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?