A common “exchange” at Christmas is a cookie exchange, where everyone involved makes a big batch of cookies. The exchangers then get together to trade cookies, so at the end, each person comes away with an assortment of cookies they didn’t have to take the time to bake.

There are two problems with this — too often the various bakers have different skill levels, so the person who spends a lot of time and effort on their cookies can come home with cookies they couldn’t eat themselves and certainly wouldn’t serve to guests. The second problem is that many people are on prescribed diets to limit sugar intake, which takes away the fun of such an exchange.

A different sort exchange I recently heard of is a book exchange, where each person buys their favorite book and includes a note as to why they liked it so much. This would actually work better as a group gift idea for one person, so that person would end up with a whole slew of books as well as a great insight into each of her friends, but it still works nicely for an exchange with a group of book lovers, where each person gets one new book. As nice as that sounds, though, it’s not all that special. I frequently do book exhanges — it’s called “going to the library.”

Another idea is a plant exchange. The woman I work with and her daughters exchanged plants for Christmas — each of the women set up plants for all the others. After the exchange, each ended up with four new house plants. So very clever!

In an oblique way, I am a participant in this exchange. I didn’t end up with any plants (whew!) but I get to enjoy seeing the plants grow up.

I’ve never had any luck with house plants so I shied away from them. Oddly, I have done well with a couple of plants I’ve been gifted with since I moved to this house, and as long as the plants stay small enough to sit in front of my south-facing kitchen window, they do fine. Elsewhere in my house, it’s too dark or too cold or no space for them. But at that window? Perfect! In fact, one plant grew so large I had my own private plant exchange, the big plant for a little one.

But that’s just to explain the “whew” a couple of paragraphs ago and is not really part of today’s story.

One of the plants that was gifted in the group plant exchange was an amaryllis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life, so I have enjoyed seeing the flowers bloom. Not only are they spectacularly pretty, but they brightened the dreary winter days we’d been having. Too bad they don’t grow outside in Colorado. I’d certainly love to see a whole garden filled with such gems! Still, being able to see even one amaryllis plant in bloom is a joy.


Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Naked Ladies and Other Beauties

I’ve spent most of my life in deserts, first in Colorado, and more recently in a high corner of the Mojave Desert. (Colorado might not seem like a desert since it has tillable soil and no cactuses. What makes it a desert is the lack of surface water. Only Colorado’s white gold — the deep mountain snow — makes the state an oasis. Without water, very little but scrub grows naturally.)

It seems odd then, after a lifetime’s experience of how difficult it is to grow anything, to find myself in an area where things grow almost by accident.

In my walks about town, I see naked ladies everywhere. These pink lily-like flowers of the amaryllis are so named because the flowers grow on naked stems, long after the leaves are gone. But knowing the name doesn’t make these foliage-free flowers any more lovely, especially since I’ve never seen them before.

Nor have I ever seen azaleas, and now a lovely red bloom greets me every morning.

Most surprising, considering my total inability to cultivate rhododendrums, I’ve seen the bounteous bushes growing in the woods.

But everything seems to grow in this fertile place, holly and ivy and a lushness of greenery growing upon other greenery.

And oh, did I forget to mention wild blackberries? Most are not ripe yet, but even so, I manage to find few luscious berries on almost every trek.

What an incredible world we live in. So much diversity! I can only stand in awe, and give thanks.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)