Friday, December 30, 2011


The last week of December is a boon for those of us who love Top/Best/Worst lists. On the serious side the media recognizes Notable Deaths and Those We Lost  reminding us of the all the people who passed away during the year. And, of course, there are reviews of top world events that point out how our lives have been affected by recent history. But for pop-culture junkies (we know who we are), this time of year the web is a treasure trove of fascinating lists.
NPR’s website offers its assessment of the Best Books of 2011 in a wide range of categories from literature to poetry to sci-fi/fantasy but I’ll admit the one that I had to click on was Best Celebrity Tell-Alls.  Steven Tyler, Jane Lynch and Rob Lowe made that list and thus into my possibly-to-be-downloaded queue.
NPR also reviews The Year in Music listing 100 Favorite Songs Of 2011 , most of which I’ve never heard. But don’t worry, you can listen to them online for free before downloading anything to the iPad you got for Christmas. Prepare to spend hours on this one.
Looking for material to use at that New Years Eve party where you know no one but the host? No problem. There are lists of Favorite VampiresMost Shocking Guy Makeovers (Ben Affleck with lot of hair, Matt Damon with none), Year’s Biggest Break-ups (not that I know who half these people are), and Pop Culture’s Tastiest Bits
 Wired’s Gear of the Year  tells you what’s techno-cool, and Booklist Online’s Top Ten Romance Novels of 2011 tells you what really hot. And Moviefone's 50 Best Movies of 2011 summarizes all those flicks you planned to see and didn’t so your eyes don’t glaze over when someone mentions “We Bought a Zoo.”

In case you prefer a one-stop source, TIME humbly lists the Top 10 of Everything of 2011. Okay, I’ll admit I clicked Worst Fashion Moments  and was delighted to see Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie at That Wedding followed by the Kardashians at the Wedding-ganza. And who can resist Ridiculously Obvious Study FindingsI never would have guessed that “Under Money Strains, Some Older Adults May Turn to Alcohol”. Well, duh.

TIME’s The Best Blogs of 2011  gives links to what it considers the 25 best blogs while noting a few it can do without…sorry, Kirstie Alley, you made the latter. 

Do we need all these Best of 2011 lists? Probably not. Still, I’m itching to find out who’s being lauded and panned on MTV’s and Entertainment Weekly’s lists. What else can I do while waiting for the Academy Awards nominations announcement?
Happy New Year! May 2012 be your best year ever!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

You Say You Want a Resolution

We've made the word "resolution" a scapegoat. We project our failures onto it, blame it for our unrealistic expectations, and curse it rather than ourselves. Nevertheless, year after year, December 31 rolls around, and we come up with new resolutions or resuscitate old ones.

Could we craft a better recipe for disappointment?

Unless we set attainable goals, we doom ourselves to failure, and by "attainable" I mean doable despite our responsibilities, real or perceived talents, and a mere twenty-four hours in a day.

Sadly, we'll have to scratch "Win an Emmy" and "Serve on City Council" from our to-do lists since we don't control anyone's vote but our own. We're free, however, to write a script we think is Emmy-worthy. We can run for City Council.

Rather than swear to lose twenty pounds in 2012, we'll promise ourselves to eat mindfully and swap fruit for cake and cookies. Instead of vowing to complete a marathon in less than four hours, we'll vow to train consistently so we stand a chance of crossing the finish line.

We can't control our popularity, but we can strive to be a good friend. We can't guarantee our kids will turn into responsible adults, but we can model grown-up behavior.

These tips are so obvious, it probably sounds as if I'm talking down to you. In fact, I'm talking to myself. Year after year, I make New Year's promises that qualify as wishes on stars rather than attainable-by-me resolutions. When will I learn?

Every year arrives ripe with promise. In 2012, I'm going to work harder at the things I can do: finish one manuscript and start another; walk in the park almost every day; be a better friend. (Anne Roberts, if you're reading this, I'm sorry I went underground between Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

What will you do in 2012?

Monday, December 26, 2011


It’s Boxing Day. Okay, that’s not a holiday we celebrate in the US, but so what? I’m adopting it nevertheless. If the day after Christmas has a name, why not use it?

Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas when wealthy people and homeowners in the United Kingdom would give a box containing a gift to their servants. Now it’s just what the Brits call a Bank Holiday. In other words, people who work in offices have off but stores and restaurants and service businesses open as usual. Sure, among the well-heeled, fox hunting is the traditional sport of the day. For the rest of the population, it's shopping. Stores advertise sales to lure the bargain hunters who Santa brought cash or gift cards--just like in the US. Apparently this year London shoppers are faced with service disruption on the Underground due to a drivers’ strike. The dispute is over the union's demand for extra pay for its members working on the Boxing Day public holiday. I'm guessing the delays won't keep many people home.

I think my Boxing Day will be an official catch-up day. There’s so much to do--tasks that usually get put off until I’m embarrassed into taking the time to do them. The gift wrap strewn around the guest room will get organized and put away as will Christmas gifts. The tree will have to stay put until New Years Day, but I can buy one of those ornament storage boxes today so taking it down won’t be the hassle it usually is. A few last minute holiday cards need to be mailed out and a few presents still wait to be delivered. Then a couple of hours of revisions, a load of laundry, a nap and an episode of the BBC’s MERLIN series can fill out the day. Hmmmm. This sounds like a plan.

What are your Boxing Day plans? Heading for the mall? Curling up in front of the fire and reading a book? Do you have any post-holiday traditions to share? 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Stress Busters

The stockings are hung by chimney with care, but we have gifts to wrap, toys to assemble, and menus to execute. In the run-up to Christmas, the peace of the season too often eludes us. I don't have answers but know a few sure-fire stress reducers.

Let August McLaughlin sing to you. This original holiday tune will lift your spirits.

Still missing your merry? Fabio Bueno dares you to watch these babbling babies without cracking a smile.

Take a breath, close your eyes, and let Kecia Adams spirit you back to that special, shining Christmas when the gift you'd longed for waited under the tree.

Linus and Myndi Shafer know Christmas isn't about gifts, and toys and menus.

If your celebration turns cloying, Lark Howard has the antidote: action movies. She's made a list and checked it twice.

The best stress reducers are useless against heartbreak and grief. Debra Kristi has practical suggestions for those who have lost a loved one.

When friends and family get together, all may not be calm and bright. Prudence MacLeod offers tips on dealing with the drama lovers among us.

Holiday time triggers Kay Hudson's memories of a long, happy marriage, and she reveals the attitude that helped her survive and eventually thrive as a widow.

Whether you love or dread Christmas, most of us are glad it comes but once a year. But what if Santa were real? Marcy Kennedy believes we'd be better for it.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Do not make me watch IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE ever again. Ditto MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, any version. It’s not that I don’t like those old movies—okay, I don’t. There are plenty of Christmas comedies that the family can enjoy together and a couple like LOVE ACTUALLY (one of my faves!) that fall into the PG-13 category. But when the gifts are all open and dinner’s finished, give me a good ole holiday action flick to keep the spirit going. Here are a few even the guys will stick around and watch:

DIE HARD – Who doesn’t love Bruce Willis as New York cop, John McClane? And Alan Rickman makes such a brilliantly evil villain--his voice alone is worth the price of a rental. This one is THE classic.

DIE HARD 2 – A year later, Bruce has to battle terrorists at Dulles Airport on Christmas Eve. Can you say Bah, Humbug?

LETHAL WEAPON – Let’s ignore that Mel gets more like Briggs all the time and just enjoy him as the young, good-looking, crazy cop shooting up a Christmas tree lot.

KISS KISS BANG BANG – Robert Downey, Jr. as a thief-accidentally-turned-movie-detective is coached by Val Kilmer as private eye Gay Perry. This one may be an acquired taste. Just saying.

LONG KISS GOODNIGHT – Geena Davis plays a housewife with amnesia who starts to remember she’s an assassin. Who knew? Isn’t that a holiday surprise?

BATMAN RETURNS – Not my favorite Batman—that would be Christian Bale—but this one is amusing in a camp sort of way.

THE LAST BOY SCOUT – Bruce Willis again, (yeah, he's one of my favorites!!), this time with  Damon Wayans and some of the best one-liners of all time.

 Do you have any favorites to add? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Intents and Purposes

I like bargains and brake for thirty-percent-off sales, but the Amazon mobile price-comparison app bugs me. (It bugs a lot of people, and Amazon triggered outrage when it offered a one-day-only bounty of five-percent off the price of an item scanned at a brick-and-mortar store but bought through Amazon: Check out this. Then, for the sake of fairness, read this, too.)

At first, I couldn't figure out what I disliked about the app's concept. After all, I shop online and regularly compare prices at a handful of sites before clicking "purchase now." I check grocery-store circulars before I head to my neighborhood HEB or Kroger's and frequently visit both in the same week. (Neither is far, so I'm not racking up miles in the car to save a dime.) I believe in comparison shopping.

What's more, I've cooed about my Amazon Prime membership in this space and love my Kindle.

So, what the heck irks me about Amazon's price-comparison app?

I suspect consumers who go into brick-and-mortar stores, pick up items, and scan them into the app have no intention of buying from the stores they entered. Their visits are made simply to trigger lower prices from Amazon. Yet, those same consumers eyeball, try out, even fondle the items in question. Employee of the stores may answer questions and demonstrate features.

Granted it's the employees' job to answer questions and demonstrate features. When Hubs and I went shopping for a new refrigerator, we visited at least three brick-and-mortar stores before we bought at a fourth. At each, we questioned salespeople, opened and closed fridge doors, checked butter compartments, and examined finishes. In retrospect, did we waste salespeople's time at three out of four stores? Yes, but our intention at each was to buy there if we found the right fridge at the right price. Intention matters.

Amazon's price-comparison app caters to consumers who do little or no prior research and price-checking, and it sends them into brick-and-mortar stores they have little or no intention of patronizing,

Give me Prime membership and the Kindle, Amazon. Keep your app. I'm a bargain-hunter, not a jerk.

Friday, December 16, 2011


St. Croix Boat Parade

After many years in Houston, I still feel a bit nostalgic for the wonderful Christmases I spent in the Caribbean--seven in St. Croix, another more recent on a sailboat off a tiny sandy island somewhere near Petit Saint Vincent. We had white sand under our feet instead of snow, wore bathing suits and drank rum punch. The only fire roasted a pig on the beach and plantains replaced sweet potatoes. But what brings back those times more than anything else is the music. The radio played Charo’s MAMACITA DONDE ESTA SANTA CLAUS and The Mighty Sparrow’s CARIBBEAN CHRISTMAS MEDLEY, and, of course, The Great John L. sang CHRISTMAS IN ST. CROIX.  Cruzan Gold and tonic anyone?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What NOT to Say at Holiday Parties

Tis the season for holiday parties, drinks get-together, and reunions with people we may only see a couple of times a year. We'll schmooze, reminisce, and field an awkward remark or two. But what if we tend to stick our snow-booted feet in our mouths? For the cringe-inducers among us, here's a list of things NOT to say at a holiday gathering:

To a recent college grad:
"Your parents spent a fortune on your education and you're temping at Macy's?"

To an middle-aged engineer:
"I hear you finished a job in Arizona and are due to start another in Illinois. When are you going to demand an assignment in town? Kids need both parents."

To a career-changer:
"You'll be competing with kids in their twenties. They'll chew you up and spit you out."

To a dieter:
"I thought you loved my sopapilla cheesecake? I made it for you."

To a teacher:
"You've got some racket: winter break, spring break, summers off. And you wonder why kids can't pass standardized tests?"

To a stay-at-home-mom:
"Now that Noah's two, I guess you're looking for a real job."

To a doctor:
"I've got a throbbing pain in my upper arm. Take a look at my elbow and tell me what you think."

To a lawyer:
"Let's say, hypothetically, I were to incorporate a business."

To a banker:
"Look at you, hobnobbing with the 99 percent. What, Mustique Island's booked this weekend?"

To your boss:
"A honey-baked ham? I'd rather have a gift card."

To a writer:
"Amanda Hocking self-pubbed and made two million dollars. What are you waiting for?"

Monday, December 12, 2011


I hate Christmas shopping. Well, that’s not quite true. I hate figuring out the perfect gift for each person on my list. Some people have a talent for knowing the exact thing to buy—not me. So this year several people on my list are getting books from my friendly independent book-sellers. I know I can count on these to help me find the very best presents:
MURDER BY THE BOOK is my choice for mysteries, action novels, and a wide range of genres that will delight some of my favorite people. AND—big plus drum roll—they have autographed copies of many of those books. Want a great read signed by Janet Evanovich, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Diana Gabaldon, John Sandford, Kathy Reichs? No problem! Call or email your order. Or better yet, stop in and ask the staff for recommendations. Like them on Facebook and keep up with all the famous authors who speak and sign there. 
KATY BUDGET BOOKS is another indie favorite. In West Houston near Katy, this store has everything! New and used books, many signed, of all kinds. Fiction, non-fiction, picture books—this place has it all and the friendly KBB staff couldn’t be more helpful. They even have coffee table books for “lookers” and a huge collection of new and “recycled” romances. Get on their newsletter for to keep up with author signings and special events. 
BRAZOS BOOK STORE is a great place for those reader who are more inclined to literary fiction and specialized non-fiction. A book of poetry for your English teacher aunt, maybe? A memoir or biography? Or perhaps you want an off-beat suggestion for an intellectual on your list. Browse the staff suggestions online and check out their signed books for something a little special.
Sure, I still love my Kindle and my husband will have a gift card from Amazon in his stocking to download his beloved Lee Childs’ thrillers to his iPad. But for real shopping, an independent bookstore is where I always go to buy the special gifts with a personal touch. Checks out my favorites and tell us if you have any wonderful bookstores in your area. What are your book gotta-buys this year? 

Friday, December 9, 2011

I Like You; I Really Like You

Ever read a letter or email and swear you "hear" the person who wrote it? We reveal ourselves via the subjects we choose to talk or write about, our tone, and word choices. Mix in our individual ways of looking at the world, and you get the mysterious and sought-after trait called voice.

Earlier this week, I suggested you check out seven bloggers who are doing interesting, funny, and/or inspiring work. Today, I'm giving a shout-out to more who possess distinct and memorable voices.

Janelle Madigan Janelle's fiction skews paranormal, but her blog is about everything that catches her interest: music that transports the listener, women's reproductive rights, creativity, and authors + contracts.
Jennifer Groepl Most of Jennifer's blog topics are writing related, and her passion for the craft is clear, even when she wonders whether she should stop aiming for publication and write to please herself.
August McLaughlin August is wise beyond her years but isn't a know-it-all. She has the heart of a seeker and takes her blog readers along on a quest for meaning.
Drunk Writer Talk This is a group blog, yet individual voices ring out. What's more, despite the blog's name, the five women who write it don't let alcohol cloud their thinking. Come here for clear-eyed movie and book reviews and for insight into storytelling, book promotion, and shoes.
Sheila Seabrook Women Unplugged is another group blog, and Sheila posts every other Wednesday. She's in good company with five others, all of whom are members of the Women's Fiction chapter of RWA. Sheila's recent posts have been as diverse as the recipe for Poppycock, her late father's favorite holiday snack, to taking her mom shopping for a burial plot.
Joan Reeves Joan offers tips for newbie and old-hand writers, author interviews, and advice for indie authors. Each post ends with an insightful and punchy "Takeaway Truth."
Julie Hedlund Julie's a children's book writer with an appetite for challenges. In 2012, she'll draft twelve picture books in twelve months. At the moment, she's made it through week four of Artist's Way and came up with thirty picture-book ideas in thirty days. Her blog posts are honest takes on these challenges—and on the ones life tosses to us.

Again, big thanks to Lynn Kelley who handed me The Versatile Blogger award with the stipulation I pass it on. It's been an honor to hand off this baton.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I have a little card I made stuck to the bottom of the screen of my computer that says: Happiness is what you choose to pay attention to. I stole the quote from someone, maybe Janis Joplin, and apologize if that’s wrong. Anyhow, the idea hit a chord with me and made me wonder if the secret to getting through any situation was to focus on the positive, or at least what you can do in the moment to find contentment, connection or fulfillment if happiness isn’t possible.
Some people seem to have a knack for landing on their feet and succeeding where giving up would be so much easier and understandable. I know a lot of writers who write every day and work diligently toward publication but the illusive book contract remains just out of reach. I know how hard it was to tackle a fifth re-write with no guarantee my agent would think it was ready to submit when I was done. (It was!). Like so many others, the hopes and dreams get shaky at times and I have to find happiness in the process—a well written scene, a character who jumps off the page—and not focus on a “pass” from an editor, or a snide comment from an acquaintance who wonders why I waste so much time when I haven’t sold.
Recently I caught an interview with Martha Stewart on NPR where she talks about her newest book. I’m not her biggest fan, but I can’t help admiring her accomplishments. At one point, she’s asked about a nativity scene in the book (photo above) and her response said a lot about how she approaches life:
"When I was incarcerated at Alderson in West Virginia for a five-month term, they had a ceramics class," she says. "And in the ceramics class was a storage warehouse room where I found all the molds for an entire large nativity scene."
It took her a long time to find molds for all 15 or so characters — Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the wise men, the camels — everybody. And then she saved up to buy enough clay to create each figurine.
"I was able to purchase enough clay with my monthly stipend," she says. "... I didn't get a lot of other things that I would have liked in that five-month period because I bought clay instead. And I molded the entire nativity scene."
This interview made me think, if Martha can create a nativity scene with her prison “cigarette money,” what can I accomplish with all the resources available to me? The possibilities feel endless!!

What keeps you going when times are tough and discouraging? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Versatile? Me? (Switches from Tap-Dancing to Juggling)

Lynn Kelley, children's book author (Curse at Zala Manor. Secret of Haunted Bog) and creator of the Random Acts of Weirdness blog has conferred upon me the Versatile Blogger Award. Whoa! I'm thrilled although my so-called versatility is due to an inability to focus rather than talent.

Like most awards, this one comes with rules and responsibilities. For the Versatile Blogger Award, the rules are as follows:

Thank the blogger who nominated you!
Add the award pic to your blog post.
Nominate fifteen fellow bloggers and let them know about it!
Share seven random things about yourself.

I'll nominate seven bloggers today and eight more Friday. By dividing up my nominations, I give myself time and space to able to say a few words about each pick. But, before we get to my picks, here are seven random things you didn't know (and may not have wanted to know) about me:

1. I'm a firstborn. The eldest child's oft-noted quest for perfection doesn't extend to my appearance or housekeeping, but it affects my writing. The trait's good in that I aim high, and bad in that I always fall short.
2. The New York Times Sunday magazine has a feature called "Diagnosis" that introduces a medical patient and his ailment and shows the steps leading to a diagnosis. The feature could be the Rosetta Stone the way I pore over it and try to out-think the medical professionals even though I'm a wuss who has to close her eyes every time a TV surgeon cuts into a patient. Not surprisingly, I'm the kind of viewer who shouts out diagnosis suggestions to TV's Dr. Gregory House. No wonder the guy's cranky.
3. Amazon Prime member? C'est moi. Some people think a $79 per year Prime membership is for those with money to burn, but it's for forgetful types who don't remember the birthdays and special occasions of far-flung friends and relations until it's too late for anything but second-day shipping. My Prime membership pays for itself in saved shipping costs, and, at one point, I feared Amazon wouldn't let me renew because of the number of boxes I had it ship hither and yon. My husband set me straight. "You think Amazon won't renew your membership because you bought too much?"
4. I have ten place settings of Fiestaware in ten different colors. When I reach into the cabinet and pull out a cup for my morning coffee, I never know which color I'm going to get. Will it be turquoise, plum, chocolate?
5. When we moved into our first apartment, I told my husband we'd make all the furniture/decorating decisions together except one: I got to decide where and what pictures we put on the walls.
6. I've lived more years in Texas than in my home state of New Jersey.
7. When Older Daughter was in scouting, she insisted I accompany her troop on camping trips. I hated the first one, but then I fell for sleeping in tents, cooking over campfires, and hiking in the woods. When OD left Girl Scouts, I was the one who missed sleeping under the stars.

Enough about me! Let me introduce you to seven blogs (Introductions to the remaining eight will come soon.) by writers who have inspired me, and/or made me laugh, think, and nod in recognition.

· Tim L. O'Brien's Static in the Airwaves Tim is a writer, husband, father, and friend who chronicles events such as as the reunion of buddies since high school and reflects on subjects that range from how to raise kids who read to the news his son-in-law is deploying to Afghanistan.
· Kiss and Thrill is a new blog started by the 2011 RWA Golden Heart finalists in romantic suspense. The blog's inaugural author interview was with RS best-seller Allison Brennan, and an interview with Brenda Novak is set for tomorrow, December 6. I'm waving at two of the blog's writers: Sarah Andre and Lena Diaz.
· Wild, Wicked, and Wacky Suzan Harden is self-published and proud of it. Her blog offers information for those interested in the indie route, along with movie reviews, guest interviews, song clips, and more. She's a lawyer by training and knows her Gaga from her gag order.
· Fiorella Plum is the nom de plume of an Austin-area blogger who posts every day on subjects ranging from her pastor's reaction to a mugger to what's new in the Luann comic strip.
· Kay Hudson writes about whatever strikes her fancy: books, television, and cats that fall asleep in the carcass of the Thanksgiving turkey.
· Jansen Schmidt's Blogging from the Edge of Eternity is new, just two entries so far, but the posts capture Schmidt's sly humor and enjoyment of life.
· Kecia's Blog is the work of Kecia Adams, a writer, editor, and Navy veteran. The blog's new, but the first post is the POV of a thoughtful mom, and the second is that of a thoughtful citizen of the world.

Hope you like the blogs mentioned above. Lynn, thanks a million for the award.

Friday, December 2, 2011


I’ve been to Paris in every month of the year. June and July are prime tourist months--in August Parisians leave, things close and the least savvy tourists show up—but I avoid the City if Lights in summer, along with the crowds and heat (air-conditioning is still a novelty there). Spring and fall are lovely times to wander the streets and visit the famous, infamous and countless free sights. Still, there’s something about being there in the winter that makes me feel like a Parisian.

We always rent a flat in a residential section of the 6th or 7th arrondissement because the scale of the streets and buildings of this old part of the city are so much more intimate than the grand boulevards across the Seine. I love to shop in the food hall of Le Bon Marche to stock our kitchen and run out for a baguette or pain aux raisins each morning as the neighbors do. When tourists are scarce, everyone treats you like you belong there. The pace is slower and the shopkeepers friendlier.

As for the city’s famous tourist sites, without the hoards--busload after busload of foreigners descend on these places for morning to night in other months—one can wander alone through galleries in the Louvre, tour sections of Versailles the general public never sees, and walk the deserted Luxembourg Gardens in the magical winter sunshine.

Except for one cold snap many years ago, the winter temperatures are not usually harsh—more Washington D.C. than Boston. And the country-wide mid-January sales are an extravagant experience I’m glad I’ve done once. But sitting in front of a blazing fire sipping a warm cognac, being a part of French city life if only for a short time—that’s why I love Paris in the winter.

Do you have a favorite winter travel destination? What is it and why do you love it?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Last week, we were busy counting our blessings. This week, I've made a list of some favorite things--and hope to nudge you into listing your own.

1. Performance of Maria Bello in Prime Suspect She's so tightly wound, she'll take out a city street if she snaps, but she's a dogged detective. Bello happens to resemble Older Daughter, so I like her and worry she's skipping meals. Let's hope NBC doesn't cancel the show.

2. The Soldier's Wife, Margaret LeRoy This book, set on the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, challenged my preconceptions. At its end, I asked myself which character had lost the most. The answer surprised me.

3. Gavin & Stacy The secondary characters steal every scene in this British rom/com series. (See publicity picture at top, left.) Seasons one and two are available at Netflix, via streaming and DVD, plus episodes are up on YouTube and other sites. Tidy.

4. Cool weather Hubs and I walked together Sunday morning. He layered up. For the first time this fall, I did NOT say, "Hot! It's so hot." He checked the temp: 48 degrees. My definition of perfect.

5. Men who name stray cats When I went out of town earlier this month, Hubs reluctantly agreed to feed the stray cat I've named Lucky along with Lucky's occasional sidekick, a black and white tabby. When I returned, Hubs mentioned "Checkers." I was baffled. "What's that?" Hubs shrugged. "Lucky's friend."

6. Until There Was You, Kristan Higgins I bought this book as an airplane read, figuring it would be light-hearted and funny. It was all that and packed a sneaky emotional wallop. I wiped away tears at the end, which is embarrassing and makes flight attendants uncomfortable. It may be my favorite of Higgins' books, and she's an auto-buy for me.

7. Daughters who come to dinner and stay for six hours Hubs and I don't qualify as witty conversationalists and we're too creaky to do snark effectively, but now that the kids are launched, they don't hate hanging with us. I credit dessert, the never-fail lure.

8. Fotofest International Discoveries III Through December 22, twelve photographers from eight countries are exhibiting at Fotofest's headquarters at 1113 Vine Street, Houston, Texas 77002 (A shade north and east of the University of Houston/Downtown's main building.) The show wowed me, it's free, and the gallery space, in a renovated warehouse, is stunning. For details and a peek at some of the photos on exhibit, go here.

9. Rain Houston's November rainfall edged into the above-average category. Hooray! Although we're roughly twenty inches below normal for the year, the grass is green again, and birds don't have to drink from saucers under potted plants.

10. WANA 1011 Kristen Lamb's sixty-day online course on blogging and mastering social media is nearing an end, and I've learned a lot. More importantly, I've "met" and come to appreciate the work of dozens of writers who are balancing fiction and non-fiction writing, families, day jobs, and blogs. If you're a writer reluctant to wade into social media waters, read We Are Not Alone, the Writer's Guide to Social Media. Learn more here.

Your turn: Name one of your favorite things and tell me why it's special. (I'm not asking out of pure nosiness; I want to expand my list by trying out the things you like.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

I Can Hear You Now

Earlier this month, my flight landed at Terminal E at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, and I had to hurry to make a connecting flight in Terminal B. Signs made it easy to find the inter-terminal train stop, the wait for the train proved short, and each car featured a red, scrolling electronic message that alerted passengers to the next stop on the route. As soon as I spotted the rolling script, I relaxed-- as much as a person hanging onto a pole with one hand and clutching a carry-on bag with the other can relax.

Seconds later, a voice came over a loudspeaker announcing what the train's next stop would be. Such announcements are normal, expected even, but this one astonished me. Why? I understood it. Later, I understood a voice over a loudspeaker announce final boarding for a flight to Orlando.

Thousands of passengers hear announcements like those every day, and most wish they could block them out, so why my astonishment? Back in July, I got a cochlear implant. A CI is defined by Wikipedia as "a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing." Mine was activated in August, and I wrote my first impressions of hearing with it here.

I had hoped the implant would provide sound clues that made it easier for me to read lips, and my big goal was to follow conversation as well as I had, say, five years ago. (In truth, I wanted to follow conversation as well as I had ten years ago--and thought that impossible.) I didn't expect to understand voices over loudspeakers because I hadn't for fifteen or more years.
Although those voices are louder than normal, their sound quality is distorted by the medium.

Oh me of little faith. The loudspeaker breakthrough that astonished me had followed others, so I should have anticipated it, but hearing loss is a long, drawn-out lesson in diminishing expectations. For the first time in years, I had heard the beep of the microwave, and my husband playing the guitar two rooms away. Still, I didn't get my hopes up. While I was greedy for more, I'd learned to live with disappointment.

So far, the disappointments have been few. Not all sounds are beautiful. The bleat of a grackle qualifies as Mother Nature's version of a fingernail against the blackboard. Voices that sounded Mickey- and Minnie Mouse-like three months ago are less cartoonish but still not true-to-life. Learning to re-hear via a CI is an ongoing process. Luckily, my husband gets a kick out of "testing" me by standing in another room and asking me questions. He and I are both amazed when I answer. (If anyone cares to talk about me behind my back, I'd appreciate it. Remember to quiz me afterwards.)

This past Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for the implant, for the three writing friends who convinced me to consider surgery (I'm looking at you, Janice Martin, Pat Kay, and Linda Barrett), and for my family's encouragement and support. I also gave thanks for surgeon Dr. G. Walter McReynolds, the Houston Ear Research Foundation, Sherri Taxman, my audiologist for the implant, Joan Furstenberg, my longtime audiologist, and those amazingly clear loudspeakers at that Atlanta airport.

What limits or limited you, and how do you/did you cope?

Friday, November 25, 2011


My Golden Heart entry is due at RWA headquarters in 5 days and I'm not finished with the the ending of the story. The first 50 pages are polished and ready to go, the synopsis is nearly done but the contest requires a completed manuscript. Ugh. I wish I was one of those people who can write 20 or 30 pages a day. Unfortuantely, I'm not sure I can type 30 pages in a day. What was I thinking when I signed up and paid my $50 in early November? Now I'm down to the wire and madly rushing to finish...or will be again after I post this.

So why not blow it off? Because I commited to finish and finish I will. I don't dare to hope to win like Pat O'Dea Rosen and JoAnne Banker did, or even final like Kay Hudson and Sarah Andre. These talented women have a je ne sais quoi that I truly admire. But I can wrap up this damn thing, print it, deliver it and hope for the best. And promise myself never be so follish again!!

What crazy dealines have you set for yourself? Did you meet them, miss them, or blow them off?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Woman Versus Turkey. Avert Your Eyes, Please.

Today's home buyers gravitate toward kitchens that are open to the living area. Bless their hearts. Clearly they've never gone mano a mano with a Thanksgiving turkey. It's not an audience-friendly sight.

Years ago, as a clueless bride, I invited my in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner. How hard could it be?

The first sign the day wouldn't go as planned came when I couldn't wrestle the metal pincer-thingamabob out of the thawed bird. In a panic, I phoned my mom, who put my dad on the line. He talked me through the pinch-and-pull process. Too bad he didn't warn me about the neck and giblets stuffed inside the turkey. I baked them—and their paper wrappings--with the bird.

Are you wondering where Hubs was that first holiday? I'd probably sent him out to buy heavy cream or another can of pumpkin puree. Poor guy. Back then, most grocers were closed on Thanksgiving, so he would have wandered from one convenience store to another in search of the needed ingredient.

By my second year on turkey duty, I knew to fish out the neck, giblet package, and chunks of ice from the cavities and rinse and pat dry the bird. I'd also learned to slather the bird with butter, olive oil, or a mix of both. Slathered turkeys are slippery. Am I the only person who's dropped one? I'm grateful the guests watching N.F. L. football in the next room have missed my fumbles.

Because salmonella's a guest I don't want at the feast, I swipe countertops and cutting boards with diluted bleach. The blessed wall between my kitchen and family room keeps guests from passing out from the fumes.

Open-plan living requires extreme tidiness and strict organization—traits I lack. One hour into food prep, I have vegetable peelings on the counter, a trail of sugar on the floor, and cranberry-bright stains on the stovetop. Worse, chaos is catnip to pets.

The cooking smells tempt them, but my attempts to shoo them away are more alluring. Ooh! A game! Once, I lifted a cobbler from the oven and turned in time to catch a cat on the countertop, licking my last stick of butter.

I cut away the top part of the stick and rinsed the rest of it. Before you judge, let me repeat: my last stick of butter.

Tomorrow, my kitchen will be a disaster zone, but the food coming out of it should be tasty. (I've learned from my mistakes over the years. What's more, I rarely drop a turkey now that I've perfected the football hold.) Best of all, friends and family will gather in the dining room in celebration and fellowship—and the dirty pots and pans will be out of sight.

Are you a clean-as-you-go cook or a mess-maker? What's your home-design preference: open-plan or kitchen as bunker?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011


Last night I finished THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER by Jojo  Moyes and knew I needed to recommend it to anyone looking for a lovely read over the upcoming holiday weekend.

The story follows two “heroines” forty years apart. Jennifer is the wife of a wealthy London businessman in 1960 who falls in love with a journalist while summering on the French Riviera. Ellie is a high-powered journalist in 2003’s London who is having an affair with a famous and very married author. Their paths intersect when Ellie finds a heart-breaking love letter and sets out to discover the story behind it.

The contrast between Jennifer’s world and its oppressive restrictions on women and Ellie’s world where her social freedom creates its own emotional barriers is one of the themes that lifts this story beyond the typical love story and makes it memorable. And the writing is good! Go to your nearest independent bookstore today (plug for the indies who support us!) and get a copy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Links for Writers

Got linky-links? Why, yes, I do.

This set is targeted toward writers, and the links point to essays or sites that mostly interest or entertain, but one of them nudge us into dropping a bad habit or two. (All right, already! I'll drink more water.)

First up, romantic comedy/mystery writer Anne R. Allen points out the flaws in nine frequently repeated pieces of writing advice. Here's how she counters the chestnut that all protagonists must be admirable: "Saints are boring in fiction, unless they liberate France and get burned at the stake, and that’s been done." Read her full post here.

Chuck Wendig, whose debut novel, DOUBLE DEAD, comes out this month, shares the twenty-five qualities a book must have to keep him (and the rest of us) reading. The following is from trait #16: "A story that becomes something other than it seems — that pivots hard and shows you a whole new face — is a powerful thing, and compelling enough to drag me into its turbulent waters." Wendig's full post is here.

Jenny Hansen, the writer behind the More Cowbell blog, offers three rules for success in writing and in life.

Social-media expert Kristen Lamb reminds writers that health comes before wealth and is essential to maintaining page counts. Here, she offers tips for getting and staying in tip-top shape.

Blogger Coleen Patrick takes a look at some novels' memorable first lines. What's your favorite?

Having trouble maintaining your NaNo word count? This site is all kibble, no stick.

Finally, Kristan Hoffman offers writers two quizzes to test our understanding of what really matters to readers. Hint: it's not the number of our Twitter followers. Test yourself here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wonking in Memphis

Yesterday, a flight layover in Tennessee stretched from seventy-five minutes to two-and a half hours but proved almost enjoyable for my daughters and me. Memphis barbecue deserves some of the credit, and words did the rest.

My kids are word wonks and come by it honestly. Apparently, fascination with language is as genetic as eye color and ear-lobe shape. That's not to say me and mine are word perfect. Far from it. We inadvertently misuse, mispronounce, and garble phrases in our struggle to do right by our mother tongue.

Because my girls had updated themselves on the Kardashians, Duchess Catherine, Jen, Suri, and Sandra on the first leg of the trip and couldn't bear to look at another magazine, I emailed them "Ten Phrases to Purge from your Writing," a guest post written by Nancy Ragno for Jane Friedman's blog, Being Human at Electric Speed. Read the post here. (Go on. I'll wait.)

After reading the post, Older Daughter mopped up barbecue sauce with French fries and moaned that she'd misused hone in on for the correct home in on.

I've misused heart-wrenching for heartrending hundreds of time. What's more, rending doesn't have the visceral flavor of wrenching, so I foresee gut-wrenching in my future.

Younger daughter revealed she has a co-worker who promises to nip scheduling problems "in the butt." Her sister and I advised her not to turn her back on the guy.

Card shark or card sharp? asks Older Daughter.

She's not happy with our mealy-mouthed responses so pulls out her phone and Googles the term—only to find compelling etymological support for both expressions.

"If I'm a good sport and hard worker, am I trouper or trooper?'" asks Younger Daughter.

"You're a trouper and the show must go on," I say.

"You're a soldier-like trooper," says Older Daughter.

Again, there's etymological support for both expressions.

Harebrained gets the nod from dictionaries today, but hair brained loped onto the scene because the animal that acts scattered during mating season was written as hair early on.

Oxymorons might have kept us entertained for another half hour, but our flight was called.


How do you cope with airport delays, long waits in doctors' offices, and lines that stretch out the door and around the block?

Monday, November 14, 2011


It’s mid-November and Christmas decorations went up in at least two upscale Houston shopping areas over a month ago. My reaction was something between disappointment and disgust. Really, people? You had to push the season forward two months? Why? Is it greed or did they just want to get on the lighting contractor’s schedule? Having little respect for the motives of shopping centers, I assume the former.

Last week I saw a notice from Nordstrom that said they weren’t decorating until after Thanksgiving. I’ve never shopped much in the store, but their restraint has earned my respect. They’re treating the holidays as a special time, a limited season to be celebrated as a lead-up to a the main events—Christmas or Chanukah—not a three month promotional opportunity followed by the January sales. Result—I’m applauding their decision and have decided to shop there in the future, when possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all the holiday lights and things that sparkle. As a child I was enchanted by the magic of the Christmas displays in the windows of New York department stores--elaborate fantasy lands which materialized right after Santa wound up the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  December was the special time of the year when the world seemed to don its storybook attire—decorations of silver and gold, bright red bows, twinkling lights, glittering snow and magical creatures. Maybe Nordstorm’s decision is the first in a trend to bring back a true holiday season. Wouldn’t that be grand!
Am I alone here? Speak up. I'd love to hear what you think.

Friday, November 11, 2011


This morning I heard a moving broadcast on NPR's StoryCorps. Pearl Harbor survivor Frank Curre talked about the horrible day of the attack. He was eighteen at the time. He says:
"I still have the nightmares, never got over the nightmares. And with God as my witness, I read my paper this morning — and right now, I can't tell you what I read. I can't remember.
But what happened on that day is tattooed on your soul. There's no way I can forget that. I wish to God I could."
Today on Veterans Day we honor all the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. May we never forget the price they paid to defend our freedom.

Read the entire Story Corps transcript or listen to the broadcast. It's well worth it:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nesting Instinct Turned Nasty

Periodically, Hubs and I talk about putting our house on the market and downsizing to a two-bedroom place near downtown. The thought of shoveling out the garage stops us, but what's scarier is the prospect of house shoppers bad-mouthing the home in which we raised our kids.

If you've watched House Hunters or My First Place on HGTV, you've seen two types of prospective buyers: the first sees something good in every dwelling visited, but the second expects Veuve Cliquot on a Budweiser budget and heaps scorn on houses that lack granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, and double sinks in the master bath.

Conflict makes for good television, and the shows' producers may handpick persnickety shoppers and encourage them to insult shag carpet, flocked wallpaper, and shell pink bathroom tile.

But my sympathy's with the sellers.

"The eighties called, and they want their kitchen back," mocks one shopper. "I'm stuck in the nineties and can't get out," says another.

Those remarks sting. My bathrooms are of this decade, but the kitchen gives off a nineties vibe, and the family room boasts seventies paneling painted white.

Then again, a lot of these home shoppers claim they're looking for fixer-uppers. "I need a project I can sink my teeth into," says one lookie-loo. "I want to put my mark on a house," declares another. Yet, when faced with a kitchen painted yellow, these buyers act disbelieving and helpless. "Who can live with this color?"

"You wanted a project," says the Realtor.

"But the whole room has to be repainted."

A recent jab at a wall oven made me freeze in recognition. "Oh my God!," shrieked a house shopper. "This thing's from the Soviet era."

The oven in question was located in a U.S. suburb and appeared younger than my twenty-year-old black-glass Maytag. Mine (pictured above) was born in 1991, the year the Soviet Union dissolved. Most importantly, it works.

Given that house shopper's shock, Hubs and I are reconciled to replacing the oven before we put our house on the market. In the meantime, I've got my fingers crossed that the National Association of Realtors, HGTV, or NATO will declare a period of rapprochement (That's сближение in Russian ) between buyers and sellers. The house hunt should be a mockery-free zone.

My advice for home buyers? Look for good bones. Everything else can be changed.

Monday, November 7, 2011


I spent the last three days in Story Masters Workshop listening to the wisdom of Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Chris Vogler. So many of their ideas and observations resonated with me, it will take a thorough review of my notes and a lot of thinking to process what I learned.

On Friday one point especially hit home. Bell talked about what he calls Heart Heat and quoted Robert Frost: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." He said the writer has to "see it, feel it, trust it." Sometimes I think we work so much on craft, we forget that the purpose of craft is to employ the best tools to evoke an emotional response in the reader--love, hate, caring, disgust, indignation, empathy, fear. But first, we must make ourselves vulnerable and feel those emotions without filters or reserve. And that's a very scary thing to do.

In cinema there are great scenes that no matter how many times you see them, they never lose their emotional power. CASABLANCA has so many of these, but the ending always chokes me up.

What books or movies have evoked powerful emotions for you? What makes you connect with a character or a story?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Do as I Don't

New parents think they'll teach by good example how to be responsible members of society. They don't know kids learn as well or better from parents' stumbles.

One Saturday long ago, as I was ferrying my children from one activity to another, Older Daughter asked about the registration sticker at the top left side of my car's front window. Pleased and proud to introduce her to the responsibilities of car ownership, I answered in my teacher voice. (Picture me puffed up with self-importance. Picture my kids rolling their eyes.)

"The price of the sticker helps the state build and maintain the roads we ride on," I probably said. (Unlike memoir writers, I don't have total recall.)

"What do the numbers mean?"

(Picture me thrilled at the prospect of show and tell.) "The sticker's good through the month and year printed on it." I must have pointed to the numbers representing the year. "And this number represents the renewal month." I probably circled the renewal month with my finger.

"Three stands for March, but it's May," Older Daughter said. "May's five."

I'm sure I shrieked. I probably cursed, too, and hope the words that came out were G-rated like drat, darn, and shoot. Why oh why did I squirrel away important mail for safekeeping--and then forget about it?

"Are you going to jail?" asked Younger Daughter.

Looking back, I see the prospect interested her. At the time, I rushed to reassure her mommy wasn't going away. "Jail? No way. I made a mistake, and I'll make it right."

For the next half hour, I drove as if taking a road test with the strictest DMV examiner on the planet.

Older Daughter noticed the number of cars passing us. "Why are you going so slow? I'll be late for the party."

"I'm driving within the speed limit." I didn't point to the road sign and then make Vanna White flourishes at my speedometer, because why give my darlings a reason to scold if I ever exceeded the limit by five freaking miles?

Before the end of the day, I got the car inspected. On Monday, I went to the tax assessor's office and paid my registration fee. The clerk tried to dish out shame, but she was an amateur compared to me—and to my then-boss. Yeah, I told him where I was going on my lunch hour because I wouldn't make it back within sixty minutes unless I ran every red light and rolled through every stop sign on the way.

Were the Daughters impressed when I scraped off the old registration sticker and slapped on the new? Not that I could tell. They did, however, learn car stickers have the power to make adults scream and swear. That gives me hope they won't repeat my mistake.

Let's hear it for teaching by bad example.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

TRADE-OFFS or Why Am I Inside Editing on a Gorgeous Fall Day?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about trade-offs. Part of this is the economy. It doesn’t take a CPA to understand that I can’t buy a new fall designer wardrobe and still pay my mortgage through the winter. Not that that’s a new situation. It isn’t. What’s floating around my head are lifestyle trade-offs that have little to do with money.
Two years ago my husband had an epiphany after spending time with some overweight male relatives. Unless he did something soon, he was destined for obesity and all the physical limitations and health issues that went with it. He quit eating starches, sweets and processed food. He also started cooking to assure he followed his new healthy eating style. He never called it a diet and still doesn’t. He lost sixty pounds and has kept it off because he thinks of food as fuel now. Once he got the mind-set, the trade-off of health versus margaritas and enchiladas was an easy choice. It took me a while to get with the program, but I finally saw the light and feel much better for the change in habits.
There are so many trade-offs that we make all the time, and those adjust as our priorities shift. All the hours per day spent on sports and exercise in my youth were worthwhile at the time, but now an hour at noon in the gym is all I want to spend. When I was young and single, wearing great clothes and traveling were important and I was happy to live in a rented townhouse or apartment—so unlike the wonderful home my designer husband has created for us. I have fewer acquaintances now but closer friends, and no longer tolerate relationships that wear me down. I'm more aware of the preciousness of time and deliberately choose how I want to spend it. 
As writers we are constantly negotiating trade-offs. Pulled between family, friends, work and chores, setting writing as a priority means something else has to go. For authors lucky enough to be under contract, writing and work are the same thing. For those of us who have yet to publish, justifying the time and energy we put in can seem like a selfish trade-off to anyone who doesn’t share our passion. Staying inside on a lovely fall day to revise a manuscript that has already been rejected by 20 agents sounds crazy, and yet we do it because of our love of writing and determination to sell . A lot of people give up and who can blame them. Others of us keep working year after year, improving our craft while writing and rewriting--living half in the world and half in our heads. Perhaps that’s why writers need each other—to make our obsessions seem a little bit normal. Our writer friends understand the trade-offs—the price we pay and rich life we buy with it in return.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Scary, Scary Night

For most of us, Halloween represents kids in cute costumes and parents idling on the sidewalk while their little ones pirouette or rawr at a neighbor's door. We stuff candy into plastic pumpkins and pillowcases and marvel at babies with whiskers drawn on their faces and at six-footers in hockey gear.

Others, however, "see" ghosts and "hear" things that go bump in the night. Halloween raises the hair at the backs of their necks and turns their skin to gooseflesh. These people don't find this time of year precious or fun—and with good reason. They understand things about it that would make the rest of us lock our doors and cower under our beds.

I cede the floor to three writers who know what's afoot tonight: Catie Rhodes, Amanda Stevens, and Debra Kristi. In addition, K. B. Owen gives us an overview of how Halloween traditions arrived in the U.S. and were celebrated in the past.

Catie Rhodes writes about real people in scary situations, and many of her stories are set in her native Texas. She dubs every Friday "Freaky Friday" and recently told tales about a headless Texas horseman and horror in a Houston suburb.

Houston author Amanda Stevens (The Dollmaker, The Restorer) tells an appropriate-for-Halloween story featuring Houston's old Jefferson Davis Hospital at Dark Fairie Tales.

Debra Kristi gets creepy with the tale of a child's encounter with the supernatural .

According to K. B. Owens, we must thank (or curse) the Irish and Scots for the Samhain traditions we celebrate tonight.

I sincerely hope you survive this evening.