Holiday Promo

Looking for your next read for a cold winter’s night?  My new book, Virtual, will be free on Amazon for a limited time starting December 14th.  https://goo.gl/jphMpW

 

Virtual or reality?

 

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Don’t Let the Holidays Stress You Out-Part 2-The Gifts

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Don’t let the holidays stress you out.  Photo on Foter.com

So much of this holiday season focuses on giving; obligatory or expected gifts to everyone and anyone we know, but also of our time and energy.  Planning, finding, and paying for holiday gifts can cause stress levels to spike. We spend way too much precious time at the mall and/or online, only to still not be done at the very end of the countdown leading up to Christmas Day.  While everyone’s list and budget will be different, the best thing you can do to alleviate holiday stress is make a few guidelines for yourself, and stick to them.

Don’t feel guilty about setting a budget.  It is far too easy to overspend this time of year.  By setting a budget for yourself, and adhering to it, you can enjoy the season without the worry of how to pay off your credit cards when it’s over.  Start with a list of the people you need to buy for, as well as the holiday meals you will be preparing, and what other expenses you need to account for, such as decorations, postage, and clothing for holiday events; and estimate how much you can afford to spend.

Queen Bee of Beverly Hills Designer Handbags Holiday
 There’s nothing like having all the holiday shopping finished!  Photo by queenbeeofbeverlyhills on Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t wait till the last minute to shop.  Do as much as possible early.  The sooner you can start, the more time you will have to find the perfect gifts, and the less stressed you will feel to finish by December 25th.  My kids’ birthdays are in the summer and fall, so once their birthday parties were done, I often had leftover present ideas to consider for Christmas, and could be on the lookout for sales early in the year.

Craft stores and costume stores, for example, both run clearance sales in the summer, and department stores frequently have early clearance sales before the holidays to make room for seasonal merchandise.  Keep your eyes open, and your potential gift recipients in mind as you do your regular shopping.  You may find the perfect gift long before December.

If braving the holiday crowds in stores is not your favorite thing, try to do your shopping midweek, or early morning or late at night to avoid some of the traffic.  Of course, many of us take advantage of online retailers like Amazon, or options from places like JC Penney or Best Buy for ordering online to pick up in the store.  These services afforded by technology can really make life easier.

Homemade gifts are still a valid option.  Do you have a talent for knitting or baking?  Many of the people on your list may appreciate a custom, handmade original from you.  Consider doing a cookie exchange with relatives or neighbors; you can spend quality time together and share something everyone will love.  Instead of shopping for individual gifts for every coworker in your office, especially if it is a large one, consider bringing in a few containers of homemade treats that everyone can enjoy.  The care you put into such delights will most likely mean more to them than another coffee mug or Starbucks gift card would.

Share the love-give to those in need.  The holiday season is the perfect time of year to share with others, not that we need wait until now to do so.  There are so many people who are cold and hungry, who are lacking in necessities, or are just lonely, and that would appreciate being remembered.  Helping others brings a remembrance of the true nature of the season to mind, with the side effect of reminding us how fortunate we truly are.

Take your family to volunteer in a homeless shelter or a nursing home, dispensing food or just visiting.  Offer a word of comfort, or a warm coat or blanket.  Give to your local food pantry, or a verified charity like the Salvation Army or Redcross.   Consider making a group donation or taking names off a charity “giving tree” to buy gifts for a family in need, instead of exchanging gifts in your office.

Encourage your children to have realistic expectations for Christmas morning.  Children of all ages get excited about presents, it’s true, but children in particular sometimes want everything they see in the store or in commercials.  While it’s natural as parents to have trouble denying our darlings anything, another part of us realizes that more is not always better.  Develop a “wish list” with your children of what they may hope to find under the tree.  (Here is another place to keep your budget in mind.)

By all means, indulge your children when you can, but at the same time, it’s okay to set limits on the number and prices of presents they receive.  After all, most of us do not have unlimited funds or space to hold unlimited presents, especially if what the children really want this year is as large as a pony.

Explain in terms your children can understand, that Santa or mom and dad can only give them so much this year.  Take time to listen and watch your children in the months and weeks leading up to the holiday to find out what gifts they’re really interested in, what will keep them happy or involved longer than it takes to unwrap.

I hope these simple tactics will help you as you prepare for your own wonderful, chaotic holiday season.  Remember, the holidays are a magical time, perfect for spending time with loved ones and making memories that will last forever.  Don’t allow yourself to be too stressed out to enjoy them.  Next week I’ll tackle another “stress” topic, holiday food.

Happy Holidays,

Amy

 

 

Don’t Let the Holidays Stress You Out: Tips for a Simplified Holiday Season

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Don’t let this season stress you out; enjoy it instead! Photo on Foter.com

For many, the December holidays can be very stressful.  Between the shopping, wrapping, cooking, decorating, and events with family, school functions for children, church obligations, and office parties; sometimes we really forget to breathe.  I have decided this year enough is enough- I intend to enjoy my holidays, not stress over them.  My goal is to simplify my holiday by prioritizing, planning, and budgeting so that I can make the season both happy for my family, and guilt-free for the New Year.  To that end I will be sharing in a four part series my tips and plans for a stress-free holiday.

First up: My Tips for Low-cost/ No Cost Holiday Decorating:

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Bring out the decorations! Photo by Kelmon on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Where will the tree go?  In my house, one of the biggest decisions I have to make each year is where to position Christmas tree(s).   Since most of our rooms are not overly large, this takes some work.  One option is to rearrange furniture to accommodate a tree. If this is not practical, consider putting up one or several smaller tabletop trees.  They can even be placed in multiple rooms to spread the joy around your home.

How will I decorate the tree this year?   In the past I have sometimes been ambitious and tried to keep all the ornaments on a tree to a certain theme or color scheme.  This can be a lot of fun if you have the time and money to sort and purchase the needed ornaments.  Otherwise, a tree can be just as merry by mixing and matching the decorations I’ve accumulated over the years in new combinations.

P.S.  If you have small children or curious pets, consider corralling small wrapped packages in a decorative basket or similar container until Christmas morning so they won’t be scattered/ misplaced/opened prematurely.  A basket full of colorful wrapped boxes can look very attractive, too.

What about budget?  Ask yourself; do I really need to spend a lot of money on decorations, or can I just use what I already have, maybe adding in a few new pieces?  My husband and I have acquired a pretty large collection of holiday decorations.  I may or may not even pull them all out in a given year.  It all depends on how much time and energy I have, and how much entertaining we plan to do.

How can I remake decorations look new without spending a lot of money?  Here is a relatively easy solution to make a centerpiece, wreath, or tree look new- get some floral picks.  Last year I refurbished a wreath that had decorated our front door since my daughter was small by cutting some of the ornaments out and replacing them with new “picks” I bought at Hobby Lobby.  Consider doing the same with a favorite centerpiece, or adding silk florals, berries, etc., to a decorated tree as “filler.”

What do I do about my furniture?  I took an existing solid-colored slip cover from storage and used it to update a floral sofa for Christmas.  The solid color is much easier to “dress” with seasonal pillows and throws, without spending a lot of time or money.  I also;

  • Draped garland over the window frames in the living room over existing treatments gave them a festive look, and
  • Swapped out the everyday serving tray on my coffee table for a shiny gold one for a very simple holiday update.

How do I keep my displays from looking cluttered?  Instead of adding holiday decorations to existing décor, swap out your everyday knickknacks for seasonal ones.  Simply store everyday items in in closets, laundry rooms, basements, or wherever you have available space, so they can be returned to the spotlight after season is over.

How do I decorate often-ignored spaces? Do you have red, green, or holiday themed towels? Use them!  Seasonal towels can be found everywhere this time of year, often for only a few dollars.  Put them in the kitchen, the powder room, wherever you need a little extra Christmas cheer.

What if I have extra money in my budget?  If you have money to spend on decorations, that’s great!  Invest it either floral arrangements like poinsettias or evergreens, that will enhance your existing décor and smell great, or on pieces that will be timeless and you will enjoy using year after year.

However you decorate, and whatever else you do this season, make sure that the result is something that makes you happy.  I sincerely believe that this is the season of joy and giving, peace and acceptance.  It is not the season of stress, worry, overspending, or guilt.  I hope these tips can help make your holiday brighter.  Please check in next week when I address the next item on my de-stress list-gift giving.

Happy Holidays,

Amy

7 Life Lessons That We Can Learn From Hollywood Movies

I saw this post from Dr. Damon Ashworth at WordPress and just had to share it. So often we turn to movies or TV for simple entertainment or as an escape from reality, but perhaps we should realize that movies can inspire us or even teach us about the persons we want to become.

Damon Ashworth Psychology

I was recently reading a book titled ‘Writing Screenplays that Sell’ by Michael Hauge, and was fascinated to see how psychologically informed screenwriters need to be in order to create engaging stories with meaningful plots and entertaining characters.

Although Hollywood sometimes gets bad press for promoting materialistic and unrealistic goals for the audience, I do believe that there are a number of valuable life lessons that can be learnt from dissecting the common elements of screenplays that result in successful movies.

Here are eight insights that I believe are important:

#1 – Be the hero of your story

Every movie has a hero, that we identify with and develop empathy for. Screenwriters do this deliberately because we are likely to care more about the story and become involved in the movie if it focuses on one character and their perspective and challenges more than the other characters.

In real life…

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Take Time to Give Thanks

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Celebrating a holiday is the perfect reason to come together.    Photo by mgstanton on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

This week those of us in the U.S. celebrate the most iconic of American holidays-Thanksgiving.  This is the time of year we gather the extended family, demolish an overindulgent meal, and either play games or snooze in front of the TV (or both.)  Sometimes in all the hoopla to find the perfect bird, craft the most elaborate centerpiece, or out-do the relatives we may see only once a year in baking homemade treats, it is easy to forget the real meaning of both the name and the holiday itself.

What is Thanksgiving?  The name comes from an event that brought two groups of peoples of different colors and extremely different cultures together in a joint meal that celebrated the most basic of all needs-food, companionship, and freedom.  That we continue to commemorate this event almost 400 years later shows that we still honor both their sacrifices and their choices in choosing to live life as their consciences dictated.

Thanksgiving as a word is simply being grateful for everything and everyone we have in our lives.  Many of us are blessed with more than enough food, homes, material possessions, and choices for what we do with our lives.  We have family members, friends, and neighbors with whom we can share a meal or at least a phone call or Skype chat this week.  For many of us the excess is something we sometimes take for granted; but Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to remember, and appreciate all we truly have.

I urge you to take time to be thankful and share with others of your time and your abundance.  Help those in need through donations to a church or a local charity, or by volunteering at a food pantry or soup kitchen.  Give of yourself this week.  Above all, cherish the time and opportunity to spend with the loved ones in your life.

Have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving!

Amy

Guest Post: Author Amy Caudill on Crafting a Gamer Mom Character

I was honored to be featured this week as a guest author at Christy Birmingham’s incredible blog, When Women Inspire. Christy invited me to talk about the female main character in my new book, Virtual, which was just recently released. To see the entire post, click on the link here or check out Christy’s website.

When Women Inspire

Today we welcome Amy Caudill, who recently published her first novel Virtual. If you follow her blog then you know she is a lover of sci-fi and fantasy. When I read her book blurb, I knew I wanted to have her here to tell us more about the female character in her book. She has graciously written a guest post today about how she created gamer mom Amanda Connor, the main character in Virtual.

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Keeping the Romance Alive

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Photo credit: Foter.com

As this year draws swiftly towards an end, I realize somewhat to my amazement that my husband and I will soon celebrate our twenty-seventh wedding anniversary.  Our marriage has survived many ups and downs; including a cross-country move and raising two children, and somehow become a stronger relationship than we had in the beginning.  Of course, none of this happened without a lot of work, as well as a few angry words, and the occasional tear.  Over the years we have learned a few techniques that have helped us to stay close, and now I’d like to share them with you.

Talk to each other. In an age where many of us rarely put down our smart phones long enough to eat a meal, this simple advice is really not.  Couples need to communicate more than just through a text or tweet; they need to regularly discuss any number of subjects that affect them both.  Lack of meaningful communication can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and frustration over problems that wouldn’t exist if a few simple words are shared.  Adding something such as a regular conversation over dinner or before bed can make a big difference in the attitudes both spouses have toward each other.

Do special things for each other.  Take time to “woo” your partner, not just with money or flowers, but by taking the time to be thoughtful.  Make your spouse’s coffee for them when they are running late in the morning or just because it will make them smile.  Pay them an unexpected compliment.  Place an online order for something you know they want but can’t seem to find in a local store.  Small, special acts of kindness can remind your spouse how much you care, and why they fell in love with you in the first place.

Date your spouse.  Any relationship needs nurturing to stay strong, and one of the best ways to do this is to make time to spend together.   Dating a potential partner draws two people closer in the beginning, and adhering to “dates” helps maintain that connection despite the craziness of everyday lives.

Scheduling a midweek lunch date or Saturday evening date night helps to maintain the relationship as a priority. Too often “adult” time falls by the wayside as couples are too busy or preoccupied with kids, household chores, and other commitments that require time and energy.  Couples need a chance to reconnect and simply be romantic partners, and not just mommy and daddy or two strangers who share a home and responsibilities.

 

While these tips cannot guarantee a couple will have a long, happy marriage, they can help address some of the issues that can commonly plague a relationship.  The best part is that they can be utilized by couples who are just dating, as well as those who have been married for decades like my husband and me.  But don’t take my word for it, try them out for yourself.

Thanks always for reading,

Amy

Happy Halloween!

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Photo credit: monkeywing via Foter.com / CC BY

It’s that time of year again!  Tonight is the night when ghosts and goblins both big and small will dress in their most festive gear and roam the streets looking for treats.  Whether you choose to venture out or not, tonight is a good time to enjoy special foods, favorite movies, and the companionship of family and friends.

If you are planning to take your horde out, keep an eye or three peeled for spooky creatures you may not recognize.  If you are staying in, make sure you have plenty of treats so all the little monsters in your neighborhood aren’t tempted to play a trick.  Either way, enjoy your evening.

From my cadre of ghouls to yours,

Happy Halloween!

Amy

Why I Love Fall

A walk through the woods in autumn.  Photo credit: melolou via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The weather finally took a semi-permanent nosedive this week into cooler weather, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I’m sure I’m risking perpetuating an old cliché, but I can’t help but point out that fall truly is my favorite time of year.   Mother Nature often seems to ignore the calendar in favor of setting her own schedule; so when the temperatures begin to dip and fail to rise back into the eighties, when the days begin to noticeably shorten, then the autumn is truly upon us.  There are just so many things I love about this season; I had to share a few:

Fall leaves.  The leaves at last show their “true” colors.  Many trees aside from evergreens naturally have leaves as colorful as flower petals, but only in the autumn does their real beauty show through.  Gradually as their foliage loses the green hues of spring and summer trees begin to show their individuality, as a riot of bright hues.

Cooler weather.  In between the swelter of summer and the chill of winter, come days when we can leave off the artificial environment of central air or heat and leave the windows open.  Even with crisp mornings or chilly evenings, an open window can feel wonderful, as the sounds and smells of nature are allowed to permeate the air too often kept stuffy and closed.  Also banished, for many of us living in the Midwest, are the oppressive allergies that come with high heat and humidity.

Holiday cooking.  Harvest time promises a wealth of fresh ingredients, as well as a plethora of new recipes from websites and magazines, gathered to tempted loved ones with new, seasonal, creations.  Cooking and experimenting with some of this bounty is a challenge I utterly enjoy, and something my family always appreciates at holiday gatherings.

Halloween.  Ever since I was a child, I highly anticipated the one day of the year that sanctioned the opportunity to pretend to be someone else, if only for the day.  The options are only limited by one’s imagination, and can be as simple as putting on a hat or cape, or be as elaborate as one may desire.  For one day of the year, it is perfectly acceptable to pretend to be a superhero, or a pirate, or anything else you once dreamed of in childhood.

As I sit to write this, I’ve already laid in a supply of candy to give out next week to trick-or-treaters.  I haven’t decided who I want to be for Halloween, but I’ll think of something.  Later, maybe I’ll go to the park and take in the sights of a landscape that’s transformed over the last few months in a way that’s almost unrecognizable from spring.  I’ve already picked some of the dishes I’ll make for the weekend, and am thinking about Thanksgiving…

I really do get excited about this time of year.  I hope you can enjoy it as well.

Amy

Netflix’s Dirk Gently Series Is the Strangest Thing

Most fans of science fiction books and television shows are at least aware of the contributions of such British notaries as Douglas Adams, famed author of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” series, and the quality shows produced by the BBC network and BBC America. This past weekend saw the second season premier of “Dirk Gently,” based on some of Adams’ lesser known but equally memorable characters. Check it out, and don’t worry if the plot seems hard to follow-it will all make sense in the end.

Superior Realities

Being a long-time Douglas Adams fan (as you all should be), I was excited to see a TV adaptation of his novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency appear on Netflix and started watching almost immediately.

The logo for Netflix's adaptation of Dirk Gently's Holistic AgencyIt didn’t blow me away out of the gate, though. It was a strange, confusing show that didn’t seem to have much to do with the Dirk Gently story I know. I almost gave up on the show after the first two episodes, but something about it stuck with me, and I decided to give it another shot.

This turned out to be a good call.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a very, very strange show. Far stranger than I have the ability to adequately communicate through a mere blog post, and almost certainly the strangest television show I’ve ever seen.

It’s also almost entirely unlike the book it’s supposedly based upon. Really the…

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