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The Season of Giving

candles

They say this time of year is the “Season of Giving.” I’m not sure who “they” are…perhaps wise old sages? Or retailers? Being mandated to give something to everyone you know, based on their order of importance in your life, and on a specific date is pressure enough. But add to that the knowledge you are also simultaneously competing against the rest of the world for the limited supply of desirable gift items available! This is enough to produce feelings of hysteria, grief and guilt in anyone. Pass the egg nog, please.

Please be advised that our gift choices must live up to the strict expectations of others, or….or ELSE! Keep the receipt and hope for the best as that wrapping paper is torn open. Was that a smile, or a smug smirk? If the recipient’s eye is welling up with a tear, just hope it’s a good one.

Starting in November, we ask kids and adults alike to make a list of what gifts they’d like. I feel strange buying my brother-in-law that I never see a shirt and tie set, size 17. This is more personal information about him then I’ve known in the previous eight years of being related to him through marriage. But, it’s on his list…so it’s now my mission. Dare I ask my cousin what size slippers she needs? Do I estimate a size? Gasp! What if I overestimate her foot as a size twelve? The icy stares and silent treatment would last until the spring thaw, I’m sure. What if I underestimate the size and a return is in order? Then I’ll need to include a gift receipt. Hassles. Grief. This “Season of Giving” is giving me an ulcer. How about the “Season of Giving” gives me a drink?

So the real question is why are we trying to buy the people in our lives happiness? Do they look miserable? Maybe we are conditioned to feel an empty void this time of year that only a Jean Nate bath set can fill. Thank you, Madison Avenue. But seriously, can purchased happiness last longer than it takes to open the present itself? Probably not. Unless it was a sack of gold coins. REAL gold.

So here is a crazy, brandy-soaked fruitcake of an idea…why not give of ourselves instead? We routinely undervalue our abilities to make a direct impact on the lives of those around us. Can our love and encouragement really compete with a new pair of Isotoner gloves? How about giving some compassion, sympathy, encouragement or support and see for yourself. These are gifts I’d be happy to get any day of the year. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t willing to let go of these higher level gifts. Perhaps we don’t value what they could mean to others. Or, maybe it’s just easier to buy a blender and be done with it.

I’ll tell you now that whenever anyone asks me what I “want” for Christmas my mind just goes blank. My mom always wants to buy me jewelry. That is not what I want. I tell her that, and she gets upset that she needs to have a “wrapped present to hand me.” I then start to think that giving presents is more for the giver than recipient. My relatives always want to know sizes. I feel pressure to tell them I need something stupid just so I can be left alone. “A travel mug!” I’ll blurt out and then retreat back into myself. Back into where I think of things I’d like that I’d never ask for, because I’d never get them. These are gifts of emotion and spirit. No slippers, travel mug or gift certificate could take their place.

Here’s a story. When I lived in New York City, I volunteered at a soup kitchen one Thanksgiving morning. It was really on a whim. Actually, I just wanted to feel like I could make a difference in the lives of others in a city of such great anonymity.

When I first showed up at the soup kitchen I had no idea of what to expect. I really thought I’d see crazy people, wild and scary. I knew that people who lived on the streets of New York would have to be tough to survive out there. I stood behind a table and poured coffee into small white Styrofoam cups and started handing them out to people as they passed through in line. As I handed out my Styrofoam coffee cups, one after another, I noticed something I didn’t expect. A connection between what I was giving and what someone else needed. Every single person smiled and said “Thank you” to me. That part seems trivial, but I realized I had something within me that I could share and was valued by others. Being helpful and caring were things I could give that others truly needed.

I never had such a meaningful experience of helping other people before. By the time I left there I felt like I could move mountains. That Thanksgiving I was given a gift by the many homeless people I met that day. Giving what I could on a human level to help those in need was an incredible and powerful feeling. It’s something I hope everyone can experience sometime in their lives. Value your worth. And again I say, value what you have to give of yourself to others.

The Most Wonderful, Amazing, Exhilarating, Euphoric, and Spectacularly Happier than Happiest Time of the Year!

What is it about Christmas that is so magical? When I was a kid there was no other time of the year better than December. My sister and I would make a red and green paper chain to count off the days until the 25th finally appeared. I made it a tradition to buy one new unique ornament for our tree every year. I would also spend days creating Christmas ornaments of my own from things like sequins, glue, yarn, styrofoam and old jewelry pieces.

Starting at the age of seven I remember pouring over cookbooks to find the best cookie recipes and start baking for the big day. I’d make cutout cookies, chocolate crinkles, walnut toffee, gingerbread men, and anything else I could find that involved butter, eggs and at least two different kinds of sugar. Christmas cookies were my domain for most of my childhood. My mom would always tell me to make a list of whatever ingredients I would need and she would buy every last one of them. From coconut, to candied cherries, pecans, sweetened condensed milk or cardamom. Whatever I needed she bought. My cookie baking became such high art that I remember one year hand painting holly berries and leaves onto each cookie of one particular type I made. I was obsessed, but it was all part of the tradition.

As soon as the toy catalogues started appearing in the mail my sister and I would start writing out our Christmas lists. Yes, our toy lists were a project unto themselves. It was imperative that Santa know not only what we wanted, but the color, the product code and the page number of each item in the catalogue we were looking at. I thought if he didn’t make everything himself, Santa could at least know where to buy the gifts I needed. This worked out very well for us for years. Christmas was also a time of giving for us. At our elementary school we’d have a rummage sale where the kids could buy small affordable items for their parents. It was really a nice idea. My sister bought me a perfume called “Sunlight” at this sale. I always wondered who owned this perfume before me, but I realized it was the thought that counts.

Christmas Eve was always the best and most magical night by far. I was still baking cookies up until that day, but I also made a special bread for Christmas morning. The Christmas bread was made out of yeast and candied fruit and it would sit out to rise while we were at Church for Christmas Eve service. Afterward I’d bake it to have ready for the following morning. Later that night we’d drive around and look at the Christmas lights on display at the mansions in the rich side of town and then come home to have cheese and crackers and other treats before bed. The best feeling I had was lying on our couch in the living room, with every light off but the tree lights, listening to Christmas music with my mom and sister and looking at the shadows from the tree branches and Christmas lights on the walls and ceiling. It was usually snowing out so that was an extra nice bonus to the magical Christmas feeling. It was this way for years. This was our Christmas tradition.

My mom always said “Christmas is for children.” The older I got the more I saw this was true. There was less magic and more stress. And sadness. Missing the magic of childhood Christmases, where the only worries were getting the right toy product code written down and baking as many cookies as could physically be done in a month. I thought that after I had kids the magic would return to the holidays. In many ways it has – their wonder and amazement at Santa. Their neverending questions, such as if Santa has email or if he shops for things that he couldn’t build, like a Nintendo DS, always make me laugh. I love seeing their happiness and wonder and amazement everytime it snows as they dream of that magical Christmas night.

But our society has built the idea of the holiday season up to unreasonable expectations. It is supposed to be a time of family, togetherness and cheer. But not everyone has that in their lives. Spend money on everything that you can to buy happiness for others. Don’t worry about the bills until January. So…what if you aren’t Martha Stewart? What if you don’t host big holiday parties? What if your family is fractured and can’t all be in one place? What if you aren’t religious?

Now as an adult, Christmas has become a time of questions. Questioning my beliefs. Questioning my faith. Questioning my past, present and future. I think the spirituality of the season makes me wonder about life and what is beyond, if anything. It is a time for me to wonder where I fit into the whole world. Am I on the right path? Where is it heading? It is a time of deep reflection, likely due to the fact that a new year will begin soon after. A clean slate and a fresh start on tackling the things I have put off too long. Time to clean house and get my life in order. A tall order from someone who just wanted to make the perfect Christmas cookie.

Oh, the humanity!

The Opposite of Bestseller

From the era of macrame, puppetry and shrunken apple heads, it’s no wonder that every craft book I find from the nineteen seventies reflects artwork that would be only be available today in the home arts wing of a museum of the grotesque. If there was such a thing. I can’t see these objects ever being considered priceless folk art on a future edition of Antiques Roadshow. But what do I know? As a child of the nineteen seventies, I had to endure this time of burlap, felt and corkboard, for crafts and home decor alike. And that was some good living! But I digress.

The book I found as my third homage to the trees of yore, is just an average craft book from the nineteen seventies. Pretty much any one would do. Through each hideous and horrifying page I turned I channeled in the spirit of a mighty oak, a whispering pine…

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Absence Makes the Heart Go Wander

I feel so bad that I haven’t been posting here on my blog lately. I’d been doing so well with my strict schedule of a new post every three to four days.  I miss everyone here as well, so I thought I’d drop you a post to let you know I’m still alive.

I’ve been so busy with life, work, kids, two blogs, the election, wondering about life and death, doubting that it is possible to ever find true love, rediscovering old friendships, feeling pains of doubt, paranoia, insecurity, fear, seeking solace in going shopping, seeking solace in going to the eye doctor, blah, blah, blah. As you can see, I’ve been busy. With life. I know that none of this is relevant to any of you, but the more excuses I list the better I feel about not having written an official post here in such a long time.

Today I finally got tough with me, and told myself that I have to write something here tonight! It has been a week since my last post, and as with many things in life….you can become out of habit with things. Even things you love. Life is work, and so is this blog. But nothing in life comes easy, I guess.

Now I’m sure I sound like I’ve been dipping into the chardonnay….but I assure you I haven’t. I’m just in the midst of my usual midlife crisis-mode. With a touch of sadness. And a whisper of exhaustion…actually a great big loud yell of exhaustion.

In summary, it’s been a long day, and this post is making even me depressed! I’ll have a better post soon, if I can fit it in after the eye doctors and before I take my mom out on errands. But whenever it happens, it will DEFINITELY be before the chardonnay. Or not.

Post number two on my new blog…”The Opposite of Bestseller” Warning: Blushing Ahead!

The Opposite of Bestseller

The second book I’ll honor is from a genre I never understood. The romance genre. Here in this post, it is the historical romance genre. Granted, many people enjoy this type of reading. I tried to, but just couldn’t. Sorry if this selection offends anyone, but this is just my eulogy for a tree that gave its life for the arts.

Today I’m honoring the trees that gave their lives so the world could better know, “His at Night” by Sherry Thomas.  A Bantam Books Mass Market Original. Published in 2010. This is a work of fiction.

Good gracious, I’m blushing already! I think the plot of the story is right here. The biggest clue to a historical romance is the clothing the people are wearing (or losing!) on the front cover of the book.

“Bum pinching”? “Watering of the beer”? “Saintly patience”? “Not altogether right upstairs”? Am I putting the question marks in…

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Hey Kids! There’s a New Blog in Town!

Well, in my spare minute a day I started a new blog. I think you can never have too many irons in the fire, right? Anyway, it’s just a silly look at the many books out there that never quite made it to “Great American Novel” status. It just went up today, and if anyone is bored…please stop by and check it out! I plan to update it very often. Hope you like it!!

The Opposite of Bestseller

http://theoppositeofbestseller.wordpress.com/

Scorpios stand united!!

Nicole DiGiose

It’s Scorpio season! I’ll let you other stars peek into the mind of a Scorpio just this once.

Scorpios can be difficult to really know, and it takes time to understand. Upon first meeting one, most see them as serious, though polite, or a bit quirky and uptight (mainly at work or in a professional atmosphere). Once a Scorpio feels connected with you, they’re laid back and always looking to have fun.

Scorpios finish what they start, no matter how much time it takes.

This sign doesn’t forget anything, ever. They’ll remember all they’ve collected about you, even if your lives crossed for a short period of time.

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The Results Are In!

Thank you all so much for answering my survey I posted a few days ago. I was looking for insight from my wonderful blog readers on what types of stories I write here on “Fortyteen Candles” that you all find the most interesting, entertaining and enjoyable. Without a doubt, according to the results from my survey, the most interesting stories to you all are 1. Stories about living in suburbia and my neighbors (heh heh heh….) and 2. Stories about my experiences as a nurse.

Honestly, when I started this blog I KNEW it would be a great place for me to vent my frustrations about living in a cookie cutter town full of uninteresting people who like to form cliques and one up each other materialistically or child achievementally. Thank you all for confirming my belief that this is a very entertaining subject that is best suited to scathing sarcasm with a twist of sheer joy. My neighbors continue to drive me insane, and I’ll have more stories soon as our Halloween Trick or Treating interactions have awakened my muse and gotten her to work on some urgent therapeutic writing.

Something my survey pointed out that really surprised me was your interest in my work and experiences as a nurse. Nursing is something I went into in response to a strong desire I have to help and take care of other people. This is something that is just programmed into me and I don’t see it objectively. I never think what I do is anything above and beyond what humans should do for each other every day, or would do if they were in a situation to do so, therefore I never think it would be interesting or entertaining in any way for others to read about.

The interactions I have with my patients, families and co-workers are on an emotional, philosophical, moral and spiritual level at times. I don’t know how these translate into print, but my general impression since they evoke “feelings” is that they would be dull and non action-packed. Translation = “dull” writing-wise. However, the comments I’ve received on my stories about nursing, as well as on this survey, have really opened my eyes to the value of sharing these experiences with others. It is important for others to know that in this world of increasing depersonalization there are still people out there who care, and will always care, for others in need. I have taken these comments very seriously and it has given me a lot to think about as I organize my next big writing project.

So, since it is hard for me to only focus on one project at a time, I’ve started sorting in my mind two separate writing projects….one for suburbia and the neighbors who drive me insane, and one for my experiences as a nurse. I really appreciate the time you all took to give me your feedback. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!

 

And….the survey says?

I have been writing, now, for many years. Every time I start writing something new I always think “This is it! This is the writing piece that I will finish. It will define me as a writer and set me on my path to publication and personal fulfilment.” And then none of that ever happens. Repeat to fade.  I then force myself to see the bright side to the madness with each project stall, “Ahh, well. Another scrap in the heap. At least computer files don’t pile up all over the floor”.  No, they just get lost and deleted with the next worm invasion. It makes me sad to think how many of my blurbs and brain farts  the world will never know.

Writing is just about impossible without feedback. I am so fortunate that I have such an amazing audience here on my blog. I am so appreciative for every comment I receive from you all.  Since I never have feedback on my writing outside of my blog, “Fortyteen Candles,”  it has been a real challenge for me to move forward to work on bigger projects. In case you do not already know, I live in a cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere. On the bright side, where I live puts me in a great position  to find answers to such questions as:

  • What kind of liquid fertilizer works best on corn?
  • Is that alfalfa?
  • What’s that smell?
  • When are you going to Walmart?

Back to me and my problems. Just kidding – they are now everybody’s problems! Anyway, I’ve been all over the writing map in my life…poetry, screenplays, sonnets, short stories, essays, letters to the editor, chapters, greeting cards, whole books, a million outlines, and a billion scraps of paper containing earth-shattering topics and story plots that never amounted to much. Enough, I say. Enough. I am officially, today, here, right now, stopping the insanity. I’m getting it together in a good way for a change. Furthermore, I like to believe that someday the world will thank me. Ok, a bit too much. Seriously though, I have decided to take the opportunity of asking all of you for your opinions on my writing so far. If you like my blog and enjoy what I write then I’d like to get your insights as to what you think would be a good path for me to take my writing on next.

At this time, I turn to you dear readers to help me out with a survey. I am asking you all for your valuable feedback. Just let me know what types of stories I write that you find the most interesting, entertaining or meaningful? I would be so appreciative to have  your thoughts on my writing so far. I’m hopeful I can take this information and commit to my next writing project….which I already have two really great ideas about. Sigh. I thank you sincerely, truly and in advance. Thanks.

Now, without further adu….here is the official Fortyteen Candles Writing Survey 2012. Oh, and you can pick more than one answer if you like.

Music Television Saved My Life!

It was when I was in seventh grade that I first heard about a miraculous invention called “cable television.” In those early days everyone just watched television for free. We caught it right out of the air with an antenna that was attached to our television. It was like a magic that I didn’t understand, but accepted as part of normal, everyday life. The television we had in my house was tiny by today’s standards. Smaller, even, than my current computer monitor. We had a 13-inch black and white television that you actually had to put your hands on to change the channel or volume. Oh, it’s true! You had to stand on your feet and walk over to it. But this was not likely to happen, however. Since there were only a few TV channels in existence, you pretty much knew you weren’t missing anything on the other four stations. Evening television viewing consisted of watching channel seven for an hour and a half and then going to bed.

Now, back to seventh grade. I just started junior high school and was feeling all mixed up about my emotions. Wearing an alligator sweater and Jordache jeans with a Lady Diana haircut and a hair comb in my back pocket put a lot of stress on my psyche. It was not normal or natural for me to do any of these things. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be, so I just did what the other kids in my home room were doing. It wasn’t in any way enjoyable for me to comb my hair and feather it every five minutes, but I did what I had to do to get by. Thankfully, I never went so far as to use a curling iron and hair spray on my hair to maintain its feathered and curled look. That was for the seriously troubled youth:

One day, my best friend told me about something called “cable television.” I thought it must be something from Europe, because it sounded as foreign to me as the metric system. She went on to talk about a show called “Fraggle Rock.” I was immediately incensed, because this was obviously a knock off of my  beloved “The Muppet Show.” I would not tolerate cheap imitations, and remained unconvinced that cable television was in any way going to change my life. However, one day I went over to her house and her television was on. Like a drug dealer trying to hook me on crack, she immediately put a channel on called MTV* (*Music Television, as it was known at the time), so I could get a feeling for this “cable television” that she constantly raved about.  There before me, I saw a band called “The Police” singing a song called “Roxanne.” I stood there mesmerized and wondered what else was out there in the world that I didn’t know anything about.

After seeing that one video, my whole perspective about my place in the world changed. I realized people in other countries were singing songs in musical styles that I knew nothing about. I started focusing more  of my attention on listening to music than I did on fashion, or what the other kids in my home room were doing, wearing or combing. In a way, cable television did change my world. I started identifying more with the culture of music than the dull regular people I knew in my everyday life. I sought out others who were also “into” the music scene and my fashion followed suit. No more Jordache jeans, alligator sweaters, Lady Diana hairstyles or hair combing for me forever. Well, I do still try to at least comb my hair as needed on a fairly regular schedule.

From that point on I became interested in bands such as Blondie, Madness and the B52’s. I became sort of crazed to see these bands singing their songs in videos. I craved that feeling of visual  music. And seeing the musicians in action. They looked a lot cooler and more interesting than the kids in my home room, that’s for sure. I started spending more and more time at my friend’s television. I was hooked. When I couldn’t be there, at her MTV, I was at the record store in the poster section. Or flipping through racks of record albums. Realizing each band had videos was almost too exciting to think about.

In all this new music video frenzy, we still didn’t have cable television at my house. I accepted it as part of life. On a good night, if the wind was right, and there was enough foil on the antenna, and it was after 11 p.m., and it was a Friday, I could pull in a station that broadcasted a show called “Friday Night Videos.” That was seriously like a drug to me. Especially when they had good bands on. But at the time I wasn’t picky. Any music video would do.

Sadly, the MTV of today is completely unrecognizable. No more is it a gateway to the music of the world. Shows like “120 Minutes,” hosted by Matt Pinfield, which introduced me to some phenomenal bands, are a thing of the past. I guess advancing your world-view and with art and intelligence is something from another era. Now on MTV you’ll see “Jersey Shore” marathons, and teenagers becoming celebrities for having babies at sixteen. Ever since the first “The Real World” in the early nineties MTV has gone from cultural icon to an absolute sell-out to commercialism. The “M” in today’s MTV can only stand for “mind numbing.” They play anything but music. I think for a while there they even had an MTV 2, which is where you could find music videos if that was your thing. I don’t even know if that is still in existence anymore. Maybe they’ve moved the videos off to an MTV 3 by now.

In closing to my tirade, here is one of the great videos of the early era of Music Television. It is by a band called M singing the classic tune “Pop Muzik.”  The lyrics make no sense, but the originality and excitement is invigorating in this day of dull, talentless, copycat music stars:

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