Monday, December 29, 2014

The Family Prankster - Me!

This is a story that was published a few years ago in Not Your Mother’s Book – On Being a Stupid Kid. I thought you might enjoy reading it in this lull between holidays. It’s a bit longer than what I usually post, but I think you’ll enjoy learning about what a rotten kid I was way back in the day. I had a rather rowdy, antic filled childhood. Maybe you can relate?

Stalking the Sitter
Or How I Scared the Poop Out of My Sister
By Susan Sundwall

I don’t remember what I had going on that night, but when I got home Mom informed me that my sister, Shari, had taken a babysitting job that was ordinarily mine. In a family of seven kids money for extras was scarce so those sitting jobs were a nice little income stream for me, and I grumped about it as I headed for my room. I opened my dresser drawer and took out the envelope – the one that was full of my babysitting money. Well, maybe not full, but the seven dollars inside represented a goodly number of hours especially at fifty cents per. I hoarded every greenback in those days but tonight, thanks to Shari, there wouldn’t be any greenbacks to stash.

I was always the prankster in the family and as I tucked my money away, I thought of her, watching a little girl and her brother only two doors down. We lived in Southern California, in a development with a cul de sac. I babysat for about half of our immediate neighbors and others on streets one and two over. Well, the demon of pranking came and hopped onto my shoulder and the brilliance of the plan he offered was too much to resist.

What if I put on the stupid vinyl coat Mom had talked me into buying (it went down to my ankles and was hotter than an Anaheim pepper to wear) and grabbed one of Dad’s old hats from the hall closet? What if I slithered out of the house and slunk through the two yards between our house and where Shari was babysitting? I knew the property front and back. I knew the latch on that side gate had no lock. Wouldn’t it be hilarious to creep through the gate and knock on the back door, address her in a deep scary voice and die laughing when she nearly passed out from fright? I sincerely hoped she’d shriek and wet her pants.

I had to wait until everyone else in the house was busy before I could successfully launch my plan. The younger kids were glued to the television, Mom was in her bedroom, and Dad was in the garage. When it seemed safe I grabbed the coat and hat and managed to get out of the house un-detected. I quickly made my way across two lawns sincerely hoping no nosy neighbors were outside at that hour. My heart was hammering as I put on the hat and coat. I got to the gate, slipped through and stood at the back door. I knocked.

At first nothing happened. The back door was off the laundry room and I could see light from the living room just beyond the washing machine. I figured Shari was in there on the sofa watching television. The kids were probably already sound asleep. I knocked again, louder, and then saw her head pop round the corner into the dark laundry room.

“Who’s there?” she asked tentatively.

 “Is Sharon here?” I said gruffly.

“What?” she said, still with only her head showing. Her eyes were huge!

“Is Sharon here?” I asked, a little louder.

“Who is it?” she asked in a shaky voice, gripping the wall. “What do you want?” Her terror was on the rise and my mirth overflowed.

That’s when I lost it. I whipped off Dad’s hat and started laughing. “Did I scare you?” I gasped. I knew I had, but when she recognized my voice she charged through the laundry room shaking with rage. I got the prank gene and she got the rage gene – I should have remembered that!

“You creep!” she yelled, whipping on the back porch light. “You scared me to death. I didn’t know who you were!”

Which was the point, I thought. But the wrath in her voice was palpable and what she said next wiped the joy off my face.

“I’m telling Mom! She’s gonna kill you!”

Now mind you, I’d sat at the sibling negotiating table many a time. This was the place where you brought your arsenal of held back knowledge – knowledge of sister wrongdoings with which to make life saving deals. And now I had to bring out the big guns. Creeping around late at night in dark clothing and scaring the poop out of your younger sister was a mobster worthy prank.

“If you do, I’ll tell about you and Wendy smoking out behind the Seven 11,” I shot back. Wendy was our next youngest sister.

“Oh, yeah? I saw you sneak out with that Roger guy the other night! You were kissing him in the alley!”

Man, things were getting dicey here. I’d have to be a bit more cautious with my sneaking and pranking from now on. We traded volleys for a while and I finally decided the only thing I could do was apologize. So I did. By that time Shari had settled down, the kids hadn’t awakened during our little go round, and I skedaddled for home. No nosy neighbors saw me darting back over the lawns, for which I was grateful.

The next morning Shari and I eyeballed each other across the breakfast table. Each knew what the other was thinking. I felt I had the upper hand with the smoking thing on her. And I was pretty sure she was going to investigate any mob connections I might have.

 As it turns out the shenanigans of that evening went down in the family annuls as a classic tale – a “Sue story,” if you will. We’ve regaled each other and the family with it at various gatherings over the years and now our children and soon our grandchildren will get to hear that story along with so many others in our respective arsenals.  

And you probably already know this, especially if you’ve ever been accosted by the demon of pranking yourself, a good prank is something that just keeps on giving.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Taking a Week Off

I’ll be breaking for Christmas. Just a week or so. I’m cooking and cleaning for 19 this year and the day Looms. So, off I go to begin the glorious rush to be ready. Here’s a repeat I thought you might enjoy – if you have time. Busy, busy. Right?

Last night I let myself listen to a few Christmas songs. My very, very favorites are by John Rutter. Exquisite music and lyrics that set an idyllic mood for the coming season – and all about the birth of Christ. One that I listened to, Mary’s Lullaby, brought tears to my eyes for it’s tender reference to a mother’s love for her little one.

When each grandchild is about three, I set them on the counter in the kitchen and shake my finger in their little faces, scowling (but not for real).

“Now, I want you to make Grandma a promise.”

This gets me a grin and maybe a giggle. They can’t imagine what that promise could be.

“I want you to promise me you’ll stop growing.” Hands on my hips I wait for the answer, the one I always get.

“Grandma! I can’t do that!”

“I know,” I whisper and hug them fiercely and kiss their noses. I lift them back down to the floor and  give them a cookie. I pat their little rear ends and tell them to go watch Dora. I think they understand how much I love them and how silly my request is, but they don’t know the whole of it.

The Rutter song puts me in mind of the times when I was a new mother. I can completely relate to the longing Mary must have had when she rocked our Jesus. Her world was not so wonderful. The trip to Bethlehem was fraught with danger – nine months pregnant on a donkey – come on! Besides being worried sick about the impending birth in a stinky stable, she knew what a few short years would bring for her precious child. Her desire to keep him small, and safe and unaware of the perils of living in this earthly realm was so real.  

I listen to the words of the tune. . .  lullaby, sing lullaby, my own dear child, my son . .  I have a vision of my own mother rocking me and her other  children – all nine of us. One by one, on her shoulder, stroking our silken hair and not wanting us to leave the protection of her arms. I wonder if, when my brother, David, forty years later, died in an old van in a dark lonely parking lot, she remembered the tender days when she stroked his pudgy cheek humming to him as he drifted off to sleep. Did her heart break at the thought of it? Could she think of it at all?

These are the things I think of when I ask my grandchildren to stop growing.

They won’t, of course. They’ll grow and leave and live and die.  Life will batter and change  them and the very few years of their real innocence will be woefully short.

But I won’t bother my little angels with the details of the promise I try to extract from them – for  now.  I won’t share the fears that haunt my vision of the more ugly things the world will throw their way. And I’ll wait a few  years yet to tell them what that world did to the baby who grew out of Mary’s arms and into the mess he loved enough to come down and save.

I’m going to make Christmas wait a bit, too. Last night was just a peek and that’s good enough for now.  

Merry Christmas faithful readers! God bless.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

We're Only Human

This morning I sat with my coffee and watched a segment on CNN about those exposed emails  sent by some movie execs that dissed a few high powered Washington types. The young women expounding on the situation directly emphasized that each person around the table had probably sent emails that would put them in a bad light. “Because after all,” she said, “we’re only human.”

Right now I’ve got a campaign building in my mind about what “only human” could mean. And I say could because the phrase currently seems to only mean “the bad and stupid stuff we all do.”


Why don’t you visit to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church this coming Saturday and watch the local Elks Lodge pack up hundreds of boxes of food and gifts for the needy? And volunteers will have them cheerfully on the doorsteps of those needy the same day. 

How about you put a couple of dollars in a Red Kettle the next time you see a bundled up servant ringing the bell and smiling as you tuck them into the pot? Look that human in the eye and smile back. He’s down in the trenches fighting the good fight.

And suppose your sister decides to invite her cranky neighbor for Christmas dinner and also has a gift for the old man and his almost blind dachshund because his children are out of state and won’t be stopping by for the holidays. Pretty cool, huh?

It’s a good thing to be human.  Our cat sure wishes she was.  Why, she could march right over to the shelf where I keep her food and decide for herself if “ocean whitefish” is what she’d like for supper. Or think about R2 D2. Don’t you think he’d like to have two eyes like a human instead of that dumb single black circle smack in the middle of his face? Okay, if you love Star Wars you might not think so. I apologize for getting carried away with awesome examples.

But think about this. How could we really celebrate Christmas if it weren’t for the birth of a human baby so long ago in an obscure little town hardly anyone had heard of until He was born there? He did some good stuff when He grew up. Right?

I’ll leave that for you to figure out, but I would really, really like you to think about joining me in my campaign on behalf of humans everywhere. Don’t you think the meaning of the phrase “only human” should include all the “good stuff we do”, too?

Feel free to confess your humanness in a good light right here in comments.

I’m looking forward to It.

Image: Free Digital Photos

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Santa Poem

Years ago I wrote this poem for some children’s magazine or maybe Ideals. Never sold it, but I still kind of like it. Whatever we tell our kids about Santa in a real sense he’s real. There’s a ‘real’ story of Santa and we have St. Nicholas who was a real person. The man in the red suit is a ‘real’ part of our culture and all the images of him are ‘real’. Images in the form of illustrations, photos, cover art, etc. And boy, he’s had a ‘real’ impact on the economy, right? That’s the way I put a spin on the Santa question when my children became skeptical. They took it well. I left out the part about the economy.

Anyway, here’s my short poem. I’m off to shop with Karen today. I hope you are having a jolly season - so far. 

Santa Knows
By Susan Sundwall

Santa knows all about naughty and nice
He knows about chimneys, sugar and spice

He knows about cookies left on the table
He knows about babies born in a stable

He knows all the children are snug in their beds
He knows all the dreams going round in their heads

He knows when he comes with his presents tonight
He’s spreading the joy of this season so bright

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cookies - A Symbol of Wealth

When dad first moved our family to California we lived in a rented house. Mom was pregnant with our brother Jim and we were as poor as dirt – whoever he is. Dad was a salesman , the door to door kind, and it was always dicey as to what we’d have for supper.

Anyway . . .

Down the street lived a family who had kids our age and we played with them all the time. One afternoon Pete and his sister Sandy came to our end of the street with a handful of peanut butter cookies – each. My sisters and I were gob smacked (like we’d been hit in the kisser). Let me repeat – Pete and Sandy EACH had a handful of cookies. In our house we got one apiece. If Mom made cookies at all. We also had to split our packs of Twinkies and break our popsicles in half to share. I could barely wrap my eight-year-old mind around the concept of more than one.

I think that’s when cookies began to loom large in my mind as a symbol of wealth and abundance. Why am I mentioning this now? Because it’s cookie baking time. Right after Thanksgiving the Baking Bug comes knocking and I’ve made a ritual of the process of getting the baking done in time for platters and tins and general munching.

I grab my Christmas CD’s or turn on the All-Christmas-All-The-Time radio station, put out my cooling racks, fire up the oven and I’m off. Sometimes it’s cold and snowy out and then I’m in Heaven. And here’s what I bake.

Sugar cookies – From a recipe in an old BHG cookbook that I’ve had for 40+ years. I know, you didn’t think I was even that old yet, right? I freeze these without frosting so the grandkids can help me do that on our special cookie day which, this year, was last Sunday.

Jam Thumbprints – Same old cookbook and I fill them with homemade jam. After I bake them. The jam flavor is more intense that way. Hubby’s faves.

Lemon Meltaways – These are tiny cookies that melt in your mouth while the tart lemon butter frosting is making your tongue seize up. Mwwwwaaaa! So good.

Choco Caramel Delights – These babies are like mini candy bars. Chocolate cookie, dipped in crushed walnuts, baked, cooled then filled with caramel and drizzled with melted semi sweet chocolate. My family will not let me not make these. Labor intensive but decadent and so worth it.

There are others I’ve tried, but these are the ones of myth and legend. And if you come to my house while I’m in the midst of all this wonderfulness, you may certainly have more than one. You can thank Pete and Sandy for that.

Enjoy your traditions this season which I hope God blesses with love and abundance.  

Image: Mr. GC                               Free Digital Photos

Monday, December 8, 2014

Repeating Myself

Wrote this one a couple of years ago. Hope you enjoy – again. Happy Monday!

Yesterday I had to mail a small package from the post office. There was one person ahead of me at the counter whom the postal worker obviously knew. It’s like that in our small town. I wasn’t paying too much attention to their friendly conversation until the postal worker, a woman, mentioned that she’d turned fifty this year. Boy, you could have fooled me. She looked good, tanned, painted nails, a cheerful attitude.

It got me thinking about aging – something we all do every day. A newborn on day two of his life is twice as old as he was the day before. Talk about aging! Whereas I’m only twice as old as someone who is thirty two. Dancing numbers around is fun and sometimes helps to put things in perspective. To my grandchildren I look old, I guess. But if I hadn’t aged how would they recognize me? Could I still look twenty five and be Grandma to them? I don’t think so.

The fertile ground of a writer’s imagination is seeded with thoughts like this. Working around in my little gray cells came the idea of cross generational ties. Is there some great divide that cannot be crossed so that say, a teenager, could never appreciate anything an octogenarian might offer? Can a twenty year old ever come to the aid of someone who’s fifty? Aren’t we all just human beings at different stages of life with something to give in any of those stages? We should dismiss the idea of a great divide and take wisdom, wit, charm and grace wherever we find it.

That’s why I’ve given one of my favorite ladies, Minnie Markwood, young sidekicks. I am a bit weary of the over-emphasis on things Baby Boomer and all the baggage that comes with it. Yeah, yeah, a lot of us were born in the twenty years following WWII. So what. You’ve gotta be born sometime. Minnie is a child of the those years, but Rashawna and Joel are Right Now kids and trying just as hard to make it in this world as Minnie ever did.

So they band together, giving and taking from each other, and solving a long standing crime while they’re at it. With wisdom, wit, charm, grace and a whole lotta scary. I’m so hoping this particular formula will hit a sympathetic note with my readers – no matter their ages.

When it was my turn at the post office counter, I shared some stories of turning fifty with the nice postal lady. I told her I began writing at that age and her eyes popped wide. “Really? That’s great.” Then I told her about my mystery coming out in November and that my launch would be right in Kinderhook. And she said, “Oh, you’ll have to let us know about it!”

“I’ll send you a flyer,” I said.

And I will.  

PS: That postal worker has moved on and I never got to tell her about book #2. But I’ll bet she still looks great! 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday Trivia Quiz

Haven’t done one of these in a while. But it’s good to get the old brain in gear especially if you’re facing an ordeal for the upcoming weekend. Shopping, tree trimming, babysitting – all that fun stuff. See how many you get right. Just remember - if you peek at the answers - you're cheating. And guess who's watching? Your mom (not Santa - he's really busy). 

1.    What recording artist sang Jingle Bell Rock?
2.    According to the hit song, what’s always #1 on Alvin the Chipmunk’s Christmas list?
3.    In the poem, The Night Before Christmas, how many times is Santa’s name mentioned?
4.    In Switzerland what do they call Santa’s wife  a) Gerda  b)Tanta Kringle  c) Lucy d) Frau Kristenklinger
5.    Why does Scrooge love Rudolph the red nosed reindeer?


1.    Jimmy Helm (Surprise! – yeah, I didn’t know this one either, but I love the song)
2.    He just wants a hula hoop and can hardly stand to wait.
3.    Zero – I’ll bet you knew that one.
4.    C  I know! Right?
5.    Because every buck was dear to him. Groooaannnn.

That’s all I have time for today. I’ve got to shop, pay bills, work on book #3 and bake gingersnaps. Hope you had fun with these!

Image: Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Synopsis or Two

Every writer has a few dozen things they’ve written that truly stink. Or sort of stink or were abandoned by the muse and that writer moves on. I have a hard drive full of such pieces and I thought you might get a chuckle out of knowing what a few of them are (were).

Cracker Jack Summer – My very first effort at a YA (young adult) novel. Based loosely on a real situation my great grandfather found himself in, the story is about a young boy who sets out to clear his father’s name when he’s accused of stealing the company payroll. It takes place at the time of the 1893 World’s Fair on the shores of Lake Michigan where the first Ferris Wheel was presented to the public. That sucker held 2,000 people and the ride lasted ten full minutes. Amazing. Anyway, I did a lot of research for the thing but at 13K words my muse waved bye bye and I never went back.  Plus, my sister Shari hated the name of my protagonist – Grady. Bummer. 

The Campaign – This is a romance. My leading lady, Sandra, is a widow and she re-connects with an old flame from high school at a gubernatorial (dumb word) fund raiser. Trouble is, Brad – the guy, is way too impulsively-aggressively-charming ( a new syndrome just uncovered by the American Psychiatric Association) for her. But can Sandra forgive his IACS, as its now known, and learn to love again? Can she and Brad overcome syndrome-itis? My hand draped over my forehead and I’m biting my lower lip which is trembling while I wonder. I’m sure yours is, too.

A Hymn for Thomas – A mystery I began to write at the behest of an editor, but was subsequently rejected. It was for the Annie’s Attic mystery series, written by several authors. Annie moves to Maine to live in the house she inherits from her Grandmother and encounters mystery after mystery in the chuck full of good stuff attic. In my book Annie would discover an old box tucked into a far corner with clues to a child’s grave that's out in the woods somewhere. Things get all tangled up when her boot scootin’ relative, Killeen, arrives from Texas to help out. Yeah, I know there’s a town named Killeen in Texas. Sometimes my imagination just packs up her best dress and goes south on me - the tramp. 

Okay, boring, right? Well not as boring as all those cookies you have to bake, the gifts you have to hunt down for people who don’t need anything, and that wintry mix the weatherman is predicting for the weekend. Have I nailed it?

It’s my job to distract you from your real life with bits of mine. Hope you don’t mind. Have a great day!

Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, December 1, 2014

Why We Decorate

 Whew – another Christmas season is upon us and even before the ax was laid to the necks of millions of American turkeys in honor of Thanksgiving, many were contemplating the day after thinking, “where shall I hang that big wreath Aunt Joe gave us last year?” Sure, we fight those urges, but it’s there lurking just beyond the cranberry sauce and burned crescent rolls. So why do we do it?

I have a theory.

Our celebrations are seasonal, right? And what’s outside we want to bring inside to remind us of whatever it is we’re celebrating. You know, reliable reminders that don’t . . . melt.

You can’t bring a snow snowman inside (unless you’re uber rich and have a dedicated room), so you find them fashioned from fabric, wood, ceramic or made out of cotton balls by your kindergartner. They lend such a festive air. My friend Karen has more snowmen / women than anyone I know and she has several dedicated rooms. It takes about a week to look at them all. Imagine if they were made of real snow. That little graph running along the baseboard in that flood insurance commercial would be off the charts at Karen’s should she happen to crank up the furnace one day.   

And then there are woodland creatures like, oh, bears. I have lots of those. Stuffed or of ceramic or “composite” - whatever that is. I have them all tricked out for Christmas, 4th of July and maybe a few other celebrations I can’t remember right now. That’s one of the Christmas ones in the picture up there. Representations of this particular critter are far preferable to the real deal for indoor use. Imagine the poop duty for a minute and you’ll probably agree. Feeding can also be a problem (and related to poop duty). Give me composite any day!

We want to pluck the stars from the heavens, too, and plop them on top of our Christmas trees. But a recent report from NASA states that even the smallest star weighs about 80K. Even the tree wiring champion of 2011 ( who was hired by the Obama’s in 2010 and subsequently received a star shaped medal) couldn’t get one of those babies to balance. And the Star of Bethlehem hasn’t been seen in centuries so we have to imagine it in aluminum foil. Those kindergartners again. 

But we can’t stop decorating, can we? I confess, I’m addicted. It helps to move our lives along in a delightful way. It causes curiosity in the very young and brings back memories of our youth. I’m 100% in the corner of all those who decorate to celebrate. Just don’t think I’m ever going to approve of twelve reindeer and a fat guy in a red suit crash landing on my roof. Even if he’s got a red BMW in his bag just for me.

This year I hope you decorate with Abandon, whoever he is.