Tuesday, November 27, 2012

All I Do For Christmas

The holidays are upon us! The arrival of December heralds what for many is the busiest and most stressful time of the year.

Women especially take on a lot of extra work to make the holiday bright for their families—shopping for gifts, cooking big holiday meals, hosting parties and drop-ins, sending cards, decorating the house...it’s exhausting just thinking about them. Part of me has always wondered if the impulse to put oneself through all this holiday hullabaloo is associated with the innate gatherer instinct passed down through our genes over thousands of years. All the shopping, cooking, baking and decorating always make me feel like I’m preparing my cave for a long winter.

My husband and I currently enjoy a child-free home. Part of me celebrates that I get to relegate most of the traditional holiday activities to the rest of the family, while another part mourns that I don’t have to take on those responsibilities myself. Without children in the house, I don’t feel any strong need to make every Christmas “the best Christmas ever.” I don’t feel the need to fill the house with pine needles and clove-covered oranges and candy canes. We have a sparsely decorated five-foot fake tree, but the only gifts under it are usually for the cat.

So what is it about Christmas that makes me want to jump into the festooned fray, even though I’ve been campaigning for more simple holidays with my family? Have I succumbed to the commercialization and commodification of the holiday spirit? Am I associating gifts and extravagant meals and reindeer-shaped candle holders with the warm and fuzzy nostalgia I’ll never recapture from my youth?

It made me fear for the future. Will I one day insist on stringing popcorn garlands with the children in an effort to provide them with happy memories patterned after idyllic scenes from TV commercials and Christmas specials, even though all the kids want to do is play video games? Is Bing Crosby’s crooning going to be the background music of their holiday nightmares? Will my kids grow up to perpetuate a false sense of happiness by associating enforced family time based on what I made them do in some misguided effort to be good parents themselves?

The answer came to me after a tall glass of merlot and a smack to the side of the head: No. I will not buy into the idea that more gifts equal a better Christmas. I am not a bad person because I don’t do any Christmas baking or decorating. I will not compare my family and social life to the ones on TV, and berate myself for not providing the same festive cheer and ambiance well-dressed and sober party hosts do.

I will, however, remember that the holidays are a time to appreciate time spent with family and friends. I will treat the holidays as an end-of-year celebration that gives us an opportunity to give thanks for what we have, think about the less fortunate and give back where we can.

And if I can just manage those little things each and every year, I think it’ll be the best Christmas ever.

If you could drop one holiday tradition, what would it be? No more shopping for Christmas gifts? No more huge family dinners? A ban on all Christmas music played before Thanksgiving? 

Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Special Thank You

Thursday is Thanksgiving here in the US, so my brain is jumping between thoughts of turkey (and prepping rooms for guests and making stuffing and amusing kids who aren't in school) and moments of trying to stop and realize how enormously blessed I am.

(Actually, since I'm a Canadian living in the States, I've had these thoughts since October and Canadian Thanksgiving – but I digress.)

I want to share a moment when I was incredibly thankful for – wait for it – the Harlequin logo. You know. This guy.

It was five years ago, on a Sunday in September. My husband & I were in the midst of adopting our fifth child, a daughter from Russia. We had already made our first trip, to meet the child and sign the papers that started the legal process. Now we were on trip two, when we would appear in court and find out if our petition would be granted. Needless to say, it was a rather stressful time which was exacerbated by the fact that (a) we had to spend a couple of days in Moscow first, to undergo the infamous eight doctor exam, and (b) my suitcase got lost and I had nothing to wear but the clothes on my back. That would be jeans and a white tee shirt. For court. Yeah.

So there we were, in Moscow, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, anxious and alone and nervous as all get-out about the next day's doctor visits. We decided to explore the area around our hotel. We wandered into one store and found that – oh joy – it was a bookstore! We had planned to pick up some Russian books for our little one, so this was a great chance to do that. We wandered the aisles, checking out the selection, trying to not feel too overwhelmed by being surrounded by books we couldn't read, when I wandered past a bin of paperbacks and caught sight of that familiar little jester. My heart did a little jump. Something familiar! I picked up one of the top books and, with my very rudimentary Russian, sounded out the name of the author. It was Cara Summers, one of my RWA chapter mates! I picked up another: it turned out to be by my friend Holly Jacobs! I went through that whole bin, finding names of friends and people I didn't know but still recognized. 

Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone or lost. I had friends with me. My world had suddenly become a bit less frightening, a bit more familiar, all because of that logo. 

Thank you, Harlequin, for being there when I needed a friend. I'll never forget it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Draw Winner

Tammy, you won the Karina Bliss draw for a copy of Bring Him Home. Send your postal details to karina@karinabliss.com!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Only Thing to Fear...

Things that go bump in the night just don’t cut it anymore. Or do they?

Despite the glorification (and perhaps oversaturation) of vampires, werewolves, witches, the undead, disasters and post-apocalyptic societies, we’re still pretty easy to scare. The fight-or-flight survival instinct is hardwired into us to ensure we avoid danger. Some people take advantage of that by spreading ridiculous rumors via the internet. (If you ever get an email about tampons made of asbestos or AIDS-infected needles being slipped into return coin slots, make sure you check it out on Snopes.com.) Others try to profit by instilling new fears in us--marketing is very good at this. 

And still others make a living trying to scare us. Just look at all the haunted houses that pop up in October...and see how many people pay to go in!

Fear is a universal emotion we all experience in different forms. Some fears are so extreme, people will literally run screaming from them. And it’s not always as simple as being afraid of the dark. Phobias are nothing to laugh at, and can keep some people trapped by fear.

There are many things we’re—legitimately or not—terrified of. We have personal fears of abandonment, failure, rejection, losing control and getting old; and there are mundane ones such as fear that you’ll get into an accident, get sick, lose your job or won’t make next month’s rent. Sometimes, these can be almost as detrimental as phobias, keeping us from achieving our greatest potential.

Some of the most common fears include snakes, spiders, rats and creepy crawlies. I even know people who are terrified of Canadian geese. I myself have a great aversion to centipedes (horrifying creepy-crawlie alert on that link!).

And then there are those odd associative fears. Things that, most likely as children, we were exposed to and have bad memories of. For instance, I had onion rings for the first time at age six, and that same afternoon I came down with the stomach flu. It lasted more than two weeks. It was so bad that, to this day, I cannot help but pause before eating an onion ring.

As writers, we often give our characters some fear they must face in order to grow or progress; just think of Indiana Jones trapped in the pit of snakes, or Harry Potter facing the Dementors. But in real life, we often shy from those things we most fear, mostly likely because an aversion to mice, say, is not interfering with our lives as much as a Dementor might...

When we do conquer fear, however, it can be one of the greatest feelings in the world. I, for one, know my life is richer for eating onion rings now that I’ve finally gotten over them...twenty years later....

What are your fears? Do you think they’re valid? How would you overcome them if you had to?

Have a safe and happy Halloween!
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