Monday, February 1, 2016

Hair of the Dog

I sort of drifted off the track over the last couple weeks. Planned to blog two or three times a week, but the great blizzard took over my life and everything else went out the window. So I'm aiming for a fresh start on the 1st day of February.

I've had plenty of time to mull over all sorts of topics. But this blog's topic is one I've wondered about for quite a while. It's about the management of body hair. Two people arrange to go out to dinner. Here's how the play-by-play stacks up:

HE: Shower, shampoo, shave face/or NOT, dress.

SHE: Shower, shave legs/underarms/other pertinent parts (including her face if she's my age!), shampoo/blowdry/or NOT, dress, makeup, etc.

How is that fair? Who decided women had to do all this crap to be attractive? Probably it all started with the safety razor. But if books--especially historical romances--mentioned the hairy legs, etc. of their heroines, what do you suppose that would do to the story?

You might wonder why I'm even asking, but recently I watched a rerun of a fairly popular TV show. The male character met a female character he found very attractive and proceeded to try to engage her interest. Then...he discovered she didn't shave her underarms and legs and suddenly he couldn't get away fast enough. So. Why do American men (in particular) demand hairless wussies, yet expect women to find their hairy baboon bodies attractive? If de-hairing the body is so important, why don't the guys do it? And I'm NOT just talking about the manscaping some models do.

In the interest of equal time, guys should have to ALSO shave underarms, legs, pertinent parts...heck if they're really hairy, whisk that razor back and front. How long do you suppose it would take them to get ready to go out?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dumbing Down

When I started reading (around age five) my father started me with the Bible. It was a book--actually, one of the few books in our house at that time--so that was my beginning reader. Now I don't know if any of you have read the King James Version of the Bible, but it was translated in the 1600s so it's contemporary with Shakespeare. To this day, the poetry of the King James Version sings to me.

Recently, I sent a new manuscript to several beta readers. As is usual with the readers I choose, they offered comments and suggestions for which I'm very grateful. But one particular issue common to all of them was their comments about a couple words I used. Yes, they were 'made-up' words, but then our entire vocabulary consists of made-up words. They all began somewhere.

So one of the sentences mentioned was the following:

     On the underground market the boots would fetch enough distris to buy an entire herd of shnormies.

They questioned 'distris'. Why not use coins instead? Prior to this point in the book I had described shnormies (a riding beast), but I didn't explain distris because I thought the meaning was clear from the sentence. I submit that if this book was placed in Regency England, the proper names for coinage would be used with no further explanation.

Deducing word meaning from the context was how I learned to read. Is this no longer taught in school? We didn't own a dictionary when I was very young. I was expected to figure it out by adding up the clues in the text.

So here's my question--are we as romance writers dumbing down our writing? Are we so anxious to be everything to everyone that we're nobody to anybody? Am I the only one who enjoys books that stretch my imagination and mental muscles? And how far are we prepared to go to appeal to everyone? Not all readers want to read a book that appeals to the lowest denominator.

Vocabulary and imagination shouldn't need to be sacrificed so we can appeal to every possible reader. I believe if the story is well written and engaging, it will reach the readers who will enjoy and appreciate it the most.

What say you?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Take a Nap

There are all sorts of coping mechanisms. Some folks ignore the chaos around them. Some try to control it. Some find solace in music or reading or television. Personally, I take a nap.

I've heard some people talk about taking a walk, but that isn't always convenient. It might be raining or snowing or windy or cold. Napping is always available. Napping doesn't require any equipment (except for a soft, cozy, thick afghan). It can happen anytime of day. And napping has no particular time requirements. You can nap for fifteen minutes or three hours.

Living in the moment is okay. But for a really positive experience...take a nap.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Chimes of Time

When I was a small child, one of my earliest memories is napping on a pallet on the floor at my grandparents, listening to the soft chimes of their clock. It chimed on the quarters and half hour in addition to marking each hour. That was over sixty years ago.

My grandparents are long gone, along with their possessions. And I hadn't thought about the clock in many years...until a cousin, Carolyn, wrote to ask me if I wanted my grandparents clock. Oh, how excited I was. Immediately, I wrote back, "Yes, yes, yes!" I was so thrilled when it arrived in the mail, along with two plates from my grandma's kitchen.

Now as I sit in my office, I listen to the clock chiming, bringing back distant memories of another time and place. It sits on this small bookcase right outside my office door, reminding me that time can bring joy and sweetness, even as it rushes by.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Eve Watchnight

This morning I read through my Facebook feed, noting Happy New Year wishes and the sharing of plans for the evening. There seemed to be a 50/50 split between staying at home and going out to party. I freely admit the very idea of partying at midnight gives me the shudders.

I've been looking back, way back to the time when I was a youngster. I don't remember any particular celebrations for New Years until I was in my teens. There might have been some, but they weren't very important to me. Our family was what was known as a 'religious' family so drinking and dancing weren't our way, anyway.

I do remember the Watchnights of my mid-teens, though. As I've mentioned before, it was a very turbulent time. The body count from the Vietnam War was posted every night in the upper left hand corner of the TV screen during the news. The numbers were a constant reminder of our soldiers at war. The civil rights wars at home were no less disturbing. Riots, assassinations, burning cities, murders all led to instability and insecurity. Young people held demonstrations against all sorts of things. Woodstock shook up the establishment.

The young of today think they are living in uncertain times. Every generation believes that. Every generation has their own demons, their own problems to face.

But I was talking about my times...

New Years parties were mostly for the wealthy and celebrities. Every day folks might have a small dinner or something like that, but 'good' people didn't go to bars or clubs. They celebrated with family and friends.

Our family attended a church that held a Watchnight service every New Years Eve. We arrived at church around 8 PM for a pot-luck dinner. I always loved pot-luck dinners at church because all the women brought their best dishes. It was a feast. After dinner, some folks visited while others play board games. And then around 11:30 everyone went upstairs to the sanctuary for the Watchnight service. We sang hymns. Several people read passages from the Bible that they found relevant to hope for the New Year. And at midnight we prayed for peace and compassion. After a last hymn, everyone went home.

I can't say if our celebration was better or worse than any others. But when we woke up on New Years morning, we faced that day with renewed hope. Perhaps, that's all we can really do. Face each new day with hope.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Child

My last Christmas post for 2015...

Christmas 2003. It was a busy, busy year. In June we moved from New York to Maryland because the house hunk was transferred. Moving is always stressful, but this time it was particularly so because we lived in our last home for nineteen years. So much stuff. So much stuff to sort and get rid of or throw out! Then in mid-September Hurricane Isabel roared into Maryland. Fortunately, we were not near the flooding, though one of the trees behind our building ended up on our balcony.

Our younger daughter was pregnant, due in late December. We made arrangements to stay with our oldest son. Our daughter and her boyfriend were staying in a small room so Christmas was celebrated at our son's apartment. No baby. It appeared that the baby was in no hurry to arrive. We made arrangements to wait the baby out, but by December 29th, we were running out of our medications and reluctantly made the decision to go home the next day. That afternoon our daughter called, "Don't go yet! I've started labor!"

In a little while, her boyfriend called. "She wants you to be here when the baby's born." So we hopped in the car and made the forty-five minute drive across the Hudson River to the hospital. When we arrived, he was waiting for us and ushered us up to the maternity floor.
She didn’t quite make it for Christmas, but on December 29th close to midnight, the househunk and I were with my daughter and her boyfriend, present when Daisha Monet made her entrance. 

Witnessing the miracle of a new baby never gets old. The precious gift of a new life—especially at Christmas—is a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

She's twelve this year. Happy Birthday, baby!!!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Bigger Baskets

As the end of the year approaches, some folks--all right most folks--resolve to lose weight in the new year. And probably 99.99% of them don't succeed. There are a lot of reasons for that. But I imagine the number one reason is lack of commitment. Standing in front of a mirror, assessing the form and figure does not make a commitment. Huffing and puffing as you climb a flight of stairs doesn't either. The truth is... long term commitment to changes of lifestyle usually only happen after a catastrophic event. Heart attack. Stroke. Diabetes.

Some people refuse to buy bigger clothing when their old things no longer fit properly. They believe the discomfort of ill fitting clothes will serve as an incentive to lose weight. And they're mostly wrong. All that happens in the end is you look like you're bursting out of your clothing. If you never leave the house, sloppy sweats and tee-shirts are one solution, but if you work out of the home, tightly fitting clothing with gaping button holes and stretched zippers...well, it's not attractive.

At that point, I support bigger baskets.

No, it's not giving up, giving in, or any of that other nonsense. It's maintaining a positive outlook while you get your act together. Dieting and exercise take a long time to show results--unless you're only working on about ten pounds. For those of us who are looking at a lot more than that, the commitment might take as long as a year or two. In the meantime, there's absolutely no reason to be uncomfortable or unattractive while we're working on our resolution. In fact, there's every reason to do everything we can to heighten our positive outlook on life.

So. Bigger baskets. Attractive baskets with fancy weaving and sturdy underpinning. Uncomfortable people are unhappy people. Get some brightly colored baskets. Colors enhance the spirit. And search out the occasional unusual basket. Something unique that makes you feel special.

There's no reason to choose A or B. Do both. Use that Christmas money to get some fabulous baskets.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.

Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell the hunk he needed to come home. His father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed me. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I didn't have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was only a couple blocks away so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted. It was an action made more remarkable because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe in observance of holidays… not even Christmas.

A miracle.


As a footnote... in 2011 I found Linda on Facebook and we've reconnected. Isn't life grand?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Long Road Home

Every year I reprint a few of the Christmas memories I've shared from the past. This is from Christmas 1989. May all those traveling this Christmas be safe...

Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.”

For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a our family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. My husband was on disability from an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.

“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.

The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.
My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. The older one pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but my older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets.

Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make some extra beds.

We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.

It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Two came from Guam. Others came from all over the United States. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards there were games, carols, and visiting.

A couple of days later the trip home was longer with a blizzard to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.

Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.

A miracle. Several, in fact.

© 2007 Anny Cook

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Price of Expectation

Christmas 2015. This is the year of unmet expectations. It's the year of discontent, the year of greed, the year of I-want-more. The difficulty with expectations is this: they can never be satisfactorily met. Never.

I believe this is true because so often we hitch our expectations to a price point. One anniversary the hunk brought me a Hersey bar (regular size). A neighbor happened to be present when he handed me the plastic bag from the grocery store and she expressed strong disapproval because it wasn't a BOX of chocolate. She saw his gift as cheap. I saw the wonder of him actually remembering it was our anniversary!

When the Thanksgiving/Christmas/pick your holiday season rolls around, folks lose their common sense. They rush out to the stores, spending money they don't have, to meet expectations that are greedy and foolish. Why do we foster such expectations?

There are soooo many ways to celebrate the holidays. Yet we teach our children the fine art of demanding more, more, more and struggle to meet their demands. Then, the time rolls around when we can't possibly meet their expectations. What do we do then? You see, there is a PRICE for unrealistic expectation.

The meanings of holiday celebrations are lost in our rush to provide more, more, more. It doesn't matter whether it's a foolish embarrassment of food (when folks around us are going hungry) or a gaudy display of decorations or so many presents we don't have room to put them under the tree. What is that all about?

A few years ago, my parents were with my dad's siblings for Christmas. They made a pact that they wouldn't spend more than $2 per person for their gifts to each other...including the wrapping. Then they struck out to see how far their ingenuity would take them. My dad is eighty-five years old. He grew up in an era when ONE present was a big deal. His mother told us the story of the year when she and her sisters received one doll to share. They thought it was miracle.

When we allow our expectations to get out of hand, we pay a terrible price. We lose our appreciation of the simple pleasure of receiving a gift. When was the last time you really took pleasure in something someone gave you? How long ago was that? Too long, I bet.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Home for Christmas

Home. What is the definition of home? It isn't just shelter. Some folks who have shelter don't really have a home. Because...home is permanent. It's a place not only to live, but to feel settled. In our country there are a lot of homeless folks. Some of them are sheltering with friends or family, but where they're living isn't home.

I suspect we've lost sight of that fact--lost sight of the meaning of home. It's not just a place to sleep and eat. It's a place you feel secure, and if you're staying with someone in their home, you're a guest (welcome or not), but you're not home.

I know of a couple authors who are completely homeless due to circumstances they can't control. It doesn't take much. Catastrophic illness. Loss of a job. Loss of income. And with shocking suddenness you're living in your car, trying to stay warm as you huddle beneath a pile of blankets.

We hear a lot about homeless folks across the planet, but very little about the homeless in our country, except for the marginalized due to drugs or mental issues. No one talks about the tent cities of homeless families on the outskirts of our cities. No one considers the families who've moved back home with grandparents or other family members out of desperation, often living in crowded (possibly illegal) circumstances so they're not out in the cold. They keep their living conditions secret so they don't lose their children to the foster system.

When we visualize the homeless, we think of drunks or addicts sleeping on the sidewalk, but that's just a tiny tip of the iceberg. This Christmas, there will be incredible numbers of children who won't wake up to heat or food or running water. A Christmas tree with presents beneath it is just a fantasy they might hear about in school. For them, being warm with food to eat would be a miracle. Having a home is an untouchable dream.

When we sit down to eat our Christmas dinner, maybe just this once we should acknowledge that this isn't the norm. It's a privilege...because we are home for Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Let There Be Peace On Earth

The first time I heard this song was at my oldest daughter's Christmas pageant the year she was in fourth grade. The elementary school had no place big enough to hold the pageant so it was held in the high school auditorium. The program was creative and joyous and enjoyed by all the parents and families.

Near the end of the evening, teachers dressed as reindeer took the stage with a rolicking skit and song. As I was enjoying it, awareness of a shuffle and hiss crept in and I realized that the children were silently lining the walls around the auditorium.

The lights went out. A deep silence filled the huge room.

And then one young voice soared in the darkness. "Let there be peace on earth..." A tiny light flicked on lighting her face.

A few more voices joined in...just a few from points all around us. "And let it begin with me."

More lights. More voices until we were ringed in light and earnest small voices singing about peace on earth. I think about that song often. I think about how we still don't understand the underlying truth of the words..."let it begin with me" for peace does not begin with warriors. Peace is protected by warriors when all else has failed. Peace begins with each of us.

Most people believe that peace is an absence of war. That isn't true. Peace is an absence of conflict. And true peace will not arrive until we as humans refuse to countenance abuse, intolerance, genocide, greed, and famine. As long as we turn away from the less fortunate ignoring the needs of the many in favor of the wants of the few, there will be no peace on earth.

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..."