The Underdogs Always Win

In books, it seems like there is always one guarantee. The underdog of the tale will always win.

These underdogs are normal people who are buried under outside forces working to bring them down- a bigger opposing sports team, a teacher out to get them, an amputee running a race, a family racing against a tornado trying to destroy their home and livelihood.

Somehow, I always find stories like this addictive. It feels so relatable to read about a character going through tough times, because everyone has experience some kind of hardship or struggle in their life at some point. Some of us more than others, admittedly, but still everyone has experienced it. And so it’s so magnetic to read about a character who is feeling some of our same emotions and dealing with some of our same problems.

In real life, we know, it isn’t always so easy to win. In real life sometimes insurmountable things conspire against us, and sometimes the bed guy or the big guy or the harsh forces of nature or whatever it might be wins. But we love that in books and stories, we see characters win against their problems. It helps us to think about how we might win against our own demons, gives us courage to fight the skeletons in our own closets.

First, let’s Break Down Where we Meet Underdogs

An underdog is a word used to describe stories, real or fictional, where the people who have everything to lose still make it in the end. These are the rags-to-riches stories, Remembering the Titans, The Karate Kid, and the Rocky of the world. Yes, a lot of the most famous underdog movies are sports themed. No, I don’t know why that is, but people who watch sports more than I do (I still call the thingie on the field in American Football the yellow fork, and I forget what people correct me to every time. I feel no shame in that.)

Besides the strange connection these stories seem to have with the sports fiction genre, they are also all united by following the same basic plot. The characters, the locations, the jokes, everything is unique about each of them, but even so every story with a beginning and end made since the dawn of humanity can be boiled down to just three basic plot types.

Books, Pages, Story, Stories, Notes, Reminder, Remember

Arch Plot

In books we call this the archplot. Every book, movie, and any other kind of story that has a beginning, middle, and end out there in the world is one of three basic plots: arch plot, mini plot, and anti plot. The majority of novels follow the arch plot, the classic plot where the characters begin one way and something about them changes by the end.

Mini Plot

Mini plot is completely different from archplot, because the characters are struggling with internal forces and their own heart. The best example I can think of is It’s a Wonderful Life. There is the archplot element, still, in that George Bailey is fighting against the evil bank that stole George’s bank’s money and is trying to own all the town. That is definitely archplot. But the majority of the movie is spent by George questioning himself and going through his dark night of the soul. He questions why he was even born, and thinks that no one’s life would be changed if he hadn’t been. It’s a good movie to watch when you are struggling with your own dark night of the soul, but it’s also a good illustration of that international struggle that characterizes mini plot.

Anti Plot

Anti Plot is complicated, and the stories written for it tend to be either confusing, depressing, or both. The point of Anti Plot is that the characters don’t change. The characters start the story with some inner problem and outer problem conspiring against them, and by the end those forces are either still conspiring. The characters don’t win or change. I’m not personally a fan, though I will reexamine that in the future and try books in this style again someday.


The Magic of Underdogs

The point of all of this is to still go back to the underdogs. We can learn a lot about them. What traits, exactly, make it so people who have everything stacked against them still win?

  • The first answer is that it isn’t all as one sided as it may seem. Underdogs who come out on top always have more of a drive to win than the opponents. They want to succeed more, and in stories that means they do.
  • Optimism. Underdogs always have enough optimism to believe there is a chance for them to come out. They have to, or else why would they try at all?
  • Perseverance and the drive to keep going even when the going gets hard instead of giving up and running away from the challenge.
  • Make a battle plan. Underdogs always make a battle plan, whether it’s the kid Kevin McAllistir from Home Alone figuring out how to oust bad guys who invaded his home or Harry Potter fighting the most evil and powerful wizard in the world, if you are fighting someone who clearly has the upper hand you need to have a battle plan to figure out what strengths and strategies you can use to win.
  • Make friends, because you are stronger together. Countries can be toppled by rebels, bullies can be defeated by the unpopular kids, illness or disability can be overcome or worked around.

You Can Win Even if You are an Underdog

You can still win and make things work, even if you are the underdog in your own story. You need to put in the hard work, have the positive mindset, work with friends, and make a plan and you will have a good chance of overcoming difficult odds.

It won’t be easy, of course. The thing about being the underdog is that you are in the disadvantaged position. You will have to work harder than the forces conspiring against you to come on top. But that’s okay. That’s life. The majority of humans in the world never get anything without working hard for it. The same will probably be true for you too.

It’s so magnetic to read about a character who is feeling some of our same emotions and dealing with some of our same problems. We read about their problems, and see how they have success in the end, and it helps us feel more prepared the next time we have the same problem, because we’ve heard about how to win despite that particular difficulty before. Even in fiction, like Fantasy books about dragons, are relatable. My Shadeworld books are mostly dragons and fey and wizards and magic, but when you dig into it the characters are dealing with jealousy and betrayal and heartbreak and confusion, just like all of us have experienced before.

So be brave! Maybe, just maybe, if you work hard at it, you can still come out on top in your situation.



The Top 10 Hacks to Enjoy English Class for my Fellow Dyslexics

You may not know that I am an author with Dyslexia. What is Dyslexia? It is a visual disability where the brain interprets images as the mirror-image of itself. In classrooms and general medical offices this term is also often mistakenly used to refer to all visual processing disorders, which is to say issues where the eyes see things clearly but the brain jumbles them up in all kinds of ways. Other visual processing disorders besides specifically Dyslexia can include images rotating, flipping around, skipping over things like entire lines of text, scrambling letters or numbers, double vision, and more. Needless to say, it can be very difficult to enjoy reading and writing when those darn words won’t stay still on the page and choose to zoom all around instead, and it can be embarrassing to be a teenager and still write your letters and numbers backwards.


Have no fear though. Not only is treatment available at any age from specialized Optometrists for all of these visual processing disorders to train your brain to stop scrambling information and drastically reduce how difficult these conditions can make classwork and learning, it’s also possible to make some tweaks to your approach to learning to make it all a little easier.

  1. Point at the Line

    • It can help to point at the line you are reading so your eyes are less likely to wander across the page.
    • Younger students even point at each individual word, but that is not as subtle a thing to do and can make you look like you are having trouble following what you are reading which can be embarrassing in Middle and High school.
  2. Use the Context

    • Use what you know about what you’re reading to help you figure it out. If you can’t decide if a word is “magic” or “moose”, knowing that you are reading a fantasy book about Romania can help you decide the right word is “magic”.
  3. Use Previous Sentences to Figure out the Current Sentence

    • If the last sentence was about a guy drowning, he’s probably still underwater.
  4. Guess Ahead in Reading

    • Use what you know about what you’ve recently read to guess at what will likely happen in future sentences, that will let your brain know what to expect so it is more likely to cooperate and translate what you’re reading into the correct ideas
  5. Ask Your Teacher to Say The Homework Out Loud

    • If your teacher only provides written homework instructions or a written rubric, ask for either an audio file of the same information on your online classroom
    • OR for your teacher to say it out loud when assigning the work instead of just writing it on the board
    • OR to be extra safe and make sure you can’t forget the assignment ask to record the teacher saying it during class so you can have both methods.
  6. Get Audiobooks for Class Work

    • When you are assigned books to read either buy audiobook editions of the book yourself or use Bookshare or use the National Library Service if you are an American.
  7. Dictate Writing Assignments

    • Use either the free dictation software in a smart phone or computer OR buy a dictation software like Dragon to complete essays and other written assignments.
  8. Allow Extra Time to Finish Work

    • Homework took me twice as long as other students. You may find you have a similar problem. Plan your schedule to leave more time to do work than you or your teacher think is needed
  9. Find Your Worth-It

    • Many Dyslexics find that despite their disability, they can become more proficient than the average person at just one type of visual processing: either reading/writing, or math, or reading music, or memorizing lines for acting, reading a foreign language…
    • This process is usually longer than peers take to become comfortable at the task. For myself I was in the “stupid group” for reading in school all the way until Third Grade when after years of plowing through the work and struggling to learn I became the best reader in the entire school. Becoming skilled and even better than average at a task involving visual processing is difficult if you have that disability, but if it is some one thing you really love and want to conquer it might be worth the pain and feeling stupid to eventually make it.
  10. Remember the Benefits of Dyslexia

    • Dyslexia has been shown to be connected to better problem solving skills and increased creativity.
    • Dyslexia supports greater critical thinking skills
    • Before getting visual therapy to reduce the severity of my visual processing disorders including Dyslexia, I never read the same book twice because even with all the context clues I used for reading, a word here or there being interpreted incorrectly led to very different stories each time! It was magical because I was never bored even reading my same favorite books over and over again!

What is your favorite hack to be successful in school and work with a learning disability?


Love is a Kind of Magic

In honor of February, we are on our last installment of Romance classics. In the past few weeks we’ve visited English romance classics, and world romance classics.

Today we are diving into the category of Fantasy Romances! These are a little sparse to choose from the English canon (canon= what we call the collection of all classics), as there aren’t a ton of fantasy books written before the early 1900’s in general that are still well known today, let alone romantic ones. That said I’ve combed through all the lists of classic literature and found three that fit this theme perfectly AND are a good read. Win-win, amirite?


ramayanThis Central Asian classic (India, Bengal, Persia, and basically every culture in that whole region have their own versions of it) features a beloved wife who is kidnapped by a demon and held for basically a year. Then the hero rescues her, only to have their relationship fall apart at the question of whether she still loves her husband or has instead fallen for her once captor. This story could be described in Western literary terms as “The Tale of Everyman” meets “Hades and Persephone”.

The King of Elfland’s Daughter

51fp8xbgpblThis book by Lord Dunsany hails from the 1920’s. That means any similarities between it and JRR Tolkien’s character Lúthien Tinúviel and her love story can’t be because Elfland is a copy of that story- after all, it predates it.

This is a story of an elf maiden and a human man falling in love. Their love is NOT smooth sailing. I feel like I’ve already revealed too much of the plot by saying it has some similarities to Lúthien, so I won’t go any deeper into this. Suffice to say it has elves and magic and two lovers from different worlds who will not find it easy to be together.

Beren and Lúthien


Now that I’ve mentioned them I have to include them again, huh? “Beren and Lúthien” is the first NEW book by J.R.R. Tolkien that has come out in years. Once again his son has combed through piles of old notes and done a bit of judicious editing to bring the story together into one novel for the benefit of the legions of fans of the deceased author.

The story of a human and elf falling in love, I am not so sure of the rest of what happens in this tale. I have read abbreviated references to this, of course, included in the footnotes and appendices of Tolkien’s previous books, but I have not gotten around to this particular full length novel version. I’m really looking forward to reading it, actually!

Which of these is your favorite?

A World of Love

This month we’ve embarked on a series of romance books, and we come today to the second installment: global romantic literature. I think many of my American readers will have read at least one of the books in my last post, but today we are going to go what may be new territory for you.

Global Romantic Literature

Today we will visit Japan, Russia, and France via some of their books. Be emotionally prepared that things will get pretty rough in these books, because the concept that “Romance=happy cheerful books that always have great endings” is a pretty modern invention, and we are delving into the history of the genre today.

The Tale of Genji


Probably the most globally well known Japanese book- not including famous manga series because that’s sort of considered a different category of story telling in America at least- The Tale of Genji is also really interesting because it was written by one of the earliest female writers in the world. Murasaki Shikibu, like all women of her time, was not allowed to be taught the sophisticated characters called Kanji every book before her was written in. The uneducated and women were restricted to writing in the basic letters of hiragana, which were made to be simple looking versions of complicated kanji- with the association that it was for simple people. The author was one of the first to write an entire novel in the only form of literacy available to her, but the plot was not simple at all.

It follows our main character who goes from riches to rags, plus the women he loved and his affairs, and how much each of his romances sucked. It’s sort of riches to rags to riches meets family drama, and a romance colors every stage of the story because honestly wooing the ladies is just Genji’s favorite hobby.

In modern terms this book might not sound super interesting. But if you are the kind of person who likes to hear all the juicy details of Becky’s on again and off again relationship with Todd who she sometimes dumps to be with Corey, then you might really be into the novel version of that kind of every day drama. In book terms that means if you really liked the love triangle aspect in Twilight this might be right up your alley.

Anna Karenina

Apparently you can buy the vintage book on Etsy (photo props not included)

As this one is not a British classic it wasn’t taught in any of the literature classes I took in school, or even college. (Funnily enough “Genji” was, but that’s just because I took a Japanese class in Highschool, for all the good that did me.) That said, it’s definitely a classic- just a Russian one. If you like drama, drama, drama, then this is for you. It’s sort of like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” all rolled up in one huge drama of affairs and divorce and spurned love.

Le Grand Meaulnes

9780141441894Called in the English translation “The Lost Estate,” this has become a must read for me. Be forwarned: this French classic is a tragedy. At least I consider it one. All the pieces were lined up for this to be a beautiful perfect happily ever after, but then the characters had to go and ruin it. That’s probably exactly why this is considered a top must read of all French books ever written, according to the French, according to a survey taken of a few French people.Is that complicated enough for you? It gets worse. The plot in this thing twists and turns. As before this has affairs, and heart breaks, and a lot of messiness going on (but the good kind of plot messiness that makes a story juicy, not the lazy plot hole variety at all.)

Which of these books have you read before? Which would you add to your TBR pile?

I feel personally betrayed by this discovery…

Hello friends. As most of you know, I am an author. This basically means I am a full time literature nerd. So, obviously, I like to occasionally dive into learning about my language itself. (Note: I like the history, but please note this DOES NOT mean I have perfect grammar or mechanics in my posts. My books are only close to that level of mechanic perfection because my editor rocks. )

I’ve previously done a collosallialy nerdtastic series of posts on the history and birth of our language from Latin, French, German, and bits and bobs from other languages, as well as what “Old English” actually means. But today I was enjoying a video on YouTube about rare punctuation (it’s basically the book dragon’s version of rare Pepe memes) when tragedy struck and I realized the one letter in the alphabet I had yearned for my whole life had once existed before we abandoned it. Did you know we once had a letter to resent the “th” sound??? Did you realize we once had spellings that were a little less phonetically confusing? And to find out we lost this just because early German printing houses didn’t want to be bothered to install an additional letter on their presses. Imagine my outrage at this! It hit me even harder than Pluto being kicked out of the planet club.


I am fairly tempted to write a post with the letter time left behind someday just so I can feel like a rebellious hero of letter dom. Not right now, because I’m lazy, but maybe someday.

What do you think about this revelation? Do you have a favorite extinct letter?

Adventures in The Forest

The forest is a pretty magical place to me, but it’s not that way all the time. Any part of nature can be treacherous and threaten your life. Especially if you live in it all alone without the conveniences of modern life to show to you from danger. Today were going to dive in to some classic and some new adventure books based in the wild!


Hatchet is an adventure classic, a straightforward tale of a boy who ventures into the world alone and must fight against the forces of nature which threaten to kill him even while his secret tries to tear him apart.

My Side of The Mountain

Sam is a 12-year-old boy who hates his family's cramped New York City apartment and decides to run away to his great-grandfather's abandoned farm in the Catskill Mountains. He reads a book about wilderness survival and uses his fledgling skills to stay alive: camping, hunting, and even making a peregrine falcon named Frightful his pet and hunting companion. Inspired an entire generation of kids including probably Richie Tenenbaum to be fascinated by falconry, and was named to the the Newbery Medal Honors list in 1960.

This was one of my dad’s favorite books growing up, but it took me a few chapters to warm up to it. Naturally, when I was forced to read it in school, I wasn’t a fan of it at first just because I was against the principal of assigned reading. once I really got into it though I was a big fan of this! It’s a classic survival book, yes, but it’s cool in the clever ideas he uses for said survival. I will definitely be reading this!

The Sign of the Beaver

It's 1769 and 12-year-old Matt is left on his own in the wilderness while his father resettles their family. He befriends a 14-year-old Native American chief's grandson named Attean and learns to hunt and fish, and is eventually invited to join the tribe and move north. Some of the descriptions of native culture in this book are dated, but the underlying message is of acceptance and understanding.

This book is a little different because it relies on teamwork for the hero to survive. it’s a pretty historical novel, not really because it’s old but because some of the cultural portrayals are. That said a story of a boy basically abandoned by his family coming to find his identity through friendship with someone who is supposedly his enemy by virtue of race alone is both interesting and encouraging. I flipped through it, but I definitely intend to sit down and read it front to back someday soon.

Have you tried these books? What adventure books are your favorites?

Adventures in The Snow

I recently completed a post on awesome classic adventure books based in the jungle. You guys seemed to be fans of it, so I will take this series further!

The Call of the Wild

This classic tale is about a man, his dogs, and the struggle to survive. I’m particularly drawn to rereading this right now because I feel I struggle to survive with how the weather has been very gross this winter!

Balto, but the book

The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by [Salisbury, Gay, Salisbury, Laney]

I think everyone has heard of the heroic dog named Balto. The story of a sled team racing to get medicine during a pandemic is still well known thanks to a 90s  animated movie. THIS version, however, is a little more grown-up and a lot more factual! I’m a major dog nut, some definitely reading this.



Something old, something new, right? I wanted to feature a more recent adventure book because it’s awesome. “Outside the gates of Emmeline’s village is a horror no one stupid enough to tempt. But facing the unknown might be the only way to escape the evil hiding among their own…” this is on my must read list for winter and I think it just might end up on yours too.

Have you read any of these books? Can you recommend your own favorite adventure novels?

Adventures in the Jungle

This month we are going to dive into action stories, starting with today’s scene: the jungle. A lot of interesting action stories are based on this setting, and today we are going to look at a few of them.

Tarzan of The Apes


Edgar Rice Burrough wrote this classic tale of a child abandoned on foreign soil and orphaned by a wildcat’s attack who ended up being raised into a man by apes. A rather unlikely tale, indeed, despite the scattered stories throughout human history of feral children raised by various types of animals- sure, it can happen, but it usually doesn’t.

This combines a bit of the element of survival, plus exploring strange jungles (always an Action genre favorite), along with the question of finding your place in the world. And maybe a little bit of romance on the side with our heroine/damsel-in-distress Jane.

The Jungle Book

jungle_book-2What would a collection of jungle based action books be without Kipling’s most famous book? I’m personally not a huge fan of the author as a human, my impression of his personality when he was alive was of a fairly ethnocentric individual based on reading his work, but I’m not one to hold a questionable author against a good book.

This book features another feral child (Are all jungle themed action books based on feral children???) who doesn’t really go on a quest so much as he just lives his very colorful life, but then in the end a bad guy pops up so he has to leave his home and join the humans. It’s a little unusual as far as plot goes because leaving home to start an adventure is usually the beginning of the story and not the end, but this book breaks that standard and I kind of like that.

Ken Ward in the Jungle


This book features a museum curator and his explorer brother, and their adventures together. Instead of Africa or India, this jungle is supposedly in Mexico. I kind of like that this is still a solid adventure novel, but unlike the others the star of the book is a giant nerd. There’s something appealing about that to me as a giant literary nerd.

You should definitely read this book, especially since you’ve probably never read it and none of your friends have- so this is basically the #1 Hipster choice of classical books. Even if you don’t care about being the first of your friends to know about something new, this is a fun read anyways. And, again, as is classic for adventure novels, there is no slow pacing so you won’t be bored at any point unless you respond to books very differently than I do.

Which of these have you read already or plan to read in the future?



A Read Through History

We just wrapped up a little series breaking down the history of the English language. You can read the final post of that series here, and go back through the earlier posts.

Today we are going to do a more hands on exploration of this history. That’s right, we’re going to explore original historical texts.

Text Vs Screen

At this point I feel like you guys might think I think I’m some kind of English teacher, but I don’t. I’m just an author and book lover. I’m here for all things bookish, and I want to help you be too.

I think these books are actually interesting, and I think you will too. We just have to approach them in a fun way.

That’s why I’m pairing original English classics of each time period of the language with movies that help illustrate the story. I think pairing a visual movie with a textual book is a great way to approach older books you aren’t confident you can read on their own- that’s how I got started reading Pride and Prejudice and realized it’s actually an amazing book. (I watched it with the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley, and I prefer it infinitely over many more beloved and well known screen adaptations as it’s the best paced version I’ve seen so far.)

For the first installment in this sequel series, we are going to again go back to where English began.

Old English


Beowulf is an epic poem, and the earliest piece of English writing that has still survived. Back when the Anglo-Saxons, the three Germanic tribes that invaded the Celtic island we today call England, set up their new territory, a lot was going on in their lives. They were of the Germanic tribes- remembering of course that Germany was one of the last European countries to become a country and most of their history was a bunch of different tribal groups- but they also had roots with the Vikings and Danes and Dutch and a lot of different cultures that grew out of the earliest form of Germany.

Beowulf is an epic (epic=poem that tells a story and is often as long as a book) that details a great hero fighting to save his people. You can read a translation of the original book. You can find free copies of old classic books like this in Amazon, Nook, and Google Play; or you can check out a physical copy from most libraries. You can also read a side by side translation and interpretation by Seamus Heaney by clicking here.

I’d pair the classic with the move Beowulf and Grendel. It cuts out the magical elements of the original story and it makes it more of an action story than a grand fable, but it is one of the closest screen adaptations of the story that is also entertaining to watch.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles

Meant to be sort of like a summary of their history, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles was a seven volume series written to be mostly factual. Remember, just like today, “historically accurate” can change a little bit depending on who is retelling the story. That said it’s an interesting tale.

If you want to read this I definitely DO NOT recommend going through all seven books. Unless you are a historian and this is the time period of your specialty, you don’t need to go that far. Just read the abridged edition most other people have read and call it a day- rather than reading the whole thing in an entire month and being thoroughly sick of it by the end.

I’d pair this with the 2006 movie The Saxon Chronicles, which has a medium rating on IMDB. It’s an Indie film, so the trailer leaves a little to be desired, but the film itself is exactly what I want in a movie based on this time period- swords, battles, and solid plot to boot.

Bede’s Ecclesiastes

Bede aimed to write a book about the history of the early European Church, included his own involvement in it. A good amount of secular history is included to give us a better sense of setting as well. If you’d like to read the original you can download an ebook for free right now from the Gutenberg Project here. This edition also has some annotations- it is hard to find a very annotated version as many of them are connected to current political or religious commentary which is really not what I’m featuring this book for, so this is one of the best I could find.

You can watch this video lecture on the subject here. Unfortunately it’s a video, not a movie, but it’s still fairly interesting I think.

Which was your favorite classic?


Tis The Season for Readin’

I think as today is December first it is officially the Holiday Season. That’s right, it’s time for holiday breaks off of school, and sipping warm drinks (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, that is!) The best thing of all to celebrate in my mind is that a season that comes with vacation time, to me, is basically a season for reading!

This month I’m going to share a few reading lists of the books I personally love to read each December. #SeasonReading is all about books that make you get the warm fuzzies and think about giving, thankfulness, family, friends, and the holiday you celebrate as well as learning about other holidays out there!

Christmas Novels

To start this series off with a bang I’m going to jump us into the necessary Christmas classics! Obviously I’ll stretch the definition of classic a little bit- who doesn’t love a reinterpretation of a well loved story, like reading a book version of the Nutcracker?- but they’ll be familiar stories in some form or another to the majority of you. I also only included full length novels in this list. There are plenty of picture books for children that fill the theme, but we aren’t going to go over them today because I think when I’m in a mood for a novel never really seems to overlap with the times I’m in a mood to enjoy a dear friend in the form of a picture book, you know?

Don’t worry if that’s not your thing though- we’re going to do more modern YA holiday books, novels featuring other holidays, and cross genre holiday novels. You’re bound to find something you are interested in reading up on!


Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by [Maguire, Gregory] Check it out here

This creative retelling of the Nutcracker is at the top of my own Christmas wish list. I still haven’t read it, but it has a lot of great reviews and comes from the same author who wrote “Wicked” (yes the very same book that inspired the Broadway musical!) so I am pretty sure it will be amazing. By the way- I get literally no money out of recommending other author’s books. I really don’t benefit at all from it. But I want you guys to enjoy the holidays with great books more than I want to make a buck.

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol | Penguin Books Australia

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe Quotes. QuotesGram

This really isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of Christmas books. But it is a full length novel that details the fight between Father Christmas and the evil witch who got rid of Christmas, so it’s still pretty apropos. Besides, it’s a great story and I think there’s always a reason to read a good book.

What do you think of this list? Do you love it? Share your favorite Winter holiday novels with me in the comments, especially if you want to share your favorites for the diverse holidays blog post!