Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Lucky the Reindeer Cat wishes you and yours a joyous holiday season.

(No cats were harmed in the making of this post, but one contends he was humiliated and now demands compensatory treats.)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What Light through Yonder Window Breaks?

I misplaced my Christmas lights. This qualifies as a first-world problem, and I’m not asking for sympathy.  I am, however, disappointed my memory turned trickster. Really, memory? You choose now to trip me up?

Don’t worry, I don’t have to buy many replacement strands. Energy conservation is my excuse for no longer hanging lights outside. Last year, a neighbor lost patience with me and said, “How long does it take to throw up one strand of lights? Ten minutes!” I should have told her to make herself at home on my roof, but no, her fervor so astonished me, I couldn’t think of a comeback.

The light lobby is powerful on my street. Larger-than-life inflatable snowmen, illuminated from within, bob and sway.  Spotlights shine on twig reindeer that lift their heads, eye Disney characters bearing gifts, and lower them again. Lighted candy canes compete with lighted wreaths and LED snowflakes. Multi-colored lights blink. (God help anyone prone to seizures who inadvertently turns down my block.) Santa and his sleigh get spotlights as do doors decorated to look like wrapped presents.

It’s festive.

It’s tacky.

If I ruled the world, people would wrap white lights around trees or place an ivory electric candle in every window. I’d decree indoor trees must bear white lights, not multicolored. Oh, and no blinking lights would be allowed in my kingdom.  Go on, call me Grinch.

Tomorrow, I’ll buy white lights to adorn the tree that now stands in my front window. My neighbors will be disappointed, but they’ll get over it. My gift to them is the superiority they’ll feel every time they look over at my bling-less, light-less house.

Do you put up  outdoor lights and decorations? What decoration, inside or out, must go up before you’re ready to greet the holiday? (My last question fits Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, too, so don’t think you can wiggle out of answering.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Oh, Pioneers!

Me, Ree Drummond, and Older Daughter
I did not dress like the PW on purpose. 
Ree Drummond, better known as The Pioneer Woman,
likes to describe herself, “an accidental country girl.” It’s no accident, though, that her website and blog are highly successful, as are her books and Food Network cooking show. She works hard, has an appealing way of looking at the world and a “voice” that's witty and sisterly.  I’m a longtime fan. 

On Tuesday night, Ree signed her new cookbook, The PioneerWoman Cooks: A Year of Holidays at the Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. I wouldn't have missed the event for anything and went, accompanied by Older Daughter. Both of us have successfully reproduced many of the Pioneer Woman’s recipes.

There’s a lot of talk nowadays about independent bookstores closing. Blue Willow thrives. It’s carved a niche for itself among young-adult authors and readers but attracts marquee authors of all stripes. YA authors Ally Carter and Jen Barnes will sign at Blue Willow this Saturday. Sue Monk Kidd will sign her latest, The Invention of Wings, February 17. 

The Pioneer Woman was scheduled to sign from six p.m. on. A week before, I reserved copies of the new cookbook and places in line and was told not to show up before 8:30. You read that right. The Pioneer Woman is one popular lady. 

At eight-forty-five, Older Daughter and I drove to Blue Willow, collected our “will call” books and signing-group numbers, and were told to report back in sixty to ninety minutes. You read that right. We could have hung with the convivial crowd in the parking lot where a food truck dispensed sustenance, but because the night was chilly and we’re caffeine hounds, we drove to a nearby Starbucks.

The coffee shop crawled with Ree Drummond fans comparing their signing-group numbers and exclaiming over the photographs and recipes in the new book. At nine-fifty, the barista announced the place would close at ten, and Older Daughter and I returned to the bookstore to find our number had just been called. We hurried inside and got on line.

From that point on, things moved fast. As we approached the signing table, a bookstore employee whisked away our coats and purses. Another employee took Older Daughter’s cell phone to capture photos of us with Ree.

 Since I’m a rabid fan, you probably think I mentioned my favorite PW blog posts or recipes to Ree.


You figure I told her how my family enjoyed her brownie recipe, oven brisket, and meatballs.

Sadly, no.

I was tongue-tied. Struck dumb. You read that right. I couldn’t think of a thing to say except, “Hi, I’m so glad you’re here.”

Poor Ree Drummond, who had already been signing books for hours, coaxed conversation out of me. She asked if I liked the cold weather.


She apologized for the long wait but pointed out that Old Daughter and I got to spend quality time together.

“Yes,” I repeated.

I attest to the fact The Pioneer Woman is charming, gracious, and can put the most awkward fan at ease.

The Blue Willow staffers made sure all our books were signed, bundled us back into our coats, handed us our purses, and returned Older Daughter’s cell phone with four shots of us and The Pioneer Woman. What paragons of organization!

We exited the bookstore at ten-thirty. Ree Drummond had vowed to remain until every book was signed, so Blue Willow must have stayed open into the wee hours of Wednesday.

Outside, the waiting fans were in good spirits. The Pioneer Woman has that effect on people.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Writer Code

In the TV series The Wire, Omar Devon Little is a thief, but he only steals from drug-dealers. Omar has a code, you see, and it won’t let him harm the innocent. 

All of us are guided by codes, notably personal and professional ethics, our consciences, and our mommas' voices. Belle, the blogger behind Capitol Hill Style, sent her followers to read E. Jean’s column in Elle magazine on The Girl (Woman) Code. I read what E. Jean had to say and couldn’t resist the urge to modify it to fit writers.  Before you continue here, read E. Jean's take on The Girl Code. Go ahead. You won’t be sorry. 

With apologies to E. Jean, I propose The Writer Code:

1.) Never throw another writer’s published book against a wall and say you could turn out something ten times better. If it takes putting down another writer to make you feel competent, you’re not.

2.) Don't diss another writer on social media. Doing so makes you look bad. Also, see number one.

3.) If a writer friend and an agent are talking at a bar, don’t butt in.  

4.) Never reveal what a writer friend considers his/her “secret.” Maybe she doesn’t want her editor to know the ending of her bestseller came to her in a dream. Maybe he doesn’t want the world to know he has a chronic illness, is prone to panic attacks, or employs Dragon NaturallySpeaking and a proofreader.

5.) Make no distinctions between writer friends who are traditionally published and those who self-publish.  There are many paths to publication. What’s more, a writer friend may choose one path for her first book and another path for her second. (Haven’t heard the term “hybrid writer? Check it out here.)  
One caveat: friends don’t let friends use vanity presses.

6.) Project Runway fans know host Heidi Klum reminds contestants, “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out.” Heidi’s referring to the fashion world, but she could just as well be talking about publishing. In publishing, as in fashion, the day after you’re out, you’re in again. Don’t burn bridges. Never dismiss a writer, agent, or editor as a has-been.

7.) If a writer buddy types an angry letter or email to an editor, agent, or the head of a publishing house, impose an embargo. Your buddy may not mail or send the missive before he/she has cooled off, a process that may take anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks.

8.) Reread E. Jean’s last rule under “Advanced Woman Code.” She writes, “Never treat other women disrespectfully: It gives men ideas.” Writers, our corollary is, “Never treat other writers disrespectfully: It gives publishers ideas.”

What rule or rules would you add to The Writer Code?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is coming, and it’s never too early to make a gratitude list. Here are a few of the many things for which I’m grateful:

(Whoops! I started to type “Things I’m grateful for,” but my brain and fingers rebelled. Why? Number ten on my list explains the temporary paralysis.)

10.) The teachers who taught me grammar. (All mistakes are my fault, not theirs.) I’m especially grateful for Sister Grace Anthony and Sister Frances Johannes of the now-defunct East Orange Catholic High School.) For fun, try Colin Falconer’s Grammar Quiz.

9.) Animal friends and would be/could be animal friends. If you haven’t seen Twenty-Two Words' gone-viral photos of a little boy napping with his puppy, here they are. (Oh, go ahead and click. You won’t be sorry.) 

8.) The Texas Hill Country is the place I go to catch my breath. Often, in the morning and evening, a purple haze rings the hills.

7.) Lemons from my tree. For the second year in a row, my little Meyer lemon tree has borne fruit, and Thanksgiving will be zestier for it.

6.) My hearing. I will never be matter-of-fact about it. Two+ years after my first cochlear implant, I’m gushingly grateful for every sound.

5.) Rain. The drought in Texas continues, but parts of the state, including Houston, have moved from severe-drought status to near normalcy. That said, it will be a long time, if ever, before I take rain for granted.

4.) Blogging friends and supporters. I’m thankful for you every day of the week, month, and year. Your posts enrich my life. Your comments on my posts make me laugh and think.

3.) Writing friends. Not all my friends are writers, but the ones who write understand there’s a time for the writing cave, and a time to come out and mingle. Two of my critique partners live in another part of the country, and we’ve never met in person. Nevertheless, because we share our first drafts, we share ourselves. My two in-town critique partners are my best pals.

2.) The joy of cooking. I do housework grudgingly and leave clothes in the dryer for days, but interesting recipes make me swoon. I’ll prepare Thanksgiving dinner without complaint. Yes, the rush-rush of multiple tasks will leave me panting, but chopping and stirring will bring moments of zen. I put dinner on the table night after night and take plenty of shortcuts, but cooking’s my therapy, and holiday cooking is therapy on steroids.

1.)  Family. I lucked out in the parents-and-siblings department and chose well husband-wise, but I don’t discount luck there, either. How much do any of us know when we say, “I do?” I, for one, didn’t anticipate the upheavals caused by relocations, job changes, and children. I’ve learned a lot. Today, my adult children are fun and interesting to be around. I’m not, however, one of those moms-of-grown-kids who swears she’d do it all over again. There’s no way I’d relive my children’s teenage years.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours and thanks for stopping by and reading. I'm grateful to and for you. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet." - Shakespeare

My life’s been uneventful of late. How uneventful? I count a recent colonoscopy as an adventure. Fear not. I won’t share details except to say any day without a colonoscopy is a good one.

At dark-thirty on the morning of my procedure, the nurses at the outpatient center buzzed with excitement over what they considered a strange coincidence/eerie convergence: four out of eight female patients scheduled were named Patricia. Spooky?

In fact, there’s a logical explanation. Most Americans (those of us lucky enough to have health insurance, anyway) are urged to get our first colorectal-cancer screening at or around age fifty. In other words, the female patients who showed up that morning likely were born in 1963 or earlier.

In the 1960’s, Patricia was the sixth most common name given to girl babies. Don’t believe me? The Social Security Administration keeps track of these things. In the 1950’s, Patricia was the third most popular name for baby girls according to the SSA. 

Those SSA charts come in handy when I’m stuck for a character name. But that’s not all, folks. Here’s a fun infographic of THE most popular girl’s name, state-by-state in the U.S. every year between 1960 and 2012. I'm amazed at how fast a name catches on and how far its popularity spreads.

If that infographic’s right, a lot of women named Lisa soon will make appointments for colonoscopies. Meanwhile, I think about all the Sophias born last year. Forty-nine years from now, will they await colonoscopies at dark-thirty in the morning, or will medical advances make the procedure obsolete? I’m betting on the latter.

Is your name commonplace or unusual? If it’s commonplace, do you secretly long for a name that sets you apart? If it’s unusual, do you yearn for one that doesn’t cause heads to turn when the barista at Starbucks calls your name?