Blogmas 2018 – Day 8 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

 

A Merry Christmas

Smiles frozen in time decorate ruddy faces1980
And stare back at me, all bundled and warm
In holiday sweaters and knitted hats.
My fingers gently grace the baby
Who was once me in the old Polaroid,
The white tree with the red bulbs
And our stockings with our names in the background.
Grandma gazes back at me with the kindest eyes,
Her knobby fingers carefully unwrapping a gift,
Her patience to save the paper for another year.
The turkey still looks fresh out of the oven,
And I can almost smell the pies on the dining room table,grandmaonxmas
As all the family is gathered ‘round,
Ready to bless each other and the food.
Pictures are our looking glasses into the past,
Along with cherished memories of loved ones.
But as I look around me now,
I see the same smiles with those rosy cheeks
And get to actually hear the laughter and tales
That come with them.
The baby is my own son,
In whose eyes I witness the magic again,
And there hangs his stocking from our fireplace.
My parents are the grandparents, so happy and proud,
Bringing with them their own traditions from times past.2016
The meal is prepared before us to enjoy,
And we are still a family, still thankful to be so blessed.
This is the present, ever-fleeting and ever-changing,
Which is what makes it so special.
Life’s circle continues to turn as I age,
But it is beautiful,
And every Christmas is another reminder
Of how precious every moment is.
But lest we forget there is Someone much bigger than all this,
Let me just remind myself and everyone here
That Jesus is the true reason for our celebration.
In Him is our past, present, and future,
And that is a merry Christmas, indeed.

–written in 2010

 

Blogmas 2018 – Day 6 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

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Our white tree with my brother and me – 1982

According to Wikipedia: “The modern Christmas tree was developed in medieval Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) and early modern Germany, where Protestant Germans brought decorated trees into their homes.[1][2] It acquired popularity beyond the Lutheran areas of Germany[1][3] and the Baltic countries during the second half of the 19th century, at first among the upper classes.”

The Christmas tree is the most popular secular decoration in homes across the United States. I say secular, but the star placed atop the tree represents the Star of Bethlehem. Or if you place an angel there, that would stand for the angels that visited the shepherds on the first Christmas night.

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My brother and me – 1986

The Christmas tree has pagan origins, when pagans would decorate evergreen trees during the winter solstice (just before Christmas), also know as Yule, to brighten the darkest day of the year. It’s easy to see how this tradition went on to have importance in Christianity, as Jesus being born brought light into a dark world. The evergreen tree, since it doesn’t lose its greenery like deciduous trees, symbolizes life everlasting, as promised by belief in Jesus.

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My grandma’s tree with my dad, brother, and me – 1984

When I was a child, we had a white Christmas tree. These were popular in the 1970s, when my parents bought theirs shortly after getting married. Most of my mom’s ornaments were red or white, and she always put white lights on the tree. Setting the tree up was a lengthy, often challenging process, as each branch needed to be added individually, and the lights came on circular strands (instead of the straight strands you always find now). It seemed like there was at least one strand of lights that wouldn’t light up, which meant checking each bulb to see if it was loose. I was always so excited when Mom would get the tree out and loved helping her decorate it year after year. My brother and I pulled it out when we were teenagers and put it up ourselves, as we just couldn’t wait! We had this tree until 1993, when my mom decided it was time to trade in that worn, old tree for a fuller, green one.

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My parents’ green tree – 2005

When we first got our cat, Cally, in 1988, she jumped into the tree a few times, knocking it down. Over the years, she just sat under the tree, but ornaments often went missing from the bottom, as she would hide them behind my dad’s workbench!

The 6-foot green tree lasted until just a few years ago after my parents moved from my childhood home. They still have a green tree, but it’s a pencil tree, holding fewer ornaments.

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Our first Christmas tree as a married couple – 2007

As for other trees that were special for me when growing up, my grandma had an artificial tree as well. Maybe none of these trees were especially stunning to others, but they were beautiful to me. Grandma kept all her Christmas decorations under the steps in her basement, which was a tight spot with a short door. I don’t think the ceiling was more than 4 feet tall at its highest! I would cram under there and remove the boxes, often setting up her tree when I was old enough.

My mom told me when she was growing up, her dad was very particular about the real tree he picked every year. My grandparents set up the entire tree, plus put all the presents under it on Christmas Eve after the kids went to bed. My mom said Santa brought their tree, decorated it, and delivered presents! My grandparents must have just gotten into bed, only to be woken by my mom and her brother on Christmas morning!

After getting married in 2003, I had the pleasure of getting my own tree for my own house. I should give a shout out to a couple of small trees I owned previously. As a teenager, I had a 2-foot tree that I kept in my room, and when I had my own apartment, I had a 3-foot tree. I kept the 3-foot tree for several years after getting the 7-foot tree for our house. The 7-foot tree was larger than the usual 6-foot ones we had when I was growing up. I remember having very few ornaments those first few years and buying lots of cheap plastic ones from Target just to have something to cover the tree with.

Over the years, I collected ornaments from our trips, a tradition my mom had started years earlier. Now that I have kids, I put ornaments with their pictures on the tree every year, so as you can imagine, I’ve filled my tree with lots of pictures of my kids! There are handmade ornaments from my kids and ornaments of some of my favorite characters from various books. I love personalizing the tree. It’s much better than the plastic Target ornaments I first had!

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Our current tree

When we moved into our current house three years ago, I decided it was time to get a pre-lit tree. I was tired of stringing all the lights on the tree. My current tree stands at 7 1/2 feet. My ceiling is high. I suppose I could have gone taller, but this one works well!

Tell me about your Christmas tree below and your traditions around it!

Blogmas 2018 – Day 3 #christmas #blogmas #blogmas2018 #christmas2018

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Grandma – 1980

The soft glow of candlelight illuminates the sanctuary while we sing “Silent Night.” A reverent awe flows through the atmosphere, seeming to carry everyone present to a higher, deeper level. After the service ends, stepping outside into the chill of the air as snow gently falls adds to that magical quality. It’s dark and the snow is fresh. The moonlight gleams off the white blanket, smiling back at the night sky. The stillness of the moment is encapsulated by once-naked branches coated in pure beauty, and not a sound permeates the heart, creating that inward peace the world finds fulfilled. I step inside and cozy up on the couch, a blanket hugging me and the warmth of the fire caressing my skin, its orange hues dancing on the ceiling as I lose myself staring at the twinkling lights on the tree. The evergreen is covered with ornamental family pictures and creations from years past, taking me back to when my

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My brother, me, and my dad at Grandma’s house in 1984

grandma spent Christmas Eve with us. I would wake in the morning, the excitement of the day vibrating through me like a thrilling sleigh ride. Grandma would wait patiently while the kids tore open our presents, our laughter joining the Christmas music in the background. We were sharing in something greater than us, something brought down through generations. Grandma would sit in the armchair with her comfy robe and slippers, a gift on her lap, the last to go. Her rosy cheeks and the glow in her eyes behind her glasses as she carefully undid the wrapping are still in my mind’s vision. She never wanted to ruin the wrapping paper, telling us that she reused it because it wouldn’t do to be wasteful. She wasted not a second hugging me for giving her a handmade calendar. Her elderly childlike voice thanks me, but I have to thank her for giving me these memories. I taste her gingerbread, her gelatin salad, her pinwheel cookies as I remember and carry the memory on, as I take the next batch of baking out of the oven.

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Family gathering at my childhood home in 1988

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow

“It’s strange to be in such a quiet house,” said Hannah that evening.  “I can’t tell you how many times I wished for silence when the kids were driving me up a wall.  Now, it’s just us.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love that we can finally enjoy the peace and quiet as empty nesters, but there’s something almost lonely about it as well.”

“Do you want me to make a couple of phone calls and have them come back here?” Edward joked.  “I think you’ll be changing your mind before morning.”

“Don’t even think about it.”  Hannah laughed as they went into the bedroom.

Several hours later, when Edward was sleeping deeply, Hannah awoke.  She gazed around in the still darkness, only a gentle breeze playing with the curtains by the window.  Hannah left the bedroom and went into the living room.  She found the familiar comfort of the rocking chair and pulled a photo album from the pile of books on the nearby table.  Turning the table lamp on, Hannah relived memories as she smiled down at pictures of her kids as they grew up.

The ghosts of the past still echoed through these walls.  The laughter and the tears of three children were etched on Hannah’s heart and imprinted on her memory bank.  She gently closed the album and set it aside, moving to the piano bench.  She didn’t dare make any sound with the keys at this late hour, but she pretended to play “The Entertainer,” a family favorite.  She could hear the music, and closing her eyes, Abbi was still a five-year-old, dancing and giggling as her mother played.  Glen was shaking his head, pretending he was too old for such nonsense, but eventually joining in.  Even Brenda couldn’t resist, and before long, the memory came alive again.  The music ended in Hannah’s mind, and the apparitions of her children faded.

Even deeper, the music played.  Hannah’s life was far from over.  The song still had a story to tell.

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Excerpt from A Laughing Matter of Pain (Chapter 25)

 

harrykathy“Can you believe it? We’re married.” Her eyes dance in the low light from the bedside lamp.
I lean in and kiss her. “I’m the luckiest guy alive.”
The smile falters on her lips. Her eyes go glassy. A tear slips past, trailing down her left cheek.
“What’s wrong, doll?” I cup that cheek and kiss her again.
“I-I never thought this day would come.”
“What? Why not?” My heart hammers, afraid she’s having doubts.
A tiny, nervous laugh escapes. “Not because of you. You misunderstand. I mean, I didn’t think I’d ever get married, period. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting me.” Her gaze shifts to the mattress.
I wipe another tear away with my thumb, kiss the spot where it fled from her eye. “You remember what I said all those months ago? That you’re the most beautiful person I know?”
She lifts her gaze and tries to smile. “Yeah.”
“I meant that, Kath. Every word. I ain’t romantic. I mess up a lot. But you’re the one thing I know I got right. You deserve to be treated like a queen. To never hurt again.”
“I don’t deserve you, Harry.”
“Hush, now. None of that.” I pull her to me.
Our kisses deepen. Her hands caress the length of my exposed back. Our breathing heavy, we pull apart, resting our foreheads on each other’s.
“We don’t hafta do anything you ain’t ready for,” I whisper.
“No, Harry. I…I’m ready.” Her smile seems uncertain.
“You sure?” I run my hand through her curls.
“It’s you. It’s time we made our own memories.”
I kiss her again, then ease her down onto the mattress, with the deliberate care of handling something sacred. I close my eyes and let my heart and body show her my love.

A Laughing Matter of Pain
by Cynthia Hilston
(coming fall 2018)

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My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

What’s Holding You Back from Your Dreams?

Everyone has dreams, and I don’t mean the kind you have at night when your mind slips into an unconscious state.

When you’re asked what your dreams are, what do you say? Do you freeze up, unable to articulate your dreams because you claim you aren’t sure? I’m not a betting person, but I’m willing to bet the uncertainty that plagues you is fear.

Maybe you won’t even name your dreams or dare to dream because of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, low self-esteem, a negative self-image, and caring too much that others think or say (which is mostly in your mind, anyway) are all factors of not daring to dream in the first place.  

I have been following a vlogger on YouTube for years now who I think is beautiful (inside and out), talented, adorable in her antics, inspiring, and a fighter.  She admits often that the persona she portrays to the world in her videos is much more confident than she really is.

I used to be shy, but now I am able to talk and usually joke around with just about anyone. I can laugh about life when I’m in a group, even the things that bother me. Put me alone with my thoughts, and I am not that outgoing, confident person.

I get what this vlogger is saying. We can put on a smile on the stage. As I wrote in one of my novels, a smile can cover a lot of pain. Laugh enough and it doesn’t hurt so much, right? Yeah, something like that.

I look at this lovely young woman who I know only through the Internet and marvel. She has enormous support, but with any sort of fame come those who are all too happy to belittle, threaten, and hurt. Funny how 99 people can compliment you, but it only takes that one person to tear you down. What do we focus on? The negative.

Like this vlogger I follow and think the world of, many people suffer inwardly. She admits to turning down several opportunities because she doesn’t feel worthy. She has wonderful dreams, but her low self-confidence gets in the way. That is what holds her back from her dreams. She knows that.

For years, I said I wanted to be a published author. That was my dream, at least one of them. Yet for years, I did very little to make my dreams a reality. I had ideas for my first novel (based off my late grandma’s life, who I loved dearly). You can read more about the inspiration behind my first book here.

I managed a few pithy chapters. I read my grandma’s diary and a few pages she had written about her life while growing up. I jotted down several notes. This was between October 2006 and January 2009. I then left the book sitting on my hard drive. I hadn’t forgotten about it, but whenever I thought about sitting down at the keyboard and writing, I faltered. Overwhelmed at the prospect of writing an original story, I let fear dictate my actions and reasons.

Fear wasn’t the only culprit. It was easy to find excuses, a hundred other things that needed my daily attention. Many of those things were legitimate, like caring for my young kids and the house, but I believe if you really want something, you will do whatever you need (within reason) to attain it.

If I wanted to work out more, I would get to the gym more often. If I wanted to eat healthier, I wouldn’t buy chocolate or go through the McDonald’s drive thru. If I wanted to save more money, I would stop buying unnecessary items.

Sure, I want these things, but how much do I want them? Not enough, apparently.

pablo (25)I came to the hard realization that even though part of me wanted better or more, I must not have wanted those things badly enough.

I have written about having no regrets in a previous blog post. This one ties into that. Both topics involve fear of failure.

I believe the only way to fail is to do nothing.

In March 2015, I finally make a life-altering decision: I would write every day on my original story, even if I never published it, even if no one ever read it. Tired of traipsing through the lands of other authors and their characters in the world of fan fiction for 20 years, I knew that if I was to take myself as a writer seriously, I NEEDED to write every day, even if only for ten minutes.

Ten minutes. That’s all I told myself. It was a realistic goal.

To reach your dreams, you must set realistic, attainable, often short-term goals. Setting the goal of writing a whole book could have been too much. It was for me for years. As I said, overwhelming. I had already committed to exercising at least three days a week and had been doing it for three years at that point. If I could do that, I could write for ten minutes a day. Besides, I loved writing. I believe and have always believed that writing is in my blood, my fourth child (I have three actual ones), and was one of my purposes in life.

Your life purpose is what drives your desire to have dreams, but getting there is the intimidating and often difficult part. Goals at the stepping stones, every inch of pavement poured to create the road you travel from purpose to dreams. Day by day, little goal by little goal, you get there.

I finished my first draft of my first novel ten months after seriously sitting down to write it. I published it seven months after that. Once I got going, I couldn’t stop. I now have published a second novel, completed two more, and am nearing completion on my fifth.

Besides all this? I have joined a writers group at my local library, which you can read more about here. I have made invaluable friendships with several of these wonderful people who are like-minded. They are writers. They understand my raison-d’etre. I get them.

I have days when I question my ability to write, but they are fleeting. Our days are numbered in a fleeting life, so why do anything other than go for your dreams? If I hadn’t overcome my fears, I would have never gotten where I am today. I wouldn’t have shared my stories. I wouldn’t be spending time doing what I love daily.  I wouldn’t have met so many lovely friends.

Speaking of friends, a long-time and dear friend of mine has written extensively on the topics of life purpose, goals, and dreams on her blog. I highly recommend you check her blog out if you would like to seriously pursue these topics further.

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It’s funny that I had this blog idea for months and how its placement at the beginning of February coincided with my friend’s recent blog posts about the same topics. Fortuitous? Meant to be? I would like to think so.

Keeping dreaming, my friends, but if you’re serious about making your dreams a reality, you have to do the work. Pave your road with goals, not good intentions. Build your life with action, not ideas.

As any good writer knows, a story is driven by action. Ideas are good and all, but a good idea doesn’t necessarily make for a good story. You have one life. Make it a good story, even a great one.

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No Regrets in Life

You’ve heard it said before: have no regrets.

You’ve probably also found yourself alone with your maddening thoughts, maddening both as in crazy and provoking anger. Your lovely mind has this magical ability to conjure out of nowhere every past fault, failure, and fracture. But such thoughts do have a hiding place. They lurk in the deepest recesses of your mind. You know, those places you put memories you wish you could forget.

But you don’t. Or can’t. Or maybe the masochistic face of you doesn’t want to.

Misery loves company, after all.

I can remember getting ready for work when I was in my 20s. Ah, such was the decade where I was caught between responsible adult and kid. My husband was already at work. I had the house to myself and a tendency to not want to get up in mornings. I hated mornings. While mornings and I still aren’t buds, we can tolerate each other now, but I digress.

I was often tired and cranky while getting ready for work because I stayed up too late. I guess you could say I regretted staying up late come morning–ha! But seriously, because of my already compromised state of mind, I would find myself ruminating on certain people in my life, both past and present, who I felt had let me down. I’d grow increasingly mad, to the point sometimes that I wondered why I had wasted precious hours, days, and years of my life with some of these fine folks. I’d have regrets for even knowing them, for letting them get to me, and for letting they still live rent-free in my mind.

Although it wasn’t really rent-free. I wasted countless energy and time over past hurts, over regrets, over things that couldn’t be changed.

I could go further–regrets over things I didn’t do, should have said, or a path I took. Could have. Should have. Would have.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that I never go to those ugly places, those closets filled with boxes labeled “regret.”

If anything now, I regret having regrets–ha!

pablo (22)I’m not entirely sure how, or when, or even why, but somewhere along the road of my 30s, I came to understand a deeper truth: I can’t change the past or my circumstances, but I can change how I look at them.

I have no control over other people or what goes on in the world. The forces of nature are beyond me. The thoughts and actions of other individuals are the result of their free will.

At the end of the day or my life, the only thing I should have to regret, if anything, is my outlook on life. I have a choice every day to make: be bitter or be content. Contentment, I believe, goes beyond momentary happiness. Feelings are as fleeting as leaves blowing by on a windy day. To have inner peace, a resolve to keep going, to say I’m going to stand and not fall, that is true contentment.

Instead of looking at a failed relationship as a waste of your time and being angry at the other person and yourself, look at it as an opportunity to learn something. I believe everyone who comes in and out of your life can teach you something, even if it’s what not to do.

These are the words I etch on my heart and stamp on my brain. I hope they go deeper and imprint on my soul, that eternal part that is who I really am. I hope, at the end of the day and my life, that I have no regrets because of choosing to rise above.

There is no new wisdom in these words, but just a simple reminder I think we all need from time to time. Friend, if you’re filled with regrets, make a choice right now to let those ugly boxes of junk go. Fill your mental storage with memories boxes of love.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Nothing worthwhile is easy, I believe.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.