Monday, December 30, 2013

"A Printer"

            The other night, my husband and son left our house on a mysterious “mission” and returned home with an early birthday gift for me—a printer! They purchased a smart little Brother HL-2200. A very basic Monochrome Laser that spits out pages almost faster than I can type. Already, I love this little device.
            Over the years, I’ve relied upon my husband’s fancy Cannon, a machine that sucks ink like a gas-guzzler. This past year, this temperamental copier has taken to whirring and complaining, and then refusing to take up paper. It’s all showmanship.
            And so I drifted into the zone of a writer without hard copies. I slipped into an uncomfortable world where the printed page doesn’t exist; where I fanatically email my drafts to myself out of fear of hard drive crashes or other computer catastrophes.
            With my Brother installed and handily by my side, I’ve spent the last few days organizing and printing. The shelf I’ve dedicated in my closet for hard copies now contains a two-inch binder for drafts of my blog and drafts of poetry dating back to 1973! Next to it rests a bright yellow notebook that houses the final draft of my first novel. I’ve only had a working draft, covered with my personal editing and revising notes, perched in the closet. I can’t believe how good it feels to have a pristine final draft!
            My current creation benefits from this little printer, too. Currently, I’ve color coded various characters and scrawled ideas and details onto notecards. Anyone knowing my handwriting understands immediately the frustration I feel as I curse at my cursive. With this printer, I can quickly type up and print notes for each created person, making it much easier for me to double check facts and details as I weave my story. And research now becomes a breeze. That Victorian Queen Anne one character calls home?  A Google search to three or four sites and quick copy and paste and PRINT! I have definitions for witch’s caps and strap work at my fingertips.
            I know many people persistently preach, “Print is dead!” But not in my house. Not anymore!

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, December 23, 2013

“Saddest Christmas Tree”

            A few summers before my mother became so very ill, I’d started the ambitious project of scanning pictures into our computer to save upon an external hard drive. I began with the pictures my mother had brought up to San Antonio, which included a hodge-podge from her childhood, my father’s childhood, and their married lives. She’d given up on labeling each item, and instead wrote a brief timeline of their life together, centering upon my father’s various assignments within the military. She devoted part of each album to each of her children. Grouped over several pages would be pictures of my sister, my brother, or myself from infancy through our adult years. I didn’t scan every photograph, but I did do the majority of school pictures and major events. I placed, on a special shelf in my closet, some large photographs that would need to be scanned in pieces, reassembled, and repaired in Photoshop. And then I forgot about all of my aspirations when Mom’s needs changed and her care became more demanding.
            The first weekend of November, I spent part of the visit to my brother’s house delving into my parents’ closets. Curiosity enticed me into old boxes and bins, where I discovered my brother’s baby book and infant shoes along with my grandfather’s passport. Stashed safely into a weatherproof bin, I uncovered some old photographs that I’d never seen. I asked my brother if I could take the bin home to scan the contents with the goal of having it back to him by his visit at Christmas.
            Days have a way of slipping by unnoticed, until I realized last weekend that we hadn’t scanned a single photograph. And so my husband and I set about organizing and scanning pictures. David’s a whiz with Photoshop, and he managed to refresh color, repair missing sections of photographs, or reconstruct missing parts on people’s faces. As our project continued, I realized just how wonderful it will be to have this at my fingertips and to make copies for my sister to keep within her own files. We no longer have to worry about something getting lost in a hurricane because copies exist in several places.
            Anyway, in with all of the pictures of places we’ve lived and people we’ve loved, I found a small shot of the saddest Christmas tree. For the 363 TEWS, this little tree symbolized their lives spent away from their families—all of the anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays missed. I found myself, after viewing so many of our family pictures, drawn to this image.
            My heart aches for those men of long ago who longed for their families, homes and traditions. And it breaks to know that our soldiers continue to serve “the longest year” in distant lands. My imagination runs to another daughter skimming through family photographs and pausing when she comes upon another sad Christmas tree in a barracks.  
                                                             "Nam Christmas Tree"
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Thursday, December 19, 2013

“Santa’s Visit”

            The Christmas I turned six, we loaded the car and headed from Dover AFB to Danville, Illinois to spend the holidays with my mother’s family. I think my parents wanted everyone to see my brother, Charles, who had just turned six months old. Dad preferred extremely early morning starts, and on this trip he and my mother woke us up around four in the morning. They bundled us into the car with pillows and blankets and encouraged us to go back to sleep. The trip, with stops for breakfast and lunch, would take more than twelve hours. My folks’ tight budget prevented a midpoint stop at a hotel. They played the radio and talked continually to keep my dad alert. Often, they’d have four or five hours of the trip travelled before one of us kids would wake up.
            I remember the excitement I felt when we finally reached Aunt Nellie’s house. She lived in an older Craftsman-styled home. I remember ice and snow covered the yard, but someone had cleared the sidewalk and porch steps to welcome us. Relatives burst from the front door when we pulled alongside the curb, and hugs and kisses pulled us into the front room where a Christmas tree dominated the front corner.
            Aunt Nellie and Uncle Paul directed us into our rooms. They’d borrowed a baby crib from some friends for my brother and situated it in the same room with my parents. Aunt Nellie had cleared her sewing room and snugged a bed under the window. My sister and I would share this room during our visit. This room remained cozily warm because Aunt Nellie always had something cooking in her oven.
            Both my sister and I are practically Christmas babies. Her birthday is on the 21st while mine is on the 26th. So on Christmas Eve, Aunt Nellie made a huge cake to do a joint celebration, and the entire family gathered around to sing for us. My cousin and his wife brought their baby, and I remember wearing my red ski pants and black boots for pictures on Christmas Eve.
            Wonderful and magical things happened that Christmas. First, Charles sat for the first time on his own. One moment he was sitting like a little puppy dog, propped up on his hands, and the next he was wobbling with hands in the air, cooing in delight. I remember running into the kitchen to announce this feat, and by the end of our visit, he’d mastered sitting alone.
            But the second magical moment came on Christmas Eve. Paula and I played on our bed in the sewing room. She had on blue ski pants, the type with the band that looped under your foot. I had on red. The bed, in front of a large window, gave us the perfect spot to kick as we watched the blue and red reflections. As we entertained ourselves with our impromptu choreography, someone knocked loudly on the window.
            He stood in all of his glory, just on the other side of a thin pane of glass! His white beard tumbled down his huge belly, and he called our names and laughed merrily. His red suit (complete with hat and boots) stood out against the white snow.
            I remember screaming in delight as my sister and I pressed our faces to the window. We lost sight of him as he disappeared into the back yard.
            The entire family crammed into the little room trying to decipher our babble about seeing Santa Claus. Some of the adults poo-pooed our claims while others went outside to check for footprints, which they found.
            No one ever admitted, even once we were grown, to donning a costume that Christmas Eve. So I have to believe that we really did have a visit from Santa.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


            Padme, Princess I’m A Dolly Kitty curls next to my laptop. Her spots for snoozing move around the house, changing periodically. I don’t know if the warmth from my computer draws her to my side, of if she enjoys the indulgent head rubs and chin scratching I throw her way as I write. Either way, she now spends a chunk of her day dozing by my side.
            I love telling the story on how Padme joined our family. We’d gone out of town for Memorial Day weekend, and had left my son’s iguana in his cage by the back patio doors so he could have light. I’d placed a book on the top, just to make certain he didn’t pop off the screen. However, I didn’t think about our cat, Sassy, deciding to free the iguana. When we returned home, the cage sat open and empty.
            We spent days searching for the iguana with no luck. I’d warned my son that one day we’d move something in a closet and probably find his mummified corpse. Not a pleasant idea, but part of life when you have small pets like reptiles and rodents. After a few days of searching, we decided to head to Polly’s Pet Shop and pick out another iguana.
            Of course, no one can enter a pet store and not swing by the puppies and kittens. We’ve stood outside those windows hundreds of times and never felt the urge to bring one home, but on that day two kittens wrestled in a tangle of newspaper. My son fell in love with both of them. Since we already had another cat and a dog at home, I told him he could only bring home one. It broke our hearts to know that we would separate the kittens, but . . .
            Padme entered out home in a non-descript brown box. We wanted to surprise my husband, who expected us to return with an iguana, not a kitten. His surprise to find a ball of fur instead of something sleek and green made us laugh.
            We quickly realized that Padme’s small size made her an easy target for moving feet. One night, my husband stepped on her head, sending her into convulsions. One of our guests for dinner that night had experience as a vet tech, and he felt certain she was fine, but we rushed her to the pet ER just in case. After that incident, she always wore a bell!

           Our Padme’s very outgoing. Many people thought we only had one cat because our other cat tucked herself away whenever company came. But not Padme. She’d stroll up to someone, bat them with her paw, or head bump in affection. Her wild mane drew everyone’s attention, her personality kept everyone under her spell.
 Last year, when our other cat died, Padme stopped eating. Her grief worried all of us. I moved her bowls into the kitchen to monitor her eating. By this summer, I headed back to the same pet shop for their advice on the best foods for elderly cats. She nibbles on dry Instinct—rabbit, duck, or chicken—throughout the day. And her special treat comes in lamb, pork or pheasant three times a day. She’s desperately thin, even after months on this diet, but she is gradually regaining weight.
So I take full advantage of Padme resting next to my computer because I don’t know how many years she has left. At nearly fourteen, she’s “getting up there.” She still loves to play and still draws attention to her when company comes since she is such a princess.   



Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, December 16, 2013



          The best part of decorating the tree comes from the delight of rediscovering favorite ornaments each year. I love carefully unpacking those special Christmas tree decorations that hold wonderful memories for us. When I cautiously pull the two white “snow” fairies out of their protective boxes, I re-experience the thrill I felt upon finding them in the store over thirty years ago. Even in the earliest days of our friendship, David and I loved all things fey, so discovering these adornments proved fateful.
         Over the years, my appreciation for Christmas ornaments led to an ever widening search for an addition to the collection. Many friends and family members contributed to our tree, and each year as I find the perfect place for each item, I take a moment to remember the giver of these small presents.
         I treasure both the little Asian inspired decorations we found in a box we inherited from David’s grandmother along with the last ornament my father picked out for us before he died.

          I cluster the trio of hand crafted ornaments my aunt made years ago, and find a special place for the lovely and unique snowflakes she fashioned.

The small collection of ornaments we made on a rainy and cold afternoon with a five-year-old Paul tug at my heart when I hang them each winter. This year, I cried as I held the delicate cross stitched decorations my mother so lovingly sewed years before her Huntington’s disease symptoms robbed her of so much.

         Decorating the tree at our house takes an entire day. Partly because we have so many adornments, but mainly because I linger over many of the memories these small embellishments bring forth.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


Monday, December 9, 2013

“Christmas Lights”

            “Ooooh, sparkly!” becomes my obsessive observation every holiday season. As we drive through neighborhoods or around business decked with lights, my optimistic nature finds solace in the early nightfall because the world twinkles and glows. Inside our house, rings of lights loop around our tree, and I’ve placed candles in every room and merrily enjoy their dancing glow each evening.
            The exterior of our house, though, remains darkened. Every year, I eagerly await my husband’s promise to adorn the front bushes with lights. That’s all I ask for, a few strands thrown carelessly over the bushes, and I’d rejoice. I know, I know—if I really wanted lights out front, I’d simply do it myself. Except . . . it’s one of those few things that I ask of my husband that I feel goes “beyond” the norm. One of those silly “women” demands that almost every other man in our acquaintance does effortlessly for their wives. Some Christmases, I’ve pulled the boxes filled with lights out of storage and left them in a prominent spot in the living room in anticipation of the possibility that David will suddenly feel an overwhelming urge to decorate outside. If that doesn’t’ happen, I begin my verbal nudging (aka nagging). However, my wishes for decorations outside often go unmet. Some holidays, I actually put the boxes of lights away after a couple of weeks, defeated.
            Currently, the light bins dominate the living room again. Last year, I purchased new lights to add to the collection. They never left their boxes, though. My confidence holds strong that lights will go up this year because my husband’s taken three days off this week. However, just in case, I did post this on his Facebook page when it floated around a couple of weeks ago:

                                      from (Facebook)
Beggars can’t be choosers, after all.

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


            The Christmas my sister asked for a stereo with a turntable, my parents realized disappointment lingered under the tree since they could only afford that one gift for her. At the grand age of ten, I’d asked for a multitude of toys—all small items easily within my parents’ tight holiday budget. My brother, only five, found joy in individually wrapped Hot Wheels and packs of Wrigley’s Double Mint gum.
            Our Christmas mornings began early. My parents never restricted us to waiting until a “decent” hour when it came to opening gifts. I suspect they felt as much excitement as us kids. A shouted, “Santa’s come!” would rouse the entire household. Somehow, a pot of coffee already brewed on the stove, and my folks would sip from their mugs and listen to our exclamations of surprise as we sorted and opened our gifts.

            Of course, on that Christmas, my sister opened her stereo. Dad proudly showed her all of the features—AM and FM stereo and a turntable. They had also purchased a couple of 45s and an album for her. I recall her face as she rubbed her hands over the box, turned the album in her hands to read the back cover, and then watched as my brother tore into another package. I’d whittled my pile down by then, but a few gifts still encircled me on the floor.
            My brother and I opened a couple of boxes each while my sister sat with her records in her lap and her stereo, enclosed in cardboard, by her side. Tears welled in her eyes, and she mumbled something. And as any fifteen-year-old girl would do, she scurried down the hallway into the haven of her room. My mother ducked into her own bedroom, then entered my sister’s room. After a few minutes, they both rejoined us. My sister’s tears dried, her mood lifted again as she and my father decided to set up her stereo in her room.
            In later years, I learned that my parents had anticipated my sister’s letdown in receiving one main gift. Wisely, they’d set up three envelopes, one for each of us children. Inside, they’d placed the receipts for the gifts they’d nestled under the tree. When my sister left the room in silent tears, Mom showed her the envelopes and explained that they’d spent the same amount on each of us.
            I’ve come to appreciate the foresight my parents showed on that long ago Christmas. The five years that stretched between my sister and I, and again between my brother and I, meant we often fell out of sync in our wants and needs. By staying on a prescribed budget and spending the same on each of us, they gave us more than simple presents. They showed us that they’d try to treat us equally, and yet as very separate individuals. That’s a tremendously important lesson for parents to teach—a wonderful life lesson to give.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, December 2, 2013

“Should Be . . .”

            I should be collecting all of my Thanksgiving decorations into a neat pile to make packing them away for the next year easier.
            I should be dressed in my work-out clothes, ready to run out the door and charge into my day.
            I should be making the beds, jotting down the grocery list, paying the bills, adding up our accounts.
            I should be organizing the Christmas gifts that need to go out in this week’s mail, double checking to make certain I’m still within my holiday budget.
            I should be trimming the hedges, raking the leaves, and tidying the gardens before cold and rain return.
            I should be working on my novel, reading a new book, scanning those old photographs into the computer.
            I should be focusing on the “next” plan, calculating how to reach my newest goal, and determining the next step to take.
            I should be---BUT I’M NOT!
            Instead, I linger in bed, a lazy cat following beams of sunshine.
            Instead, I flirt shamelessly with inactivity.
            Instead, I prop my feet up while Bitstrip searching.
            Instead, I listen to Padme’s purr and Koi’s soft snore.
            Instead, I savor the solitude of morning.
            Instead, I luxuriate in slow motion.
            Instead, I drift from thought to thought and dabble in dawdling.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


         When my father died so unexpectedly from a massive heart attack, my world titled. Everything I did and said seemed unbalanced and skewed. A few weeks after his death, the school district wanted me to go to training in Sedona, Arizona with a group of wonderful women, and I cried nightly because I couldn’t make any decisions. A phone call from one friend who was also going on the trip convinced me to come along.
         Sedona began my healing. Notice, I use the word “began” because recovering from grief takes years. I took the first steps to life without my father by boarding the flight from San Antonio to Phoenix. The trip there remains a blur in my memory, but I distinctly recall standing at the car rental kiosk with five other women, and none of them wanted to drive the minivan from Phoenix to Sedona. Being fall, darkness would accompany us on the drive for more than half the trek. Now, I’ve never minded driving, even to places I’ve never visited, but my mind felt cotton swaddled and addled half of the time. Perhaps that’s why I ended up driving? At any rate, I soon positioned myself behind the wheel with one friend as navigator.
         Our exit from Phoenix went without obstacles, slowed only by the five o’clock traffic common to most cities. Having driven many times in Houston, Phoenix’s highways seemed fairly easy to navigate. Before long, we zipped onto a wide open stretch of highway. I remember conversation flowing around me filled with chuckles and “remember when” scenarios. A sunset exploded across the western sky, and darkness swathed our car as we sped along. For endless miles, our isolated van passed no other vehicle. The highway had few lights, with exits creeping up unexpectedly. My navigator, listening to the chat from the back seat, missed the exit we needed to take, and the next one didn’t appear for another five or six miles. We looped around, took a left turn instead of a right, and briefly pondered the possibility of driving aimlessly up and down desert highways like some Twilight Zone characters. Eventually, we rolled into Sedona’s warm lights and found our motel.

         Snow and ice descended during the night. Not much by Arizona standards, but as a Texan, I felt uneasy as I moved behind the wheel of the rental. Taking things slow and easy, we made our way from our motel to the hotel hosting the workshop. The presenters crammed activities and information into us at warp speed, and by the end of the first day we each longed for the escape that shopping in this wonderful little town offered. We hit the specialty shops with enthusiasm. I longed to do a little hiking on some of the trails, but as the designated driver, I didn’t get go that first day. By the end of the second day of training, I felt as though I’d explode if I didn’t get to walk to at least one of the famous vortexes of Sedona.
         When everyone else wanted to go see a movie, I opted to grab my camera case and head out on a trail that zigzagged beyond our motel. My spirit (numbed by so much grief and loss) found peace as I strolled along. I don’t know when I started crying. I don’t know when I stopped. I stayed out on the trail for over two hours, pausing when I needed to feel grounded. I took photographs of many of the views, yet I knew I couldn’t capture the healing energy that flooded through me.

         Grieving has taken on a new meaning over the last couple of years, for I’ve learned we can mourn for the living as they struggle through their final sorrows. Within the next few years, I will return to Sedona to walk, once again, the trails that eased my wounded soul.

 Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

“The First Year”

            I don’t remember last Christmas. Who pulled the decorations from storage? Placed the tree before the window? Purchased and wrapped gifts? Everyone said I did these things, but my memory begins in the movie theatre watching Les Misérables. I distinctly remember laughing at the incredulous comment, “They sang every word!”
            January tumbled in with Mom’s Celebration of Life, where friends and family lingered in our home until two in the morning. Crisis hit when all of the life insurance paperwork, sent certified mail, vanished into a black hole. The kindness of the mail store owner, who tracked down the package, prevented my total meltdown. My determination to keep busy, busy, busy, busy meant I returned to the classroom as a substitute teacher. I grabbed any job I could get at any school in the area. Slaying grief took energy.
            In February, we made the first trip in over two years to my brother’s home in League City. Because Mom’s HD prevented her from taking long trips during the last few years of her life, we relied upon my brother to take care of the house my parents left to him. Little did we know that he didn’t want to worry us about his problems. We arrived to a growling refrigerator, defunct vacuum cleaner, rusted (and dangerous) microwave, and a matching deceased washer and dryer set. Fortunately, all of those lost papers had not only been found, but processed. Insurance money allowed us to replace the broken appliances.
            March and April blew in with my honing down to a short list the schools I’d work with as a substitute. I’d discovered a love for the younger kids, and put off accepting work in the hope of getting a slot at one of the four elementary schools in my area. I took jobs as secretaries, even, just to get on those campuses. Fortunately, I always ended up in a classroom. I turned down long term sub offers from four different campuses. Although I needed to work daily, I couldn’t make any long term commitment. I realized that working provided a buffer for me as I eased out of my overwhelming loss. A long term assignment equaled responsibility I couldn’t handle.
            Mother’s Day found me remembering the good things about Mom. We’ve all worked very hard to separate our memories of Mom from Huntington’s disease and the monster it became in all of our lives. And by June, my brother toyed with the idea of visiting San Antonio to celebrate his birthday, but he decided not to make the trip. He said it’s just too hard, after driving from League City to San Antonio monthly for four years, to make that trek again. So in July, I arranged for my sister to rendezvous with us in League City. Our goal? To spend time together as a family without the stress of caregiving pulling us down. We went out to eat, and we went to a movie. Together, we tackled some household chores too big for my brother to do alone—like cleaning the garage. And we enjoyed each other’s company. Somewhere during those slow summer days, I gathered enough courage to contact a literary agent and submit my chapters and synopsis from my first novel—a dream my mother encouraged.
            Hot August days piled onto the calendar, and I decided not to go back to work. I no longer needed to leave my home to handle my sorrow. Back in December, we’d hauled furniture and clothing by the truckload to Goodwill. I’d spent days in Mom’s old room, painting the walls neon green and the ceiling and trim black. With the passage from the room into the bathroom resealed, we reclaimed the area and converted it into my son’s studio. But many little things remained untouched. I began the much slower process of sorting through every drawer and closet in the house. At one point in time, we’d combined two additional households in with our own. I’d stashed duplicates and triplicates of many items into any available spot. By not returning to work, I forced myself to sift through all of these things and make decisions.
            September found me eager to make more changes. I painted the kitchen and dining room Morocco Red. David took off a week and together we battled against old floor grout. We succeeded in sprucing up our twenty-five-year-old floors. I spent time in the yards and gardens. I began compiling my blog posts on Mom’s last two years into a book. By October, I began writing my second novel. Creating a new world pulled me out of my own life for hours at a time.
            And so I find myself back in November. So far this month I’ve escaped into movie theatres. We made another trip to League City to visit my brother and shared Ender’s Game. We’ve laughed through Thor and caught Catching Fire. With today’s anniversary of Mom’s death, we’ll escape into a comedy—something funny and mindless like Delivery Man. For Thanksgiving? We’ll head to the local Golden Corral’s buffet. If we’re home, I’ve always cook a huge meal, but not this year.
            Anyone reading this recitation would believe we’ve set aside grief, but we haven’t. During those quiet minutes each morning, or those still moments before falling asleep, I’ve drowned in her loss. Memories of that last November weigh me down, and I stay silent about my empty feelings. Do I call my brother today? Do I ask my sister how she’s doing? Maybe I should just wait and see if they contact me. You see, I’ve burned this day into my heart since I sat with Mom for hour after hour last year. I, alone, bore witness to those last seconds of her life.
            Within each day this first year, I’ve focused upon my mother before her disease stole so much from us. I drifted back to my childhood, where her nighttime ritual included sitting on the edge of my bed, rubbing my back in gentle circles as we talked about my day. My mind lingered on Mom’s grin spreading across her face as she leaned into an embrace. Her strength and courage carried me through her illness and guided me through her suffering. Her generosity and love nourished me in my childhood and still guides me as an adult.
            There are all of these moments I’ve wanted to share with her, where I’ve wanted to hear her commentary or her laugh, and where I’ve longed to tap into her thoughts just one more time. Even after a year, I wish I could say, one more time, “I love you, Mom.”

Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Winter's Rain"

It’s raining outside.   

            That cold, winter’s rain that seeps into   
            every fiber of your body.
You long to   
            stand out in the wetness and   
into the gutter.   
                                                down into the sewer.   
            You carry paper boats, and leaves, and   
            tiny, jeweled pebbles with you   
                        And you’re cold,   
                        You’re numb   
You have no toes, no arms,   
                                                no soul.   
                        When you should laugh,   
you cry bitter, hot tears of—   
You have actually melted into the     
            Universe—you’ve gone from   
Substance to Time.   
            From Time to   
You feel nothing; yet everything.   
                                                You are,   
and again,   
                                                You are not.   
And when the rain stops, what then?   
You begin to lose the numbness—   
                                                            the oneness.   
up into a brittle essence of fire. You   
                                              with the pressure of other bodies—needs.   
                                    for the next   
                                                winter’s rain.   

Cuopyright 1976 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman