Santa’s Coming Early This Year

Such a cute and festive cover, right? Makes me want to go sledding.

On October 8, Santa’s elves will be making an early stop to spread some Christmas cheer in bookstores near you, with the release of Chicken Soup for the Soul: It’s Christmas! Why am I so excited about this book, you ask? I’ve always been a little obsessed with Christmas, but now, with not one, but TWO Christmas babies in our family, we go completely bonkers every December 25. (Okay, okay, technically one of our Christmas babies is a Christmas canine—our dog Cole was born on Christmas day, 2004; our (human) daughter Cassidy was born on Christmas day, 2005. But still. What are the odds?)

This is an old picture, but it’s too cute not to post. My two Christmas babies, Cassidy and Cole—this was taken just before their 2nd and 3rd birthdays.

Anyway . . . chapter 12 of Chicken Soup for the Soul: It’s Christmas! recounts my family’s greatest Christmas miracle: the birth of my oldest daughter—the child we thought we’d never have. It’s one of those so-amazing-it-gives-you-the-chills kind of stories. And our story isn’t the only one. This book is full of true stories that will get you in the holiday mood—so grab yourself a cup of cocoa and start celebrating a little early!

Makes you want to snuggle up with a cup of steaming hot chocolate and a fuzzy blanket, doesn’t it?

13 Things I Wish I Could Teach My Dog

What I Wish I Could Teach My Dog

My two Christmas babies: our dog, Cole, born Christmas day 2004, and our daughter Cassidy, born Christmas day, 2005

1. Look both ways before you cross the street. Please, please, please—if you learn nothing else on this list, get this one down.
2. If you get tangled in a leash, just step out one paw at a time, and unwind. It’s really not that difficult. Really.
3. When people get down on the floor to do yoga, or stretch, or just pick up a piece of lint, that is not an invitation for you to pant wildly in their face, lick their cheeks, and plop your enormous derriere down in their lap. We love you, but really, it is unpleasant—and probably very unhealthy—to take cleansing yoga breaths when the air is full of doggy breath.
4. When I place a pile of clean laundry on the floor to fold, it is not for you. It is not there so you can walk in circles on top of it, then make your smelly self comfortable lying on it. And the baby’s mat is definitely not yours to lie on. You have a lovely bed that you may lounge upon at any time.
5. Don’t sneak up behind me at night—especially not when I’m holding the baby. If you haven’t noticed, your fur is pitch black, and I’ve nearly decapitated myself in violent collisions with you in dark rooms at night. And if I’m gone, who would buy you treats?
6. If you find that you must throw up inside the house, there is plenty of hardwood flooring available for your yakking pleasure. Please use that instead of the carpet. (I appreciate the way you always station yourself right at the seam where the hardwood meets the carpet, but still, you have a gift of aiming for the carpet. You’re not doing this on purpose, are you?)
7. Corollary to #6: If you absolutely must use the bathroom inside the house—I understand that sometimes even the best of dogs have emergencies, and if you do, it is probably your owner’s fault—but again, just find a nice spot on the hardwood. Your life expectancy will be much longer if you do this.
8. It is not necessary to eat paper, books, and DVDs when we leave you alone in the house for a little while. We will always come home—always. We know you are unhappy when we leave—but eating our stuff just makes your misery continue after we get home, and where’s the fun in that?
9. Corollary to #8: If you simply must display your displeasure by eating books, please don’t eat the ones that belong to the library. I imagine they have a distinct old-books-from-the-library scent that will be easy for you to distinguish. Library books cost a lot of money. (And you’re welcome, Athens-Clarke County Public Library, for my $200 “donation” on behalf of my dog.)
10. It is not necessary to bark 5,000 times when the doorbell rings. One bark will do the trick.
11. And on the subject of barking, if the baby is asleep, it is not necessary to bark at all when the doorbell rings.
12. Sometimes, Daddy likes to knock on the walls just to mess with you. No one is at the door; Daddy is just being mean.
13. Speaking of Daddy being mean . . . sometimes he pretends to throw the ball, and he doesn’t really throw anything. You have my permission to run into him and knock him down with your ginormous head whenever he does this. I promise to laugh hysterically and give you lots of treats.
I know we’ve hit 13 already, but I’ve got a few more bonus lessons . . .
14. If you would quit pulling on your leash, you would take a lot more walks and have a much fuller doggy life with many more opportunities to sniff new things.
15. If you must eat grass in preparation for emptying your stomach, just let me know you’ve been eating grass—we can work out some sort of paw signal or something—and I’ll gladly leave you outside for a few extra minutes.
16. Sometimes, you just gotta go in the rain. Sorry, bud, that’s just the way it is, and the sooner you accept that fact and stop looking at me with those “Are you crazy?” eyes, the happier we will both be.
17. When it rains, just stand at the door and give me one paw at a time to wipe the mud off. This is not, by the way, an invitation for you to flop onto your back in the doorway and roll your wet fur around on the floor, hoping for a luxurious belly rub.
18. You are no longer a puppy. You weigh 80 (ahem, maybe 85) pounds, and you are not a lap dog. Wait. Maybe I don’t want to teach you that one after all . . .

The Butterfly on the…Ummm…

My dad’s face was redder than usual, the way it always gets when he is laughing to himself. “Look at that,” he sputtered, pointing across my yard.

Dad and I were relaxing on my back porch, on the kind of glorious, angels-singing-in-the-heavens spring day when it is a crime to stay indoors. He pointed to a black butterfly with aqua lacing the edges of its delicate wings. It was breathtaking. I’d been on Butterfly Watch all week, ever since we’d planted several flowering plants that were supposed to draw butterflies (my four-year-old daughter was desperate for their arrival, asking me every day if the butterflies had come).

My admiring gaze traveled across the butterfly’s fluttering wings, down, down—and I burst out laughing. The butterfly was perched on an enormous, still-steaming pile of dog poop. (Thanks, Cole, you nasty dog, you.) Never mind the hibiscus bobbing merrily in the breeze just six inches away, or the other brightly colored, sweet-scented, butterfly-friendly flowers—oh, no, this butterfly insisted on sitting on a pile of poop. And he stayed there for an hour. (Of course, the moment we tried to snap a picture, he flew away. Argh.)

It seems to me there’s a message in that incongruous image.

Some days, I feel like that butterfly. And perhaps my fellow deep thinkers will know what I mean when I say… Here I sit—a creative, sensitive soul, my sentimental heart throbbing with ineffable longing, aching to grasp and savor life; living as fully as I know how, loving with terrifying abandon; a stubborn idealist with a melancholy streak—and the world is just a big pile of poo. We spend our days flitting around on fragile wings, decorating the world in our own small way; but when we want to land for a moment and bask in the glory of spring and life and all that is good, we can hardly breathe for the stench. We look for joy, but see heartache; we search for faithfulness, but find broken promises… and everywhere we turn we see children, precious souls, receiving lifelong wounds they are not yet old enough to grasp… it’s overwhelming, the heaviness this life can hold. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, just—honest.

But then other days, when I haven’t been the person I long to be, it seems like everyone else is the butterfly, and I am the unworthy pile on which their glory rests. And then some days, the really confusing days, I’m a little bit butterfly and a little bit… well, you know. And something tells me I’m not the only one who wrestles with these things.

I don’t want to overwork the analogy (or overuse the word “poop,” for that matter, although it’s probably too late for that)—you can run with it where you will—but my dad and I uncovered multiple profound messages in that bizarre juxtaposition. We could explore whether or not this was a masochistic butterfly… but I’ll leave all that to your imagination. And here I thought all butterfly metaphors had to do with caterpillars and rebirth! I confess, I’ll never look at butterflies—or the world—quite the same way again.

All I know is, sometimes the world really stinks. We’re doing our best to make it beautiful, venturing out on diaphanous wings, longing only for a fresh breeze and a comforting place to rest, but finding only imperfection and discontent… But then again, maybe the problem is not the whole world but our limited perception of it: Maybe we’ve simply stumbled upon the accident of a well-meaning but disorganized dog who needs a lesson in cleanliness; and maybe, if we look up, we might notice the sweet hibiscus welcoming us just a few inches away, planted just for us by a loving hand, waiting for us to find it…