Monday, October 10, 2016

"My Father's Grandmother was Native American"

Recently, my uncle made a DVD of a bunch of old family movies and sent it to my father. There, for the first time, I saw my great-grandmother -- a Native American woman I had heard about my whole life, but had never seen a picture of.

Throughout the country, there is a strong push to have Columbus Day renamed "Indigenous Peoples Day." Here's why I would support such a change...


My father's grandmother was
Native American.
No one knows
What tribe she was from.
To hear Dad tell it,
His grandfather married her
Because he loved her,
Never mind how much it
The rest of the family.

I have seen her:
A thin woman
In a faded print dress.
The grainy
Sixty-year old
Super 8 film
Renders her skin
The same shade of gray
As everyone else's.
And yet--

When she died,
The family refused
To even name her
In her obituary.
To the best of my knowledge,
She has no tombstone.

My father spent years
Trying to follow
That branch
Of our family tree.
But it is long gone,
Leaving a hole in the sky

As every branch does
When it falls.
My father,
Eighty-one years young,
Remembers her.
And every time I look in the mirror,
My Great Grandmother peers back at me.


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

WunderGuy vs. The Brain Tumor: Part II

or: The Saga Continues

It seems like only yesterday that I wrote about WunderGuy's adventures with the brain tumor hereafter known as "Fred."

WunderGuy and Maddie the Manx.
Perhaps that's because when you're within the same four walls all day, every day, the days all sort of blur together. Perhaps it's because I delude myself into thinking that not much has changed and, therefore, an update isn't really necessary.

But when I stop to take stock of things, I realize that they have changed. And so, here is an update on our continuing War on Fred:

The big news is that the experimental chemotherapy did not work. In fact, there is some indication on the latest MRIs that it may have contributed to two separate minor brain bleeds within the tumor. Since that was our last great hope for a Modern Medical Miracle, the medical docs have run out of options. They have washed their hands of WG and have told us to contact Hospice.

Which I did. However (warning, minor soapbox rant coming)...

I was unaware of the realities that are Hospice. I'd always thought Hospice, if personified was a sort of kindly grandmother of the medical community. Anytime someone said "Mother is on Hospice," I envisioned a well-coordinated army of nurses who took turns caring for the terminal person, giving companionship and supporting the family through the dark days that lay ahead.

I never imagined the two nurses / Hospice sales team who came and sat in my dining room. They set me straight. Since I am WGs sole caregiver, and he requires constant supervision 24 / 7, I could really use someone to come and sit with him so I can leave the house to do things like get groceries or pick up our daughter from school. Yeah, no: Hospice doesn't do that.

The nurses were clear. They were all about the money.

HospiceNurse: Hospice will cover all of his medical expenses, including his drugs and briefs.

Me: Great! But he's a brittle epileptic. He has to be on brand name anti-seizure drugs. The generics send him to the ER.

HN: Oh... Well, he'd have to be on generics. But they would be free! Also, he won't have to pay to see the doctor.

Me: Can he still keep our family GP and his neurologist of the past 20 years -- the doctors who know his history best -- as his docs?

HN: No. But it won't matter. If he gets pneumonia or something, if he's on Hospice, we can't treat it.

Me: So you just let him die?

HN: Hospice does not provide palliative care. Now let's talk about Medicaid.

Me: He's not on Medicaid. He has a small IRA which, since I'm caring for him instead of working, is essentially my retirement fund. We don't qualify.

HN: Well, you could always spend down the IRA and divorce him so he could go on Medicaid. Then Medicaid will pay for him to go to a facility and you won't have to be stuck here taking care of him anymore.

I am not making this up.

About that time, I showed them the door.

Don't get me wrong: I am sure that Hospice is staffed by wonderful, empathetic, competent people who genuinely care about doing the best they can for those who are nearing the end of their lives. We may still have to call them when WG gets a little closer to the end. But I was wildly unimpressed with the Sales Force. >:(

And so, we sit together here at home. I schedule my day like a general planning a military maneuver, so I can still get my work done in addition to taking care of WG.

As for Robert, he continues a slow but steady decline. He can no longer shift his weight in his wheelchair, or feed himself, or brush his teeth. Before he takes his meds, I have to remind him to think about swallowing, and talk him through what to do -- otherwise, he chews his pills. Since some of the pills are extended release, chewing them makes him practically comatose for the next 12 hours. (Fun fact: a week ago, I had to call the paramedics to come pick WG up off our driveway when he sank to the ground like a 200 pound sack of pudding as I was trying to get him in the car. In the rain. Med chewing. ::sheesh::)

But we're not giving up. We are still blessed that he is in relatively little pain. It's also not clear how aware WG is of his condition, which is something of a blessing. He sleeps a lot. He's not really able to hold a conversation. But he still has his gorgeous smile. I can run on one of those for hours.

We have the best friends in the world, who support us in countless ways. From the church members who hand-made bolsters for him to make his wheelchair more comfortable, to those who sit with him on occasion so I can get out on my own for a few hours, to those who bring a portable tie-dyeing party to our house, we are surrounded by fabulous people. One dear friend who is a nurse sent us an EIGHT BOX delivery of briefs and wipes -- all greatly appreciated. And I am forever grateful to Kathy, Kim, Barbara, and Lisa: writerly friends who started a GoFundMe for WunderGuy to help offset some of the bills insurance deigns not to pay. Like the $4000+ ramp for his wheelchair (an ongoing appeals battle continues), or any part of the handicapped accessible bathroom we had to put in, or skilled nurses to watch him if I have to go out, for instance...

Here's the thing: we're not complaining. Everyone is going through something. Right now, what we're going through is obvious and overt and we're grateful to those who are pulling for us. What you're going through might be more subtle and less readily recognized. Know this -- everything here on Earth is only temporary. We delude ourselves if we think that our relationships, our situation, our lives will continue in any particular way forever. This may be depressing to hear when things are going great. But it's a great blessing to think about at the moment.

Onward and upward!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Writing a Book Series: Q & A with Ian Quicksilver author Alyson Peterson

Last week, I reviewed The Cursed Dagger, book II in Alyson Peterson's YA series featuring geeky alien prince Ian Quicksilver.

This week, Alyson kindly agreed to an interview in which she discusses the special challenges of writing a book series.

Q. What things must a writer keep in mind when writing Book I of a series, as opposed to a stand-alone book?

A. It's good to remember that whatever you put into one book has the potential to spill over into other books. One thing I struggle with when starting a new series is planning out what is key to future books. Half the time I don't know where a certain element is going until I am nearly done writing. I keep careful notes on where I want my characters to go so I don't end up putting a scene or a character in that doesn't fit the series as a whole.

Q. What challenges must be addressed when writing additional books in a series?

. My biggest fear is that I will write a sequel that is boring. I'm always having to top the previous book, make it more exciting, more interesting etc. What I absolutely DON'T want to do is repeat the exact same story line over and over again. Keeping the story fresh while not sacrificing the personalities of my characters is my biggest hurdle.

Q. What are some tips for avoiding an info-dump in books that fall later in a series while bringing readers up to speed on what happened in earlier books?

I HATE info dump.  It makes stories sluggish. I read a lot of YA series. I take a highlighter pen to the books that don't info dump and study what the author did to keep the reader interested at the same time as they bring the reader up to speed. Bringing up past experiences in dialogue both internal and verbal help the reader know what's going on without a page an a half of super boring backstory.

Q. What advice do you have for keeping a character fresh and growing through a series of books?

Characters learn and grow much like their real life counterparts. I compile a list of characteristics and then order them by importance to the character. Minor characteristics can change, but the major ones can not. Ian's loyalty, snarkiness, bravery and deep sense of mercy is key to his story. Minor flaws can be altered, like Ian's awkwardness, immaturity and willingness to ignore difficult situations. 

Writing young adult characters are my favorite because their personalities are not fully developed at 14, 15, and 16 and giving them experience and growth keeps them fresh on the page.

Q. How can you know if that book you are writing has series potential?

My brain rarely works in stand alone novels. I wish it would, but once I get cranking on a book, plans for future books start sneaking in. I am defective that way. If writing a character keeps me up at night and all day I'm thinking about what I want to do in book two, three and four, I've got a solid series on my hands.

Q. What suggestions do you have for writers who are pitching what they hope is the first in a series?

Make sure book one grabs your reader's attention. Not just grabs, but holds and makes them beg for more. You've got to have a solid hook so that when you pitch book two, you generate more excitement.

It's hard to sell certain publishers and agents on series, but good pubs and agents know the value of a well written series and can sell it as such. Pitch to your friends, hash out story line with an experienced writer or someone who understands and loves a good storyline and bounce ideas off them. You can tell a lot about how well your story is developed by the level of excitement you receive from honest reviews.

Q. As you worked on Books II and III, did anything about your characters or your story surprise you?

Ari went through the biggest change with her personality. She was pretty quiet in book one, but the more I got to know her she really blossomed on the page. Marvin had a lot more to say in book two that I enjoyed writing. Corbin is still Corbin and he is a stick in the mud when it comes to his personality, but I also found in him a core of genuine loyalty that I was happy to see. The story exploded in my face as I was writing book three. I thought I had firm idea on who my warriors were going to be and the type of fighters they were, but I was so very wrong. As I wrote the story and re-read passages from books one and two, book three became harsher and more absolute. That was very unintentional.

The Cursed Dagger is newly released from Cedar Fort. Be sure to watch for Book III of the adventures of Ian Quicksilver in 2017!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: Eating Wildly by Ava Chin

"My grandfather, a former Toisanese village boy turned Chinese restaurant worker, taught me how to eat. Grandpa spoke an English so informed by the cadence of his dialect that he didn't talk so much as bark, so that he often sounded like he was yelling from across a muddy field rather than just across the kitchen table. He had learned to saute, braise, and sear from the cooks at the various Manhattan restaurants in which he worked. His palate was so diversified that he could make almost anything well. Sometimes it was a whole fish from head to tail -- first steamed, then drizzled with a piping-hot medley of ginger, scallions, garlic, and sesame oil. Soy sauce chicken wings dripping in a brown sugar glaze. American fried chicken dipped in a garlic-ginger batter that had my friends sighing with delight -- even the ones with hard-core Southern roots often asked from seconds."
 --Excerpted from Eating Wildly

Part memoir, part foraging guide, occasional cookbook, Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal is a delight. Eating Wildly received the 2015 MFK Fischer Book Award. Library Journal chose it as one of the Best Books of 2014. If you haven't yet read Ava Chin's delightful book - newly available in paperback -- you're in for a treat.

The book chronicles Chin's relationships with food and with her family. It follows her as she forages delicious edibles in the unlikeliest of places in New York City. I live in the middle of the rural Midwest, and I was pleasantly surprised to recognize the plants Chin mentioned; I realized that if I ended up in NYC, I might encounter a few familiar (green) friends.

I'm a sucker for non-cookbooks that include recipes. I like the idea that these are "tried and true" favorites that had to be included because the narrative insisted. Chin doesn't disappoint: Of the several recipes in Eating Wildly, the Blackberry-Buckwheat Pancakes and Wild Morel Linguini are especially worthy. Omnomnom...

One thing that could make the book even better would be photos or illustrations of the plants Chin finds. (I mean -- if you're going to pick and eat a novel sprig of something growing out of the ground, you want to be pretty darn sure you're noshing on the right thing.) To that end, Chin has posted a few of The Plants & Mushrooms of Eating Wildly on her blog. Though even more pictures would be welcome, Eating Wildly is more than a mere field guide.

Much of the book's charm is in its exploration of Chin's life. Her fractured relationship with her mother, her attempts to connect with her absentee father, her lessons in cuisine and culture from her grandparents, and her forays into the wilderness of adult relationships all add flavor to the book.

I found myself repeatedly rooting for Chin, whether she was hunting an elusive morsel or searching for her soulmate. When she throws a foraging Wild Foods Brunch, only to have someone question one of her ingredients, I'm pulling for her to be right -- and not just so her guests survive the event. When she tries again and again to forge a relationship with her flighty mother, I'm there, hoping that this time, she succeeds.

Full disclosure: I met Ava Chin when she came to a booksigning at the little independent bookstore here in Southwestern Michigan. She is friends with Kim Jorgensen Gane, who co-facilitates the #Write2TheEnd writer's workshops with me. Ava dubbed us "The Thelma and Louise of writing coaching." (I'm Louise. No doubt about it.) So -- yeah, I know her. And, yeah, I'd still recommend the book even if we'd never met. Check out the book for yourself. See if you agree with me...

YA Book Review: The Cursed Dagger (Book II of the Ian Quicksilver series)

It's official! The Cursed Dagger, the second book in Alyson Peterson's snarkily brilliant YA sci-fi / fantasy series, is now available. I can finally publicly tell people about it.

Peterson's Ian Quicksilver fans will be glad to know that The Cursed Dagger picks up right where The Warrior's Return left off: Geeky foster kid Ian, heir to the throne of Banhir, but exiled to live on Earth, has a quest. He must convince beautiful, popular, but slightly spacey Ari -- a Garfelian princess carrying a curse of her own -- to permanently join him in order to thwart the plans of evil magician Silivus and save the galaxy.

Ari wants to, but she has... issues. Many of which even she doesn't understand.

And time is running out.

Those who have not yet read The Warrior's Return get to know Ian and Ari in a hurry as The Cursed Dagger opens with an early morning swordfight, a sick princess, and an epically craptastic first date.

Then things really heat up. Silivus, the magician responsible for Ian's and Ari's woes -- not to mention the woes of both of their home planets -- arrives in all his oily smarm. He makes Ian an offer: trade the Quest for a Challenge. Winner take all. No holds barred.

Ian knows Silivus can't be trusted, so he initially refuses to rise to the bait. But as his chances of completing the Quest grow bleaker and bleaker, Silivus ups the ante and tragedy strikes. Against the advice of his friends and mentors, and against his own better judgment, Ian agrees to the Challenge.

... Enter the dragon. And the cursed dagger, which links the dragon's life and Ari's fate to Ian far more closely than any of them realizes.

My 13 year old, dragon-obsessed daughter, adored this book. She devoured it in a weekend. (For comp reference, her other favorite series include Wings of Fire, Redwall, The Unwanteds, Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, Erin Hunter's Warriors, and, of course, Harry Potter.)

While the first Ian Quicksilver book was all about the hero's discovery of who he is, in The Cursed Dagger, Ian must determine who he wants to be. What things are worth living -- and dying -- for?

A short excerpt from Chapter 2:

“I guess I’ll pick you up at six then?”
“At my house? With my parents?” She began panic breathing in short gasps. Her eyes were wide and miniature bolts of lightning shot between her fingers. Any second and she was going to pass out. I shielded the arcs of magic from the view of a group of girls down the hall staring at us.
“Breathe,” I coaxed, tapping her shoulder a few times to release the excess energy. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Right,” she panted. “Not at all.”
“I can totally handle introducing myself to your parents . . .” I should have stopped at telling her it wasn’t a big deal. Ari bent double and grabbed her knees.
She sucked in air in great wheezing gulps. Whenever she freaked out like this, my ego took a beating. Regardless, I patted her on the back. Every time my hand made contact, bolts of electricity shot up my arm and numbed my fingers.
Farther down the hall, I could hear Corbin grumble in irritation. I looked up, found him through the sea of heads in the hall and shrugged. How was I supposed to know that the mention of a date would throw her into cardiac arrest?
It took a while, but her panic attack eased. When she stood upright, she was almost back to normal. Only a few red blotches on her neck remained.
“Sorry,” she said. “That was totally unexpected. I don’t know what hit me.”
“I hear chest pain and shortness of breath are totally normal in dating situations.”
“I’m probably just nervous. I have a feeling it’s not going to go so great when you meet my parents. How am I supposed to introduce you? ‘Hey, mom and dad, this is Ian. He’s an alien from another planet.’”
“You could say that I am a warrior for the galaxy. It kind of has a cool ring to it.”
“Yeah, that’ll go over great.”
Equal parts action, adventure, fantasy, and sass, with enough sarcasm to power a small-town high school, The Cursed Dagger is a ton of fun. Read it, and let me know what you think of my recommendation in the comments below.

[Full disclosure: I was a beta reader for IQ books 1 & 2. While it's true that Alyson & I are friends, and that the Cursed Dagger includes this gem in its Acknowledgements ~blush~...'s also true that the book rocks. Intrigue! Magic! Icky evil Bad Guy! Awkward first dates! Sentient horses! Plus -- and this is key -- a dragon! I might be a little biased, but I won't steer ya wrong.]

Sunday, July 24, 2016

WunderGuy vs. the Brain Tumor

I know. I know:

I haven't posted in forever.

I know. I know:

According to conventional wisdom - as well as a few friends in the publishing industry - prospective agents and editors worth their salt will Google my name and see that I fell off the interweb's radar at the end of 2015. (Except for Twitter. My sweet obsession. Ah: Twitter. I wish I could quit you...) My radio silence could cause them to question my commitment to building my platform. And this would be bad! Maintain platform! Must brand! Blahty-blahty blah.

I've been meaning to write. For months. Really. But, well-- things this year have been... complicated.

It didn't seem right to post writing-related stuff because 1.) I spent the first half of the year working on a Top Sekret project for one of my VIP clients, which I can't talk about, and 2.) I've been dealing with the day-to-day of life-and-death and that makes practically everything else pale in comparison.

As for the whole life-and-death thing -- I just didn't have the energy to post about that. Back in January, too many things were up in the air, with too many unanswered questions. Writing about it seemed opportunistic, somehow. And too damned depressing.


I started blogging in 2005 as a way to keep friends and family in the loop about a Major Medical Adventure that necessitated, among other things, a drive from Michigan to California and back again.

Now, 7 months into 2016's Major Medical Adventure Redux, though many questions still remain, perhaps the time has come to revisit my blogging roots. So many people have asked about WunderGuy and his continuing battle with the Brain Tumor of Doom (I call it "Fred"), so, without further ado, heeeeere's the update:

The Backstory:

Last year, WunderGuy had not one, but 2 brain surgeries. The first was to remove an atypical, fast-growing meningioma on the surface of his brain. (Likely caused by radiation in 2011 and 2012 to keep his original oligodendroglioma in check. Oh that man! Dealing with not one, but TWO brain tumors. It's like winning the lottery, only much much much suckier.) The second was six weeks later to relieve pressure and drain fluid in the surgery site.

Stereotactic radiation followed, last May, which would have been enough to make most brain tumors shrivel and die. Not Fred. Nope. Instead of sending Fred into cranial raisin-hood, the radiation made him go super-nova like a monster in a bad sci-fi movie.

Last December, right before Christmas, WunderGuy suddenly lost the use of his right side. Overnight, he went from being a little fatigued and needing a nap during the day to being unable to sit up on his own.

The tumor was back in a big way, growing so quickly that it was causing the brain to swell. Massive doses of steroids followed to get the swelling down enough for surgery.

January 26. 3 days before surgery. How I remember him.
On January 29, WunderGuy had his 4th -- and likely final -- brain surgery.

This one didn't go like all the others. In the past, he's been up and walking on his own within a day. In 2015, he was baking bread within a week of being discharged from the hospital. This year: he hasn't walked on his own since.

See, meningiomas are supposed to stay on the top of the brain, which generally makes them fairly dull, as far as brain tumors go. But Fred never got that message. Fred grows so fast and so aggressively that he followed the scar tissue from the original surgery back in 1996, infiltrating deep into WunderGuy's brain, causing all sorts of carnage.

WG's right side was unresponsive. Though he regained some use of his right hand, his right leg is still not functioning. He spent all of February in U of MI hospital, convalescing and learning to walk again. Most of March was spent in a sub-acute facility closer to home. (It's a 3 hour trip one way from our house to U of MI -- more in winter. I have named every crack in that stretch of I-94.)

He came home at the end of March able to do some minimal walking with assistance, requiring 24 / 7 round the clock care. He was making slow, but steady progress, until the end of April --

That's when we discovered that Fred was back. With a vengeance.

And Now, For Something Completely Different

WG spent May spent back in the hospital at U of MI. But this time was different. He's no longer a candidate for surgery. Or for radiation. The only thing that keeps Fred in check is massive doses of steroids. Which you can't do for very long.

So, now, we are into the wonderful world of experimental chemotherapy. Which no one -- not even the most optimistic of docs -- is suggesting will get rid of Fred, or even cause Fred to shrink. At this point, they're simply hoping to slow Fred's growth spurt down.

After spending over 100 days in the hospital this year, WG is home now. He's done all the Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy Medicare thinks is worthwhile. He requires constant, vigilant round-the-clock care. I am his caregiver. He literally has to be told how to hold his toothbrush, or his spoon, and how to use it.  He can still feed himself, sort of. He drinks from a straw. He cannot sit up on his own, let alone stand, or walk, or use the bathroom, or take a shower. And he remains fuzzily unaware of his limitations -- so he'll roll himself out of bed, or launch himself out of his wheelchair in an unguarded instant.

Happy Anniversary.
On June 12, we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. We had a big party, complete with food and family and friends. And while it was our anniversary, the real underlying reason for the shindig was for people who know and love Robert to see him and talk to him while they still can.

He is in no pain, which is a blessing. And he's pleasant and agreeable to everyone except our 13 year old daughter, who he relates to as a 5 year old boy would relate to an older sister, constantly trying -- for some reason -- to one-up her and get her in trouble.

We've all made huge adjustments. What was the office / den, is now a downstairs bathroom. I sleep on the couch in the living room, a few feet from WG's hospital bed. A 24-foot ramp now affords wheelchair access to our home. Our daughter keeps the upstairs clean, helps with the cooking and the house maintenance. She mourns the loss of her father and I miss my husband terribly, though we both see him every day.

And that is why this is my first blog update of the year. Hug the ones you love. Tell them what they mean to you while you still can. Life is fleeting and fragile. And it's way more important than maintaining a platform or building your brand.

Monday, December 21, 2015

10 Free Gifts for Everyone on Santa's "Nice" List

Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! Season's greetings and other exclamatory messages of cheer!

I don't know about you, but for me and the denizens of Hendrickson house, 2015 is a year that I will be more than happy to see in my rear-view mirror. (Case in point: as if two brain surgeries and subsequent radiation weren't enough for WunderGuy, we spent this weekend in the ER to discover that his poor grey matter has some unexplained inflammation that is not only causing some issues with his right side, but is also going to bear some close watching in the near future. Fa-la-la-la-la...)

So, to send the year off with a bang, I figured I'd fill this final post with presents for everyone. Because I might not be the only person happy to smack 2015 on the butt as it slouches out the door. And because, no matter what kind of year you've had, there is no such thing as too many presents.

In the spirit of the season, here are 10 gifts for you, including a fabulous, original Celtic horse adult coloring mandala I had specially made for you by the fearsomely talented Karina Dale. To quote Douglas Adams' infamous Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Division (the only part of the Corporation to show a consistent profit): "Share and Enjoy."

1. The Best Knock-Knock Joke Ever:
Who's there?
Moonlight Sonata.
Moonlight sonata who?
Moonlight sonata lotta light to read by.

2. (Gag gift) The Best Literary Christmas Joke Ever:
Q: How did Ebeneezer Scrooge's team win the football game?
A: The Ghost of Christmas... Past.
(Say it out loud. Yeah. ::groan::)

3. Best Shopping-with-a-Toddler Life Hack:
Doesn't matter whether or not you're a parent. At some point in your life, you're going to have to go shopping with a kid who's not yet in school. Not yet potty trained. Not yet ready for prime time. And you will discover that this kid is all mouth and fast feet and grabby hands and is amped up like you can only hope to be after two double espressos (see Gift #9). Here's a tried-and-true way to get your shopping done without losing your mind or being escorted out of the store by a grumpy security guard.

Give the little imp cherub two pennies: one for each hand.

Say: "Hold these tight for me. If you don't lose them by the time I'm done in here, I'll put them with some others and use them to buy you a [insert cheap toy or non-sugar-loading treat here].

Works like a charm. Especially when combined with Gift #4...

4. Best Basic Math Experience:
If you're with a kid, and that kid misbehaves, and you feel compelled to issue the "I'm going to count to three" ultimatum, by all that's holy, COUNT TO FRIGGING THREE!!

Here's how, for those who are a bit iffy:

1... 2... 3! (Immediate threatened consequences ensue. No excuses. Period.)

Far too many kids think that the way to count to three is something like:

1... 2... 2 and a half... 2 and three-quarters... I mean it. You're not going to get any ice cream. Is that what you want?

No wonder our kids have difficulties in mathematics. For the love of God, and for the good of society, count to three. You know you want to. Do it!

5. Instant IQ Boost:
If you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of brainy egghead types and you need a quick 20-digit prime number, here's a gift that will help you hold your head up high(er). Just say:
"1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1"

If they ask you to repeat the stunt, hit them with:
"1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1"

Bask in the glow...

6. Fast, Painless Headache and Stress Relief:
If holiday stress triggers a headache, this may be as good as popping two aspirin:

Place your two index fingers in line with your pupils at your hairline. Trace small inward circles for a full minute.

Move your fingers down your forehead, halfway between your eyebrows and your hairline, remaining in line with your pupils. Again, trace small inward circles for a full minute or more.

Press hard enough to feel it, but not so hard that you hurt yourself. Breathe deeply while rubbing your fingers in circles. Drink a full glass of water when you are finished. Aaaaahhhhh....

7. Best Extended Pun Ever:
Read "The Death of a Foy," From Isaac Asimov, the master of so many ways of putting words together. Originally published in 1986, as one of 28 short stories in "The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov," this has got to rank as the most wickedly groan-worthy sci-fi pun of all time.

8. Read a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Adventure:
Before Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes, he was a medical student who signed on as a surgeon aboard an Arctic whaler. The University of Chicago Press has published his diary: Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure. During the month of December, it's available as a free download. Riveting stuff -- and, best of all, it's a Doyle you've never read!

9.  DIY Spiced Mocha Better-Than-Coffeehouse Coffee:
I love to give decadently good gifts and -- OMG -- this one is so addicting. If you like those overpriced coffeehouse mochas, you'll love this. It's ridiculously easy:

MuseInks Mocha

Whisk together 3/4 C hot water and 3/4 C sugar (or do what I do and use one of those big, plastic shakers for making protein shakes... or gravy). When well blended, add 1 heaping 1/2 tsp. allspice or cloves and 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa. Whisk or shake until syrupy smooth. Taste, adding small amounts of maple syrup until mixture reaches desired sweetness.

Put 2 tablespoons of the mocha syrup into a cup (or just glop it in till it fills the bottom), pull a double espresso into the cup and mix thoroughly. Steam milk for a latte and add to coffee mocha. (Cheat: Milk, schmilk... Pour regularly brewed strong coffee over 2 Tbsp. of the mocha syrup, stir, and mmmmmm.)

10. Celtic Knot Horse Coloring Mandala:
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Finally, dear reader, the piece de resistance -- akin to that big gift with your name on it crammed under the tree. Please accept this original adult coloring mandala, including all those gorgeous horses and all that intricate knotwork, with my blessing. I asked Karina Dale to make something awesome: something worthy of my clients and my readers, and she came through in spades (as always). I love it. I trust you will, too.

Here's hoping you have the time, soon, to grab your pens or pencils, curl up someplace comfortable (maybe with a delish' mocha--? Or in front of a fire? Or with a favorite 4-footed furry critter nearby), and color your way to relaxation. If you like this coloring page, there's another nifty Karina Dale mandala creation on Thanks Giving.

Wishing you every good thing this holiday season. And here's hoping that 2016 is your best year yet!