What It Feels Like When Someone Wishes Me ‘Happy Hanukkah’

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Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. This was taken from outside my home, looking into the front window.

I grew up in a conservative, Christian state where most people say Merry Christmas. And that’s fine.

I usually say Happy Holidays. I never take offense to a greeting of the season, regardless of how it’s spoken. But something warm and precious emerges when someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah.

Let me paint a picture for a moment:

When you grow up as a religious minority, you’re used to society overlooking your holiday. It’s nothing that bothers or insults you. Therefore, you never think twice when someone gives you a Christmas card, or a Santa hat, or an ornament. You appreciate it.

Yet, I’ve never forgotten the boss who bought me a Hanukkah card my first year on the job—accompanied by a bottle of wine—or the friend who texts me the first night of Hanukkah every year. Precisely because I don’t expect it, when someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah, they enter a special place in my heart and mind.

For me, those two simple words permeate deeper than the typical holiday greeting.

They say, “I see you. I recognize you. I understand this is your holiday, and I want to acknowledge that.” They say, “I accept you. I welcome you. And I hope you have a lovely Festival of Lights.”

I make it my mission to wish people whatever holiday they celebrate. For most of my friends or colleagues, I say Merry Christmas. I’ve wished a Happy Kwanza. And I say Happy Holidays when I don’t know someone’s religion.

Rarely, however, do I receive a Happy Hanukkah. When I do, it makes my heart dance. I rejoice in sharing the miracle and delight of my holiday with others, just as so many spread Christmas cheer wherever they go.

I know people do not say Happy Hanukkah for a variety of reasons: they’re shy, or they’re unsure of the correct greeting, or they think I also celebrate Christmas. Some people just don’t know. That’s okay.

But for the occasional person who acknowledges my holiday directly, thank you for making my smile glow just a little brighter.

What Happened to the Need for Volunteers?

I’m a 29-year-old professional woman, college-educated, and I’m dying to volunteer for my neighborhood’s at-risk kids.  

There’s just one problem: no one wants my help.

Today is one of those days I’m veering off-topic. And yes, perhaps this is a bit of a rant. But I see something wrong–very wrong–with my recent discovery. And I cannot remain silent.

What I want(ed) to do 

I grew up in the vibrant dance culture of Phoenix, Ariz. (yes, we do have one, believe-it-or-not). I danced ballet, jazz, lyrical … 15 hours a week. I helped put myself through college by teaching dance.

And now that I work a professional 9-5, I want to teach it again. Except this time, I don’t want to be paid. I want to volunteer as a dance teacher and mentor for teenage girls in my neighborhood’s high school dance program.

It’s a Title 1 school. That means it receives federal funds because many of its students are at-risk, from low-income households.

Since this summer, I’ve been trying to call the school. I’ve left messages with the principal, the office staff, and even the staff dance teacher. I went so far as to call the SCHOOL DISTRICT and leave a message for their volunteer coordinator.

Not a single call back.

I guess our local school districts, which are scrounging for money, don’t need free help from its community’s professionals, who by the way, pay property taxes to support education.

Walter Cronkite had a volunteer high-school mentor.

Did you know that? I’m currently reading his autobiography. The man was a professional journalist in Walter’s community. He volunteered to teach and mentor the neighborhood high school kids once or twice a week.

Walter Cronkite, as we know him, would probably never have existed without this great volunteer.

Have you ever seen the movie, “Stand and Deliver?” It’s about the infamous math teacher, Jaime Escalante, who taught at-risk high school students calculus. Jaime, a Bolivian educator, came to Garfield High School from a computer factory, where he served as a star technician.

In today’s world of public education, neither Jaime nor Walter’s mentor would have made it to the classroom. No one would have bothered to call them back.

Yes, I’m angry! And you should be, too.

What happened to this country’s appreciation for volunteers? When did it become so HARD to help, for free, in your community? When did we become so selfish, that we think only to use our communties as resources–to better ourselves?

I come from a family of teachers. My mother was a teacher, my father was a teacher. My boyfriend’s mother is a teacher. I have cousins who are teachers. It runs in my blood. And yet, I cannot get involved.

Is anyone else seeing what’s happening here?

Yes, perhaps there are many reasons why I haven’t gotten a call back. But after leaving multiple messages for multiple people, I think the message is clear. They don’t want my help. Because to them, it’s not about the kids.

This makes me wonder, what other opportunities are being denied to our youth in the public school system? Who else have they not called back?

I’m not a parent. So I urge every parent out there to find out. Ask questions. Because apparently, it’s no longer the American way to step up and volunteer for your community’s youth.

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Dry on Creativity? This ‘Art’ Might Help

Don’t you just LOVE when you see an image that makes you want to grab the nearest pen and paper, and begin scribbling?

Or when you hear “that song” on the radio in the car, and suddenly, you think of your next (New York Times bestselling) novel?

Art inspires art. For me, it can be an image, a song, a movie, or heck—even another work of writing. Today, I’d like to share some images (five) that are inspirational. They are beautiful, and maybe they’ll stimulate some ingenious ideas in YOU.

Here’s the disclaimer. The oil-on-canvas artist, who recently graduated Magna Cum Laude with her degree in Fine Art from Arizona State University, is my younger sister, Becca Lopatin:

**All images are the strict, copywritten property of Rebecca Lopatin and may not be copied, reproduced or printed without the proper WRITTEN consent of Rebecca Lopatin.**

You can find more of Becca’s work, as well as her contact information, on her Blogspot website.

SO TELL ME: What inspires YOU to write, or create other art?

Drama Lessons Americans Can Learn from Spanish Soap Operas

He bursts through the door, his black hair slicked away from his obsidian eyes, his chest bulging from a torn shirt. And his cheeks flush with the tone of desire.

“Rosa,” he says, “I am in love with you.”

“But, your brother,” she gasps, her lips pursed, begging to be kissed. “We are to be married tomorrow, at sunset.”

“I don’t care! Don’t you know, Rosa?” He glides forward, gripping her fragile arms until she begs him to stop. 

“Don’t Antonio! The pain, I can’t take it!”

“He impregnated your best friend, Rosa!”

Gasp! Shock of horrors. Noooo!

Yea, imagine if YOUR life played out like that. Some hot, Latin hunk whose glistening pectorals bulge from his torn shirt declares his love for you the day your cheating, good-for-nothing fiancé gets some other chick pregnant.

This is why I love Spanish soap operas—and I don’t even speak Spanish.

C’mon American writers! Where’s your sense of drama?

I have a Latin boyfriend. Who’s Guatemalan. And I LOVE it. He and his family introduced me to a whole new definition of the word, “drama.” Mix that with my engrained sense of Jewish humor, and the world is in for a lethal weapon.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love American writing and film and yada yada yada. But seriously, don’t you think we could learn something from the Latin culture?

Here are seven lessons American writers can learn from Spanish soap operas:

  1. No passion? Don’t even bother writing it.
  2. If it doesn’t happen in YOUR life, it’s perfect for the story.
  3. Someone better be crying, while someone else is making love.
  4. It’s OK to use swords in modern-day fights.
  5. Knights in shining armor really do ride in on white horses and sweep women off their feet.
  6. Get sexy. Really, really sexy.
  7. Screaming, yelling, and accusations (especially irrational ones) are a good thing.

OK, so what’s my point here? I’m not telling to you actually start writing Spanish soap operas (per say), but I AM telling you to think about why they’re so popular.

Besides the steamin’ hot guys and girls, of course.

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Have You Heard? New Social Network for READERS

If you’re a new author trying to publicize your book, a gold mine just landed before your eyes.

All you have to do, is reach out and grab the riches.

I’m talking about the new “inReads” social network, which celebrated its full launch about a week ago, reported GalleyCat. According to the article, inReads is a social network just for readers. They discuss books, they review books, and they recommend books.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

“After four weeks in beta mode, inReads counted 10,000 page views and 1,000 Twitter followers,” GalleyCat said.

Authors, right here is your target audience! You want to create buzz around your book? You want people to buy your book? Get to know inReads.

Here’s what I thought

I spent some time poking around the site to get a feel for this new social network. It reminds me of a blogosphere, with initial posts written by staff reporters (interview sessions and such). Here are the highlights of my findings:

  • inReads is a production of WETA, the Washington D.C. public television, media and radio entity.
  • The staff’s job (including contributors and advisory board) is to help the conversation along, but the community members are really responsible for driving it.
  • The platform actually has professional editors and writers (I kid you not, people with 25+ years experience in the journalism, publishing and corporate worlds).
  • It reminds me of an online magazine format, with more social and engaging aspects.

Bottom Line

inReads has the ability to be a trendsetter. And because it’s published by such a notable entity, that gives it credibility. It’s still new, and therefore, has the ability to evolve. Will I sign up for an account right now?

No–not yet.

I don’t have a book. But once I do, you bet your behind I’ll be diving–head first–into inReads and mastering it the way I learned Twitter, Facebook and WordPress.

SO TELL ME: Have you seen inReads? What did YOU think of it? Is it too traditional for you, or do you think the future of success lies in an even more social platform?

Bananagrams: The New Age of American Consumerism

We’ve reached a new height in the age of American consumerism—Scrabble in a banana.

Yes, I found this new gem while stopping at Walgreens the night before Thanksgiving to grab some contact solution. You can purchase this enlightening invention for only $14.99.

Yes, it's true. This is a Bananagram. No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Here’s the kicker: When I came back to Walgreens to snap a photo, only one remained.

I have no idea what company makes the Bananagram, or why. All I know is that I couldn’t help but stop after glimpsing five oversized, fabric bananas hanging from a hook off the aisle at Walgreens. I had to inspect this specimen further.

Upon removing one fabric banana from its hook, I noticed a zipper down the middle. Intrigued, I gently unzipped the contraption, revealing its hidden surprise. When it opened, a bag full of plastic letters—the kind used in Scrabble—erupted from the banana’s core.

I looked up at my boyfriend, confused. “Scrabble in a banana?”

He broke into a hysterical fit of laughter, as I stood there, stunned, with my shoulders shrugged. “Who would use Scrabble in a banana?”

Then I noticed the invention had a name. There, inscribed onto the side of the banana, it proclaimed, “Bananagram.”

Wow.

Now I know we’ve hit our peak. We have Facebook, and Twitter, and God bless it, we have WordPress. We have cameras on our phones and phones on our computers. But never have we reached the epitome of our capabilities in societal communication—until the Bananagram.

May it bring us peace and solve world hunger.