What Makes a Good Story Great?

While in the midst of creating a new novel, I recently found myself struggling with the purpose of my story. Was I writing it to educate readers, to entertain them, or to transport them to another place during a difficult time in our lives? Perhaps, in a strange way, I was attempting to do all three without even being aware of it–without concentrating on the basic steps required for good storytelling. And what, say you, was the final result? A longer writing and editing process that no author wants to endure.

So, what’s the fastest way to create a memorable, page-turning story? Here is my simple answer. Years ago, while researching the secret to successful writing, I came to the conclusion that the key ingredient to creating great stories is constant practice. While I maintain this habit on a regular basis, I’ve come to the conclusion that the nature and unanticipated behavior of my characters often dictates the eventual outcome of their stories in any given situation. To further clarify, I have absolutely no control over my endings while I’m writing them. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining or well written.

As readers, we seem to be satisfied when stories achieve certain effects, such as moving us emotionally, inspiring us, and encouraging us to think outside the box. With the advent and explosion of self-published books, there are now virtually millions of books of all genres on the market. So, as a writer, how is it possible to make your book stand out or be different? How do you keep readers coming back time and again, searching for your latest novel or upcoming release. Well, after reviewing stacks of notes from RWA workshops and various writing conferences, I believe I’ve discovered some great suggestions for turning a good story into an unforgettable, compelling one.

Are you ready??

#1) Make the dramatic content of your story strong. Example: ‘The neighbor’s bacon and eggs breakfast’ is not a story idea that is going to have readers clawing for a copy of your book. It is also highly unlikely that this subject matter would sustain an entire novel. But if the bacon is made from human flesh, the story scenario has greater dramatic potential as demonstrated by Thomas Harris’ popular Hannibal novels. Once you’ve discovered the resulting actions and the eventual outcome that develops out of your primary story scenario, you have a real, compelling story idea.

What are the key elements of a great, dramatic story?
Conflict, Tension, Surprise, Extraordinary Characters, Flawed Behavior, Controversy, Mystery and, of course, Suspense. The list is commonly known, however, building a story with these components can be challenging when your goal is to create an intriguing, page-turning bestseller. 

#2. How do I keep a reader’s attention? Try varying your prose’s rhythm and structure. Writing instructors often advise creative writing classes to write smart, punchier sentences. Short sentences are great for increasing pace and for helping to make scenes more exciting. Yet this could become monotonous for both the writer and reader, if a whole book is written this way. Changing the length of a sentence adds interest and can intensify drama, especially in a narrative story. 

Something as simple as this can be intriguing. ‘He waited all day. It was cold and growing dark by the minute. Would anyone come?’

Exploring the rhythm of your writing consciously can help you write better sentences. Carefully crafted, creative prose makes a book better in any genre.

#3. What about characters? It’s important to create believable, memorable characters that readers either love or hate. Why do we find some characters more memorable than others? Because they have something that makes them stand out. It might be a unique voice, a persona or expression, a goal or motivation, their distinctive appearance or behavior, a flaw or weakness or perhaps a hidden strength.

Authors such as Charles Dickens is famous for creating larger-than-life, memorable characters. So what does each character in your book crave or long to accomplish? Why do they desire this and what do they have to do in order to gain it?

#4. Each part of a story needs to be effective in order to make it great. The best openings create fascinating introductions to the authors’ setting, characters and plot scenarios. Often times, the middle of a story sags or lacks plot movement. But a brilliant middle, might introduce new characters who help or hinder your primary character. This is good place to add subplots that supplement your main story arc, to reveal why your characters have certain goals, to indicate what’s at stake or to reveal the effect outside pressures are causing that hinders your main character’s success.

#5. Most important of all, make every line of dialogue count. When characters speak, we gain a sense of their personalities, viewpoints, vulnerabilities, quirks, and attitude about any given subject. Having two or more characters sit at a table talking rarely moves the story forward unless the conversation has a purpose such as deepening or developing connections between them. In a great story, characters get to the point as quickly and realistically as possible. There are very few pleasantries and even fewer filler words because dialogue serves the plot, while holding onto the reader’s attention.

#6. Who is the unseen and most influential character in a story? Believe it or not, it’s the immersive setting. It’s not just a house with shape and color. It’s about details–about a place with personality. Is it old and dank, shutting out the light of the world, or is it light, charming and elegant? Besides giving a setting personality, it’s important to make it fascinating, inviting, challenging or just plain frightening.

Also, keep in mind that old neighborhoods change with passing years. Characters might feel different about a place from their childhood. You know…lack a personal connection they thought they would have after revisiting it. If you write about a real, historical or contemporary place in particular, you need to know the landmarks, the demographics, the underprivileged areas and the rich ones. Do the required research to understand what it is celebrated or nefarious for, as readers will recognize inaccuracies and will often point them out.

#7. What is the conflict in your story? When we read the word conflict, we often think of harsh words, violence or physical fights between adversaries. But there are many kinds of conflict that can be used to improve a story. Internal conflicts create tension, leaving readers wondering if the characters they’re rooting for are capable of overcoming emotional roadblocks or the hurdles in their lives. The same characters might also grapple with their environments or struggle with a natural phenomena. 

#8. How do I leave my reader wanting more? The best tip of all is to deliver a knockout ending, as it leaves a lingering impression. The final lines will either entice a reader to seek out other novels you’ve written or result in recommendations of your work to other readers. 

So what exactly goes into a great ending? The best answer is the resolution of the primary conflict. But it’s also important not to make the story’s closure so tidy that it’s predictable or a cop-out by ending the story as quickly as possible or with for a happily ever after resolution when it’s not needed. Sometimes, leaving a reader guessing is the best ending of all. Just make sure that any dramatic tension is held off until the end. This can be done by keeping your readers guessing or not revealing the identity of a villain until the very end. However, if you use a surprise plot twist, remember to keep the surprise believable and the last line as powerful and remarkable as the first line in your story.

– Kaylin McFarren, Stories that touch the soul – http://www.kaylinmcfarren.com

Surviving Coronavirus

Are you at your wit’s end?
I hope this posting finds each of you safe, healthy, and with your loved ones. I understand that this is a very difficult time with many uncertainties, but I’d like to remind you that there are lots of government officials, healthcare professionals, business owners, acquaintances, friends, and family members hoping for the same outcome — a world where it’s safe to travel, safe to shop, safe to enjoy the environment, and safe to lead a fulfilling, productive life. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the following suggestions for things to do with your family while staying indoors. A sense of community and link to others is very important at this time, so I encourage you to stay connected through FaceTime or any of your social media outlets. With patience and commonsense practices, we shall see an end to this test of our endurance and hopefully move on.
VIRTUAL NATIONAL PARK TOURS (https://totallythebomb.com/heres-33-national-park-tours-you-can-take-virtually-from-the-comfort-of-your-home)  33 National Park Tours You can Take from the Comfort of Your Home!   Free Admission!
BROADWAY PLAYS AND MUSICALS (https://www.playbill.com/article/15-broadway-plays-and-musicals-you-can-watch-on-stage-from-home)
15 Broadway Plays and Musicals You can Watch On Stage From Home!
VISIT ITALIAN MUSEUMS  (https://anamericaninrome.com/wp/2020/03/italy-museums-visit-for-free-online/)
Watch In-depth 360 Degree tours and videos online of many of the most famous rooms of 6 beautiful Italian museums.
STORY TIME IN SPACE (https://www.scarymommy.com/astronauts-story-time-in-space-kids-books/)
Watch Astronauts Reading to Kids From Space! Astronauts on Various Missions Read Popular Books While Floating About!  
KIDS AUDIBLE LISTENING (https://www.audible.com/cat/Kids-Audiobooks/2239696011)     *Popular Titles *Best Sellers *Award Winners *New Releases 
MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM LIVE CAMS (https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams)
Watch Live Cam Videos of Ocean Animals and Explore Their Habitat!    
SCIENCE KIDS (http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/)
Fun Science & Technology for Kids!   Experiments, Games, Quizzes, Projects, Videos and more!!
DOODLE EVERY WEEKDAY WITH MO WILLEMS  (https://www.washingtonian.com/2020/03/16/mo-willems-is-hosting-a-livestream-doodle-starting-today/) Join kid’s author Mo Willems weekdays as he hosts a livestream doodle! 

As an author, do you visualize your books?

Over the course of writing and publishing six books, I’ve been told that each of them reads like a movie. I find this extremely flattering, but not for the reasons you might imagine. You see, I dream up my stories quite literally from beginning to end and write them the way I “see” them. With this in mind, a comment about the theatrical qualities of my books assures me that I’ve successfully completed my goal by developing visual stories. Sounds bizarre, I know, however I’ve been asked by a number of writers to provide some helpful hints for creating “movie-like” books that appeal to readers and can also be translated easily into screenplays.

Tip 1: Write a Driving Plot with a Solid Narrative Arc

You might be wondering what the difference is between plot and narrative arc. The various events that occur throughout the story construct the plot, while the narrative arc is the order in which those events are presented. A driving plot and solid narrative arc are symbiotic elements that exist in all good books, especially those that have what it takes to be made into movies.

It’s crucial that you craft a strong narrative arc. I cannot overemphasize the value of each plot line (including all subplots) having a clear beginning, middle, and end. Don’t get too caught up in how many subplots you have as more is not necessarily better. Keep the plot moving forward at a comfortable pace so readers don’t get bored or feel hurried.

Tip 2: Develop Dynamic, Three-Dimensional, and Compelling Characters

Characters that are both three-dimensional and dynamic are the most compelling because they’re interesting and, rather than being static, they demonstrate growth and change. Also, audiences become emotionally invested in sympathetic characters because they have traits they can identify with, and f readers can see themselves in characters, they’re more believable. But don’t mistake sympathetic for likable; readers don’t always have to admire your characters, they just have to care about them.

Tip 3: Craft a Visceral Setting

The setting of a book is as important as the plot and characters because it roots the story in both time and place. Don’t treat your setting as just the story’s background, instead make it an integral part of the book.

Would the Harry Potter books be the same if they occurred in California in 1850? Would Memoirs of a Geisha have been a best seller if it was set solely in a teahouse? Probably not. The setting of a story is as critical as the story itself.

Authors need to think of their books’ settings as another protagonist—a distinct and visceral world that radiates with the mood and atmosphere the writer envisions.

Tip 4: Show, Don’t Tell

Put simply, this often-repeated adage describes the technique of allowing readers to deduce what you’re trying to say through the use of descriptive details, rather than info dumping or spoon-feeding readers the information. As films are an inherently visual medium, books that succeed in showing rather than telling tend to translate easier to the screen.

Here’s an example of “telling” where the author flatly states what’s happening:

John waited for June at the restaurant. When she walked in, he noticed that she was tall and looked cold.

Although readers are told substantive details about the characters and setting, a rewrite that invites us into the book’s world and shows us the same information is much more captivating.

Like this:

John watched as June had to duck her snow-covered head to comfortably fit through the restaurant’s doorway. Her cheeks were red and chapped, and her hands were balled into frozen fists.

Authors that show, rather than tell, craft distinct narratives that allow readers to see, feel, taste, hear, and smell what the characters are experiencing. By harnessing the senses, the audience is invited to actively, rather than passively, engage with the prose. As Mark Twain said, “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

However, writing is an art in and of itself, which means rules are meant to be broken. In books that employ a strong narrative voice or that need a great deal of exposition, telling can be the most efficient choice. In other words, just go with your gut on this one. Keep in mind that film is primarily visual, so telling instead of showing could get messy in the adaptation.

Tip 5: Don’t Write a Screenplay Masquerading as a Book

My greatest recommendation is this: if you want to write a book, write a book, and if you want to see your story told through film, write a screenplay. Don’t write a screenplay masquerading as a book. Although both authors and screenwriters are storytellers, a book is a fundamentally different medium than a movie.

If you’re uncertain about if you should write a screenplay or a book, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can my story be told in two hours or less? If so, a screenplay may be best.
  2. Does my story involve a lot of narration or internal dialogue? If the answer is yes, write a book.
  3. Do I want my writing to be followed by another robust creative process to translate it to film? If that’s your plan, go with a screenplay.
  4. When I think of my story, do I see people reading it or watching it? A good answer would be both, if your aim is to create pictures in your reader’s mind.
  5. What does my story want to be? How does it want to be told?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Just follow your intuition. You’ll do fine. But most important of all, write what you know and have fun in the process. That is what writing is all about.

“Are you kidding?” Book Reviews

4dce3343fd0ad1618bbfe2c22f43a293I know it’s inevitable. Every author gets their share of bad reviews. You know, those one-star postings and half-baked opinions of “chosen” readers, indicating that you, as an author, haven’t got a clue how to write a simple phase, how to plot a mystery, or create a believable story. Obviously, we can’t all be as talented as Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck or F. Scott Fitzgerald. We’re simply members of the Homo sapien writing tribe with more than our share of weaknesses, imperfections, and fragile reactions. Quite often, we find ourselves typing non-stop for days on end, allowing trapped emotions and caged creativity to escape in equal portions. We offer ourselves up to the world’s judgment, begging for acceptance—for someone to see the merit of our artistic efforts. But then it happens in an instant, even to the best of us. Critics and wannabe writers take careful aim, releasing venomous words, killing a novel purely for the pleasure of doing so.

I understand that not everyone appreciates the written word and the painstaking effort that goes into fully developing an idea. However, for an author, it’s tedious, time consuming work, and the act of writing can become an obsession in the art of perfection. Every word, scene and character on the page has value, and the ability to bring a story full circle can feel like a miraculous achievement at times. And yet, a single insult has the ability to take down not only an individual’s self-esteem but also their ability to write…at least for the time it takes to recover.

The solution to this madness? I’ve been told the most powerful action you can take to neutralize your brain’s wiring is to prove it wrong.  Your brain fears being cast out of the “qualified” author circle, so calm it by connecting to your personal tribes—family, friends, other struggling writers. See brain? I’m not being thrown to the dingos—I have love, talent and the ability to carry on. Once the brain calms down, you can use reason and logic to center yourself. You can also talk to authors who have drifted in the same boat, bordering on the brink of despair.

Writers, like myself, fall into two groups. Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and those who hide their reactions well. Usually, I fall into the second group, holding my breath and looking away until the shock value wears off. But when a new book is released, it becomes a balancing act between elation over great reviews and irrational anger for the vicious ones. Some of Stephen King’s latest novels received up to 500 one-star and two-star reviews on Amazon. Was this done out of spite for his success as an author or simply a way to demonstrate powerful opinions?

Book stores are packed with best sellers that have a lot of bad reviews. Prove it to yourself. Do this: Go to idreambooks.com, the “Rotten Tomatoes” of the book world. They aggregate book reviews from important critics like the New York Times and rank best selling books according to the percentage of good reviews they received. Notice anything? Almost all the best selling books have a significant number of bad reviews. Imagine that.

Now think about this. How much could bad reviews affect sales if they’re all best sellers? I’m not ignoring the aftermath of cruel intention—bad reviews are undesirable. But they’re not necessarily the deal-breakers you think they are. Well, that’s what I continue to tell myself anyway. And even more interesting…bad reviews can actually help sell books.

What do you think of a book that has nothing but five-star reviews? I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit suspicious. Just like restaurant reviews, if you see nothing but 5 stars, I’m thinking the author or restaurant owner got all his friends, family and associates to write the vast number of reviews, delving out glowing praise. In a twisted way, bad reviews give a book legitimacy because their very presence indicate that the good reviews must be genuine. Right?

Well, I have to admit that all this venting has helped a wee bit. The sting of the cursed one-star review has eased a bit, and I’m reminded that the toughest critics are often the worst writers. That’s why they criticize, don’t you think? So now it’s time to laugh, enjoy a glass of wine, and move on until the next zinger comes along, and then maybe I’ll have the commonsense to look away.

Something to Satisfy the Soul: Kaylin’s Favorite Bloody Mary

18121554_10210560019187961_4834003210209005551_oIf your Mum likes to stick to the classics (and appreciates her drinks on the savory side), consider making her the BEST Bloody Mary ever. This one gets a boost from Worcestershire sauce and a little soy, and gets its heat from freshly grated horseradish (plus some cayenne and hot sauce.) Consider making an extra large batch of the mixture and setting up a choose-your-own garnish bar with celery stalks, poached shrimp or smoked mussels, assorted pickled things, and bacon swizzle sticks. So fun!!

And by the way, anyone who flies with me knows that I don’t get on an airplane without consuming at least ONE Bloody Mary at the airport and, if not there, definitely 1 or 2 onboard. So here’s to each and everyone of you, and especially to the rowdy women in the world. God loves ’em all…and so do I.

YIELD:
Makes only 1 cocktail – so multiply as needed!

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon celery salt or (or plain kosher salt, if you prefer)
1/4 lemon, cut into two wedges
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or less to taste)
Dash cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated horseradish (or 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish)
2 ounces vodka
4 ounces high-quality tomato juice
1 stick celery

DIRECTIONS
1. Place celery salt in a shallow saucer. Rub rim of 12-ounce tumbler with 1 lemon wedge and coat wet edge with celery salt. Place lemon wedge on rim of glass. Fill glass with ice.

2. Add Worcestershire, soy, black pepper, cayenne pepper, hot sauce, and horseradish to bottom of cocktail shaker. Fill shaker with ice and add vodka, tomato juice, and juice of remaining lemon wedge. Shake vigorously, taste for seasoning and heat, and adjust as necessary. Strain into ice-filled glass. Garnish with celery stalk, or any of the wonderful things I like to add, and serve IMMEDIATELY. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Is Self-Harm a Form of Mental Illness?

While writing my latest novel, HIGH FLYING, I wanted to create a complex, self-debasing character that struggles with her past and self-image and, at the same time, recognizes her inability to connect with others. Throughout her adolescence, she longs to be “normal” like other people, but self-harm becomes her vice and the quickest, most effective way to deal with the negativity in her life…until she finds a powerful solution.

In the course of researching this subject, I discovered that cutting is a common form of deliberate self-harm and may co-occur with other self-injurious behaviors such as skin-burning, hair-pulling, and anorexia, and that people who cut themselves often use razors, knives, or other sharp objects. UnknownHowever, cutting is not typically an attempt at suicide or long-term self-harm. Rather, it is an immediate reaction to stress that provides release for the person who cuts. They may accidentally sever a vein or artery, which can be life-threatening, but this behavior is not listed in the DSM-IV as a mental health disorder. Instead, it is related to other impulse control conditions such as pyromania (obsession with fires), kleptomania (persistent stealing), and/or pathological gambling.

Self-harm can also be a symptom of borderline personality (BPD), as well as factitious disorders, which occur when a person fakes an illness or believes he or she has a disease they haven’t truly contracted. People who cut themselves may also suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other stress-related conditions.

Outpatient therapy using a variety of methods, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, can be highly effective at teaching people more effective skills for coping with stress. However, unless treated, cutting is a behavior that tends to escalate, resulting in  more severe and frequent cutting over time. People who have been cutting for an extended period of time may require inpatient treatment, which involves group therapy, individual therapy, and when necessary, psychotropic medication to help mitigate the psychological factors that contribute to cutting.

Often therapy for treating this disorder involves redirection–a sort of reprograming mechanism, for dealing with stressful situations. This might involve various forms of self-expressive art, tennis, boxing, or other activities as a means for releasing pent-up emotions, tension and anxiety. Support, compassion and understanding by friends, family members and anyone aware of this condition is also very important. Society as a whole needs to understand that anyone who has a history of cutting or other obsessive disorders is fully capable of leading a healthy, normal life, if given the chance to do so.

Twenty Ways to Give Back This Christmas

isEvery year at Christmas, our family looks for ways to practice generosity and selfless service. This year though, there have been so many causes suggested that our budget simply can’t reach out to all of them. However, a family tradition every year includes delivering fresh cookies to fire departments and police stations, and donating to local toy drives. We also contact the headquarters for Fred Meyer stores and purchase discounted blankets, socks, coats, sweaters and caps. Then we visit homeless shelters throughout Portland to deliver these items where they are most needed. But this year, I’ve wanted to do more and thought that perhaps you feel the same way as I do.

So with this in mind, here are some great ideas to bring the joy of Christmas to others in your community or around the world. Because that is what this special season is really about. Isn’t it?

  1. Follow our lead by visiting a homeless shelter or tent city and donate blankets, gloves, socks, hats, or coats. Each little item keeps someone warm and can help them survive those cold winter nights.
  2. If you don’t have the money or items to donate, simply visit with the folks at the local homeless shelter or tent city. Sometimes just feeling like you matter as a person can lift your spirit.
  3. Sponsor an angel from the Salvation Army angel tree. This can become a special tradition for your family every year by picking out the perfect gift requested on an angel tree card.
  4. If you’re unable to get out to a store to choose an individual angel from their trees around town, you can still donate to the Salvation Army online! A donation online is just like dropping money into those little red buckets. Our local Salvation Army is reportedly very short this year in their projected donations, so every little bit helps.
  5. Shopping Fair Trade for Christmas is a wonderful way to find unique and personal gifts for friends and loved ones and it helps support artisans in developing nations. This is a win-win for everyone.
  6. One Warm Coat is a national organization dedicated to making sure everyone who needs a warm coat this year gets one. It breaks my heart thinking that someone out there who needs a coat doesn’t have one, and this really shouldn’t be happening in our country. If you follow the link I’ve provided, you can click on the map on the right and then find a coat drive in your area. I checked, and sure enough, there is one in our area!
  7. One of my favorite organizations this time of year is Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. If you’re unfamiliar with this project, their website offers all the information you need to help. Briefly, Operation Christmas Child sends specially created care packages to children all over the world who need the most basic items as well as some personal gifts to really light up their world. Unfortunately, the national send-off week has passed, but you can still donate to the amazing cause at Samaritan’s Purse on their website. I want to make it a family tradition starting next year to pack a box together for a child who needs it.
  8. Participate in Operation Give, which sends 10,000 stockings to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. While, unfortunately, the deadline for stockings and stocking stuffers has passed, they are still in a great need for monetary donations right now to pay for shipping charges to actually get these stockings to the troops. 
  9. Another opportunity to support to our troops is through our USO program. The USO serves our troops year round, not just at Christmastime. They are always in need of support. You can donate at the link provided. Any online donations to such causes could be a thoughtful gift given in the name of others, such as neighbors or coworkers. It could be included in a card that a donation was made in their name to one of these wonderful programs.
  10. If you’re a pet lover, often local animal shelters hold food or toy drives for the animals housed there during Christmastime. These shelters tend to see an influx of new animals when the weather turns cold, because people are more inclined to drop off a stray for fear of them not surviving the cold. Shelters rely on such food donations well into the new year to care for the animals that wander their way. It would be a wonderful way to teach children to care for God’s creatures by buying cat food or dog food and dropping it off at your local animal shelter this Christmas.
  11. If you have a particular talent that you could share with others, now would be a great time to volunteer at a local children’s hospital or nursing home. If you play an instrument or sing, you could bring Christmas carols to the elderly or bedridden. If you have a knack for sewing, you could make a lap quilt for a child in the hospital.
  12. You could also participate in Project Linus, which provides handmade blankets to children who are terminally ill or have been traumatized, or who could otherwise just use a warm blanket around them. You can participate by donating a handmade blanket to a nearby Project Linus chapter, or by donating online to help pay for shipping and material costs.
  13. Ask around in your community, work, or church to see if there is a family with a particular need that you might fulfill. Perhaps there’s an elderly woman who just needs help keeping her driveway shoveled this year. Perhaps it’s a family who otherwise won’t have groceries this month. Whether it’s things or service, there is bound to be someone near you who could use some help, and there is bound to be some way you can help them.
  14. Shop local. Look for locally owned mom and pop stores to shop from rather than purchasing all of your gifts from large chain companies this year. Shopping at local stores puts money back in your own community and supports families just like yours who are trying to make it this holiday season. You could buy gifts from the local bookstore down the street or shop for your Christmas dinner groceries at the family-owned grocery store in town rather than the large surplus store.
  15. Donate time, money, or food to the local food bank. Food banks always run low this time of year, and their staff is always stretched thin. Consider making it a family tradition to volunteer one Saturday before Christmas at your local food bank. You can hand out, sort, organize or prepare food for families.
  16. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. The cold weather sends people inside more than other times of year, and it seems harder this time of year for people in need to find a warm meal. Of course our current national economic state doesn’t help either. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen can be a great bonding experience for your family, and can give you a chance to make friends with those less fortunate in our community.
  17. Bake cookies or other yummy goodies for your local firemen, police officers, EMT service providers, or teachers. Public service men and women don’t make a lot of money, but they do a ton of hard work in our communities. It would be a blessing to let them know how appreciated they are by dropping by this year with some baked goods and a smile.
  18. Make up coupons for your next door neighbors that give them one free law mowing, leaf raking, or car washing when the weather clears up. You could slip it in with a plate of cookies. It fosters a sense of community, allows you to get to know your neighbors, and shows them that you are willing to serve them as friends.
  19. Practice random acts of kindness by buying the lunch for someone in line with you at the local fast food restaurant. I’ve done this before, and I love both the reaction of the person at the window when I tell them what I’m doing and the reaction of the person behind me when they realize their meal is free.
  20. Donate to the cause of your choice on behalf of someone else. If a loved one has suffered from Breast Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or any other ailment, you can make a loving donation in the name of a friend or family member that supports a cause close to your heart. Many people appreciate these kind of gifts instead of little trinkets that will break or be lost quickly after the season.

It doesn’t take much to bless the lives of others, and this is the perfect time of year to make someone’s day and life magical in more ways than you can ever imagine. So bring your family and friends together this month and find ways to participate in the joy of giving. The warmth you will feel inside your heart will be the greatest gift you will ever receive. 

Blessings to you and yours,

Kaylin