Merry Christmas, coyotes and all

It’s 6:30 in the morning. My wife Catherine’s asleep upstairs. Downstairs our Christmas tree gleams in the dim morning light. In the bracing darkness outside a pack of coyotes raises a sudden din of high-pitched yelping that sounds like the horrible hounds of hell on holiday.

Holy cow! It sounds like they’re right outside my office window! I’m so not kidding. We live near all these hills, and lately it seems like the coyotes have been talking amongst themselves, saying, “What are we doing living out here in the middle of nowhere, when those morons get to live indoors? Let’s scare ’em out of their houses.”

And then last night I caught on fire. I left a little message about it on my FB page last night (because what good is social networking if you can’t use it to share how you almost charbroiled your face off?). The gist of what happened is that I inadvertently dangled the bottom front of my flannel shirt over the roaring gas flame of one of our stove burners (we were supposed to making tea, see), and whooof! my shirt went up like it was made of … well, apparently nothing burns like freakin’ flannel, because the whole front of my shirt was aflame before you can say “I can’t believe this is how I’m gonna die!” I immediately jumped about six feet to my left, and the shirt was over my head and on the floor by the time I landed.

After it happened Cat (whose Big Joke afterwards was, “You’re too much of a hottie!”) and I were watching TV, and I was, like, “Man, I can’t believe how much it still smells like burn in here.” It was so weird, since it’d been hours. And then I realized the acrid smell was coming off me. All the hair on half my stomach and chest was fried. (I’m fine, btw. I’ll miss my beloved flannel shirt, but I suppose it was already old when I bought it at a thrift store five years ago, so perhaps it was time we parted anyway. Maybe having it burn right off my body was God’s way of telling me to stop dressing like a derelict.)

So. First I caught fire, and now I’ve got what sounds like two thousand hounds of hell yipping outside my window.

You know, this has been one weird Christmas. Since early November I’ve been working on a book that has obliterated my normal life; half of this big bad boy is due January 22, the rest on March 1. I’m 25,000 words done now, which leaves 60,000 words to write in the forty-two work days left between now and March 1. And since the book’s about a real actual person who has a real actual life that zillions of people know about, it’s not like I can just make stuff up. It’s a veritable research fest up in this hizzle.

Anyway, the book’s important to do because it’s about something I seriously care about, and I love writing it. (I’m also doing it on spec, however, so … here’s hoping that I don’t end up having wasted the last four months because man am I now officially out of money.) But it’s largely badoinkered the whole Holiday Season thing for Cat and me, since … well, since I haven’t had time to do much more than help decorate our tree and extinguish my burning clothes.

And then came this nightmare event in Connecticut, of course. Which has so darkly pervaded the lives of us all.

This year, I know, we’re all having an off Christmas.

But now the time is really here. Now it’s really Christmas.

And this year we’re all hugging our children a little tighter than we usually do, and holding them a little longer. And most of them understand why we’re doing that, and are more than okay with it.

Merry Christmas, friends. May all your dreams come true. And may the wolves not stop at your door as they pass back toward the hidden wild where they belong.


If you’ve a moment and haven’t ever read it, “Joseph and Pregnant Mary at the Inn” means a lot to me.

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  • Barbara Rice

    Merry Christmas, John and Cat!

    For the record, I had a cat who set his tail on fire, not once, but twice in the same evening. He wasn’t wearing a flannel shirt, though. And yes, the house smelled like burn for a long time afterwards.

  • Susan in NY

    Sorry about the whole burning your shirt off thing.

    Merry Christmas!

    Susan in NY

  • Amanda Longmoore via Facebook

    Merry Christmas, John! I can’t begin to express how much your writing means to me. Y’know, Christmas comes every year, no matter if we’re ready for it or not, and plunks itself into our messy lives. It doesn’t need help from us, and we don’t have to be completely ready for it (I’m not sure I ever am). And that’s sometimes hard, and sometimes beautiful, but always wonder-full. I wish you all the beauty and wonder of Christmas.

  • As the Grinch discovered, Christmas always comes even when it seems some are determined to prevent it.

  • Wow. Being on fire is not something that happens to all of us, usually. Glad it turned out ok. Meanwhile, I read this in Margaret Bullitt-Jonas’ meditation for today: “This is where Christ consents to be born, here in the circumstances of my life, whatever they may be….whatever the struggles and joys of our lives, this is where Christ will be born.” So, happy Christmas to you and Cat and I hope Baby Jesus brings you a new shirt.

  • Carol B.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Allie

    Just got a phone call from my mom that my dad’s arm is cold and blue and he’s headed to the hospital. Doctor is meeting them there and thinks it may be a blood clot but no news yet. Pray for me.

  • Jill H


  • Jill H

    praying for everyone

  • Merry Christmas to you and Cat!

  • Jill H

    John, I’m a little sorry that your misfortune is making me laugh a lot. And I’m glad that’s all it was too.

    Life’s been a bit of a mess as of late for us humankind. It’s not that misfortune has touched your third cousin’s neighbor, it’s that we’ve all got something significant to trudge through. And this time of year can help it feel raw and emotionally close sometimes.

    I second John’s wishes that we all feel our blessings as best we can and connect with each other in kindness. May no one feel alone this holiday season and blessings to all.

  • Allie

    Thanks, Jill.

    They’re helicoptering him for emergency surgery. It is a blood clot and they’re worried about him getting gangrene in his hand if they don’t act fast. Also he’s on blood thinners and has a weak heart so the surgery is very dangerous. So, keep praying.

    Kinda surreal wrapping presents right now, not knowing whether we’re going to open them.

  • boy jesse

    Awww, but wolves are gorgeous creatures – truly one of the Lord’s masterpieces!

    Have a WONDERFUL Christmas, John and Cat!

  • Leila

    Merry Christmas to you, John and Cat, and everyone else as well!

  • Christie and Matt

    Merry Christmas John & Cat!

    We are so very thankful to have you in our lives, even if it is “only online.” We are truly blessed by what you do. Thank you for sharing our story on your blog and helping us raise money for Charly. Thank you for being a light in the darkness in your writing.

    Cat – I’m grateful for you because you are there for John to love and support him so that he can love and support us all. Thanks for being his rock.

    Much love,

    Christie & Matt

  • Elizabeth

    Love you, Jill (and John and Cat.) Merry Christmas!

  • Matt

    Praying for your father, Jill. My dad had the same thing in both legs–luckily both were saved. I hope he does get to open those presents :).

  • Matt

    Merry Christmas, John and Cat!

    Cat–I honestly wish we could hear more from you on here. From what I’ve read, you seem really funny, compassionate, and kind. A perfect match for John, then!

  • Jill H

    Right back at ya, love!

  • Jill H

    Sending thanks and warmest wishes for your holidays to my online spiritual family tonight. You are a blessing to me. Peace to all, Jill

  • Allie

    Little bit of grace… surgery went well, arm is fine, the only problem now is what meds to put him on so this doesn’t happen again because he had a bleeding-type stroke previously. Spending Christmas morning in the hospital I got to meet some very lovely people who were all smiles and not a bit of resentment for having to work on Christmas. The nurse told us she was happy to be able to spend Christmas with our family.

    Merry Christmas, all!

  • mike moore

    Merry Christmas, John.

  • Jill H

    SO glad to hear good news, Allie! Merry Christmas!

  • Carol B. VanderNat via Facebook

    Any day you don’t catch on fire is a good day……

  • Exactly! The best. Automatically great.

  • Not catching fire is good… the classic poem does NOT say “Merry Christmas to all, and to all an ignite.”

  • Elena Cotten Westbrook via Facebook

    I’m adopting this as my new slogan.

  • Carol B. VanderNat via Facebook

    “And I heard him exclaim as he jumped ever higher…”Holy CRAP! My SHIRT is on fire!” hahahaha……

  • Glad you’re OK!

  • Sandy Monty via Facebook

    This is the very first Christmas that I have spent the entire day alone… me, a mom of 3 and grandma of 1. Never thought I’d see the day. At least I didn’t catch on fire.

  • Diana A.

    “Any day that begins with you dialing 911 is not a banner day for you.”–Ed Haynes, “Banner Day”

  • I don’t build he day up. How could I when I just want to never wake up again?

  • I see by your Facebook profile that today you did wake up this morning, Jos. Can we trust that you didn’t find doing so too terribly disappointing? Let us know if you’d rather you hadn’t.