Thursday, December 27, 2012

Field Trip!


At holiday time, my meal planning shifts into overdrive. I shop for meals, second-guess my menus and recipes, prepare them anyway, clean up afterwards, and repeat the process. So what did I do the day after Christmas? I visited the first Houston location of Trader Joe's, the California-based specialty-grocery chain. 

This post isn't a plug for Trader Joe's, although I enjoyed my field trip and plan to make another, chiefly because TJ's doesn't pretend to offer everything a household needs, so a visit doesn't require a super-long list and two carts. More importantly, at a time of year when food-prep burnout looms with every invitation that requests my company PLUS a dish to share, I need a creativity jumpstart.  

Spent so much time in the kitchen you've got a cooking hang-over? Take a hair-of-the dog approach and visit a farmer's market, food bazaar, or new grocery store for ideas. While there, snap up an already-prepared shortcut. 

Trader Joe's olive tapenade will appear at  my house on New Year's Day. Later that week, I may mix it with cheese and butter, slather it on French bread, and tote it to a party. 

The strategy that eases kitchen burn-out works, with tweaks, in other areas. Exhausted by writing, teaching, working retail? Take a flyer on something related but different. 

If you write fiction, give blogging a shot. If you write science fiction, try your hand at contemporary suspense. 

Do you know any teacher who isn't bone-tired come holiday time? When exhaustion hits, it's tempting to eat, drink, and sleep away the school break, but those strategies are less effective than a classroom-role switcheroo.  If you teach, use the break to take a dance class, conversational Spanish, or learn basic auto repairs. 

Nothing kills holiday spirit like working retail. You're knee-deep in returns now, I know, but on your half-day off, deliver yourself to a restaurant, barber shop, or nail salon with a reputation for good service, and let someone wait on you/anticipate your needs for an hour. 

A new approach can be more invigorating than a nap and better for us than another cup of eggnog or a second cupcake. 

Olive tapenade, anyone?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Actually


To celebrate the holidays this year I'm pulling out one of my all time favorite Christmas movies, Love ActuallyFor the uninitiated, Love Actually is a charming 2003 British film with an impressive cast of heavyweight actorsLiam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightly, Martin Freeman and Colin Firth, just to name a few. There are too many story lines to mention--some romantic, some some touching, others a little sad--but they all come together at the end on Christmas. 

I won't ruin the film by leaking spoilers here, although I'll say that there's a great scene with Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister meeting with Billy Bob Thornton as the President of the United States.The storyline of the shy couple (Martin Freeman aka Bilbo Baggins and Joanna Page) who meet while working as body doubles for an adult film is cute, although probably not a good idea for family entertainment. Okay, the brief scenes with Rodrigo Santoro (see his Chanel No. 5 advert here.) may be reason enough to watch the movie and, aside from a couple misses, the soundtrack is great. If you've never seen it, Redbox just put it in their mix although apparently the on-demands like Netflix and Amazon don't have it for streaming. I sure hope I can find my DVD copy!

So to get you in the spirit, here's a video of short clips to Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas Is You.



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bitter Lessons

A cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice sits in my refrigerator, and I've decided to freeze it. Usually, I'm a make-lemonade-from-lemons person, but not this day, week, month.

As I finish my holiday preparations, I think of the twenty children from Sandy Hook who won't enjoy the gifts their parents bought/made for them. You know as well as I do that presents for them were squirreled away in attics, basements, and guest-room closets. Will their grieving parents leave the gifts where they're hidden? I wouldn't be able to look at them. Not this year.

Some bereft parents will provide a semblance of Christmas for their other children. Others will take refuge with friends or family or snatch up their kids and flee Newtown for a few days away from reminders of their loss. December will never again be for them a month of quiet anticipation and unfettered joy.

My children are grown, but I remember how exciting first-grade was for them and how eager they were to share stories of what happened in school.

This past weekend, a thoughtful man sat at my dining-room table and explained how and why he learned to shoot. He hunted for food as a child and continues that pattern as an adult. He does not, however, own a semi-automatic weapon.

Yesterday, the Houston Chronicle printed a letter from Joe Hickman, who wrote: "As an avid hunter, I enjoy my hunting guns, but I cannot fathom any reason for any non-law enforcement individual to need a very high-capacity clip for a rifle or pistol.

"The federal government regulates the number of shotgun shells--three--in our guns while duck hunting. We get three tries at a duck but 15 to 30 at humans?"

The dead in Sandy Hook will spur changes in this country's gun laws and make it easier for the mentally ill to access treatment. Eventually, I'll view those advances as lemonade wrung from the bitterest of lemons.

Right now, though, I hurt for the parents who have lost a child and for whom the holiday season will forevermore be tinged with sorrow.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Over cocktails.....

Swarovski Crystal Tree at Galleries Lafayette, Paris 
Year end is a great time for pop culture nerds--those of us who wish we were much cooler and plugged in than we are. There are all kinds of lists telling us which books, movies, trends are the most intellectual, hip, cutting edge and that intel is great material for holiday cocktail parties and family gatherings. Throw out a little knowledge of Golden Globe nominations and you're in for at least five minutes of awesome conversation.

Let's face it, our culture is fascinated by the rich and famous (or infamous) and we're drawn to stories about William and Kate, Brad and Angelina, and even Kim and Kanye. We don't have to admire them or even  like them to be sucked into the hype of their latest outfits, outings or personal disasters. Outrageous and shallow require no commitment and are amusing. These people are rich, famous, have lots of freedom and often make REALLY bad choices. Who can resist a smug moment of WTF over a silly photo of Madonna and her latest 22 year old boy-toy making out in a New York nightclub. On that note, I've considered topics I do and don't want to discuss over eggnog. Indulge me while I share.

Let's not talk about:

Who is going to be cast as Christian Grey? I don't care unless Chris Hemsworth takes the role. That would be a travesty of epic proportions almost as disgusting as.....

Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher. This is just wrong. Cruise is rich and creepy and 5'7". Reacher is cool and hot and 6'5". Do the math. This casting just wrong on every level.

Anything Kardashian. Do we really need another magazine cover with Kim overflowing a lycra ensemble? Do we care what Kris Jenner wore for Halloween?

Kristen Stewart cheating on Robert Pattinson or him taking her back. They aren't really Bella and Edward, girls. Really.

Count me in:

New movies. This is the time of year we actually go to the theatre to see new releases. I want to see LES MISERABLES (LOVED the book, wasn't impressed with the play but Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean--YES!), SKYFALL and maybe LINCOLN but want feedback on what's out.

Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in HOPE SPRINGS. This isn't usually my sort of film (no action, no violence, no Jason Statham, Chris Hemsworth or Channing Tatum) and yet this story of a middle-aged woman who wants to resurrect a dead marriage was very well done. Only Meryl Streep would allow herself to look so frumpy on screen--and she has another Golden Globe nomination for her performance. Tommy Lee Jones was also excellent.

Winter fashions, spring lines, anything Tom Ford does. Stylish clothes fascinate me--when the topic turns to trends, designers, fabrics, sales I'm all in.

Books! Romances, suspense, thrillers, cookbooks, biographies--what's everyone reading these days? Give us the low down!

So what do you want to talk about? What subjects would you prefer to avoid?






Thursday, December 13, 2012

Over-Achieving Elves among Us

I exist to make holiday-happy, put-a-wreath-on-it folks (you know who you are) feel superior. My name's Pat, and I'm a Christmas slacker.

Today is December 13, a lucky date for those of you who finished shopping for gifts, wrapped them beautifully (no gift bags for you!), and placed them under a decked-out tree.

You achievers, though, tend to doubt yourselves. Quit it! You're making me and the elves crazy.  Stop kicking yourself for forgetting someone on your list. You made a list. High five! 

Do you wish you'd put up multi-color light strands instead of white or white instead of multi-color? Dude, you put up lights.

Are you second guessing the Starbucks card you bought for your child's teacher? Stop angsting. You know how you chug coffee before you wake up your kid for school? Multiply one kid times thirty and you'll understand how much a latte or cappuccino means to a teacher. Parent of the Year! Parent of the Year!

Wish you'd retouched the paint on the wooden reindeers prancing across your front lawn? Know I drive by your house to admire them every day. Who notices faded paint when the reindeer hold their heads at such a jaunty angle? You rock!

What? You baked tried-and-true sugar cookies instead of making Martha Stewart's Hazelnut Sandwich Cookies? You made cookies! They'll be no lumps of coal in your stocking.

By this time next week, I may have a decorated tree. If so, it's because of the shining example y'all have set.
That said, would it have killed you to set the bar a little lower?

Your turn: Do you prepare for the holidays weeks in advance or prefer the adrenaline rush of last-minute shopping?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't Steal This Book!!!

Saturday night my DH and I attended my local RWA chapter holiday party. It was a fun affair where everyone brought food--heavy on the desserts--and a book for a White Elephant gift. Given that about 35 of the 40 attendees were writers (the other 5 or so were husbands), books were a great replacement for the bizarre items opened and stolen in past years. There were no rules about what kind of book except it couldn't be one written by the person who brought it. Needless to say, in this bunch there was no lack of creativity in the offerings.

Among the novels, self-help, picture books, histories, biographies and humor, one book stood out. It would have even if three people hadn't brought the same title. The first copy unwrapped was stolen twice ( the maximum number of steals allowed). The second I happily unwrapped and, glaring at the thieving Heather MacAllister who took it from me, had to choose again. A whisper of encouragement told me there was yet another copy in the dwindling pile. All I had to do was figure out which package it was in. Using all my powers of deduction--by that point dulled a bit by red wine--I grabbed a Christmas striped bag and VICTORY! Not only did I get The Book but the generous Christie Craig had included a terrific craft book in the bag. No one dared steal my treasure this time.

So what was the coveted title? FIFTY SHADES OF CHICKEN. It's a cook book with some rather steamy recipes. The trailer is hilarious and gives you the "flavor" of the writing. Check it out:


By the way, no one brought that Grey book.

So what were your favorite books of 2012? Is there one you hope to get for Christmas or Hanukkah this year?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lessons Learned from TSA

My travel-ready stuff

The late comedian George Carlin is famous for his riff on "stuff," the items we tote around, hoard, or covet. I once spotted Carlin in an airport waiting area, and he was NOT guarding baggage. No, he was people-watching and seemed to be getting a kick out of it.

Because I resent fees for checked bags, I pack an eighteen-inch carry-on for trips of one week or less. This means I travel without my stuff. Cute clothes? I don't pack 'em. I wear black yoga pants and a black top on the plane and pack another pair of black slacks and two more dark tops. Sometimes I get wild and crazy and pack a black skirt and black tights. Did I tell you black makes me look like a member of the Addams Family? Luckily, a colorful scarf solves that problem, and if it's big enough, it doubles as an evening wrap and triples as a bed jacket.

Once upon a time, I'd gather up the mini-size toiletries supplied by hotels and toss 'em in my bag. No more. I leave them behind, even when they're Neutrogena or Crabtree & Evelyn, because my one-quart plastic bag already bulges with regular, everyday essentials--in containers of three ounces or less.

The less-is-better lesson of travel extends to home. I no longer store make-up and moisturizer in a pretty giveaway case from Clinique. Nope, everything remains in the quart bag except the toothpaste. My bathroom counter isn't pretty, but I'm TSA-ready at a moment's notice.

Speaking of TSA, I now travel lighter in another way. Two years ago, a pat-down turned humiliating when the female agent mistook my muffin top for contraband.  "It's a roll of fat," I told her. "I keep meaning to lose weight." The agent happened to be narrower than a dragonfly and wasn't moved. She patted me down again. Since that incident I've lost twenty pounds-- one small victory in the war on drugs.

Instead of toting books with me on trip, I take my Kindle. Instead of a laptop, I carry a netbook that fits in my purse.  Admittedly, the purse isn't teeny, but it fits under the seat. What's more, I've learned to tug the combined carry-on and purse behind me as I move down a plane's aisle. So far, none of my fellow passengers has been banged up in the process.

It turns out I like a pared-down life. More to the point, I enjoy the fantasy that my next adventure is around the corner--and I'm ready for it. 

Where are you headed on your next real or fantasy trip?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

PARISIEN FOR 10 DAYS

Our View
 Over Thanksgiving, my husband and I took a much needed escape to Paris. We've been many times before and done all the tourist sites and colorful neighborhoods. This was our chance to chill out in a wonderful apartment on the Rive Gauche and be Parisien  for ten days.

Our apartment was perfect--very French with a view of Notre Dame out the kitchen window and six restaurants within fifty yards of the apartment. We could walk wherever we wanted to go, eat out or cook in, sleep late or get up early, and enjoy our favorite neighborhoods and destinations with no pressure to see or do anything because we "should." It was a wonderfully relaxing, energizing break during which I made some observations, none very profound.
Romance-Free Bookstore

    • There are no romance novels in Shakespeare & Company. There are thousands of English language books on almost every subject. Harlan Cobin, John Grisham and Lee Child made the cut. Nora didn't.                                                                                       
    • Hot water heaters run at night. It's a good idea to get a shower before noon if you want hot water.
Steve in our living room
  • It's generally a Bad Hair City. That doesn't mean my hair was impossible like it is in Houston in summer. Very few people in Paris put much effort into their coifs so the bar is pretty low. This is good news because:
  • The electricity goes out frequently for short periods which requires the resetting of lots of critical systems including the hot water heater timer and the internet connection. These periods inevitable coincided with me getting in the shower.

Our Apartment Over Atelier Maitre Albert Restaurant
  • The goofy, overzealous American tourists that embarrass us in restaurants and cafes are usually treated with kindness and good humor by the wait staff. Sure, this is because they generally tip very well in a country where tipping is seldom more that a euro or so. Still, the Americans are welcomed where other Europeans and Asians (both poor or non-tippers we were told) are merely tolerated.
  • Trucks pick up glass bottles for recycling several times a week at about 6:30 a.m. Restaurants recycle A LOT of bottles. We were above one restaurant and across a narrow alley from three others. The crash of breaking glass is rather startling, especially that first morning. Other trash is picked up a couple times a week.  Luckily we live on a noisy street in Houston and were able to go right back to sleep.
  • The neighborhood shopkeepers smile a lot and try to be helpful. Buying from the boucherie, poissonerie, chartucherie, bonlangerie, and wine merchant is much more fun than going to a grocery store. But beware the fromagerie...those women can be mean!

 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Second-Chance Wedding


“In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

The day after Thanksgiving, Hubs and I awoke at four to catch an early morning flight. Our destination: A small city in Virginia's wine country. Our purpose: To attend a friend's wedding. 

I travelled light, luggage-wise, but that's not to say I didn't tote baggage. The ceremony in Virginia would mark our friend's second marriage, and, much as I admired his willingness to risk his heart again, I worried.

He and his new wife would have six children between them. The kids were adults, true, but do kids stop requiring time and attention when they hit twenty-one? To further complicate matters, the happy couple had recently bought a house and were juggling wedding planning with box unpacking. At work, he'd opted for a slower track after many hard-charging years, but his new wife couldn't cut back her hours. How would their work schedules mesh?

Did I tell you I like our friend's first wife? True, she'd initiated their divorce and had moved on without a backward look, but I'm the queen of looking back, retroactively applying relationship bandages, and asking, "What if?" Small wonder the airline didn't flag my baggage for exceeding weight limits.

First-time brides and grooms are filled with such optimism, it verges on hubris. Guests admire the bride and groom's fearless willingness to merge their dreams, futures, and fortunes. We hope they'll weather the storms to come and emerge stronger for them, but if asked for advice, we're likely to demur because who can tell anything to wide-eyed young people who are certain theirs is the great love of the century? If pressed, we might say something innocuous like, "Never go to bed angry," or "Laugh at yourself."

Guests at second marriages tend to be older and, thanks to lessons at the School of Hard Knocks, wiser. We arrive with optimism that's been dented but hasn't been stripped away.  (If it had been, we'd have RSVP'd with regrets.) We've gone to bed angry once, twice, or ten times because only a saint could avoid it, and we've learned to laugh at ourselves because if we didn't, we'd have spent days curled into balls, our fingers in our ears, singing "La, la, la, I can't hear you."

We've also learned that long, happy marriages are blessed by luck. "Hard work" and "putting each other first" ratchet up the odds of success, sure, but luck's a biggie, and it skips over some marriages.

I traveled to Virginia weighed down with memories of our friend's first wife and worries for him and his new love. However, as he spoke the vows he'd written, my fears melted away.

The marriage of two people who've survived painful uncouplings is sweeter for its poignancy. It's humbling to bear witness to a bride and groom who have the courage to make promises although they'd learned the hard way that vows can be broken. They've weathered storms but haven't shut off their emotions or sequestered themselves in emotional storm shelters. They know it takes two to make a marriage work or fail and have ditched their "injured party" labels to accept that they could have done things differently the first-time around. They know they'll have to pay closer attention and adjust their behavior on the second go.

This wedding was marked by gratitude, not hubris. The bride and groom were gladgladglad to have found each other and grateful for the friends and family who supported them. The happy couple laughed a lot. 

Will luck bless this new marriage? I don't know for sure, but it's clear the bride and groom are prepared to make their own. 

On the trip home, my luggage felt weightless. I'd swapped my worries for joy, and it turns out optimism is the lightest element of all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

DEYROLLE 2012


Director Wes Anderson at Deyrolle before the fire
On a cold and rainy January day seven years ago, my husband and I were wandering around Paris when a curious little garden shop caught our attention. Inside we found an assortment of tools, books and clothes but nothing remarkable enough to carry home to Texas.

As we were about to leave, the clerk told us there was a premier ├ętage and pointed to a stairway at the back of the shop. Not wanting to be rude, we climbed the steps expecting more of the same and were stunned by what we found—a grand suite of rooms full of hundreds of stuffed animals posed as though they had frozen in mid-action when our feet hit the top stair. Like many before us, we had discovered Deyrolle, the cabinet de curiosit├ęs.

Under normal circumstances, I might have found all the taxidermy somewhat appalling, but there was something so charming and playful about the way the animals were arranged, I fell in love with the place and every creature in the extraordinary menagerie. I couldn’t help thinking, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if whoever owns this place could bring these animals to life when no one was around?”

That man became Adrien Durand, the hero of the paranormal romance novel my agent has out on submission. Since then I’ve returned to Deyrolle many times, and have taken friends and family to visit my favorite place in Paris. Sadly about three years ago a fire destroyed most of the second story and with it hundreds of animals lovingly collected over more than a century.

The fictional place I call La Maison d’Ermonie has taken on a life of its own in my imagination—a fantastical world that is more real to me than the place that inspired it. I shouldn’t have been surprised this week when the somewhat reconstructed Deyrolle no longer held the enchantment of the original, but I was. Surprised and disappointed. The animals were no longer posed playfully and the whimsy has been lost. Change is inevitable but I still mourn the loss of a grand dining room set for dinner with a guest list of zebras, a donkey, a lion, a water buffalo and a goat presided over be a magnificent stuffed horse I named Maurice.

Have you ever revisited an old haunt or a literary shrine only to find time had stolen its magic? 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Lemons from my tree!

This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful for many people, places, and things. Family's my precious-s-s, and it's a given I appreciate each and every member. With one important exception, though, I'm not writing about family today.

I've cobbled together a list of ten people, places, or things I want to acknowledge. Sure, I've mentioned some of them before, but, hey, gratitude doesn't bubble up only once a year.

1. My cochlear implants. My hearing loss started sneakily and progressed slowly, but I hit profound deafness two years ago, and my coping skills gave out. I received my first implant on July of 2011 and the second in May of this year. Not only did I get hearing back, my confidence returned.

2. The backyard lemon tree. What a kick I'm getting out of this year's unexpected bounty! Today, in celebration of the harvest, I'll serve lemon mojitos.

3. This blog. Lark might be getting tired of me saying how glad I am she invited me to join her here, but I won't stop. You see, I'm a social media dud. I squeak by on Twitter, fail at Facebook, and can't remember my Goodreads ID. Yet I like blogging and reading blogs. 

4. Lucky the Cat. Lucky's the neighborhood stray we took in after he was mauled by another animal. Initially, my plan was to drive the cat to the vet, get him patched up, and release him to his wandering ways. After watching a wounded cat heal, how could I send him back outside? He's a Rosen now, and I'm the lucky one.


Lucky, resting up for his first Thanksgiving

5. The Women's Fiction chapter of Romance Writers of America. This online chapter has given me support, encouragement, and two new critique partners. 

6. The West Houston chapter of RWA.  This is the home of my in-person writer friends. I'm grateful for all of them but have to send an extra thankful shout-out to Lark, Pat Kay, Janice Martin, Jink Willis, Jerre Ferns, Sarah Andre, Kay Hudson, Jo Anne Banker, and Julie Pitzel. 

7. Luanne. I'm a parent, wife, sister, and friend, but the "tribe" I identify with most is the writer clan. That said, I recently met with a woman considering cochlear implants. We talked for hours, and it was energizing to be understood by someone else who's grappled with deafness. Writers get the angst of the blank page, but when the hearing impaired ask someone to repeat himself, we know the response might be a blank stare.

8. France. Oui, I'm grateful for a whole country. My trip to Paris and Uzes last April let me glimpse (and hear) the high school French teacher I was before my hearing went AWOL. My old love affair with France, the French, and the language recommenced, made poignant by the time we'd spent apart.
A street in Uzes. It's lovely, non?


9. Melanie, my sister-in-law. Four days after Hurricane Sandy struck, my parents took refuge at my brother's house. There, they had heat and light but worried they wouldn't be able to cast their November 6 votes at their designated polling place, an hour distant. My parents are Democrats. Melanie, my sister-in-law, is a Republican. Nevertheless, she's the one who promised she'd get them to the polling place. If we honor one another's views at the family level, surely we can accept and accommodate differences of opinion and work together in Congress. 

10. WANA. The acronym stands for We Are Not Alone, a book-turned-movement that focuses on blogging, social media and networking for authors. WANA is the brainchild of Kristen Lamb, and, while I've learned a lot from the book and the course, it's my fellow WANAs who have taught me the most. 

Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful to you for reading this post.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's all in the presentation

I don't think of myself as a turkey purist and have been known to buy Thanksgiving dinner from the local grocery store ready to warm and serve. One year a neighbor presented me with a wild turkey he'd shot on his family's ranch and with the help of a friend, I smoked it.

The hard to make out photo above is of turkeys hanging in the window of a boucherie on Ile St. Louis in Paris. There were six of them displayed with their heads on, tail feathers spread, and feathered wings tucked at their sides. Unlike the butterballs in the frozen food department of HEB, there was no mistaking what they had once been and in fact their distinctive characteristics had been preserved for a proud hostess to present to her guests. Imagine their delight when she carries the bird to the table in all its glory. I wonder how many of my family and friends would be thrilled about such a dramatic entrance for the Thanksgiving turkey.

Maybe I should give it a try one year. Who wants to come to my house for the holidays?!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Riddle Me This, Google

British scientists appear to have puzzled out the famous head scratcher: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Research points to the chicken, but I've got a more pressing conundrum to consider: Is my memory slipping because I rely on Google fifty times a day, or do I rely on Google because my memory's slipping?

Whether you're twenty or seventy, you've wondered the same thing. Once upon a time, we accepted knowledge limbo: the uneasy minutes, hours, even days before we remembered the right answer or got our hands on an encyclopedia, tracked down a know-it-all friend, or buttonholed a source. Nowadays, we get skittish if our laptop, phone, or tablet doesn't give us a response within seconds.

Yet I fear our reliance on electronics makes us less self-reliant. If we gave ourselves a couple of minutes, the capital of Norway might bubble up from our memory, along with the formula for circumference, and the name of the group that sang The Power of Love in the 80's.

Alas, we don't have the luxury of time. Work deadlines come lightning fast because we're expected to use every digital shortcut at our disposal.

Search engines are more pleasant to work with than some people. They never rear back and demand, "Why do you want to know?" They never say, "Every fifth grader knows that."

My parents had a set of encyclopedias that I, the eldest, used from elementary school until college. My youngest sister, eight years my junior, used the same set and no teacher complained her information was outdated. Today, search engines ferret out the latest updates, developments, and complications.

When power went out in the northeast due Hurricane Sandy, Google, Bing and Yahoo were available, but the tools people use to connect with them may have been out of juice. Who or what settled the disputes that came up during board games by flashlight: Is "ruana" really a word? That play's not legal!

Did people hunt for dictionaries and a dusty copy of rules of bridge, or did the opinion of the loudest person in the room prevail? I'm guessing the game players swore they'd never again take a search engine for granted.

To write this blog post, I asked Google four questions—well, three, really. I forgot one answer and had to Google it again. Wouldn't you know the answer to one question sent my thoughts on a different direction than I originally planned.

I count on search engines—and no one has to remind me to use them. Indeed, my fingers start typing before my brain has formulated most questions.

The quick answers I get give me time to ponder other, weighty matters: Do my eyelashes look sparse because of the mascara I glop onto them, or do I glop on mascara because my eyelashes look sparse?

Your turn: Name one of the last four things you typed into a search engine. Did you get the answer you expected?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

They cast WHO???????


Every time a new James Bond movie is released, the old argument arises: Who was the best James Bond? People weigh in on their favorites and the discussion fades until the next film is  released. For the record, Daniel Craig is my favorite closely followed by Sean Connery. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sean Connery as an actor and larger-than-life personality. The truth is I’ve only seen a couple of his Bond movies and was less than enamored of the Bond persona of that era. Craig’s tortured, ultra-athletic Bond is more to my taste and the newer plots seem to have more substance.

Regardless of individual preferences, in my opinion all the Bonds had a suave Bondness that worked on some level. Unfortunately, not all casting is successful. How many times have you heard a particular actor or actress was going to play a character from a book you loved and you reacted with “WTF??????”

That’s why I was thrilled to read on Vince Flynn’s FB page that Chris Hemsworth had been offered the part of Mitch Rapp in the AMERICAN ASSASIN movie and Bruce Willis was cast as his CIA mentor. Whether or not Chris takes the part, it’s encouraging that the casting is going in the right direction—especially after the epic miscasting of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.

If you haven’t read Lee Child’s Reacher books, here’s a heads up—Jack is a 35 year old, 6’5”, 250 lb, stoic, blond wall of muscle. Tom is a 50 year old, 5’7,” 150 lb, brunette, creepy grinner. Granted, I’ve never been a Cruise fan but this casting is so absurd the only way it could have happened was for Tom to buy the part. Needless to say, I’m NOT going to see that movie!

So what movies do you think were perfectly cast? Which were dreadfully miscast?  Is Hugh Jackman the perfect Jean Valjean? What about Russell Crowe as Javert? Johnny Depp as Tonto? Who was your favorite Darcy? Your favorite Bond? Speak up—we want to know!!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Tart Bounty: Sweet!

A lemon from my own tree!

Seven years ago, inspired by an article on citrus growing for black-thumb types, I planted a gallon-sized Meyer lemon tree in a clay pot. When the tree outgrew that pot, I transplanted it into a bigger one. When it outgrew the second, I dug a hole and planted the little tree in the backyard.

Roughly two years after I brought the tree home, it produced two lemons. After that, nothing.

During Houston's rare hard freezes, I covered it with a bed sheet. In early spring, I gave it fish- emulsion. One year, its leaves yellowed, and I sprinkled Epsom salts around it.

Eventually, the tree reached five feet in height, but produced no more fruit.

A gardener friend told me to dig it up and toss it in the compost pile. "It's barren. Get yourself another one. Time to move on."

Doesn't every woman shrink when she hears the word "barren?" That word didn't describe my tree with pretty leaves that ranged in color from spring green to emerald.

I never got around to digging up the tree--and there was no place to toss it anyway, since I'd never established a compost pile and wasn't about to set a pretty tree on the curb for yard-waste collection day.

Another couple of years went by, including the drought of 2011. Last winter, we might have had two nights of below-freezing temperatures, and I forgot to cover the lemon tree.

This past spring, Hubs and I put down many, many cubic feet of mulch because we were going out of town, and I was certain the absence of weeds would convince would-be thieves someone was home. 

In March, the tree blossomed prettily, but it's blossomed before. I didn't get my hopes up.

The blossoms turned into green buds, but I went about my business and pretended not to notice. 

It's now November, and sixteen big-as-baseball lemons hang from the tree. ( Make that fourteen; I picked two.) 

Sunkist has nothing to fear, and Houstonians with lemon trees would consider my harvest paltry, but I'm excited. 

"Our first crop," Hubs said.

Last night, we dined on salmon with smoked paprika and lemon, plus orzo pasta tossed with lemon, olive oil, feta, spinach, and mint. This weekend, I'll make lemonade--and more of that lemony orzo

Once upon a time, pumpkin pie and spiced cider signaled fall. This year, it's lemon mojitos and lemon chicken

What's been your biggest success in the garden? How'd you use your bumper crop?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

MASKS AND MAGIC

Saturday night my husband and I went to a masquerade ball thrown by one of his clients. Everyone wore formal dress--tuxedos for the men and ball gowns for the women--and masks. It was like going back in time to an era out of a historical novel. I've been to my share of black tie charity galas--the Heart Ball, the Winter Ball and even a rodeo ball where the men wore cowboy boots with their tuxes and the women got cowgirl creative with their formal wear--but this was the first time for a masquerade ball and the mystery was intriguing.

I wore a black gown, long black gloves and an ornate black-on-black half mask. My husband's mask was gold and cream with a headdress of black feathers. The host and hostess recognized us immediately as did the people we knew fairly well and vice versa. I couldn't help wondering how the heroines in romances conceal their identities so effectively the men have no idea who they were dancing with and, in some of the steamier stories, making love to. Really? I tried to pass my husband off as Tom Ford--same hair, stubble, general physique--but nobody bought that either.

Still, the evening was magical. Okay, the band played more contemporary music than Jane Austin would have expected, and Regency England didn't have the engineering skill to produce the 5" heels I danced in. Still, the champagne flowed, the food was divine and the guests diverse and amusing.

Around 11:30 the Latin guests began to arrive--the host has spent a lot of time in Mexico and South America and the hostess was originally from Columbia so this was expected. The tempo of the music  and the dancing shifted. We went out into the cool evening to catch our breath and sip our wine. At 1:30 we left a party in full swing, but we were tired and sleepy and ready for bed. Guess we aren't as young as we once were, but it was certainly a lovely evening to remember.

I love this scene from "Phantom of the Opera." All that's missing is Gerard Butler, although he shows up briefly at the end. Our party wasn't nearly so over the top but it was a masquerade....


Have you been to any memorable events lately? If you could throw any kind of a party, soiree, grand fete--what would it be and who would you invite?


Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Jersey on My Mind


Frankenstorm Sandy didn't blow out my windows, uproot my trees, or cut power to my house. Its path didn't veer within a thousand miles of my home in Texas. Why then am I writing about the hurricane-turned-nor'easter?

To tell you it knocked out my ability to focus 

Small loss, you say. 

I can't argue that point. In hard-hit New Jersey, houses toppled, water filled streets, and bridges washed away. Who am I to complain about loss of focus?

Yesterday morning, I edited twenty pages before I turned twitchy and had to flip on The Weather Channel.  Whoa! A reporter is wading through knee-deep water. Hoboken is flooded, Sayreville's a mess, and Atlantic City is on its knees. 

My parents, brother and sisters, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece, nephews, and friends live in the Garden State. They're fine, and their houses are undamaged. Lack of power is their only problem, and they're quick to call themselves lucky.

They can call themselves lucky all day long--I'll still worry.

I take a break from editing to gather two, no, three pieces of publishing-industry news for a column before I Google the power company in Bloomfield, my hometown. Has the company listed what repairs it's tackling by area or street? No. 

Shoot.

I write two and a half pages before my youngest sister texts me to say my parents are cold and she's making them soup.

My parents are cold. Shootshootshoot. I return to editing because my brain's no longer capable of original thought. Oh, oh, President Obama is touring the Jersey Shore. I click on a link that takes me to a speech he gave in Brigantine. 

I visualize my parents wearing multiple sweaters and force myself to edit another fifteen pages. Hey! Maybe Amazon sells a mini-generator big enough to power a space heater. I click on Amazon. Uh oh. Everybody in the sixteen states affected by Frankenstorm has had the same idea. Generators big and small, Coleman lanterns, and other survivalist supplies are on backorder.

My brother-in-law, Mr. Preparedness, texts me to say he's fed up. No-o-o-o. If Mr. P is fed up, how will ordinary Jerseyans cope?

My youngest sister texts me again. "We got The Star Ledger today and now know the devastation across the state. Heartbroken."

I remember long-ago summer rentals in Ortley Beach, Point Pleasant, and Lavalette, and my heart hurts, too. Then I reopen the file I'm supposed to be editing.

Gah! I have a blog post due tomorrow and nothing to write about.  I open my file of blog ideas. Everything in it stinks.  

Uh oh, Hubs just walked in the door. Why's he frowning? A friend since high school emailed him to say their home town, Belmar, is under water. Hubs doesn't believe it and fires up his iPad. 

On The Weather Channel, West Virginia residents are shoveling snow. OMG! Thank God New Jersey doesn't have to contend with snow.

I check with a high school friend on Facebook to see how she fared during Sandy. A college friend's husband is on Facebook, so I send him a message, too. 

"Belmar flooded." My husband shakes his head in disbelief. "I knew the boardwalk washed away, but flooding?" 

It's Halloween night, so our evening is punctuated by little Darth Vaders and princesses. Mostly though, it's memories of home that short circuit our concentration. 

My youngest sister texts to say power might not be restored to our parents' house for fourteen days. I read the message aloud to Hubs. 

"Invite them here," he says.

"They won't come."

"You don't know that."

"I know my father."

"Invite them anyway."

I tap out a message to my sister, asking her to convince our parents to fly to Houston. 

"You're funny," she writes back.

Shootshootshoot.

No way will I get any more editing done this evening. I'm about to head for bed when I remember the blog post due today. See what I mean about Sandy taking out my focus?

What to blog about? What to blog about?

Shoot.  I've got nothing.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

FACING THE STORM


My family lives in northern Delaware and just across the state line in Chadds Ford, PA—in other words, right in the path of the eye of the storm. Yesterday I watched with growing concern as the frightening footage of flooding on the New Jersey shore started appearing online. Then around 2:00 p.m. my sister texted that her power went out.

I was confident my sister and BIL would be fine. They're prepared for a long siege of no power, flooding and roads blocked by downed trees. Both have been through hurricanes in the Caribbean and have a healthy respect for the forces of nature. My dad, not so much. Hell, who am I kidding? That old dude scoffed at every suggestion we made with the exception of putting water bottles in the freezer to keep the food cold longer. He laughed when I told him to fill their extra bath tub so they could flush if the water went off. Personally, I think this is critical to disaster planning--yo, flushing toilets when the water is off for a few days--but he chuckled and ignored my advice. I tried again with my mother. Maybe she did it, maybe she listened to the stubborn old dude and didn't. The situation was out of my hands. As my Southern in-laws say, "I gave them to God and figure he's gonna have to take it from here." 

This morning I got a text from my sister—no power but otherwise good. I later talked to my dad who smugly told me they had a little rain but hadn’t even lost power. I’m glad they’re safe but a part of me wanted to scream at him that he was lucky not smart. Alas, at this point in our lives, pressing my point is futile.

I know Pat has family in New Jersey and hope they were lucky too.  I've been through a couple dozen hurricanes, both here in Houston and during my years in St. Croix, and understand that the best preparation can be useless against a violent storm. My thoughts are with everyone who is facing days, weeks and months of recovery from the devastation nature inflicted on the east coast. I'm reminded that my power is limited and the cosmos is capable of wrecking havoc with our world. Weather can totally change the game, the stakes and the very existence of people, places and things. Sandy, Ike, Katrina—names we humans should remember when we get too cocky about our control of the planet. Sometimes nature bites back.

Where are you and how has Sandy affected you and your family?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Forget Glass Half Full: Rimside Up or Down?

The recent presidential debates offer collateral benefits. You're skeptical, I know, but bear with me.

In my kitchen, I store glassware and cups upside down in cabinets. The rims sit on perforated foam shelf liner because, well, I've always done it that way.

Recently, a guest turned over my cups to suit her rims-up sensibility. I stopped her before she moved on to the second shelf. "What are you doing?"

"Your cups were upside down."

"I like them that way."

"Why?"

"They're less likely to tip over."

That argument may be weak, but my guest backed off, perhaps because I held a colander like a shield. (It'll be more than four years before anyone offers to help me in the kitchen again.)

I told my neighbor about my interfering guest and got no sympathy. Au contraire, she backed the guest and argued there was no reason to store glassware upside down in a closed cabinet since there hadn't been dust storms in the region for decades.

Dust storms? Who knew the issue of glassware storage inspired snark? Before I managed a word edgewise, my neighbor went on to say she'd experienced far worse: a visitor who'd interfered in the bathroom.

"He switched the toilet-paper roll so it unwound with the paper dropping straight down, against the wall. Can you believe it?"

Thanks to my cup-turning guest, I could. "That's the way I put rolls on in my house, but I wouldn't mess with the rolls in yours."

My neighbor stared. "The paper's supposed to unwind over the top of the roll. Everybody knows that."

"Everybody? You're full of malarkey," I said.

"Takes one to know one, and why are we talking about glasses and toilet paper when the country's at war and people have lost their homes?"

"You want to talk about war and foreclosures?"

"God, no."

"There's no logical reason why I store glasses rim down," I admitted. "I just like the way it looks."

"I know. Me, I like the rims-up look and toilet paper that unwinds over the top of the roll." My neighbor raised her glass of Dr. Pepper.

I raised my Diet Coke with Lime.

 "To each his own," she said.

"Amen."

We regular folk don't have debate coaches prodding us to put the other guy on the defensive or expose his vulnerabilities. No one monitors our body language and gives us a bullet list of must-make points. What's more, we don't have to put up with everyone and his brother critiquing our performance and finding us wanting.

I can tell my neighbor I store glasses rim-side down "just because." She doesn't have to defend her toilet-paper stance to me.

The recent debates made me grateful I don't have to justify everything I say and do. I'm free to change my mind without provoking a firestorm of criticism. My every slip of the tongue doesn't cause an incident.

The single best collateral benefit of the debates? We don't have to watch them again for four years.

Has a trifling household matter caused debate at your house? How glad are you not to be running for president?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

WISH I'D SAID THAT!


I collect quotes. I've been writing them down in a datebook for years. Some of them are profound, some inspiring, some are witty. Others are of the bumper-sticker ilk. I thought I'd share some of my favorites today. I try to track down the source, but please correct me if I'm wrong and excuse me if I don't know who originally said/wrote it. So here we go:

"Happiness is what you choose to pay attention to." -- attrituted to Janis Joplin.

"Write drunk, edit sober." --writerly advice from Ernest Hemingway

"Computers let you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history with the exception of handguns and tequila." --Unknown

"I am the literary equivalent of Big Mac and fries." --Stephen King

"Easy ready is damn hard writing." --Nathaniel Hawthorne

"Ever notice 'what the hell' is always the right decision?" --Unknown Hollywood screenwriter

"Until one has loved an animal, part of one's soul remains unawakened." --Anatole France

"Happiness is good health and a bad memory." --Paul Newman

"Never give yourself a haircut after three alcoholic beverages of any kind." --Rules of Life

"Not all those who wander are lost." --J.R.R. Tolkien

Okay, so these are all over the place. Quelle surprise! Do you have any favorite quotes, sayings, bumper stickers you're willing to share? We'd love to hear them!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

When Is a Writer Like a Tree?

In Houston, green leaves still hold tight to oaks, but walkers in the urban forest crunch acorns underfoot. In some places, the blanket of fallen nuts is so dense, I'd swear I was tromping along a pebble path. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle bore this headline: "Drought May Have Spurred a Deluge of Acorns" and explained the bumper crop.

Locally, oak trees are dropping acorns at five to ten times the normal rate, a phenomenon called a "mast" year. "We often see increased production in mast when we are experiencing drought, especially like the one we had last year," Matthew Weaver, a regional urban forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service, told the Chronicle. "The trees are trying to perpetuate their species so they expend energy in producing their seed."

Because Mother Nature doesn't rachet up squirrels' birth rate to match the acorn surplus, a percentage of this year's nuts won't be consumed—and thus get a chance to grow into mighty oaks—and replace the trees killed by lack of water.

I've had to tweak the images I carry in my mind's eye of drought-stressed trees from the summer of 2011. I still see their wilted, stunted leaves, but now I imagine what's going on beneath the surface. The trees are holding on, doing what has to be done, and preparing for an eventual acorn overdrive.  

Like trees, writers endure drought years. For months on end, we may only eke out work--and it may only earn a tepid response. We battle self-doubt, writer's block, and commitments that gobble our writing time. We may have lost an editor or been cut loose by a publisher. Shrinking advances and royalties make us to question ourselves and our writing.

Yet, if we hold on, do what has to be done and keep tapping on the keyboard--even when we have to fight for each word and the time to write it--we set ourselves up for a mast year.

Are mast years predictable? Sadly, no. They don't always follow droughts and may appear two years running then not again for a decade.

That unpredictability confounds a lot of writers, but if oaks weather it, why not us? "Fortune favors the prepared mind," wrote scientist Louis Pasteur, supposedly in reponse to colleagues who dismissed his discovery of pasteurization as pure luck. As long as we keep learning and producing, we'll have something to sell when fortune favors us.

Next time you despair of finishing the work in progress or getting your first or another book deal, go outside and gather acorns. Remember, this year's bounty came from trees that survived on sips of water during a hotter-than-usual summer. When you're tempted to complain that publishing's changing and you can't keep up, think of trees girding themselves for global warming.

Trees and writers that survive hard times will see their efforts bear fruit.