Category: Holiday (page 2 of 6)

Maintaining Mental Health During the Holidays

holidaysFor many people, this is a joyous time of year. If you’re a Christian, you’re celebrating the birth of Jesus. If you’re Jewish, you celebrate Hanukkah, the miracle of lights for eight days with only enough fuel for one. If you celebrate Kwanzaa, you are celebrating “the first fruits of the harvest” for a week at the end of the month. (Heck, if you’re a Seinfeld fan, you might even be celebrating the airing of grievances during Festivus!) And if you aren’t religious at all, there’s still enough food and gifts circulating around—as well as merriment and good will—that the mood becomes infectious.

For some people, however, this is a sad and painful time of year. According to PsychologyToday.com, many factors contribute to the melancholy of the season. Possible causes include:

  • Excessive commercialization of the season, resulting in the true meaning being lost.
  • Obsession over the “perfect” gift or menu, resulting in stress and unrealistic expectations.
  • Self-reflection over accomplishments, resulting in despair over shortcomings and anger with others who have more.
  • Pressure to meet or exceed others’ or last year’s gifts, resulting in anxiety over finances.
  • Dread over familial and social obligations, resulting in stress and depression.
  • Despair over lost loved ones (and/or lost employment), sometimes even culminating in suicide or attempted suicide.

One Christmas, we had three family funerals within a span of one week. (Believe me, you couldn’t make a story like this up.) They were all on my husband’s side of the family, but actually three different branches of his family, so most people only had to attend one funeral that week. We, however, had all three: a Troilo death, a Turra death, and a Biagioni death. Grieving the first was horrible. Grieving the second was difficult. By the time we got to the third? After the shock and incredulity wore off, we were simply numb. Humans simply aren’t conditioned to process losses like that.

I thought that would be the worst holiday I ever experienced. Of course, I also thought that the year my grandfather died. That was the first time I experienced a loss of someone close to me, and it was terrible.

Several years after these sad holidays, I’m faced with another familial death. My husband’s grandmother just passed away. The funeral is this weekend. Added to that, my uncle has taken a turn for the worst and is likely never to return home. This holiday feels like the most difficult one I’ve ever faced. But I know it’s just because this pain is fresh, and the other difficult holidays are being remembered through the numbing effects of time.

Time may not heal all wounds, but it certainly takes the edge off.

(click to tweet that)

So I ask you for this one favor. This year, when you meet a person who is less than jubilant, consider the stresses they might be under. Don’t call them a Scrooge or a Grinch. Instead, offer them some compassion. It might be just the holiday gift they need.

For Writers:
The triggers mentioned here are real and powerful factors that impact people, not even just during the holidays, but all year long. Fiction relies on conflict. Incorporating any of these issues as character motivation will enrich your work. I’m about to release a mainstream fiction novel full of dysfunctional family dynamics and poor choices. The motivations behind the characters’ actions, however, are understandable and in some cases even noble. These are the things that take one-dimensional characters and make them vibrant.

For Everyone:
Yes, this is an emotional time of year. If you are happy right now, my wish for you is that you continue to be so. If you are stressed, my wish is that you find relaxation. The holiday is coming whether your cookies are baked, your gifts are bought, or your cards are sent. Try to enjoy the frivolity and let the other issues go. But if you are seriously depressed? I wish you the peace of the season, the ability to focus on the good messages and intentions and the release of your anxiety, and the redirection of your negative emotions to something healthier. My prayers are with all of you, this season and always.

Do You Focus on the Negative?

couchWe broke down and bought new furniture for our family room. We’ve needed it for a while, but with two dogs that jump on it and two kids who eat in there, we didn’t see the point.

Until the dogs ate the stuffing out of the cushions.

We went to several stores and were never really satisfied with anything. So we settled on a sofa and loveseat that would match our existing chair. However, it doesn’t match our walls, so now we have to paint.

My living room hasn’t been painted since we moved in. But now we have another room on the list.

We intended to keep this set pristine. But the dogs are already using it as a bed, and my kids are eating on it again. It’s probably only a matter of time before I’m picking up stuffing off the floor.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not complaining. I’m actually grateful.

See, this month was difficult for many of my family and friends. My uncle is sick and deteriorating rapidly. My mother had two surgeries. A high school friend is marking the one year anniversary of her mother’s death. An online friend’s father is in the hospital. And the list goes on…

How can I complain about furniture when so many people have much bigger worries to contend with?

This month we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s less than a week away, actually. Are you going to be grateful for the blessings you have or complaining about your have-nots?

There are many disappointments and tragedies I could focus on this year, but I’m choosing to be thankful. I hope you manage to do the same.

For Writers:
An easy personality trait to give a character is negativity. What about gratitude? Do you have a character that needs to be fleshed out, better developed? Try making him or her altruistic, especially if he or she has little to be grateful for. This is a great way to add dimension to a flat character.

For Everyone:
Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. I wish you all nothing but health and happiness this year. Hopefully you find contentment and peace.

Veterans Day Every Day

veteransThis week, we celebrated Veterans Day. That one day a year we set aside for the people who have served our country—in wartime and peacetime.

Why just one day?

These are people who took an oath, promising to defend us, regardless to the personal sacrifice they might face. They’ve protected us, secured our rights and freedoms, and fought to make the world a better place.

Medals or not, all veterans are heroes. We owe them far more than a “thanks” and one day in November. (click to tweet)

This year, on Veterans Day, my parents celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary. My dad is a veteran, and I can’t imagine how my mother felt, waiting for him to come home. Wondering if he would. Thank God, he did, and fifty-three years later, they have three children and six grandchildren to show for it. That is their world. The world my father signed up to protect.

happy coupleAlso this year, on Veterans Day, my niece—a veteran—got married. Her husband is still actively serving our country. They’re beginning their lives together in a world they both promised to defend.

My family is able to celebrate these wonderful occasions because our military has assured us we are safe to. They’ve guaranteed our lifestyles and ensured our liberties.

I don’t wait for Veterans Day to thank our military. When I see someone in a military uniform, I say thank you. When I talk to veterans, I give them my gratitude.

Shouldn’t we all do the same, every day?

For Writers:
We all need a hero in our stories. We create strong men and women to advance our plots, maybe even save our worlds. How many of us have considered making our heroes veterans? Even if our stories aren’t about waging wars in third world countries or protecting our borders, a veteran is a special-sort-of-someone whose background will shape his or her actions and yield a unique perspective to any situation. Don’t forget our military when writing a character bio.

For Everyone:
It was Veterans Day this week. Did you thank a vet? Will you tomorrow? Next week? In a few months? Let’s always remember to show our support of the people who protect us. You don’t have to agree with the politics behind our military operations to be appreciative of those who serve our nation. (click to tweet)

Veterans, I humbly thank you.

Is Time Passing You By?

Seth birthday

My son on his 16th birthday. Hard to believe a whole year has passed already.

Today is my son’s birthday. His seventeenth birthday.

How the heck did that happen?

I remember waiting for my due date. Waiting after my due date. Waiting three extra weeks for him to arrive. I had bonded with him long before he was ready to appear, and when he finally did, he was rushed to the NICU and I didn’t get to hold him anyway. Not for two days.

But when they wheeled me out of surgery, they took me to him. And when I said hello to him, he lifted his head and looked right at me. The nurses were stunned; they said babies don’t do that. But I knew from the moment I conceived him that he was special.

Just yesterday he was cradled in my arms. Except yesterday is apparently seventeen years ago. My yesterday is seventeen years of bottles and diapers, then toys and books, and then sporting events and academic awards.

Yes, my son is special.

So even though I won’t get to see him much today (he goes straight from school to his varsity game and won’t get home until late), I’m making his favorite foods to commemorate the day. Homemade stuffed pizza and cheesecake. You only turn seventeen once, even if you aren’t home for it. Might as well mark the occasion. (And trust me, even at midnight, he’ll eat pizza and cake!)

See, next year is the last year he’ll be home for his birthday. When he’s nineteen, he’ll be away at college, and I’m pretty sure his aspirations are going to take him far away from here. I don’t have much time.

Yesterday flew by, and tomorrow will be here before I know it.

It’s so easy to get lost in the mundane minutia of everyday life. Take the time to make each day special. (click to tweet that)

So happiest seventeenth birthday to my beloved son. May each future year be even more wonderful than the last.

For Writers:
Do your characters get lost in their day-to-day activities? It wouldn’t make for a compelling read if they did. But it’s not too realistic if they are constantly in flux, either. Try to strike a reasonable balance. Their character arc will be much more believable if we meet them when their lives are routine, but then watch them grow into people who break out of the mold.

For Everyone:
Are you stuck in work-rut? Do you do the same things, day after day? It’s time to stop and smell the cake. (Trust me, it smells AMAZING.) Appreciate life. Actually live, rather than exist. Life is all the better when it’s lived with purpose.

What the Subject Experts Say:

Fall, ’Fest, and Family

contributing authorIt’s been a busy week. I had a short story published (Swallowing Memories) and a character interview with Royce Keller of Type and Cross went live on a multi-national site. You can check them both out by clicking on the links.

But it hasn’t just been a great week. It’s a wonderful time of year. Just this week alone saw the beginning of autumn, the start of Oktoberfest, and for me, the second week of visits from family.

fallFall is my favorite time of year. The oppressive heat of summer gives way to the warm days and cool nights of autumn. Football starts. Hockey is right on its heels. Tennis is much more bearable. Pumpkins and gourds abound, and lighter fare is exchanged for soups, stews, and mulled ciders. We can retire the t-shirts and break out the sweaters. Leaves change and color the landscape with brilliant reds and fiery oranges. Who doesn’t love enjoying the day and then snuggling up at night? Yes, fall began this week, and I was happy to welcome it.

Oktoberfest also began this week. Being that my father’s family hails from Germany, this is a holiday I try to embrace and celebrate with my family. But it’s September, you say. It can’t be Oktoberfest. Well, sorry; you’re wrong.

GermanyThe first Oktoberfest was in October. It was a celebration of a royal wedding.[1] The tradition of a large party continued, but the start date has been moved to late September so the weather would be more agreeable. Oktoberfest still ends in October, though.[2] The festivities in Germany are large and joyous, and ironically, not called Oktoberfest at all. The locals simply call it Wisen because of the fairgrounds, or large fields, where the tents are set up (Theresienwiese).[3]

Traditional Oktoberfest celebrations include rides, games, a lot of beer (only six breweries are approved to sell beer at the Wisen), and huge quantities of German food. Attendants can feast on  “traditional food such as Hendl (roast chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezen (pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Rotkohl/Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).”[4]

German foodAs for my family? From now through October 5, we’ll be eating some of that traditional fare. The kids won’t get any beer, but we’ll all eat bratwurst, potato pancakes, schnitzel, and strudel. What can I say? I’m mostly Italian; we connect with our roots—as well as our loved ones—through food.

And speaking of loved ones, I’m coming to the end of two weeks of family visits. Our family is 1000 miles from here, and we don’t get to see them often. Both sets of grandparents wanted to see the kids perform in their fall sports, so both sets came down here, one right after the other. It was wonderful seeing them again, but it would have been nice if the visits could have been spaced out instead of back-to-back. Still, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world. Of course we ate family favorites (everyone should experience my mother-in-law’s famous apple pie), played games, went to see the kids in tennis and football, but mostly just enjoyed the time together talking, reminiscing, laughing. These memories are the ones we’ll carry with us.

For Writers:
There are a lot of holidays and events to mark in autumn. Have you considered incorporating seasonal activities into your WIPs to enrich them? It’s the details that bring fiction to life. Sure, you can say, “It was autumn in Pittsburgh.” But isn’t it much better to describe the crisp air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the end of the baseball season and the start of football and hockey? You never have to mention the time of year at all if the details bring the setting to life. And your writing will be stronger for it.

For Everyone:
I don’t know if you see family often or almost never, like us. But I do hope you enjoy them while you can. Maybe you can use the new season and current activities to rekindle an old family tradition or add a new one. Let’s talk about autumn and family. Leave a comment below.


[1] http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/article/About+the+Oktoberfest/About+the+Oktoberfest/Dates+and+General+FAQs/751/2/

[2] http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/article/About+the+Oktoberfest/About+the+Oktoberfest/Dates+and+General+FAQs/751/2/

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oktoberfest

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oktoberfest

Peace

Intl Day of PeaceThis Sunday is International Day of Peace. The United Nations created this holiday in 1981, and in 2002, they declared it a permanent holiday. Every year, on September 21, the UN urges peace for all people and the cessation of hostilities across the globe.

Some people love the UN, some people hate it, but regardless of your opinions and your politics, this seems like a holiday we can all get behind.

I don’t have control over national military groups; I can’t halt attacks or call a cease-fire. What I can do, however, is try to promote peace where I am.

  • I can be more tolerant of people on the road.
  • I can communicate calmly and rationally instead of with sarcasm and hostility.
  • I can pray that all people around the globe find peace and that the violence permanently ends.

Recommendations from the UN:

  • Visit the United Nations in New York City.
  • Plant a peace tree.
  • Attend a peace rally.
  • Light a candle at dusk in support of world peace.
  • Practice peaceful resolution and problem-solving skills in your daily interpersonal interactions.

“It is not enough to teach children how to read, write and count. Education has to cultivate mutual respect for others and the world in which we live, and help people forge more just, inclusive and peaceful societies.” – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the 100-day countdown message to the International Day of Peace.

For Writers:
Fiction surges forward when we introduce conflict, stagnates when everything is harmonious. However, the quest for peace can be filled with strife, making the peaceful resolution (or climax) that much more satisfying.

Don’t let your fiction flounder because everyone is calm, rational, and diplomatic. Instead, introduce several problems, so that when they are all conquered the resolution and subsequent peace has the impact you’re hoping for.

For Everyone:
No one lives perpetually in a state of serenity and calm. But it’s something we can all strive toward. I hope you all have a peaceful International Day of Peace.

Hopefully someday peace won’t just be a day we commemorate, but it will be a way of life. (click to tweet that)

How do you think you’ll celebrate Peace Day? Do you have any suggestions? Let’s talk about it here.

Labor Day & 10 Steps of Novel Writing and Marketing (Infographic)

Well, it’s Labor Day here in the US. It’s the day we set aside to honor our workforce. According to the Department of Labor, “it constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

I know we’re all looking forward to the three day weekend, but I can’t help but think of people like my grandfather, my dad, and my husband.

grampMy grandfather started working at the age of fourteen because his father died and someone had to support my great-grandmother and her children. The oldest of seven, my grandfather quit school and got a job at the foundry to care for his family. When he married my grandmother, he continued financial support until his other siblings were able to pitch in.

dadMy father was the third of seven. His older two brothers went to college, but there wasn’t money to send him when it was his turn. Instead, he joined the US Navy and sent money home to help his parents and siblings. When he returned home, he got a job as a driver for UPS. He worked tirelessly until he earned a managerial position, and then I think he worked even harder. I remember late nights, early mornings, and very long days. But he never complained; he just kept on working for his family.

husbandMy husband got his BS in Industrial Management and Economics the year before I graduated. He worked as a stock broker and then an equities trader, and I expected we’d be a two-income family for the remainder of our marriage. But instead, he left the industry in favor of a management job in manufacturing. Since then, we’ve moved a lot (leaving family is SO HARD), but we’re now a single-income household. He takes care of me and the kids and has become a Lean Manufacturing expert. His companies send him to other plants to teach and implement efficient manufacturing systems. Through all that, he managed to get his master’s degree, too. He works crazy long hours, travels far from home sometimes, and when he is home his phone never stops. I can’t imagine a better provider.

So people can think of labor unions and blue collar workers all they want on Labor Day. Or of parades and picnics. I think of these three men and the contributions they made to the country and to my life.

As for me, I’m a writer, so I thought what better way to mark Labor Day than with an infographic about novel writing. (Yes, I did the work and created it myself.) Here are ten steps (ten very general steps) detailing how to write and market a novel.

PLEASE NOTE: This infographic only deals with marketing your novel. But remember that your online presence should be no more than 10% selling/marketing. That means that you need to consider how much online marketing you’re doing throughout the process and interact with your audience in HELPFUL and ENGAGING ways the other 90% (or more) of the time. (click to tweet this idea)

10 step infographicI hope all US citizens have a great Labor Day. To everyone else, Happy Monday!

What do you think of this infographic? Did I forget anything important? Did you ever create an infographic for something? Let’s talk about it.

And, before I forget, I’ll be releasing my new brand soon. I expect to reveal it this week, so keep an eye out for that. And of course, Friday is the first Friday of the month, so I’ll be releasing the next #FFFF Laci and Del installment. Wow! What a busy week! Hope you have a good one, and I’ll be seeing you soon.

The 238th Great Anniversary Festival

2nd US President

Official Presidential Portrait of John Adams (by John Trumbull, circa 1792)  via wiki commons http://www.whitehouseresearch.org/assetbank-whha/action/viewHome

Here in the United States of America, many of us are coming back to work after a three day weekend. We just celebrated our country’s 238th birthday. The day before the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress, John Adams wrote his wife a letter in which he said about that day, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

It is of little matter today that Adams was referring to July 2, the day the declaration was signed, and we celebrate on July 4, the day the declaration was made public to the masses. What is important is that 238 years later, we do celebrate as he envisioned: with parades and picnics, games and fireworks. Continue reading

Happy Father’s Day

family

Hubby and Our Babies — 15 Wonderful Years Ago

Monday’s post is a day early because it’s Father’s Day. I want to send a shout out to all the handsome, intelligent, funny, supportive men I know who are celebrating today. Many I’m related to. Many more are my in-laws. I’m married to one.

I happen to have a fabulous dad. If you want to read all about him, check out my post from last year here.

But Father’s Day isn’t just about my dad. It’s about all types of “dads.” The father-figures in people’s lives.

There are our dads. (Mine is amazing. See last year’s post for details.)

And our fathers-in-law. (I hit the jackpot. My father-in-law is the best.)

Our grandfathers (I miss mine terribly).

Our brothers. (I don’t see mine often enough.) Continue reading

Birthdays and the Passage of Time

frosted hairSo today is my daughter’s birthday. I can hardly believe that a mere fifteen years ago I held her tiny newborn form in my arms. She had a full head of frosted hair—dark brown waves with blonde tips. She was awake and alert, more alert than I was, and was doing more advanced things than the nurses thought possible.

She never stopped amazing me, then or now.

Sure, she was particularly clingy when she was a baby, preferring to be in my arms rather than anywhere else (not that I minded—usually). And now she’s fiercely independent and I don’t see her often enough.

I suppose all parents find themselves in this very position. When their children are babies, they feel complete exhaustion—and complete joy—and see years of their future stretched out in front of them. Then, before they know what’s happened, those years are gone.

Where did they go? When did crawling and toddling turn into gymnastics and dance? Loose teeth and pigtails become makeup and curls? Learning to read become learning to drive?

I blinked, and she was grown. Continue reading

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