What’s Making Me Happy in December 2016 (Plus, I’m on a Holiday Blogging Hiatus)


Today’s post is a special one. I’m linking up with writing friend and fellow DIY MFA staff writer Leanne Sowul for her monthly “What Makes Me Happy” series. (Click here to go directly to her December post.) Plus, as you might have noticed from the post’s title, this will be my last blog post for 2016. And with Christmas and the New Year around the corner, it’s a good time to celebrate the little things that make you happy, right? 🙂

Since it’s still the holiday season, I’ll start with…


I Love My New Christmas Tree

After rearranging my living room earlier this year, I knew I was going to need a new Christmas tree. The old one had nothing wrong with it. But with the new furniture arrangement, the tree was too wide for the only available spot in the room. So I bought this 6-foot, 42-inch pre-lit tree when it was on sale at the arts-and-crafts chain Michael’s. And once I assembled it and turned on the lights, it was love at first sight.

There’s something magical about Christmas trees. Maybe it’s the lush green color, even if the tree isn’t real. Or maybe it’s the soft golden glow of the lights and how they kindle something bright and warm in your heart. Or maybe it’s the ornaments, and the memories and stories attached to each one. But most likely, it’s all of those things, and how perfect the tree looks in that spot, and how much it fills me with love and joy.

I’m teavana-joy-2016Sipping Teavana’s 2016 Holiday Joy Tea

Speaking of joy, I tried a sample of Teavana’s Joy last December and absolutely relished it. But I never got around to getting my own supply of it. (It’s a seasonal tea, so it’s only available November through January.) So I snatched up a tin of Joy a couple weeks ago, and my tastebuds have been smiling ever since.

Joy blends black tea with oolong, jasmine green, and marigold petals. So it leans more to the bolder side, but it’s mellowed by the oolong’s sweetness, the jasmine’s floral scent and nuances, and the subtle warmth of warm apricots and peaches. It’s wonderful for breakfast, but its profile also works well as an afternoon pick-me-up or as a hot beverage for a holiday party. I highly recommend brewing Joy for 3 minutes with under-boiling water, so you can savor the stone fruit flavors without any overpowering tannins.

I’m Getting Back into Yoga

With all the summer busyness of Writer’s Digest Conference and my friend’s wedding, it’s no wonder I fell out of my yoga routine. My attempt to resume it at home in September bombed, too; I had gone without practice long enough (2+ months) that I couldn’t remember any of the movements. :/  So when a friend recommended her friend’s new class at a brand new yoga studio, I knew it was time to step back in.

As of today, I’ve been taking Monday night yoga classes for 2 weeks, and it’s been AMAZING. I haven’t noticed any physical changes yet, but my regular breathing has already deepened, and I come away from each class feeling calmer, more confident, and able to tackle stress more productively. December may be a hectic time of year, but spiritually I need this class right now. So I’m grateful I’ve taken the initiative to get back to it.

I’m Listening to the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Official Soundtrack

I’m not a gamer, but I’d heard of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim before I stumbled across a 3-hour YouTube mix of fantasy film and video game scores. And… gosh, I couldn’t believe my ears. Jeremy Soule’s orchestral arrangements are beautiful, dramatic, and evocative. And there’s a great deal of variety on this OST: triumphant, chant-filled marches; quieter, forlorn elegies; and even a few acoustic, “minstrel-style” numbers that would sound perfect by a campfire. I already adore Skyrim‘s music so much that a) I’d put it on par with Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score, and b) I know I’ll listen to this music while writing future stories. 😉

I don’t have a favorite song on Skyrim, but “Ancient Stones” was one of the first tracks I listened to. So it’s near and dear to my heart. Plus, I love the unique touch that the harpsichord gives. (I assume it’s a harpsichord…? Or maybe it’s a keyboard tuned to different sound?)

“Skyrim Atmospheres” is more like a new-age instrumental than an orchestral track. But it’s. So. PRETTY. Between the synthesizers, nature sounds such as rain and wind, and jaw-dropping length (42 minutes), it makes stunning background music for reading, writing, meditation, or winding down after a long day. And despite it being slightly different in genre from the rest of the soundtrack, it still fits the overall tone.

I Watched “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them”… 

fantasticbeastsposter_0I finally saw “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” two weekends ago, and left the theater in giddy excitement because it was so. Much. FUN!   There was so much to love about it: Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of the socially awkward yet absolutely adorable magizoologist Newt Scamander, the overall excellent cast of actors (and the surprise of who was playing Grindelwald!), the setting (Prohibition-era NYC) and how America’s unease with magic fits the time period’s tone, and the gorgeously rendered creatures, from the great and terrifying to the small and adorable.

A number of people have said that “Fantastic Beasts” may be too scary for younger viewers. I agree with that opinion; there’s a dark magic element involving death and children with suppressed magical powers “flaming out,” so to speak. So I’d recommend waiting to show this film to kids until they’re able to handle Harry Potter movies like “Prisoner of Azkhaban” or “Order of the Phoenix.”

But what did I love most about “Fantastic Beasts”? The idea that magic isn’t just for children, but also for adults – or, rather, for anyone who’s a child at heart. 🙂

… And “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

rogueone_onesheeta_1000_309ed8f6I was planning to limit myself to five happinesses… But after seeing “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” with my brother last Friday, I knew I’d have to make an exception. This standalone prequel to the first-ever Star Wars film explains how an unlikely group of heroes steal the design plans for the Death Star (a.k.a. the Empire’s ultimate weapon of mass destruction) on behalf of the Rebellion. In short, I really enjoyed “Rogue One” and would put it on par with last year’s “The Force Awakens.” It was fun and gritty that retained that classic SW feel, with an triumphant yet unexpectedly devastating ending that sets it apart from the other films. If you’ve seen “Rogue One,” you probably know what I mean… But the way it ends also makes the movie more powerful.

Apart from that, the acting was fantastic (especially Felicity Jones, as the fiercely independent and initially reluctant leader Jyn Erso), and the cast of characters was wonderfully diverse. (I loved the blind Jedi-ish monk, Chirrut Imwe!) Part of me does wish there had been more character development from the core quintet of rebels, and that Forest Whitaker’s character Saw Gerrera played a larger role. Otherwise, I highly recommend “Rogue One” to all Star Wars fans, and I hope the “Star Wars films at Christmastime” continues to be a tradition for a few more years. That way, I can keep buying movie tickets as part of my brother’s birthday gift. (His is December 27th.)


Announcement: I’m on a Blogging Hiatus until January 3, 2017

Yup! I may pop in now and then to respond to comments and check out any blogs I follow, and you’ll still be able to find me on social media. Otherwise, once Christmas is over, my focus will be on plotting (and possibly starting Draft #1 of) my next WIP, a novella set in the same world as my novel The Keeper’s Curse. And no worries, I’ll take some time to read, relax, and do other things, too. 😉

Until then, I wish everyone the happiest of holidays and a bright beginning to your New Year. Have fun. Be safe. Enjoy good food, love, and laughter. And above all, keep working to make your dreams come true.

Another Quick GoFundMe Update

As of today, the GoFundMe campaign for my trip to the Iceland Writers Retreat has raised $470 (13% of the $3,500 goal). If you’d like to donate but prefer to wait until after the December holidays, that’s completely understandable. There’s still plenty of time left in the campaign (the deadline is February 4th, 2017), and plenty of perks are still available, if you’re interested in loose-leaf tea, writing coach sessions, 1st chapter critiques, or trial memberships of One Stop for Writers.

Click here to visit the GoFundMe campaign page.

What are some of the things that made you happy this month? Do you have any plans for the December holidays? 

Original banner image: Kris Atomic @ Unsplash

38 thoughts on “What’s Making Me Happy in December 2016 (Plus, I’m on a Holiday Blogging Hiatus)

  1. Your post reads as happy as you sound, Sara! Love the tone, the tenor and the things that have made you so happy. The Christmas tree in particular is really uplifting. No wonder you love it! Wish you and your family a very happy Christmas and New year. Have a wonderful time dear. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Zephyr. (*hugs back*) I actually started off the month like a bundle of stress-related nerves, so I feel like I’ve come a long way since then. No doubt the items in this post helped to put me at ease (especially the yoga). And thank you for the Christmas tree compliments!


  2. What a lovely post, Sara:). The Christmas tree looks absolutely stunning, no wonder you’re so thrilled with it. I’m playing Skyrim as I type and I can also see why this music makes you happy – I’m clearly going to have to acquire this soundtrack – it’s stunning. I endorse your comparison to Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings soundtrack, too. I’m so glad you loved Fantastic Beasts as much as I did – I thought it a total delight:). We’re hoping to go and see Rogue One tomorrow. I hope you have a really relaxing break over the Christmas holidays and all the best with getting stuck into the new WIP – I’m going to be working on rewrites and edits for a while yet, I suspect…
    And many, many thanks for your kind words of encouragement and friendship over the past year – I hope that some day we can meet, in the meantime I send you a virtual hug and wish you the very best for 2017x.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sarah! I’m already excited about using the tree again next year. It’s so pretty. 🙂

      Isn’t the Skyrim music incredible? ❤ The only place where I found an MP3 version available was on iTunes, for $15.99 USD (which is a bargain, considering the soundtrack is 3+ hours long). Amazon US only sells the 4-disc collector's edition… and as tempting as it was, it's very expensive. Not sure how or where it will available in the UK, but I hope this information helps.

      Enjoy Rogue One when you see it! It's definitely a worthy addition to the Star Wars film universe, and it has been excited for next year's Episode 8 already (even though I'm sure they're not related story-wise at all).

      At least your writing mojo is back in some shape or form. That counts as something, right? 😉 I started plotting The Novella when I had some downtime at my parents' house this past weekend. Or, rather, typing up handwritten brainstorming notes from several months ago, then getting stuck on how to start filling in the blanks. But I'm not worried – next week, there will be plenty of time for that filling-in, and that master questionnaire for character arcs will come in handy.

      You're very welcome, Sarah. Thank you for all of your support and friendship this year, too, and I echo your other sentiments as well. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2017. (*hugs back*)


  3. I love your tree, Sara! I have never had an artificial Christmas tree but I know they look just as lovely as real trees. I have yet to see either Fantastic Beasts or Rogue One but plan to see both over the break. Enjoy your time off, I have been blogging a lot less this month, due to Christmas and planning and cleaning my house, etc, and it’s actually been a nice break. Have a wonderful holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, your brother’s got the same birthday as my brother!

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only person on the Internet who loved “Fantastic Beasts”! Seems like so many people are bashing it. 😦 But I thought it was completely fun and charming. (Except the utterly predictable “bittersweet farewell”, coming as it did right after everything that happened in the final battle…) I loved the insight into how the magical communities worked differently in different countries; in fact, the sight of the German rep (in his period German military accouterments) made me long to know how the World Wars played out in the magical world! (Especially since from what Newt said, it sounded like the magical community really was having its own battles…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really?? 😀

      That’s weird. Most of the people I know who saw Fantastic Beasts loved it. But one of my co-workers saw it this past weekend and wasn’t too crazy about it. I guess it depends on the person and what they think of the story, the creatures, etc.

      But like you, I’m also excited to see where the rest of the Fantastic Beasts series goes. It’s funny you mentioned the World Wars, because from what I’ve heard this series ends during World War II. If that’s true, then maybe we’ll get to see how that war played out in the wizarding world. 😉


  5. I get such a sense of peace and well-being from your happy-post! The tree lights, the yoga, the tea, all make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
    I am super-excited about a mommy-and-me yoga class that I’m starting up soon, at the same place where I did prenatal yoga. You hold the baby and use her for certain poses. I imagine it looks beautiful to watch a group of women and their babies do this.
    My husband and I are getting into tea again. Any suggestions? We’re fans of Harney and Sons, because it’s a local brand, and prefer lighter brews like white teas and peppermints. We used to use loose tea, but have gravitated back toward bags for convenience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s hard to not feel happy or at peace when writing a post like this. 🙂 But it’s a weird contrast to the beginning of December, when I was dealing with a lot of stress (both related and unrelated to the holidays). The yoga has helped somewhat, but most of it has been me trying to make the extra time to relax, take care of myself, and keep my spirits high.

      Awwww, the mommy-and-me yoga class sounds adorable! I hope you and Eleanor enjoy it. 🙂

      I wish I was more familiar with Harney & Sons. :/ Two stores in my area sell their teas, so I’ve only tried a couple of them. Chamomile is a good herbal option, though; it’s sweet and mild, with a slight apple hint with the floral flavor, and known for its calming properties. And Stash Tea had a lovely White Christmas tea that blended white tea with peppermint and ginger, but from the looks of their website, it looks like it’s been discontinued… Otherwise, I don’t usually see bagged white teas. But if I find anything I think you might like, I’ll let you know.


  6. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and see you in the new year!

    I also love your list of happinesses – especially your love for the Skyrim soundtrack. Jeremy Soule is a bit of a legend among video game music fan circles. I co-host a podcast about MMO music where we discuss his work all the time (i.e. his love for choirs and horns, lol) and if you enjoy his video game scores I also highly recommend the stuff he’s done for the Guild Wars franchise!

    I also saw Rogue One with my daughter last weekend. I liked it, though looking at some of the taglines for the negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, I think the critics got some of its issues pretty spot on as well. Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe was pretty awesome too, even if the filmmakers are so very obviously trying to break into the Asian market with the hokey martial artist stereotype (but hey, my parents in China are saying that it seems to be working!) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mogsy! And you, too. 🙂

      Thanks for the Jeremy Soule recommendations, btw. I’d already been considering checking out his Morrowind and Oblivion scores for the Elder Scrolls games. But I’ll look into his Guild War music now, too.


  7. Sweet post! And lovely tree!
    Christmas trees are magical, but I think it’s because of the beautiful twinkling lights. I love looking at the ones that just have lights on them. Makes me think there’re fairies in the tree. 🙂
    I also like music from Skyrim, but I don’t know the names of them. I have a Lindsey Stirling (she’s so awesome) radio on Pandora and sometimes it mixes in some of the music from Skyrim. Though there aren’t any words, that sort of music make me daydream a lot. It induces daydreams. 🙂
    I saw Fantastic Beasts too but I thought it was just okay. I loved the graphics though and that the story was dark and that it played to how magic and the supernatural was considered at the time. I didn’t like it because the structure of the movie reminded me of all other movies where everyone falls in love in the end and I’m tired of that. I wasn’t annoyed by this but I was curious about the magical community having a Black female leader. Made me wonder if race was a factor (were wizards at that time more progressive and didn’t mind having a Black female president) or if it was just to have a good person for the role.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Zezee! 🙂

      It’s funny you mentioned trees that have only lights on them. Once I assembled my tree, I thought it was so pretty already that I was tempted to not hang any ornaments on it… But then I did it anyway. 😉

      I love Lindsey Stirling’s music, too! I only have one of her albums, but I think she put out a new this year. Will have to look into that…

      ” was curious about the magical community having a Black female leader. Made me wonder if race was a factor (were wizards at that time more progressive and didn’t mind having a Black female president) or if it was just to have a good person for the role.”

      That’s a good question, especially since the film takes place decades before the Civil Rights Movement. But like you said, maybe the wizarding community was more tolerant and progressive. It’s interesting to think about.

      Hope you have a happy holiday season, Zezee. 🙂


  8. Pretty tree! Also I need to see both of those films. XD They’re on my list! I just saw Assassin’s Creed yesterday which I enjoyed. 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved seeing what you’re up to! Your Christmas tree is absolutely beautiful.

    Also Rogue One. It’s seriously one of the best Star Wars films — and I love how you described it as gritty. I think that’s one of my favorite things about it. It’s not idealized and glossy; it’s very realistic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Victoria! 🙂 “Realistic” is another good word for Rogue One. I was trying to stay away from other adjectives that would give away certain aspects of it. Because… that ending… I mean, THAT ENDING. (*sniffle*) But it made the movie more powerful in the end, wouldn’t you agree?


  10. I still haven’t seen Fantastic Beasts or Rogue One 😦 Hopefully soon!

    Oh man, I love the skyrim OSTs (all fantasy game and movies are amazing in general tbh haha). I also love that chrismas tree! It’s gorgeous!

    Hope you have a great hiatus and holidays!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I hope you have some very Happy Holidays! It looks like you will, with so much to by joyous about. I may have to try Teavana. I did the David’s Tea advent calendar this Christmas, but have been pretty disappointed since the tea has felt more like potpourri than actual tea (there are oily residues left on the cup that also float on the tea’s surface–not appetizing!)

    The Skyrim OST is one of my favorites! You may also like the OST for Attack on Titan, even if you’ve never watched the anime. The operatic scores give me chills sometimes.

    I really want to see both of those movies! I did go see Moana a couple of weeks ago and loved it. The renderings of the 3D just floored me, absolutely. Then every day after the movie I had a new song stuck in my head, haha. Plus, Dwayne Johnson singing is just too much. :3

    Please give me another reminder about your GoFundMe after the first week of January! If I have enough to donate by then, I’ll definitely do so. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Same to you, Ariel! I hope you enjoyed your Christmas, and have a happy and healthy start to 2017.

      I know what you mean about DavidsTea. I like or love some of their teas, but others have a crazy number of additives in them. Teavana has been trending that way too, unfortunately, but they still sell a fair number of straight or lightly flavored teas. Let me know if you’re looking for recommendations.

      I’ll make a point to check out the Attack on Titan OST. Thanks!

      And I really want to see Moana! In fact, I think that’s going to be my plan for New Years Eve: pizza and Moana. 🙂 So I’m really glad to hear you loved that movie!

      “Please give me another reminder about your GoFundMe after the first week of January! If I have enough to donate by then, I’ll definitely do so.”

      Awww, thank you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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  13. I’ll have to check out the Skyrim OST for sure!
    Your Christmas tree is beautiful by the way!
    I haven’t seen Star Wars yet, but I`m hoping to next week. I keep hearing such great things. I had managed to see Fantastic Beasts and I loved being swept into the world of Harry again, though I had some quibbles with character development and plot. Not enough to lessen my enjoyment, though.
    Glad to hear that you’re getting back into Yoga and that it is rewarding. I’m hoping to join a class in 2017 with my sister. I think it would be good for my mind and spirit.
    Stay well, my friend 🙂 I wish you and your family all the best in health and happiness for the new year!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ohhhhh, the Skyrim OST is so so SO beautiful! If it helps, some of my other favorites are “From Past to Present,” “Standing Stones,” “Dragonsreach,” “Dawn,” “Frostfall,” “Tundra,” “Wind Guide You”… (*stops herself before she lists the entire soundtrack*)

      Thanks for your compliments on the Christmas tree. I’ve started taking down the ornaments , so it’s going to look a little sad soon, but I already can’t wait to put it up again next year. 🙂

      Yoga is very good for body, mind, and spirit. So if you go into a yoga class with that intention, I think you’ll be very happy with it.

      Same to you, Faith! Much happiness, health, love, and creativity to you in the New Year. (*hugs*)

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
    Love your new tree! And it’s good to hear how you’ve been. I will check out Skyrim’s ost!
    Fantastic Beasts was so much fun! I really enjoyed it. 🙂 I still need to see Rogue One!

    Liked by 1 person

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  16. I hope you had a nice break! 🙂 I agree there’s something magical about Christmas trees, though I hadn’t really had one for the last 9 years or so.
    Well, once I made one myself – a simple one, but I liked it (just cardboard, lights, and some shiny beads).
    I’m glad you like Skyrim soundtrack – it is great. May I recommend you two other soundtracks: Morrowind and Oblivion? I believe the Morrowind one was the one that set the mood, and both following games (Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim) stay within the same vine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did, thank you! Though it feels it happened weeks ago now… which is typically happens when you go back to work, right? :/

      I think you’ve mentioned the Morrowind and Oblivion soundtracks before. I’ll make a point to listen to those on YouTube soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Skyrim soundtrack ❤ Regarding Jeremy Soule, I’ve been a big fan of his music since Morrowind. Spent hours just walking around the countryside in search for the next exploration track. Actually he was my main inspiration to start my own soundtrack project Celestial Aeon Project and eventually led me to publishing unofficial music packs for Oblivion and Skyrim. If you are interested, here is a compilation of the Skyrim pack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnCGVXmS1t8 – it got quite popular response on Steam.

    Liked by 1 person

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