Christmas insert for this week's Albion New Era, Churubusco News, and Northwest News. The story features characters from three of my works: Storm Chaser, Storm Chaser Shorts, and The Notorious Ian Grant, although it's not directly connected.

In "Another Family", Indiana State Trooper Chance Hamlin and Police Detective Fran Vargas are headed home for the holidays when they encounter a snowstorm ... and inside it, something -- or someone -- much more unexpected.

Don't worry, I will be posting this story at all my usual places -- during Christmas, 2014! After all, it's the newspaper that pays me, so I like to send business their way.

One More Class For The Road

            We drove down to IPFW tonight for Emily’s last classroom session (she still has a final test coming up). The roads were so-so, and will probably be worse on the way home; I think my annual prediction of a very bad winter is going to come true, this year.

            I’m going to miss this place … of course, I didn’t have tests. I’m taking advantage of her classroom time to do some final polishing of Radio Red before it goes out to – somebody.
I have Lateral Epicondylitis! The doctors say I might not make it, and that I should start making out my will and testament, maybe sooner rather than later. If only I hadn't eaten that strange green stuff during my trip to Mexico ...

Oh, who am I kidding? It's still just tendonitis. It's flared up and won't go away for some reason, but it's not serious, just painful. They gave me a shot of something -- and not in my arm, if you catch my drift -- and told me to take ibuprofen, put greasy stuff and heat on it (the elbow, not the ibuprofen), and don't do any heavy lifting or work. Apparently keyboarding isn't a problem, so I maintain my wild and crazy lifestyle.

But considering the time of year, I was a little curious about how I was going to shovel snow on my sidewalk and driveway. By curious, I mean worried. It was suggested I buy ice-melt chemicals by the ton, but that seemed like cheating ... besides, the doc told me to cut down on salt.

I figured I could do it by mostly just using my left arm, which is of course a recipe for disaster, and after it stopped snowing last night I grabbed the lighter of my two snow shovels and headed out. There I discovered someone with a snowblower had made a path along the length of the sidewalk in front of my house, and up my front walk all the way to the steps.

Then I went around to the driveway, which I saw had been completely plowed except for the concrete pad where the car was parked.

For the first I suspect one neighbor, as I spotted a snowblower on his front porch. For the second I suspect my other neighbor (who I share the driveway with), because there was a skidloader parked behind his house. My part of the task ended up being considerably less than I expected, which is good because my arm will never heal if I keep heading out to do dumb things.

Nice people. They're out there.

Twerking Away Your Selfie Respect


             Would you like a selfie? How about a twerk?

           Your confusion could be understandable, especially if you’re not on the internet much. (Are there many people besides my grandmother who aren’t on the internet?) The good news is that if you don’t know these terms … you’re probably better off.

           So what are they? Do you order two more selfies for the road? Is a twerk a pair of high school nerds? Is either one something you’d better do with the curtains closed and the door locked? Can you have a selfie twerk?

           (Turns out you can.)

           Most important, why are we even having this conversation?

           The answer to that last is easy: The Oxford Dictionary has legitimized selfie by making it the 2013 word of the year, while twerk came in a close second.

           Who gives the folks at Oxford the right to decide what should be added to the English language? Well … they do, I guess.

           There were other runners-up, including bedroom tax. This has to do with a change in the British welfare system that penalizes people who the government decides have too much room. Apparently some people listed such things as blisters and acne to explain why they were unable to work (and needed taxpayer money) so they overhauled the system.

           I say, it depends on where the blister is.

           Another “word” that’s actually two is binge-watch, the process of watching multiple TV episodes of the same show in a short time. I’ve been guilty of this starting as far back as Buffy the Vampire Slayer … luckily for my health, my wife likes all the same shows I do but doesn’t like to watch too much TV at a time. Other people are apparently moving entertainment centers into their bathrooms.

           Then there’s Schmeat, also known as synthetic meat, which apparently is made out of petroleum oil, or something worse.

           Another is bitcoin, a digital currency, which in reality doesn’t have any value but is treated as if it does. Kind of like the American dollar.

           Then there’s olinguito, a South American mammal used to make schmeat and bitcoins, which in the wild has been known to twerk.

           Certainly twerk is the best known of the runners-up, thanks to a former child performer-turned sleazy sexpothead (that’s a word I just coined) named Miley Cyrus. (Sexpothead … I like it.) Miley – I feel she’s on a first name basis with everyone – did what appeared to be a deep squat exercise while attempting to lick the face of a fan in row eight.

           Some people are calling that a dance.

            Nobody knows for sure where the word came from, but its technical description is shaking the hips in an up and down bouncing motion, causing the dancer’s … um … bottom to shake, wobble and bounce. Some people find this arousing, apparently. I missed Miley’s performance, but for this column I watched a video of it.

            My reaction: I alternated between giggling and dry heaves. Ginger Rogers danced; Miley Cyrus has uncontrollable convulsions.

            Let’s move on to the winner, selfie. It may be a little silly, but unlike twerk it doesn’t make me feel like I need to shower.

            Selfie is a term that simply means taking a photograph of yourself. That’s it, although it usually also means that photo ending up on the internet. Rule number one of posting photos on the internet: Don’t do it while drunk.

            According to Yahoo News, the very authority on something, the first known use of the term came from an Australian online forum post in 2002:

            "Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie."

            Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? I’m happy to say a photo did not accompany that quote.

            Apparently Australians have a thing for changing words to end with ie … i.e., “Put a shrimp on the barbie, but don’t drink too many tinnies of beer or the firies might have to come put out the flames.” Kinda scarie.

            In 2012 the word exploded, and since then we’ve been bombarded with photos people take of themselves, or themselves with their friends, their pets, their cars, celebrities, or twerkers. There’s been a 17,000 percent increase in the usage of that word, which is what caught Oxford’s attention.

            Selfies can be silly, but I don’t criticize the photo takers much (as long as they’re not twerking at the time). Why? Because I take selfies myself. I can count on one hand the number of photos of myself I like – ever – and yet I’m constantly taking photos of me, my wife, the dog, or all at once, often accompanied by a huge thing along the side that can only be my arm. It’s fun, and I no longer have to pay for film. Narcissistic, you say?

            Yeah, but at least I’m not twerking.

            I tried once.

            I got over it thanks to ibuprofen, my chiropractor, and a deep sense of shame.

Storm Chaser Shorts snippet: from "Bar Fight"

Here’s a snippet from the opening of Bar Fight, the third story in my collection, Storm Chaser Shorts. The story’s being told by State Trooper Chance Hamlin, about one of the main characters in my upcoming novel, The Notorious Ian Grant:

Bar Fight

“I can remember the first moment I knew Fran Vargas would someday make detective. I’d answered a report of a disturbance at a bar, one of those downtown holes in the wall with a door, a plate glass window, and a tiny parking lot in the back. A few minutes earlier some guy showed up at the police station downtown, his face a bloody pulp, to claim he’d gotten jumped for no reason as he left the bar.

“There’s always a reason.”