How Do You Enjoy Life?

Before I begin, I cannot say how thrilled I am to welcome summer. Because of this, I will be taking the next several months off and will be coming back in the fall with all-new articles. Until then, you can catch me on Twitter where I am updating my “Year of Thanks” tweets, and on Instagram where I am posting photos of life as it happens.

In the meantime, this is what is on my mind this week:

What is it that makes some people jolly and others miserable? In fact, let me turn the question on its head. Does money buy happiness? After all, is that not what everyone looks to when thinking about being satisfied?

I am sure that if you think about it for a moment, money is the furthest thought on your mind when it comes to happiness. Right? We all want love, joy, peace, comfort, none of which we can attain without first understanding what happiness is.

Ah, but I hear someone say, “Money will certainly buy me comfort—a new sofa, a new bed, a new car, house, wardrobe.”

Yes, I agree, but for how long? Once the newness fades, then what? I can see why some folks end up in a cycle of going to work, buying stuff, paying the bills for the stuff they bought, and going out to buy other stuff to protect their stuff. Meanwhile, as the home becomes fuller, life becomes emptier.

This is why I would like you to think about this next question. Take your time and really think about it. If you want, you can leave a comment—or not. It is entirely up to you. This is all about you, and you really do not have to share a thing.

So here is my question:

How do you enjoy life?

Again, take your time to think about it. It all has to do with the perception of happiness. What do you perceive happiness being?

I will start it off. For me, happiness is spending time with my family, sharing experiences with friends, and praying and listening to God. Add to that good food, travel, and fulfillment with everything else that I do, there you have a perfect composite of me enjoying life.

Now, what about you?

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Collecting

I’m a collector. I collect anything that I feel has value. As an example, I collect headphones. Don’t ask me why. I just do. I own a pair of Sony noise canceling headphones, a pair of Sennheiser earbuds and headphones, and I’ve lost count of how many Apple earbuds I have in my possession. Last time I checked, I only have one pair of ears I carry around with me every day. What can I say? I like listening to my music my way.

Sennheiser HD 202
Sennheiser HD 202

For a time, I used to collect movies. I know it sounds strange, but it’s what I used to do. I couldn’t walk out of a video store without purchasing something. I own the entire Lord of the Rings collection. I also bought multiple versions of the Godfather collection, including the restored version, which I think is great. But if you’ve seen the Godfather a billion times like I have, the gold tones in the film are rather distracting. I can’t tell you how many different versions of the Alien collection I own either. Somewhere along the line I went crazy purchasing every set I could find. Yeah, I’m a fan. Now, don’t think I’m heavy on the drama, fantasy and sci-fi genres. My vice is owning all of the movies to the Bring It On collection. What can I say? They’re hilarious.

As silly as it sounds, I’ve gone insane with my music collection, too. How do I describe buying anything associated with Led Zeppelin without seeming like a lunatic? I own their earlier works, their box sets, their remasters, their remasters of remasters, their solo works, their tribute albums. I would go as far as stating I’m a Led Zep die-hard fan, but I won’t. I think my cloud collection speaks for itself. Additionally, I collect oldies albums from the 50’s and 60’s. What can I say? I like listening to those old tunes.

Greek Style Fries
Greek Style Fries

Topping off my list is my silly collection of food photos I’ve been snapping whenever I take the family out to eat. I have a lot of those. Call me OCD. I find food photos to be not only great images to salivate over, but also an awesome springboard to jump start meal ideas. I know. I’m strange. But I can attest they make great conversation pieces.

Okay, one more. I collect photos of a particular tree shedding its leaves in the fall. Once a year, I visit a specific spot in the woods to take the photo. I have many. I’m not sure when my fixation started, but it has kept me busy.

I think that’s it. I collect other stuff, too, but nothing as extravagant as Jerry Seinfeld’s collection of Porsche. Wouldn’t that be something? Where would I put them all? Don’t ask me.

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Do you collect anything?

What I’ve Learned

I typically don’t write about God. I try to keep my topics light and free from controversy. I’ll write about other things instead, like morals, the law and what is right. But about the G-word, I’m never quite sure if I say too little or if I say too much. And I find it risky because I don’t want to alienate readers who read my blog for entertainment purposes only.

The Holy Bible
The Holy Bible

However, there has been a development in my life. Last year this time, I had promised myself that I would read the Holy Bible from cover to cover. To keep me on track, I went ahead and entered a chronological reading plan into my phone that would remind me daily of my goal. I say chronological because there are various reading plans out there that allow a person to start reading the word in various ways. I chose chronological because I’ve always wanted to gain a historical perspective to the writings than simply reading it for literature.

With that in mind, I’m happy to say that as of December 31, last year, I completed my goal of reading the Holy Bible from cover to cover.

What can I say about the whole thing? I can only describe it as an experience.

I learned there is a God.
I learned God would not give me a test he doesn’t think I can handle.
I learned that no matter how many times I sin, God would forgive me.

I learned about faith.
I learned about hope.
I learned about love.

I learned that I mean something to God and he will do anything to save me from the penalty of my sins.
I learned that as smart as I think I am, God is smarter.

I learned to be patient.
I learned to be kind.
I learned to love.

I learned what real peace is all about.
I learned to sleep better at night.

I learned a lot more, but those are the big ones. Apart from the experience of historical reading, I gained a huge understanding regarding human nature. For instance, I found a whole book called Proverbs chalk full of golden nuggets of wisdom dedicated to dealing with human nature. One of my favorite sayings I picked up from the book is “Go to the ant, you sluggard.” It means those who are lazy should have a look at what the ant does. The ant harvests in the fall to live through the winter. It also means, like an ant, I should always stay busy. Hard to get into trouble when I’m busy.

Yet, of all the things I’ve learned, I think loving God and loving others is the most important. I don’t want to sound preachy, but to me it made enough an impact to promote a change in how I act—a change noticeable in my writings and to others.

At least, I hope it’s noticeable.

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Have you ever wanted to read something cover to cover but never had the opportunity to do so? If so, what?

Keeping on Track

During this time of year, I take some time out of my busy schedule to assess where I am and where I want to go. This assessment encompasses not only my personal life but also my writing life. Part of this exercise includes me looking at my life as a five-year plan, and in some cases, a ten-year plan. I began doing this a few years ago when I needed structure to my life—something I severely lacked before I started writing.

Create and keep a schedule
Create and keep a schedule

I can’t say what I do is easy, but it does yield fruit. I’m disciplined now and more attuned to what I believe my life mission is in the grand scheme of things. I’m not saying this to make it seem as if I have everything figured out. On the contrary, if I have anything figured out, it’s my name and where I was born—and maybe where I go when I die. Other than those little things, I’m at the mercy of the wind.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing all this is that I’d like to share with you three key things I do to keep on track for the year. Don’t expect miracles if you’re going to implement any of this stuff in your life. I can tell you it is not as easy as I make it out to be. But, it is worth the try, if you’re in the mood to make a change for a more goal-centered life.

Schedule downtime—That’s an odd way to think about getting things done. Isn’t scheduling downtime the exact opposite of getting things done? Well, not really. What you want to do is prevent burnout. I’ve been there when all I could think about was what I wanted to do, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I read somewhere that the body functions on a time cycle, and if the body doesn’t get the rest it needs, it will rebel by throwing itself in bed. That happened to me. There was a time I became ill with a flu or fever every single year since I was a kid. Nowadays, that doesn’t happen. I take one full day off from being online, writing and chores to be with the family. It’s a full day of familial bonding that has since kept me healthy. The downtime also stimulates my creative juices, clearing my mind and readying the week for my reappearance. By the time my day off is over, I’m set to tackle anything thrown at me.

Work hard—Given I’m a proponent for taking a day off every week, the other side of the coin is making up the time by working hard during the other six days of the week. Working hard doesn’t mean sweating hard, though. It means doing more with the finite time you have available. If that means finding alternate ways to produce more than you are capable of, then it means you’re working not just harder, but smarter. The ultimate goal is to get the things you would have had done in seven days with six days instead. Tricky, but doable. In the context of writing, I schedule everything. My novel writing is part of my schedule as is my site writing. Responding to comments on my site, Twitter and Facebook is in there, too. At the end of the week, all that hard work will have paid off once I look at my accomplishments and realize just how much I produced.

Put it all down on paper—An interesting thing happens when you write things down. You remember them. I think there must be some sort of relational action thing going on in the brain when I write things down. I seem to remember those things and I can remember what they look like written on paper. The idea is a strange one, but I will have to say this really works. Do you really want to accomplish your goals? Write them all down on paper. Years ago, I had the idea in my mind of what I wanted to do—write a trilogy—then went ahead and wrote the titles down on paper. Suddenly, seeing the titles there made them more real. I hadn’t written any of them, but they were real to me. I did the same thing with my other parts of my life. If I wanted a new car, I’d write it on paper then I knew there was no turning back from achieving my goal. Again, write everything you want down on paper. It does make a difference.

Last thing on my mind is this: When a trial hits, you hit right back. Don’t surrender. Stay true to the course. There is nothing in this world that ought to prevent you from achieving your goals. To use the cliché: Live the dream. No one else can do it for you.

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What goals do you want to write down that would make it more real for you to achieve success?

Firsts

I find it hard to believe The Dark Knight came out nine years ago. I remember sitting in the audience thinking it was one of the most amazing movies I’ve ever seen.

Why so serious?
Why so serious?

I also find it difficult to comprehend how much time has passed since Titanic came out. Has it really been nineteen years? Incredible.

My wife tells me we’ve been married for over twenty years. Well, she doesn’t need to tell me, I already know. Yet, when I think about it, it doesn’t seem as if time has passed at all.

Where have I been since I first heard Katy Perry‘s massive pop album Teenage Dream hit the charts? That was five years ago.

Then there is the time Friends went off the air. That happened twelve years ago.

Everybody Loves Raymond
Everybody Loves Raymond

And let’s not forget about Everybody Loves Raymond. I remember lying on my couch eleven years ago watching the final episode.

Is this how I mark time, by the passing of entertainment units? It seems like it.

Although, I beg to differ. I remember the first time I told my wife I loved her. The next thing she did was hop on a train back to Nova Scotia. Was it something I said?

How can I forget the time when my first child came into the world? We were in tears. Nope, I wasn’t watching a TV show at the time, and I don’t remember a swelling soundtrack playing in the background.

My first car was a Honda Accord. The memory of that day, when I went into the bank to ask for a loan, is still in my head. The interest on the loan was eleven percent. I thought the bank at the time had given me a great deal.

The first time I landed my dream job was such a pleasure that my family and I went out celebrating. It was also the first time I could afford to pay for everyone’s meal.

I can’t forget the first guitar my dad had bought me when I was a teenager. It was an imitation Gibson Les Paul. I played that thing so much that I had worn the frets to a state of non-existence.

Whenever I think of summer, I think of the first time I had gone in the deep end on my own. It was also the first time when I had almost drowned. After that incident, I learned how to swim, and have never forgotten.

I read somewhere that a person’s greatest fear is speaking in front of an audience. My first experience addressing a large crowd was when I was fifteen years old in high school, running for Ninth Grade class president. I stood on stage behind a podium, pointed a finger at the entire student body, which was close to five hundred kids, and said, “I want you to want me.” The entire assembly erupted in laughter. That phrase was from a song made popular at the time by Cheap Trick. It was also the first time I had felt absolute embarrassment.

But you know what? I won that election. One of my teachers later said to me, aside from having moxie, that if I could get up there and make a fool of myself like that, I certainly belonged in politics.

I guess when it comes to memories my entire life is not a set of vignettes centered around entertainment, even if I sometimes think it to be that way. No, I enjoy reminiscing with family about our firsts, our seconds and thirds, what we’ve learned, and if we had the opportunity, what would we do over.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t change a thing of my past. If I did, then I wouldn’t be who I am today.

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Do you remember any of your firsts? What do you like about those memories?

Writing Tips

Christmas Day. I’m not here right now but if you leave me a message I will get back to you as soon as I can. Actually, by the time you read this, it will have been a full month since I wrote it. I cherish these long timelines before writing something and before it goes to press. I can play with the writing, add a little, take a little—it’s very organic. Sometimes, and this happens more often than you think, I scrap the post for something entirely different.

Writing longhand
Writing longhand

It’s not my intention today to ramble on about nonsense, so I thought I’d give you a gift instead. Many times, I have felt the need to elaborate more about my writing, but I have never had the will to do that, particularly for these reasons:

  • Writing sites crop up every day, and what I offer isn’t anything you can’t gain from other sites.
  • I’ve never felt comfortable about writing about writing. I know, I’ve written three thick books that I should be proud of, but I’ve always felt unworthy to impart any information to my audience. In my mind, it seems pretentious to do such a thing, considering authors such as John Grisham, who I admire dearly, has never written about his writing. If anyone should write about writing, it should be Grisham.

Anyway, today I’d like to give you three things I do to keep on track with my writing. With this I hope to overcome this huge feeling of unworthiness that goes through me when I’m writing about writing.

All right, enough of the self-loathing. Here are the points:

  1. Schedule Writing Time—I’m a great believer in treating writing like a job. Well, for me, it is a job, so I have no choice. I clock in and punch out every day. That’s the secret as to how I get so much writing done in a day. I wake up at 4:52 every morning, wash up, have my walk, then I sit down to write while everyone is still asleep. My writing is scheduled. I don’t allow anything to interfere with my goal of getting 1,000 words done. Trust me when I say that when you become scheduled, writing will turn into a habit very quickly in your life. You’ll miss it if you do not do it.
  2. Write What You Love—Everyone has something interesting to talk about, even if it’s a silly subject like the zombie apocalypse. When I first started writing, I had no clue what I was doing. In some respect, even today, I don’t know what I’m doing. But, I’ll tell you something you may not know. If you write about things you love, you will never run out of things to talk about, either in your novel writing or on your site. I find it easy to sit down and come up with posts for my site and scenes for my books. And the only reason for that is that I love writing about the things that interest me. Fortunately, the things I love happen to be the things other people love, too.
  3. Don’t Rely on Muse or Inspiration—This is the only “don’t” on my list. Treat writing like a job. In a job, you don’t rely on inspiration to get things done. You do the job because you have to, and if you don’t get it done, you’re out of a job. Simple as that. Are you going to fire yourself? Of course not! You’re going to work hard until what you imagined in that brain of yours flows on the paper and you’re done. Yes, it will be hard, especially those days when you hear yourself saying, “I don’t feel like it.” I promise you though, if you treat writing like a job, you will never run out of anything to say.

One last thing before I go back to having my eggnog—always, always revise. Forget about the first draft. Sometimes I’ll knock out a first draft that appears publication worthy, but the usual thing I do is dump everything on paper, then revise.

Revisions is what makes your work shine. Never cheap out on spending the time with your writing to make it what you’ve envisioned.

Now, if you feel the need to write something, leave a comment. In the meantime, I’m sure at this very moment I’m getting ready to enjoy the rest of today with my family with tons of food and festivities.

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What writing tips do you have that you’d like to share with everyone?

More Games I Love Playing

When I’m not writing, I have a number of hobbies to keep me entertained. I enjoy photography, and if you’ve been a regular reader of my site, then you’ll know I get a thrill telling you about my love affair with capturing the right moment. I also enjoy food. Being Italian, I’ve come to appreciate the big Sunday meals at an early age. In fact, I’ve shared those things with you many times. I can’t deny it is one of my favorite things to do as a way to bond the family. And, along with all the other hobbies I have, I love listening to music. There’s nothing quite like having a song appear on a playlist to take me by surprise and change my mood. Tell me the theme Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn’t make you want to jump on a horse and conquer the world. Yeah, music, there’s nothing like it.

But of all the hobbies I have, the one that excites me, and keeps me focused for hours, is playing games. One quick game of chess on my phone is a great way to distract me enough to feel refreshed and carry on with my day.

I have a number of new games I’ve been playing that I thought I would share with you. I enjoy getting lost in these games, so they may not be for you. I do find, however, they are entertaining enough for a mention.

SimCity BuildIt
SimCity BuildIt

SimCity BuildIt—I discovered this game one weekend while searching for something to do between eating lunch and going to my kid’s recital. If you haven’t played any of those time-sensitive games, where you’re creating a farm, a town, or in this case, a city, then take this as a lovely introduction. The first thing you’ll notice with SimCity BuildIt is its incredible attention to detail. Sometimes, I simply sit back and watch as the scene changes from day to night. The building model is quick. You have to zone areas for growth, add electricity, add water, and, if you really would like your citizens to be happy, a park or two. The economics are in perfect balance with player expectations. When you build a residential neighborhood, you don’t have to wait long to see growth. The added city that comes with the game is a pleasure to watch come alive. This is a great game to pick up for your phone or tablet.

Card Shark
Card Shark

Card Shark—I’ve played many Solitaire games, but none quite like Klondike in the Card Shark universe. The game has many other card games, such as DrawPoker and MemoryMatch, yet I really do enjoy having that quick game of Klondike when I travel. Even at home, it’s a wonderful app to play until dinner is ready. I think my favorite part about this app is all its options to customize the playing field. You can choose from a bevy of card decks to play, different backgrounds for the table, and even go so far as to choose if you you’d like uniform or messy stacks for the deal and discard piles. And to top it all off, the game looks great. I have yet to encounter an app with cards that look as realistic as those presented in Card Shark.

Action Movie FX
Action Movie FX

Action Movie FX—Okay, so this isn’t a game per se, but I can’t resist getting enough of this app. It’s a film studio on your phone, complete with real special effects from well-known movies. The most recent version I downloaded has the little robot from the new Star Wars movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens as one of the effects to use as part of a clip you can capture yourself. The way it works is you shoot a video with your camera or tablet, process the effect with the app and share it with all your friends. The app makes ordinary shots hilarious, and equally funny when sharing it with people you know. For instance, one morning I took a video of my wife sitting at the table having breakfast while she was reading. In the clip, I then added the Star Wars robot rolling into the scene and blasting her in her seat. We couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the scene. The app also has explosions, rocket and other robot effects to play with. I love this app so much that I do consider it a great way to spend a few minutes playing with it to see what else it can do.

I had a longer list of games to go through, but these are the one I like the most.

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Do you play games? What games do you play, and which game would you recommend I should play next?