Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Asking God for Favors

#writingwednesday

December 23rd is my father's birthday and Christmas was his favorite holiday. Had he lived, he would've been 71. Since he died almost 20 years ago, it is really hard to picture him that old. I was only 25 when he passed, and even at that time, I thought he was "old." Now that I'm slowly closing in on the last age he got to be, I realize just how young he was when he was taken from us.

When I was 10, I lost my grandmother, my father's mother. She was the first "death in the family" I had experienced, the first "dead person" I ever saw in a casket, and her wake was my first experience in a Catholic service. I was fascinated by the kneeling thingies in the pews.

Unlike my father, my grandmother was actually "old" for those days and had been ill for many years. My dad used to say, "She's been sick for fourteen years..." or whatever number of years it was whenever he made that statement. I have no idea what illness she had or what it was that caused her to be "sick," but I do remember looking at her the few times I saw her and thinking to myself, "she's sick."

My father's mother was referred to as "Mema Far Far Away" because she lived in Massachusetts. My immediate family and my mother's side of the family lived in New Jersey, so my mother's mother was just "Mema." Because my dad was a chef, he worked through the holidays, so the only time we could visit Mema Far Far Away was after the New Year. I remember my brother and I would always miss the first week of school back from Christmas break because we went up to Massachusetts to visit my Mema Far Far Away.

Me and Mema Far Far Away, Christmas 1970
My memories consist of her living alone in an apartment in a small building next to Webster Lake. She had longs beads that divided her rooms from one another. She had a cuckoo clock that freaked me out, and because I had to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, I'd just stare up at it at night. She had thick clear plastic over her couch. She had two gray cats, and one was named Sabrina. She was really small and frail and she had white hair. She made "gwamkies" or stuffed cabbage. "Gwamkies" was how it was spelled in my head - and still is. But sadly, I didn't really knew my Mema Far Far Away very well at all, and then one cold December day, she was gone. Her name was Stacia Dupre.

It was the first time I'd ever seen my dad cry. Her funeral was on his birthday - December 23rd, 1980. The morning of her funeral, I said to my dad, "Happy Birthday." He looked at me and said, "Not Happy. Just birthday."

When I was a teenager, my dad and I had a deep conversation about life and death...several of those, actually, but this particular one stands out. We were sitting in his red Toyota Pick up truck and it was late. He told me that when my Mema Far Far Away was alive, and was "sick" for many years, he knew that she was living on borrowed time and would die soon. He didn't pray very much and certainly not in selfish ways, but he did pray to God that when his mother died, she would do so at a time that he could never forget...that her death would come at a time when he would have no choice but to think of her.

And then he said, "And that was how I knew God heard people's prayers because I had to bury her on my birthday."

Arthur L. Dupre, Certified Executive Chef
Treadway Inn, Princeton, New Jersey
I don't know if that's an answered prayer or a coincidence or a little bit of both, but I made the same kind of prayer about him. The last time I saw him or spoke to him was Father's Day 1996. Then he died on an otherwise nondescript day. I'm glad that my answered prayer or coincidence or both gave me Father's Day as my last hug, my last kiss, and my last "Love ya babe!"

Happy Birthday Daddy. Or just...Birthday. <3  














Monday, December 21, 2015

Fire Pits and Oven Mitts

#manuscriptmonday

I live in North Carolina, and this holiday season has been unseasonably warm. Normally, I'd be singing the Hallelujah Chorus about flip-flops during a time of year that should be chilly - at a minimum - but I admit that it's been tough to get into the Christmas spirit when it's too warm for red sweaters. And fire pits. And oven mitts.

Cold weather brings out the Sarah Lee in me. Baking mac and cheese, baking cookies, baking brownies, ruining at least one set of good oven mitts on a Sunday afternoon...but then there is the issue of the fire pit.

We built a fairly impressive fire pit in our backyard and this fall has really been too warm to bother using it. We used it once...and it wasn't cold, but it was windy enough for ash and smoke to keep flying in my face no matter where I sat. I have been looking forward to building a fire in the pit and roasting up some s'mores on Christmas Day after it gets dark. Well, the weatherman is calling for 75 degrees on Christmas Eve.

Life provides us with amusing situations and circumstances all on its own. When writing a short story or manuscript, you can easily add an amusing side story or background to a larger story by using life's silly jokes on us.

For example, a 75 degree Christmas when you do not live in South Florida and when all of your holiday attire is for cold weather...and so you find yourself wearing a floral print dress and sandals to a Christmas party.  A 75 degree Christmas where there is a fire pit tradition and all the folks standing around it are sweating bullets but no one wants to be rude and ask for the air-conditioning to be put on inside.

Remember, life gives us jokes from time to time, all on us. When you need a funny moment in your story or a little humor, try to think up some of these in your own life and use them.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas and Holiday Shopping

#writingwednesday

I don't know about you, but there is something warm and fuzzy about walking around an outdoor mall in a coat and a hat and gloves with a couple of large shopping bags full of gifts needing to be wrapped. I usually hate shopping. HATE. But at Christmas time, my stomach gets butterflies when I need to go to the indoor mall or an outdoor mall for shopping. The cool air, the Christmas music, seeing Santa in his big regal red chair, looking at the line of kids in their Christmas finest waiting for their visit...I just take it all in. It reminds me of this magical time of my own childhood and my children's childhood.

I like gift giving - in fact, I'd say that I'm pretty good at it. I put a lot of thought into the gifts I choose for people, and it makes me feel good to see the recipient happy and touched when he or she opens their package.

Over the last several years, online shopping has boomed significantly. I do a lot of mine online now, which mostly negates the need to go to the malls and shops for gifts - unless that is the only place you can find what you're trying to get. It's a lot quicker and more efficient to just hop on Amazon and pick out your items in one dreadful butt-numbing sitting. But really...it's just another thing that has been taken away from the magic and spirit of the season. There is something noble about being in the stores looking for that special something for someone you love. Sitting at a computer and clicking on stuff? Just seems like going through the motions of Christmas to me. 

Black Friday shopping has been a tradition in my family for a long time. My girls and I love to just go and people watch. We rarely even buy anything on that day. It became the kind of day where we could at least go take a look at what we might buy for someone else, more like a scouting trip, a way to engage the world and its official entrance into the shopping season. Somehow shopping at a computer on Black Friday seems wrong.

Christmas shopping for me is a way to hold onto the beauty of life, the things that are good and kind, and it is this connection to my own soul that helps me write stories.     

So how do you do your holiday shopping and what does it mean for you?   

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Use of Traditions in your Writing

#manuscriptmonday
 
tra·di·tion
trəˈdiSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: tradition
  1. the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.
    "every shade of color is fixed by tradition and governed by religious laws"
    synonyms:historical convention, unwritten law, mores;
    oral history, lore, folklore
    "during a maiden speech, by tradition, everyone keeps absolutely silent"
    • a long-established custom or belief that has been passed on in this way.
      plural noun: traditions
      "Japan's unique cultural traditions"
      synonyms:custon, practice, convention, ritual, observance, way, useage, habit, institution; 
      formal praxis
      "an age-old tradition"
    • an artistic or literary method or style established by an artist, writer, or movement, and subsequently followed by others.
      "visionary works in the tradition of William Blake"
  2. Theology
    a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures, in particular.
    • (in Christianity) doctrine not explicit in the Bible but held to derive from the oral teaching of Jesus and the Apostles.
    • (in Judaism) an ordinance of the oral law not in the Torah but held to have been given by God to Moses.
    • (in Islam) a saying or act ascribed to the Prophet but not recorded in the Koran.
There are many traditions throughout the world. Christmas is a hugely western tradition, rooted in the birth of Jesus. However, many other traditions having nothing to do with the birth of Jesus have made their way into the western holidays. There is a segment of society that believes this is a bad thing. There is a segment that believes it's a good thing. And then there is a segment of society that doesn't really care either way. They just want to either avoid the whole thing or embrace the whole thing. 
Tradition helps us with our writing in many ways, but one important way is that because of tradition - within our own culture - we can rely upon our readers simply understanding it without much of an explanation. The readers live the same thing as the writer is living through tradition. Christmas traditions, such as a child's first visit to Santa Claus, does not really require much of an explanation to the reader. If your reader doesn't understand what this is, then you are probably writing for the wrong demographic. 
While writing your manuscript, use traditions to help you organize your thoughts and your story lines. Use them to give framework for your scenes and substance to your characters. Use them to guide the reader into familiar territory. Use them to create a bond between you and your reader - it's a simple understanding between you ..."Yes, I get the picture of this little boy's first visit to Santa Claus." It helps to build trust with your reader when you both share common ground. 
Happy Manuscripting!

 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Baking

#writingwednesday

Baking lots of goodies is one tradition in my family that really doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Each year, I bake with my girls. We bake cookies, make fudge, Oreo Cookie Balls, and usually some kind of other baking project we try for the first time.

If anyone knows me, you know I don't cook. I never really learned how to cook, other than figuring out little things here and there and following directions on the back of a box. I have no desire to learn and the kitchen is generally my enemy, no matter how much I like being in it. The ongoing joke in my household is that I always buy the wrong thing in the grocery store, so I can't even do grocery shopping correctly. The reason why most of this makes no sense is because my father was a chef. So the cobbler's kids having no shoes thing really is true. The chef's kids don't know how to cook.

But Christmas baking is something different. It isn't just the baking part, it it is the sharing of the moment with my daughters. Getting all the ingredients, the stain covered handwritten recipes, finding the cookie cutters, melting the butter, rolling out the dough and covering the kitchen in flour, brushing the cookies with milk, cutting the hardened fudge into squares, and generally making a huge mess.

When I was a child, my mother (also...not a cook...at all...) did this for me. I hope that some day, my daughters will take this tradition and continue it on with their own families. Traditions are part of what builds us and are the things that make us carry something special through from year to year and generation to generation. Traditions are strings that we can pull upon, binding us to our heritage, our past, and our ancestors now long gone.

What are your holiday traditions?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ornaments

Ornaments are a unique bridge to our personal history, as are really any holiday decorations. I understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas but at this time of year, many are celebrating something.

When I was a child, my parents wouldn't get a Christmas tree until just a week before Christmas. Then, on Christmas Eve, we decorated the tree. I think my father did it this way because the trees died and he ended up with pine needles all over the floor...better to have the tree for a shorter period of time. Decorating the tree was a big deal because of the weeks-long anticipation of it and the amount of time we got to have it. Comparing it to now, we put up the (fake) tree and decorate the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Every year I decorate the tree with my girls, I like looking at all the ornaments we have collected through the years. They represent our history as a family. My husband brought ornaments into our marriage, and I brought a few as well. So some of the ornaments are from when we were young. However, the majority of them represent times and places in our lives and map out the years.

There is one ornament with a Precious Moment photo pressed onto a sand dollar. "Abigail" is written on it in cutesy handwriting. The sand dollar is chipped. I know that I bought that for my oldest daughter when she was two years old. My father had just died, and my husband and I took my mother to Myrtle Beach. I bought that ornament for my daughter while in a little Christmas store. It was the summer of 1996. I was pregnant with my second child. My husband was playing in an amateur golf tournament. 

That one single cheap ornament brings back several feelings and memories, some of my saddest days and some of my more exciting days. 

Some of the ornaments are handmade from Girl Scouts. When my girls were little, they were both in the scouts and I was a leader. Whenever I see the yellow orbs covered in glue and buttons, it brings me back to that little church in Apex, North Carolina where we'd meet each week and work on our badges. My co leader was a nurse and she had two daughters, one of whom had Celiac disease. She was teeny tiny. I always wonder whatever became of that family whenever I look at those ugly-ass ornaments we made.

We have ornaments from special occasions, like Baby's First Christmas or First Christmas in our New House...three new houses ago... 

This year, when you are looking at your tree, see if any of your ornaments take you back to moments in time. This is a great way to help you with story ideas. Each ornament has a story, if you let it tell the story...


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Holiday Party Circuit

#writingwednesday

If you're like me, you don't get invited to too many parties. I don't know why because I'm a fun person, have a good personality and sense of humor and I'm really cute. But like many writers, I don't seem to fit in with conventional groups of people...and even at my ripe old age, I STILL haven't found my tribe. And it's really okay because that just means I have more time to read and write...but it does kind of suck when you hope to get invited to the Holiday Party Circuit.

The last few years, my husband and I attempted to rectify our lack-of-invite situation by having our own party. We invited everyone we knew and had great turnouts. Other than my father-in-law trying to kill my dog by overfeeding him grease from the meatballs from Maggiano's, our Christmas parties have been a lot of fun. People compliment the evening, tell us what a great time they had, ask us during the year if we are going to have another party, etc. I am generally known as a good party planner and any party I've ever hosted has gone off without a hitch and lots of back patting and ass grabbing (okay...kidding on the ass grabbing...just checking to see if you were paying attention).

But this has not really helped us in the invitation department. People come to our party, have a good time, but other than two people who have routinely invited us to their's...we don't get any more invitations.

I don't know if it's a matter of out right rejection or if people just don't think of us.

I've started wearing deodorant, brushing my teeth and I've stopped doing yoga out in the front yard in my Darth Vader costume. I've insisted that my Anime-obsessed daughter stop dressing as characters from Sailor Moon when she's mowing the lawn...really trying to keep the freak show inside. I've replaced my husband's New England Patriots flag that hangs on the flagpole outside of the house with one that has puppies, rainbows and unicorns on it. I've taken down the Deez Nuts for President sign in our front yard (we are in North Carolina, and Deez Nuts was polling well here for awhile). My dogs both wear muzzles now so when people walk by our house, they don't bark at them. My husband still barks at people walking by but I'm still working on that.

So for those of you who get invited to a plethora of holiday parties during this time of year...what do you do?