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. Right?

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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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.

20-ish Top Reads of 2018

“Clear the decks!” crows Mom. “It’s Best Books time!”

She may be a bit confused. Ever since my puppy days it’s been “deck the halls” this time of year. Well. You know how moms are. Especially when someone asks, “Which kid is your favorite?”

Okay, okay. So no one put it quite like that. But plenty have asked which books are her favorite. “It’s almost the same thing,” sniffs Mom.

Hah, bumhug! says I.

Arf you may know, Mom met her 2018 reading challenge last week: 365 books in one year. People keep asking which “kids” are her favorite from that long, long list. (For background, see: When They Tell You It’s “Impossible.” Also see: How I Read 100+ books in 90 days.)

I’m kinda curious myself. I gave her the puppy eyes look.

Works every time.

So ‘clear the decks’ for Mom’s Top Reads of 2018.

Warning: “That ‘top 20’ thing’s just not gonna happen,” says Mom.

Indeed, competition for a spot on Mom’s ‘totally subjective, 100% unscientific’ list was fierce. So bow-wow-ish, in fact, that Mom divided the list into four basic categories:

  1. Best Fiction
  2. Best Non-Fiction
  3. Best Series
  4. Favorite Authors.

Also Honorable Mentions.

Each book earned its respective spot based on quality of writing, creativity and poignancy, superior characterizations, outstanding, unique plots and overall excellence. And Just Plain Fun. (Note: No book that brainlessly, repeatedly deploys gratuitous profanity ever makes Mom’s “best” list. She calls that “sloppy-writing-lazy.” Hah, bumhug again.)

365 books in one year. And then some! November 27, 2018.

Anyway, Mom’s Top Books Read in 2018 are,in no particular order:

Best Fiction

  1. Hattie Big Sky – Kirby Larson
  2. Time for Andrew – Mary Downing Hahn
  3. A Dog Called Homeless – Sarah Lean
  4. Run Far, Run Fast – Walt Morey
  5. The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
  6. There Come a Soldier Peggy Mercer
  7. Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin
  8. Anchor in the Storm – Sarah Sundin
  9. The Wood – Chelsea Bobulski
  10. Man O’War – Walter Farley
  11. The Journey Back – Priscilla Cummings
  12. Sarah Bishop, Thunder Rolling in the Mountains – Scott O’Dell
  13. The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary Pearson
  14. Ever the Hunted– Erin Summerill
  15. Hoot – Carl Hiassen
  16. Dividing Eden – Joelle Charbonneau
  17. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  18. Unwind – Neal Shusterman

Re-reading a seasonal favorite, “The Christmas Box,” by Richard Paul Evans.

Best Nonfiction

  1. A Prisoner and Yet – Corrie ten Boom
  2. The Kite Runner (historical fiction) – Khaled Hosseini
  3. The Black Dogs Project – Fred Levy
  4. Before Amen – Max Lucado
  5. My Family for the War (historical novel) – Anne Voorhoeve
  6. Great Lodges of the National Parks – Christine Barnes
  7. Hidden Child – Isaac Millman

Best Series

  1. The Misty of Chincoteague series – Marguerite Henry
  2. The Silver Brumby series – Elyne Mitchell
  3. Billy and Blaze books– C.W. Anderson
  4. The Jimmy Vega mystery series – Suzanne Chazin
  5. Black Stallion series– Walter Farley
  6. The Survivors series – Erin Hunter
  7. Fire and Thorns trilogy – Rae Carson

Favorite Authors

Honorable Mentions

Well, woof the deck! Or something. All this reading and book-ing makes me hungry. About that leftover pot roast… You gonna eat that?

 

5 Cool Authors for Cold Weather and Turkey Leftovers

I was just a young pup last Thanksgiving. Chewing on slippers. Dish towels. Wayward fingers. Learning Come. Down. Jump. Sit and Stay. Also how to jitterbug. That just kinda happened. I mean, who can listen to In the Mood sitting still?

Anyway. I’m coming up on two and a half years now. So I’m leaving all that baby stuff behind. Well, some of it. But I’ve gotten pretty good at chasing fallen leaves. Wearing that stupid “doggie jacket” Mom insists on when the temperature drops below forty degrees. Swiping turkey leftovers when no one’s lookin’.

Even though it’s cold and crisp outside, it’s not all bad. A neighbor’s cat, Sir Puddleglum, is staying indoors most of the time. (That’s not the orange tabby’s real name. I just call him that because it gets his goat. Or his cat nip. Whatever.)

Anyway again. Apple cider. Crunching leaves. Snoozing by the fireplace. Mom says fall is a great time to re-read some favorite authors. She showed me her list. I’m passing it on to you at no extra charge. (Don’t tell anyone.)

5 Cool Authors for Cold Weather (in no particular order):

1. Earl Hamner, Jr.

Hamner is best known as the creator, executive producer, and warm narrative voice of The Waltons. He wrote several books, including the autobiographical Spencer’s Mountain and The Homecoming. The latter inspired the movie of the same name. It became the pilot that launched The Waltons. You can almost hear the snow fall… G’night John Boy…

2. Jill Hucklesby

Never heard of her? Me neither. Until Mom swooped into the library and yanked Samphire Song off a shelf. The librarian said it was on the “weeding” (death) list. She felt sorry for it. Read it. Loved it. Said it’s brisk. Engaging. Beautifully written, with memorable characters. The story revolves around a young girl, Jodie, and her half-wild stallion, Samphire. Both are damaged. They inch their ways toward healing together.

3. John Eldredge

A multi-published author of best sellers like Wild at Heart, John is a Mom perennial favorite. He has a warm, cogent, and down-to-earth writing style. Bonus points: I hear John’s a Dog Guy.

4. Richard Paul Evans

Mom says this guy is a prolific, award-winning author perhaps best known for The Christmas Box. Richard publishes a book every year, usually when temperatures start dropping. Says Mom: Richard’s gentle, uplifting stories are a great choice for curl-up-near-the-fireplace reading!

5. Gary Paulsen

Looking for larger-than-life outdoor adventure told with a keen eye for detail and a gritty, spunky writing style? Gary Paulsen’s your guy, according to Mom. His many books include The Hatchet series, Dogsong, Harris and Me, Woodsong, and Winterdance.

Even Sir Puddleglum can’t complain about that.

Hey. You gonna to finish that turkey sandwich? Askin’ for a friend.

Tails From a Thanksgiving Expert

I’m an expert on thanksgiving. Just ask Mom. I’m thankful for just about everything and everyone. That dropped bit of bacon. Unattended hot dogs. Belly rubs! Sea gulls! Snoozes in the sun. Walks in the woods! My favorite blanket, right next to the heating vent.

Mom says words related to “thankful” include gratitude. Appreciation. Gladness. Being at peace. Contentment. Cheer.

See? Told you I’m an expert.

A few things that make my tail wag like a pinwheel:

The guy who walks by my yard every day. Mark has yellow hair and dark glasses. His voice is light and friendly. “I’ve never had much use for dogs,” he once said, reaching over the fence to pet me. “I was a confirmed a cat lover. Until I met Kimber.” He’s my best friend!

The lady across the street who delivers the newspapers. “Hello Kimber!” she says when she walks by. She has short dark hair. She smells like sunshine and good cheer. June also knows just where to scratch me behind my ears. She’s my best friend!

The lady in a wheelchair who smells like generosity and good memories. I always say “hello” when she rolls by. I smile. She smiles back. Mary’s my best friend!

I keep a sharp eye out for my next door neighbor. Sometimes I see Virginia out for a walk when Mom and I are out for our walk! I remind her how happy I am to see her! She smiles. It’s a sparkly kind of smile. I like that. She’s my best friend!

A big black dog lives across the street. She’s older. Doesn’t move so fast anymore. I say hello to her across the street. Lexy doesn’t usually answer. She’s not as talkative as me. But when we cross the street, we exchange greetings and neighborhood news. She’s my best friend! Sometimes Lexy’s grandpa comes to visit. He always saves me at treat. He’s my best… oh, never mind.

I’m also thankful for a job. Mine is patrolling the property and keeping everyone safe. I smell everyone who comes by, making sure they smell friendly. Every once in a while someone doesn’t smell right. I alert my family immediately! I’m the scout. The look out. Just ask the neighborhood cats and the deer who wander out of the woods.

On the job!

In fact, I often lie awake at night, making sure nothing happens to anyone in my house. It’s a big responsibility. But I’m up for it. After I make sure no one has died in their sleep, the next morning I take a snooze in that nice sunny patch in the yard.

Sometimes I talk to people when Mom and I are out on walks. My favorite people are the ones who are small and can’t really talk yet. They understand me just fine. And I understand them. We both know words like Mom and Dad and brothers. Sit. Snack. Lunch time. Car ride!

I used to tell these little people about myself. They knew what I was saying. They would tell me things back. Like, “Macaroni and cheese again?” Or “I am not ready for my nap! Am not! Am not! Am not!”

But I’ve noticed something. These little ones don’t stay little. They grow. Get bigger. Taller. Like my brothers. The more they grow, the less they understand what I’m saying. And the less I understand them. Especially when they start saying things like, “Internal Revenue Service.” “Presidential debate.” Or, “what’s the Wi Fi code?”

Meanwhile, Mom says, “Thanksgiving Day is almost here!” I’m not quite sure what that means. But if Mom’s merrily skipping about the house, cooking up a storm, it must be something good. So I’m up for it.

Thanksgiving 2017

On Thanksgiving Day, I’ll do what I do every day. Be thankful. Glad. Content. On. The. Job. I’ll make sure everyone who comes to my house smells right. Then all my best friends, new and old, will sit around the table and pass wonderful-smelling food around. I may have to sit on the porch. It’s so hard to stay calm with all the excitement and delicious smells!

But I have a plan. I’ll help clear the plates. You know, lick them clean. No one will notice. They’ll be too busy talking and laughing. Waiting for dessert. If I play my biscuits right, someone might save me a bit of their dinner. Or drop something under the table. Oh, happy day!

After dinner, I’ll snuggle into the recliner with Mom. We always watch George Bailey, Sam Wainwright, Mr. Martini, Bert the Cop, Ernie the cab driver, Old Man Gower and Clarence Oddbody, A.S. II every Thanksgiving night.

Family. Faith. Redemption. Best friends. Good food. A nice, warm bed. Long walks. Sunshine. A yard I don’t have to share with a cat. Told you I’m a thankfulness expert.

How ‘bout you?

REAL DADS: Not Just One Sunday in June

Dad Naas Scan 2

It’s Father’s Day. Time for a card or two. A new tie. Maybe breakfast in bed or a nice dinner out. But have you noticed? There’s something off-kilter about a culture that spends 364 days a year belittling dear old dad, then turns around to “honor” him on one Sunday in June.

Sadly, we live in a time and place where dads are often viewed or portrayed as: 1) Bumbling oafs who can’t tie their shoes without written instructions; 2) Insensitive clods and boorish louts or; 3) Invisible and irrelevant. Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without peanut butter. Or jelly. Or bread.

What Does It Mean?

There’s a fair amount of confusion about what constitutes a “real dad.” Some equate dadness with volume, brute force, or beer bellies. They think the dude who sires a string of children and then disappears without a trace makes the yahoo a “father.” Or “dad” is the lunkhead who throws his weight around because there’s plenty of it. There’s a word for these kinds of guys. And it’s not “dad.” (Since this is a G-rated blog, you’ll have to fill in the blanks yourself.)

Real Dads

Real Dads can be hard to find these days. There are plenty of fakes. Just turn on the TV. But the Real Deal is still around. And often unsung.

A Real Dad is decent, hard-working, and upstanding. A Real Dad takes his family, job, and responsibilities seriously. He gets outside himself to benefit others. A Real Dad puts his family first. Even when it’s “inconvenient.” Sometimes especially when it’s inconvenient.

Faucets, Flicks and Foregoing

Real Dads fix leaky faucets. Hang pictures or wall paper (without killing anyone). Walk on the outside of the sidewalk, nearest the street. Endure chick flicks without complaint. A Real Dad may toil long hours in a thankless job to keep a roof over his family’s heads and put food on the table. Forego Monday Night Football to cheer a child’s Little League game. Put up a tent in the rain. Do dishes. Clean up dog barf. Teach junior how to slide into second without breaking anything. Stay home with the kids so Mom can have lunch out with the ladies.

Go Get Them

Real Dads take 1:00 a.m. phone calls in the middle of a sleep-over – come get me Daddy, I’m scared – and break every land-speed record on the books in the process. They attend daughter’s tea parties, scrunch their knees into their chins in those made-for-kindergartener chairs. Down gallons of pretend tea and wear those funny little party hats like they’re dining with royalty. Because they know they are.

Real Dads may not always know how to express themselves. They may have a hard time finding the words to tell the wife and kids how much they mean to him. So they do instead of say, speaking the language of self-sacrifice, service and grace.

Real Dads

  • Don coat and tie and conduct somber graveside services for dead gold fish and neon tetras.
  • Remove their hats, hold ’em over their heart and sing about rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air as their eyes mist.
  • Burn Christmas Eve and the wee hours of December 25 assembling brand new purple Schwinns.
  • Open those stupid pickle jar lids.
  • Spend an entire afternoon traipsing from store to store in the mall with the wife or kids, pretending they’re having a great time.
  • Say Yes when they can and No when they should.
  • Have arms that embrace, shield and protect. Their shoulders are big enough to ride, cry on, and hide behind.
  • Pray. And teach their kids to pray.
  • Are never quite thanked enough.

Real Dads cement a protective wall around the fam as no one else can. Real Dads stand on that wall, often alone, and patrol. Real Dads put any lurking menace or stalking evil on notice with, “Not on my watch. You’ll have to come through me first, and I’m here for keeps.”

With Dad at Neff

How do I know? Because my dad was a Real Dad. And not just on one Sunday in June.

***

This post was previously published on June 16, 2013.

Reader’s Choice

The ball is ready to drop and PAWpourri is ready to ring in a New Year. Before we start tossing the confetti, let’s take a quick look back at our top posts and most popular topics of 2017.

The Top 5 PAWpourri posts of 2017 were, in descending order:

It’s your turn to weigh in. Which post was your favorite? Vote in the poll below. You can vote for more than one post, but you may only vote once. All votes are confidential. The poll will be open for one week.

Why I Wrote An ‘In the Corner’ Holiday Story

Candles in the window. Lights up on the tree. Sleigh bells. Mistletoe. Apple-cheeked kids rushing in from a snowy sled run. Hot chocolate and marshmallows. Carols and cantatas. Family. Friends. And…  loneliness so thick and heavy, it could crush a camel.

Yes, friends. The holidays aren’t full of fa-la-la-la-la-ing for everyone. In fact, this can be an especially tough time for some. Those facing a job loss or a cut in income. A divorce. An involuntary move. The frostiness of an unresolved conflict. Bad news from the doctor. Betrayal. Feeling utterly alone in the middle of a crowd. Too much money at the end of the month. Distance. One less place set at the table. One less gift under the tree.

If you’ve been there or are there, you know what I mean. And how difficult the holidays can be. Especially if you’re Alone. Or feel that way.

I hear you. It’s one reason I wrote Man in the Corner: A Holiday Story. About newly divorced Mae Taylor and her son Josiah. Their plans to start over solo are jostled when they move next door to Mr. Tom, a lonely widower and retired school teacher. Together, the unlikely trio finds a second chance at faith, hope and love with help from Gettysburg, cookbooks, an attic secret and two ‘Christmas ghosts.’

 

While we’re on the subject, I also want to offer a video to those who may be struggling this time of year. You’re not alone. Give this Mark Schultz piece a listen:

Grace. And Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Candle image credit: Creative Commons Zero – CC0.

 

And So It Barks…

If you’ve been reading along for any length of time – say, 20 minutes or so – you probably know I’ve always felt that the world should be divided into two main camps: Dog Lovers and Other. (If you’re a feline fan, sorry. Naw. Not really.) You may also know that I wrote a book about our good dog, Eve, who passed away around Christmas 2013. And that our house has been dog-less ever since.

In the finale of my recent blog post Christmas, Eve, I told you I’d have an update for you on the dog front. Well. Here she is:

Her name is Kimber.  About six months old. Isn’t she a beauty?

Kimber was quite the li’l nipper when she joined us in late August. She’s calmed down quite a bit since then. But she’s a puppy and excitable. If you come visit, I can pretty much guarantee she’ll think the sun rises and sets on you. And greet you accordingly. (I’d bring treats ‘fize you.)

Part Golden Retriever. Part Lab. Part Border Collie. All heart. Way smarter than me. I’m thinking of re-naming her. How does “Einstein” sound? Also in the running: “Cicero.” Or “Typhoon.”

wp-image-2116531908jpg.jpegIn the past few months since Kimber came to us via the local dog rescue outfit, she’s learned “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come,” and “Down.” How to navigate 13 steps by herself. Let herself out. Open doors. Walk on a leash. NOT to eat Dad’s slippers. How to play football (sort of). Lie down while I write (most of the time. Nobody’s perfect.) And jitterbug.

Told you she’s way smarter than me.

I’ve called her “Eve” more than once. Call it a “Freudian slip.” They don’t even look alike. I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to have a dog in the house.  After getting Kimber, however, I can’t imagine having a dog-less house again.

I may even have to write about it. Again. 🙂

Best wishes for a happy, healthy 2017 to your and yours, dear readers!

What are your writing goals for the new year?

Forever, Eve

Forever, Eve

A Dog’s Story

Stille Nacht – Just in Time for Christmas

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?

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. Sit down with this old favorite for about five minutes. Give Manheim Steamroller’s Stille Nacht (Silent Night) a listen. You’ll be glad you did.

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