Do you love Christmas enough to celebrate it year round?

A good and dear friend of mine has a blog entitled Yuletide Blessings, which aims to do so. Discussions and blog posts are about traditions, recipes, crafts, books, and more. Please visit the link below to read her review of a Christmas-themed novel and view the website further. My thoughts on Christmas books are also below:

I tend to read Richard Paul Evans’s annual Christmas novels. He has been pretty regular about putting one out every year for several years now. While I have read other novels centered about this time of year, his dominate my reading repertoire. I would have to say that most of his books and other Christmas novels I’ve read rely more on the timeline of Christmas. The decorations are up, the baking is happening, the shopping is going on, the parties are in full-swing, but that is the extent of the holiday backdrop. As for Christmas as a setting, the only real story I’ve read (and many times, mind you) that follows this is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Maybe it’s because that story has survived the test of time and has become a staple in holiday history and meaning, but that whole story revolves around the deeper meaning of Christmas and keeping it in our hearts year round, so much so that it changes a man’s life. Few stories have that effect, I feel.

Visit Yuletide Blessings

Why Perseverance Matters

It’s a new year. While the topic of this blog may have the feel of a resolution, I believe we can choose to start a new habit anytime.

But really, what better time to speak about perseverance? The gym is packed with people who will fade away before the month is over. I will still be trekking away on the elliptical at least three days a week like I have for six years. People will try the latest diet fad. I will just continue to eat modestly and mostly healthy and not calorie-count or deny myself a glass of wine or a bit of chocolate. I will keep plugging away at my writing, doing it every day for at least thirty minutes like I have for three years.

Sound magical?

It’s not. I promise you, I am not some sort of disciplined guru. I suck at time management. I try to squeeze too much into a short period of time and grow upset when I fail to accomplish everything I set out to do in a day. I am always ten minutes late, despite my good intentions otherwise. I slack in making myself look decent most days, choosing the easy I-am-a stay-at-home-mom look of yoga pants, a T-shirt, no makeup, and hair in a ponytail.

So I ride the struggle bus, too, folks. I get overwhelmed by committing to too much and then go into hibernation mode. Hint: This just happened this month.

But I am back to blogging weekly. Yep, I took a break from it during the insane month of Christmas, um, December. Part of perseverance, I believe, is balance–knowing when too much is too much, when enough is enough.

To many of us, we will picture persevering as plowing on through the storm, despite all odds, that somehow giving up or giving in is cheating, taking the easy way out, or being a wimp.  Now, let me ask you something: Do you honestly think it’s taking the easy way out to admit you are overwhelmed and need help, need to take a breather, to relax and then get back on the bandwagon? I don’t think it’s being cowardly to be sensible. Keeping the balance and perspective keeps a person on the path of perseverance.

Anyone who has been in a committed relationship long enough knows that perseverance takes a lot of time, effort, willingness, and energy. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. People who are married for fifty years didn’t have sunshine and rainbows every day, but they learned to appreciate the sunshine after the rain.

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So, I ask you: What’s holding you back from embracing perseverance for the companion it is? Fear? Failure? You can only fail by not trying in the first place. You can find a thousand ridiculous things to fear every day and forget to live. Life is not meant to be a race or an emergency. It’s meant to be enjoyed.

We reap that joy fully by persevering through life. If you want to try something new, if you want to lose weight, if you want to write a book, if you want to travel more, then DO IT! Laziness is no excuse for stopping you. Failures or setbacks will happen, but you need to see them as stepping stones paving your way, not stumbling blocks.

I didn’t establish my gym routine or writing routine by sitting on my sorry ass. (Sorry–no, not really.) I worked at it every day, little by little.

I leave you with a quote by the less-than-formidable president Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Happy New Year, folks. Make it a goodie. Persevere.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Year in Review…and Looking Forward

In 2017, I…

  • finished two manuscripts (third and fourth)
  • began working on my fifth manuscript
  • edited my second manuscript with the help of my writers group
  • published my second book
  • attended a writers conference
  • got feedback from an agent on 10 pages of my writing
  • wrote my first short story in a new genre for me: horror
  • educated myself on branding and marketing
  • began blogging weekly
  • created a weekly plan for my website of posting a poem, a blog, and an excerpt from one of my stories
  • created accounts across social media for author branding
  • followed other bloggers
  • created my author site (www.cynthiahilston.com)
  • used buffer.com for active posting on my social media sites
  • became friends with several people from my writers group
  • contributed guest posts to Writer’s Path
  • entered a few online writing contests
  • began reviewing indie author’s books on my blog
  • read 52 books

In 2018, I plan to…

  • finish my fifth manuscript in January
  • focus on marketing and branding for a while
  • promote my published books
  • edit my third manuscript
  • publish my third book
  • begin editing my fourth manuscript
  • begin writing my sixth (and possibly seventh) book
  • work on more short stories
  • enter more online contests
  • continue to actively engage on social media
  • continue to make guest posts
  • continue to find new bloggers to follow
  • continue book-blogging
  • enrich my friendship with fellow writers and authors
  • keep readingpablo (16)

Happy New Year! Here’s to a productive 2018! Thanks for your support in 2017.

Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP) – Chapter 9

Chapter Nine: Russ Jacobs

“You know I ain’t gonna be surprised,” Russ grumbles as Brandy drives.

“Can you at least pretend?” his sister asks.

Russ casts a glance in her direction.  Her wavy brown hair is pulled up in a high ponytail, and she’s dressed up for her, which means her nice jeans and a new sports jersey.  Brandy was a jock in high school and is the soccer mom who coaches her kids’ games.  She’s happiest in a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt, and other than the light brown eyes Russ and she share, you wouldn’t know they were brother and sister.  Where Russ has a hard time finding enough leg room in Brandy’s Focus and his head grazes the ceiling, Brandy has the driver’s seat moved as close to the steering wheel as it can go.

“I’m no actor,” Russ says, smirking.

Brandy huffs.  “If I weren’t driving, I’d pop you one in the arm, bro.  You know Ed and the guys went through a lot to put this thing together.  And on New Year’s Eve of all nights!  You know places are booked months, years, in advance.  The reservation fee alone’s probably more than your monthly salary.”

Russ chuckles.  “You don’t know how much I make month.”

“Well, no, but you ain’t exactly living in high society if that hole you rent in Inwood’s anything to go by.  I still don’t know why you gotta live in Manhattan.  It’s like a betrayal, Russ.  What’s wrong with your home back in Queens?”

Russ grins.  “What’s it matter to you?  Besides, you got a point.  I hardly stay there.  Maybe it’s time to move, but getting back to the previous point of this stupid party, I never asked for any of you loons to do anything.”

Brandy pulls the car into a private lot and parks.  After turning off the ignition, she turns toward her brother.  “Ah, Rusty, we do it ‘cause we love ya.”

Russ cringes at his childhood name, hating that his closest family members still call him it just to get a reaction.  “Uh, don’t call me ‘Rusty.’  Okay, fine.  I’ll go in, act all surprised, and grab a beer.  Seeing my pals is reason enough to have a good time.”

“That’s the spirit!”

They step out of the car to frigid wind whipping their faces.  Russ puts a protective arm around his sister as they hustle toward the bar, a hopping new place called Jazzy Sue’s.  Once inside, they’re packed shoulder-to-shoulder with the patrons.  Brandy calls over the noise of the crowd and the music to the bartender that they’re there for a private party.

“Back room!” the bartender mouths and waves them on.

Russ and Brandy shuffle through the crowd, and upon arriving outside the door to the party room, Russ smirks at his sister, shaking his head.

“What’s so funny?” she asks.

“How would you convince me to get to this party without me suspecting anything?  You know, Ed kept teasing me about throwing an ‘Over the Hill’ party for months.  He doesn’t really think I’m gonna be shocked.”

Brandy smiles, amused.  “Okay, okay, point taken.  Let’s just get in there and outta this body heat.  Ugh, I can feel the sweat between my–”

“Don’t say it.”

Brandy laughs.  “C’mon.”

She opens the door, and the crowd beyond the threshold shouts in one voice, “Surprise!”

Russ smiles in spite of himself as he enters.  Hands are clapping him on the back, and someone passes a beer to him, which he takes and knocks back.

“How’s it feel to be an old man, buddy?”

“I’m amazed you’re still walking without a cane!”

“Hey, happy birthday, man!”

Russ can’t help but chuckle.  So many faces, so many voices, it’s dizzying but great.  It doesn’t take long before he’s swept up in the chaos of celebration.  Some people he hasn’t seen in years, both friends and family, are there.  After a few beers, Russ’s guard is down, and any previous thoughts about not wanting a party are gone.  He’s caught up in conversations he won’t remember in the morning, but he’s sure he’ll remember the feeling of being thought of by all these people for a long time to come.

After rounds of junk room and a large slice of cake, Russ is full.  Some of the crowd has thinned, even though it’s not midnight.  In a corner, Russ leans back in a chair, his best buddy Ed by his side.

“You sure you won’t have another beer?” Ed asks, smirking.

Russ shakes his head, chuckling. “And get a beer gut like you, man?  No thanks.  Looks like I’ll be working out extra hard at the gym this week whenever I can afford it.”

Ed pats his belly and smiles.  “You’d have to go a long way to beat me.  But anyway, tell me, Russ.  It’s been too damn long since we talked.  Is there a special girl in your life?  Time’s tickin’ away if you ever wanna settle down.”

Russ frowns.  “Who said anything about settling down?”

Ed straightens in the chair and regards his friend.  “Hey, that was years ago, man.”

Russ shakes his head.  “Nah, there’s no one.”  He’s sure to put a stop to Ed’s attempt at getting him to talk about something that has no bearing on his life at present.  Despite what he says, Russ’s mind goes to a place he’s surprised.  Maybe it’s the alcohol talking, but Russ half-smiles and says, “Well, there’s this one girl, but she doesn’t really count.”

“Do tell.”

“It’s nothing.  I shouldn’t even be thinkin’ about her.”

“Okay, now you have to tell me.”

“Well, her name’s Shelley, and beyond that, I don’t know much about her.”

“So, how’d you meet her?  Online dating?”

Russ laughs.  “Nope, not even gonna go there.  You know it’s next to impossible to meet someone with my schedule.”

“Well, how’d you meet?” Ed persists.

“You ain’t gonna believe this, but she was at one of the rest stops along my route.  Somewhere in Ohio, past Cleveland.”

“Sounds romantic.”  Ed chuckles and finishes his beer.  “Sure you don’t want another?  You only turn the big 4-0 once, man.”

“Oh, what the hell?  Why not?  Sure.”

Ed leaves and returns with two bottles of some brand of Christmas ale.  The foamy liquid gold slides down Russ’s throat with ease.

“I doubt I’ll see her again,” Russ says.  “I think she might be homeless or somethin’.”

“Dude, that’s messed up.  You’ve got a thing for a homeless chick?  What’s her best feature?  The lice in her hair or the trash bag she wears?”

Russ stops smiling.  “Don’t be a jerk, Ed.”

“Sorry, sorry.”  Ed sets down his beer and holds up both hands in mock-surrender.  “Just a bad joke, but c’mon, pal, you don’t really think you’re gonna score with a chick like that.”

“No.”  Russ smirks, but he can’t help the prickle of sadness that creeps into his heart.  He hasn’t had any feelings for a woman in years.  The long hours on the road, the time away from home–it keeps him busy and thinking about anything other than falling in love again.

Ed slaps Russ on the back, snapping him out of his thoughts.  “Look at the time!  It’s almost the New Year.  I gotta find Susan.  Find a girl somewhere in here to kiss, man.  At least give yourself that.”

Russ smiles and shakes his head.  “Go get your wife, you crazy son-of-a-bitch.”

The TV in the corner above the bar shows the ball getting ready to drop in Times Square.  For how close 42nd Street is for Russ, he’s never been there on New Year’s Eve, but as the seconds count down to 2018, everyone in the room chants the numbers backward.  Arms are around Russ, pulling him into the fray, and he finds himself counting down with them.

Then…

“Happy New Year!”

Someone grabs Russ and lays a wet smacker on his lips, and when he pulls back, he’s stunned to see a girl who’s barely legal.  

“Who are you?” he asks.

She only laughs and darts out of the room, leaving Russ bemused.

“Happy birthday, old man,” he mutters.

 

Pay It Forward…A Reminder

‘Tis the season…

To be jolly?

To go into debt?

To give.

Because God first gave to us His son, Jesus.

In the midst of the craziness of shopping, stressing, overspending, and stressing some more, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters.  Whether you’re Christian or not, whatever reason you celebrate Christmas–whether religious, secular, or both–I believe that this season can bring out the very best in people.

Goodwill toward men, indeed.

I went into this holiday season trying to not overspend on gifts.  Having three young kids, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying them things they just don’t need, especially when they’re inundated with commercials for the latest hot toys.  What five-year-old doesn’t tell their mom at least once an hour, “I want that, Mom?”

It’s a trap.

Seriously.

No joke.

I kid you not.

Kid.  Ha, I was talking about kids and wanting stuff.  Anyway, pardon my bad sense of humor.  I digress…

I fell into the same money pit this year by spending too much on my family, and I was torn between wanting to give, give, give and wanting to take some of the things back.  In the end, a mom’s desire to see her kids’ excitement on Christmas morning when it came time to open the gifts won out.

However, I am vowing to go about this insanity differently next year.  I want to donate or give to charity the same amount that I spend in gifts on my family.  That’s not an original idea, but I heard it somewhere, and it stuck with me.  I’m up for the challenge, and I’m not all talk. (Update: This was written in 2016. Now it’s 2017, and I am happy to say I lived up to this challenge of giving equally to charity what I spent on gifts.)

See, when I put my mind and heart to something, I can accomplish it.  Case in point: Almost two years ago, I sat down and said I was serious about writing an original story.  I would write at least fifteen minutes a day.  If I missed a day, okay, but I wouldn’t let more than two days pass without writing.  Ten months later, I had my first draft completed.  That was almost a year ago.  Now, I have the first draft of a second novel completed that’s currently being read and edited by a writers group at the library.  I have self-published my first novel after going through the arduous process of querying a hundred literary agents and getting many rejections, but I kept at it.  I am well into writing my third novel.  I have the first chapter written of my fourth and have an idea for a fifth. (2017 update: I have finished drafts of novels three and four.  I am well into my fifth.  I self-published novel number two.  I have ideas for six and seven.)

pablo (13)So, if I can write and be dedicated to it, I can be more generous next Christmas.  I can give more to those who really are in need and give less to my own family, who already has plenty of things.  We don’t need more stuff.

You might think, “Okay, that’s all well and good to make plans about what you’re going to do next year, but what are you doing about it right now?”

I do regularly give to charity.  I sponsor two children through Children International, but for me, that wasn’t enough this Christmas.  I became aware of a family in need.  The father had just lost his job, and having a kid to support, you can understand why I wanted to help out.  Also, this family is close to heart, so if there was something I could do to help them, it would be all the more important to me.

I didn’t have the means to personally give them much as far as money goes, so I organized a Go Fund Me campaign and rallied my friends and family for several days to give to this family.  It was a beautiful thing to see the response.  Many gave, and it’s not a matter of how much you give, but giving what you can.  In the end, I was so happy to be able to give them a sizable amount of money to help them pay their bills and put food on the table, and while I was a part of that, I cannot and do not take full credit.  So many people stepped up, and I love that.

Another friend told me about the local Elk’s Club wanting to give a large box of food and gifts to local families in need, and she thought of the family I was supporting.  Needless to say, I got in touch with the Elk’s Club, and they were so generous and kind to deliver such a box to this family. (2017 update: This family is doing well this Christmas, although her sister lost a child and doesn’t have the money to pay for much of a Christmas for her other kids because of funeral costs. Not only did the family I helped last year help this devastated family, but I was also moved to send them some gifts. There is always someone in need who you can bless.)

In the midst of all this, I have my own troubles, but to help others lifts the burden of my problems.  I firmly believe that reaching out and helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.  Everyone benefits.  There is nothing lost, for, you see, love has no end.  It’s funny how the more love you give, the more love grows.  The more love you receive.

So, I did my little part in paying it forward.  I had no expectation of getting anything in return from those I helped, so you can imagine how moved I was to be on the receiving end of the generosity of others who felt they wished to help my family.  I never asked for it, nor expected it.

A Christmas card arrived from my church a couple of weeks ago with a hundred dollars in gift cards to a grocery store!  The card was simply signed “From your friends at church.”  I have recently expressed my heartache to some friends at church about the struggles my autistic son and my family are going through, so I can only guess that someone did this kind deed because of that.  I cannot be sure.

As if that weren’t enough, on Christmas Eve, my husband and I dressed to play Mary and Joseph and were waiting in a classroom for our entrance into the sanctuary when a friend approached me and handed me an envelope.  “It’s not really a Christmas gift,” she said, “but a couple of us from our ChristCare group (a Bible study group of sorts) wanted to help you out.”  I smiled, thanked her, and tucked the envelope in my purse.  Hours later, after the service was over, the kids were in bed, and the presents were under the tree, I opened the envelope to find three hundred dollars inside and a note that said, “For your son’s therapies.”  Tears streamed down my face for the second time this Christmas season because of the kindness of others.

So, as another year winds down, I am thankful.  It started around Thanksgiving with the extra intention of choosing kindness.  As Christmas came upon us, I made the extra effort to pay it forward in terms of generosity, just one form of kindness.  And it certainly came back around to touch me.

If you don’t believe that what goes around comes around, maybe you’ll think my story is just that–a nice little story.  To me and many others, it’s more.  Much more.  May we all go into the New Year with a sense of wanting to reach outside ourselves, and you’ll see.  It will come back to you.

Merry Christmas!

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews, which will resume in January 2018!

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.