Have a Very Lillian Killion Christmas!

It’s that time of year when Hallmark Christmas Movie titles are constantly flooding my psyche. Maybe it’s because I begin watching these predictable yet comforting films in October. Maybe it’s another sign I’m getting older, but this year, more than most, I am remembering more vividly than ever those magical first Christmases of my early childhood. It would be impossible to think about those times without remembering my adorable Grandmother whose very name would make an amazing Hallmark Christmas movie title – Lillian Killion. In fact, throw in her maiden name – De Lisle – along with her girlish nickname – “Lil” – and one could conjure an image of a modern rapper (my nail tech once did, recently!). Lil De Lisle grew up to become Lillian Killion. We called her “Mim” (I was the youngest of her 9 grandchildren).

One year my Mom let me plan a surprise birthday party for Mim. I picked up the phone and called her 2 best friends, Aunt Grace and Mrs. Segal and it was a lively affair. Ever the one to tease, I remember choosing these candles to give the appearance we were celebrating her 102nd birthday!

Mim was widowed before I was born so my memories begin with picking her up on Saturdays to bring her to our home for supper, a little “Lawrence Welk Show” then evening Mass. We lived in a small town in Southern Missouri – what is often referred to as the “Bootheel.” As I get older, I am struck by the fact that I truly had a Southern upbringing. This is another story, but after I started High School 200 miles North in St. Louis, Missouri, I did my very best to shed any evidence of my small town heritage. What a pity! I made this decision within days of arriving at a private Catholic school for young women. I had not understood something a teacher in class had just said, so I raised my hand with the question, “Ma’am?” on my tongue and was quickly embarrassed to death with the other students’ reactions. I traded in my Southern softness and naivete for a more popular, hard-edged “big city” persona. Or so I thought.

I remember details about my Grandmother like most children: her voice, her skin, her laugh, the smart clothing she wore, her museum-like house with the back door that played a familiar classical hymn (I could hum it but have no idea it’s origin) whenever she opened it. About 2 paces inside her back door was a refrigerator stocked with Orange Crush cola. Another 50 paces down the hall and into my Dad’s childhood bedroom was a beautiful mahogany dresser stuffed with Wrigley’s spearmint chewing gum – a bit of a stretch to reach the top drawer but I always managed it. Mim’s bathroom was all pink tile and she kept a magnifying glass next to her powder blue velvet reclining chair (though I don’t imagine her to be the reclining type) for reading important weather reports and social news from our local paper, “The Portageville Review.” I remember her giggle most of all. It was girlish. She always seemed mildly amused around me. I remember asking her how old she was one day and this came close to making her decidedly unamused. She thought about it for a second and quickly answered, “I’m seventiesh” – but in a way that left no question in my mind that I was to pry no further. I never met my Grandfather, whom I am told doted on her. A dear friend of the family told me once how endearing it was to see my Grandfather affectionately hand Mim a $5 bill and tell her to go buy herself something she would enjoy. Watching these moments must be how my charming and adorable Dad picked up one of my favorite traits – greeting me on the stairway the minute I walked in for a visit from Kansas City with $100 cash – for “gas money,” he’d say with a twinkle in his eye.

This time of year, what I cherish most are the memories of holidays from my childhood and the absolutely perfectly thought out gifts I received from my dear Grandmother, Mim. Looking back, she must have consulted with my Mom to have been so on target each year. If she didn’t, then I love her even more than I thought. First, some history. I come from a large family and Mim was concerned about treating each one of my 6 older siblings and me exactly the same. Hence, the tradition of the $40.00 checks from her we all found in our stockings hung with care each Christmas morning. The first time my husband and I talked about childhood holiday traditions when we were dating he wanted to know what a “traditional family stocking stuffer” looked like in our family. He eagerly shared that in his it was a single orange. When I offered up my own equally cherished tradition, he just stared at me in silent disbelief bordering on deep sadness and pity. So much so it made me laugh hysterically at the contrast in our experiences. How could a child, he wondered, find joy in a check from their Grandmother for Christmas? Oh, quite easily, I reassured him! 26 years later, he still does not understand and this amuses me even more so now.

Moving on from the checks drafted from Farmers Bank of Portageville and signed by Lillian Killion, here is a list (in what I recall to be chronological order) of the greatest Christmas gifts of all time from her:

Tinker Bell perfume/powder set – if you don’t instantly get a hypnotic olfactory memory from this classic name then you didn’t grow up in the 70’s. I powdered and dabbed perfume just about every visible surface I could find that Christmas, thanks to Mim.

Clearly sensing my appetite for fragrance mixing, the next year Mim gave me a perfume mixing kit. Imagine putting essential oils in the hands of a 6- year old today and saying, “Have fun!” and this approximates my joy that year. I had several tiny apothecary type jars and a beginner’s lab of fragrances to work with. This kept me busy for days, I am sure. Until I decided how fun it would be to pour the perfume into the moving mouth of my “Baby Alive,” a gift from Santa that year. It was disappointing to discover that “BA” did not consume or digest my perfume concoctions the same way she did the milk and formula that came in the box.

Next came the “STEM” years, or as close to science, technology and math as girls in the 1970’s could get. My Grandmother gifted me a series of wonderful items that kept me occupied for hundreds of hours (to my parents’ delight). First, a metal detector. I took treasure hunting seriously back in 1975 and this device of scientific discovery accompanied me everywhere I went. My Mother would drop me off at the park for some real down and dirty search for valuables left behind by careless and inattentive park visitors. I don’t think I ever found anything more valuable than a beer can tab or the occasional penny, but it did not stop me from trying. Then, after a propitious visit to a nearby American Indian burial mound with Sister Arthur, my Grandmother gifted me a rock polishing machine to complement my perpetual searches for arrowhead rocks in the soybean field behind my house. I can still hear the sound of tumbling rocks inside the canister on the rolling platform and feel the anticipation of the fresh jewels I would be holding at the end of the tumbling cycle. From there, I moved on to searching for geodes for a brief stint after Jeff Brands gave a scintillating presentation about them at a 4H meeting. Alas, the enthusiasm did not last long but it was fun while it lasted.

The final Christmas gift of my childhood that Mim bestowed upon me was the best. My very own DJ station, complete with turntable and microphone! I converted Mom’s dining room to my personal radio station, spinning wax and talking about the tunes to my imaginary radio listeners. With 6 older siblings, I had a virtual American Bandstand cache to choose from so the programming possibilities were endless. The Dave Clark 5, The Archies, Herman’s Hermits and Tommy James and the Shondells (“Crimson & Clover” I played over and over!) blasted off that turntable and into my radio universe for many a contented childhood hour.

Whether it was perfume, scientific exploration or music, the gifts Mim gave me for Christmas helped shape me. Somehow, with 8 other grandchildren to think about, she knew me and delighted in my imagination. I can’t wait to see her again and hear her giggle. I will thank her for the special memories and love she gave to me at Christmas and always. Then I will ride in the backseat of our paneled Ford station wagon again as one of my teenaged sisters or Mom picks Mim up for her nail appointment, grocery store or to go to Saturday afternoon confession. The fact that she never drove a car was a unique and glorious opportunity to know her better. And I am thankful for that.

I’m Grateful for Check-Ins

It’s that time of year again where I struggle with the accurate spelling of “mantel.”  Or is it “mantle”?  Like “Capitol” and “capital,” this distinction in spelling gnaws at me (in a good way, I suppose).  In any case, as you can see, my mantel is doing just fine.  And so am I .  Thanks to check-ins from many unexpected friends and caring neighbors.  And of course, my constant therapy buddies, Pudgey and Vanilla.


There is something about the month of December that always leaves me feeling warm, loved and grateful.  It’s not just the ordinary pre-Holiday buzzing around that sustains me.  In fact, it is the opposite.  I like the quiet, reflective times of December and I defiantly make them a priority.  I started reading about “minimalism” a few years ago (check out Joshua Becker’s becomingminimalist.com and the excellent writings and Netflix documentary based on the thinking of Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, theminimalists.com).

More than anything, studying the principles of minimalism has offered space and support in my thoughts and lifestyle these past few years to begin a transformation that has led to the greatest clarity and personal satisfaction of my life.  I don’t need more “stuff,” I need less clutter.  I don’t need more “fake friends,” I need a small circle of amazing friends who check-in with me.

Quite unexpectedly, I left a great job this month and immediately became completely helpless  to a very painful sciatic joint “situation.”  I’ve been knocked off my horse and there’s very little I can do about it.  Yet I feel joyful.  I have abundance.  I see goodness.  I am hopeful.  And my small circle of amazing “check-in” friends and family are exactly where I want and need them to be.  Lovingly offering kindness and ready to ease the pain of loneliness or regret or whatever my ailment of the moment happens to be.

For whatever totally undeserved reason, I have received the gift of loyal friendship and support of friends I was close to twenty and thirty years ago back in my life recently.  Old friends are the most comforting treasure in the world.  One glance or utterance can unfold memories, laughter and complete understanding between old friends that gives meaning and purpose to my humanity in the here and now.  Just yesterday, I reconnected with Shelley, a pal from my twenty-something, unmarried, professional days over lunch.  We are both married, in our fifties now and navigating raising teenagers, nurturing marriages of twenty-plus years, and learning to laugh at our common mid-life physical and emotional challenges.  She texted me first thing this morning:

“I’m so very proud and impressed with all your personal accomplishments!  You don’t give yourself enough GRACE!”

My dears, when a friend who knows you inside and out says these beautiful words to you, I don’t care how or when or in what format, you are LUCKY.  You are enough.  You make a difference.  And you are certainly loved and appreciated.

Like the beautiful fresh greenery another dear friend recently draped across my mantle (or is it mantel? More amazingly, she did it without duct tape!), life is full of simple joys that can be overlooked if you don’t intentionally slow down.  Check-in with your soul on a regular basis and feed it with acceptance, inspiration, a cup of tea, a conversation with an old friend, or a friendly chat with the neighbor walking their dog down the street.  These are the gifts I am grateful for this December, regardless of what packages happen to end up under my tree.

I hope that 2019 brings you lots of positive “check-ins” from loving sources you have encountered and nurtured throughout your life.  A check-in doesn’t have to be lavish – just a few simple words to express what you’re feeling in the moment are all that another person needs to feel supported and ready for a new day.

I dedicate this to all my check-in friends of 2018 and look forward to growing that number in the coming year: Shelley, Pam, Mary, Melissa, Vicki, Vickie, Victoria, Jennifer, Jeanne, Sherry, Stevie, Johanna, Christine, Susanna, Malin, Kit, Laurie, Kelly, Carol, Lincoln, Rob, Mark, Alex, Julie, Susan, Erin, Jenny, Carmen, Alejandre, Ann, Linda, JoEllen, Sarah, Mike, Gwyneth, Bill, Caryl, Sheila, Isa and Mario.

Merry Christmas, friends.

49 Thanksgivings Later

After 49 Thanksgivings, I finally “get” why it did not matter to my Mom, in her later years, whether our family ate dinner together on paper plates (themed, of course) or not.  The mere fact that we were together was enough for her – and it should have been enough for me – but, alas, I needed more “road miles” in life to fully understand.

This Thanksgiving I am wildly and enthusiastically thankful for 4 Things:


PALS come to Tango Canyon
Mario’s preschool class visited our 34-acre wilderness every year for their Spring field trip – here he is greeting the bus!  It was a truly wondrous time.

To be curious is a state of willingness to allow life, ideas, people, nature and the world to enthrall and intoxicate you.  In spite of my struggle this 49th year of my life on earth to discover and maintain a healthy sobriety, I am thankful to discover that I still experience the wonder of a child every single day.  AMEN to that and keep the curiosity coming!

After all, it has been said, “interesting people are interested people.”


It has taken me 49 years to learn the slow and steady “tortoise” way – I used to prefer to hurry and get my reward or pain “over with.”

We all experience setbacks and many of them are stunning, paralyzing and utterly terrifying.  Looking back, I really am thankful for each and every setback I have experienced.  Not only am I learning humility, I am experiencing the ebb and flow of the journey and learning to take my EGO OUT OF IT.  I mean, a mortal can only do so much – the Universe is so much larger and powerful, and there is no escaping the lessons we’re each meant to learn.  To me, setbacks are just another way of experiencing mortality and human limitations.  And like Garth Brooks famously crooned, “I thank God for unanswered prayers” every single day.


First Recital
You’d never know it but this picture of my darling children was snapped during one of the darkest times of my life.  Complete shock and uncertainty colored my days, but they, being the curious and resilient little teachers our children are meant to be, marched onward!

My husband and I were “curious” about life in a tiny town more than 200 miles away from our home so we packed up and moved away from friends, family, professional connections, and all the lovely comforts of city life.  We stayed there 8 years.  I joke that 2 of them were happy, but I seriously mean it!  Looking back, that really is not true:  my mental state was not happy because I was fighting the flow of our new lives.  But something super cool I have discovered in mid-life:  you can actually reflect back and accept what was once unimaginable and unendurable and it has the same effect – now my memories of what I thought was a “really dark time” are mostly funny and happy!  I am so thankful for this gift.


Boo 16 mos
Becoming a Mother is just one way of earning the responsibility for tending to a tribe.  This is my first little tribe member, Isabella Bernadette.

A wise woman once told me, “Your kids aren’t always going to be this little.”  Obvious statement of fact but, at the time, I could hardly imagine a time when my life was not dictated by play dates, diaper changes, snack times, story times, intrusive “Mom friends” and never-ending messes, usually involving bodily fluids.  This is my beautiful daughter, now 16 years old, at 16 months old.  I hardly remember the passing of time.  Another wise woman, my own Mother, told me, “Honey, life will pass you by so quickly it will leave your head spinning.”  And it has.  She was right, as usual.  I am thankful for my tribe of family, starting with my husband and children and colored with many interesting friends and co-workers.  At the tender age of 49, I have learned how to assess quickly what “works” for my tribe and what needs to just go away!  THANKS be to GOD!!

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are, and whether you enjoy it on the finest china or paper plates.  Life is a gift.