Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie


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Five Minutes

Merry Christmas Dear Readers!

Mom and I have cooked up something short and sweet for you today. Cuz I dunno ’bout you. But I’m tuckered.

Mom says solitude can be hard to find in our rush-rush, hurry up, instant everything society. Grabbing a few quiet moments to refresh and recharge can be a challenge any time. But it’s particularly tough  during the holidays, huh?

So if holiday merry-making has you ready to tear your hair out or your festive feathers are a bit ruffled, this is for you.

Slow down.  Grab a hot cuppa. Plop in a peppermint stick. Sit down. Put your feet up. Give Manheim Steamroller’s Stille Nacht (Silent Night) a listen.  Five quiet minutes. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Know anyone else who could use a yuletide boost? Don’t forget to share!

 


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14 Best Christmas Movies You Never Heard Of (and a few you have)

‘Tis the season for merry-making and movie-watching. Grab some hot chocolate. Plop in a peppermint stick. Gather the fam and get comfy. (Don’t forget the little’uns! Or the dog!) This is Mom’s 100% subjective, totally unscientific list of Best Christmas Movies Ever.

Several are well-known, perennial favorites. But you may find some surprises here. In fact, you may have never heard of some of these. All are worthwhile. How many do you recognize?

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‘Marley’ Brings Dickensian Character Back to Life

 

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By Jon Clinch

Fiction

It’s December and ‘Tis the Season! So we’re kicking off the month with a seasonal classic. Sort of. It’s more like a twist on a seasonal classic, called Marley.

As in: If you thought Ebenezer Scrooge was a piece of work, wait till you get a load of Jacob Marley.

Yes, Marley. Scrooge’s deceased business partner. He appears briefly in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He’s the chained and tormented ghost doomed to wander the earth forever as punishment for his greed and selfishness when he was alive (He also looks a lot like Alec Guinness in the 1970 musical, Scrooge).

Back Story

Clinch’s vividly imaginative and enjoyable novel fills us in on Marley’s back story of greed, duplicity, and treachery. This guy makes Scrooge look like a piker. If lying, cheating, and stealing were Olympic sports, Jacob Marley would bring home the gold. Every time.

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7 Surprisingly Splendid Seasonal Reads

Ready for reading that’s merry and bright? Great! Cuz what’s Christmas without some good books?

Fresh out of ideas for the season? We’ve gotcha covered!

Here are seven uplifting, engaging reads to help celebrate the season with faith, hope, and love. In no particular order:

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12 Ways to Bless Others This Christmas

Christmas is a time for joy! For celebrating! For family and friends! It’s a time for Child-like wonder and merry-making. But shadows can also hover over the season, intensifying feelings of loneliness or loss.

For those whose family relationships are strained or difficult, the obligatory annual Christmas gathering can feel like getting a root canal. And may be just as dreaded.

 

For those who’ve lost loved ones, the holidays may accentuate those absences.

 

Singer/songwriter Matthew West understands this.

 

West came out with a song awhile back that captures both the joy and sense of loss that can accompany the season: “The Heart of Christmas.”

 

It’s a perennial favorite. Lyrics include:

 

“Wherever you are, no matter how far
Come back to the heart, the heart of Christmas
Live while you can, cherish the moment
The ones that you love, make sure they know it
Don’t miss it, the heart of Christmas.”


While you’re celebrating and making merry this season, can you slow down and remember those who may be struggling?

 

Here are 12 Ways To Bless Others This Christmas:

🎄Donate to your local food bank
🎄Befriend an elderly neighbor. Just starting a conversation can have a positive impact. You can also offer to help with practical tasks like shopping or dog-walking or getting them to medical appointments.
🎄Invite international students over for dinner
🎄Give a generous tip to a friendly customer service worker like a waiter or barista
🎄Buy a homeless person a sandwich and a hot drink
🎄Help someone who’s struggling with their luggage on public transport and/or give up your seat for same
🎄Buy your friend chocolate when they’re feeling down. Listen more than you talk if they need to vent
🎄Treat a friend to a movie or a trip to a Christmas tree farm. Serve hot cocoa and cookies afterwards.
🎄Be extra patient with retail workers, many of whom are stressed and harried this time of year. Don’t forget to thank them and say “Merry Christmas”!
🎄Bake and deliver homemade goodies to your local police and/or fire departments with a note of thanks
🎄Offer free babysitting to friends with small children so Mom and Dad can have a Parents Night Out.
🎄Forgive.

“Come on and open up your eyes!”

 


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10 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

You know I’m a happy camper, right? My middle name is “merry and bright”! So I don’t quite get all this barking about “holiday stress.” Mom says it’s a thing. So it must be a thing.

Well. You also know I’m a helper. I help going out on walks and hikes. Cleaning up kitchen spills. Guarding the house. Especially from menacing deer. Lurking Fed Ex drivers. Sketchy-looking plastic bags.

Being a world class helper and all, I figure I better help with this holiday stress thing. So here are my top ten tips for reducing holiday stress. Ready? Okay. Here goes:

1 – 9: Get a dog.

10. Take her for long walks. Preferably without that stupid orange doggie coat.

What?

Oh, alright. Mom says I have to try harder to be helpful. Sigh. Here we go:

  1. Take extra precautions to stay healthy. Getting sick can wreck anyone’s holiday faster than you can say “Ebenezer.” So drink plenty of water. Get a good night’s sleep. Wash your hands. (Something about killing germs?) Take Vitamin C to ward off the effects of Jack Frost. (Anyone nipping at my family’s noses is in deep doo-doo! Just sayin’.)
  2. Say “No.” I hear this all the time. It’s easy. Like, if it feels wrong, too stressful, or there’s a cat involved, just trot out this handy-dandy two-letter word. Works wonders!
  3. Make scents. No, really. Find a plug-in, candle, or potpourri pot with a favorite, soothing scent. Activate. Let it fill the whole house with a refreshing, relaxing aroma. (Mom made me say that.)
  4. Exercise. Even if you have to chug up stairs or do jumping jacks in the basement due to weather, get moving! Get that heart rate up! Exercise reduces stress. (Or you could just walk the dog, ya know.)
  5. Sing. I don’t quite get it. But Mom always feels better when she’s rocking out to Manheim Steimroller at nose bleed volume (see # 4, above). Or belting out Joy to the World at the top of her lungs. So it must work. You could also listen to this guy:

6. Take a hot bath. And lock the door. (Mom made me say that, too. You know how moms are.)

7. Practice an “attitude of gratitude.” Like me. I’m thankful for everything! Family! Walks! Chow! A new leash! A warm fireplace! Sunshine! Well, okay. Maybe not The Powder Puff on four legs. (Nobody’s perfect.) Altho I wouldn’t know myself, I hear it’s hard to be a Scrooge when you’re focusing on being thankful.

8. Slow. Down. For just five minutes, okay? Related: Apply the “KISS” principle. Keep things simple. If you don’t know how to do that, lemme help:

9. Get a dog. (That Scrooge dude? Bet he was a feline fun. Hah, bumhug!)

10. Hang out with me! Cuz I love everyone! O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…


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How To Write a Killer Christmas Letter

Writing an annual Christmas letter is as seasonal as eggnog and mistletoe. Some Christmas letters have flair and panache. Others are like watching paint peel. How can you write a Christmas letter that’ll knock the socks of your family Saint Nick and make Rudolph’s nose dim?

Here are 12 tips for writing a killer Christmas letter:

1. Keep it short.

I’m talking one page. Preferrably just the front. The more loquacious you are, the less likely people are to read the whole thing.

People are busy, especially during the holidays. No one has time to read a Christmas epistle that’s a War and Peace wannabe. So keep it short and sweet.

2. Be yourself.

This may seem obvious. But it’s amazing how many people try to copy someone else’s style or voice. Don’t. People want to hear from you, not a clone.

3. If you include a photo, make sure you tie it in with the text of the letter. And caption it with the place, date, who’s featured and what they’re doing.

4. Mix it up.

If you used a first person narrative last year, try writing from another point of view. The kids? The dog? A neighbor?

5. Include humor.

Not everyone has an active funny bone. But most people like to laugh and enjoy some levity. Include some.

6. Choose a font that’s easy on the eyes.

I can’t tell you the number of times I gave up trying to read through fancy calligraphy or curliqued letters on steroids. It may look pretty. But if your type font is hard to read, few will.

Choose a standard font like Times Roman or Arial.

7. Handwrite the salutation and conclusion.

If you’re writing your letter on the computer and tucking it into an envelope, be sure to start it with, “Hello Bill and Marilyn” (or whatever). In handwriting.

Also hand write your conclusion and signature: “Merry Christmas from Jim and Eileen, Chad, Chloe, and Joey.”

It takes longer. But it’s more personal.

If you’re using an email delivery platform like Mail Chimp, you can customize the “To” field and do likewise.

8. Keep a list. Check it twice.

Staring at a blank piece of paper or screen and waiting for writing inspiration to strike can be intimidating. It’s helpful to keep a running list of key dates and events through the year.

If possible, jot them down real time. It’s a lot easier to just grab your list or review your calendar than it is trying to remember the last 11.5 months off the top of your head, without prompts.

9. Inclufe your contact info.

Make it easy for people to respond by including your address, email, phone, etc. In The Letter. You can do this in the footer of a Mail Chimp or in a regular email or hard copy letter.

10. Use white space generously

Resist the temptation to jam in as much copy as you can on a sheet of paper by cramming every available millimeter with type. It’s hard to read!

Instead, keep your paragraphs short. Indent for new paragraphs. Or better yet, double space between paragraphs.

Make sure margins are adequate. Choose Justify rather than ragged right for your right margin. It looks cleaner and more polished.

11. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes.

What do you want to know? What will be of interest? Do I really care about your second cousin’s bunion surgery or the egg substitute you just discovered?

We all find ourselves fascinating. But try to write yiur update with an eye toward news that will resonate with and be interesting to your recipient(s). Think: What will my friends want to know about and what can they best relate to?

12. Draw the reader in.

This is key. It’s also rare, as most Christmas letters tend to be one-sided. Even self-centric.

Engage your reader by “pencilling in” a question specifically for them. How was vacation? The new job? Is Norbert coming home for Christmas?

You might also close with something like, “Please let us know what’s going on with you, too” or drawing attention to your contact contact info. so they can easily respond. (See above.)

If your budget allows, print up your letter on some Christmas-y stationery.

Well, that’s it. Now get those creative juices going and make this year’s Christmas letter the best ever!


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What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Someone who shall remain nameless (hi, Mom) forgot to get me breakfast the other day. So I didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy when she started sniffing about a well-worn Christmas writing contest going the way of the Dodo.

“I’ve been writing and submitting entries to that site’s annual writing contest for years,” whined Her Mom-ness. “I’ve even won a couple times. So what’s up with The Final Shutdown?”

“Now you know how I feel?” I wanted to say. I wagged my tail instead. Offered to share my favorite treat with her. She wasn’t interested. Even though these goodies are “100% natural. Non-GMO.” Made “with real mixed berries.” Okay, so it was pre-chewed. But only a little.

“Mom? Mom!” I said, trying to get her back on track. You know how writers are. “Stop that whining already. I’m trying to think here!”

Now. Where was I?

Anyway, Mom kinda didn’t know what to do after being thrown for that wet cat. I’ll let her narrate in her own words (sometimes there’s just no accounting for taste.)

Her Mom-Ness:

Wanting to get a running start on the Christmas story contest season in 2017, I wrote a seasonal story in the fall of last year, as the Indian summer of September slid into the cool kindliness of October. When I sat down to submit it, I found that the site was no longer running the contest. “We hope to be back next year,” the site admin replied to my inquiry. “Please feel free to submit your story in 2018.”

I dug up my 2017 story, One Cold Night, dusted it off and polished it up for submission to the 2018 Christmas story contest. To my dismay, I discovered that not only was the contest not going on this year, but the entire web site had been scrubbed. Closed. History. Gone.

“That was a lot of work for nothing,” I thought.

Me

So Her Mom-ness decided to do something else. “Just because that site no longer exists doesn’t mean I or my story have to follow suit.”

So she spiffed up her story. Ignored the contest-imposed 800 word limit. Added about 600 words. “Now it’s a micro story,” she chirped. “I’ll just publish it myself.”

As in, if a door closes, find another way in. Or open a window.

This right after I gently reminded her about breakfast. With the subtlety of a ton of dog chow. Priorities, ya know?

Mmm… Mom’s Christmas micro tale… crunch… arf… is called… mmmm… good… One Cold Night. And you can get it for FREE right here. It’s almost as good as breakfast! Crunch…. munch… yum…

Almost.