What if You’re Alone on Thanksgiving?

Every Thanksgiving is different, and some years may not bring a family gathering. When that happens, the holiday may be a source of loneliness, a reminder of lost or distant loved ones, and a time of depression. It is easy to say to count your blessings, but sometimes we all have trouble finding the blessings in our sadness. There is no easy answer or cure for such feelings, but there are some things that may help mitigate them.

If you have family or friends to whom you can reach out, do so. This could take place in any of several ways. It may be possible to physically go visit them. Good friends will be happy to be available for you when you need it, even if they are busy. Take advantage of the opportunity if it arises.

If that’s not possible, perhaps a phone call would help you connect. Or, try writing a letter. This could be to a loved one who is not with you, or to someone who has made a difference in your life. Thank them for what they’ve contributed to your life, and tell them what they mean to you. Remember good times you had together.

You don’t have to know someone to reach out to them. Spend the day helping at a soup kitchen, or visit a hospital or elder-care facility and visit with other people who are alone. You may find that helping others brings you joy; and you may even find a new friend.

If you know ahead of time that you will be alone, plan to help an animal shelter or similar facility. Usually, this must be arranged ahead of time, but the facilities are often happy for the help. Many times, their workers are out of town or taking the day off, but the animals still need to be fed and cared for. Or, perhaps a neighbor needs someone to look after their pet while they go out of town. In addition to helping the animals, you could be helping yourself: research has shown that interacting with animals brings contentment.

Keep the lights on. Many people don’t turn on lights for just themselves, but that could be a mistake. Doctors now know that darkness can sometimes deepen depression. Keep the environment bright, and it may help keep your spirits bright as well.

Music also affects our moods. Play something that brings good memories.

But avoid alcohol – it’s a depressant.

Above all, if you are concerned that you may hurt yourself, seek help immediately by calling a helpline or going to a medical clinic. There are people trained to help, but you won’t know the difference they can make until you give them a chance.

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Book Review: News of the World

In 1870 Texas, 71-year-old Captain Kidd (not that one) makes a living traveling from town to town reading news from all over the world, both informing and entertaining his audiences. One night, he’s asked to undertake a special mission: return ten-year-old Johanna to her relatives. Johanna was captured by the Kiowa four years earlier during a raid that left her parents and siblings savagely murdered. Being adopted into the tribe, she considers herself fully Kiowa, with little to no remembrance of her life before or white man’s ways.

Author Paulette Jiles clearly shows how the child feels, but is unable to provide any insight into why. Historically, these children never wanted to leave their adoptive Native American families to return to their birth families; and when they were forced to, were never able to re-adjust. This was the case no matter the age of the child when taken; the race, comfort, or customs of the birth family; which Indigenous tribe adopted them; or the amount of time they were with the captors. Jiles chooses not to provide a rationale for her character, hazarding no guess regarding the psychology of captive children.

The four-hundred-mile journey undertaken by the Captain and his charge is fraught with danger at every turn, from both whites and Natives, and Johanna’s ingenuity saves their skin more than once, despite the fact that she is none too happy to be pulled from the life she loves and re-created as a white child.

It is, of course, the growing trust – love, even – between these two characters that provides the heart of the story. This relationship unfolds naturally, never forced by the author, and the slow growth of affection and understanding is a counterpoint to the fast-paced action of the journey, all the way to the last chapter.

Notice I said TO the last chapter, not through it. When you finish chapter 21, just go ahead and close the book. Chapter 22 should have been left off. It is rushed and unnatural, not to mention beyond implausible, and adds nothing of import to the story of the Captain and Johanna. This last chapter is what brings my rating from five stars to four. The strong writing and story-telling keep it at four.

I won a copy of News of the World (HarperCollins, 2016) from Book Bytes but all opinions are my own.

Happy All Souls Day

Yesterday was for the saints, and the day before was the Eve of the Day of the Hallowed, but today is for everyone.

It’s a day to think about our ancestors and our friends and loved ones who have passed away, and remember what they brought to our lives. Tell the younger generations about them to keep the memories alive. Pass along traditions. If you’re close enough, go the cemetery and clean up the grave sites.

Happy All Hallows Day

Also called All Saints Day

The -een of Halloween is a shortening of “evening” and hallow means holy. So Halloween is just the evening before the real holiday, the day of holy ones, or saints.

On Halloweeen

Many historians accept that Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), which marked the beginning of winter and their new year.

The Celts were an agrarian people, so preparation for the cold, dark season began weeks in advance. Homes and barns were cleaned and spoiled or unnecessary items disposed of to make room for the incoming harvest. The crops were brought in and stored. As winter drew closer, livestock was moved to more sheltered pastures or into newly-cleaned barns. If a person had more stock than feed for them, some were slaughtered for food. The theme was much like our new year: out with the old and in with the new, planning ahead and starting anew. These preparations culminated in the Samhain festival.

One aspect of Samhain was the Celtic belief that the souls of those who died during the year traveled to the “otherworld” on this day. That being the case, this was the time of year a person would most likely encounter the spirits/ghosts of the dead. So a big part of the Samhain celebration was devoted to the departed.

Bonfires and torches were lit in their honor to help them find their way. People left out offerings of food and beverages for the same reason. Stories were told and songs sung in remembrance of the deceased, especially one’s ancestors. People would try to call loved ones to them for one last meeting before the departed were lost forever to the otherworld.

But, just as all living persons are not nice, neither were all spirit beings. The fires also helped keep away the evil ones. For added protection, people carved scary faces in turnips and other vegetables to frighten away unwanted spirits.

Samhain began its transformation into the modern Halloween in the year 601, when Pope Gregory I instructed missionaries that instead of trying to abolish local beliefs and customs they should dedicate them to Christ, and convert pagan holidays into Christian feasts, to ease the transition to Christianity.

Since paying respect to the dead was a main feature of Samhain, the feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1. This feast honored every Christian saint. The church later instituted All Souls Day on November 2 to honor all dead, not just Christian saints. Celtic peoples could now continue their commemoration of deceased ancestors and still be part of the new church.

That Church did not, however, change its creed. It still maintained theological superiority, so the leaders of the Celtic religious practices (Druids) were branded as devil worshipers, and the Celtic otherworld became hell. If any spirits were about, they must be demons.

Still the old beliefs and customs lived on; they just assumed a new guise. Trick-or-treating is a carryover from the belief that the dead are out and in need of food and drink. Costumes became popular later when people began dressing as these ghosts and engaging in tomfoolery, sometimes asking for a reward. Jack o’lanterns come from the vegetables carved to scare away unfriendly specters.

I love the idea of a day set aside to remember those we’ve lost, to tell our children about those who came before, to consider where we came from and thus who we are.

And I understand that we can all, especially children, overcome fears by facing them. Just as getting comfortable with monsters on Sesame Street can ease fears of monsters under the bed, if kids see a friend dressed as a witch or a big scary dog, maybe they won’t be quite so averse to dogs or fearful of witches in the broom closet.

But I don’t like the gory turn Halloween has taken. When I was a kid, you’d see costumes of ghosts and witches, but not things like bloody, gutty, stabbed murder victims. Why does society feel the need to get more disgusting and gross and violent? Lots of people aim for the highest shock value possible…and we get more comfortable with it.

My belief is that we shouldn’t become at ease with violence any more than we should get comfortable with a racist trying to get more shocking in his portrayals. So maybe I’ll pass out candy (or eat it!). Maybe I’ll watch a scary (not gory) movie or read a ghost story. Maybe I’ll even dress up. But not as anything that promotes violence.

What do you think about Halloween?

Glassblowing Fun

I’m a researcher. I do a lot of research for everything I write. But sometimes that’s just not enough. That’s when I employ what some call immersion or method writing. I just call it getting a little real-life experience.

One of the primary characters in one of my current WIPs is a glassblower. I researched it until I know the process pretty well, but still wasn’t sure about what a glassblower experiences: How does melted glass smell? Does the crucible crackle like a campfire? How heavy is a blow pipe or a rod?

Enter my wonderful, supportive hubby, who got me a one-on-one training session with an experienced glassblower. (Did you know there’s actually a degree for glassblowing? I didn’t. But I can just imagine many parents’ reaction when their kid comes home from college and announces that they’ve changed their major to glassblowing.)

Katie C. took me step by step through the creation of a Christmas ornament. Then it was my turn! With Katie’s help I gathered melted glass from the furnace, turned it in the glory hole, added color, swirled the design, the blew it out. I had to leave it at the glassblowing shop in the annealing oven, but they mailed it to me when it was ready. Isn’t the ornament pretty?

It was a fun experience, and I now have a much better idea of what my character experiences while he’s creating his masterpiece.

Banned Books Week

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. ~Evelyn Beatrice Hall (This quote is often misattributed to either Patrick Henry or Voltaire. It was actually written by Hall in her biography of Voltaire and was not meant to be a direct quote of something he said but rather a statement that conveyed his viewpoint of someone’s critical review of his writing.)

We humans learn by exchanging ideas. From the time we were small tykes, being taught how to hold a fork or a pencil, or zip our coat, we’ve gained information from other sources. If we’re wise, we try to plumb the depths of wisdom of many sources, and compare and contrast these viewpoints, sounding them out against what we know to be true and right, to arrive at our own conclusions.

What would our life be like if this were not the case? Think about countries that do (or did) not enjoy freedom of speech. In North Korea, the populace thinks of their leader as some sort of benevolent god providing for their needs. They believe this because without free speech there is no one to tell them otherwise. Without freedom of speech, no one may compare the luxury their leader lives in to the scarcity his subjects must endure. The people are not free to look up information from other sources, because both the putting forth and the taking in of information is dictated, not free.

Why were slaves in America – and other places also – not allowed to learn to read or write? Because this would give them too much information, and thereby power. The way to keep people submissive and trod down is to deprive them of knowledge which might provide hope and lead to action.

There are a great many things I wish had never been said or written, things I believe have led to harm against the innocent. But who would I trust to decide what things should or should not be expressed? The government? How long would it be before another McCarthy found fault with my – or others’ – unwillingness to give obeisance to someone with whom I disagreed? Religious leaders? Which ones?

Who would want to allow anyone to express any thought, idea, or belief at all, including things they disagree with and embarrassing stories about them and facts that would undermine their authority? Well, our Founding Fathers for starters. They understood that that’s what is necessary for democracy and freedom and progress.

And that’s also why I oppose censorship and celebrate Banned Books Week. There are many “banned” (or challenged) books that I won’t read. But that’s my choice. There are also many I have read, including Little House on the Prairie, Huckleberry Finn, the Holy Bible, and the Quran. I’m sure I’ll read others in the future. And I’m sure I’ll learn something from them. I hope you will, too.