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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Blog Hop - December 11th

                   It's Starting To Feel A lot Like Christmas! 
    I chose this particular date for my Christmas blog hop slot because it happens to be my birthday. And for me, Christmas and my birthday were synonymous when I was growing up.(Still is!)  It was on my special day that Mom decorated for Christmas and lit all the lights. So, I have kept up the tradition. Tonight our small table-top Christmas tree will shine, as will the lighted star in our front window and the little ceramic tree atop the microwave.
     I was fortunate to have two wonderful celebrations in the month of birthday and the birthday of Jesus. I got gifts twice in the one month, had two festive family gatherings, and enjoyed two times of feasting on cake and special treats.  For my birthday, it was ice cream cake encased in whipped cream. For Christmas, my mom made struffoli - a Neapolitan confection popular in many Italian households this time of year. Just the scent of this treat brings back the warm memory of Mom and Christmases past.
      Making these little fried dough balls covered with honey, sprinkles and nuts, was an all day affair. As a child, I'd watch Mom make a well in the mound of flour where she'd place the eggs to make the dough. Then I'd help her roll the dough into many long thin rolls and cut them into small nuggets which she'd drop into a large pot of hot oil, a handful at a time. The oil would foam up and Mom explained that it was because of the eggs in the dough, so it was important not to put too many in at one time, she'd say, or the pot would foam over. (I remember a few of those times too!) Minutes later, they'd be scooped out and placed on paper towels, ready for their coating of honey, toasted almonds and sprinkles.
      When Mom entered her eighties, the task became too much, so we came up with a simpler version that looks and tastes the same as the all-day recipe, except they seem to be a tad lighter in texture, which we decided we liked better.
       Here's the recipe if you'd like to try it. Kids would have fun making these too. It's soooo easy.
Quick Struffoli   
Two 1 3/4 oz. pkgs. of soup nuts...found most readily in Kosher supermarkets, especially near Hanukkah or Passover.
    1/3 cup honey, warmed in the microwave.
    1 ounce of toasted slivered or sliced almonds.
    Generous sprinkling of colored sprinkles (confetti)
    Place the soup nuts in a large bowl. Pour the warm honey over them and toss quickly with hands, coating all the soup nuts.
    Place in a mound on a serving dish, Add the nuts and sprinkles. You can store at room temperature, covered with waxed paper or aluminum foil.
   Now, for my favorite Christmas reads (with some struffoli on the side.)
SILVER BELLS by Luanne Rice - (October 25, 2005) Bantam

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. (My mom read that to me in her broken English/Italian accent, whenever I felt blue or upset, even in summer. Always did the trick.)


Add some Christmas music to my snack and good read and you'll most likely find me enjoying: The Little Drummer Boy, Hark The Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night. I get goosebumps with those two songs.

   And when I put down the Christmas novels, my two favorite Christmas movies are: 
The classic,  A Christmas Carol...the original version.
  And, A Charlie Brown Christmas!  I especially enjoy watching that as I make Christmas goodies.

    Finally, some good Christmas season memories, other than the struffoli....
    Decorating the Christmas Tree with my parents...Dad would throw the tinsel over his shoulder or under his leg for a dramatic effect.
    Setting up the Nativity set, which was placed at the bottom of the tree in the center. To this day, I feel it important to have a Nativity set by the tree. My mom made sure that this was the highlight of the decor.
    Waiting in front of our house for my paternal grandfather to come pick us up to go to Christmas Eve dinner at his and my grandma's house. It was snowing and the colored old-fashioned Christmas light bulbs that our landlord had used to decorate the stoop railing, glimmered muted reds, greens and blues under a coating of snow. It was a beautiful moment I never forget.
    My friend, Fran, and I, stirring our milk with a candy cane to give the milk a peppermint flavor, then licking the canes until they became like long needles before finally eating them. (Didn't take much to entertain us back-in-the-day.)
      There are lots more, and I am grateful for all the wonderful Christmas memories, esp, those that my parents helped make possible when I was a little girl. I had no idea at the time, that my dad was laid off from his job and sold Christmas trees out in the cold to make ends meet...our tree was up, Santa left all the gifts I'd asked for, and the table was full of special treats.
     Wishing everyone a merry and  memorable Christmas!
Check out a few ongoing Christmas favs of this Christmas blog hop....

Linda G – Dec. 6th

Gail Kittleson – 10th

And our upcoming ones too...
Karen Wingate -Dec.14th –
Patty Wysong - 18th
Davalynn Spencer –19th
Tamara Kraft – 20th       

Friday, December 7, 2012

Writing Christmas Cards-

   I wonder if it is because I am a writer that I enjoy writing out Christmas cards?  I have heard some refer to the task as a drudgery, an obligation that needs to be met and done.
  I choose a morning or afternoon when I will be by myself, put on Christmas music, simmer some cinnamon and orange peel in a pot of  water to bring a cozy aroma to the place, and write my cards.
   I like to personalize each card, after all, it is CHRISTmas. I add a Christmas quote, or a short Christmas excerpt from our church bulletin, a bookmark or prayer card, and some years, a photo.
    I pick my cards rather carefully as it reflects who I am as well as how much I value my recipient. I am not referring to the expense of the cards, but the image or the meaning it portrays.
   I have a good friend who makes her own cards - she loves scrapping and her artistic creativity is put to good use with cards each year.
    Of course, we live in a busy world and some of us have little ones or grand kids at home, or long hours at work. Time seems never to be present for such a luxury as enjoying writing or creating cards with a Christmas spirit.
    Some tips to make it easier....
  Have the addresses of your recipients typed and saved in label-printing format, so all you need do is print out the labels rather than write out each address. This seems to be the gripe many of us have about Christmas card writing....all those addresses.
  First, write out cards to just the special people in your life...those who you are in touch with regularly. Those to whom you really do want to wish a Merry Christmas to. Give those people the time they deserve in your wishes. Next, it might be time to see which people we send out cards to merely out of obligation (because they will or might send us one) even though we don't see or hear from one another all year long. Maybe we need to revise our list.
  Have a Christmas card writing gathering. Serve eggnog and Christmas cookies and have Christmas music playing. Maybe with some relatives or good friends. It can turn the task into a fun time. This idea is great for kids who like to create cards to give to their siblings, friends and cousins.
   Let us not forget e-cards. 
   However we do it, sending out Christmas cards is a nice way to take a moment for each person in our life and bestow upon them a wish and blessing for the birthday of Jesus. And if the recipient is not a believer, than a wish for a beautiful and festive season.
    To learn the origin of writing Christmas cards go to the following link:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thinking Up A Story-

     I no longer sit at the computer to begin a new story/novel. If I do that, I'd be staring at a blank screen for hours with a sore back and stiff neck. Been there, done that.
    Nope, now the tactic is to roll over the plots in my mind as I lay in bed before sleep or upon awakening earlier than intended. I begin with the name of my characters first, then I envision the opening scene, as if watching a movie. After all, the reader will be doing the same - seeing a scene that will keep the pages turning...or at least, that is the goal of any good story.
    I come up with a plot and then think: "I've read too many novels with that same plot." Okay, then comes the next idea, and the next, and the next. Sigh. If I'm bored with my own ideas, imagine how my agent or readers would react? Not good. So, what is the alternative?
    Sometimes I take a brain rest - a diversion from thinking up stories and instead, I do some critiquing in my writing group, word puzzles, or I get out more. I step away from my story hunt and wait for the story to come to me. After all, there are lots of potential stories out there right in our own lives with the people we are most in contact with, within our families or circle of friends. Like a recipe, the story can come from a dash and a dab of stories we hear about in our midst, then fine tuned to fit the genre we write.
    Once in a great while. I'll be searching Facebook or reading blogs as an entertainment break, and wham! A story line hits and I can't type fast enough to get it all out. That's a great moment in the life of any writer.
     Stepping away from reading and thinking about the particular genre we write is also helpful, at least for me it is. Reading biographies actually makes for some good ideas. And there are some great stories, even on TV, like the Marshall Dillion western episodes (I just love that show)and even some of the Lifetime movies. Stories abound, and in the midst of reading and watching different ones, come the ideas for our own story.
    In the world of music, it has been said that there are really no original songs. Down through the ages, combinations of chords and tunes have been borrowed with slight changes here and there. It seems it's the same about our stories. Romance, tragedies, cultural differences, new beginnings, dysfunctional families, passion, loss of faith, renewal of faith, all of these and more, are age old human experiences, so basically, no story we write is truly new, but simply told in a new way. Written in the unique perspective and the added creativity of the author. And it's all quite amazing to me. I am privileged to be among the mini creators of new stories of the human condition. Able to instill hope and happiness in the pages that can lift up a reader. And even if one of my stories lifts up only one reader out of a thousand. Then, that might be the very reason it had to be written.
      Words change lives. That's a sacred undertaking I hope I do not take lightly. 
      Some books that have brought hope and uplifting to me just when I'd needed it for various reasons, are:
God On A Harley by Joan Brady -
The Healing Woods by Martha Reben
 It Takes A village Idiot by Jim Mullen
Time Is a River by Mary Alice Monroe 
The Summer I Dared by Barbra Delinski
Christmas Therapy by Elf Help Books
     There are many more, but those came to mind first.
     So, off to the story board I go...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Criticism, Revisions and the Like...

     Every writer knows about revisions and helpful criticism. It is part of the writing life. First we write the story, then we have a few people read it (perhaps a critique group.) If there are four people in the group, you might receive four different views, various criticisms and error findings. This is all good. What one misses the other catches. The more input, the better. We take what's beneficial and then we send it off to our agent or editor. In most cases the manuscript will be returned with requested revisions.
     It is best not to view suggested revisions as negative criticism. Sometimes we get too attached to our way of telling a story, when there is indeed a better way to do it. Besides, criticism is good. It teaches us to write better and turn out a good manuscript.  While nobody likes criticism, it is simply something we, as writers, have to accept and acknowledge. Criticism is not meant to hinder, but to push us forward.
     Rarely will we not be advised of needed revisions in order to make our book worthy of publication, and even some published novels/books still have an error or two.
     Sometimes I think it is impossible to submit a perfect manuscript. The goal is to try our best to polish it and abide by the suggestions of our agent and/or editor. It is always best to strive for an error-free submission. Our good work reflects on those who represent and publish us. 
     A critique partner or group is a must. It is like having another or several pairs of eyes to catch errors and awkward sentences that we miss. There have been times when I've read my own work several times and missed the same error that a member of my critique group spotted right off. It also saves the agent or editor from sorting through a barrage of errors. There will probably still be changes needed, but the manuscript will be tighter and cleaner after the critique group or partner went through it.
     Best to not rush revisions and resubmit a clean manuscript than to hurry the changes, in order to get it back to an agent or editor as soon as possible. Unless of course, there is a deadline. Even then, find a time when you can work at a calm pace and not feel rushed to get to other work, chores, and so forth.
    Hey, being asked for revisions is never a bad thing. It certainly beats a rejection, and even then, we learn something through the experience.
    So, revise on!  Welcome criticism and add the knowledge gained from it to your next novel or non-fiction book. Imagine how it was back in the day of typewriters and no computers? Now,that would make revisions quite the dreaded challenge.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Research Tools

   One of the best tools for research when traveling to places of interest for a story, is the camera. I find it better than notes. I can go back and look at the photos and give an accurate description of a particular area, tools of the trade of certain cultures, and so on.  For example, the Amish people in one of the districts in upstate, NY have brown buggy tops, while other areas, such as Lancaster, PA, have black. The same goes for the bonnets that the women and girls wear. They are brown in some areas and black in others.
   Not all of us live in the country or near farmland, so an accurate description of barns, fields and the general topography can all be fine tuned by going over photos taken in such places. Or it might be that  the country is home and it's the city environment that is not familiar.
   Even if a story doesn't call for much research in so far as having to go visit a particular area, it's helpful to take photos of sunsets, sunrises, the ocean, lakes, the changes of the seasons, a bustling city...whatever is within our vicinity so as to capture what we hope to put into words at a later date.
   Don't forget the photos of friends and/or family who might have traveled to a place you are interested in writing about but cannot travel to. And if you can't travel or obtain photos from others, then search online for those places of interest and save the photos in a file so you can go back and look at them as needed.
   Of course, the Internet is a valuable tool for research, especially for those who cannot travel due to family, health or time constrictions. If we can't get to a place we need to know more about, there is always a message board or a blog somewhere with someone who has been to the area needing research. It's surprising how helpful this avenue of research can be.
   The imagination is a wonderful tool and in some of us, a marvelous gift. Never to be overlooked in the craft of writing stories.  Many memorable children's books came directly from the imagination of the author. And with that, many a child's imagination has grown from such stories.
    The good old fashioned notepad is not to be overlooked. Even if an iPad is available. Good to back it up just in case it is lost or stolen, not uncommon these days. Always keep a small notebook and pencil in your purse, suit pocket or briefcase, traveling to and from work, going on outings or even just getting to everyday places, like the supermarket. Keep one on the night stand too. You never know when a good idea will hit, and isn't it frustrating when you awake in the morning knowing you had a good idea during the night, but forgot it?
    Books on the topic of interest to be written about is a big part of research. Read about what you want to write about, be it historical novels, Amish ones, particular cookbooks, children's stories and so forth. If you can't afford to purchase the books, go to the local library or buy used copies at a lower price online. Lots of us might say that we have no time to read, what with chores, a job and trying to get a certain amount of words written each day. So, consider the reading as homework for your craft. Read in bed, on the train or bus going to or from work, while waiting for something to cook, in a waiting room at the doctor or dentist. Even in the car while waiting for your child to come out of school. Once you start to read good books in the genre you are interested in writing, the desire to read will take care of itself.
    Next time we'll talk about criticism of our cherished words...ouch!    

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Comforts Of Writing


      I love to write on a rainy day. Listening to the rain splatter against the window pane while I think up my stories is one of my favorite creative times. Sipping a good cup of tea or coffee adds to the comfort and cozy feel I crave.What's your favorite time and/or place to write?
      For me, it's easier to stay indoors at the computer on a stormy day, than on a bright sunny one. The sunshine calls me outdoors to the park or the beach. Fortunately, my laptop or a notebook and pencil, can come along, and so I make use of one of the perks of being a writer...write anywhere at any time.
     Wherever and whenever we choose to write, it's important to have some comfort as we go about our craft. Sitting endlessly at the computer can cause stiff necks, aching backs, frustration and grumpiness.
      A writer needs to bring comfort to those hours, both mentally and physically.  If sipping a good cup of java does it, then by all means, include it as another working tool.
      Some of us enjoy listening to soothing music or nature sounds as we write, while some of us, myself included, prefer as much quiet as we can get. If the latter is your choice and you live in a not-so-quiet environment as I do, then buy some ear plugs. The waxy cotton ones work better than the foam ones. A good brand is: Flents Ear Stopples.
     Don't forget the wireless headphones they now sell for those of us who enjoy listening to music but might disturb others while doing it.
     Since we all don't have a private office or space to write, we have to adapt. Some of us have a desk in the corner of a busy family room with TV blaring and kiddie activities going on. While a number of us make the kitchen table our space with a laptop. And there are even some of us who resort to taking the laptop into the bathroom for an hour of privacy and quiet. We do what we have to do!
      As writers, we've come to learn that sitting for any long period of time can bring pain, whether we are 20 years young or 80.  So, we need to remember to get up and stretch every so often.  A chiropractor once told me to set a timer every thirty minutes if necessary.
     Sitting in a comfortable chair is an obvious asset. Unfortunately, we all can't afford an ergonomic chair. But where there's a will, there's a way. Adding a cushion or back support can help bring our not-so-comfy chair into the ranks of a higher comfort zone. It'll be worth it at the end of each writing session.
       While we can't always do our writing in the perfect time and place, we can make the best of what we have and where we are with a few adaptations and/or additions. Like that simple cup of comforting coffee.
       It's time to brew myself a cup for the next article....

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Goals of a writer - 2012

      My writing goals for 2012 are: to write more and to write better. To use my writing time well. To have my novel published.  In that order?  Yes. Because for me, the first two goals lead to the third one. 
     I think it was Luanne Rice who suggested that we write every single day. Even if it is just about various observations. Whatever it is. Write. The more we write, the better we become at our craft.  Just like anything else. Regular exercise keeps us fit. Daily consumption of wholesome nutritious food, keep us healthy. I will write every day. Nope, e-mails don't count. Sigh!
     Many a day I have spent nearly all of my writing time staring at the computer screen. Stuck. Blank. Blocked. I'd distract myself with e-mails, reading the headlines of the latest news, and even shopping for a new book to read. Time wasted!  Before I knew it, other things needed to be done. Like returning phone calls, doing laundry, getting out for my daily walking routine, and cooking dinner! Thus, my writing time yielded no writing. This has to change.
     Now, I will go over the story in my mind while trying to fall asleep, while waiting in line at the bank or supermarket, while sitting in a doctor's office, and while doing chores. I will keep a small note pad nearby to jot down an idea or two for the next chapter, or changes to the plot. Then, the next time I am at the computer ready to write, I won't sit there thinking of what to write.
      A published book is the goal of most writers.  But the writing itself is an ongoing journey of creativity, learning, and discovery. 
      Writing is part of who I am. A great privilege. I am a mini-creator, starting with a blank page and ending with a full page, which at some point, blossoms into a completed novel. A good story. One that I hope will move a heart, lift a spirit, and inspire a mind.
       Happy New Year to all my fellow writers and critique partners.