The Real Magic
Guest Post by Bob Atkinson
When invited to contribute to the 7 Blogs series, I considered memories, humorous anecdotes, and any number of other ideas. What came to me instead was a passage from the novel I’m currently writing. As Christmas Eve is nearly upon us, it seems especially apropos. I hope it touches you.
“He reached down to the bottom of the bed and felt around in the darkness until he encountered the filled stocking he knew his father had left there. Then he reached over to his brother’s side of the bed and located his stocking, reassuring himself that one was no bigger than the other.
He knew what was in there. The sole bulged with the inevitable apple and orange. In the heel he could make out the unmistakable shape of a pink sugar mouse, that little jaw breaker which only seemed to appear in the shops at this time of year. There would be a handkerchief, or something equally useless, then something that felt like a pencil case, or perhaps one of the packets of Edinburgh rock his mother had brought with her on her last trip home from the hospital. At the top of the stocking would be the usual chocolate hollow Santa Claus.
Individually there wasn’t a lot there on which to base the special magic of Christmas Eve…
Bestselling Author Bob Atkinson writes time-travel/alternate reality novels set in the magical Scottish Highlands he calls home. His first two books, The Last Sunset and its sequel Red Sky in the Morning, predict a very different America, had the Scots beaten off the English in a great deciding battle.
This concludes the 7 Must-Read Holiday blogs series. We hope you’ve enjoyed it!
The Year Our Christmas Tree was a Chair
Guest Post by Shaila Patel
You can reach out to her online at:
The Turkey That Almost Wasn’t
Guest Post by A. J. Lape
My fondest memories of the holiday season revolve around the tradition of simply being together—like drawing names with relatives and friends, hiding behind the couch to watch my mom wrap presents, getting a bag of candy from church, white elephant gifts, and trying to dodge a turkey tryptophan coma. It’s hard for me to nail down one memory, but when I was asked to participate in the Holiday Blog Hop, one particular holiday stuck out. It was Christmastime a few years back. My husband and I had both our families over for the holidays along with some of our dearest friends. We divvied up the menu between us, and my responsibilities included the biggie—the cooking of the Christmas ham and a holiday bird. Sounded easy enough…right? I mean, you put a ham in the oven and with a turkey you just follow the directions. Anyway, my husband bought a twenty-one pound turkey at Costco (love that place) and a Reynolds Wrap roasting bag. Only a moron could screw that up…
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Surviving the Holidays
For some people the holidays are a great time to get together with family and friends. For others holidays bring an even greater sense of loneliness and isolation. I especially speak of those who suffer from depression, or some other form of mental illness, as well as those who are chemically dependent. People who suffer from this combination of illnesses, known as the dual diagnosed, are doubly marginalized from society, for both mental illness and addiction are two of the most stigmatized ailments there are. Here are some tips for surviving the holidays for people who suffer from one or both maladies or know someone who does.
But first, I’m going to open and close with this:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
Cultivate a sense of gratitude for what you have
It’s amazing how much there is to be grateful for. If you are reading this, you’re alive, literate, and most likely free. These are amazing gifts in and of themselves. You probably also have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your stomach. True, you may not have everything you want, but chances are good that you have the basics, and when it comes down to it, that’s a lot to be grateful for. If you’ve ever been without the basics, think back on those times; if you’ve never been without, you’re more blessed than you realize.
Don’t spend the holidays alone
When I get depressed, my modus operandi is to isolate myself. This is a bad strategy. The sense of loneliness and sadness that depression brings is only exacerbated by being alone. With some important exceptions, spending the holiday with others is better than spending it alone. If this involves associating with people you don’t know that well, so be it. It’s hard to stay depressed when you’re among a group of people. Of course, all poisonous people, those that are harmful in one way or another to our well-being should be avoided, especially during this time, as the holidays seem to be a particularly vulnerable time for many folks.
Treat yourself well
Now is not the time to forget all those things that bring you comfort. If reading is your passion, then by all means read. If you like baths, take a long one. This is true for walks and exercise as well. Don’t stop taking care of yourself just because it’s the holiday season. More often than not, if I find my mood slipping it’s because I’m not doing something to maintain my sense of well-being.
It’s normal to want to drink/drug around the holidays, especially because others are doing it—even those who normally wouldn’t indulge (how ‘bout them fab office parties?). But news flash: the days surrounding the holidays are just like all the others, and you need to be ever vigilant when a craving strikes. One of the best strategies I know is to urge surf. Based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, it essentially means riding the wave of craving. Yes, you want to drink (or drug, or eat a huge piece of pie). Okay, feel it, feel that desire. But rest assuredly in this: the desire is going to pass, just like all the others have. The craving for a drink/other drug is not always going to be as intense and everlasting as it feels at this moment. I promise you. Get to the other side of the wave, let it break and deposit you safely on shore. With a little practice, this strategy can work wonders.
Put off anxiety until the final moment
This is a trick I use against the demon of anxiety. It is essentially a delaying tactic, but if you follow it to its logical conclusion, I assure you that you can get past even the worst moments of anxiety and stress. It is simply this: don’t let the person/place/situation that is making you nervous make you so until the exact moment you have to experience him/her/it. This relies on the idea that the thought of something is actually worse than the thing itself. And 9 times out of 10 it is. If you fear waking up alone on Christmas morning, try not to let it get you down for days or weeks ahead of time. Instead, say to yourself, “Okay, is this the moment when I wake up alone on Christmas morning?” Except when it is that moment the answer to the question will be no. If it is not immediately in front of you, why worry about it? It won’t do any good at all. And the revelation for me came when I actually got to the moment for the anxiety-provoking incident to occur. Because then I found that the stress during that moment was relatively minor compared to all the stress that had led up to it. If you’ve ever survived a stressful situation, I’m sure you can relate. Oh, and if you’ve survived one stressful moment, chances are great that you’ll survive another one. When I remember all the stressful things I’ve gotten past, it gives me confidence to face the next stressful thing.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations for the holidays
Don’t get caught thinking that the holiday is going to solve all your problems, that underneath the tree you will find solutions and anodynes to all your pains and troubles. Maybe it worked that way when we were kids (remember how much you wanted that remote-controlled R2D2?), but no longer. By the time we’ve reached this point in life there are no quick fixes to our happiness, even if it sometimes seems that way. Happiness comes from one day at a time lived to the best of our ability; it is a by-product of a long-term effort. Remembering that should help keep things in perspective.
Remember what the season is about
Here’s a hint: it’s not about me or you. In a twist on a familiar refrain, Ask not what the holidays can do for you, but what you can do for the holidays. The holiday is really about giving to others, but I don’t have to tell you that, right?
Try to recapture the wonder of childhood
Remember the holidays of your childhood? Remember the wonder and magic of it all? Try to recapture that sensation. Something that helps me do this is writing down all the joyous memories of holidays past. I remember that the days right before Christmas seemed endless and that I would have done anything to make the time pass. I remember the whiteness and purity of snow, of the magic-frosted mornings filled with hot chocolate and restless anticipation of The Big Day. I remember the holiday songs streaming throughout the lavishly decorated stores that seemed to hold anything a child could ever wish for. I remember making sugar cookies with my mom and decorating them with different colored icing in thick white tubes. I remember the incredible magic of seeing the brightly colored presents under the tree on Christmas morning, and thinking how tired Santa Claus must be from delivering toys to every child in the world. But most of all, I remember the people, my two beautiful, long-haired sisters, and my mother and father. My parents are gone now, and one of my sisters has multiple sclerosis, but in my memory my family is young, vibrant, and healthy.
This too shall pass
When the pain feels like it will last forever, please realize that it won’t. There will come a day when you’ll smile again, love again, laugh again, and get enjoyment out of the things you used to. I know that it may seem impossible to believe at times, but please trust me on this one.
Please get help if you need it. There is absolutely no shame in it at all. In fact, the only shame lies in not getting the help you need. People are out there who can, will, and want to help. Here’s an excellent place to start:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
Please know that I care and that I’m always reachable by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you the most loving, joyful, and peaceful of holidays,
My Wish List for You this Holiday Season
Guest Post by Emily Kaplan
While desperate parents try to hunt down the latest must-have Hachimal-Tickle-Me-Cabbage-Pat
Behold, my wishes for you this season:
1. Less Paperwork
Paperwork, red tape, or hassle. It’s all the same. Let’s reduce that mess. Turn that dial way down.
2. The Return of a Memory You Haven’t Thought of in a While
3. A Creepy But Harmless Internet Friend
4. A Close Call
Emily is freezing her tuckus off in Northern Illinois where she lives with her husband, author JD Kaplan, kids, and dog. She’s currently working on her fourth snarky Josie Tucker mystery.
The Christmas with No Ice Cream
Guest Post by Mica Rossi
My earliest memories are bound up in the celebrations of my extended family. It was not uncommon to have three or four generations in the house during each holiday, birthday, or anniversary. Every single one of the women was a great cook, and smells would waft out of open windows in the summer or hit you as soon as you walked through the door in the winter. Of them all, Christmas was the best and my mother’s favorite.
This particular Christmas, I was five years old. I’d been having a series of sore throats throughout that year and spent a lot of time home from school. Mom and I made delicate string decorations with crochet thread, starch and lots of glitter. We made taffy and fudge and sprinkle cookies with melted white chocolate icing. Pipe cleaners got bent into figure skaters, and we created frilly little skirts for them out of crepe paper streamers. Yards and yards of construction paper chains hung from the wood moldings and swooped over the tree.
The days dragged until Christmas and my anticipation spiraled. My little sister wasn’t sure what all the excitement was about, but she loved sticking her fingers into the dough Mom rolled out on the table as much as she enjoyed munching on the stray cookie that found its way into her hands. At not quite three, she was way too young to remember the treat I knew was coming on Christmas Eve, the milk, eggs and vanilla my dad would crank together in a frosty steel bucket to make the frozen delight we had only once a year. But I knew, and I marked off each day on the calendar with a green crayon.
That might seem like a lot to remember from such a young age, but I’ll never forget that Christmas, because it was the Christmas without ice cream…
Mica Rossi has been writing since she was in the second grade and barely able to form her letters properly. Her short works have been featured in several anthologies, and she is furiously scribbling through various drafts of her second novel, a contemporary romance set during the Christmas season.
Her first book, Once in a Blue Moon, was selected as a spearhead novel for the ‘White Satin Romance’ line at Melange Books and will shortly be brought in-house to Camelot Publishing and re-released in February of 2016 in a revised edition. Just think about a gorgeous member of the Aos Sidhe running into the one woman in Boston who has a vendetta against all things magical, and you’ll understand why sparks fly against the backdrop of hot summer days and starry nights in the city.
Mica’s latest release, Heart Songs, is a collection of poetry and short stories published in April of 2016. It’s a compilation of the emotional journeys we all take through our lives. From friendship and love to the depths of despair and back again, the author digs into the human experience with humor and grace.
Connect with Mica Rossi!
Guest post by Virginia Gray
When I was quite young, my father went back to college to finish his degree. With only my mother’s meager hospital salary to support us all, we found ourselves living in a little trailer outside a small mountain town in North Carolina. Though the situation may have seemed dire to my parents, I had a wonderful time exploring fields, taking forest hikes, and playing in and around the rank-smelling creek behind the trailer park. It’s amazing how oblivious children are to such trivial things as economics.
There lay a small airplane strip on the other side of the highway, and as it was Christmastime, my father decided it would be a great (and cost-effective) idea to trespass on that private piece of property and cut down our own tree. So off on our quest we marched, bow-saw in hand, rope dragging behind us.
Even in my tiny youth, I wanted a tree grand enough to grace Rockefeller Center. Nearing the top of a daunting hill, I found just such a tree; one whose trunk I couldn’t hope to fully wrap my arms around. My father, being a more practical sort, pointed to a somewhat humbler cedar that would actually fit inside our single-wide. After fierce debate, he began merrily sawing away. And that’s when all the trouble began…
Virginia Gray writes contemporary women’s fiction. A member of Romance Writers of America, she is known for her bestselling series The Susan Wade Saga. Please visit her on social media and sign up for her fan-appreciation newsletter.