Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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Chances Are I Didn’t Do It

My Christmas Letter: I’m amazed at all the things I DIDN’T do last year.
Winter:

snowvids1I DIDN’T shovel an ounce of the 105 inches of snow we got in the Northeast. It’s hard to shovel snow when you’re in Cancun. Not that I was in Cancun, mind you. But I do live in a condo community with stand-alone homes and low HOA fees–snow removal included. Close enough for me, by golly.

I DIDN’T finish the portrait of my husband I never started. “Why not?” you ask. The answer is simple. We don’t have a fireplace, so where would I hang it? And then there’s this: I can’t draw, not even a short straw.

I DIDN’T dance the cha-cha-cha. Unless you count the mornings I had too much coffee.

Spring:

I DIDN’T quite finish my Fall cleaning.

Not by bicycle.

This is not my bicycle.

I DIDN’T let the strong crosswinds affect me on a 30-mile cycle trip on the Kancamagus Highway. I DIDN’T have one sore muscle. That’s a lie. I did have a few sore muscles, but that was from sleeping on our old mattress. Never been on the Kancamagus myself. Don’t even own a bicycle, and slow speed is too fast for me.

I DIDN’T spit out the car window–not one time. Mainly, because both times the window was closed. [Note to my friend Kellie Parham. You know I’d never do this, so relax.]

Summer:

I DIDN’T go camping. At all. What a shame. (Again, lying here. No shame at all.)

I DIDN’T have the problem of critters spoiling my organic garden. I chose to pay the whole price at Whole Foods and save myself a whole lot of grief.

Prize HogI DIDN’T win a blue ribbon at the fair for my prize hog, Ham. I DIDN’T even go to the fair. Ham and I lounged by the pool that day.

Fall:

I DIDN’T do a scrapbooking page for each of the things I DIDN’T do.

I DIDN’T smack a single person upside the head. (Of course, the year’s not over yet.)

I DIDN’T win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. I felt kinda bad about that for a while. The feeling passed when I realized people might expect me to do exciting stuff with all my money. Like sit and sweat in Cancun. Ride or, worse, hike the Kancamagus. Go camping. Or show off my hog, Ham, at the county fair.

More things I’m thankful I DIDN’T do: 

I DIDN’T give up on getting my first book published–and it happened.

I DIDN’T get sick.

I DIDN’T stop being thankful for my family.

I DIDN’T stop loving and appreciating my husband.

I DIDN’T lose a loved one.

I DIDN’T stop praying.

I DIDN’T stop believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the world.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” ~ Luke 2:8-12 (NIV)

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

CJ 02056


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There’s a Reason the Road is Less Traveled. People Like Me Can’t Find It.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.~ Psalm 119:105 (NIV)

road_less_traveled_GNYou know that famous “road less traveled” that M. Scott Peck wrote about? There’s a reason it’s less traveled. People like me can’t find it.

Kind friends refer to me as “directionally challenged.” Others call me names school children are forbidden to use. I’m more of an in-the-moment type of person rather than an observer-of-signs. Being in the moment is tough enough without  navigating simultaneously.

Maps, shmaps. My internal compass has convinced my brain that these statements make perfect sense: 1) NORTH is always the direction I’m facing; 2) SOUTH is always behind me; 3) EAST is to my right; and 4) WEST, to my left. Hey, it works a quarter of the time, so I can’t complain.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I second guess my every turn. You know what they say about second guesses. They’re stupid wrong. By the time I’m lost, it’s too late to determine if my first guess would have been right. Even now, after nine years of living in a small town in southern New Hampshire, every intersection brings a surprise. “Huh. So this is where this road comes out?”

I had my first big, lost adventure as a high school senior. I took a trip from Cape Cod to Providence, RI to visit my boyfriend with his young cousin. I assured her parents we’d be back before dark. As promised, with plenty of time, we got on the road. Which road was the question.

Searching for signs to the highway led me to dead ends and questionable neighborhoods. Each time I stopped for directions, I only remembered the last instruction the gas station attendant had given me me—which is never a good place to start. My young passenger became anxious. As darkness fell, her anxiety turned to fear. So did mine.

Being the older, more responsible one, it fell to me to reassure her. At the next turn, I sang out, “We’re fine! Yup. This looks familiar.” When the street lights grew further apart, I slowed to a crawl and clicked on my brights.

Good thing. We were in a beach parking lot about twenty feet from the ocean. In New Bedford.Road Sign Lost

Many years later, after I was widowed, I realized I had nothing to hold me back from traveling. When I noticed a “Lease Me” sign on a large, van-sized camper, I thought about driving across country. My excitement mounted. My mind raced. My bravado grew. Now all I had to do was run the idea past my friend, Kellie, who had taken on the role of my mentor (a nice word for watchdog. Every widow needs one. Trust me.)

While driving her home one afternoon, I broached the subject positively and coveted her blessing. She pondered the matter for about as long as it took me to miss her exit and circle the rotary three times. I can still see her folded arms and smug stare.

I know I’m not alone in this condition. Once, my friend, Brenda, and I decided to attend a women’s conference in Sturbridge, MA, about two hours away from our home on Cape Cod. We thought if we drove together, one of us could act as the navigator. We soon learned “acting” as a navigator didn’t necessarily equate to being one.

After we backtracked a few exits out of Connecticut, we arrived in Sturbridge and found the sprawling hotel. For three days we trekked up and down endless hallways, the conference rooms eluding us. I was relieved when we reached our destination almost on time for one of the events. Not wanting to disturb the speaker, I opened the door quietly, stepped in, then stopped short. Brenda, hot on my heels, rear-ended me, thrusting us unceremoniously into the small room.

We might have been publically humiliated—if it hadn’t been the janitor’s closet.

When travelling by car with my husband, he does most of the driving.  Okay, all of the driving. But I did offer once on our way to Virginia.

ME, with a pure motive and generous heart: “Want me to spell you for a while?”
HIM, glancing at me with raised eyebrows: “With your sense of direction?”
ME, gesturing with my hand toward the open road: “We’re on the highway! How lost could I get?”
HIM, narrowing his eyes: “What about your other issue?”
ME, my forehead furrowed: “What other issue?”
HIM, treading carefully: “Uh, haven’t you fallen asleep behind the wheel before?”
ME, pointing to the edge of the road, “Yeah, but that’s what rumble strips are for!”

Highway to Heaven Goes Through Jesus

Uh? Oh. I thought this was an artist’s depiction of a road to Heaven. My husband just told me it’s a picture of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I can even get lost in Google.

While on Earth, I’ll have to deal with roundabouts, stop signs, deadends, and plenty of wrong turns. Thankfully, to get to Heaven, all I have to do is hang onto Jesus. He’ll take me the rest of the way.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see. ~ Hymn by John Newton (1779)


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Orange Is the New Gullible

Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. ~  Stephen Colbert, Talk Show Host & Comedian

gullibleCynics are angry, unpleasant, sad people who love to mock everyone and everything. Anyone can be cynical. It’s easy. All you have to do is believe the worst about people and situations. Then when someone or something disappoints you, you can be smug and snarky and say, “I knew it.”

Gullible people are happy; their smile is uplifting. They make us laugh. It takes a much greater faith to be gullible. I know that from personal experience.

I was 30 when my now late husband convinced me that rabbits lay eggs. The conversation went something like this.

HIM, looking at the five empty Easter baskets I’d retrieved from the attic: “It’s gonna take a lot of rabbits to lay a lot eggs to fill those baskets.”

ME, chuckling: “I think you mean chickens.”

HIM, crossing his arms and leaning against the counter: “That’s what everyone thinks.”

ME, rolling my eyes: “Because it’s true. There’s no such thing as rabbit eggs. Rabbits have bunnies.”

HIM, looking incredulous: “Why would an Easter Bunny bring chicken eggs? Rabbit eggs are rare because of that protected bird. You know, the one the Fish and Wildlife Service is always fussing about becoming extinct?”

ME, reaching into a memory bank: “Which one? The piping plover?”

HIM, holding his hands out about twelve inches apart: “Nah, it’s that huge bird with the long, pointy, curved beak. It only comes around after the snakes go into hibernation.”

ME, still trying to come up with the name of the bird: “Snakes hibernate?”

HIM, nodding his head: “You were never a 4H girl, were you? The bird shows up in late winter-early spring to scout rabbit rookeries. It pokes a hole in the rabbit eggshell and sucks out the insides.” 

ME, screwing up my face: “Ew. That’s gross.” 

HIM, shaking his head: “I know, right?” 

ME, thinking about starting a foundation: “Why doesn’t the Fish and Wildlife Service protect the rabbits, too? We should do something.”

HIM, rubbing the scruff on his chin: “We might could switch to chicken eggs this year.”

ME, shrugging: “It’s not much, but it’s a start.”

But it didn’t end there . . .

  • When we had to give our misbehaving German Shepherd away, I believed he went to live on a farm. Actually, I still believe that.
  • I thought paying tradesmen the full amount up front would put me at the top of their list.
  • I once replaced $100 stolen from a waitress (known to have a drug problem), so she could get her daughter a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas. I was amazed when no one else chipped in.
  • It took me years to realize the things I found under my kids’ mattresses weren’t hidden there by their troubled friends.
  • I took one of my shoes off for a burly truck driver (who was unloading lumber onto a loading dock) so he could check the designer. He held it for a few seconds longer than was necessary—or comfortable. When I asked my boss if that sounded weird, he banned me from accepting deliveries.
  • Before buying a special “Al Capone” roast in the Italian North End of Boston, the butcher told me I needed an ID. I presented him with two forms to make sure I got a choice cut.
  • I made online arrangements to rent a room to a college girl whose father was an Irish engineer working out of Nigeria. When I caught onto his scam, I scolded him. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” I’m pretty sure it changed his life.
  • Even though I get the joke, I’m still trying to say the word “gullible” slowly until it sounds like the word “oranges.” [Oh, come on, some of you are doing it, too!]

I admit gullible people are often wrong in what they believe and repeat. But I’d still rather be lied to and laughed at than chance mistrusting an honest person. It helps me enjoy the journey to reality rather than be miserable the whole way to it.

Besides, who would you rather spend the day with? The woman on the left below or the man on the right? I thought so. One has the gift of gullibility. The other clearly does not. Can’t you imagine telling this woman just about anything? She would smile even as he harrumphed.

Deb Bock and Friend

LEFT: My friend, Debra, with her ever-present, unsuspecting smile. RIGHT: A cranky cynic I’m glad I do not know.

The award-winning children’s books illustrator and author, Chris Van Allsburg, said it well:

The inclination to believe in the fantastic may strike some as a failure in logic, or gullibility, but it’s really a gift. A world that might have Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster is clearly superior to one that definitely does not.

Platypus-Ears

Right. How about a cynical Easter platypus? Sure.

ME, being interrupted by my husband while writing this: “What did you say, honey?”

HIM, repeating his comment: “Did you know that the duck-billed platypus lays eggs?”

ME, slumping in my chair: “You don’t really expect me to fall for that, do you?”

HIM, shrugging off a smile: “How ’bout tomorrow I take you to the farm to see that dog of yours?”

ME, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed: “You mean it?”

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. ~ Matthew 10:16 (NIV)