Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eves I have known and loved

An accounting:

When I was a teen, my dad would buy champagne and on Dec. 31, serve it with orange slices draped over the edges like shrimp in a cocktail. I dare say I haven't had that since then. The most notable thing I can remember about Daddy and champagne is the bottle of pink bubbly he put in the freezer and then promptly forgot. Alas for him--and everyone else within hearing distance--my mother was the one who opened the freezer and found crystals of pink champagne scattered over everything.

In the 70s, we were young marrieds and I can't recall a single NYE celebration. We tended to be tired a lot (college, grad school and babies will do that). However, it did seem that The Apartment showed up on TV every NYE. We'd start to watch it and then fall asleep. This was pre-VHS remember, so we never did see the conclusion until we taped it one night in the 80s and watched it the next day.

By the 80s, we had a social circle and a couple gracious enough to host a host of us for NYE. We'd get a babysitter to stay the night and not care whether we came in at 2 or 5. (Just did that once.) Memorable time there? The night some guy came in off the street, filled up a plate from the buffet, and left through the garage. Everybody thought somebody else knew him. Only the next day did we figure out that no one did.

Next section of years finds us wondering more where our teenagers are than where we will be. We tended to stay home, have a few friends over or go out to dinner. I remember a LOT of looking at the watch and clock to see: isn't it midnight yet?

But as the millennium changed digits, we joined 50 or so of our nearest and dearest out at a summer youth camp. If the world were going to end (and of course it already hadn't ended, computer or otherwise, across the dateline), we would be among happy friends. Karaoke, big bonfire, beautiful weather... we all stayed the night on cots and air mattresses and ate breakfast before going home. The next year, the weather was beyond awful, but we gamely went to a big hotel in Dallas for their spend-the-night-dance-until-one celebration. We even went back the next year. Sadly, that hotel no longer holds that particular party. Since then, we've tried another hotel's offering, but it just wasn't the same. Four years ago, we were in London, and watched fireworks from a churchyard and celebrated with our new in-laws. One very snowy NYE, we had a cozy time at a house in the country. Driving home, the moon was so bright on the snow, we hardly needed the headlights to see.

Tonight we'll go to a friend's house and sit at the fire and visit and be very happy to be where we are: warm and safe and healthy.

And really, what else is there to celebrate?


Thursday, December 27, 2007


I spent the greater portion of yesterday undoing what I did less than a month ago. Down came the tree, the ornaments were carefully sorted and boxed, the garland and lights on the banister circled into their big box with the hope they would light again next year. I looked around the house to make sure I didn't leave anything out, only to realize a week later that it had been there so long I had forgotten to notice it. (It's happened more than once.) The big adventure was trying to remember where I'd stashed all the china cabinet regulars when my reindeer collection vacated.

Then I emailed a friend about my day and said I had de-christmased the house. Somehow that didn't sound right, never mind that I had made up a new word, one of my favorite (just ask my editor) pastimes. Should it have been de-Christmased?

Now that really wasn't right. Even if we could forget the "reason for the Season" and the sacredness of the event, we can't forget the Christmas in our hearts. I might take down the christmas in my home, but I certainly should never seek to get rid of the Christmas in my heart and by extension, at my hearth.

So, I shall merely say, I undecorated the house. And kept the Christmas.


Monday, December 24, 2007

The amazing amaryllis

While I would like to report that Little Girl is safely situated back at her home, I cannot. We've seen nary a whisker of her. I do appreciate everyone's kind thoughts and comments and tales of animals returning home. I'm still hoping she's on an incredible journey back to us.

Also, today we have had a milestone in the year. The winter solstice is come and gone which means the days are now getting longer. Hooray! I don't care if it is minute by minute, there's more light now than there was a week ago.

But the subject today is an amaryllis. I have grown the bulbs for years, usually a red one for my spouse who prefers it and a multi-colored for me. This year's pink and white entry has truly outdone itself. They usually have two bloom stalks with 4 blooms each, which is how the red one is behaving. But the star of the show has six--count them because I'm posting the photos--SIX blooms on the first stalk. It became so heavy with the first four open that it cratered onto the counter. I cut it off and have placed it in a bulb vase and it has proceeded to bloom the other two.

My photos hardly do it justice, but take my word for it, it is magnificent.

Merry Christmas to all and may the blessings of the season be yours.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Lord, have mercy on a little cat

Yes, that is a prayer.

Little Girl, our half-tail, clipped right ear, brown tabby outdoor cat, has disappeared. We circle the neighborhood, we knock on doors, I've called the vets and animal control. It's as if she has disappeared into the ether.

Over two years ago she moved from her birth-yard to mine. She was old enough to be in heat and was the victim (willing or not) of every male cat in the neighborhood. She never got with kitten, which I saw as a good thing, and since I knew where she had been born, I asked permission of her birth "mother" to trap her and get her spayed. It took a two month campaign of good food, fresh water, and patience to get her from living under the trailer in the side yard to coming into the back yard. I had her trapped on canned cat food less than a minute after I closed the back door and went inside.

I felt so sorry for the tiny thing. I took her to the vet, had her spayed and given proper vaccinations. They suggested clipping her right ear in case she ran away from me. I gathered it was the code used here for stray cats: "I am spayed/neutered and just looking for a meal. Leave me alone." I brought her home, let her out of the carrier and she has shown up for meals and lived in the back yard ever since.

But over time, other cats--who to a whisker have homes elsewhere--have encroached on her food bowl. I now have 3 bowls and sometimes leave food on the patio concrete. Little Girl gets fed any time she shows up. She'll let me pet her: she wants to be petted, but she won't come into the house.

Which is what is so perplexing about her disappearance. Where did she go and why? My neighbor, her birth mother, thinks she's done what she did over two years ago. Feeling the strain of too many other cats, she's moved on. I hate to think that, but it's better than all the other alternatives my cat-loving mind has come up with.

So, LG, I pray the Lord has had mercy on your wanderings, and you are once again a single cat, the object of someone else's loving eye.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Setting a time: an interview with Tracy Garrett

Debut author Tracy Garrett may have recently moved away from our beloved Texas, but her novels are still here.

So, I asked:

"Why do you set your novels in Texas--and most importantly--why 1847?"

"Texas is an amazing state. There is so much history, so many different landscapes--from swamps to high plains desert--that a writer’s imagination is free to go almost anywhere. Touched by Love is set in 1847 south Texas, on what is now the King Ranch, a ranch of 825,000 acres. That makes it larger than the state of Rhode Island. When we visited the area a few years ago, I fell in love with the land – everything from salt marshes along the Gulf of Mexico to open grazing land dotted with cactus and wildflowers. The area I chose for the setting of Touched by Love, the White Horse Desert, has only one natural water source. The area was influenced greatly by the Spanish, who settled there when the King of Spain issued land grants to some of his subjects. Then the Americans and Mexicans got into the act. Political conflict, a beautiful but challenging environment, history to draw on--what more can a writer ask for?

"I chose 1847 for the setting of Touched by Love because, although American settlement was well underway, the Spanish still held most of the land grants for this part of Texas. The Alamo was recent history, Texas was a brand new state with an established government, but the land was still wild and untamed, unpredictable."

Thank you, Tracy. Touch of Texas, is available now from Zebra Historical Romance. Her second novel, Touched by Love, will be released in November, 2008.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Goodnight!...'s been a week since I posted. You'd think that someone with all her Christmas shopping done would have a better track record than that. Obviously not.

So how have I occupied myself? For starters, I finished that geological survey puzzle of my 4x6 mile section of the Earth. Finished it and then let it sit there for 4 days so I could glory in it being finished. Showed it to everyone who came near the house.

In to Dallas twice for business, two dinners, a surprise birthday party, a cookie party (had to contribute goodies for all these affairs--what fun!), the cantata at church today and another party tonight. For it, I decided to do something easy but different, (not always a good sign) so I made my traditional pecan pie in a square pan and I'm going to cut it in pieces for serving. Like candy. I'm either on to a break-through in my baking years or stopping for ice cream to take.

I did finish wrapping gifts. I haven't ironed. I haven't vacuumed and I haven't written one single Christmas card although I'm enjoying those I've received and I've written the annual Christmas letter.

I spent a day and a half reviewing the galleys for my January release, WEDDING BELLE BLUES, from Wings ePress. That's intense, reading for everything that I didn't catch, the editor didn't catch, the copy editor didn't catch... and there were two pages of little bitty things that got through all the checks and balances.

I wonder what I missed. I'm not going to think about it.

Now I have as houseguests, the "grandest of kittens", one son's two housecats while he and his family spend Christmas in London with his in-laws. But right now, this very minute, I hear strange noises from the sewing room, so I'd better go check. I think the haloes are off the grandest.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Setting a time: an interview with Morag McKendrick Pippin

For the third Monday in a row, I am privileged to have a guest interviewee. Morag McKendrick Pippin has written three incredible romantic suspense novels, two set during World War II. So, of course, I had to ask...

I have loved all three of your books, but particularly your latest, PERFIDIA, set in Germany just before World War II. BLOOD MOON OVER BENGAL and BLOOD MOON OVER BRITAIN took place in 1930s India and 1942 London, respectively. Why the fascination with this time period?

Morag replies:

"How exciting to have lived in the early 20th century! It opened a whole new world into transportation, communication, scientific innovation -- and said a resounding good-bye to the social and fashion restrictions of the last century.

"So many new doors opened for women. WWI and WWII brought women to the forefront and proved we could run the country while the men fought overseas. Women proved able to head businesses, work in the factories, and pilot aircraft as well or better than men.

"This was the time for the new woman. Hemlines went up, hair was cut, and cosmetics applied. And for the first time women publicly indulged in the masculine luxuries of smoking, drinking, and gambling. But new responsibilities came with new freedoms.

"And, unlike any other period in history -- we may enjoy firsthand account of this fascinating era: movies, taped radio broadcasts, vinyl records, and eye witnesses.

"I've always been fascinated by WWI, the roaring '20's and WWII. It seemed my voice matched the era: not quite modern but quite historical."

Thank you, Morag!

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Don't try this if you're rural--or live near water

Who doesn't love all the catalogs which start arriving at your door in October? And again, two weeks later... and two after that... and then with a new cover as a special Christmas sale just at Thanksgiving. I don't have the nerve--nor the disposable space--to save them all until January and then do a count and weight, although I suppose I could count them. Make a spreadsheet or something.

I flip through and shake each as they arrive, making sure no bill or credit card come-on has slipped between the pages. I keep those I've found intriguing and throw the rest. Mailbox, me, trash. It's a quick trip for most.

Those which make the intriguing list usually have coupons attached to the cover or come from museums or classy magazines, such as the subject of today's blog, The National Geographic.

Growing up, I remember the familiar yellow covers that came monthly. I'd look through them, fascinated, although I doubt I read many articles all the way through. Like Playboy, these were much more interesting for their pictures. But their shopping catalog is classy and fun and I fell under its spell.

While our children, like everyone else's no doubt, really like the check in the Christmas card, (or preferably, cash, since that'll save them a trip to the bank), I think everyone needs gifts to open on Christmas morning. Call them stocking stuffers, if you will, they're under the tree and the cats and Santa have frequently signed the cards.

Now, should you be a child of mine and reading this post and don't want to know what the cats are getting you for Christmas, you should stop now. If you don't care, read on.

Buried in the pages of the NG catalog was a puzzle. Not just any puzzle, mind you, but a 400-piece one of where you live, mapping courtesy of the US Geological Survey. It would cover 4 miles by 6 and have, as its center, a piece shaped like a house. Unique and so interesting and just right priced for the cats to purchase, I bit and ordered three. Santa was not going to leave me out of this!

Since my sons live close together, I chose one to be a first residence, up in Maine by Casco Bay. The cats may not be making any points with this gift because...

I'm putting my puzzle together. 400 pieces. 12x18. How hard could this be? If you have to ask... I live in a rural area. There, in the center of the puzzle is my house piece and the surrounding city limits. (The Survey must be a few years old because there are missing highways.) And then there's nothing. White space divided by contour lines and red dashes and numbers which mean nothing to me. I got the city put together and found the five main roads which lead out of town. The railroads. If there were telephone poles, I'd be following them next. What I thought would take an hour has become a three day project and I'm not finished yet. Every spare five minutes finds me hovering over this behemoth which beckons from the table in the living room.

So, the son with the city map should be okay in following streets and landmarks. But the one with Casco Bay... all that blue... and, no, the cats are not putting it together for him.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Chasing the airline miles

Three years ago when we went to Australia, we flew United from San Francisco to Sydney. Good flights, good service, and we garnered the appropriate airline miles. Since then we've not had occasion to fly United and don't foresee doing so in the near future. So our airline miles have sat there, bringing us monthly updates and lots of offers to get special credit cards. Then United changed its policy of cashing in those miles and they would expire at the end of this month.

We could put more cash down to move the miles around and still have our accounts open. We've debated this for six months. Then, something on a newscast must have made it past my mental block of the-news-is-on-drone because I had an epiphany: donate those miles.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation needs miles for all sorts of good giving to children. As of last night, with one phone call, they have ours.

So, thank you, United Airlines, for participating in their program. And for all of you out there with scattered airline miles about to expire, well, follow the link above.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Grandmother Gene

My Grandmother DNA kicked in this week. Not that it hasn't been there, but some sort of hormonal switch clicked and it is now fully vested.

I had seen this happen in others. Usually, there was early onset of this, and all sorts of grandmother-ing spouted forth with the announcement of the due date. There was then an explosion of photos with the birth and the tendency for the conversation to circle around the grandchild(ren). We even had a name for it: "I have the world's best and smartest grandchild--Until yours comes along."

And come along she did. Emily was born in April, six weeks ahead of time. My DNA kicked in to a moderate level and I shared my photos and hogged a proper portion of the conversation. But we've putzed along. Emily and I have been sideways in many of our encounters: too much me? Bad timing? We've shared tearful meals and one-look-at-her-grandmother and the lower lip trembles and it's all over but, quite literally, the crying.

This week, however, I think we reached a level of maturity on both our parts. She didn't cry; I didn't grab. We waited each other out at lunch yesterday and when she got antsy in her stroller, I held her on my lap. It didn't hurt she was flirting with the gals at the next table or that my multistrand necklace fit neatly in her hand. I had smiles from her and grins and she showed me her first two teeth.

That ol' Grandmother Gene went into hyper action. I'd have held and loved and played all day, but she got tired and we had to say goodbye. Here's to next time, Emily!

PS: I believe the DNA is present in the male of the species also, but comes bundled with toddler-sized golf clubs.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Setting a time: an interview with Sandy Blair

Continuing the historical perspective interview process from last week, I emailed Sandy Blair, current president of the Dallas Area Romance Authors and author of time travel romances involving Highlanders. Her current release is A HIGHLANDER FOR CHRISTMAS, available from Zebra books.

Why Scotland?

"I fell in love with the Highlander mystique as a young woman only to visit Scotland and become totally enamored with the land and its people. The landscape--seeped in more history than one can possibly learn in a lifetime--is breathtaking, ranging from the stark to the majestic to the truly ethereal. As for the people, they're not only charming and gregarious but have a keen sense of the absurd, making them outrageously funny much of the time. And then there's the matter of my knees going weak whenever I hear a deep Scottish burr. Being married to a Scot might also have something to do with it."

Why Time-Travel?

"I think it's the elements of surprise that are inherent to all fish-out-of-water tales. How would I fare if I found myself suddenly dropped into another century? Would I find myself swamped by fear or would I rise to the challenge? (I pray it would be the later, but who knows?)

Too, I love writing about periods where men could be seriously alpha without worrying about political correctness, when a man had no clue he even had a feminine side, much less worried about getting in touch with it. As important was discovering medieval ladies were forces in their own right. Often well-educated and multilingual, many found themselves responsible for the health, wealth and safety of their keeps and septs whenever they're men went off to battle. If her husband died in battle, the Magna Charta ensured an English woman's hereditary rights to 1/3 of the land her husband held--and the clan system of the Highlands ensure a woman hereditary place. (That said, many a widow did find herself fighting for years in courts to garner those rights thanks to many a greedy son/relative.)"

Ah, the more things change...

Thanks, Sandy!

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

The brightest spot in my Christmas wardrobe...

... is a pair of plaid Keds.

Red and green, of course, canvas flats, bought in late summer to complement jeans through the fall. But it was so warm, I continued to wear sandals until November. By then, it was considerably cooler and I was into real shoes. The canvas was kicked under the vanity stool. But with a week of warm weather ahead of us (thank you, Lord!), I've eyed them once again.

They went to church today, paired with a red Christmas jumper and barely-there sleeves on a white tee. They were the rage, as they were yesterday at a writer's meeting. Durn--but they're cute. And so not meant to be worn at Christmas when it should be cold.

I've pulled out my dwindling Christmas wardrobe. I used to have lots of cute seasonal things, but gradually they have faded or succumbed to their provenance and gone out of style. (Not that that's enough to stop me from wearing Christmas.) My tastes have changed, too, and I'm more likely to wear gold/silver and black than cutesy cats and reindeer. Still, if the warm keeps up (hint! hint!), I'll be resigned to the one sure piece in my Christmas wardrobe.

Preppy, red and green plaid Keds.

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