Getting Into the Running Groove

This morning, I ran my first full two miles.  No walking, all running – well, jogging – which, for this rookie runner coming off of holiday overindulgence, was quite an accomplishment!

Lightning 100’s playlist was just what I needed to push me through.  They played Beck’s I Think I’m In Love just when I needed to pick up my pace.

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Being A Christmas Baby

Sunday was Christmas. It was also my birthday. Yes, I am a Christmas baby. I get mixed reactions when people discover that fact. Some say “Wow, that is so cool”, others say “That must STINK”.

Confession: when I was in grade school there were times I didn’t think it was so great. Having a birthday party (much less a slumber party) with friends on December 25th? Not bloody likely! And I’m not sure which is worse for a kid whose birthday is on (or very near) Christmas–being told “This is your Christmas and birthday gift”, or not having his/her birthday acknowledged at all.

Some Christmas babies overcome those “hazards” by celebrating a half-birthday in June. But I have never had the slightest interest in celebrating my birthday on any day other than December 25th. It’s all I know and, ultimately, I think it’s pretty cool.

My family has always gone to extra lengths, though, to make my birthday special–separate from our Christmas revelry. How many of you know what time of day you were born? I know because nearly every year my mom, like a town crier, announces the time and proclaims “It’s Blake’s birthday!” Upon that call, the birthday festivities begin. Happy Birthday is sung, birthday cake is eaten, and presents decorated in non-holiday themed wrapping paper are opened. It’s all very thoughtful and appreciated.

Speaking of going to extra lengths, several years ago some dear friends of mine took the cake (er, no pun intended). I’ll never forget being perturbed with my husband because we were running late to our aforementioned friends’ Christmas party. My frustration only grew when Hubby insisted on parking on the street and entering through their front door. “But we’ve got stuff to carry in and they’ll be expecting us to come through the back door like always,” I said. He just grabbed packages and forged ahead, leaving me to trail behind. I was still grumbling when I entered the darkened foyer. Then, before I could register what was happening, the lights came on and a band of guests yelled “Surprise!”

There were many things that made that “Christmas party” a huge surprise; that our dear friends took the time to plan and execute everything was so special. But what was truly humbling and extraordinary was that they deliberately chose to hold off on decorating their house for Christmas, which was just a week away. It was exclusively a birthday bash–a very special gift, indeed.

So, for me, having my birthday on December 25th isn’t stinky at all. My friends and family don’t forget my birthday. In fact, I think it’s remembered and recognized more than it would be otherwise because I’m a Christmas baby. The older I get, the more I appreciate my birthday being on a day when so many others around the world are gathered in celebration; gathered in the spirit of thankfulness, hope, and love. And the best gifts–Christmas, birthday, or otherwise–aren’t the kind you can wrap in paper. The best gifts are the moments shared, the kind words exchanged, and the simple deeds done in the spirit of love.

Holiday Memories via Shrinky Dinks, an Elf, and Baby Jesus

The Holidays are here! In my household, that means putting up a Christmas tree, hanging stockings on the mantle, and decking the halls in a simple yet festive style. My favorite part of the decorating is placing the ornaments on the Christmas tree. For me, it is not merely a task, it is a process. Removing the stored ornaments from their newspaper husks is like thumbing through an old photo album. Like a photograph, each bauble calls forth a memory from a special moment in time.

These ornaments were the result of an impromptu activity with my daughter (who was a preschooler at the time). After losing her interest in using the holiday cookie cutters on her Play-Doh, I pulled out construction paper, markers, and safety scissors. We traced the cookie cutter shapes onto the paper, cut them out, embellished them with glitter and google eyes and – Voila! – our gingerbread people were born:

This next homemade ornament has adorned my family’s Christmas trees since the late 1970s. It is one of many that my mom made from bread dough. I remember how good they smelled as they baked, and thinking it was a shame to coat a perfectly edible delight with shellac. My dad, who was not home when they were made, nearly broke a tooth when he snatched one up from the counter and took, or rather, tried to take a bite.

Another crafty trinket that earns a place on the tree each year is this one I made in second grade. I can recall sitting at my desk drawing on the Shrinky Dink plastic like it was yesterday. Shrinky Dinks were (and are) SO COOL! If you’ve never experienced Shrinky Dink fun, I urge you to go out and get a pack and some colored pencils. Watching your creations morph in the heat of an oven will thrill your inner seven year old. 🙂

The oldest ornament I have is one that has been placed within the branches of my family’s Christmas trees since the 1920s. It was acquired when my grandfather was just a child.

You’re all probably familiar with the Elf on the Shelf, right? Well, this little sprite was around long before that phenomenon. Instead of hanging him on the tree, my grandmother would set him in a little nook beside bakelite telephone.

Finally, my favorite ornament of all is this tiny plastic Nativity scene. My parents purchased it for their very first Christmas tree. When I was a little kid, we would nestle it in the base of the tree. I use to lie on my belly and look at it, imagining the tiny scene coming to life — kind of like Thumbelina meets The Nativity of Jesus. Nowadays, it is placed at the top just beneath the crowning star. It is the first ornament hung and the last one taken off.

Be it by the light of a Christmas tree, menorah, or kinara, as the flurry of activities inspired by the season swell to a crescendo, may we each take time to reflect on our blessings.

Wishing peace on earth and goodwill to all.

ARC Review: AUSTENTATIOUS by Alyssa Goodnight

What happens when an eighteenth century literary darling magically pops up in the weirdest city in Texas? Magic and weird collide in AUSTENTATIOUS, the story of Nicola James, a left-brainer with a Jane Austen obsession and a carefully finessed life plan. A plan that doesn’t include an enchanted journal or an interfering fairy godmother, who just might be the spirit of Jane Austen herself.

When Nicola discovers her journal entries mysteriously whittled down to a cheeky bit of commentary on her life, she’s freaked first, skeptical second, and finally downright curious. She can’t help but keep writing, dueling really, with a two-dimensional fairy godmother she doesn’t totally believe in. Soon, the witty little notes start coming true, screwing with her plans, her head, and her life, and nudging her towards an impossible—and impossibly seductive—romance with a man who’s inarguably wrong for her. Nicola’s torn, trapped between a life that makes sense and a man who doesn’t, with “Fairy Jane” wedged in the middle, relentlessly rooting for another “Mr. Darcy”.

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In September, I wrote (here) about my challenges in attempting to post a widget promoting the countdown to the release of AUSTENTATIOIUS by Alyssa Goodnight.  Anyone who posted the widget into the side bar of their blog would be entered to win an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) of the book.  With a little help and some dogged determination, I eventually succeeded in capturing the widget .  To my delight, it resulted in me being one of the first winners of an ARC.

Thank you, Alyssa!  I am tickled to have the opportuntity to provide the following review (the first I’ve ever written) of AUSTENTATIOUS.

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Nicola James is a serious-minded gal with a clear Life Plan and an affinity for all things Jane Austen.  Her plan, which includes a fast track path to management and a sensible romance, seems to be going smoothly until she has a strange encounter with a vintage journal she purchased from an antique shop in Austin (the self-proclaimed weirdest city in Texas).  Finding her first journal entry mysteriously altered to offer advice on her love life; Nic begins to experience conflict between her own sense and sensibility.

Do enchanted journals and fairy godmothers exist?  This is the premise Alyssa Goodnight asks readers of AUSTENTATIOUS to accept.  At first, I had a little difficulty making the leap.  Having been steeped in reading historical fiction for awhile, this contemporary romance with a magical twist was a genre shift for me.  I suppose I felt a bit like Nic, initially:  “. . . out of my depth . . . on the thrilling cusp of weirdness . . . .”  But the more I read, the more I found myself caught up in the magic wittily weaved by Goodnight.  In no time, like Nic, I was “. . . siding with Fairy Jane . . . letting go of both personal pride and ‘magical journal’ prejudice, taking a chance on the unknown.”

With encouragment from Fairy Jane and a few friends, Nic finds herself on an exciting ride (figuratively and literally), making decisions that don’t fall in line with her Life Plan.  These decisions land her in the middle of a seemingly impossible romance with a Scottish rocker heartthrob who has pursued her in earnest.  Will Nic end up with the kind of happy ending only Jane Austen herself could craft?  You can find out for yourself when AUSTENTATIOUS is released in February 2012!

Alyssa Goodnight is the author of a Historical Romance entitled, UNLADYLIKE PURSUITS. You can find her on Facebook and at her website.

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