Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Journey to the future

Next year I'm gonna...(fill in the blank). Next year I'm gonna lose weight. Next year I'm gonna write ten books. Next year I'm gonna have a mammogram. Next year things are gonna be better.

In a few hours it will be next year. Then what?

A lot of people spend their lives waiting for the promise of next year. And for some reason next year never arrives. So all those things they've been waiting to do "next year" never get done.

I grew up spending New Year's Eve in church at Watch Night services so the idea of partying on New Year's Eve is foreign to me. A Watch Night service is a prayer service--a service specifically planned where the attendees spend the first hour of the New Year praying for our nation and world leaders. It seems to me that this year they could certainly use a few more prayers.

And here are a few others we might add to the list.

Our families--world peace really ought to begin at home. So many families are struggling right now with a host of issues, both financial and emotional.

Our friends and colleagues--many of them have burdens we only dimly perceive.

Our neighbors--yes, even that fellow on the third floor that slams his door at two a.m. and that woman across the street that never mows her lawn.

The hungry, the poor, the disenfranchised, the abused. Really, there are plenty of people to pray for. I'm only one person, you know. So if you can find it in your heart--whatever your beliefs--take a moment tonight at midnight and say a prayer. Together we can effect a change in our world. Otherwise, the future will look exactly like today.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pirates strike again!

Well, no matter what we do, the thieves are always with us. Satin2087 posted all of my books for free download on her account on sigh. Check out

As usual, I reported it and wrote a note to the admins at Demonoid. I'm still not sure how people can justify doing something like this. What is it about creative product that makes people believe it's just there for the taking? Would those same people steal a book from their local Target or Wal-Mart?


What do y'all think? Is there any way to justify book/music/movie piracy?


Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking forward...

Traditionally at this time of year people take time to reflect on the accomplishments, good decisions and bad for the past year, and set some goals for the coming year. I think it's a natural human trait to stop and assess where we are in our lives. The closing of a year is a good time to think about what we want to accomplish in the coming year.

When I was a much younger woman, New Year's resolutions were a popular tradition. I've noticed that it's a tradition that seems to be passing away pretty much. And perhaps that's not a bad thing. Resolutions somehow are so concrete that they set us up for failure when we can't keep them. Personally, I believe setting goals is more positive. A goal is something you can strive for, yet it isn't a failure it you don't reach that goal. It's a destination, not the journey.

This past year has been a year of highs and lows for me. I've had sadness and joy, success and failure, good news and bad. I accomplished more than I dreamed I would, yet less than I hoped. There is much to look forward to as I leave 2008 behind me.

My goals for next year are simple.

I would like to walk every day. I know that there will be days that this will not happen, but it is a worthy goal. I will not set a distance or time, but I will set the goal of walking every day. This is a goal I'm continuing from last year. I admit that I was not very successful at this goal, but hope springs eternal, they say.

I compiled a tentative schedule of books I would like to write in the coming year. My goal is to stick pretty close to my schedule. That will require less time online, less time putzing around, and more time actually writing. All of the above will require more self discipline. Hmmm. Well, I was partially successful with this goal. And it's a worthy goal so I will keep it and hope for more success with this goal in the coming year.

I am a terrible housekeeper. I have set a goal of straightening up before I go to bed every night. It would be better if I had nothing to straighten up, but after all these years, that doesn't seem like a likely event, so perhaps I can start by simply picking up stuff before I go to bed. I don't hold out a lot of hope for this goal, but I've been surprised before. I must confess that this is also a goal from last year--a goal not met. I'm of two minds about whether to keep this goal or not. I will think about this goal over the next couple days.

I will add a new goal this year. That is to eat healthy. By that, I mean that my goal is to eat three meals a day with the correct components so that my sugar stays in the safe range. This is also a worthy goal so I will work hard on this one.

That's my entire list.

At my age, I've discovered that I can't do everything or be everybody or be everywhere. In many ways, this is a liberating realization. I no longer have to strive to meet anyone's expectations but my own. Looking forward to a new year I can anticipate finding out what I can accomplish for myself.

What about you? Do you have a hope or dream for the new year?


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Road Wars...

Blessed are the idiots who insist on driving 12 mph under the speed limit--in the fast lane. They no doubt need the blessing to deal with their fear of driving.

Blessed are the alpha males and females who insist on surfing from lane to lane, zipping in and out like they're on speed. May you arrive at your destination without killing innocent strangers.

Blessed are the fools who drive 80 mph in fog so thick the visibility factor is down to less than a quarter mile. If you shoot off the road, no one will ever know until your family finally reports you missing--sometime in August.

Blessed are the crazy ones who believe they can stop in time if necessary... they tailgate in 70 mph traffic. A few of them found out they were wrong--we passed the six car pile-up on the way home. Fortunately, as far as I could tell from a quick glance, nobody died.

Blessed are the sleepy ones who try to drive "straight through" for twenty hours without stopping. Let us hope they don't kill anyone when they finally fall asleep at the wheel.

Blessed are the packrats who insist on taking so much junk with them on the trip that they can't possibly see through any window in the car... let us hope they're very proficient with mirrors and have a couple navigators--but I doubt it. I was nearly wiped out by a couple of them.

We arrived safely home. Yep. As with most winter holiday driving experiences, we encountered fog, rain, snow, ice, and the usual contingent of crazy drivers. But we also met many lovely fellow travelers when we stopped at restaurants, gas stations, and rest areas. My prayers are with them on the road.

I hope all of my readers had wonderful restful, peaceful holidays!


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"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..."


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Snow....

On the road again... we're off to spend Christmas with our grandchildren in New York. May all your travels be easy and light.


Monday, December 22, 2008

The year that Christmas almost didn't come...

It's been a rough year. Many people have lost their jobs. Some have lost their homes. And yet, this has not been the first time when the holidays arrived in the midst of chaos. The end of another year in my past was an incredibly turbulent time. In November on my fourteenth birthday, President Kennedy was assassinated. It was in the beginning years of the Vietnam War. The Cuban Missile crisis was not long before that. Uncertainty was everywhere. So herewith, the story of Christmas 1964.

Christmas 1964. That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked hard to make a haven for us.
As a parent now, I realize how difficult it must have been then for her to sit us down a few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could have a special Christmas dinner.
Solemnly, we considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we put it behind us and life went on.
One day, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we opened ours. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.
Every level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with gifts. Beautifully, lovingly decorated gifts. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.
I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we hadn’t gotten rich overnight. I walked around the room gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen. Two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates. A special Christmas dinner indeed!
A little later we opened the gifts. Of all the Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single thing I received. Not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were all gifts of sacrifice from strangers. Our family friends were a minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to them, would have a special Christmas.
The minister and his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.
As Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together. Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by strangers.
A miracle.


For the Christmas Tacos story, check out the Grip Blog! Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dead blogs...

And blogs work best with readers... Christmas and food shopping, traveling, decorating, cooking, baking and visiting all take a toll on the blah blogs. So until Monday I'm wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! Travel safely!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Are we done yet?

Writing a book is somewhat like baking a cake. The experienced cook knows when the cake is done, but it's difficult to explain how he or she knows to another person. So it is with a book or story. Each author has an inherent sense of when the story is finished, but no way to explain that sense to another person.

One of the most frequent questions I get from the house hunk is "Are you almost done?" Well... not yet. My current work in progress is close to completion, but not quite yet. Yesterday I wrote more than 3500 words, fully expecting it to be finished. But...not quite yet. So today I will write some more until that internal sense tells me that the story is complete.

I once sent a book to my editor, uneasy and irritable because I sensed it wasn't quite finished. Eventually, I retrieved it and added some more to the story, smoothing out rough spots, explaining things that were inexplicable. In edits, there were more additions. That book ended up nearly 10000 words longer than when I first submitted it. I will never again yield to the pressure to finish, finish, finish until my inner sense is at peace.

So the answer is: Not quite yet. But soon. Very soon.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Making me blush...

Ray over at Cataromance reviewed Honeysuckle from my Flowers of Camelot series... "My goodness! This book was full of laughter and sexy great fun, I have to say it is the best funny, laugh out loud erotica I have read all year long! I had no problem delving into the story from the first page to the last." If you'd like to read the entire review, click on the link.

There's nothing like a complimentary review to make a girl perk up. Thank you so much, Ray! You made my day!

Other points of interest from yesterday... I had my annual boob squashing--otherwise known as a mammogram. In our area the new digital mammogram is available. The results go directly to a computer in less than a minute. Zoom! No more waiting around in those hokey gowns while they check the films.

I always find the entire process so weird. Fifteen women sitting around in icky pink gowns that don't quite close in the front, pretending that they don't know why everyone is there. Noooo conversation. Nooooo camaraderie. Yep, there's probably a couple of them who are there for follow-up tests and they're scared out of their gourds, but me--I'd probably be blabbing my head off, just because I was scared.

It reminds me of the time that the house hunk went for his second vasectomy (no, I'm not gonna explain that one). I was fourteen months pregnant with our fourth surprise! child and because my babysitter had the measles I had the three other children with me in the waiting room. It was a huge room with zillions of couches and fish tanks and there was one woman on each couch, and each one was very pointedly acting like they had noooo idea why everyone else was there. Hello! It was a vasectomy clinic! That's all that those folks did there.

Anyway, one woman finally rustled up the courage or foolhardiness to ask me why I'd waited until number four???

"Oh, we didn't. The last one didn't work."

In exactly three seconds, every woman in there was crowded around me wanting to know the real low down on the procedure.

One guy came out to collect his significant other, looked around at the babbling group of women and demanded rather testily, "Whatch'all doin'? Having a party?"

I have to admit that the gabbing made the time pass a lot faster. Well, that's about as exciting as it got. Maybe today, I'll actually get back to writing after my flu hiatus. It would be good if I finished that last little bit before next year. Yeah, it would.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Long Road Home

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 because of 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 as there was more snow 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.

Regular readers will no doubt recognize this post from last year. But I have to admit that it is one of my favorite Christmas memories.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bug Wars:Day Five

By now, it is clear, even to my befuddled mind that I do NOT have food poisoning. I have a bug. This is no ordinary bug (see photo above), but a vicious, cunning, ravening beast.

Things that I've learned about the enemy: It laughs in the face of Imodium. Laughs. It does the happy dance when you feed it crackers and cheerios. It jeers at the usual sick fare of tea and flat soda.

But I am not easily defeated! No, I persevere in the face of the enemy. There are old secret weapons available--weapons almost forgotten by man and woman.

Pepto-Bismol. Say it with me. Pepto-Bismol. The pink liquid that coats and soothes the troubled belly.

Sleep. Real honest to God, sawing logs sleep. Hours of sleep snuggled in the warm covers on dismal gray rainy, snowy days. Sleep until you can sleep no more. Guilt-free sleep.

Herbal tea. Choose your own. My belly prefers Sleepy-Time, a chamomile based tea with honey. Pair it up with toasted English muffins with just a tad of honey. That has possibilities.

Things that I've learned from being sick:

My bathroom needs to be redecorated. It's no place to spend hours on end when you're sick. Oh, I gradually added a few things to make it my homier-away-from-home refuge, but ech... it needs a painting or two and some flowers. I took care of the other things by now. You know--the pile of books, the reading glasses, the butt wipes, the antiseptic wipes, and the six extra rolls of toilet paper.

And I tossed in the sweater (because it's cold in the middle of the night) and the spare pair of socks (in case I inadvertently end up in there barefoot--remember it's cold.) I considered adding a small boom box so that I could enjoy Christmas music while occupied, but decided against it because my head hurts most of the time.

Some day in the distant future, I will no doubt feel better. My gut will quit roiling and my dinner will stay where it's supposed to. I'll regain the fifteen pounds I've lost as soon as liquids start to recirculate in my body.

Some day, this will be a dim memory that I'll talk about with my friend, Jane, endlessly repeating, "Do you remember...?"


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Window Dressing

Today is our anniversary. Who, you say? Well, the house hunk and me. Forty one years.

And what are we doing to celebrate? Nothing is planned at the moment. Quite frankly, the stomach is still in rebellion and I'm a person who likes to enjoy food and service if I'm going to be paying for it.

Anniversaries are funny things, anyway. When did they become a big celebrate-it-bigger-and-better than the Joneses? Except for the standard benchmarks (twenty-five, fifty, and up) why do we have that expectation for more? The house hunk and I have been together long enough that we've learned there's far more to marriage than a superficial celebration marked by flowers, candy, cards or dinner.

Don't even get me started on jewelry. Now, I'm okay with jewelry, but personally, it doesn't do much for me. All my jewelry (including wedding band which I seldom wear) is of the QVC variety--silver, Diamonique, and very inexpensive. I'm trying to remember the last time I wore even one piece of jewelry. Hmmmm.

So what are our plans for a romantic celebration? Well, first he'll unload the dishwasher and then I'll reload it. We'll make dinner (probably salmon and green beans). I believe he plans to dye my hair. We picked a nice blonde color this time so I'm anxious to see how it comes out. He wanted bright red, but I vetoed that. Then if we're still feeling ambitious, we'll make love. It not, we'll go to sleep--because tomorrow night is just as good.

The thing we've learned over the years is that the little things are the important things. If he takes me out once a year to the fanciest place around, showers me with flowers, balloons, jewelry, etc., but ignores me the rest of the time, what does that say about our relationship? Any fool can do that stuff.

Too many women fail to understand that the day to day stuff is what really counts. All that other stuff is just fancy window dressing.


Monday, December 15, 2008


with the unexpected. Life isn't about dealing with all those things you've planned for, like retirement and getting married. Life is about those things that attack you out of left field... like your kid contracting meningitis or your toddler drinking charcoal lighter fluid. It's how you react when your spouse is on the floor in Wal-Mart shaking in the throes of a grand mal seizure.

The unexpected right turns in life reveal what kind of people we really are. Do we break down in the midst of a crisis? Do we bear up until the emergency is over?

Watching television shows like Survivor are fun, but they're based on a false premise. After all, if the players truly want to leave, rescue is at hand. But what if rescue was not expected--ever? What if in the aftermath of a hurricane, ice storm, or earthquake no assistance is to be expected?

I once asked a question on this blog... what two things would you want if you were stranded? The answers were interesting, revealing how far we have moved away from the reality of survival. One individual listed her laptop. Another listed her iPod. Neither seemed to realize that it was very unlikely that there would be electricity available.

So, just for interest sake...
Do you know how to treat water to make it safe to drink?
Do you know at least one way to preserve food without refrigeration and/or freezing?
In your immediate neighborhood could you identify five edible wild plants?
If necessary, could you construct a temporary shelter?
Could you build a fire without using matches or a lighter?
Do you know how to cook without using a fire?
Do you know how to build some type of temporary sanitation arrangement?

I'll be interested in your answers.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stomach Wars

A friend once told me that I couldn't be miserable if I tried. I beg to differ. Saturday morning between 2 AM and 4 AM, in an endless round of violent vomiting and the diarrhea dash, I completely emptied my stomach. Completely. Since then, I've managed to keep down twelve dry Cheerios, a mug of chamomile tea with honey, a few sips of flat soda, and a quarter of an English muffin. I'm currently nibbling on an orange Popsicle.

I believe I've spent about thirty minutes total in an upright position. The rest of the day, I slept. Barbara, Sammie the cat snuggled against my tummy, keeping me warm. Good cat.

So I might be back tomorrow. Maybe. Or maybe not. It will depend on whether I can keep down a few more Cheerios.

Whatever this is... stomach virus or food poisoning... I'm ready for it to be over. Oh yeah, did I mention that I'm really miserable? I did? Just wanted to make sure...


Saturday, December 13, 2008

O Christmas tree, O Christmas Tree!

Listen and you shall hear... the sad tale of my Christmas tree! Heh. Three days ago, my friend Regina Carlysle and I embarked on a Christmas Tree challenge. It was close to a case of the Tortoise and the Hare--with me playing the Hare part. For every two steps forward, I seemed to take ten backwards.

First, I have a large apartment, but it's full. So I had to determine a place for the tree, move all the furniture to another place--even another room, and then vacuum the carpet, dust, etc., etc. That took most of the morning. During this time Regina was... taking a nap!

Then, I had to locate the tree. It was in the closet. Now the house hunk put it away and that meant that it was at the bottom of the closet. So I unpacked the closet and hoisted the new tree box out. Sigh. During this time Regina was assembling her tree--a tree with lights already on it!

I read the directions and began assembling the tree. Since it was a new tree, there were a few quirky things I had to work out first like assembling the tree stand and sorting the tree branches by their color coding. During this time Regina decided to take a rest and wait for her daughter to come home to help her with the ornaments!

Ah-hah! I thought. I will put on the lights, decorate, and I'll be finished way before Regina's daughter comes home. Not so fast! Much to my dismay, I discovered that I didn't have any lights! So I had to wait for the house hunk to come home so we could go to the store and buy lights. By the time we ran out in the pouring rain, bought lights, ate dinner and returned home, it was late. So I conceded.

Friday morning I arose bright and early, checked my e-mail, posted an excerpt on a chat loop and eyed the lights. Alternately eating a breakfast bar and stringing the lights, I finished that part by eleven. Posted a couple more excerpts. And started with the ornaments.

That was pretty nice. I've always loved the memories of hanging the ornaments we've collected through the years, so I was enjoying myself. I kept an eye on the clock as I had a chat scheduled at noon, but still...

Then with the addition of one of our loveliest ornaments, the tree started a slow tip to the right. Hmmm. This was not good. Tentatively, I checked to see what the problem was. Uh-oh. The tree was on shaky ground. I tilted it back the other way, propped it against the bookcase and waited for--you guessed it--the househunk to come home.

One of the screws in the stand was loose. He tightened it up and lo! the tree was secure. Finally, at four p.m. my tree was decorated. I lost the Christmas tree challenge! But, it's up. It's beautiful. And now all I have to do is put away the boxes. Maybe later today!


Friday, December 12, 2008

I thought it was bigger...

Have you ever noticed how things in ads or catalogs or menus always looks different than in person? We once ordered a dessert that was roughly the size of Texas. We ordered three of them and ended up taking two home. That was for nine people. Ridiculous.

How about things from those mail-order catalogs? I quit ordering stuff when I opened a bag of felt pieces for vacation bible school and found that the biggest piece was less than an inch. Since I was planning a craft for four year olds... well, let's just say that I found something else for them to do.

Naturally, merchants want to show their merchandise in the most attractive fashion, but it seems to me that they could find some way to make the size clear. Why not put something of a known size next to it, like the archeologists do in their photos? You know--place a small ruler next to the item. That way, people would have a realistic idea about the size.

I swear that some of the most creative writing in the world is done for catalog descriptions. I sometimes wonder if the writers ever have the opportunity to see and touch the items that they're describing. Or does someone tell them to mention that the sweater is warm and sensual...

I really try not to buy anything over the internet or through the mail unless I've seen it in person or even held it in my hands. I recently bought a psaltery right before my vacation. Fortunately, it arrived in time for me to take it along on my trip. My father loved it, but he was pretty concerned when he found out I'd bought it over the internet. "How did you know it would be this beautiful?"

I explained that I had not only seen one in person, but even tried playing it. In addition, I spoke to the owners of the company and discussed my reservations with them. That's the way to buy over the internet. Check it out first.

That's what I did with my Sony digital reader. I wanted to see it, hold it in my hand, try it out before spending $350 for my new electronic toy. A lot of people think that's quite a bit of money. It most certainly is! So why would I spend that much without making certain it was something I really wanted? I waited until I found a store that sold them and then I bought it there.

What do you think? How do you determine that an item is really the size you need it to be?


Yay!!! Today Magnolia--Book Four of the Flowers of Camelot is released from Ellora's Cave! It's Yule time in Avalon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nanna Reindeer

Christmas 1997. Well, there we were. Life, as usual, had twisted us in knots. We were short on money, long on bills, and the holiday was around the corner, nipping at our wallets. That year we had a new miracle in our family. Her name was Talitha Marie and she wasn't old enough to know that she was a miracle.

I watched her being born back in September. My younger daughter and her husband were having tough times so they were living with us… which meant that I got to see Talitha every day. She was nearly three months old and changing almost by the hour.

Back in my more arrogant days, among the many silly things I said, was one particular gem—that none of my children would be allowed to move back in with me once they were on their own. I’ve been forced to eat my words several times. That Christmas both of my daughters were living with us! In any case, I have found that God generally gets what he wills, one way or the other. That June, in a matter of twenty minutes, he simply removed all other options. God was determined to give me a blessing I didn’t want.

Tough times can shrivel the soul. On the outside, I carried on, but on the inside, like the Grinch, my heart was several sizes too small. And then, God sent Talitha into my life. Life was still tough. There was little income and large out-go. But when I came home from work and held my granddaughter, things were okay. I forgot how precious the little children are. I harbored resentments and bitterness because of my own failures with my children. With this tiny baby, I was able at last to forgive myself for my failures and simply allow myself to love her without expectations or conditions. When I watched her young parent's faces when they held her and cared for her, then I knew that I did something right. A miracle. Merry Christmas.

The picture above was taken by Talitha, Christmas 2007. Isn't it strange the things we'll do for our grandkids?


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

Christmas 1959. I was ten years old. Our family lived in Globe, Arizona, but we had traveled by automobile to Gary, Indiana. It was before the days of interstate highways and my parents drove many hours, late into the nights, to arrive by Christmas. My younger brothers and I occupied ourselves by discussing and boasting about the snowmen we were going to build when we arrived “up North.”

We arrived safely (our first miracle) in the cold pre-dawn hours. It was a cold, damp, windy morning with nary a snowflake in sight. Dad stopped at a gas station so that we could freshen up. The restrooms were unheated, providing us with an excellent reason to speed through our clean-up. With our faces washed and our hair combed, so that we were presentable, we piled back into the car and traveled the few blocks to my Aunt Betty and Uncle John’s house.

There, as we shivered under a barely lightened sky, my Dad was struck by an inspiration. He gathered us in a tight group on the small front stoop—and at 6:00 AM—we began bellowing out the strains of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Now it stands to reason that SOMEBODY would want to shut us up, but nobody came. Dad led us into a second verse, urging us to sing louder.

Still no reaction.

The wind whipped up, cutting through our light coats. Lips turned blue and strands of hair blew across our eyes as he led us through a third teeth-chattering verse.

Nobody came. Mom rang the doorbell as he launched into the first verse again. Uncle John flung the door open and demanded, “Who is it!” before he recognized us and invited us in.

Later there were a few chuckles when he described his mad dash from room to room searching for the radio that someone had left on.

During our visit, my brothers and I waited in vain for snow, knowing we only had a few days to spend there. At last, our hopes for snow dashed, we headed home. Oh, we had a great time milling around with our cousins, roaming in small packs from room to room, but in some small secret place within, a little snow would have been perfect.

After a long boring trip, suffering from holiday letdown, we arrived home safely (another miracle). Dad parked in front of our small house. We sat in the car staring out the foggy windows in amazement at our snow-covered yard. The cactus plants in the corners had spiky snow beards. There wasn’t enough snow to build a snowman, but we had a great snowball fight before we unpacked the car.

A miracle.


It saddens me to report that Uncle John passed away about four weeks ago. But when I think of him, I have happy memories to sustain me. Merry Christmas...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Scroogy Grinches

It used to be that the epitome of missing Christmas spirit was Scrooge. And then Dr. Seuss wrote a little tale about the Grinch. You could be hard pressed to decide which had less Christmas spirit.

But one thing I can tell you... there are some real contenders walking around this year. Some of them are big corporations, laying off thousands of people in the weeks just prior to Christmas. Would it be any better in two or three weeks? I don't know. There's just something about those all important weeks before Christmas that can make or break the human spirit. For some reason, if we are already low and depressed, it's always worse at this time of year.

Then there are the individual Scroogy Grinches--those people who steal the hard earned belongings of others. They come out of the wood work at Christmas time, breaking into cars and homes, often stealing the few presents the owners have been able to afford.

Of course, for my money, the biggest Scroogy Grinches are those who are wilfully blind to the needs of others around them. In their rush to secure every possible dime for themselves, they cheat or overcharge those less fortunate whether man or beast.

These are the folks that wait for a food drive so they can donate all their unwanted crap in their pantry. They donate unwearable clothing instead of tossing it. They're the ones that only give if they can deduct it on the income taxes. And they're the ones that mutter about lazy beggers who don't want to work. I wonder what they'll say when the shoe is on the other foot?

Christmas will be here before we know it. In your hurry-scurry world, don't forget the less fortunate around us. Start a new tradition. Adopt a family, child, animal... adopt them and make sure that they aren't forgotten, not only at Christmas but year round. How much money would that take? $100? $200?

How a society treats their poor, says a whole lot more about that nation than all their other accomplishments. After all, what's the use of putting a man on the moon if the nation's children go to bed hungry?

This Christmas, don't be a Scroogy Grinch.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Meaning of Christmas

As I sat at the computer waiting for inspiration to appear, I thought about what Christmas means. Is it shopping? Is it the story of the Christ Child? Is it the presents under the tree on Christmas morning? Christmas Carols?

For each person different things are the true essence of Christmas. For some, if they are not with their families, then it isn't Christmas. For others, certain decorations are the true meaning of Christmas.
As for me, I'm not sure what it is exactly that makes it Christmas. I have spent Christmases surrounded by a vast family and friends. I have spent Christmas alone. There was more than a Christmas or two that was tinged with grief and sadness and others that were filled with joy. Both sides of the coin had their place because our lives are not static. We are constantly moving on, constantly dealing with changes in our lives.

Traditions help us stay grounded as life rushes past but we must not be so buried in tradition that we are lost when the traditions fade away. We must be open to establishing new traditions to take their place. Sometimes a new tradition begins with a whimper. Sometimes with a bang. Some are born of desperation.

One Christmas we were so broke I wasn't sure where we would find the money for the yearly stuffed animal from Santa. My friend called to let me know that a local pharmacy had all their teddy bears on clearance. We drove down to the store, found four different ones and for the princely sum of six dollars, Santa would be making a house call at our place Christmas Eve. They were plain. Stone cold plain, but my friend rummaged through her sewing supplies and located enough fancy ribbon to outfit each bear with a jaunty bow.
And then I had the notion to issue a "gift certificate" to each of the kids. I designed them and printed them out on an old dot matrix printer and colored them with colored pencils. Each one was for a specific sum to be payable when we received our income tax refund. Looking back now, I wonder what my kids really thought about receiving a colored promissory note. But I give them a lot of credit. They acted quite excited about it.

Income tax time finally arrived and we spent hours at the stores spending their gift certificates. The next Christmas rolled around much too soon. Things weren't a whole lot better. With a faint heart I asked them what they wanted for Christmas. Unanimously, they all declared that they wanted the gift certificates again. And so a tradition was born. For many years after that, we had the Cook family gift certificates.

Heh. I was just ahead of the curve as usual. Now we do gift cards. And they're still excited.

In the last five years, we've had more of a turnover in traditions than at any other time in the past. One Christmas we witnessed the birth of a grandchild. Another Christmas Eve I brought my husband home from the hospital after surgery. Most years we've done minimal decorating due to various circumstances.

Three years ago I completed seventeen calligraphy pieces, matted and framed, and mailed them out. They were all 11 X 14 and miracle of miracles they all arrived safely. Two years ago I made memory books for my kids. They were a hodge-podge of pictures, short stories, recipes, and memories. The kids call them The Christmas Book and they hold a place of honor in their homes.

New traditions. Old traditions. They stretch back through the years providing the tapestry of Christmas past and present. Perhaps that is the meaning of Christmas... the wonderful tapestry of memories and traditions that hold us together through the good times and bad.


Some readers will recognize this post from a previous year. That's okay. Some things are worth a second read...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Snow, snow, snow!

First snow of the year... I was fool enough to be driving in it last night! As usual, no one remembers how to drive. Have a wonderful weekend!


Saturday, December 6, 2008

All I want for Christmas

A few years ago, I was a college student. No, not that many years! My youngest child was fifteen and I had a son in the Navy. One day early in December while walking to my car after class, I stumbled and fell face down on the sidewalk. I remember the incredible pain.

After staggering back to my feet, another student urged me to go to the emergency clinic on campus as I was bleeding and my face was pretty badly scraped up. So off I went. The nurse cleaned me up and started chatting about making an appointment to see the dentist. That was the first hint that I had damaged more than some superficial scrapes on my face. I struggled up and went to the mirror.

What a mess.

Aside from hideous bruises and scrapes I had three chipped and ragged teeth (the front ones of course!) I called the dentist and went in immediately for an appointment. And discovered via the x-rays that I'd also cracked the bone just under my nose. My lips looked like something on Botox on speed.

My daughter was away at a boarding school. I called her that weekend and told her all about my adventures with the broken teeth. She sort of giggled after a bit and sang, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..."

Somehow, it wasn't so bad after that.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Banana Pudding and Fudge

From October through December it seems to be one long food fest. Cooking, baking, eating... food, food, food. It's no wonder that by the time January arrives I'm not interested in looking at food. I don't want to smell it. I don't want to taste it. I reallllly don't want to deal with storing it.

But I'll admit to enjoying a limited number of items at any time of the year. They may be seasonal--or not. But whenever I encounter them, it's a absolute guarantee that I'll have at least one serving.

Banana pudding is... special. I do what I can to make it less of a caloric and fat fest. I use fat free milk and sugar free/fat free pudding. And I use a lot less cookies than the recipes call for. After that, I just close my eyes and enjoy. Some things just have to be tasted and savored. Banana pudding is one of those things.

Homemade fudge is another. Now when I'm talking about homemade, I mean something that the house hunk made or something my mom made. I'm not talking about that dried out, rock hard stuff sold in stores and labeled "homemade". The house hunk's fudge is soft and creamy and... well never mind. Just use your imagination.

Then there are the honey-oatmeal yeast rolls. Of course they have to be fresh out of the oven, piping hot. The whole apartment smells like yeast bread. Yummmmm.

And what do you serve with piping hot yeast rolls? Butter (yes, real butter) and pumpkin butter. Apple butter will do in a pinch, but pumpkin butter is better. Serve the rolls with fresh coffee. Fabulous.

What is your absolute must have food?


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Travel reflections

Things I learned on vacation:

1) Never drink the water. I spent an unneccesary amount of time in the bathroom because of the local water until we broke down and bought a case of bottled water. This only works well if you use the bottled water for everything... coffee, tea, cooking. However, I'm a quick learner. And once I caught on, I was meticulous about my water usage--with excellent results!

2) When barreling down the road at 70 miles per hour in a rain storm, turning the windshield wipers on high doesn't make any difference. Neither does slowing down, driving behind a truck, or moving into the other lane. Nothing improves visibility except a cessation in the rain. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a three day rainstorm so I had a lonnng wait.

3) Free continental breakfast is a phrase that covers a multitude of sins. We had everything from omelets and waffles at one hotel to cold cereal and day-old sweet rolls at another. As far as I can tell, the quality of the breakfast is directly related to the available competition. We learned to check out how many breakfast restaurants were available in the area. The lower the number, the worse the hotel breakfast.

4) Speed limit signs on the Interstates have no meaning. The third time a cop car cruised by us in the stream of cars that were definitely well over the speed limit, I came to the conclusion that we might as well have our own autobahn. For all of that, we only passed two minor crashes in our entire time on the road.

5) No matter how well I plan, I always return from a trip with twice as much stuff as I left with. Some of the more interesting things I brought home this time are: Very old New Testaments that belonged to my great-grandparents, four pieces of cedar log from a tree that my father cut down while we were there, a collection of rose rocks (state rock of Oklahoma) from Noble, Oklahoma, two "dirt" shirts (dyed with red Oklahoma mud)--one of them declares that I'm older than dirt, which was appropriate as I acquired it on my birthday, and three new wind chimes.

6) Warning people that my books have sex in them seems to make them more anxious to read them. People are intensely curious about what kind of sex I could possibly write--probably because I don't look like a woman who writes sexy romances.

7) Free high-speed internet is in the eye of the beholder. Free, it might be, but high-speed is another thing entirely. Also, most of the electric outlets are behind the bed headboard making things difficult at best. And most hotel desks are small. Writing on a tiny laptop on a tiny desk is not an ideal situation. I broke down and bought a folding table.

8) Wood stoves sound romantic. They are not. They're a lot of work and require someone to feed them on a regular basis. By the way, wood logs are heavy.

9) A series of strange beds is not conducive to sleeping well. I slept in eight different beds in seventeen days. They ranged from a double bed to a king. The house hunk uses a c-pap machine so he slept on what ever side of the bed had an electrical outlet. That seemed to change with every new bed.

10) I once read that the cleanest stall in public rest rooms was the one closest to the exit. I had ample time to observe the truth of this for myself. Most people automatically pass the first stalls and head for the last one. I wonder why that is?

I enjoyed the trip, but I'm glad to be home, even if most of our loot is still sitting on the living room floor. I've been unpacking something every day, but since the cat is a bit spastic from our absence and we will be gone over Christmas, it occurred to me that it might be best to just leave the bags out. That way she won't have time to get worried before we leave. Sneaky, huh?


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Elf

Christmas Eve. Traditionally, parents rush around getting the kids to bed and then when they've finally fallen asleep--around three a.m.--the parents stash stuff under the tree and toddle off to bed.

The year that our sons were eight and nine, we (Santa) bought them new bicycles. Unfortunately, they came unassembled. Putting them together in a cold garage quickly turned into a discouraging endless job. The directions were no doubt written by someone overseas and made absolutely no sense.

While we alternately picked at each other as I tried to decipher the directions and the house hunk tried to follow them, the bikes remained stubbornly unassembled and the night steadily grew colder as the hours passed. At some point, the house hunk declared that he was just going to put the boxes under the tree and let our son Tony assemble them on Christmas Day.

I, of course, protested that wouldn't be fair. He was getting tired and cranky so I offered to get him something warm to drink.

About then, the door opened and Tony stood in the doorway--fully dressed. "Are y'all about ready to give up? Or should I go back and lay down for a while?"

"Why are you dressed?" I demanded.

"Well, I've been waiting for you to realize that you can't put things together worth beans. So, if you're ready to give up, I'll put them together so we can get some sleep tonight before the rest of them wake up." Clearly, he was exasperated with his two numb-skulled parents.

The house hunk willingly handed him the screwdriver and headed for bed. I hung around until both bikes were assembled and waiting under the tree--thirty minutes later, tops!

After that, Tony was appointed the head assembly elf at Christmas. It was a position he proudly held until he left home to join the Navy, where they gladly put him to work, using his mechanical skills.

Some people really are mechanically inclined, thank goodness.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Let the Christmas Season Begin!

At our house the Christmas Season officially begins on December 2. Why is that, you ask? Well, my son's birthday is on the first. When he was small, he pointed out that his birthday got lost in the shuffle because of Christmas. So we officially declared that the Christmas rush couldn't begin until the second.

Over the years, this worked out very well. As commercial establishments decorated earlier and earlier every year, our family had an established traditional beginning of the season. On December second--most years--our tree was set up and we began decorating. By the end of a week, we were finished with that process and began on the Christmas cards. Every tradition had a set time and place.

I admit that I haven't set up the tree the last few years, but then, we aren't usually home for Christmas. I think I might set it up this year as we have a new, smaller tree. It would be nice to have a tree to cheer us up. It will still require some rearranging of furniture, but I think it will be worth it.

When there are only two of you, there are certain traditions that, um, are perhaps best bypassed. You know the ones... baking cookies and making fudge. I can't imagine why I bake six dozen cookies but only have two dozen to take to my daughter's house. Now the fudge--well last time I made it, there were only six pieces left. And I swear that I didn't eat it, but I won't make any comments about the house hunk.

As for Christmas cards, well I usually do a Christmas story instead of a card. Since I receive a lot of positive feedback, it seems that has become a tradition, too. I haven't decided what to write about this year. If anyone has an idea, speak up.

Our other tradition is the addition of a new ornament each year for the children. As all my children are adults now, this tradition moved on to the grandchildren. The house hunk and I chose ornaments for this year while on our vacation. So the ornaments are from far away states and that will add extra meaning to them.

What are your traditions? When do you decorate? Do you do something special for those around you to reflect the season? Speak up and share your traditions! Perhaps you'll give us all some new ideas.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Ready to get to work!

Yay! I'm home! Sleeping in my own bed! Petting my lonely kitty! (Thank you, Jane, for watching over her!)

So I enjoyed visiting with family across the country, but I sure am glad to be home. No matter how much we treasure time with our family, there's just something about being at home. The loot from our trip is piled on the living room floor. We have to shop later today for bread and milk. But in the meantime... ahhhh, we're home.

Funny. I tried to keep up with e-mail and blogs when I could, but it wasn't the same. Half the time the internet didn't work. The other half the time, there wasn't any access. I'm looking forward to wading through my friends' blogs from the last two weeks and catching up on all the news.

And of course, first thing this morning, it's back to writing. I've really missed writing this last two weeks. Amazing how you can spend some time away and find that you actually really miss it!

Since I missed all the news... well update me! What have y'all been doing?


PS: Happy Birthday, Tony! Today my son (second one) is 38!