Thursday, October 30, 2008

From pumpkins to Santa in 10 seconds flat

The holiday season has now been officially compressed into approximately ten seconds and I, for one, am nowhere near ready. I did buy a Christmas gift when visiting a winery in Ohio back in August. One gift, a stocking stuffer really. That's it. I have a long, long way to go. I suspect many of you are in the same boat.

This year, though, thanks to a bunch of elves who work with my friend and publicist Nancy Berland in Oklahoma, we're going to help you find a little serenity during the holidays. Really.

In just a few days you will be able to go to or to and find everything from recipes for your favorite Thanksgiving comfort foods to a drink with some kick for the new year. There will be decorating tips, positive ways to beat the holiday blues
and best of all for those of us who haven't made even a dent in our shopping, there will be gift ideas. Lots and lots of gift ideas. Sadly, there will be no personal shopper assigned to you to actually get that shopping done, but we have taken a lot of the stress out of the hunt for the perfect presents for even your hard-to-please family members. A lot of these ideas are available online, so you'll be able to shop in your PJs with a cup of hot chocolate close by.

And if you find better sites or more wonderful gifts, I hope you'll share them with us. Tell us all about your favorite traditions, too, by clicking on comments below. Share your tips for beating the holiday rush at the mall, for finding the best deal, for explaining to the kids why Santa's sack might be a little less jam-packed this year.

Just stop by here whenever you have a minute to spare, share your holiday frustrations, your joyous moments when the perfect gift appears like magic. Because the one thing that's just as good as finding a little serenity during this harried time of year is sharing it with a friend.

And I hope when you have more than a couple of minutes to spare, you'll sit down with the latest book in the Sweet Magnolias series, WELCOME TO SERENITY, which will be in stores by Tuesday, November 25. Library Journal calls it "a story that sparkles with holiday fun," so it may be just the thing after a tough day at the mall...or in the parking lot.

Sherryl Woods

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Have yourself a politically-correct Christmas!

I'm very much afraid the world has developed a serious case of politically-correct madness. Just the other day I was told that in some mall in some city (okay, so details and accuracy were pretty much sacrificed in the telling)the Santas on staff were no longer allowed to say ho-ho-ho because it might have an offensive interpretation in "street" language. Now, really! What is going on when we're censoring Santa's vocabulary in such a ridiculous way? "Ho-ho-ho, merry Christmas!" was a cheery greeting from Santa Claus long before it had any other interpretation that I'm aware of. I'm hereby re-claiming it for its originally-intended meaning.

This incident, assuming it actually did happen as reported, is just the latest in an attempt to tone down the holiday season in a way that makes it almost unrecognizable from what it was when I was a kid. Back then -- w-a-y back then -- we still had Christmas pageants in school. We sang carols. I'm pretty sure we had plenty of kids from other faiths who did not celebrate Christmas, but who enjoyed the traditions as much as the rest of us. Was it insensitive? Perhaps just a bit. Is it right that we've toned it down in our schools? More than likely. But I can't help thinking that we've lost something in our desire not to offend anyone at anytime.

Why can't we, instead, celebrate all traditions in our schools and in our communities? Isn't that the perfect way to teach understanding and tolerance of all religions and beliefs? No one is a greater defender of the separation of church and state than I am. Nor does anyone believe more strongly that religious freedom is one of the most basic tenets of our society. Doesn't that mean that we should learn about other faiths, respect them and especially teach tolerance of them to our children? My church youth group, w-a-y back when, studied other religions. We went to services in other churches. We were taught to embrace the similarities and to understand the differences. Isn't that the real lesson our kids should be taught, rather than stripping away all mention of religion and faith in our schools? Children have such open minds and hearts. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we worried less about being politically-correct and more about instilling values and respect for others and their beliefs and traditions? Perhaps, then, there'd be fewer hate crimes based on religious differences.

This seems like the ideal season to dream of such things. And I'll do it with carols playing. I'll wish people happy holidays or merry Christmas, as appropriate. And, by heaven, I'll expect all the Santas whose paths I cross to bellow cheerfully, "Ho-ho-ho, merry Christmas!"

In the meantime, I wish all of you joy, the happiest of holiday seasons and, for those of you who share my faith, a very merry Christmas.

Sherryl Woods

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ho-Ho, Oh No!!!

I swear to you that I have not been so stuffed from Thanksgiving that I've been unable to post. Instead, I have been chained to my computer writing the proposals for three new books for 2009. I have now been freed, just in time to discover that Christmas is right around the corner. Oh, no!

Last year, my first holiday season in 10 years without owning a bookstore and gift shop, I made a particularly horrendous discovery. It is much harder to get all the Christmas shopping done when you can't do it in your own store. I actually had to go out to real stores in actual malls with mobs and mobs of people. How do you do it? I was about to tear my hair out.

Now I absolutely love the holidays. I love finding exactly the right gift for people. I even love wrapping so much that I keep trying to convince a friend of mine to ask his boss if I can come into their shop and wrap gifts for their customers this season. So far these guys, who think slapping a bow on a box will do the trick, have declined my generous offer. I also love decorating, listening to holiday music and, when I have the willpower not to eat everything coming out of the oven, I love baking. What I hate are mob scenes and traffic.

I have come up with a few tricks, which I will share. However, if you take advantage of these tricks and steal my parking space from me, there will be consequences.

First, shop in all major discount stores such as Target or Wal-Mart on weekdays and no later than 8 a.m.

Second, if you absolutely must shop in a department store in a mall, find out what time the doors open, be in the parking lot at least 15 minutes prior to that opening time, and in the door the second some jovial employee unlocks it. If possible, be out of the store again within the hour.

Third -- and this probably should be first, now that I think about it -- plan these excursions. Decide ahead of time exactly who you're shopping for that day and what you have in mind. That way you can avoid my tendency to go into Target for three things and come out with two dozen items, many for myself.

Fourth, regarding Christmas cards, buy them the very first time you come across any you like, even if it's not yet Halloween (okay, take this advice next year). Address them while watching football on Sundays, or any other time that has you stationed in front of the TV with your family watching something you don't especially care about. Get the addressing and stamps done -- the mindless part of the task, then if you like to write personalized notes, do that when you have a quiet moment on your own.(Do those ever happen this time of year?)

Fifth, and this is a new one for me, wrap as you buy. I bought a bunch of gift bags in various sizes, tissue paper, gift wrap and ribbon and have it set out. When I get home from shopping, I wrap, stuff, label or whatever then put the ready-to-go gift in whichever grouping it belongs in -- family, friends, business associates. Of course, if I were as organized as I'm pretending to be right now, I would finish shopping for each group before moving onto the next one, but alas, it hasn't worked that way. However, I am proud to say that three boxes of gifts were shipped out of here on Saturday. I'd feel better about that if there weren't another half-dozen boxes to go.

Today, my first day of freedom from writing for a few weeks, I've noticed that a department store I need to visit opens at 10 a.m. I'm on my way. Happy holidays, everyone!

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