Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Broads of a Feather – Year in Review!! By C.P. Stringham

Top: Our first meeting. Bottom: Our talk on
being Indie Authors.
I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better blog partner than my cohort Robin Janney. We gel. We relate. We keep each other motivated—and, honestly, I wasn’t going to be able to maintain a weekly blog without her. Best relationship I have ever had. We’ve never argued or even disagreed slightly. We are “Yes!” women. Dare I even admit we finish each other’s sentences/chat statements sometimes?! Seriously! She gets a lightbulb moment and then mine turns on and vice versa. It’s writer’s kismet! On January 8th, we will be celebrating our One Year Anniversary!!! Happy Anniversary, Robin! (Picture me flailing my arms Kermit the Frog-style and spinning around.)

It has been a great year for us at the Broads of a Feather blog. We have followers! And not just nationally, but internationally!! Hello to our readers from the UK, Poland, Germany, the Ukraine, Turkey, and Canada! I am delighted to have you join us with so much regularity. You never realize the reach of your voice online until you get a glimpse at your blog stats. Thank you for visiting with us weekly!
Not only did our blog start a year ago, but Robin and I got to finally meet each other in person at the Spalding Memorial Library on Saturday, February 1, 2014. Then we met up there again when we were invited back on April 5, 2014 to give a talk as Indie Authors. Even though we were scared to death, we managed to relax and have fun. Talking books and writing is always fun—even if it’s in front of strangers. Between the two of us, we published three books in 2014. Robin’s much-anticipated sequel to Farmer’s Daughter, Ring Of Fire – Book Two of the Country Music Collection, and books two and three of my Ellis Springs Series; A Moment’s Rest and Rest in Peace, came out.
Three books in 2014!
While Robin was hampered by health issues with her foot for several months, she managed to knock off her sequel before the year ended. Nothing like being on medical leave from your day job in order to concentrate on your work-in-progress. She’s back to work, but surgery is in her near future as well as another leave of absence. Can we expect Book Three, Robin? As for me, 2015 means I need to buckle down and finish two books, Overcoming Sarah and Objects at Rest – Ellis Spring Series Book Four. I’m finished with senior photo sessions, the holidays are over, and my daughter is finished with college tours. If I can manage to stay off of social media (Damn you, Facebook!), I just may manage to get some writing done.

News headlines ranged from triumph to tragedy. Thirty-six states now permit same sex marriage. ISIS beheaded hostage James Foley an American journalist. Two slogans rang out reminding us that America still has a long ways to go in race relations: “Black lives matter,” and “I can’t Breathe.” The entertainment world lost actor/comedian/humanitarian Robin Williams to suicide and our nation mourned as we recalled his most memorable roles for this funny man truly touched our lives. Unfortunately, tragedy seems to happen all too frequently and consumes our minds. But we persevere. It’s mankind’s nature. We take the good and the bad and hope that each experience helps to shape a positive future.

With that said (and I think this is my shortest blog post ever), cheers to you, 2014, and a hearty welcome to you, 2015! We can’t wait to see where you will take us next. Robin and I would like to wish all of our faithful readers a Happy New Year! 

We'd love to hear what your favorite memory is from 2014. Feel free to post in our comments section! 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Surviving the Holidays by Robin Janney

Here is it the day after Christmas, also known as Boxing Day in some countries.

I did have a post mostly written for this week, but I decided I didn't like it so I scrapped it and decided to start over.

A lot of people have had a hard holiday season.  Some were dealing with grieving the loss of  loved ones from earlier in the year, others dealing with divorce, others in our area still dealing with the blow of losing their homes in a block fire.  I even saw where a man lost his life late Christmas day in a car accident.  Not exactly a "merry" Christmas for everyone.

But even when things are good, sometimes the holidays can be hard to handle.  Especially when you start adding to the family.  And when you marry, it's hard for you and your spouse to be in two different places at once.  Although my family only celebrates Christmas and New Years, I imagine some of our issues must be somewhat universal.  Usually, if we do it right, Christmas can be celebrated on more than one day...but that's not how it worked out this year.  So my husband and I spent a few hours with his family. then spent a few hours with my family.

It was a good day.

Honest, I had nothing but coffee to drink
at this point.  Maybe some Pepsi.
Crowded at my mothers, but we managed.  We fit 11 people in my mother's small trailer.  Although my one brother left shortly after we got there to go to his second party, so then it was only 10.  Thankfully this group wasn't all adults, 4 were little boys.  Sadly I didn't get any pictures there, and the only one that turned out at my in-laws was the selfie I took and the one I took of the one dog.  I enjoyed the ribbons on the packages almost as much as I did the presents itself!

And I didn't do too bad eating on what I considered my "free" day.  I've been doing a good job at lowering my weight and my blood sugar recently, but decided it wouldn't hurt me to loosen up a bit for one day and enjoy the rich food.  My sugar was acceptable this morning, still a little high but well within a good range.  Of course, we brought some leftovers home along with some desserts so I'll have to be careful the next few days not to continue the trend.  I'm sure my husband will have no trouble helping me out by eating most of it for me, even though he ought to be watching his food intake as well.

Today is Boxing Day in some parts of the world.  My company gave today to us off because of how close Christmas was to the weekend, but we'll make up for it by working tomorrow.  Which is why my second cup of coffee today is decaf.  Hopefully the small amount of caffeine in it won't be enough to keep me up too late tonight - 4:30 AM comes way too early.  I like having two days off at Christmas though, it's far more relaxing.  Too bad we can't celebrate Boxing Day here in America as well!

Since New Years is now just around the corner, it's also a time to look forward.  I don't do resolutions anymore, but I do set goals for myself.  Like getting a real social media strategy worked out for the new year; hopefully that will eliminate late posts like this one.  One gift my mother gave me was a pocket 2 year planner.  I plan on using that to map out blog posts.  All subject to change should something interesting and blogworthy happens in the world at large or in my own little corner of it.  One thing I've noticed is that on my own blog, the more personal posts get more views than those on other topics.  I also plan to have book number 3 finished.  My upcoming surgery on my foot should help with that.  I also need to do some more research on writing non-fiction and biographies as I've had one friend ask me to write her story.  I really have very little idea on how to write non-fiction for anything longer than a blog post or essay, and know even less about biographies.  But I'm a smart girl and I'll get it figured out.

What holidays do you celebrate this time of year and how do you celebrate?  I love hearing about different traditions!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Season of Giving Back: Community Service

A little holiday fun with my very willing husband.   Who
doesn't love National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation!?!
It’s so easy to get caught up in the holiday moment. You can get lost in all the myriad of tasks you need to do and the places you need to go; decorating, finding or putting up a tree, gift shopping, wrapping presents, baking, festivals, family dinners, and work parties. If you have younger children, it also involves school concerts and parties, even a visit to Santa as well. At times, it can be truly overwhelming being stretched so thin. As some of our Broads of a Feather readers know, I worked in retail management once upon a time. Back then, I’d have to work those extended holiday mall hours and deal with some pretty rude customers who waited until the last minute to shop for gifts. They couldn’t understand why we no longer had the size or color they wanted when they were in a month earlier. Blamed us instead of accepting their failure to purchase the item when it was in stock. I’d come home late, after closing out registers and cleaning up a trashed store, totally keyed up from the day, and crack open a bottle of wine to relax. It was the only way to come down enough to go to bed—only to get up early to open the store and start it all over again. It was rather difficult maintaining a positive Christmas spirit while working in retail. I did my best for the sake of my children. When I took my early retirement to be a stay-at-home with my youngest, I decided to make up for my years of poor enthusiasm. I went from Bah-humbug Mom to Martha Stewart Saves Christmas Mom. And my girls loved it!
Family favorites: making cinnamon ornaments, watching Elf, and Christmas tree shopping! 

I’m having a difficult time getting into the Christmas mood this year. I’ve really tried, but to no avail. Money is beyond tight and my family and I have had to cut back on our Christmas shopping list. Those closest to us are getting mostly homemade gifts. Others, we’ve had to explain to them that we are unable to do our normal gift exchange with them. At least this year. I guess I’ve allowed our financial shortcomings to influence my mood this season. We’ve decorated our house inside and out. The atmosphere screams Christmas, but we’re still lacking the holiday spirit. My oldest told me she hates Christmas and my husband admitted to me today that he is feeling completely blah. We’ve attended a Christmas parade, the Near Westside’s Homes for the Holidays tours, bought our tree, and went to see The Nutcracker and Junie B. Jingle Bells Batman Smells with complimentary tickets. In all honesty, we should be having the “Hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny f*cking Kaye!” like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. We should be thankful. I know it. As my husband likes to remind us, we have heat, an income, a roof over our heads, groceries, our health, and our family. And that’s what really matters when it comes down to it all.
This year, Kenzie put together a gingerbread house kit and did a lovely job! Last year, Sydney made Christmas "crackers" for everyone to open before dinner. One of my favorite ornaments--a gift from our friend Jamie! IMAGINE - John Lennon
I guess my funk stems from the fact that I miss simpler times. Christmas has changed so much. Yes, I embrace technology as much as the next person. But I miss how things used to be and I think that's taken a bigger toll on my mood this year than a lack of funds. On-line shopping. Corporate retail that's made mom and pop stores extinct. Stores open on Thanksgiving!! What the hell is up with that?!? I remember when it was hard to find a gas station open on Thanksgiving. I know because I always had to leave my parents' house, shortly after our family dinner, for my four-hour drive back to Southeastern PA. That was so I could be up early to work on Black Friday. I had to fill my car's tank up after arriving in my parents' town on Wednesday evening. One year I forgot  and had to wait until I was on the Turnpike to refuel at the Hickory Run Service Plaza. I think I cruised in on vapors that time. I know I was white-knuckling it for the last five miles. My gas light began flashing!! It had never flashed before. Do you remember giving and receiving homemade gifts? Neighbors visited and brought baked goodies with them. Community folks went around caroling. That never happens anymore. We have flash mobs in crowded malls which takes the personal touch out of it. Caroling allows you to visit home-bound elderly folks and brightening their evening with some Christmas cheer. My grandparents loved receiving carolers! I just wish we could restore some of our old holiday traditions. The commercialism KILLS me. 
Lesley and Sydney waving to cars during their donation drive. Best friends since kindergarten. Our friend, Caitlin, dropping off supplies and Dunkin' Donuts beverages for the girls. Yay, Cait!!! It was a damp and chilly day. 
 A little of my faith was restored this past weekend when my daughter and her best friend fulfilled the requirements of their mandated senior project. Since they are both animal lovers, they put together a donation drive for our local Humane Society. They advertised it using Facebook. On Sunday, they set up outside of our house to accept supplies and monetary donations. They decided not to solicit outside of a store like beggars, guilting folks into donating. They wanted people to stop because they wanted to help. For six hours, they held signs and waved to cars. It was something to pass the time as they waited for items to be dropped off. Complete strangers stopped to put money into their donation jar. They raised $106.00 that way. Friends and family mailed checks to support their project. Many dropped off supplies and others made arrangements to drop things off throughout the week. Even one of their teachers from middle school has used her Facebook page to spread word about their donation drive. We’re meeting on Wednesday to collect from her. I love the fact that my daughter is doing something to give back to the community. Supporting a cause she feels strongly about. She told me it’s a well known fact that many students fake their way through their senior projects and that they don’t get caught because there are too many kids for the school to personally verify the validity of their projects. It’s a shame really. Community service is very rewarding. The only cost for the girls was to pay for poster board, a thick Sharpie, and their time. I’m so proud of them for doing something to make a difference. Something all of our youth should aim to do. Adults, too.

My goal was to make our Monday blog post deadline this week. I may just squeak by this time! I hope each and every one of our readers are enjoying the holiday season. I wish you all the Happiest of New Years, too!! To steal a line from my favorite elf, Buddy, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Some of my Favorite YouTubers

I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I can lose hours on YouTube watching videos.  It can be almost as bad as reading a good book, only instead of "One more chapter" it's "Just one more video."  I shouldn't be watching them right before bed, because the screen of the phone gives off the wrong kind of light to induce sleep, even with the brightness lowered, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

I have several people I have subscribed to, and I thought I would share a few of my favorites with you.

WatchMojo.com I have no idea who the people behind this channel, but they "Top 10" all sorts of goodies in pop cultures.  "Top 10 Movie Depictions of the Future" which I almost embedded; "Top 10 Superhero Duels" was another I enjoyed.  They've also done videos in Gaming, Wrestling, Commercials.  They are open to suggestions from their audience.  I love to watch for the movie clips, even if I don't always agree with their ordering of the Top 10.

Another YouTuber who does Top 10 lists is Matthew Santoro (his second channel is here).  He comes up with some of the most interesting facts to bend your mind. Like "The Top 10 Creepiest Gifts Ever Given", "The Top 10 Fictional Places That Actually Exist" (See below) and "10 Craziest Laws in the World."  He has a sense of humor I appreciate, and obviously puts time into his videos.  He has recently released some personal ones stating that there are going to be changes coming to his channel, but that's no big deal.  Whatever changes he makes, his true fans won't mind a bit.

Another I like to watch is CinemaSins.  No movie is without flaws, sins, and they show no favoritism in pointing them out.  They can be a bit harsh sometimes, but watching their vids has actually helped me improve my writing.  They've even done a video on their own sins!  Unfortunately, it has had an effect on how I watch movies now...kind of like how reading as a writer changes how you read.  Not completely though.  I still love a lot of the movies they've tallied the sins in.  Divergent, Hunger Games, and even older movies like the Wizard of Oz.

The last one I'd like to mention is Brittney T.V  She's a delightful young woman whose videos are full of energy and positiveness.  She lives in British Columbia, and I'm friends with her on Facebook.  She is very good at encouraging people, whether it is through her vlogs, or her Facebook page.  She also interviews differently celebrities, such as Cameron Radice and Aaron Lamont - a budding film director and an author, respectively.

The video of hers I'm sharing is one of those encouraging ones.  Like she talks about, my life isn't exactly the way I thought it was going to be growing up.  It's had a lot of twists and turns I never counted on.  And while my books aren't exactly taking off like I thought, it doesn't matter because I am where and when I am supposed to be and my books are out there, a lasting legacy long after I'm gone.

Unless the internet crashes.


You can purchase my new book Ring of Fire at these links: Kindle and Paperback

Saturday, December 6, 2014

'Tis the Season! By C.P. Stringham

My homemade evergreen decorations! 
'Tis the season and I’m behind for my turn at the Broads of a Feather blog. I know. Big surprise! I was on time a few times. It escapes me exactly when those instances occurred, but they did. I could tell you I've been sick or busy writing or away on some secret spy mission—like I live a double life. Only I haven’t been doing any of those. It seems like life is always on fast-forward this time of year. Since it’s Saturday night and my post is a week late, I’m going to keep it short.
After finishing up my write-ups for the Near Westside Neighborhood Association Homes for the Holidays tour brochure, I started pulling out our totes of Christmas decorations from the garage. Instead of using string lights and such for the exterior of our 1950’s home, I decided to make my own primitive decorations using fresh evergreen. I spent two days crafting garland using white pine and made several wreaths. Last year, I made the garland for our small front porch and added simple deep red burlap accent ribbons. This year, I went grander. God only knows what I’ll concoct for next year! I just love teaching myself new ways to be creative. When I started making the garland and posted pictures on Facebook, my friends began posting the same horse head wreath picture, on both my wall and my daughter's, telling me I should make it. After the fifteenth posting, I decided to make my own version using real evergreens and hung the finished product outside of my equestrian daughter’s window. She came home from school and told me she loved it! Ironically, even after I posted a picture of my wreath, I still have folks posting the other wreath! Either they didn’t like my version or they missed the picture of the finished product.
I also can say that I’ve taken my last batch of senior photos. I’ve had the pleasure of taking pictures for several of my daughter’s classmates—kids I’ve known since kindergarten. Add to those sessions a nice engagement photo session with our friend’s daughter and her future husband. I take a ton of pics so it takes me a long time going through them. I delete bad shots right off the bat. No sense giving them space on my computer. Then I go through and pick my favorites. Not always an easy task. I cover blemishes, bleach teeth, and add my watermark. Sometimes I crop because I love close ups!! My favorite part is taking the edited shot and then trying different finishes. I may take one photo and finish it ten different ways. I like giving my clients lots of options. Thank you, Lesley, Shannon, Colton, Austin, Brittany, and Kory for allowing me the privilege of capturing a very important milestone in your lives! I still have Kory’s edits to finish and then I’m done!
Last Saturday night, we headed to Corning, NY for their annual Parade of Lights that kicks off their Crystal City Christmas celebration. We normally go to their Sparkle Christmas evening the following Saturday, but couldn’t due to Sydney’s Winter Ball at school.  So, we opted to attend the parade and Syd’s friend, Lesley, joined us for the evening. We arrived two-and-a-half hours early—as was suggested to us and totally unnecessary. To waste time, we walked six blocks for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, stopped by the outdoor ice skating rink, and went through stores on Market Street. The parade got under way at 6:30. Long after we were frozen solid and Syd found out why it isn’t a good idea to chug two large coffees back to back. Needless to say, my husband left with her to find a nearby restroom and they missed Santa’s float at the end of the parade.
Today, Saturday the 6th, we went as a family to the Clemens Center and watched The Nutcracker ballet. Quite a lovely production and, if Tchaikovsky doesn’t put you in the mood for Christmas, there’s no hope for you! Still humming it as I type this blog. Sunday is the holiday home tours. Looks like we’ll get our Christmas tree next weekend. Not enough time left in this one.
 I hope all of our Broads of a Feather readers are enjoying their holiday season!!