Monday, December 10, 2018

The Sounds of Christmas

The Sounds of Christmas
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

            Winter has arrived.  I hear it when I’m very quiet and listen.
            The fireplace crackles, warming the house. Snow taps on the windowpanes and wind howls through the trees. Walking outside, my boots crunch in the snow. If I reach up and break an icicle off the shed roof, it snaps. When I hit the other icicles with it, they shatter and sound like breaking glass.

            I hear a cardinal calling and a wild canary tweeting at the birdfeeder.  A neighbor’s dog barks. A big snowplow rumbles along the street clearing snow. Snowmobiles zoom in the nearby field.
            Christmas is getting closer. I close my eyes and hear it. The electric mixer whirs. Bowls and cookie sheets clatter in the kitchen. The oven door opens with a quiet click. Ding, ding, ding! The timer rings to say the cookies are done and the oven door clicks open again.

            Time to decorate the Christmas tree! Mom wrapped a few ornaments in tissue and the paper crinkles as they’re unwrapped. An ornament shaped like a bell jingles. Another plays “Silent Night.”  Oops!  I dropped a glass one by accident and it smashed on the floor. That isn’t a nice sound. The vacuum makes a lot of noise sweeping it up.
           When Christmas gets even closer, every TV ad yells “Christmas Sale!”  I shop with Dad and Christmas carols play in every store, even stores for auto parts. Our doorbell rings often with the delivery person leaving boxes I’m not allowed to open.
            Wherever I go, I overhear people talking about Christmas. “What should I get Uncle Frank this year?” “Do you want to help me wrap?” “Don’t forget, Santa’s watching!”
            Christmas is a few days away. Mom streams Christmas music all day and dances around the house.  When we go out at night, Dad drives down streets we don’t usually drive on to see outdoor Christmas decorations and we sing. At home, popcorn popping means we’re going to watch a good Christmas movie.

            The day before Christmas has extra special sounds.  Our teacher saying, “See you next year!”  Mom and Dad’s car doors slamming— they’re home early!  Announcements over the loud speakers at the train station when we pick Grandma and Aunt Carmela up.  So many people are travelling, the station is noisy. Grandma exclaims, “You’ve grown!” when she sees me.  Aunt Carmela asks, “How are you doing in school?”
            On Christmas Eve, Grandma reads me “The Night Before Christmas” and because I like my book about turtles, she reads that to me, too. I go to bed really, really early, but I can’t sleep, so I open my window a tiny bit and try to hear Santa’s sleigh bells. I think I do, but they’re still far away. A car honks and our neighbor’s cat meows to go inside.
When I wake up, it’s 5:00.  The only thing I hear is the clock ticking. No one is up yet. I run down the stairs and see presents under the tree. I yell, “Come see! Santa was here!”
Mom, Dad, Grandma and Aunt Carmela trudge downstairs. The sound I remember best after that is tearing paper and happy laughter and for some reason, a few loud yawns.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published December 8, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME). 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Santa's Surprise Vacation

Santa’s Surprise Vacation
                 By Valerie L. Egar

Every year when Santa arrived home from delivering toys on Christmas Eve, he was exhausted. The elves helped the reindeer out of their harnesses and fed them, while Santa made his way to the house and tumbled into bed. Most times, he didn’t even have time to take off his boots before he fell fast asleep.
After a long nap, he awoke to a festive meal with all of the elves. Mrs. Claus was a wonderful cook, but without a good amount of Christmas magic, she would never have been able to serve Santa and hundreds of elves their favorite meals and dessert, because everyone favored something different.
Though Santa enjoyed turkey and Mrs. Claus’ delicious stuffing, the elves’ tastes varied. Spaghetti and meatballs, grilled hotdogs, buttered noodles, pot roast, fried chicken— only with magic was Mrs. Claus able to satisfy everyone.
After dinner, Santa always went to his office and started planning for the following year. “Honey, there’s plenty of time. Relax,” Mrs. Claus said. But, it was impossible for Santa to relax at the North Pole. Looking at snow from the window, he thought of sleds and snowboards and calculated how many he should make for children next year. Walking through the workshop, he sketched plans for new stuffed animals and began designing video games.
 Mrs. Claus knew that Santa needed a rest after all his work and that he would relax only if he was someplace other than the North Pole. She talked to the elves and they made a plan for a surprise vacation. When Santa came home from delivering toys and fell asleep, the elves wrapped him in a warm blanket and carried him to an airplane Mrs. Claus hired. Most of the elves climbed aboard too, leaving only a few faithful elves to take care of the reindeer and keep the house fires burning so it would be warm when they returned home.
When Santa awoke, he found himself on a beautiful tropical island in the middle of the ocean. The elves had decorated palm trees with twinkle lights and hung tinsel garlands on the bushes. A huge fir tree the elves hitched to the top of the airplane stood in front of the house, decorated with crystals that sparkled in the bright sun. 
Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves had the island all to themselves, except for a flock of pink flamingos that wandered back and forth on the beach. The white beach sand glittered like snow and it wasn’t long before the elves were jumping waves and playing water tag. “C’mon in, Santa! The water’s warm.”
Mrs. Claus handed Santa a pair of red swim trunks and one of the elves inflated a big inner tube. Santa floated on the water, enjoying the sun until the elves decided splashing Santa would be fun. Hundreds of little hands splashed water in Santa’s direction. Mrs. Claus could hear the elves giggling from the porch where she sat, enjoying the view.
 For two weeks, Santa swam, slept in the sunshine and read all the mysteries and fantasy novels he’d been meaning to read. The elves climbed trees, developed a taste for coconut milk, and built sand castles.
When they arrived back at the North Pole, everyone was tan, rested and ready to get back to work. Best of all, Santa had an idea for a new toy— a cuddly fuzzy coconut.  “The elves liked them so much,” Santa said. “And you can play catch with them.”
Mrs. Claus shook her head. “You already have cuddly soccer balls and footballs. What about a cuddly pink flamingo?”

Santa smiled. “What a good idea!”

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published December 1, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Special Christmas Present

A Special Christmas Present
          By Valerie L. Egar

Elka lived on the sixth floor of a ten story apartment building.  It wasn’t a fancy building with a uniformed doorman standing at attention at the front door, ready to hail a taxi. It was a plain brick building, older than most, across from a small park, around the corner from a falafel shop.
Elka liked where she lived because she loved the people in the building. Ms. Micelli lived on the seventh floor and taught at Elka’s school, always offering to help if Elka didn’t understand something. Mr. Harnanian, the superintendent, didn’t yell when he discovered Elka flushed the pimento and olive cream cheese sandwich her aunt made down the toilet and he had to unclog it. The Olson family down the hall always had a new baby to see and hold. Her best friend Alia waited to walk to school with her everyday, even when Elka was running late.
Mrs. Brinker, who lived in the apartment next door, was a special friend. When Elka’s mother worked late, Elka visited Mrs. Brinker. Mrs. Brinker had a huge television with all the cable channels and didn’t mind watching cartoons or kids’ movies. She laughed as hard as Elka at cartoon characters and cried with Elka if a movie animal died. She taught Elka how to play canasta and rummy. She never scolded if Elka added the scores wrong by mistake.

Elka loved listening to Mrs. Brinker’s stories about growing up in a small village in Denmark. She told a funny story about a nasty rooster who chased her around the farmyard, and another about a cow who came when she whistled. But, most of Mrs. Brinker’s stories were about snow. How beautiful the trees looked, their branches laden with snow. How the lights of the tiny village sparkled in the snow. The curtains of green and pink from the Northern lights reflected on the snow, her mother waking her late one night to see the wondrous display.

“I skied to my friend Maja’s house and to school. Every day, I glided over the snow until spring came. Most people liked to see the flowers popping up. I did too, but I still missed the snow.”
“Do you still like snow?” Elka asked.
Mrs. Brinker smiled. “Yes, I do, but I can’t do too much any more, except look at it outside my window.” She indicated her wheelchair. “No more skiing for me.”
As Christmas approached, Elka tried to think of a gift for Mrs. Brinker, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t think of a thing. She didn’t have much money, and Mrs. Brinker seemed to have everything she needed.
The day before Christmas, Elka woke and looked out the window. Glorious beautiful snow! She got dressed to go to the park and play when she had an idea. If she made a snowman, would Mrs. Brinker be able to see it?  She looked out the window and frowned. Unless it was huge, it would be hard to see from the sixth floor. Then, Elka had a better idea.
She searched the kitchen cabinet and found an aluminum pan her mother used to bake sheet cakes. She ran to the park and piled snow in the pan. While she was still outside in the cold, she made three small snowballs and placed them on top of each other, making a small snowman. She spread snow around it, so it looked like it was in a snow covered field.
She took two licorice drops from her pocket to make eyes, and a red cinnamon candy for his mouth. Two old pencils made arms and a scrap of felt from her craft supplies a hat. Done!
Elka rushed to the elevator and pushed the button for the sixth floor. She knew the snowman wouldn’t last, she had to hurry!

“Merry Christmas!” Elka shouted when the door opened.  She put the snowman in the center of the table. Mrs. Brinker put her fingers in the cool snow  and pet the snowman like it was a kitten.  She smiled at her wonderful Christmas present and at Elka, who made a perfect gift.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed with our permission from the author.
Published November 24, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, November 19, 2018

I Wish I Had a Polar Bear

If I Had A Polar Bear
                        by Valerie L. Egar

If I had a polar bear, I’d name him Blueberry, because after polar bears, blueberries are what I like best.
On Saturdays, Blueberry and I would stroll down Main Street and window shop. I’d point out the red bike in Mitch’s Bicycle Shop and he’d look at the smoked salmon in Gourmet World. Everyone would take pictures of us and post them on Facebook.  
After our walk, we’d stop for ice cream at Dairy Delight. I’d order vanilla for both of us and ask the server to please put his in a dish. I don’t think a polar bear can hold a cone, but I’d give him a taste of mine.
If I had a polar bear, I’d bring him to school. I’d tell him to be very quiet when the teacher talked. At lunchtime, he’d know to wait in line without pushing, even when pizza was being served.
 All the bullies would stay far away from us. If they wanted to make friends with him, I’d say, “Maybe. Blueberry has to think about it, he’s very particular.”
If I had a polar bear, I’d ask Coach Simmons if he could be on the soccer team.  A polar bear would be a great goalie and maybe our team would win for a change. I wonder if team shirts come in extra-extra-extra large?
If I had a polar bear, I would tell him my secrets and he would keep them, not like my big-mouth friend Jenna who told everybody in school about my pants ripping in the back when I bent down to pick up my pencil.
If I had a polar bear, we’d take a trip to the Arctic every year to visit his family. We’d dog-sled across the tundra with presents of herring and salmon lashed onto the sled. I’d remember to bring a good supply of peanut butter and jelly so I wouldn’t be hungry. I think fish is icky.
If I had a polar bear, we’d swim in the lake every day in the summer. If he used my inner tube, he’d pop it with his sharp claws, so I’d ask Dad to get him something nice he could use as a float, maybe a big log. Better yet, maybe Dad would let him float on top of the canoe.
If I had a polar bear, we’d go to the fair together. I’d buy him a funnel cake. If he liked cotton candy, I’d buy him that, too. I don’t think he’d like to ride on a Ferris wheel, but he might like to try the Merry-go-Round. If he did, I’d stay next to him, so he wouldn’t be scared.
If I had a polar bear, my friends and I would play hide and seek with him in the winter.  With all the snow, he would be hard to find and that would make us laugh.
If I had a polar bear, we would talk to the President and the United Nations about preserving the places polar bears live. Blueberry would convince them to do what’s right with his polar bear smile and big paws.
If I had a polar bear, he would hug me at night and I would fall asleep nestled in his sweet warm fur.
        I wish I had a polar bear!

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Copyright 2015 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.

Published August 23, 2015, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, November 12, 2018

Puppy Huxley, Chew, Chew, Chew!

                                 Puppy Huxley, Chew, Chew, Chew!
                                           By Valerie L. Egar

Layla lingered at the cage, gazing at the oversized puppy with black and golden fur who looked at her eagerly. One ear stood straight up and the other flopped down. He held his tail high in the air and it curled over his body like a question mark. “Are you sure he’s a puppy?” At five months old, the young dog weighed fifty pounds and stood tall as her school desk.
“Look how big his paws are. He hasn’t grown into them yet,” Dad said.
        “What kind of dog is he?” Layla asked.
The shelter’s adoption counselor smiled. “I’d guess a little collie, mixed with some golden retriever and maybe a hint of German Shepherd.”
“Sit,” Layla said. The dog sat. “Good boy, Huxley,” said Layla.
Layla nodded. “I saw the name in a book I read.”
 Huxley went home with his new family, but not before they stopped at the pet food store to buy puppy chow and a nice squeaky stuffed frog for Huxley to play with.
 Huxley liked his new toy, but he was curious and had to find out how it made noise. He held it down with one paw and tore at it with his teeth. Soon the stuffing and the plastic squeaker were on the floor. He carried the unstuffed frog to Layla. “Oh, Huxley!” she sighed.
Huxley liked discovering new things to chew. Mom brought in bags of groceries. Huxley stuck his head in every bag when Mom wasn’t looking. He found a box of tea bags, carried it to his dog bed and chewed it open. Tea smelled nice, but Huxley didn’t want to eat it. 
Dad hung pictures in his office and left the hammer on the floor. Huxley thought it looked a little like a bone. He carried it to his dog bed and chewed on the handle. Yuck! It didn’t have much flavor. Dad found the hammer decorated with tooth marks.
A bottle of water looked very interesting and it was easy to carry when Huxley grasped it by the top with his teeth. He carried it to his dog bed and gnawed on it. Eww! It made his bed wet.
The vacuum made too much noise. Huxley fixed it by chewing the electric cord off.
Magazines had wonderful scented paper perfume samples inside. Huxley loved how they smelled. Too bad he had to tear up the whole magazine just to get to them out.
 Huxley found a feedbag of nuts and dried fruit his family bought to feed the woodpeckers. Huxley put his head deep into the bag and gobbled the woodpecker food. It was delicious. “Are you a woodpecker?” his family asked. “That’s not for you, Huxley.”
When his family forgot to shut the closet door, Huxley explored inside and found piles of shoes. They had funny looking spiky sticks on one end and looked hard to walk on. They were made from leather though and rather tasty. He chewed a red one, a blue one and another that was an odd shade of brown.
“Good thing I don’t wear high heels anymore,” Mom said. “You’re helping me clear the closet, Huxley.”
Layla found him with a canister of oatmeal, the lid chewed off and oatmeal sprinkled all over. “Oh, Huxley,” Layla said. “When are you going to grow up?” 
Huxley’s family went to the store and bought lots of chew toys for him—fancy ones shaped like bones and rubber ones they stuffed with treats. Maybe, just maybe, he would chew on his toys instead of things he wasn’t supposed to chew, like table legs and TV remotes. Huxley enjoyed his new toys, but he was still a puppy and now and then, he still decided to taste something new.
“Oh, Huxley! Not my science homework!”

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published December 31, 2017, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).