Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: Small Packages & Good Things

As 2019 comes to a close, I thought this would be an excellent time to wrap up a few loose ends — or, rather, unwrap a few small packages and share the good things inside.

Small Package #1:

In April 2018, before I left my nursery job in a local box store, I purchased a small vanda orchid. Vandas are incredibly beautiful plants. Flowers are large and plentiful, and the roots hang down from the pot openings in long strands, absorbing moisture from the air. Normally, when these orchids are sold fully grown and in full bloom, they can cost as much as $30 — and that’s on the low end.

It’s always been my gardening opinion to not purchase expensive plants, and to never purchase plants in bloom. Personally, I’d rather have a plant that hasn’t been forced into bloom so that I can enjoy the flowers for a longer period of time.

Such was the case with my vanda, a large purple and white speckled variety. I noticed it on an endcap in the garden center, part of  a display of various orchids packaged in small bags made of netting. These are younger plants, grown from award-winning stock, and all that’s needed is time, patience, and about $11.

The plant, though, never seemed to get any larger and I was surprised to see it send up a flower spike. Maybe, I thought, this is what they do. Eventually, the flower buds opened — and the flowers, although lovely, looked nothing like the original package. They were red and they were small. Very small.

Although, I no longer had the receipt, I reached out to the company, Better-Gro, on Facebook. I shared photos of the original packaging, which I had saved, and of the flowers that bloomed. In a true testament to their excellent customer service, they quickly responded with an apology

Good Thing #1:

Within two days, a small package arrived. Inside was a replacement plant that was my original intended purchase, and one which I am now showering with time and patience.

Small Package #2:

At about the same time, another package arrived in the mail. It was from a former colleague of mine, Diana Marik, an English teacher who is now living her retirement as a paranormal romance writer.

Good Thing #2:

I opened the package and there was the most recent addition to her Seven Deadly Veils series, Veil of Orion, a story of enduring love and the forces trying to tear it apart. There was also a note.

Hello Kevin,

 This is a surprise, I’m sure… In this trying world a spark of joy is here. Since I’ve already dedicated the first six books to close friends and family, I decided to dedicate this book to you.

When we had worked together, we were both independently thinking — dreaming — of writing a book. At the time, I was playing around with the idea of compiling blog posts and photos into a book format, which eventually became Seeing Green. I had heard through the school grapevine that Diana was also exploring writing.

One day, I visited Diana while she was on hall duty and we had our first book-writing conversation. We spoke of the stresses and time, genres and the possibility of self-publishing. At some point, I mentioned that I had registered for a self-publishing conference in NYC and I gave Diana the information. We met in the city that day, attended various workshops, and shared what each of us had learned.

I never forgot the simple act of kindness of informing me about the Self-Pub Expo in Manhattan and pretty much holding my hand when I was so nervous about discovering this ever-changing, crazy world of publishing.

 Isn’t it amazing how simple acts have such a profound rippling effect even when we’re unaware of it?

Amazing, indeed. Uncharacteristically, I found myself at a loss for words. I was touched, honored, humbled, flattered — and none of these words can truly capture the feeling. It was amazing.

Small Package #3:

Joe and I stopped sending paper Christmas cards years ago. As much as we love the idea of sending holiday messages to friends and family, there was something — whether it was the number of trees needed to produce the paper or the money for the cards and the postage, and then to have all of it tossed out at the end of the season… It all seemed wasteful and especially unnecessary in this digital age.

We did, though, have so many peoples’ emails, Facebook contact info, and cell phone numbers. For us, it made better sense to make our own digital card and send it to everyone — and they could print it or delete it. Either way, they would know they were in our thoughts.

Good Thing #3:

So, from Joe and me to all of you:

It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas



A local weather forecaster reminded me that in a few days it will be winter. The predicted high in Zone 10 for the day is 80 degrees, and I have to ask myself: “This is Christmas?”

It’s a lot like the question most people ask whenever I tell them I’m spending the holidays in south Florida. “Does it even feel like Christmas there?” they wonder. “I don’t think I would enjoy Christmas down there. How can it even feel like Christmas?”

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Repost: To All The Christmas Trees I’ve Loved Before

Adonidia Palm -- also known as the Christmas Palm.

Adonidia Palm — also known as the Christmas Palm.

If there’s snow falling on this WordPress blog, it must mean that it’s December — and since I’m in south Florida at the moment, I have a feeling these digital dots may be the closest I come to the white stuff this holiday season.

Take, for example, my recent trip to purchase a Christmas tree.

In recent weeks, large tents have popped up all over. It’s as if lots and lots of circuses have come to town. But under these big tops — necessary to protect the fresh trees from the heat of the sun — freshly bundled Christmas trees are lined up like soldiers, the smell of pine is everywhere, and Christmas carols play from the speakers.

It’s also 75 degrees — and I’m wearing shorts and sandals, which are a far cry from my typical bundled-up Christmas tree shopping gear, although I did add a sweatshirt to at least create the illusion that it’s chilly.

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Yule Tune: Stille Nacht (St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig)

Christmas Blue House

A Christmas display from my childhood.

A few weeks ago, I opened the Christmas music tour with Mahalia Jackson’s very moving rendition of “Silent Night.”  Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of not only daily posts of Christmas carols, but also of working and shopping and baking and wrapping.

Tonight, though, I’d like to give all of you a gift.  After the guests are gone and the presents are under the tree and the stockings are hung, I’d like you to take a few minutes for yourself.  Here are the instructions.

1. Turn off all of the lights, save for those on your Christmas tree.

2. Pour yourself the beverage of your choice — anything from hot chocolate to a martini will work.  I’m going with merlot.

3. Find the proper place to view your Christmas tree.  This could be a favorite sofa or even the floor.  I like to get as low to the floor as possible and look up at the tree.

4. Breathe.

5. Click play and enjoy “Stille Nacht,” the way it must have sounded long ago (1818), when the young priest who wrote the lyrics performed it in the quiet of his small church in an Austrian village.

Special thanks to Modern Mia Gardening for linking her blog to my Yule Tune posts.  Much appreciated.

Yule Tune: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (Dean Martin)

When I first heard Dean Martin’s very lounge-like version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” I had to do a double-take.  Did he just refer to Santa’s superhero as “Rudy”?

Yes, he did — and that has raised Rudolph to a whole new level of coolness in my eyes.  Now, I can’t get the image of Rudy cruising down the Las Vegas Strip in a convertible with Dino, Frankie, Sammy, and other assorted Rat Packers.  Never mind joining any reindeer games — if Rudy is running around with this crew of heavy hitters, I have a feeling his nose is red because of one too many martinis.

Enjoy this Christmas classic, which someone cleverly linked with clips from the Rankin/Bass TV special, originally broadcast in 1964.

Yule Tune: Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her (Leontyne Price/Cantus Thuringia & Capella)

Of all the carols I’ve shared over the past few weeks, none have excited me as much as this one.  This is a carol that I keep close, one of my secret favorites.

I first heard “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her” (or “From Heaven Above To Earth I Come”) decades and decades and even more decades ago while watching a Christmas special on PBS.  Leontyne Price, the opera singer, took the stage — and the most majestic, most moving sound came forth.  Ever since, I’ve included it on homemade Christmas mix tapes and CDs and now on an iPod playlist.  It’s the carol I play late at night while looking at the Christmas tree or while driving.

The history of the carol begins long before the PBS special and Leontyne Price.  The carol was written by Martin Luther — yes, the Martin Luther of Protestant Reformation fame — somewhere between 1534 and 1539 as a hymn to entertain his children during his family’s Christmas Eve gathering.

Some time during the evening, a man dressed as an angel arrived to sing the first five verses, an address to the shepherds.  The children, in turn, would sing the next nine verses as the shepherds’ response, a welcoming of the birth of Jesus.  The last verse was sung by the angel and the children together.

Enter Johann Sebastian Bach, who happened to have been born in the same German city where Luther translated the Bible so it could be accessible by all.  The composer wrote music for the hymn — and this is the version heard here.


1. “From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing:

2. “To you this night is born a child
Of Mary, chosen virgin mild;
This little child, of lowly birth
Shall be the joy of all the earth.

3. “This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford;
He will Himself your Savior be
From all your sins to set you free.

4. “He will on you the gifts bestow
Prepared by God for all below,
That in His kingdom, bright and fair,
You may with us His glory share.

5. “These are the tokens ye shall mark:
The swaddling-clothes and manger dark;
There ye shall find the Infant laid
By whom the heavens and earth were made.”

6. Now let us all with gladsome cheer
Go with the shepherds and draw near
To see the precious gift of God,
Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.

7. Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
What is it in yon manger lies?
Who is this child, so young and fair?
The blessed Christ-child lieth there.

8. Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?

9. Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
How weak art Thou, how poor and small,
That Thou dost choose Thine infant bed
Where humble cattle lately fed!

10. Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
It yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.

11. For velvets soft and silken stuff
Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,
Whereon Thou, King, so rich and great,
As ’twere Thy heaven, art throned in state.

12. And thus, dear Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To make this truth quite plain to me,
That all the world’s wealth, honor, might,
Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.

13. Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

14. My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep;
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradle-song:

15. Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto us His Son hath given!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.

For those of you who would like a more pared down version, please enjoy this performance by Cantus Thuringia & Capella.