Category Archives: charity

How To Prep for NaNoWriMo!


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2018

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Yes indeed, November is on the horizon. Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, it’s time to give at least some thought to how you’ll spend the 30 days of raw, unbridled, all out creativity that is NaNoWriMo!

This year my adventure takes on a new level of involvement. I am now one of two Municipal Leaders for Santa Cruz County. I’ve already been at work discussing write-in dates with the local librarians and making reservations at the restaurant where we traditionally hold our TGIO Party. And yes, there is also the Night of Writing Dangerously, NaNoWriMo‘s fantastic fundraiser!

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three times now, and I have won every year. I admit I am a planner, but only up to a point. When it comes to making the daily word count, there’s a certain amount of leaping off the high dive and just going for it. You get some amazing stuff appearing on the page when you just go all out, especially during word sprints. Those are great fun, especially when you’re sprinting as part of a NaNo group.

These are a few ways to get a good grip on what you want to write about. They are handy to fall back on even if you start off strong then find yourself losing inspiration partway through.

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SCENE CARDS

First, write down every scene idea you have. Remember, when you change location, time, or point of view, you start a new scene. Even if you have just fragments of ideas about one incident here and one incident there, write them down. 

Second, get yourself some index cards. I prefer 4×6 so I have plenty of room to make notes. These are the important items to  list for each scene. Opinions about these items differ, so your mileage may vary. If you want to get fancy, you can even color code the cards by character, location, Part One, whatever works for you.

A basic scene card includes these elements:

POV.  Antagonist. Goal. Obstacle. Disaster. Decision.

If I seem like a Luddite because I’m talking about paper and pencil vs. Scrivener, well shucks. I work better when I can handle what I’m working with. I can make a story map with my scene cards, take a photo of it, then move scenes around as I please. This works for me. We all have our unique process.

 

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM/UNBEARABLE DISASTER

Brainstorming is your friend. Your main character wants something, right? How many completely outrageous ways can you think up for making that happen? For guaranteeing your main character total victory? No holds barred. Go as far and as crazy as you can.

Next, think up all the nasty, gruesome, heartbreaking, evil, and totally unfair ways you can stop your main character from ever getting near that goal. Again, push as far and as hard as you can. Never mind logic or reason. Blow the roof off the place! Wreck the joint! Just make sure your hero or heroine cannot possibly succeed.

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THE 20 QUESTIONS APPROACH

Think up 20 questions that will tell you facts about your character that nobody knows. Maybe not even that very character! I’m not talking about the usual getting to know you stuff. Why does the taste of chocolate make your character sick? Do they prefer snakes or spiders? What happened to their favorite childhood toy?

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GO BIG, GO BAD, GO BALLISTIC!

Come at your story from a different angle. How far is your main character willing to go to achieve that goal? Never mind what a sane, law-abiding, reasonable person would do. I’m talking all-out, eleventh hour, John Woo stuff. 

But wait, you say. You’re not looking to write the latest Jason Bourne-type blockbuster. You don’t want your hero to rank up there with the cast of The Expendables. You’re writing a nice, mellow, introspective literary story.

More power to you. Bear with me for a minute while I explain why the methods I’m suggesting will work just as well for literary fiction as they will for a story that fits into the world of genre protocols.

In one of my many efforts to combat my clinical depression, I participated in a day program. My favorite therapist would begin his “class” by explaining that the work we did with him would only be effective if we committed to it 125%. Why? Because 100% wasn’t good enough. We had to reach beyond our present ability. We had to work harder, to stretch farther, to make a greater effort. Only then would we grow. Only then would we really change.

Think beyond the obvious possibilities. Go wild. Push harder and farther. Abandon the limitations of linear thinking. You will transcend the predictable and open up new options for what happens when your main character finds themselves at the crux of unbearable pressure.

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PROWLING AROUND PINTEREST

When my brain gets jammed, I like to wander around Pinterest. It’s a largely visual site, which is what appeals to me. The writing articles might hand you the solution to your dilemma. The costume resources are wonderful. The creepy stuff is fun to explore. If your mind needs a rest, go look at something soothing like birthday cakes. Halloween is coming. Pinterest is a gold mine of decorating ideas. Sometimes we need to take a break. Pinterest is a lot of fun.

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BayCon 2018: Where to Find Me


by Lillian Csernica on May 23, 2018

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Friday 1:30 p.m. The Perfect Poison

Is it possible to create a poison that will kill only the target, no matter who else is exposed? Genetic engineering and personalized medicine may well collide in a perfect storm of individually targeted weapons rather than cures. What genetic markers would be most useful? What if you can target families or ethnic groups?

Saturday 1:00 p.m. Getting the Point

Understanding the pros and cons of the various points of view available to the storyteller.

Sunday 1:00 p.m. It Began with a Monster

200 years ago, Mary Shelley published the singular novel that set the stage for modern genre literature: Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus. In the two centuries since the full-novel’s publication, Shelley’s Frankenstein has flourished as a touchstone for authors and filmmakers across the spectrum, carving out a mythos and a creative playing field to rival the legends of antiquity.

Sunday 5:30 p.m. Religion in Fantasy & Science Fiction

Where are the Gods and churches and when they exist, what purpose do they serve?

Monday 1:00 p.m. Creative Writing for Kids

Come and learn the six basic elements of a good story. Plenty of fun examples and some exercises to help new writers experience professional writing techniques.

 

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #17


by Lillian Csernica on May 17th, 2018

 

Today’s fortune says:

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.

dis·cord
ˈdiskôrd/
noun
noun: discord
  1. 1.
    disagreement between people.
    “a prosperous family who showed no signs of discord

    • lack of agreement or harmony between things.
      “the discord between indigenous and Western cultures”
  2. 2.
    Music
    lack of harmony between notes sounding together.
    “the music faded in discord”
    synonyms: dissonance, discordance, disharmony, cacophony

    “the music faded in discord”
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Here we have a bunch of people singing the same note in terms of the political ideology they espouse.  Is this harmonious? No. It is not.

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We need all the notes, all the chords, all the melodies to come together in the great orchestral voice of life. May a joyful noise until the Lord! Sing out with all your heart! Go tell it on the mountain! Punk rock, bagpipes, ocarinas and kazoos. Let’s do it!

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie 10


by Lillian Csernica on May 10, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Generosity and perfection are your everlasting goals.

All God’s Children

Gloria had a rough time living up to her name. During some Christmas when she was just a little girl, somebody had told her about “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Gloria liked the sound of “Glory to God in the highest” in Latin and in plain English. She figured out “the highest” meant Heaven. It was the other thing she figured out that ended up causing all the trouble.

Gloria’s mother Jenny started out looking a trifle too wild for the folks at St. Michael’s. She had tattoos, a few piercings, and a braid dyed pink and blue and purple. She turned up in the soup kitchen on the same weekend we were there serving dinner. Three of our church ladies had done the cooking. I was the parish council Treasurer in those days. I played a fair amount of football in college, so a big solid linebacker came in handy loading and unloading the church van as well as making sure our church ladies didn’t have any trouble with some of the rougher folks we served.

Jenny started to turn up at St. Michael’s on Sundays. At first she just needed the box of donated food from the church pantry. Pretty soon she was coming to Mass. She wore long sleeves and left most of her jewelry at home, and covered up her hair with a nice floral scarf. In the beginning Jenny was just being polite, showing respect and coming to Mass as a way of saying thank you for the help we gave her. The one time I saw Gloria’s daddy out in the parking lot, it was obvious he wasn’t much of a church-going man. Reminded me of the more unpleasant type of tough guy who spent most of his time pickled in alcohol.

Jenny gave birth to Gloria the day after Christmas. By then Jenny had been coming to St. Michael’s for over a year, helping clean the church and the hall, working in the garden, and pitching in wherever help was needed. She was grateful for all the help the ladies gave her, making sure she saw the doctor and took her vitamins and knew what to expect. Jenny showed her gratitude the best way she knew how, with good old-fashioned elbow grease. Whoever she had been, she let that phase of her life go. She’d more than proven herself to be a good woman with proper manners and a kind heart.

Jenny asked Fr. Daniel if he’d baptize Gloria, and he was happy to oblige. He offered Jenny the same opportunity, and she accepted. That was one of the happiest days at St. Michael’s I was ever privileged to see. Jenny never talked much about herself or where she’d come from. That didn’t matter so much. She’d joined the family of our parish.

Poor Gloria. When her mama was a wild child who worked hard to do right by her baby, that meant Gloria had a lot to live up to, especially being a girl. Everything seemed to be just fine until the day Marigold moved into the apartment next door to Jenny and Gloria. Confirmation classes had started, so Gloria was twelve, that dangerous age between child and teenager, between playing with dolls and wanting to hang out with the big kids. Marigold was a sweet enough woman, fresh and pretty with her white blonde hair and ’60s style clothes. She wore enough bracelets and necklaces to sink a battleship. We always knew when Marigold was coming because she jingled louder than the bells on Santa Claus’ sleigh.

Marigold’s front yard was full of garden gnomes and copper dragonflies and wind chimes and bird feeders and those colorful flowers with big petals that spun in a stiff breeze. Gloria loved it, and she loved Marigold’s black cat Sable. Jenny told me later that she should have been more careful about letting Gloria run over to Marigold’s place so much. Jenny knew what all the candles and crystals and little fairy figurines meant.

Marigold called herself a witch.

I’ll admit that caused some of us at St. Michael’s quite a bit of worry. Fr. Daniel just smiled and reminded us to look to the health and well-being of our own souls. So we watched and we waited.

Gloria took an interest in all the pets in the neighborhood. Cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs. There was one boa constrictor, but Jenny was relieved to see Gloria had no desire to play with it. This all seemed like a healthy, innocent hobby, even when Gloria wanted to start having little birthday parties for the pets. Jenny noticed Gloria was spending a lot more time at the library. When she wasn’t there, she was over at Marigold’s place.

Gloria had a problem. The animals couldn’t talk. How could she find out what to give them for birthday presents? Marigold let her borrow a book on astrology. That’s what started it. Gloria looked up all the birth dates she’d been able to learn, and then made up a few for the animals whose owners had no idea. She ended up with a notebook full of page after page devoted to each pet and what the astrology book said about its sign.

Giving Sable a birthday party with a Leo theme seemed harmless enough. Catnip toys and kitty treats and a special salmon cake. Gloria had saved up her pocket money.

This led to reading more books about stranger subjects. Jenny put her foot down and sent Gloria to have a talk with Fr. Daniel. I’d have given a lot to listen in on that conversation. I was in the church hall when the two of them came out of Fr. Daniel’s office. He thanked Gloria for giving him so much to think about. Gloria said she’d take “those” books back to the library.

Advent had come round again. That Sunday Fr. Daniel gave a sermon we’d all remember.

“In the Bible Christ tells the Apostles, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for such is the kingdom of heaven.’ I have many books in my library. Many of the writings of the Holy Fathers. Recently I learned an important lesson, and it came to me not through ancient teachings but from the goodness of a child.

“Our dear Gloria explained to me that she had finally understood the true meaning of her name. It comes from ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo,” which is ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ When she first learned to read, Gloria saw all the tags on the Christmas presents. They said To and From. Some also read From and To. Gloria thought about the Latin phrase and in her innocence believed the angel must have left out a word. Gloria wanted to do as the angel said and give the Baby Jesus a birthday present. She believed the angel meant to say, “From Gloria, To God in the highest.”

A murmur of fond amusement swept through the nave.

“Gloria knows that God created all creatures great and small. Her recent practice of giving birthday parties to the pets in her neighborhood is her way of giving God the pleasure of seeing her show love to His creatures by celebrating the days they entered Creation.”

Fr. Daniel paused and looked down at his notes. He cleared his throat, sniffed, and blinked a few times.

“I want to thank Gloria for sharing this with me. In this season of celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us all keep in mind that we are all God’s creatures, two-legged and four-legged. Let us celebrate the image and likeness of God everywhere we find it, and give thanks for finding it in so many, many places.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

With one voice, we all answered, “Amen!”

END

Author’s Note: This story is dedicated to Archpriest Basil Rhodes and all the folks at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Saratoga, CA. They were kind enough to teach me many lessons about how much God loves us.

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#atozchallenge: U is for Unseen


by Lillian Csernica on April 24, 2018

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Here’s the question: Why can some of the characters in my Kyoto Steampunk series see the gods and monsters of Japan, while other characters can’t see a thing?

Nurse Danforth When she sets out to make a deal with the Devil that will save Madelaine’s life (In the Midnight Hour, Twelve Hours Later), she opens her own mind to the supernatural powers present in Japan. Whether or not that was a one-time experience remains to be seen.

Dr. Harrington Being appointed personal physician to the Abbot of Kyomizudera is a great honor. The position includes a few duties Dr. Harrington is not aware of at the start. He has become one of the guardians of the Abbot, and as such is now on the radar of all things supernatural in Japan.

Madelaine Children are often more capable of perceiving the supernatural. Madelaine has the added advantage of intense curiosity.

Constance A practical, down-to-earth woman, Constance has all the psychic sensitivity of a brick. She does see the terrible yokai that comes after Dr. Harrington in The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later). Some monsters are so formidable they make their presence known regardless of whether or not humans have psychic gifts.

Alexander Thompson The Undersecretary for Technology Exchange is a dedicated civil servant with very little imagination. This is a mercy, sparing him from sights that would surely bring on what the Victorians referred to as “brain fever.”

Fujita-san When Amatsu Mikaboshi confronts Dr. Harrington, Fujita-san can’t see him. I suspect Fujita-san may have more talents than I’ve discovered so far. His close working relationship with the monks of Kiyomizudera makes me wonder if Fujita-san knows more than he’s telling.

The Abbot and monks of Kiyomizudera One would expect ascetics pursuing a spiritual discipline to be familiar with the supernatural realm and the beings who inhabit it. This proves true in A Demon in the Noonday Sun (Twelve Hours Later) when Dr. Harrington’s call for help is answered.

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#atozchallenge: O is for Olivia Danforth


by Lillian Csernica on April 17, 2018

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Olivia Elspeth Danforth was born in London, England in 1840. Her father ran a tobacco shop. Thanks to a small inheritance, she had enough money to get an education. She worked hard and did not expect to marry at all, much less well. Olivia chose nursing because her mother said she had a talent for keeping her brothers and sisters healthy despite the diseases of the day.

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She graduated from The Nightingale Home and Training School for Nurses in 1870.

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Through Lady Dorothy Monroe, sister to Constance Harrington and patron of The Nightingale Home, Nurse Danforth found a position at Dr. Harrington‘s newly opened practice.

Nurse Danforth acted as part-time nanny for Madelaine after she was born in 1871.

Constance thinks the world of Olivia Danforth, who has become as much a member of the family as one can who is not related by blood. Nurse Danforth knows this is a better life than she’d hoped for and counts her blessings every day. While her demeanor may be stern, she is fiercely loyal to the family. Nurse Danforth literally follows Dr. Harrington to the ends of the earth so she can remain close to Madelaine.

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#atozchallenge: K is for Kannon


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2018

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The Goddess of Mercy has many names. The most commonly known are Kwan Yin, Kanzeon Bosatsu, and Kannon. In the strictest sense she is a boddhisatva, a being who has achieved enlightenment and could merge with nirvana. Instead, she chooses to remain on earth and help others toward enlightenment.

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Throughout Japan there are many temples and shrines devoted to the Buddha and to the Shinto gods. Even when Kannon is not the main focus of a particular temple, you will often find a Kannon Hall where an image of the goddess resides.

Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple, is a key location in the Kyoto Steampunk series. On its famous cypress veranda, Dr. Harrington meets Kannon herself.

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#AtoZChallenge: D is for Danger


by Lillian Csernica on April 4, 2018

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Many dangers lie in wait for Dr. Harrington, his wife Constance, and their daughter Madelaine when they move their entire household to Kyoto, Japan. While it is a great honor for Dr. Harrington to be chosen by Queen Victoria and the Emperor Meiji, it is a challenge that will demand all the strength, skills and social graces possessed by each family member.

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Nurse Danforth rises to the challenge of saving Madelaine’s life by confronting Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos.

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Madelaine, just nine years old and already a mechanical genius, must survive a life-threatening fever. Then comes the challenge of convincing Dr. Harrington the gods and monsters of Japanese mythology and folklore are real and must be taken seriously. When Madelaine is targeted by one especially clever monster, she must draw on her skills both mechanical and folkloric to protect her family.

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Constance exists in a state of endless bewilderment as she fights a daily battle to bring all the graces of Victorian England to the strange and incomprehensible world of Japan during the Meiji Restoration. This might not sound as dangerous as the threats faced by Dr. Harrington and Madelaine, but success as a hostess in support of her husband’s social position was a Victorian woman’s reason for living.

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Dr. Harrington takes on the lion’s share of danger. Amatsu Mikaboshi‘s determination to restore the balance of honor lost in his confrontation with Nurse Danforth puts Dr. Harrington in the perilous position of protecting the Abbot. Dr. Harrington also faces political and ethical pressures when he follows the Abbot of Kiyomizudera’s advice and does what must be done to escape the wrath of the wanyudo.

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Moments from the Women’s March


by Lillian Csernica on January 23, 2018

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Joining the march. Stepping into the flow, holding my sign up high, seeing the people lining the route with their phones out, taking photos and making videos. Recording a piece of history. Thirty thousand people, according to the Santa Cruz Police Department.

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A boy not more than ten years old marching ahead of me, holding up a cardboard sign that read, “I’d rather be home building LEGOs, but I have to build #TheResistance.

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Two older women carried a banner with #MeToo on it. As we passed by, the two women offered people Sharpies so they could sign the banner. Only recently did I realize that I had faced sexual harassment several times in the workplace. I signed that banner!

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A man carried a large piece of cardboard. On it had been painted the figure of a judge, complete with white wig and holding the Scales. The empty oval where the face should be allowed anyone to stand behind the cardboard and have a photo taken, proclaiming her or him “A Future Supreme Court Justice.” How cool is that?

Chanting “Hey, hey! Oh no! Donald Trump has got to GO!”

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Our destination was the Louden Nelson Community Center. Inside on the stage stood the American Shrine. You can see from the photo that it was just breathtaking.

While I was inside the Center, I crossed paths with a woman and her son, who had Downs Syndrome. The mother asked if she could take a photo of me holding my sign. Sure thing! Then she asked if I would mind taking a photo of her and her son holding my sign. I tell you, that nearly brought me to tears.

Later, as I walked a few blocks back  to where I’d parked my car, drivers saw my sign. Horns honked and I saw some thumbs-up as people applauded equal rights for people with special needs.

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On my way home, I stopped at Peet’s for a Green Tea Mojito, one of the few guilty pleasures I can get away with on my weight loss program. I had my Women’s March T shirt on, which got me into conversations with at least three people.

My favorite barista was on duty. She wanted to see my sign, so I got it out of the trunk and brought it inside to show her. She said she didn’t know many people with special needs, so equal rights for them wasn’t something she’d thought about. She was glad to see the sign and know about the issue. Accessibility and health care are SO important these days, now more than ever.

I need more exercise. Thanks to the Women’s March 2018, I exercised my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. When it’s time for the elections this year, I will once again make my voice heard by voting.

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March Like You Mean It


by Lillian Csernica on January 16, 2018

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This coming Saturday, January 20th, all over the world women and their allies will march together to support each other and to protest all the wrong things happening in our world right now.

This is my first march, so I asked people with experience what I should keep in mind, what to wear and what to bring.

I’m here in Northern California, with its weather and its laws. Some of the suggestions given to me may not apply where you are. Still, I do want to share this information, especially with those people who are also about to experience their first march. Here is a compilation of the advice I’ve received:

Precautions:

  • Find someone willing to post bail. In my case, this would be my husband.
  • Write the phone number of said person on my arm in permanent ink, just in case my phone is confiscated or something else happens to it.
  • Stay with your group. If there are anti-protest people present, they may try to provoke confrontations. Do not let them corner you, cut you off, or get you alone.
  • Be ready to take videos.
  • Maintain situational awareness. That means know who is around you, where you’re at, and keep alert for signs of trouble.
  • Schedule check-in times.
  • Have a panic word ready so your support people know you can’t get to your car and you need to be picked up.

What to wear:

  • Most comfortable shoes
  • Layered clothing
  • A hat for shade and/or warmth
  • Sunscreen

Supplies:

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Mini First Aid kit
  • A spare pair of glasses (if you wear them)
  • Face wipes
  • Electrolyte drink, powder, or tablets
  • Vitamin C and/or Zinc to combat potential airborne illnesses

Optional, but encouraged:

A sign. Our local law permits cardboard or posterboard weight signs mounted on a “stake” made from the cardboad tubing inside paper towels or rolls of gift wrap.

Need some inspiration? Check out these signs from last year.

 

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