A Jar of Good Things

By Sarah Lapallo Beck


It’s New Year’s Eve of 2012, nearly midnight. Surrounded by my friends and thousands of other Richmonders, I stand in the middle of the street in Carytown.  We’re all anxiously waiting for one thing—2013.

Suddenly a roar erupts from the crowd and my eyes become glued to the giant clock projected onto the brick side of the Byrd Theater. As though led by our very own Maestro, the crowd begins chanting in unison down from ten. The excitement is contagious, and no one notices the sub-zero temperatures.

A friend told me once, “Sarah, you’re the only person I know who cries every New Year’s.” And this year is no different. I’m counting along with the crowd, but I have icy tears running down my face. A low-grade panic attack has been setting in for about an hour now, giving me heart palpitations, sweaty palms, and a general lack of enthusiasm for this otherwise festive but meaningless holiday. I’m panicking because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and watching another year slide away into the night isn’t helping. Not to mention, it’s always been hard for me to say goodbye.

Years ago my mom told me that at New Year’s she likes to write down what she accomplished that year. She told me, “It feels good to look back and realize you made progress.” She was right. Though I tried to employ her technique I found it hard to remember everything that happened that year. Small victories got lost in the tide of milestone events. It’s easy to feel that another year has passed and very little has changed or become better. I’ve always been an avid journaler, but flipping through a year’s worth of words just to pick out a few key moments wasn’t working either.

I don’t remember how the idea came to me, but I found an interesting jar (not hard, since I apparently collect them), and together with my then-boyfriend/now-husband Dale, we began to write down good things and accomplishments as they happened. We did this for one year.


At the end of that year, we cracked open a bottle of vino and dumped the notes out on the kitchen table. Sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes enjoying quiet reflection, we took turns reading the crumpled memories.

All the big ones made it into the jar, of course:

“9-1-13. Sarah is now a business owner! Inkwell Book Co. officially launched!”

“5-20-13. Dale got a raise!”

“12-29-13. We took the leap and began raising chicks.”

“7-10-13. We’re engaged!”

And some little ones were there, as well:

“8-2-13. Sarah made a new friend.”

“2-13-13. We went on a run together and didn’t die.”

“12-20-13. Our dog learned a new trick: when food falls on the floor while we’re cooking, she has to be given the ‘good girl’ command before rushing in.”

It felt good to know I could sign off on that year. I had done good things, big things. Things I would never forget and things that made me a better person. There had been hard times too, of course. But with a clear head we could look back and see what we learned and how we’d become stronger. 

This year on New Year’s Eve, sure, I might cry a little. But I won’t be crying because I’m unable to let the old year go. I’ll be looking forward to the new year, excited for what’s just around the bend (like moving into our first home and continuing to grow our businesses). I’ll be ready for the good things that will fill the jar this year, as well as the surprises and challenges. With open arms, I’ll be waiting to greet whatever might come my way.

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How do I format the name of my trilogy?

Q: I just finished writing the first book in my new trilogy. How do I format the name of the series on the title page?

A: There are a few different ways to go about including a series title on your book’s title page. How you format the title will largely depend on how you want the book to be referenced. That is, do you want the book to be identified first and foremost as a singular work, or as a part of the series?

If you think your series works better or makes more sense as a cohesive unit, then it’s smart to assume it will be referred to by the series title. A good example of this is The Lord of the Rings. The books have individual titles, but the entire story is more commonly known by the series title, because any one of the books would not function as well on its own. In this case, the series title should be italicized, because it’s being used in the same way as any other title. This is also a good option for books with short or ambiguous titles. A book titled Courage, for example, would be difficult for a reader to track down, due to the sheer quantity of existing titles that will include the word. Courage, book 2 of the Deadly Values series, by contrast, gives the reader much more specific information to use when searching for or telling others about your book.

Tauchnitz Vienna books

On the other hand, if the book can stand alone as an individual story — say, if the books share a theme but tell their own stories in each — then it’s more likely to be referred to by the book’s title. In this case, the series title acts more as additional information, characterizing the nature of the series without explicitly titling it. An example of this use is found in the Harry Potter series: the series is not technically known by this title, but can be used to offer additional information about any of the books for identification and grouping purposes. In this case, the name of the series would not be italicized, because it is not being used as a formal title.

A good gauge is to ask yourself if a reader could pick up one book in the series without having read the others and still understand and enjoy it.

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Jacki has been editing professionally since completing her study of the English language at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012. She has been an Inkwell Book Co. editor since 2013. From memoirs to fiction to fantasy, she can’t resist a good story, and can usually be found at her rural Virginia home with her nose in a book and a cat in her lap.