The Ilyasov Reflection: Part II

Every Christmas, Kate Shrewsday writes a ghost story for her family. Last week, I posted Part I of this year’s story, “The Ilyasov Reflection.” Today I’m reblogging Part II. The link to Part III is here: Find the Final Part IV here: Kate and six of her writer friends have a book of ghostly short stories, Echoes in the Darkness, available on Amazon:

Kate Shrewsday

This is part two of the Shrewsday Christmas Ghost Story. You can find part one here.

When she woke, it was dark. And there was still no one there.

What time was it? Meg moved her head painfully. She must have hit it as she fainted. Two hours had passed, and Dylan was still not home. Her heart lurched as she remembered the events of the day, and involuntarily, she glanced at the mirror.

It was a blank stare, reflecting the room and Dylan’s Christmas lights

She heard sound of the key in the lock. Dylan hollered up the stairs: “Sorry I’m late. Traffic was a bugger. We’re going to have to make a quick turnaround I’m afraid….

And the woman in Meg took over. I look a sight, she thought, and I have five minutes. Without a thought for the bump on her head, or the mad woman in the…

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The Ilyasov Reflection

Kate Shrewsday is publishing her annual Christmas ghost story this week. Read on for Part One. And if you just cannot wait, here’s a link to Part Two:

Kate Shrewsday

Screen Shot 2014-12-26 at 17.05.34Christmas never goes by, in the Shrewsday household without a rollicking good ghost story. We are late – I have been ill – but here is the first of three parts. Enjoy, and have a wonderful festive break.

In the darkest recesses of the little shop in Pravdy Street, in the great city of St Petersburg, the frame stood blind.

By blind, I mean it carried no mirror, though once it must have been made to stand on the dressing table of some impossibly rich and beautiful woman. It was carved in mahogany and had once been lavishly gilded by master craftsmen, but its crevices collected dust now, its unsettling features dulled by time and inattention.

Old Gorokhin could not remember a time when it had not stood there, glowering from the corner of his little shop. His father before him told him it had arrived after the house clearance of…

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The World in Solemn Stillness

This 1663 painting by Abraham Hondius has a ma...
This 1663 painting by Abraham Hondius has a matching painting of the Adoration of the shepherds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Travers in his most memorable role, as Clarenc...
Travers in his most memorable role, as Clarence Odbody in It’s a Wonderful Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Public domain.

We’re watching, one more time, It’s a Wonderful Life. Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (Angel Second Class), aka Henry Travers, is showing George Bailey, aka James Stewart, how his hometown would look if George had never been born.

In a couple of minutes, George will learn that, because he never existed, his wife, Mary, aka Donna Reed, not only never married, but became a librarian. Judging from her granny glasses, frumpy hat, and bun, that’s a fate worse than death.

I like It’s a Wonderful Life, but it isn’t my favorite Christmas movie. I prefer Miracle on 34th Street, in which Edmund Gwenn–whom I rank right up there with Henry Travers–is declared, in court, to be the real  Santa Claus. No librarians were defamed in the making of that show.

Nevertheless, as soon as half the town crowds into the Bailey living room to pile money onto the table, I start to cry. I cry through the credits and the next three commercials. Even a not-favorite movie can stir emotions. Year after year after year.

Favorites aren’t easy for me. I don’t have a favorite novel or a favorite song or a favorite color. Or a favorite teacher, actor, or pet. I have multiple favorites. For me, those get-your-password questions–“What is your favorite television show?”–are useless. I never remember whether I said Andy Griffith or Law and Order or I’ll Fly Away.

 I do, however, have a favorite Christmas carol. The melody is lovely and singable–singable is important to me–but it’s the words that move me. They speak of peace and quiet and rest for the weary, of heavenly song floating above earthly babble. They speak of ancient tidings of peace to one small group of men, and of a promise of a world in complete harmony.

But the lyrics also speak of the present, of stopping, and looking up, and seeing angels. They’re there now, and they’re singing.

We have only to be still and listen.


 It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

 Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world;
above its sad and lowly plains,
they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.

 Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

 And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow,
look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
and hear the angels sing!

 For lo! the days are hastening on,
by prophet seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and the whole world send back the song
which now the angels sing.


From Wikipedia:
“‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (1849) — sometimes rendered as ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ — is a poem and Christmas carol written by Edmund Sears, pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. Sears’ lyrics are most commonly set to one of two melodies: ‘Carol,’ composed by Richard Storrs Willis, or ‘Noel,’ adapted from an English melody.

“Edmund Sears composed the five-stanza poem in Common Metre Doubled during 1849. It first appeared on December 29, 1849, in the Christian Register in Boston. Sears is said to have written these words at the request of his friend, William Parsons Lunt, pastor of United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts.”



Reposted from December 25, 2010

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How NORAD Became the Santa Tracker

It’s once again time for the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s (NORAD) annual tracking of the flight of Santa Claus from the North Pole to points all over the planet.

The children of Col. Harry Shoup told the story on a recent episode of Morning Edition’s Storycorps on National Public Radio.

During the Cold War, the colonel was commander of the Continental Air Defense Command (now NORAD). In case of an attack on the United States, he would have been the first to receive word.

Colonel Shoup was at his desk that day in 1955 when NORAD assumed the task of following the progress of Santa’s sleigh. But the new responsibility wasn’t ordered by President Eisenhower or any of the colonel’s military superiors.

The job resulted from a typographical error–one little mistake whose happy consequences are still being felt nearly sixty years later.

Official seal of the North American Aerospace ...
Official seal of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Note that the oceans’ colour is supposed to be “turquoise” but has consistently been rendered, in recent years, as frankly greenish. Older memorabilia uses a bluer colour, ranging up to light blue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia), By Antonu [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Read–and listen to–Colonel Shoup’s   Official seal of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

And follow the Santa Tracker Countdown:

1 d, 5 h, 52 m, and 10 s–the last time I checked






From the Storycorps website:
“StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at”

Storycorps is coming to Austin!

From the Storycorps website:

“The StoryCorps MobileBooth will be in Austin, TX, January 5 to January 30, 2015. Make a reservation today!

“Si desea hacer una reservación en españ ol o necesita más información, por favor llame al 800-850-4406, las 24 horas al día, los 7 días de la semana.


Thanks to author Craig Johnson for sharing the link to the story about the NORAD Santa Tracker on his Facebook Author’s page.

The Road to Bethlehem


If as Herod, we fill our lives with things and again things;
If we consider ourselves so important that we must fill
Every moment of our lives with action;
When will we have the time to make the long slow journey
Across the burning desert as did the Magi;
Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds;
Or to brood over the coming of the Child as did Mary?
For each one of us there is a desert to travel,
A star to discover,
And a being within ourselves to bring to life.

~ Author Unknown

Casper (name)
Casper (name) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Journey of the Magi by James Tissot


I read “The Road to Bethlehem” online and saved a copy of the poem but not the URL of the website where I found it. The poem was attributed to Anonymous, and I haven’t been able to find the author’s name. If you know who wrote it, please send the name and, if possible, other documentation in a comment, so I can give the poet credit for his creation and can seek information about copyright. Until I know more, I will assume the poem is in the public domain.

Hansel and Gretel and Cuthbert and Me

This is the story of Cuthbert, a five-year-old boy who visited my school library
for twenty minutes every week.
My job was to teach him about the library.
I’m not sure what his job was.
But he was very good at it.


Once upon a time, I read “Hansel and Gretel” to a class of kindergarteners. The audience, sitting rapt at my feet, comprised sixteen exceptionally good listeners, a fact I later regretted.

Arthur Rackham, illustration to Hansel and Gretel
Arthur Rackham, illustration to Hansel and Gretel (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Public domain.

While I read, Cuthbert sat on the floor beside my chair and stroked my panty-hose-clad shin. Small children are fascinated by panty-hose.

When I reached, “And they lived happily ever after,” Cuthbert stopped stroking and tugged on my skirt. I ceded him the floor.

“But it’s a good thing, what the witch did.”

Since he spoke kindergartener-ese and sometimes I didn’t, I thought I had misunderstood. Come again?

“It’s a really good thing, what the witch did.”

I should have slammed the book shut right then, or pulled out the emergency duct tape, or something, anything to change the subject. But I’m not very smart, so I asked Cuthbert to elaborate.

His elaboration went like this:

When the witch prepared the hot oven to cook and then eat Hansel, she was doing a good thing. Because then Hansel would die and go to Heaven to be with God and Jesus.

I smiled a no doubt horrified smile and said something like But But But. While Cuthbert explained even more fully, I analyzed my options.

a) If I said, No, the witch did a bad thing, because it is not nice to cook and eat little boys and girls, then sixteen children would go home and report, Miss Kathy said it’s bad to go to Heaven and be with God and Jesus.

b) If I said, Yes, the witch did a good thing, because cooking and eating little boys and girls ensures their immediate transport Heavenward, then sixteen children would go home and report, Miss Kathy approves of cold-blooded murder and cannibalism. Plus witchcraft. Plus reading a book about a witch, which in our Great State is sometimes considered more damaging than the murder/cannibalism package.

c) Anything I said might be in complete opposition to what Cuthbert’s mother had told him on this topic, and he would report that to her, and then I would get to attend a conference that wouldn’t be nearly so much fun as it sounds.

Note: The last sentence under b) is not to be taken literally. It is sarcasm, and richly deserved. The earlier reference to emergency duct tape is hyperbole. I’ve never duct taped a child.

Well, anyway, I wish I could say the sky opened and a big light bulb appeared above my head and gave me words to clean up this mess. But I don’t remember finding any words at all, at least sensible ones. I think I babbled and stammered until the teacher came to repossess her charges.

I remember Cuthbert was talking when he left the room. There’s no telling what his classmates took away from that lesson.

I suppose, if I’d been in my right mind, I’d have said something to the effect that God and Jesus don’t like it when witches send people along earlier than expected.

But the prospect of talking theology with this independent thinker froze my neural pathways.

And anyway, it took all the energy I had to keep from laughing.


“Hansel and Gretel and Cuthbert and Me” appeared on this blog in 2011 and again in 2012. The discussion about  fairy tales and religion took place twenty years ago. I think about it often and feel fortunate I’ve never had a nightmare about it. But I remember Cuthbert fondly for giving me what was simultaneously the worst and the best day of my career. He was a cute little boy.

Can Being Tired Make Us Better Writers?

Yesterday, I posted on Writing Wranglers and Warriors a piece (Boy, Am I Cranky) prompted by this post on Kristin Lamb’s Blog. I provided a link to that blog, but in case you didn’t have time to read it, I’m reblogging it. In a couple of days I’ll tell a (not-funny-to-me-except-in-hindsight-and-maybe-not-even-then) story about why that 2-hour post took more than five hours to write.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 9.14.12 AM Image via Lauriesanders60 WANACommons

Last month I participated in NaNoWriMo even though it’s the holidays and, as many of you know, I am battling the last vestiges of Shingles which makes me tired, like down to the BONES tired. But, lest I go crazy, I had to write, because that’s what writers do. We aren’t happy unless we are writing something. 

I figured in the beginning I likely wouldn’t make the 50,000 word mark not only because of feeling puny, but I also have other writing that doesn’t count toward NaNo.

Yet, the interesting thing is, being tired can have benefits. If we wait until that celestial alignment when the kids aren’t sick, our pants fit, there isn’t a heap of laundry, the garage is clean, the junk mail sorted, and we feel energized? We won’t get a lot of writing done, so here is some food for thought…

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Boy, Am I Cranky

I’m on Writing Wranglers and Warriors today, thinking aloud about Kristin Lamb’s question–“Can Being Tired Make You a Better Writer?”
Read to learn the answer. And be sure to visit Kristin’s blog – – and see what she says.

Writing Wranglers and Warriors




Posted by Kathy Waller


There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep. ~ Homer


(A word in this post contains a zero in place of an o. If you find it, go to the head of the class. I saw it but now I can’t find it to correct it. There’s an and for an, too. Yes, this is pertinent to the subject of the post.)

Ten a.m., and I was dead tired.

IMG_0212I’d awakened at seven a.m., put sheets in the washing machine, piled three loads on the landing to do later, folded a load taken from the dryer, hidden one load of clean towels under the couch pillows so the guy cats couldn’t sleep on them, dressed myself, and driven downtown.

Now I was sitting on a stool at the computer bar of my office-coffee…

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3,000 Hippos and Sophie Tucker Can’t Be Wrong

In November, my friend and critique partner Gale Albright presented a NaNoWriMo write-in at the Hutto Public Library, in Hutto, Texas. Nine writers and their laptops gathered to write for four solid hours, supported by snacks and coffee provided by the Library.

Attendance was so robust that I had to scrounge* for a seat when I arrived. Late.

Welcome to Hutto
Welcome to Hutto

It would be trite to report that both writers and library staff expressed enthusiasm for the project. Nonetheless, that’s what happened, and I can’t pretend it didn’t.

They were so enthusiastic, in fact, that I foresee a future write-in,  even without NaNoWriMo to serve as an excuse.

After the write-in, I drove around the city. Originally settled by Germans and Swedes, Hutto still looks like a small town, but it’s changing rapidly. New subdivisions are going up all around.

The older part of town has neat houses and yards,

Hutto neighborhood
Hutto neighborhood

a charming main street,

Hutto Main Street
Hutto Main Street

and open spaces.

Hutto Main Street seen across a grassy area
Hutto Main Street seen across a grassy area

The library is a renovated fire station. A couple of years ago, the reading room was tiny; then a second bay was opened, more than doubling the space and providing room for an enlarged children’s area.

Hutto Public Library sign
Hutto Public Library sign


Hutto Public Library building
Hutto Public Library building

But what sets Hutto apart from other cities worldwide is its legend. You can read the whole story at How the Hippo Came to Hutto, on the Williamson County Historical Commission website, but here’s a summary: In 1915, a circus train stopped in Hutto to pick up passengers and to let workers care for animals. Somehow, a hippo got out of a railcar, headed for a nearby creek, took a dip, found the muddy water to its taste, and, no matter what trainers did to lure it out, refused to cooperate. Legend says the Depot Agent telegraphed two Taylor and Round Rock: STOP TRAINS, HIPPO LOOSE IN HUTTO. Somehow the hippo was returned to its railcar, but amused residents made his story their own. Soon afterward, Hutto School took the hippo as its mascot and the football team became the Hutto Hippos.

Today Hutto is

010 3000 hippos signThe largest stands near the Chamber of Commerce building.

Main Street Hippo
Main Street Hippo

One guards its property.

Guard Hippo
Guard Hippo

Another is exceedingly modest but also stylish.

Britches-wearing Hippo
Britches-wearing Hippo

A fourth, like the Guard Hippo, enhances its original concrete with an overlay of alabaster.

Alabaster Hippo
Alabaster Hippo

I wish I had taken more pictures of Hutto’s hippos, but drizzle had turned into rain, and I wanted to get home before rain turned into traffic problems. Suffice it to say there are hippos of every size and color all over town. A local artist can be commissioned to personalize hippos to the owner’s specifications.

Hutto is a pleasant little place. In some ways, it reminds me of my hometown as it was when I was a child.

In short, I think Hutto would be a good place to live.

As they say, three thousand hippos can’t be wrong.


English: Photograph of Sophie Tucker
English: Photograph of Sophie Tucker (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain.


Turn up the sound and enjoy Sophie Tucker singing “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong.” Cole Porter wrote the lyrics. I hate to say it, but this is three thousand times better than the hippos.

Sophie Tucker was quite a looker. I had no idea. Now I see what all the fuss was about.



*Exaggeration. There were two empty seats.