Category: Family/Family Values

Why New Years Are Special

happy-new-year-1097521_640Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day seems to be one of those holidays that people overlook. Sure, it’s a day off work for many of us, but other than that, it’s pretty much bowl games and hangover cures.

Not for me.

There is no other holiday better suited for wishing a happy one to not just family and friends, but to everyone we meet.

The best part about a new year is that it applies to everyone. It’s not a religious holiday. It’s not even a national holiday. This is the only holiday that every single person in the world marks. It’s the best time of year to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. And couldn’t we all benefit from more things that bring us together rather than divide us?

Pepperoni and onions in sauce. Photo via B. Smith.

For my family, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are marked with tradition. We attend a vigil mass for the Solemnity of Mary on New Year’s Eve, followed by pepperoni sandwiches (thick cut pepperoni and sliced onions slowly simmered in tomato sauce until the onions are tender and the onions and meat have flavored the sauce) for dinner. When my kids were young, the pepperoni was a bit spicy for them, so we added hotdogs to the tradition. At midnight, after a toast with Asti Spumante (and several phone calls to family) we eat bagna cauda (tuna and anchovies simmered in olive oil and butter… with copious amounts of garlic) with bread and veggies. After a late night, we get up and tear down all the Christmas decorations. (Yes, I know it’s still the Christmas season in the church, but that’s what we do.) Then we watch football until the traditional dinner of pork roast in sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, green beans, and applesauce. Again we toast in the new year, and then we wind down with Christmas cookies, tiramisu, and coffee. Any cookies left will become a cookie torte the next day.

Tradition is so important to us.

beach

Not tradition, but not a bad way to spend a holiday, either.

And this year we barely managed half of what we usually do. We were just coming back from a week at the beach (also not part of our usual tradition, but it was my in-laws’ 50th anniversary, so we took the party south), and the drive took a lot out of us. Bagna cauda and undecorating didn’t happen until the 2nd. Tiramisu and torte didn’t happen at all. And I fell asleep during football, so I guess that was a wash, too.

But that’s okay.

The most important part of tradition isn’t what the activity is, but who you do the activity with.

We weren’t with extended family this year. Haven’t been for several years, actually, as we just live too far away now and school and work resume right after the holiday. But we were with each other. And while our activities shifted or just didn’t happen at all, we were together. And that’s what matters most.

So if you know me, you know family time is important to me. And if you know my writing, you know family and tradition are important to my characters. Out and About just released in December, with more family drama for the Kellers. Book three of the series is already in process. Mind Control will be coming out a few months from now, with more Italian tradition from the Notaros and the Brotherhood. I’m so excited about both of these series, and I hope you are, too. I’m pretty sure the Kellers enjoyed a cocktail party with a few close friends and the Notaros and the Brotherhood definitely had pepperoni sandwiches and bagna cauda. Now they are all ready to see what 2016 will bring.

I’m ready, too. I’m looking forward to all the possibilities 2016 offers. So, I’m happy to wish you all—heck, I’m wishing the entire world—a happy, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous new year.

Do you have any expectations for 2016? Let’s talk about it below.

Do You Take Time to Rest and Recharge?

Things aren't this bad. Yet.

Chores. Ugh. At least things aren’t this bad. Yet.

I spend a lot of time working. A LOT. Much more than my family would like. I work more than 40 hours a week, and then I still find time to turn around and work on my fiction. And then there’s social media… I love talking with all of you. My family doesn’t always appreciate that, though. And my household chore list is woefully long because of my hours. But I digress…

After all that computer time, the eyes get tired, the body gets sore, and the mind gets muddled. At least, that’s what happens to me. And after several months of that? I’m pretty useless to anyone.

At work or at home.

Surf and sun... all to ourselves. Gorgeous!

Surf and sun… all to ourselves. Gorgeous!

That’s why I jumped at the chance to vacation at a private beach. Two weeks, surf and sand and silence. Lovely!

I didn’t expect to have no Internet or cell service, though. I admit, that gave me anxiety for a while. But then I embraced the concept. It was like my childhood again. I wasn’t attached to any tech. It was liberating.

Yeah, my kids didn’t necessarily agree, but I needed the downtime. The sunny days, the lull of the waves… how could anyone not love that? (tweet the thought if you agree)

Then Tropical Storm Bill hit. We lost power. We lost beach days. But we still had fun. Card games, jigsaw puzzles, old stories… It was wonderful. And yes, I think even the kids enjoyed it.

And then I came home, where I found over 4,000 emails had backed up, my company had reorganized, and my work had piled up. And the anxiety came right back.

But I was able to better deal with it. Because I had rested, recharged, refocused.

I’d go back to my private paradise in a heartbeat. But I’m glad to be home. Back in the familiar. Back with my characters. Back with you.

medici protectorateMy novel Bleeding Heart will be coming out soon. And now I’m around to actually talk about it, so that’s exciting. Visit often; I’d love to talk about it with you.

What about you? What do you do to recharge? Do you have a favorite activity? Or a favorite place to visit? Tell me about it.

In the meantime, if you can’t get to the beach, maybe you’ll enjoy a few pictures from my trip.

Casey loved to jump the waves.

Casey loved to jump the waves.

Sammi reenacting a photo from her infant-days.

Seth and his dad posing for a picture like Corey had taken with his dad years ago.

Max had a blast... until he swam out too far and got frightened. But he rebounded soon and got back in.

Max had a blast… until he swam out too far and got frightened. But he rebounded soon and got back in.

After the storm passed, this was my view.

After the storm passed, this was our view.

How Embracing Family History Can Result in Poignant Stories

italian american

Click image to be directed to PBS:
The Italian-Americans.

There’s a lot of buzz in Pittsburgh right now about a PBS special called The Italian Americans. It’s not just running in Pittsburgh; I was able to watch the series here. I just don’t think people are talking about it here like they are at home. (Probably because my family and I are the only Italians in Arkansas. Hyperbole, anyone?)

My husband and I watch the History Channel a lot, so watching a documentary on PBS isn’t much different from our usual viewing. What was different, however, was my visceral response to the program. I was already aware of much of this history—my grandparents have shared some of their stories with me—but seeing it brought to life? Totally different. I thought I knew our history, but there was so much I was unaware of. Probably even more that you don’t know. You should check it out; it’s an honest portrayal of the good and the bad. I’m lucky my grandparents shared what they did. I’d love to hear even more.

When your grandparents tell you stories, they may make you laugh. They might make you cry. But they don’t often share their feelings about the events. It’s kind of like the hard parts are filtered out, like they’re trying to protect us—or themselves—from experiencing the pain.

It takes a special storyteller to not just scratch the surface but dig deep down to the heart of the issue. (Agree? Tweet this.)

That’s what I strive to be—a special storyteller. My history not only shapes me as a person, but it shapes me as a writer. (I think that’s true of all writers, to an extent. Writers often say their characters are a reflection of themselves in one way or another.) Not all of my characters are Italian-American, but all of them find familial bonds to be of the utmost importance. That’s my heritage, and that’s reflected in my writing.

Italian Americans

My Great-Grandmother, My Grandfather, and His Siblings…
Italian-Americans, and Proud of It

When I write a story, I don’t want to scratch the surface; I want to dig deep down to the heart and soul of these characters and have them express powerful emotions brought on by their situations. I want to write words that make readers laugh, cry; feel outrage, indignation; question situations, opinions.

And when someone reads my work? I want them to experience everything right along with the characters.

For Readers:
Think about your favorite book. What did you respond most to? The plot? The setting? The characters? The next time you read that book—or any book—consider the hero of the story; consider the villain. Do you know enough about them to relate to their perceptions of the world? Does it matter if you can relate? Would you like to know more about them and their situations? What would make them more relatable?

For Writers:
Are you just scratching the surface in your work? You’ll know if you are by the level of comfort you feel. Telling deep, resonating stories requires you to leave your comfort zone and tap into the pool of emotions you’re used to suppressing. If reading your work doesn’t move you, it’s not going to move anyone else, either. My current WIP, Bleeding Heart, delves into Italian-American family life, and I’ve been able to enrich my characters by drawing on personal experience.

For Everyone:
I’m a family person. If you’ve followed my blog or read my work, you know family and history is important to me. What about you? Do you know where you come from, what your history is, how it’s shaped the person you’ve become? Do you prefer stories that barely get into a character or do you enjoy the ones that dig, even to the point of exposing raw nerves? Let’s talk about it. Comment below.

The Importance of Down-Days

down-daysI remember when I was young; stores and restaurants remained closed on holidays and Sundays. I don’t know if it was our local government ordinances (I come from a small town in Pennsylvania), if it was the owners wanting time with their families (and expecting us to want time with ours), if it was a religious matter (I don’t think anyone in our town celebrated the Sabbath on a Saturday), or if it was merely a matter of habit.

But somewhere, sometime, for some reason along the way, commerce encroached on our Sundays and holidays.

Now, I admit, I am guilty of taking advantage of this change. My family often goes out for brunch after Mass. I often shop on Sundays, because there are things we need and we’re passing the store, anyway. Laundry needs to get done sometime.

But losing these rest days, those down-days, is detrimental to us. On many levels. (Tweet this.)

  • It takes time away from family.
    People are far busier now than when I was young. Kids have sports and clubs and travel teams. Adults work longer hours and more days. Housework needs to get done at some point. But when we fill our rest days with mundane tasks and club events, we separate our family unit. We need that time together. It strengthens the family bond. When I was young, we visited my grandparents every Sunday evening. Not just my family; my aunt, uncle, and cousins, too. That’s why not just immediate families, but extended families as well, used to be much closer. It was the time spent together. We should all use our “down-days” to make time to strengthen these familial bonds.
  • It prevents us from recharging our batteries.
    Working more than a forty-hour week. More homework than in years gone by. Traveling several hours for a tournament. These things take their toll. The human body needs rest to function properly. The human mind needs downtime to prevent memory loss. The human spirit needs a break from the bustle of daily life to stay healthy. Without a “down-day,” we court trouble for later on.
  • It takes focus away from what’s truly important.
    For some people, explaining this is as simple as saying: Keep Holy the Sabbath Day. But not everyone belongs to a religion with this mandate; some people don’t belong to a religious group at all. Having one day a week to focus on what is most important in our lives is so important. It takes away from the drudgery of everyday obligations and reminds us of our priorities. We don’t (or shouldn’t) work to make money. We should work to care for our loved ones. What’s the point of working to support our loved ones if we’re never with them? It’s time we take those “down-days” back and spend that time doing things that truly matter.

How do we do this?

Plan.

Sure, it’s convenient to run errands on our down-days. But if we change our priorities just a little, we can have that one day to ourselves.

  • Do one load of laundry a night instead of waiting to do it all in one day.
  • Stop at the store on the way home from work one evening.
  • Make extra food during the week or utilize leftovers so you aren’t out at a restaurant or in the kitchen all day on your down-day.

A little forethought and planning will give us the time we need at the end of the week for the things that are most important (and the things we’ve neglected the most).

For Writers
Do you have a character who is always working? Give him one rest day and see what happens to him. Or, if you have one who makes use of his down-days, take them away and watch what happens. These down-days are essential for physical, mental, and emotional health. Adding or removing them can add tension, conflict, and drama to a character that is falling flat.

For Everyone
This is a three-day weekend for many of us here in the United States. It gives us the opportunity to group two or more down-days together, to really make the most of our time off. Are you going to use the time wisely or waste it away? Let’s discuss how you spend your down-days, or whether you even have any. I’d love to hear your ideas.

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