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I remember ringing in the new millennium at a private, black-tie party in Gamla Stan, the old town section of Stockholm. Our friend had booked a space with a prime view of Skeppsbron, the waterfront boulevard, and we feasted on caviar, lobster and filet mignon, tallying the minutes until 2000, and watching the Swedish rock band, Europe, sing their signature hit, “The Final Countdown,” across the water. I had gotten married six weeks earlier, so the 21st Century—a mythical denomination that had long captured the popular imagination—felt like a new beginning for me too. The conversation that New Year’s Eve centered on the Y2K bug projected to wreak havoc on global computers. Would the apocalypse come when the clock struck midnight? Luckily, we were spared, but the world awaiting us would scarcely resemble the one we had grown up in.

Personally speaking, the 2000s brought infinite blessings and great joy: the birth of my daughter (2001), the arrival of my son (2004), and the publication of my first novel, Uptown & Down (2005). However, it also carried immense tragedy and sorrow: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the death of my beloved mother in 2004. When I look back at that first decade, it passed by in a bit of a blur as I juggled family life with my writing aspirations. However, the candidacy of Barack Obama energized me, rekindling my own political engagement, and I will always remember the night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected the 44th President of the United States.

After that historic event, defining moments seemed to happen at breakneck speed and reality became stranger than fiction, providing ripe material for storytelling. For example, the 2008 financial crisis inspired my second novel, Lagging Indicators. I spent a lot of free time in the 2010s wired to my phone or computer, checking in on news sites, social media, blogs and anything else that could inform and inspire. I think that’s been the biggest revelation for me these past twenty years: how technology has infiltrated our everyday lives and enabled us to stay connected in real-time. I love the convenience of smartphones, Google and Uber but there are pitfalls to always being “logged on.” The constant distractions, increased anxiety, and rise of a toxic internet culture have overshadowed many of the benefits technology promised. The 2020s may finally be the time for us to get off the grid and fully experience being “in the moment.”

I feel as though I’m at another crossroad–not unlike the one at the turn of the century. Our growing children will eventually flee the nest, prompting me and my husband to contemplate the next phase of our lives. It will be a bittersweet transition, but rather than dwelling on how quickly the years have passed, I’m excited to see where the new road will take us.

My main emotion entering this new decade is one of gratitude—for family, friends, good health, readers, and the sense of perspective I have gained. I’m more grounded and “don’t sweat the small stuff” as much. I also have more clarity about what makes me happy and what I would like to achieve in life. The decision to become an indie author was an important step in my mid-life journey towards personal, creative and professional growth.

My goals for the 2020s are not as lofty as they might have been twenty years ago. I’ve witnessed how fragile life is, how quickly one’s situation can change, and how certain factors are simply beyond our control. I think this is a humbling and healthy realization. There’s no doubt we live in an uncertain, unpredictable age, yet I was encouraged by a recent Op-Ed piece Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times. Kristof points out that while there are significant causes for alarm—and still much work to be done—humanity is at a better place now than ever before. With that in mind, I enter this new decade with hope; saying thank you for the years gone by and wishing you all a healthy, happy and peaceful New Year!

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Although there are only six hours of daylight this time of year and darkness blankets Stockholm around 3:00 pm, I’m so excited for the holidays. Glimmering lights and sparkly decorations cast a festive glow around the city, rousing everyone in the Yuletide spirit. My daughter will be home from college in a few weeks and we are counting the days until the four of us can gather in the countryside for a very Swedish Christmas. Per custom, the celebration begins on December 24th and we will eat a smorgasbord of traditional delicacies, watch classic television shows, and then open presents. I’m in the midst of choosing gifts for family and friends but have been keeping an eye out for things that would interest book lovers–writers, readers, and enthusiasts alike. However, I do think these goodies could appeal to anyone, so please check them out and tell me what you think!

Tech items consistently top wish lists and the new iPhone is on mine. It’s pricey but I’ve begrudgingly accepted these devices also function as cameras, computers, e-book readers, and video screens, so maybe, in the end, I’m getting more bang for the buck? If an iPhone is not in the cards, how about a monogrammed AirPods case? I think it would make a great stocking stuffer. There are so many cool gadgets available and my favorites are high-tech with a retro look. Click on pictures for more details.

I love coffee table books and these colorful tomes from Assouline, featuring some of the most glamorous vacation spots in the world, would definitely cure the winter blues!

Comfort is key when writing or reading. Cozy slippers keep your toes warm and Ugg has some of the best on the market. With soft cashmere socks and a snuggly throw, no one will want to leave the house. And why not spoil somebody with silk feathery pajamas? They’re just as elegant in bed or at a party.

Tequila Mockingbird is one of the cleverest books out there; the names of the drinks alone are enough to make a writer drunk with envy.  It’s a good thing The Writer’s Toolbox will get them back on track.

I disagree with the notion that giving candles for the holidays is overdone. Who wouldn’t love a scented jewel like this one from Diptyque? Mood enhancing and decadent when lit by these book-themed matches. Candles are always perfect to give and get!

Warm drinks in the wintertime are a balm for the soul. Keep coffee warm with this temperature-controlled mug from Ember and boil water for tea in a stylish Smeg kettle. A true bibliophile would appreciate the old-school library card mug and coasters from Out of Print.

The New York Public Library Shop is a treasure trove of items and gift ideas, especially for children. The library card socks and Little Golden Books tote would be ideal for a baby and the pop-up edition of The Nutcracker is a work of art. I’d give my daughter the Knowledge is Power desk plate and my son the library stamp tee-shirt. This NYPL thousand-piece puzzle is also a fun present, especially as a challenging project to do between Christmas and New Year’s.

Gifts for the home are always a good idea for a host/hostess, colleague or friend. The Skultuna mini brass vase would sit prettily atop A Book Lover’s Guide to New York for a chic shelfie. Anything from the Museum of Modern Art Design Store makes a statement and these bookends boast a timeless modern touch.

Either of these Christmas-themed novels by Sophie Kinsella and Jasmine Guillory would be a lovely Secret Santa gift at a girls’ luncheon. Add this leather bookmark for extra flair.

Prince was a musical genius and icon. My husband is a huge fan, so he’ll be getting this memoir Prince began writing before his tragic death. Debbie Harry aka Blondie is a living legend and I’m intrigued by her recollections on the New York music, cultural and social scene in the 70s and 80s. Both would be appreciated by music aficionados.

Goodbye, 2019! We’re headed into a new decade and what better way to celebrate than with a trivia game testing one’s knowledge of the 2000s and 2010s? This is an excellent gift for a couple or family and I promise you things will get heated! You can also download a free quiz by Trivia Champ and get into the competitive spirit yourself over a glass of champagne or mug of hot chocolate.

In essence, the holidays are really about slowing down and spending time with loved ones. Gifts don’t matter–but it is fun to go virtual shopping :). Wishing everyone a healthy, happy and peaceful festive season!

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Photo Source: Shutterstock

I spent November participating in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, an annual writing marathon of banging out 50,000 words in thirty days, which breaks down to roughly 1,667 words per day. The primary goal of NaNoWriMo is to generate a messy first draft, but the deeper purpose is to develop a writing habit and unleash your creativity. Discipline and silencing your inner critic are crucial to getting the most out of this challenge. Since it took me ten years to write my second book, I needed this boot camp like nobody’s business. Completing half a novel in a month? Sign me up!

But as a NaNoWriMo novice, I can humbly confess–drumroll, please–that I was among the 85% who did not reach 50,000 words. I wrote nearly every day for hours on end but discovered I’m one of those people who can’t write with abandon and put thoughts and words on a page without editing as I go along. Working towards a daily word count was nerve-racking and there were many times I—and my manuscript—felt like a hot mess. In my defense, I had to rethink main character names (a seemingly simple yet complicated task!) and reconstruct a critical detail in the fictionalized world I’m building. I was stuck; mentally incapable of moving forward until I had sorted out those two problems.

Despite a less than stellar outcome, I don’t regret the time and effort I spent on NaNoWriMo. It’s a fantastic initiative and enabled me to connect with a virtual community of writers. After months of running around and feeling scattered, I established a daily writing routine and am much farther along than I would have been without NaNoWriMo. Most importantly, I never wanted to give up. Even though I fell behind–and it would be cosmically impossible for me to get back on track–I never considered throwing in the towel.

But to maintain this momentum, I have to put my writing at the top of my to-do list. Participating in this 30-day challenge required prioritizing it over everything that wasn’t essential. I define “essential” as my family and author-related work, so trying a new exercise class, coffee mornings, and other interesting activities that fuel my imagination had to take a back seat to even contemplate reaching that 1,667 daily word count. My biennial mammogram? Essential. Checking out a new restaurant? Not so much. Once-in-a-lifetime events like my 20th Wedding Anniversary and birthdays were celebrated, but there was no room for extraneous pursuits. NaNoWriMo provides a checklist on how to prep and suggests ways your family and friends can help you reach the 50,000 words goal. My husband and kids were super-supportive and pepped me up when I was losing steam.

Even with an outline and strict time management, I still fell short of 50K and didn’t win my NaNoWriMo badge. My husband joked that whatever the deadline is, just double it! The most frustrating part of this challenge was sitting for eight hours to only write 500 words. NaNoWriMo has motivated me to find strategies to accelerate my thought process and improve my writing flow. Moving forward, I need to focus on a rough first draft and throw perfection to the wind.

I would definitely take part in NaNoWriMo again and thank the organization for creating such an inspiring writing platform and laying out a program for success. It was liberating to hunker down and concentrate exclusively on my new book. It rejiggered my mindset and expanded my creative bandwidth. It also confirmed that I need structure and space to gather my thoughts. In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, my current goal is one chapter a week. It’s a good number for my approach to writing and I’ll apply the NaNoWriMo mentality to stay the course. In the mean time, maybe NaNoWriMo would consider giving me an honorable mention…