Thursday, November 13, 2008

Serenity in Times Square? Come on...

When I think of peaceful and serene, New York's Times Square is not the first place that pops to mind. Which may be why seeing a lighted billboard right there, in one of the busiest places in the country, featuring the new Welcome to Serenity website almost knocked me out of my chair. Finally, after years and years of staring up at all those amazing Times Square ads for plays, I'm actually in lights on Broadway! This is very, very cool.

Okay, it's not really me, but the fabulous website created by Jeanne Devlin at Nancy Berland Public Relations and Cissy Hartley of Writerspace. I've been telling you for a while now about http://www.welcometoserenitybook.com/, the companion website to my new holiday novel in the Sweet Magnolia series. It is jam-packed with recipes, nifty gift ideas, holiday traditions and decor, and even some serene thoughts to keep in mind as you head for the mall.

The image from Times Square, ironically, came in an email as I was in the midst of planning my own holiday trip to New York. This afternoon I felt a sudden need to visit all the sparkle and chaos that is New York at Christmas. Now I know why this impulse struck me. It was pure holiday magic.

Over the years I've seen a lot of things in Times Square, from the (almost) naked singing cowboy to a pretty impressive fire, from David Blayne doing one of his bizarre magic acts to human gridlock while trying to cross Broadway. And none of this involved being there for New Year's eve, which may be the craziest time of the year ever in this world-famous section of the city.

I doubt the Welcome to Serenity sign will pop up if I actually make it to New York, but seeing the picture is pretty amazing. I'm not sure if what they say about New York holds true for websites -- "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere" -- but by gosh it's still pretty darn exciting.

Meantime, I hope you'll head on over to the new website and browse through all the ideas we collected for the holidays. Share your own tips and traditions while you're there.

Meantime, happy -- and serene -- holidays, everyone!

Sherryl Woods

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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 www.sherrylwoods.com or to www.welcometoserenitybook.com 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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Saturday, October 4, 2008

It's a family tradition!

Just last night I was thinking about traditions, though not exactly in the, well, traditional sense. I was joking with a neighbor who was vacationing in North Carolina's Outer Banks. She'd called from the parking lot at Wal-Mart, where her husband was shopping...as he does every single Friday evening on his way home from work. I told her to tell him I was glad he was sticking with tradition, even far from home.

Perhaps his tradition is really little more than habit, but it is a reminder that we are rapidly approaching a season in which family traditions are a big deal. From Halloween through the New Year, I suspect all of us do things we started in childhood and have continued with our own families.

In my neighborhood here, for instance, the Halloween decorations are already up. Yards are filled with pumpkins -- real and plastic. Bats hang from trees. Giant spiders spin huge webs. For someone whose family never went overboard for this particular holiday, it's rather amazing to see half the town transformed into some sort of haunted community. And it's all a bit like the town of Serenity in my Sweet Magnolias series.

Serenity is a town which loves its holidays, which makes the Christmas festivities the perfect theme for WELCOME TO SERENITY, which hits stores around Thanksgiving.

Because of that I'm launching a new website just for the holidays. You'll be able to link to it from my website, www.sherrylwoods.com, and there will be more information on this site as well as soon as it goes online at the beginning of November. The focus will be on finding serenity during the holidays. It will be filled with easy and inexpensive decorating tips, gift ideas and websites, and tons of recipes. There's even a list of ideas for chasing away the holiday blues.

I'm also hoping all of you will share your favorite holiday traditions and recipes with us, as well. Since it won't kick off until around November 1, you can get started now by sharing your Halloween traditions right here. Do you gather all the neighborhood kids and bob for apples? Is there a neighborhood costume party? Are there traditions that you no longer do because of safety concerns...popcorn balls or candy apples for trick or treat, for instance? Click on comments below and share your favorite ideas that put you into the Halloween spirit.

And start thinking about those favorite things that make all of the upcoming holidays special for your family. I want to hear about the decoration you made for your mom when you were in kindergarten, the one that always hangs front and center on the tree. I want to hear about caroling excursions or Aunt Jane's fruit cake. Tell us about the first turkey you roasted or the rolls that somehow never make it into the oven on Thanksgiving. Sharing your favorite memories may spark traditions for the rest of us...or make us chuckle...or shed a tear.

There's a reason we cling to traditions. And now there's a place to share them. I really hope to hear from you.

Sherryl Woods

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Grief and the holidays

With holiday music blasting away everywhere you turn, colorful lights blinking on lavish yard displays and shoppers bustling -- or shoving -- in stores, it's easy to forget that for some the holidays are a time of deep loneliness or sorrow. This was brought home to me recently when friends lost a son just as the holiday season was about to go into full swing. It was an unexpected and tragic death, which left both parents devastated. Now these two wonderful people are facing a once-favorite season without their only son. It's almost impossible to know what to say to them.

There are plenty of platitudes -- your son wouldn't want you to grieve during this season you all love so much, you have other children who need you -- but I have no idea how you do either of those things when your heart is heavy with grief. I do, however, have some ideas about what those of us who love people in such a situation may be able to do.

First, invite them to your celebrations. They may decline, but it will help them to know that you're thinking of them and that they have options.

Second, if they usually do a lot of decorating, but just don't seem to have the will to get started, offer to bring some friends together to do it for them.

Third, if they typically do a lot of baking, encourage them to come to your home and help you with your baking, instead. It may be easier in another kitchen and it could start a whole new tradition.

Fourth, if it seems appropriate, suggest other new traditions that may brighten their spirits. After my dad died, my cousin and I went to New York for a few days right before Christmas. The amazing lights, a Kenny Rogers old-fashioned Christmas show, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes, all of it helped to take our mind off of our loss. We've gone back several times since then and it never fails to make the season merrier.

Fifth, if your friend has just lost a spouse, he or she may feel awkward about going places alone during the holidays. Offer to pick them up for church or for a neighborhood party.

Last and most important, do not shy away from spending time with them or making those frequent calls just to say hello. It so easy to tell ourselves we don't know what to say after tragedy strikes, when the reality is that reaching out is all that matters.

Obviously, we have to take our cues from the people who are grieving. We can't be offended or back off just because we're rebuffed. And if grief seems to be evolving into depression, don't just dismiss it as part of the process. Make sure that they get help.

If you've had to deal with a recent loss during the holidays, please share with us the things that helped you get through those difficult days. What did your friends do that helped the most? Or if you've reached out to someone in a special way, tell us what you did.

Meantime, I wish you much joy, not only during the holidays, but for the coming year.

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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