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Monday, November 28, 2011

I Knew It Was a Dream When...

"I hope you have a good one/ I hope Mama gets her shopping done." - "Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty

Last night I had a dream that included some of the characters in my Willow Ryan series, and it seemed so real! I was shopping at Thyme to Play, the cutest toy store in Santa Elena, and talking with Willow and the store owner, the quirky Peggy Maguire. Willow, being the hardworking, friendly salesperson that I wrote her to be, was telling me about these new fairy wings that they just got in, and she said my nieces would love them. I was just about to hand my Visa card to Summer, who was working the register (all decked out in an acid wash jean skirt and off-the-shoulder hot pink sweater - the series is set in the 80s after all!), when I remembered that I was done shopping, so I left! That's when I knew it was a dream because I would never turn down the perfect gift, even if I had thought I was completely done shopping. I really wish Santa Elena and Thyme to Play were real places. I could have done a lot of Christmas shopping there this weekend!

Okay, back to reality. I am actually done with my Christmas shopping! And it's only November 28! I have been so consumed with buying and making gifts that I haven't written a single word for my work in progress all month. Isn't that terrible? I just can't concentrate on my novel right now when there are so many other things to do, so I am taking a break until after the holidays. I will still be updating my blog, but as for writing new chapters, the characters of Who We Thought We Were (and my notes for the next book in the Willow series) will just have to wait patiently until I can give them my undivided attention. I guess the freedom to stop and go as I please is one benefit (maybe the one and only benefit) of not having a publishing contract. I really hope that changes in the coming year!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Christmas Stories

"There'll be scary ghost stories/ And tales of the glories/ Of Christmases long, long ago." - "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Andy Williams

From November 1 until New Year's Day, I only read Christmas books. Honestly, I will read a holiday story any day, but since it's the most wonderful time of the year again, I thought I would dedicate my latest list to my favorite Christmas stories of all time - various forms of books, a short story, a beloved poem (can you guess which one?), and of course, Scripture.

1. The Nativity Story from the Bible - Luke 2:1-14 - This is not only my favorite Christmas story, but the most important one as well. Amid all of the shopping, the decorating, the movies, and the rest of the commercialism of Christmas (all of which I love, by the way), nothing means as much to me as these few lines about the true reason for the season. The birth of Jesus is why we celebrate Christmas at all, and that is the greatest gift we will ever receive. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

2. A Visit From St. Nicholas - "'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house..." Who doesn't love this classic poem written by Clement Clark Moore nearly 200 years ago? For as long as I can remember, I have read this story with my family right before we go to bed on Christmas Eve. When I was a child, it held all of the magic and anticipation of Santa Claus coming in just a few short hours, filling my stocking and putting a special present under the tree for me to find bright and early the next morning. Now as an adult, this poem brings me back to those innocent times when everything was magical, and reminds me to always keep some of that magic in my heart. After all, it was the father, a grown-up, who saw St. Nick in the story. Magic is all around us, especially during Christmas. There is a great line in "The Santa Clause" that says, "Seeing isn't believing, believing is seeing." Who knows? Maybe one of us grown-ups will catch a glimpse of Kris Kringle filling our stockings this year... ;)

3. The Gift of the Magi - This short story by O. Henry is one of my favorites of all time, not just during the holiday season. It's simple messages of giving being more important than receiving and putting others ahead of ourselves are timeless, and never more appropriate than during the holidays. Jim and Della Young had so little, barely enough to survive, but they sacrificed their most prized possessions so they could give something wonderful to each other. It's heartwarming and beautiful without being corny or overly sentimental. It always makes me think, what would I do if I only had one dollar and eighty seven cents with which to buy presents. I hope I would be as selfless as Della.

4. A Christmas Carol - This is the only Dickens book that I really love, and it is hands down one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time. I love the tale of redemption, how someone as miserly and sour as Ebenezer Scrooge can change their ways and become a caring, loving human being. My favorite line in the book is when Scrooge wakes up to find that he is alive on Christmas morning and says, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." I try to do the same thing, every single day.

5. The Biggest, Most Beautiful Christmas Tree - What? You've never heard of this fantastic children's book that I love so very much? Then chances are you were born after the '80s or were not a fan of Little Golden Books. This story, written by Amye Roseberg, was published in 1985 and has been out of print for quite a while, although there are used copies out there from sites like Amazon. The charming book is about Nina and Nutley, two little chipmunks who live in a giant fir tree with their parents and neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Fieldmouse and Old Gray Acorn, an elderly squirrel. Every year Nina and Nutley wait for Santa to come, and every year they are disappointed. Enter Aunt Mim. She is tons of fun and decides that since the fir tree looks like every other tree in the forest, they should decorate it so Santa will notice and visit them on Christmas Eve. The illustrations are beautiful, and for the last 26 years they have stuck in my head like no other picture book I have ever read. And of course, there is a happy ending.

6. Molly's Surprise - The American Girl dolls and books were brand new when I was a kid, and Molly was my favorite. I received the doll when I was eight years old, and ever since then, I have read this book on Christmas Eve before I go to sleep. Even now, and I am 29! There is just something about this book that makes me so happy. The Molly series is set in 1944 during WWII, and Molly's dad, a doctor, is stationed at a military hospital in England. Molly's dad always loved Christmas and would come up with great surprises for his family every year, but since he is overseas, there is a chance that there will be no gifts from him that Christmas. This series gives kids a glimpse into what life was like during the '40s, with rationing, air raid drills, and how people made the best of a bad situation with a little creativity and a lot of heart. I bought this book for the girls I nanny for, so I have a feeling I will be reading it more than once this holiday season, which is fine by me!

7. The Christmas Bus - I love Melody Carlson, and this Christmas book is her best. The novella starts out with an older couple, Pastor Charles Ryan and his wife Edith, who own an inn. Their children will not be home for Christmas, so they decide to open their inn to strangers, something they have never done before during the holidays. Several interesting guests check in, and one day right before Christmas, a young couple in a psychadelic bus pulls up in front of the inn, and they are expecting a baby any minute. They don't have much and can't afford a room (sound familiar?), and the town of Christmas Valley wants them out as soon as possible. Edith takes them under her wing and shows us how important and rewarding it is to help those in need. All in all, this is a great story, a fun read, and a powerful message that is never better to hear than at Christmas.

8. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - This story written by E. T. A. Hoffman is fantastic even without the music or ballerinas. I love the whimsy of the dream lands that Marie (Clara in the ballet) visits, the excitement of the fight with the Mouse King and his mouse soldiers, and how the Nutcracker is transformed into a prince. I also really like Drosselmeyer, the mysterious, kind of eccentric godfather who gives Marie the Nutcracker. He is a great character that has a huge impact on the story, even though he only appears for a short time. I have seen the ballet many times and have read the book over and over, and this story never gets old, even though it was written 195 years ago.

9. A Christmas Story - This book and the movie of the same name were originally a part of Jean Shepherd's "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash". This is my favorite Christmas movie of all time, so it's only natural that the book would be on my favorites list as well. I don't know what I find so endearing about a kid who wants a BB Gun for Christmas (an offical Red Ryder carbine-action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time!), but I love Ralphie Parker. This book has just the right amounts of humor, innocence, reality, and nostalgia that make it absolutely fantastic. And who can forget the part where Ralphie didn't say fudge? Haha!

10. God Rest Ye Grumpy Scroogeymen - I love this book! It was written by Laura Jensen Walker and Michael Walker, a very Christmassy couple that share their traditions for the holiday season with readers. If I needed any help getting into the holiday spirit (which I obviously don't), reading this book would kickstart the merriment for sure. Laura and Michael write about their favorite holiday music, movies, and books, talk about gifts they have made, and offer creative ways to get into the spirit of the season, remember the reason we celebrate in the first place, and spread the joy to those around us. There is even mention of having a Christmas in July party somewhere in the book, which is why I always read this book every summer. The way the book is written makes me feel like they are old friends who I haven't seen in a while, which I absolutely love. It's very personal and an easy read, and I recommend it to everyone.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts

"With wild hearts/ Blue jeans and white t-shirts." - "Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts" by The Gaslight Anthem

Last week I was taking the girls to school and we pulled up to a red light. Just in front of us in the next lane was a tiny red Miata that the girls were very excited about, saying that it was so cute and looked like a Barbie car. The five-year-old was just saying that maybe it belonged to a princess when the light turned green, we inched forward, and saw that a guy was driving the girly little car. One of the kids asked why a man was driving a girl's car, and the other one said, "Oh, it must be his mom's."

Where did all of the real men go? I know my thinking is out of touch with 21st century reality (not that I care at all), but what happened to tough guys who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, their clothes greasy, and their hair messed up? Where did guys like this go?

I don't know why, but I cringe when I see a guy in a fancy, tailored suit (like the very expensive looking one worn by Mr. Miata), with his nails so obviously manicured (Mr. Miata again) and enough product in his hair to withstand a category two hurricane. Where did the blue jeans and white t-shirts disappear to? I blame the preppies.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Parental Catchphrases

"Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright/ They just seem a little weird." -"Surrender" by Cheap Trick

Remember those things your parents would say when you were a kid that just seemed so stupid at the time and mostly went in one ear and out the other? Have you ever caught yourself repeating them to your own children? I know I am not a mom, but as a nanny, I have listened to myself in horror as my mother's words escape my mouth on a regular basis. Here are my top ten catchphrases that I heard as a child, many of which I have used, confirming my suspicions that I'm turning into my mother.

1. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." - I say this at least once a week at work, sometimes several times a day. I used to hear this one all the time (I kind of had a big mouth...and a smart mouth) and of course it never registered for more than a few seconds. Still, I have hope that the girls I take care of will take these words to heart in a way that I never did. It really is good advice. Just this morning I told the seven-year-old this very phrase, followed by, "And calling your sister a Poo Bottom is definitely not nice!" Sigh...

2. "Don't talk with food in your mouth." - Why is this one so hard to remember? You'd think that when the kid has food spilling out of his/her mouth as they tell you some pointless story that goes on forever, they would correct the problem, but no. As a child I had good manners, I just chose not to use them a lot of the time. Sorry, Mom!

3. "Be nice to your sister." - But why? She was super annoying and always started it! Funny how little sisters are still doing that today... I don't know why it's impossible for siblings to just play nicely 100% of the time, but it is. And even though these five words hold practically no meaning whatsoever to a child, especially a kid who is mad and trying to shove her sibling out of her bedroom, I still find the words flowing from my mouth with the hope that just this once they will sink in. Maybe, just maybe, the child will slap herself on her forehead and say, "Duh! I should just be nice. I'm so sorry for being mean and I'll never do it again." Ha!

4. "Your face is going to freeze like that." - My dad used to tell my sister and me this all the time when we made faces at each other. I remember rolling my eyes at him, knowing that there was no way my tongue would be permanently sticking out of my mouth while my eyes remained crossed and stretched, my fingers pulling them as far to the sides of my head as they would go, but he just kept saying it...for years. This is one I don't say now because it just sounds so ridiculous, but the girls tell each other this, then discuss at length how cool it would be if they could freeze each other's faces whenever they wanted. Oh, to be a kid again (written with a huge amount of sarcasm!)

5. "Just pretend you're asleep." - Now this one might have just been at my house. I tended to be somewhat of an insomniac, even as a baby and small child, and I don't even know how many times my mom told me this when I was whining loudly that I couldn't sleep. I have said this one a time or two when the girls don't want to go to bed. It works just as well now as it did back then. Yep, they don't find pretending to be asleep all that great either.

6. "Keep your hands to yourself." - Man, parents just try to suck the fun out of life, don't they? I will admit that I use this one all the time. Last week I told the five-year-old this as she was reaching across the car toward her sister on the way home from school. Her response? "If I keep my hands to myself, how can I pinch her?" Oh, the honesty of a child. But really, is there any other short phrase that encourages children to respect other people's personal space in a more effective way? I think not.

7. "I'm going to count to three." Why do we say this?! Who cares if we know how to count to three? The kids don't. I know that I always waited until my mom got to two-and-a-half (I was spoiled, I admit it) before I stopped misbehaving, and now I'm on the other end of that threat. I will always follow through with a time-out or some similar form of discipline if I do reach three and nothing has changed so this is pretty effective, but c'mon. Counting to three is a stupid threat, especially when you hear a parent say it in public. Sometimes I want to count along like I'm singing the end of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", just to see what they'll do. "For it's one, two, three strikes you're out of the old ball game!" That could be pretty funny!

8. "Just try one bite. You might like it." - No, I won't. I am the world's pickiest eater, and if I try something new, there is a better chance I will lose my lunch all over the table than find a new food I want to add to my plate. Still, I tell the girls the same thing. The thing with them is that they almost always end up liking the food in question! Then they realize that I am right and everything is peachy keen jelly bean. Whenever I was told this, I proved my parents wrong. So I guess I was right then too (and a little too concerned with being right all the time)!

9. "When I was a kid..." - Just finish that sentence on your own. I got this one a lot from my dad. Especially in regards to watching TV. "When I was a kid, we watched whatever Grandpa wanted to watch. I never got to pick the shows." Whatever! Unless it's a funny story about how life was in the olden days when dinosaurs roamed the earth (like my childhood in the 1980s, a whole other millennium), young children couldn't care less how bad you had it when you were a kid. But still, adults can't resist using examples from their childhood to try to educate the younger generation on how easy they have it. I only do this to illustrate a point about how much things have changed in the last 20 years as kind of a history lesson, and to show them that their life isn't so totally unfair and horrible. What? That's what my parents thought they were doing too? Bummer.

10. "You can do anything you set your mind to." - This one is 100%, totally and completely accurate, and I tell the girls this as often as possible. Of all the things parents can tell their children, this one ranks right up there with I love you. It instills confidence, self-esteem, and the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you know someone believes in you. I follow this one with, "...because you are strong, hardworking, and very, very smart." I hope they are listening when I tell them this, even if they ignore every other word I ever say.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Learned More From a Three Minute Record

"We busted out of class had to get away from those fools/ We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school." - "No Surrender" by The Boss

Bruce's music always speaks the truth. These lyrics pretty much describe me when I was in high school, and some of those memories came flooding back yesterday when I drove by my old school on my way home from work. A word was misspelled on the sign out front, a couple of kids were "discreetly" (yeah right) smoking a joint next to the teachers' parking lot (or maybe they were young-looking teachers, which wouldn't surprise me one bit), and a backpack was left on the sidewalk with its contents spilling out for all to see (not a textbook in sight), most likely by a kid who doesn't care about anything they are supposed to be learning in that big brick building. I can say this with some certainty because I spent four years there, and not that much has changed around here in the last 11 years. I learned nothing at that school and couldn't wait to get away from it and the fools that filled the classrooms and halls as soon as I could.

That being said, I have always been a big fan of education (I did become a teacher after all) and firmly believe that most of what a person needs to know in life is not learned by sitting quietly in a desk and taking notes. Here are a few lessons I learned from rock and roll, one of the greatest teachers around.

1. You have to change with the world or you'll get left behind. This is just one of the lessons passed down by Bob Dylan in "The Times They Are A-Changin'", one of my all-time favorites. The world around us is constantly evolving, and we have to grow right along with it. Don't stop trying, don't stop moving, and keep an open mind.

2. Stay hungry if you want to succeed. I thank Bruce for this one. "Dancing in the Dark" teaches a great lesson on how you have to want something really badly, you have to stay hungry for it and never forget what it is that you want, even if you're in a bad place for whatever reason and nowhere near where you want to be. Best line: "You can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart." Pity parties help no one.

3. All You Need is Love. This is probably the most simple song in The Beatles catalogue, but that one line says it all. Love beats hate. Make love not war. Good triumphs over evil. As long as you have love in your life, in any way, you can get through anything. It might be a little idealistic, but John and Paul knew what they were talking about when they wrote this song.

4. There's a time for everything. The Byrds' song "Turn, Turn, Turn", adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes, illustrates this point perfectly. There's a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to be born, a time to die, a time for peace, I swear it's not too late, and so on. I try to remind myself of this every time I get impatient (frequently), overly emotional, or a little off kilter. Don't rush through things, don't jump ahead, don't move or speak out of turn. There's a time for every purpose under Heaven.

5. Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. This is from The Eagles' "Take it Easy". I have always found it hard to relax, very difficult to live in the moment, and nearly impossible to escape my own thoughts, but this song reminds me of the importance of all of these things.

I really do have all of these lyrics going through my head at various points in my life, and for whatever reason, the wisdom of rock does help. The wisdom of rock. I like that! I haven't mastered these lessons yet, and maybe I never will, but I'm working on it. So to sum it up, in high school I learned nothing worth remembering, but from music, I have learned so many things that are valuable and necessary to live a good life. You need to have the abilities to adapt, to strive, to love, to take things as they come and recognize the times for what they are, and to lighten up every once in a while. How come they don't offer classes like this in high school?

No Surrender

"Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound/ I can feel my heart begin to pound/ You say your tired and you just want to close your eyes and follow your dreams down." - "No Surrender" by Bruce Springsteen

This is my song of the day for two reasons, which leads itself to two separate posts. Here's part one:

As readers who have kept up with my blog for a while may remember, I finished my fourth novel in the "Willow Ryan" series in September...or so I thought. I had read through the manuscript so carefully, hoping to catch every typo, every fragment, every mispelled word that would hopefully jump right off the page in a glaring fashion that I would notice immediately. As all of my fellow writers know, this is rarely, if ever, the case. My mom and my sister read through this book after I declared it finished and attacked it with a red pen, much to my horror and appreciation. How could there be so many mistakes? So today I went back through and made corrections, again, and now it's finally done! So what's next (other than still trying to find an agent so I can eventually get published)?

Well, now it's time to get busy on "Who We Thought We Were", the new novel I told you about a few weeks ago. The problem is that I haven't worked on it since then! I am only one chapter in, and I just haven't been able to find the motivation to dive into it. Until now. Something happened while I was sitting at my computer fixing my mistakes from the fourth Willow book. I felt the need to write, to create, to follow my dreams and see where they take me.

I kind of feel alive again! I don't sleep as much as I should (stupid insomnia!) and I worry about everything under the sun (stupid worrywart genes!), and I felt like the creativity was completely squashed out of me. What I came to realize this morning is that I can change all of that instead of succumbing to it. "No Surrender" as Bruce said in the song of the day. I have to channel the anxiety, the stress, the fatigue, and everything else that tries to keep me down, into energy that will allow me to accomplish what I'm supposed to do. I am a writer. I may not have met my goals yet, I may not be making my living at it, I may not even be published yet, but in order to make those things happen, I have to sit down and write. And writing is what I will do.