Friday, December 4, 2009

A Holiday Lesson from Benedict Slade and Ebenezer Scrooge

Last night we watched "An American Christmas Carol" starring Henry Winkler. This Jerome Coopersmith adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is set in 1933 in Concord, New Hampshire, during the Great Depression. On the day before Christmas, Benedict Slade (the more modern day Scrooge) sets out with his employee Thatcher (the Cratchit character), to repossess the items townspeople bought with money borrowed from Slade. There is a nice twist with the three spirits who visit him, all of whom bear a striking resemblance to people he visited earlier in the day; and, in the end, Ben learns his lesson and sets out to change his life by changing the lives of those around him for the better. The movie is a vivid reminder that Christmas is more than a one-day-a-year holiday...or at least, it should be.

No matter what holidays you celebrate this time of the year, it is a joyous season for most people. Shoppers are busy buying decorations, special foods for their celebrations, and gifts for family and friends. Lighted Hanukkah menorahs and Christmas lights appear in windows, and Christmas carols play in stores, on radios, and on TV, both in programs themselves and in commercials. In addition to white and colored lights, stores and houses are dressed in holiday finery and boast special displays, there are special programs on TV, people make travel plans to visit loved ones who live at a distance, and diets are thrown out the window until after the first of the year. It's a special season of giving, of sharing, of love and laughter and hope...but not for everyone.

There are many people who will spend the holiday season in homeless shelters, or worse...trying to survive the elements outdoors. Others will spend the holidays alone--some in their own homes, some in nursing homes, hospitals, or other institutions. Service organizations such as the United Way and Salvation Army, and local churches, strive to reach out to bring some joy and comfort to them; but many will fall through the cracks. For them, the holidays are a bleak reminder of what they lack--family, friends, companionship, physical necessities and comforts, and the inability to provide these things for themselves. And it's not just the human population that is in need. Many homeless animals will spend their holidays not curled up on the rug with a loving human to care for them, but in a cage in a shelter.

There are numerous opportunities to give to others this time of year, and many people do. But the needs continue year-round. When you reach out to help in December, why not make a commitment, like Benedict Slade and Ebenezer Scrooge, to continue your giving throughout the coming year? Even small monthly donations can go a long way if those donations are pooled together. If you're looking for a way to help others this season, here are a few suggestions.

Donations can be made to the following. For national organizations, you can usually find a local chapter on their websites:

local food banks and soup kitchens
local homeless shelters
local battered women's shelters
local crisis pregnancy centers

And for animals in need: or your local humane society - trains hearing and service dogs for people with disabilities - North Shore Animal League, the world's largest no-kill shelter

These are just a few ways you can reach out and enrich the lives of others. And in doing so, you will find that your own holiday celebration, indeed your life, will be enriched as well. As Scrooge said, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." What a difference it would make in our world if we all did the same.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Withdrawal Symptoms and Returning to "Normal"

After blogging every day for a month, it felt strange NOT to blog yesterday, and today I'm experiencing what can only be called withdrawal symptoms. I even reread the first three chapters of my NaNo novel last night, correcting a typo here, doing a bit of rephrasing there, before reminding myself that I'm taking the month of December off to concentrate on the holidays.

Returning to "normal" is a process. It began yesterday with getting caught up on some much-needed sleep, reading some more of Death at Epsom Downs by Robin Paige (pseudonym for Bill and Susan Wittig Albert), and watching "The Bishop's Wife" on DVD--the original version with David Niven, Loretta Young, and Cary Grant. I also talked with my son and daughter-in-law, wishing them a happy anniversary--their second. Today, I had my last physical therapy appointment. It will seem strange not seeing my physical therapist, Jenn, after working with her for five months to get my hand back in shape. She's expecting her second child, another boy, in April, and I'll miss talking with her. We also called my father-in-law in South Carolina today to wish him a happy 80th birthday.

"Normal" also included our monthly trip to our local health food store to stock up on my gluten-free supplies and check out the new items they've added to their stock. I remember how truly awful gf foods were twenty years ago when I was first diagnosed with the condition. Really, the boxes tasted better than the contents! But now, there are so many delicious items to choose from, it's hard to decide what to have. Tonight it's lasagna, a salad, and gf cheesy garlic bread.

My husband and I are doing a "Countdown to Christmas" by watching a Christmas movie on TV, DVD, or VHS every night ending with "A Child's Christmas in Wales" on Christmas Eve--an annual tradition begun when my first child was a little girl. And tomorrow, I plan to start making room in the living room for the tree and start getting the decorations up in preparation for my son and daughter-in-law's visit from Chicago a week from tomorrow.

It feels good to know I accomplished what I set out to do in November. But it also feels good to return to my "normal" life, broaden my focus again, and fully embrace the Christmas season. What holidays do you celebrate in your family this season--Hanukkah? Christmas? Kwanzaa? Something else? How do you get ready for the holidays? What puts you in the holiday mood? Are you one of Santa's elves, or is the Grinch more your style? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Day Thirty: Where Do We Go From Here?

This is it. At midnight tonight, NaNoWriMo 2009 will be history. Those who have reached the finish line will be celebrating their victories. Those who did not, will celebrate their attempt and redouble their efforts to cross the finish line next year. All will heave a sigh of relief and anticipate the return to a more normal life.

What lies ahead? For some, December is NaNo novel editing month, but others, like myself, plan to put that off until after the holidays when there will be fewer (we hope) distractions. Again this year, CreateSpace is offering to print a free proof copy of each NaNo novel that was completed. This offer is good for six months and coupons will be available December 2.

In April, there is another writing challenge: Script Frenzy. The goal is to write a 100-page original script during the month. According to the Script Frenzy website, this may be in the form of a screen play, stage play, TV show, short film, or graphic novel. To help you prepare for April, the website offers a series of "How To" guidelines for each category as well as advice from experts. As with NaNoWriMo, Script Frenzy also has a Young Writers Program.

In addition to the challenge of writing a novel during November, I challenged myself to blog every day. While it was a lot of fun, it was also a lot of work to come up with new and, hopefully, interesting material on a daily basis. Beginning with December, I plan to blog once a week and see how that goes. I would like to invite you, my readers, to submit questions and topic ideas that pertain to writing, animals, chronic illness, or life in general, and I will endeavor to include those in my blog posts. I hope we can have some interesting discussions, and perhaps there will be a contest or two or some other enjoyable activities in the year ahead. So, if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments section or drop me an e-mail. And thank you for joining me in my NaNoWriMo journey this year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day Twenty-Nine: Across the Finish Line!

Early this afternoon, I crossed the finish line a day and a half ahead of the deadline. After combining my individually saved chapters into a unified document, it was uploaded to the NaNoWriMo website for word count verification. To be considered a "Winner," the completed manuscript must be at least 50,000 words long. Mine came in at over 60,000, giving me a generous buffer to allow for any differences between the word counter on the website and the one in my word processor. Verification completed, the bar on my NaNo homepage turned purple with the word "WINNER" emblazoned on it, and I was informed of the rewards for having completed NaNoWriMo 2009, one of which is the little badge you will see if you scroll down on the right side of the page.

What are the feelings that are experienced upon completion of this challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days? Elation! Joy! A sense of accomplishment! The wonder of "I DID it! And, relief! Across the land and around the world, TGIO (Thank God It's Over) parties are being planned, not so much to celebrate a win as to celebrate the fact that we survived!

From a personal standpoint, I am also grateful for the support of my husband, who encouraged me throughout the month to stick with it, gave me the time and space the daily writing required, brought up infusions of coffee and sustenance when needed, and was there to celebrate when I reached "THE END." My children, too, were a source of encouragement and inspiration, as they have always been. They know just how many years I've held the dream of being a writer, and have supported my efforts by giving constructive criticism and, in the case of my son, motivating me to join Facebook and form relationships with others in the writing community.

I appreciate my friends, too, who were graciously understanding of my rare and brief communications throughout the month. And I am grateful to those in the writing community who encouraged me, shared bits of writing wisdom, and inspired me by their example. Their congratulatory comments are much appreciated, and an inspiration to continue to pursue my writing goals.

Finally, I am grateful to Chris Baty, who founded National Novel Writing Month a decade ago, and who labors each year to make it an incredible experience for all who participate in it; to his staff, who tirelessly work to keep the website up and running, and who are there to help when there are problems, or to answer our questions. And then there are the volunteer Municipal Leaders, who send out encouragement on a regular basis to NaNo participants in their regions, schedule meet-ups and write-ins, host forums, and give so much of their time and energy while trying to complete the writing challenge themselves.

Tomorrow at midnight, NaNoWriMo 2009 officially draws to a close. But for many of the participants, it will also be the beginning of a new phase of their NaNo experience--rewriting, revising, and polishing their novel, and, perhaps, eventually seeing it in print as a published novel.