The Perfect Christmas?

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving if you celebrated that holiday. This past Friday (Black Friday here in the U.S.), my sister-in-law and I made my brother turn from a Star Trek marathon so we could watch a Hallmark movie. Lest you misunderstand, I also was enjoying the Star Trek marathon. But around the fourth episode, I wanted to watch something else.

Anyway, the plot of the movie involved a woman following a list of activities she believed would make the perfect Christmas. For example, staying in a cozy cabin in the mountains (with the perfect covering of snow on the roof), singing Christmas carols, seeing The Nutcracker, making a gingerbread house, buying a real Christmas tree, baking, ice skating, taking a picture with Santa, etc.

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My brother glared at the television. “That’s every Christmas stereotype there is!” he declared, his lip curled.

I laughed, because he was right. But I couldn’t help recalling one Christmas season years ago, when a friend of mine and I followed a list of the quintessential Chicago Christmas activities. It included having lunch near the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room at Macy’s (which was Marshall Field back then), oohing and ahing over the Christmas display in the store windows, ice skating, checking out the Christmas trees at the Museum of and Industry (see photo below; it is not one of mine, however), going to see The Nutcracker (fail), etc. (Click here for a list of holiday things to do in and around Chicago.)

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We waited two hours just to get into the Walnut Room (see photo below; I did not take that photo either). While I was glad we checked that off on our Christmas to-do list, I can’t say the meal I had was memorable. It certainly hadn’t met my extraordinarily high expectations.

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And that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Unrealistic expectations often put a damper on our enjoyment of the holidays. I learned that the hard way.

This year, I don’t feel motivated to rush around, doing holiday things while trying to manufacture the “perfect” Christmas season. Case in point: I skipped shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Instead, over the weekend, I took in a good movie (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) with friends.

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And I don’t plan to stress about Christmas shopping. This year, I’m focusing on the things in which I truly delight, rather than the “have-to’s” of the season. Guess that means crocheting more reindeer to give away (not a have-to, but a want-to), seeing more great films (Moana, you are next), and having quality conversations with friends and family.

What, if anything, constitutes the perfect Christmas or Hanukkah season for you? What are your plans for the season?
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Crocheted reindeer thugs stage a coupe by blocking my coffee mug. While I’m not exactly sure what their demands are, I will make it a priority to find good homes for them this season. And yes, the keyboard below them is very dusty. It’s not one that I use these days.

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Rainbow Kate and her BFF Popette finally finished hanging the Christmas lights on Rainbow Kate’s house, to the delight of the children Kate babysat. But the delight turned to consternation when they discovered Kitty in the living room, drinking the last of the cocoa.

Christmas tree in the Walnut room from anadesigns.blogspot. Christmas tree at the Museum of Science and Industry from commons.wikimedia.org. Santa from hdwallpapersforiphone.blogspot. Fantastic Beasts logo from geeknation.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Thanksgiving

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Poor Thanksgiving. You often get lost in the shuffle between Halloween and Christmas or Hanukkah, don’t you?

Mostly, you’re lumped into the general autumn scheme of things when it comes to decorating. Well, you are a holiday born out of thanksgiving to God for a good harvest (and for survival) back in 1621. And thanks to President Lincoln, you were celebrated nationally on a Thursday, though you didn’t become an official national holiday until 1941.

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I’m grateful for all of the Thanksgiving meals I’ve had in the past, where I consumed mass quantities of food, played board games with my family, then vegged out in front of the television, watching football. This year will be a little different. I plan to hang out with friends, play board games, and eat mass quantities of food. (As I said it will be a little different.)

What are you thankful for? My attitude this past week was anything but thankful, though. I received a record number of rejections from manuscript queries—four. I felt like a failure. But some good friends encouraged me (thank you, Sharon, Laura S., and Megan). Someone else did too. A few days ago, I made a quick stop at a jewelry party at the home of another friend. A young woman was there, whom I hadn’t seen since she was a kid.

“I still have some books of yours from when I was a kid,” she said, referring to a series I’d written many years ago, that went out of print within a year. “They were some of my favorite books. They helped me decide to be an author/illustrator.”

Her words made me tear up. How could I have so quickly forgotten the power of reaching even one kid by the written word? How easily swayed I was by discouragement.

Sometimes you have to kick discouragement in the teeth. And what better way to do that than with the giveaway I introduced in my last post? (Click here for the list of books.) At first, I was going to give away just one book. But I decided to give away more than that. It is Thanksgiving (soon) anyway.

I looked at the list of people who mentioned books. Here it is:

Charles (Star Wars)
Penny (Meetings)
Pamela (Meetings)
Karen Gradient (Grace Lin)
Reocochran (Star Wars)
Lyn (Grace Lin)
Nicki (Grace Lin)

Congrats. You’re all getting a book. Please comment below to confirm. Then I’ll need you to email your snail mail address and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com (or email my primary email account if you know it, which would be faster). If you would prefer that I not have your snail address, please let me know, and we can make other arrangements.

If you commented and mentioned a book, but don’t see your name on the above list, please comment below. I’m going by the honor system here.

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Seriously, have a good Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it, that is; if not, have a great Thursday)!

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Rudolph and his gang of unfinished crocheted reindeer discovered a new house in the neighborhood. Perhaps they could spend Thanksgiving here.

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After booting out the reindeer, the new neighbor, Rainbow Kate, took up residence in her new house. But Kitty invited herself over for a Thanksgiving meal. Chaos is sure to ensue.

Turkey images from latintimes.com and openclipart.org. Thanksgiving image from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Bring On the Ninjas

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Kitty and her effigy

Don’t worry. I’ll get to the winner of the preorder of Second Chance Romance by Jill Weatherholt. But first . . .

The other day, I watched this video at Swoozie’s YouTube channel. (It’s okay if you don’t know who he is. You can Google him later.) It involved ninjas.

With this video, we’re reminded of TV and movie series featuring the Power Rangers, and of course the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and martial arts films from Japan and China, which give us a feeling of nostalgia. While watching the video, I couldn’t help wondering why I and many others enjoy the sight of ninjas. So I searched the internet and found a great io9 article by Annalee Newitz on the subject: “Why Americans Became Obsessed with Ninjas.”

This quote from the article caught my attention:

Today being a “ninja” is just a way of saying you’re awesomely skilled, and maybe a little aggressive.

Newitz mentioned the 22,000 people on Twitter who call themselves social media ninjas. Even if we don’t call ourselves that on Twitter, many of us like the idea of being “shadow warriors”—stealthy and in control.

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Kitty has bought wholeheartedly into the notion of being a ninja.

Sadly, some people online use stealth to attack others with their words or actions. Like stealth bombers, they deploy missiles of hate or rage, believing themselves to be cool and clever, but also safe behind the mask of anonymity.

Wouldn’t it be great if people became ninjas not to harm but to help or encourage others? I’d love to see people who are “awesomely skilled” at building others up, instead of tearing people down. Imagine stealthy acts of kindness and generosity.

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At first, the sudden appearance of tiny, masked strangers struck fear in Jordie’s heart. But when they gave him gifts of food, he had a different idea of what a ninja could do.

Food for thought.

Now on to the winner of a preorder of Jill Weatherholt’s book, Second Chance Romance.

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I said there would be one winner. But in the spirit of being a ninja who gives or encourages, I’m giving away two preorders instead of one. How’s that for stealthy? . . . Okay, maybe I need to work on my stealth.

The winners are  . . .

Are   . . .

Are   . . .

Are   . . .

S. K. Nicholls

and

Phillip McCollum!!!

S. K. Nicholls and Phillip McCollum, you have until Wednesday at 10 p.m. (November 9) to confirm below and email your address and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. Let me know if you want a paperback or an ebook. I will preorder the book to be sent to you via Amazon. If within that time frame I fail to hear from either of you, the random number generator will choose two other winners.

Thanks to all who commented.

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Um, this is a raccoon, rather than a ninja.

Newitz, Annalee. “Why Americans Became Obsessed with Ninjas.” Io9. Gizmodo, 06 Feb. 2013. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

Jill Weatherholt photo and book cover courtesy of the author. Other photos by L. Marie. 

The View in the Darkness

img_3709I haven’t wanted to write this post, so rather than talk myself out of it, here goes.

I’ve had the kind of season people describe with idioms like “the bottom dropping out” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop—whoops, there it goes.” In the last few months, my electricity was switched off due to nonpayment. Internet also. The landlord sent polite notices asking for the rent. I often wondered where my next meal was coming from. When you lack money or a job that pays regularly, you can expect this sort of thing to happen.

You can also expect to field a lot of advice from well-meaning people, who assume you’ve lost control of your life and need them to step in to fix it. “You should apply for this job,” I’ve been told so often, that if I had a dollar for every time I heard it, I could buy real estate.

Oh, I have applied for many jobs. Case in point, I applied for an office manager job at a nearby college a couple of months ago. I had to take four tests for that. I think I broke a record for how low I scored on the Windows Excel test. (The last version of Excel I had was the 2003 version.) Needless to say, I did not get that job.

Anyway, not long after that, a friend and I were headed into a grocery store (a store known for their gelato section, where you can buy a small cup for $1.25) for our bimonthly chat when we spotted a guy who is a friend to both of us.

“What’ve you been up to?” I asked.

“I just got a new job,” he said.

“Oh, where?” I asked.

And then he named the college and the department. Yep. The job I did not get. But I was happy for him. He needed work too.

So yes, I have applied for jobs while using the library’s wifi. (And yes, I applied for a job at that library three times. Didn’t get those jobs.) I networked. I auditioned for writing projects (mentioned in this post here), only to have to wait and wait and wait.

When your lights are off, candles become very precious. Now, I’m not into candles like some of my friends who love the mood they create. So I’ve tended to shove into cabinets the ones I’ve been given. Well, they came in handy this time.

I thought about how the pioneers in the days before electricity were able to do so much without it. I also thought about scenes I’d written in novels where the people had only firelight and a few precious candles to use for light. I totally had the lighting all wrong in my twenty-first century-used-to-electricity mindset.

One thing about being in the dark—you can’t help noticing the shapes of things in shadow. You also tend to appreciate any sliver of light you can find.

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I couldn’t read for long in the dark, even with candles, so I had to turn to my imagination. I told myself stories—something I used to do every night. When had I gotten out of the habit? I’m not sure. This was a nice habit to reclaim.

Anyway, my time in the dark didn’t last long. I received a check for something I can’t really discuss in public, but could tell you a little about in private. The check enabled me to have the lights turned on. And just last week, one of the projects for which I auditioned was finally approved with me as the sole author. And it pays well. 🙂 My landlord will be happy. I have a tight deadline on that one though. But I’m grateful for the work. Want to know something funny? It involves writing stories—a lot of them in fact. One hundred to be precise for kids ages 4-7.

It seems my time in the dark was helpful after all.

Dedication

One of my neighbors has made a habit of heading to the weed-choked field next to our apartment building to sing at the top of his or her lungs. The weeds are so tall they hide him or her from view. Perhaps that is a mercy. This person is tone deaf, with a high, screechy voice that defies an immediate gender assignment. (I suspect this person is male, however. So, for the sake of avoiding him/her and he/she from now on, I’ll just go with male pronouns.)

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The weeds

The first time I heard the voice, I thought I was hearing a cat yowling.

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He is not the mystery singer.

Nope. Singing. I think he sings pop songs. Once, I recognized the words, “Baby, ooo, baby,” but nothing else, since he uses a language different from my own. (Not Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, or French either.)

The other day I waited to see if the singer would leave the weeds so I could finally identify him. That attempt was doomed to failure, however. He seemed to want to remain hidden in the weeds until after I left. I wondered if even a glimpse would prove embarrassing or would scare him away. This person is as elusive as a fawn.

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As I headed inside after listening to him for a while (I tried to record his voice, but that failed too), another neighbor headed out. After stopping to listen to the singer, he shook his head, laughed, and proclaimed, “He’s terrible! . . . I can’t believe he does this every day!”

Every day. Despite having a less than melodious voice—at least according to the common opinion of others.

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Why does he do it? The obvious reason is because he loves doing it. Perhaps singing brings him joy.

These days, many of us are so conscious of the opinions of others. We edit our work, put on makeup, and even take several practice selfies before posting to Instagram to avoid the negative opinion of someone else. How many times do we offer the plain, unvarnished version of ourselves to anyone? Also, how many times are we tempted to stop doing something we love, because someone else has expressed disapproval?

The singer in the weeds does his thing day after day, despite opposition. Do you?

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Singer and sun from clipartpanda.com. Calendar from clker.com.

A Shocking Revelation

With Mother’s Day having passed, I considered writing a post about moms. I’m not a mom, so I can only write about them. But rather than wax eloquent here about the joys of having a great mom, I called my mom on Mother’s Day to experience the joy, rather than write about it. (We live far away from each other and could only communicate by phone.) So, you won’t get the eloquent waxing on that subject. Sorry to disappoint.

But this brings up something I’ve struggled with lately: how much to reveal about myself on this blog. As I’ve mentioned before, L. Marie is a pen name. That’s why I avoid posting photos of myself. Photos would defeat the purpose of a pen name. (There is a reason for the need for a pen name, which will be revealed at some point.)

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We live in a culture where revealing the day-to-day minutiae of one’s life to strangers online is the norm. But I struggle with that, not just because of the pen name. I’m a shy person. I have trouble introducing myself to people in person, let alone online. So I’m always amazed at how much people reveal about themselves, especially on social media outlets like YouTube. I’ve seen vlogs about the contents of YouTubers’ bedrooms, refrigerators, purses, iPads, and TV screens.

I’m also amazed at what’s done for the sake of entertainment on YouTube—another way to reveal information about oneself. The other day, I clicked on one of my YouTube subscriptions to find a video of two guys playing a Russian Roulette-type game involving electric shocks. You can buy this game on Amazon, I later discovered. But I clicked away from the YouTube video before the game began. The thought of watching someone take an electric shock quite frankly horrified me.

Now, I’m not debating anyone’s right to buy this game or show it on a YouTube channel or even to watch someone else play the game. But this video brought up something I need to reconcile.

I’ve read the Hunger Games books and watched three of the movies. Now, the premise of the books and movies involves more than people using a party game to administer electric shocks. Young people in this world are expected to kill other young people in gladiator-style games. So if I can watch that, then why am I so horrified by two guys doing something that will cause one or the other pain?

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Probably because they’re not actors who are paid to pretend they’re some else, while being supported by a huge special effects budget. So while my mind tells me the movie scenes aren’t “real” (thus cushioning the effect), there is no cushion for real life.

Still, you might argue, how much of YouTube is “real life”? Some vlogs, like reality TV, have a “scripted” feel to them, since the participants know that the camera stands before them, and they can edit out mistakes.

I’m not here to debate that issue. I’m here because the video I clicked off caused me to think deeply about what I watch. (See? You and I both learned something about me.) While I know they were playing a game, the experience reminded me that real life can be messy and scary at times, and beautiful and sacred at others. Some images stay with you for life.

That’s why I’d rather not watch two people waiting to see who gets an electric shock. I want to see or read something that makes me feel good about life. Like this blog post from Penny over at Life on the Cutoff or this post from Andy over at City Jackdaw.

How about you? Has something caught your breath in a good way lately? Please share it!

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The lone red tulip in the yard

Woman with bag from svtrainingconnect.com. Hunger Games movie logo from pop-break.com.

The Chosen One

While there is a Chosen One trope, this post is not really about that. . . . Well, okay, I will get back to that trope later.

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My niece has been accepted into five grad programs. I’m not going to mention the schools. Suffice it to say that many people want to go to these schools. I’ll pause here to allow you time to guess how old I have to be to have a niece about to graduate from college. (Though for all you know, she could be a twelve-year-old prodigy. But I won’t confirm or deny guesses about my age. Just so you know.)

Are you done? Good. Anyhoo, I’m embarrassed to say that my first reaction (other than pride in my niece’s academic desirability) was, Humph. I never had five of anything wanting me. Well, except for the time those bees were after me.

Now let’s back the pity truck up to my undergraduate years. I worked hard—at partying, that is. Because my GPA plummeted, I had to work really, really hard to get my grades up to “Well, okay, we won’t kick you out” status. My straight-A niece, however, has been a disciplined student for years.

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My industrious niece (photo at left; busy as a . . . well, you can see what animal) and me as an undergraduate by comparison (though I’m closer in looks to that chicken in the photo at right)

So, there is a certain work ethic to being chosen. Hard work often is par for the course. Think of the star high school and college players who go on to play professional sports.

Of course, we all know people who were handed opportunities simply because they were at the right place at the right time (or had the right parents). But some were chosen because of other factors—extraordinary looks, talent, or intelligence. For example, one of my college roommates senior year had the kind of head-turning beauty that made her many female enemies. (We got along fine . . . after awhile.) She could walk into a room and capture the attention of every male present.

We all want to be chosen, don’t we? We want to win the contest, get that scholarship or placement in our school of choice, the gold star, the book contract, the agent—whoever or whatever our goal happens to be.

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Perhaps that’s one reason why the trope of the Chosen One sometimes grates (besides the fact that it has been overused). An article at Fantasy Faction (you can read it by clicking here), puts it this way:

The chosen one is a trope that sets one character above the others as special. They are the hero, the one chosen by fate. . . . The idea that some people might be born better than others is something we tend to firmly reject today.

We might reject it, because we want to believe that if we work hard enough, good things will come to us. Or we want to believe that we’re good enough or special enough. But sometimes, though we work as hard as we can, and are good enough, we still aren’t chosen. Bummer, right?

But that leaves us with a choice still—like the one I had when considering my niece’s good news. I could celebrate with her (or others with good news) or fall back on statements showing envy like, “Some people have all the luck” or “Why couldn’t something this good happen to me?” Those are my usual fallback statements. Know why? Because they keep me from thinking about all of the opportunities I wasted—when I slacked off, instead of working or practicing or doing the types of things that make a person top choice.

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I’m tired of envying someone his or her chosen status. Instead I can choose to make better choices—like not comparing myself to others; like believing I’m special even when I’m not chosen. I know this choice is difficult, especially in matters of the heart (like when someone I love chooses to marry someone else, rather than me—yep; I’ve been there) or when I’m around a chosen one who is full of himself of herself. But even in that circumstance, I can still choose to be okay with myself.

Have you ever been “the Chosen One”? What was that experience like for you? Have you ever envied someone who was chosen?

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Me hard at work . . . or watching YouTube videos and thinking about work

Beaver from searchpp.com. Keep calm sign from keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk. First-place ribbon from sticker.com. Envy image from gograph.com. Photos of My Little Pony Pinkie Pie® by L. Marie.