A Creative Play by The Merry Beggars

The Merry Beggars began out of quarantine to support those artists whose livelihood suddenly disappeared in the face of the COVID-19 shutdown. They ran a contest in which writers could submit 10-minute radio plays. The response, they say in their introduction, was overwhelming. And so in 2020, they ran five quarantine plays.

From eerie futuristic storytelling to touching moments of too much or too little isolation, the tales run the gambit. I look forward to listening to more.

They released “The Dailies: Art and Culture to Refresh Your Soul” in Spring 2021 and “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,” an audio advent calendar, on December 1.

These artists are making it work, and in the process, they are making something new.

Over twenty artists, makers and entrepreneurs united by their Catholic faith came together for two outdoor markets just outside of Hughson. In towns across the region, pop-up markets became the new trend, whether on front porches or outside businesses.

When community events were canceled, I went to the garden and my therapeutic hobby grew into a spring and early summer business.

When we make it work, something creative, energetic and beautiful emerges out of the process.

Change creates tension. The tension requires energy to work through. It also requires energy to fight against. When we dive in and actively work through the tension of change, we emerge smarter, stronger, and more creative.

When we resist, dig in our heels, we use just as much energy, but come out weakened and exhausted.

If we lament the life that was, rather than trying to work with the life that is, we miss all the good things in store now. We miss the new possibilities, the new avenues waiting to be explored.

A radio play borrows from the past and fits right into with today’s internet-based podcast-centric, play-on-demand listening sphere. It keeps its social distance but uses raised funds to pay actors from the stage whose theaters were shut down.

The changes and anxieties of this world do not have to dominate us.

What do you have control over? You may be called to activism in those areas that move your heart and spur your desire to do something, but you cannot change the world on every issue. You must give yourself permission to step back and consider what is your sphere of influence. And then act.

Some professions might have been crushed by the shutdowns. They lacked the security of other fields. The steadiness of their income is based on the reputation, reliable contacts and a body of work built up over time. If they stopped working altogether, they risked losing all the ground they gained. So they pressed forward, finding a way. And the community came forward, ready to support them.

Those artists, makers and entrepreneurs were recommended left and right by those who knew them. Word of mouth gained greater ground as we sought out who needed support and what they were about. Many grew weary of the dominance of big-box stores that could remain open and we wanted a way to support the little guy.

At the end of November, my husband, reindeer-loving son and I attended the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Christmas concert. After opening with “Rockabilly Christmas,” lead singer Scotty Morris greeted the Gallo Center audience by saying,

“Thank you for doing whatever it was you had to do to get in the door to support live music.”

Wherever the adversity comes from, this is the potential of the moment, this is the chance we have to become more who we are meant to be and discover the unexpected.

We were all a little rusty getting back into it. But it felt good to be back.

Thank you for doing what you had to do to make it happen.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Gift Guide to Local Christmas Shopping

We probably all know, at least intellectually, that it’s better to shop local. Here in the heart of the Golden State, you can find so much in your own backyard. Behold, your local gift guide for Christmas shopping.

Let’s start with foodstuffs. In our consumer age, a lot of people have more than they need and a lot of people we love spent decades acquiring their collections of possessions and do not need one more teacup or tie from us. Consumable items to the rescue!

Jars of Delicious

Gift trio from http://www.jarsofdelicious.com

You cannot do better for canned preserves than buying from Jars of Delicious. Feeling feisty? Try her cactus pear jam. Feeling traditional? Strawberry Rhubarb. Want to pretend you are on a private island? Pineapple Mango. The list goes on and on. Basically, every flavor is delicious (a whole jar of delicious, really) and I particularly fancy her jar of cherry pie filling because when it comes to pitting that many cherries, as they say, “ain’t nobody got time for that.” Her regular-size jars cost $7.

Nutty Gourmet

Maple Cinnamon Walnut Butter from http://www.nutty-gourmet.com

Jam is great for your scones, morning yogurt, or fancy latticework pie, but if you’re buying for a child, consider this, who doesn’t love peanut butter and jelly? That’s right, these core ingredients come at a premium for my children. Consider a loaf of bread, a jar of delicious and a $5 jar of nut butter from Nutty Gourmet. The sky’s the limit when it comes to flavors and, like Jars of Delicious, it’s a Hughson-born business and we like to support our own.

J.J. Ramos Farms

But maybe you need to be a little fancier than a PB&J gift basket (but why? I ask). Head over to J.J. Ramos Farms for a truly impressive selection of locally made items from olive oils, dried fruits, nuts, meat, eggs, milk— oh sorry, thought I was making my grocery list. You get the idea. And as I understand it, you might just get a little help putting together your fabulous gift box or basket from their staff. They’re located at the corner of Whitmore and Geer in Hughson.

M&J Farms

Still among the list of consumable items, as in, items you use up, are the adorable sheep milk soaps by M&J Farms. Milk-based soaps are basically the best. You can wash your hands over and over again without cracking your skin and make hand-washing less a chore than a healthy ritual and moment of silence away from the chaos of the world. $6.

Miss Potts Attic

May be an image of christmas tree and indoor
from http://www.facebook.com/MissPottsAttic

If your gift recipient is a collector and not a minimalist, visit Miss Potts Attic on Tully Rd for a wide variety of items from antique to relatively new pieces on consignment. I stopped by to buy a ring for my daughter’s birthday and left with four very well-priced vintage rings, a jewelry box to hold them, and a $4 chandelier. The staff was amazing at helping me shop and find the best item for her. Whether artwork, glassware, furniture, novelty items, there really is something for everyone. Help the environment by not buying new or shipping from Amazon; help a local business by giving them business, help yourself with a one-stop shop and the joy that comes with finding the perfect gift via serendipity rather than an algorithm. Win-win-win-win.

Lightly Used Books

Buying for a book bug? You could go to Yesterday’s Books in Modesto (new and used books), which is excellent, but I prefer to go to the slightly closer Lightly Used Books in Turlock. Used book stores can often special order new books from publishers so you can avoid Amazon altogether and thus support authors and local bookshops in one fell swoop.

Investment items

There really is so much more out there. For high-end items, see Shoebridge & Co. on Etsy for handmade furniture (made locally near Hughson)


or wind chimes by Casey Music Service for perfectly tuned custom chimes (full disclosure, this Casey is my husband). The Harry Potter chimes are a favorite but I am personally fond of my F9 chord set. 

Happy shopping and Happy Holidays!

Malls were meccas for Black Friday shoppers back when Valley View was new

Let’s bring the joy back to gift-giving by making the shopping experience itself a treat for ourselves and others because as you may have heard, every time you purchase from a small business, the owner of that business does a happy dance.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

P.S. I know not all readers here are from or near Hughson, CA. You can use these sellers’ websites or visit your local vendor events to see whose selling what in your area.