Celebrating Christmas in the Smokies

Hello everyone! I hope 2021 has been a great adventure for everyone so far. One thing we want to be able to do with our travel and lifestyle series here at The Mathews Experience is discuss some of the great adventures and fun times we get to have. Of course, with the current climate, work, the seasons, and general lack of time, travel just hasn’t happened much so far this year. So, to remedy that, we want to take some time to talk about some of our past adventures. The most recent one we had took us to one of our favorite places in the world; the Great Smoky Mountains!

Amanda and I left from our mountain home around the middle of December and went to our mountain home away from home to celebrate the Christmas season and get a nice break from everyday life. The trip began with a fantastic drive, with plenty of great holiday music and fun conversation. Once we arrived in the Smokies we were immersed in the season, with lights on every available space they could be strung or placed, and holiday music coming from every speaker in existence. Despite not having a fresh blanket of snow on every surface we looked at, it was a Winter Wonderland.

While on this trip we found ourselves staying on the Gatlinburg parkway, so close to most of the attractions we were interested in we didn’t even move our vehicle to get to most places. Walking on the parkway was an enjoyable experience. There was quite a crowd most of the time, but the vast majority of people we saw were wearing their masks and making at least some effort to maintain distance from anyone they weren’t with. From the smells of food coming from every restaurant, to the sounds of Christmas, and the decorations surrounding us, we were definitely greeted by that mountain holiday feeling we were looking for.

While trying to cram as much Smokies experience as we could in our short trip, we decided to go to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and see the fish and fun there. We managed to arrive at a time when the aquarium was almost empty, and were one of the few customers wandering the aquatic wonderland. The whole place was decked out in holiday decorations, with ornaments and lights everywhere, even in several displays. It was very easy to take our time and look at all the various exhibits without being rushed – or being held back by crowds. This was, perhaps, one of the most peaceful aquarium trips either of us had ever experienced. The only down side being that we did not get to see the beautiful Green Sea Turtle, Sally, despite making our way through the Shark Tunnel twice. No matter! We saw plenty of awesome sea life, including a couple of baby Bonnethead sharks, so our trip was a great one.

Not to play favorites among the Ripley’s attractions nestled into the foothills of the Smokies, we also made our way to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum to see the wonderous exhibits there. This attraction also did not disappoint. Though a little more crowded, most everyone in attendance was sure to maintain a respectful distance and be cautious with their masks, which is something you really can’t be too careful with during such a time. The displays, however, were a little surprising in that some of the interactive ones were still uncovered and in working order. Some of the more hands-on ones were, of course, roped off or closed to the public, but there were several exhibits that had a button or switch you could use to turn this light on or uncover that bizarre fact, etc.. and several of them were nowhere near a sanitizing station. We also did not notice many employees coming by to clean as often as we would have expected, but we were more than prepared with our own wipes and sanitizers. None of that took away from our trip, but it was worth noting. The entire museum was enjoyable to us, particularly the large matchstick model of Hogwarts, and (for me at least) the shrunken head exhibits and the Devil and the Damsel rotating statue, based on the German epic poem, Faust.

The highlight of our trip, and reason behind it, was Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas. The day started with a nice breakfast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp and such a massive amount of food that much of it went home with us. The quality of the meal was very good, and the environment, made to look like a novelty lumber camp of the 1800s, was quite appealing to me. From there we made our way to the park to bask in the down-home holiday traditions of those amazing mountains. From the second we got to the entrance to the park we felt the spirit of the holidays and the happiness of the park everywhere. Despite the cold, we were in awe at the millions of lights and fun displays that adorned the buildings and trees, filled the windows, and lit the park with every color imaginable. We started our Dollywood experience with a classic ride through the mountains on the Dollywood Express. Once a free for all, now the conductor requires tickets to board the train, which you can get from an employee for pretty much any scheduled time through the day. We felt this was a definite benefit and a way to, hopefully, help people maintain distance by limiting the amount of people who climb aboard the old passenger train.

Following along behind that old steam engine, we got to see the massive park from all angles, catching glimpses of rides in progress, lights on display, even the newer developments that are almost always happening these days. It was a great, if frigid, way to start our Dollywood day. Most of the rides we wanted to go on were either down due to the weather, or had some very long lines, but we were able to cover nearly every inch of the park – and I’ve got the photos and video to show it! We were very impressed by the level of professionalism shown by the in-park retail locations and restaurants, many of which seemed to have one door designated as an entrance and another as an exit only, which kept the lines of customers flowing in one solid direction for the most part. We stayed in the park from opening (around 2) until after dark, loving the lights and the holiday celebration, but absolutely wore ourselves out walking around the park. Between grabbing a bite to eats at Red’s Drive-In and finishing our day by buying a little Dolly-approved merchandise, the park was absolutely fantastic. With the changes that take place from one year to the next, I think we will be happy to return year after year to see the wonderful Christmas displays and experience the warm Christmas spirit.

One of the last things I must mention about this trip was our great dinner at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. It had been years since either of us had ever been, but the show did not disappoint. This was one of the few places we ran into people who were a little reluctant to follow mask regulations, but it did not ruin our experience by any means. With a fantastic four-course Southern meal and a heart-warming show filled with positive messages and good, fun comedy, it was a great night for us. Overall, the trip was one that we will not soon forget and will hopefully only improve upon as years go by.

January is nearly over, which means we will hopefully have some warm weather to travel by soon, so keep your eyes open for more content. Follow our social media pages, and see the flashbacks of our past trips continue to roll out as we prepare for plenty of new adventures. In the meantime, feel free to share any great experiences you all have, or places you suggest we add to our list!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

Merry Christmas, everyone!! I know this year has been difficult, and the holidays can sometimes be stressful, but I hope you will all take the time to cherish the good things today and every day for the rest of this year – no matter what holidays you celebrate (or don’t).

Personally, I have had an excellent Christmas with my wife here in our snowy mountain home. I am beyond ecstatic that our first Christmas as husband and wife has been a white one and a happy one. All things considered, the blessings we have been able to enjoy this year have given me so much to be thankful for.

Our Christmas adventure has shown us a lot of excitement, a lot of smiles, and a lot of joy- and it isn’t over yet! Tomorrow will be yet another happy day of celebration for us. I know a lot of people haven’t been able to celebrate with their loved ones this year, and many traditions have been put on hold or altered to meet the current state of affairs, but I hope everyone has been able to draw a bit of joy from the holiday. With luck next year will bring a return to the things we have enjoyed in the past, hopefully with an added sense of appreciation and love for those traditions.

Whatever your holiday brought to you, however you were able to celebrate, I sincerely hope love and peace met each and every one of you. Do your best to enjoy the rest of this day and this last week of 2020!

Moonlight and the Holidays

Greetings, all! We are less than a week away from Christmas and several other end of the year holidays and life goes on here in the mountains. I have been writing much more lately than I did for several weeks throughout the earlier parts of the year, and I am very pleased to announce that my Appalachian werewolf novel, “Moonlight” is officially live and available for purchase internationally!

This novel, telling the story of a young man who moves to the Great Smoky Mountains and encounters a creature he never believed could exist, has been a pet project of mine for about five years. I wrote the original version of the novel in less than 3 weeks, putting pretty much everything else aside and immersing myself in the world I was working hard to create. I did research on countless versions of the werewolf legend, Appalachian myths and customs and so much more. To say I let the story take over my mind for a bit may be an understatement.

Once I had finished the book I decided to tear it apart and edit it from beginning to end before sending it to beta readers. Needless to say the story gained a life of its own. Over the last five years it has changed several times and has developed beyond my original idea into something that still surprises me on occasion. I am beyond excited to be able to present this novel to anyone who is interested, and I have set up a couple of different ways to purchase it. Of course, there is the classic Amazon purchase option here, which should allow anyone to purchase the book internationally. In addition to this, I have set up a secure purchase link that allows anyone with a U.S. address to purchase a copy of the book directly from me, with a chance to purchase either a plain or autographed copy. You can find both of those options here. I am also in talks with several local shops and vendors to host the book on their shelves and help promote local work, which absolutely thrills me. I will be happy to share more on that ASAP!

I can’t thank everyone enough for the immense outpouring of support I have gotten since announcing the release of this book. I hope you will all consider purchasing the book, and for those of you that do, I hope you enjoy the read. It is quite a journey, if I may say so. Please share this with anyone and everyone you think may be interested in such a book, and help get this one to an all new audience!

That Thankful Time of Year

Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from the Appalachian Mountains, everyone! That time of year where we are encouraged to give thanks and be vocal about the things that matter to us is once again upon us. I am well aware, of course, that this year looks very different from what we are used to. In many places, a holiday that usually involves multiple generations of family and friends gathered together, is being limited to less than 10 people under one roof, some local law enforcement threatening the penalty of fines or worse. Fear of illness, hatred, political unrest, or general unhappiness are rampant in tons of us, but we are still hopeful. We are still dreaming. We are still pushing forward. And we are still thankful.

That, to me, is the important part, the part that honestly makes me see a glimmer of hope for the world as a whole. Despite the things making us unhappy or scared regarding the simplest tasks now, many people are standing tall and shouting their thanks for the things they have. What’s more, in my area especially, I have seen an incredible influx of people willing to give to others. The current state of the world has left a lot of people uprooted, unstable, unable to provide for their families in a consistent way. In response to that, there have been a number of food drives and donations made to families who could use the extra help. That is simply phenomenal. In a world where so many people seem to have lost the basic understanding of care and love for their fellow man, to see so many people leaping at the chance to help the less fortunate is something that we should all be thankful for.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year for many people, but we all have plenty to be thankful for. Personally, this year has been the absolute happiest of my life. I got engaged and married to the woman of my dreams and I get to wake up next to the love of my life every day, I finally have a teaching job (something I have worked toward for nearly as long as I have been writing), I have started countless new works, been to some new places, I have a new book coming out very soon so keep your eyes open for that, and there is also a brand new AC/DC album to rock out to. Needless to say, I have plenty to be happy about. Does that stop me from being a little down and depressed at times? It absolutely does not, but it means I have plenty to focus on to bring me back from the darkness.

In essence, that is the importance of days like today. Thanksgiving encourages people to reflect on their lives and look at the many gifts and blessings they have in everday life. We see pop culture references of the classic nuclear family, the group of friends, even the non-conformist family group all gathered around sharing at least one thing they are thankful for, and it is fantastic. The idea that we can gather with our loved ones and truly share one of our reasons for being thankful and happy is one that warms my heart, even if this year sees us doing that virtually. In solidarity, I offer one of my own happinesseses, which is the the undying love and support from my wife. Knowing she is on my side has helped me through so much, and gives me incredible happiness. What is something you all are thankful for? Feel free to add a comment or send me a message to share.

One problem I do have with the way people interpret Thanksgiving is the limitation of one day of thankfulness in an entire year. There are 365 days we can use to be thankful, but only one of those is set aside for thanks. That irks me. Several places have taken to calling November a month of thanks, but the idea of just having one day to be thankful is ridiculous. I say we should find at least one reason to be happy every day. So, there’s my little challenge for you all. Find at least one reason to be happy every single day for the next year and see how much of a difference it makes. Keep your heads up and the positivity flowing, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Are You Present?

Hey there friends and fans. I hope Thanksgiving was a great time for everyone, and that December is starting with the cheeriest of moods. Personally I found myself meeting a ton of wonderful and important new people as well as enjoying some quiet celebration at home. Of course with the many changes in my life currently, as well as the impending holidays, my mind has been all over the place. I have found myself worrying a lot about the past, whether it be mistakes I’ve made or things I could have done differently, and the future. Yesterday I (after having discussions about it fairly regularly with someone very important) fully came to the realization that these thoughts are much more damaging than they are helpful.

I realized as I thought more about it that, rather than allowing me to make any real changes to improve anything, worrying about things either past or future was only taking me more and more from the present. Which takes away from the absolute joy I’m currently living, and opens the possibility of something drastic that could ruin the happiness entirely. It seems only natural, of course, to worry about our lives. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and there is nothing more human than rethinking and overthinking everything we ever have and ever could do. But it’s some of the most damaging behavior we can exhibit. Worrying about things puts an excess of stress on our minds and bodies, distracts us from enjoying the good things right in front of us, and often negatively effects our mood as well as our health, and I decided to put an end to it.

My life has absolutely taken some turns in the last few months, and I am currently happier than I have been in quite some time. Of course that inspires the insecure human impulses in my mind to question what I could have done differently earlier in life, and whether I’m good enough to maintain this level of happiness without screwing it up. But why? What point does any of that do? Absolutely none. Considering anything other than the present is not going to change what has happened, and can have some very negative impact on what’s coming. I came to the conclusion yesterday that life is just too good in its current state to allow myself even another moment of doubt about anything. Just living in the present would be the best thing possible. And the last 24 hours have proven to be quite impressive. I was able to live and laugh and love more freely in the last day, without worrying about things I have no control over. I had a long, spontaneous night filled with joy and adventure – not tainted by worry.

I felt even more emboldened by this decision this morning while listening to a reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” when realizing the father of Trascendentalism himself spoke on the matter more than 175 years ago. Emerson said:

“These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.”

It was like someone was speaking directly to my situation, my mind, my experience. Nothing could be more true. Man absolutely cannot accept happiness, or reach the true potential of his own happiness, if he consistently worries himself with past or future. The present holds our truth, our peace, our consistency. It is by living in the present that we truly come to terms with who and what we are. I have always been one to revisit past experiences and wonder what I could have, or should have, done differently. I have also always been a worrier, plagued by concerns with what might go wrong in an hour, or tomorrow, or a year from next week. But what good has it ever done me? None.

Feeling myself working hard to let go of these tendencies has been quite freeing over the last 24 hours. I can already feel a change in myself and my mentality. I feel more connected with the world around me, more affected by the things that are working to make me happy. I can see already how much time I’ve wasted by not being fully present in the present, and I don’t plan on going back to that. Focusing on the past doesn’t change it, but taking the experience gained and applying it to improving the present is a sure way to help the future. All that, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at memories with fondness, or even look to the future with some ideas on how to live it up. There’s nothing wrong with reflection or planning.

I look forward to living each moment I can in the present, focusing on living every day to the fullest. I’m going to disconnect from technology a little more, and give more attention to my surroundings. I plan on putting down the cell phone and looking at the sky more often, sparing social media likes in favor of smiling at those around me. Rather than looking back and saying ‘what if’ I will make an effort to strengthen my future by living bountifully in the present. Life is far too short to stress yourself with what may be, what may not be, or what could have been. Make it what you want. Live each moment like nothing before it has mattered and like there may not be another. Don’t waste your time worrying about anything. Live your life the way you want to live it and make sure, above all else, that you’re completely present.

I hope you all have luck making some of these same changes. Feel free to share any success stories, or any comments you want moving ahead. I hope the holiday season is good to everyone and I look forward to hearing from you all!

 

(Un)Dead in the Darkness

Hey there, friends and fans! Once again the power of All Hallow’s Eve is upon us! I hope this year is proving to be lovely and terrifying for each and every one of you. I’ve immersed myself in countless instances of new horror, and look forward to enjoying it for one more day before the world turns over to Christmas.

As a horror lover, I often consume all manner of spooky, scary, eerie, and dark stories. From ghosts and goblins to aliens and demons I have watched, read about, and listened to stories of it all. But through everything there is one creature that has captured my interest above all others. I’m speaking, of course, about the vampire.

Cultures the world over have told tales of the blood or life-energy draining creature that comes to us from the grave, spreading its chilling affliction. Sometimes these creatures are described as spirits who come and slowly pull life from the living, while others present us the image of corpses who dig from their earthy beds to consume the driving force of their dead relatives. Still others present us with the image that has become synonymous with the word. A pale skinned, dark clothed figure with menacing eyes and fangs long enough to pierce the throats of their living victims. These creatures rise in the night and drain the blood from unsuspecting mortals, often leaving death and infection in their wake.

Something about this creature has grabbed the imaginations of writers, music and film-makers, readers, and even avid television watchers for centuries. The most famous vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has appeared in more than 200 instances of film and television alone. And we still can’t get enough.

But why? What is it about these immortal beings bent on taking our lives, our will, our mortality that makes us fascinated?

Earlier this year I  had a chance to sit down with Dacre Stoker, great grand nephew of the infamous Dracula author for a discussion on the latest Stoker contribution to the Dracula legacy, the novel Dracul, written with author J.D. Barker. Stoker had much to say on the reason vampires have remained such a popular legend throughout history.

“The vampire was actually created out of something that everybody in the world believes in or thinks at some time: and that is what happens in the afterlife,” Stoker said.

In times of death, disease, famine, growing scientific belief, and general open-mindedness, the legend of the vampire ran rampant and explained a lot of horrific death as well as the spread of illness. Stoker said he felt one thing that contributed to the power of the legend was the knowledge of the time.

People weren’t aware of how illness worked. Germs and viruses were knowledge far beyond the most advanced medicine. When an explanation came along that gave a possible insight into the death of a large number of people, it took root.

The legend of the vampire, in addition to help explain violent death and illness, was also increasingly appealing for those examining mortality.

“What if there was immortality,” Stoker said, noting that this question alone makes the appeal of the vampire grow exponentially.

In literature and film there are few creatures as versatile as the vampire. Even in the Anne Rice saga of bloodsucking creatures of the night, there are class systems and different beliefs and ways of life. From the high class vampires that blend into sophisticated society to those who live in tombs under graveyards, almost no two vampires are the same.

Personally I feel part of the appeal of the vampire is not only the fact that they do have such versatility, but what they stand for. For millennia humans  have been terrified of dying, death, and what lies beyond. The vampire stands as a doorway to that question. On the one hand, the vampire can dole death daily as a means to survive, literally taking the lives of others to continue their own, but they can also provide immortality to those they choose. This almost reversal of a divine power is enticing to anyone who has ever pondered the end of life and what else may exist. Stoker said this thought of death is one of the reasons vampires will always be a part of culture.

“It’s so deep rooted in our psyche, that quest to find out what happens after we’re dead. That’s why it [the vampire] never does go away.”

So, as the spooky season comes to a close over the next few hours (or days, depending on your interest in multi-cultural views), I invite you to ponder the vampire. Is it a cunning, shadowy demon, hiding in the misty ruins of a graveyard, or is it a suave and charming socialite who attends the highest social functions and feeds only on the upper class? Whether you fear a spirit who feeds on energy or a fanged physical being that slips into open windows in the night, I advise you to be on the lookout tonight, when the veil between worlds is thinnest. Make sure the window latches tight, hold tight to your crucifix as you cross the darkened dooryard after work and, whatever you do, don’t invite someone you don’t know to cross your threshold.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Another Year, Another Path

2018 is winding down as we speak, everyone. From impossible situations, terrible storms, award-winning movies and novels, and countless memories – good and bad – this year has left many of us spinning.

My own year has shown me many things, about myself and others. As difficult as some of it has been, I do believe it has left me stronger. I’ve learned how much I can handle, what I do in unexpected situations, and a little more about who I am and who I want to be. I’ve grown quite a bit over the last 365 days and I can honestly say that there are days where I can’t believe everything that has happened since January 1st. It seems like there’s no way the year could have been so long, and it seems like half of it must have happened to someone else. But the lessons that year has taught me will never fade.

I have definitely learned not to take anything for granted. I’m blessed beyond measure, and I am determined to recognize that and remember it on the hard days. I’ve also learned that, when I do have hard days, my family is more than willing to be there for me. Every experience I’ve had this year has brought with it a new lesson, a new bit of information, a new bit of clarity about who I am and who I want to be.

That’s the real point behind it all, I think. Life presents us with millions – billions – of situations, if we’re lucky, and we have to learn from them. Each notch in our belt, each calendar page that falls, gives us an opportunity to learn, to grow, to become more than we were before we experienced it. The real test of life is whether or not we learn from these attempted lessons. Do we listen as closely as we can to those attempts at making us stronger, better people? For that matter, how much of the message do we retain from day to day and how much do we let slip by us?

Those are the questions each of us has to examine, especially when we’re facing any form of hardship. Knowing that every problem, every challenge, every bad mood and tough situation we face is meant to make us stronger, better, more adapted and able, is one of the most important things we can take with us into every new day. If we look at every day like a chance to learn about ourselves, the world around us, then we’ll quickly find that there’s nothing out there we can’t handle. Personally, I often remind myself that God won’t give us more than we can take. That idea in itself is a powerful way to renew your strength on a rough day. But whether that is your personal reminder or not, one of the best ways to make sure we’re getting the most our of our lives is to learn to accept the things we can’t always change. Every situation we face is meant to help us grow and develop new skills and abilities.

So as we enter 2019, remember to always keep your eyes open for a new chance to learn, a new opportunity to be more than you were the day before. I know one of the most cliche and ridiculed things about entering a new year is setting resolutions. Often, we set our resolutions for renewed health, weight loss, new jobs, etc… But how long do they last? A week, maybe a month? It’s almost human nature that by at least the dawn of Spring, our resolutions are little more than collectors of dust in our lives, forgotten or abandoned because of the everyday world around us. So I decided to change it up a little. Rather than a long standing resolution that is almost certain to be lost in the clutter, I’ve built an ever-changing list of accomplishments for the year, a bucket list for 2019 that will be at the forefront of my decisions and my life. As I cross each obstacle off my list I will be that much more true to myself. I will be that much stronger and that much more accomplished, if only to myself. As I enter the new year, I have many ideas of what I want to accomplish, what I want to see happen, where I want to be 365 days from now. And I know that it’s up to me to make it happen.

The same goes for all of us. We can all be anything we choose to be. We can accomplish anything we attempt. In just a year, we can make our lives whatever we want it to be. It just takes making an effort and not letting anything set us back.

So what do you guys want to accomplish? What lessons do you hope to learn, and what obstacles do you want to overcome? Feel free to leave me comments or reach out to me another way. I’d love to see what you guys want to change this year. As the last few hours of 2018 wind down, I look forward to the beginning of a new year, and I wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year, an amazing 2019, and hundreds of memorable opportunities that will leave you happier than ever.

The Holiday Season

It is officially the Holiday Season, guys! Halloween has passed us by and we’re well into the second week of November. Less than three weeks stand between us and Thanksgiving, and just over a month and a half await before Saint Nick makes his way around the world to visit us all in jolly peace. As I’ve stated before, the holiday season is my absolute favorite time of year. Of course, if I’m considering every holiday that I love, that means my favorite time of year is from October through the first week of July, but that’s beside the point. The typical holiday season is the focus of this post. The glorious time of year that brings us from All Hallows’ Eve, through Thanksgiving and Christmas, right into the start of a brand new year – which is really just a reset so we can do it all again, right?

Of course. Many people share my love of this time of year, with decorations galore and festivity so thick you can cut it with a knife, but are we celebrating quite like we should? It’s no secret to many of you that it seems like the older you get, the faster the years go by. It seems like just yesterday I was a senior in high school, when realistically my ten year reunion is next year. Yeah, that reminder hit me today. Talk about feeling old, but that’s life. In all it’s fast-paced glory. And what more could we ask for? We’re a species that is always looking to tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. But is that really a good thing? Our holidays can be great for us, but often we find ourselves thinking of the cleanup while everyone is tearing into gifts, instead of just letting the paper build up. We think about how to improve next year’s celebration before this year is even over. But, what’s the best way to improve the moment?

Be in it.

Slow down. Take it all in. Let the magnificent fun of the celebration seep into your very bones, and just … be there. I’ve always been one to enjoy the present, look to the future and remember the past. I’ve also, unfortunately, been known to compare present celebrations to those past, which can be dangerous and vastly unproductive. As much as I would like to caution everyone against this behavior, I can’t pretend I won’t likely be doing the same thing this year. This will be my family’s first holiday season without my grandmother. No matter what was going on in the world, she was the first person to make sure the holidays were planned for, often going above and beyond in every way she could, regardless of her own health or situation. My family has always been one that doesn’t always find it easy for everyone to get together at once, but the holidays always gave us that. My grandmother would plan for weeks on end to hold our celebrations on a day that would see as many of us as possible under the same roof. It meant the world to her.

As the holidays she loved most approach us with an ever-quickening pace, I want to hold on to the spirit of the season, the reason for the season, and the amazing way I always felt during this time of year growing up. Thay is the best way, in my opinion, to really enjoy the season.

The main reason I wanted to present this post goes back to what I said earlier – slow down. We are all guilty of that “tomorrow” attitude, being so worried about what the future holds that we can’t stop to take a breath and enjoy things right where we are. I’m quite guilty of this myself at times. Whenever I start to slide into that habit, I try to remind myself of the bible verse:

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” – Matthew 6:34

Of course, there, Jesus was cautioning us about worrying about money, food, and the like. He was telling us that God will provide these things for us, because we are his beloved children. I know that was the meaning behind this verse, but I do believe it can be applied to everything. Don’t spend your day off wondering what the following day of work will bring you. Don’t keep yourself up at night worrying about the morning commute. Don’t squander the opportunity to love and celebrate with your family this holiday season, worrying about things that are or are not going to come regardless of your concern.

When your family is right in front of your face, put aside everything else. Live in the moment. Make memories, instead of comparisons or regrets. As the holidays approach us, I think we should all take a moment to prepare ourselves for the amazing time we can have this year if we just celebrate the moment. Personally, I plan to take every moment in stride, enjoying my family, friends, and loved ones with every second. I do hope you’ll all join me in that resolution (oh no, it’s almost time for those again, too!) and make an effort to live in the moment this holiday season. There will never be another today, but there may be any number of tomorrows. Let them deal with themselves. Instead of wondering about that hypothetical future moment, let’s keep our brains trained on the moment we’re in. After all, it’s the only one we’re certain we’re going to have.

In light of the holiday season, I’d love to hear about the traditions you guys hold dear. I think as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach I’m going to write a post or record a podcast talking about the traditions that have helped make my own holidays so memorable. In the meantime, I thank each and every one of you all for reading my blog and listening to my podcast. If you can think of anyone that would enjoy either or both of them, I invite you to share away. I’m always happy to reach a new mind and enjoy new ideas, as well. Feel free to share this post, and share your ideas and traditions with me, either in the comments or by going to my contact or social media pages. I love hearing from you guys, and I appreciate the feedback more than you all know. I hope you had an amazingly spooky Halloween, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Until next time, friends and fans.

The featured image for this post is one of the dual Christmas trees in Bristol, Virginia from 2016.

Freedom reigns

Greetings friends and fans! I know some of you are in the U.S. and some aren’t, and I apologize to anyone who finds this post irrelevant – but Happy Independence Day!

We’ve circled the sun one more time and we have arrived back at July 4th, celebrating the Independence of the United States and the freedom that grants me the ability to sit here tapping away at the keyboard. Thanks to the amazing sacrifices the masses have made to provide this country with its independence I can wake up in the morning and put on whatever clothes I choose. I can sit down and write my novels about whatever topic I want. I can listen to whatever music I choose to listen to, watch what I choose, sleep when I choose. I can be a part of whatever religion I feel most drawn to, and it is my absolute right.

Independence Day is, for those of you that haven’t thought about it, an incredible opportunity for us, as U.S. citizens, to just enjoy the country we live in. I’ve always been fascinated by the feeling surrounding the 4th of July. It’s always a great surge of patriotic movies, music and ideas. Barbecues dot the backyards and fireworks blaze through the air, painting the sky a myriad of colors to stun the eye.

I can remember the huge town gatherings when I was growing up. We would eat a great “all-American” dinner of burgers and hot dogs and gather near the town high school with family and friends and wait for the show to begin. The summer evening would grow cooler as the darkness spread over the sky, chasing the last of the sun’s rays across the world. Great conversations would ensue as we all prepared to enjoy a genuine display of aerial explosions. And it rarely disappointed.

Even now, as a 27 year-old man, those memories stand out in my mind as being great inspirations to me. I’ve always found myself feeling an exceeding passion for the written word around this time of year. Summer is such an amazing time for me. It’s a time to get out and explore the world around you, to embrace the extended daylight hours and enjoy the warmer nights. I’ve always been a traveler at heart. I love getting myself out there and experiencing the world in new ways, feeling the loving touch of nature as much as possible. One thing that I will never be able to get enough of is just the feeling of being in the fresh air, the amazing comfort that I feel just walking outside.

Some of you who have read my work know that I often try to convey that in my writing. Many of my characters feel that same connection with nature, some yearning the touch of a cool breeze above all else. To be able to put my work out there and put myself and my love of nature into it is one of my greatest desires. Obviously, I connect quite a bit with music and the night. These are things that make my words flow in all new ways, and recently I’ve found myself in a situation where I can’t always embrace those things. Working a night shift can definitely keep you from being able to celebrate the night. As much as I hate to admit it, I have felt it change my writing and my life as a whole. It’s something that I, so far, have had difficulty adjusting to.

This Independence Day, though, I want to work on changing that. I want to bring the word independence full circle and apply it to my life in new ways. I have allowed my mind to be too occupied with things that are not my writing, my purpose, my destiny. And it’s time to bring it back. I think I let myself disconnect for a time after sending out my first round of queries (which, honestly, may not have been terrible), but no author has ever gotten his or her work out there by not writing. So this independence day, I’ll move away from the things that hinder me and I will set my writing free once more.

I’m going to embrace summer and move back into the realm of my own creation as often as possible. After all, in a world known for the terrible bits of reality we have to face every day, a little fiction is exactly what we need sometimes to brighten things, right?

So that’s that, guys. I hope you all have an awesome Independence Day, with great family, friends, food, and fireworks. The best 4 f’s out there, right? What sort of memories do you cherish on the 4th of July? What plans do you have this year? Feel free to reach out and leave your comments, no matter where you’re from. Even if you don’t celebrate U.S. Independence Day, do you still find the same inspiration from those awesome summer nights? I’d love to hear what the warm season means to everyone else.

 

The Gift of the Magi

As 2017 winds down, it is time to post the final review of the year!! I hope you all had an absolutely wonderful Christmas (or whichever of the awesome year-end holidays you celebrate) and made some incredible memories. Personally, my Christmas was celebrated a couple of days early with my family and my in-laws and many great memories were made. I am also ecstatic to say that I received a most excellent new leather jacket and a new laptop that has come in wonderfully handy in working on my latest project, a fantasy novel like nothing I’ve ever attempted. But the details of that will come in a later post!

Today we are talking about the much beloved story “The Gift of the Magi.” This story has long held a special place in my heart and the hearts of many due to its strong moral suggestions and the selfless acts presented by our characters, Jim and Della. What instantly strikes me about the story is O. Henry’s nonchalant way of presenting a view that life is basically little more than a series of sniffles, sobs and smiles “with sniffles predominating.”

That statement is an incredibly powerful view of everyday life, and its cynicism makes the actions of the characters all that much more memorable and interesting. Jim and Della, of course, are near to celebrating Christmas, and both have sacrificed something very dear to them in order to help make the thing dear to the other more beautiful. I find it most enthralling that O. Henry makes Della of such a pure attitude that, when reflecting on the watch clasp, she does not say anything about the gift making James more presentable or proud – she instead says the item is “nearer to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.”

To me that is the worth the world. Even in their poverty – having to sell their precious items to give each other gifts – Della still sees the worth of humanity and love over the material world. She is not at all concerned with the way James looks with his leather watch clasp, but instead wants something that is worthy of being attached to Jim’s watch.

A similar mention of humanity’s worth over the material comes from Della describing her hair. It is said that, if given the chance, she would dangle her hair out the window in order to depreciate the Queen of Sheba’s jewels. I absolutely love this. O. Henry presents us with a pair of characters who live life with an immense appreciation for simplicity. Jim and Della literally sell their precious things – Jim’s watch and Della’s hair – in order to give the other a gift to celebrate the possessions they love.

An act like this – a selfless sacrifice made in order to benefit the happiness of another – is a gift that we should all be so lucky to offer someone in this lifetime. Indeed, the author finds the sacrifice such a high honor that he compares Jim and Della to the Wise Men who crossed great distances to bring gifts to the Christ child, the original magi. It is the acts of selflessness, of love, of sacrifice that give us all hope. O. Henry knew this centuries ago and we, as a literary people, have been reading about it ever since.

I don’t have any negative comments to make about this short work. I could dwell on the magic of sacrifice and love for hours, but I think the most important thing to say is that we, as a people, should remember to always find more value in humanity and love than in the material world. We should always find ways to express our love to each other selflessly and stop putting so much value on things. In the end, it’s more often the love we shared that we will be remembered by, not the things we had.

Anyway, that’s the last review of 2017, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you’ve enjoyed this year of my book club, and I look forward to revisiting the whole thing next year. As always, I’d love to have your suggestions for future reads. I hope you all have a great New Year’s Eve and Day, and be sure to go into 2018 with high hopes, plenty of love and a smile on your face!!