Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Daze After Christmas

I've never been one for making New Years resolutions. I tried, decades ago...but they all tended to end up broken within the first couple of weeks, so why bother?

I am, however, making plans. Setting goals for 2014, actually.

Early next year--sounds so far off when put that way, doesn't it?--will bring the publication of my first work of nonfiction: a memoir, not of writing and publishing, but of the most turbulent period of my life. Until a few months ago, I never wanted to even talk about it again, let alone write about it. I still hope I'm not making a big mistake....

Collin and I will also be publishing Sam's memoir. Yep, I'm talking about my parakeet Sam, who passed away in February 2011. I'm writing Sam's Story as I believe he would tell it. So far, so good....

2014 will mean big changes in my fiction writing as well--years ago, a fellow author told me she didn't understand why I wrote "serious" novels. She thought I was really funny and should write funny. Well, I'm finally taking her advice. Better late than never, right?

As for personal goals...hmmm. I'd have to say I'd be happy just to be able to walk without a cane or wheelchair again. Losing some weight will help the old hips and knees (emphasis on "old" here!). Exercise is also a must, I'm told. I'd like to be taking fewer meds by the time 2014 comes to an end. I'd also like to still have a pulse....

What are your goals for 2014?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Encore: Deck the Halls (Part Three)

Pastor John says God wants us to be a blessing to others. There's a lot of that going around this Christmas, with layaway accounts being paid in full by mysterious strangers and other random acts of kindness we haven't seen much in decades past. I've asked myself if I have ever been a blessing to anyone. The answer is...I'm not so sure. I've always been more a holy terror than a heavenly gift. But I am still a work in progress, so as long as there's breath in me, there's hope.

Hope...that's what Christmas is really all about, isn't it? My hope for each of you, my friends, is that the spirit of Christmas finds its way into your heart an burrows deep so that it flourishes. One person really can change the world. On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of one who did. Today, I leave you with the last repost for this year of my visits with the Ghosts of Christmases Past....


12/25/09: Merry Christmas, everybody! 

OK, it's not politically correct. I'm not politically correct. Stats say 80% of the U.S. is Christian. That means I'm in the majority, and last time I checked, majority rules. Even if it didn't, I'm a Christian and proud of it. 

I have a lot to apologize for, but that's not on the list. 

Christmas 2008: In Iraq, Santa was making the rounds wearing a bullet-proof vest and packin' heat. Who'd ever have thought Santa would have to travel with weapons? 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus--and he's armed and dangerous.Don't let him catch you being naughty. There's a stiff penalty for being naughty. 

In New Zealand in 2007, a bunch of drunken Santas invaded a cineplex. Drunken Santas? Wow...it's so hard to get good help these days. 

Normally, I try to be done with everything long before the Big Day because I detest crowds and insanity (except my own, of course), but yesterday, I not only ventured out into the last-minute chaos, I was oblivious to it. I had my trusty MP3 player with me, so all was well. 

Music really does soothe the savage beast. I'm living proof of that. 

First stop: the bank, to make a deposit before their early close at noon. We've been with the same bank for something like seventeen years, through numerous mergers and name changes. I've been there longer than most of the personnel. At the teller window (I don't think they call 'em teller cages anymore, though at times they probably should), Pat was smiling. She had good reason to smile: a holiday falling on a weekday. They get, if you'll pardon the expression, screwed on Sunday holidays. Not even a half day off.

Big smiles all around. 

"I'm going to get my turkey," I mentioned. 

She didn't miss a beat. "I thought he was at work," she deadpanned, referring to Collin, not the edible turkey awaiting me at Dierbergs' deli. 

I laughed like a looney tune. Couldn't help it. That was a good line. Wish I'd thought of it. 

We had a pre-fab (OK, pre-cooked) turkey. My son, then an aspiring chef, had no intention of preparing the Christmas dinner. (Did I mention this before? Or maybe I only mentioned it repeatedly to HIM.) He worked all week at the restaurant and had no interest in cooking on his one and only day off. So with our pre-cooked bird, instant sides and my aversion to cooking anything other than in a microwave, dinner was ready in a record 30 minutes. 

Hey, I have better things to do on Christmas Day than cook.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Encore: Deck the Halls (Part Two)

It's now Christmas Eve and I still have not sent out Christmas cards. Okay, I have no excuse--I do ecards. Don't make fun of me--contrary to popular opinion, they are NOT free. They are cute (I love the animated cards) and no trees are killed to make them. So there! I have a bit more grocery shopping to do and revisions to finish, so here, hopefully for your enjoyment, is another Blog of Christmas Past....


And a parrot in a pear tree.... 

Ooops! Now, where was I? Oh, yeah...Mom had a roll of TP under the tree and Dad was trying to explain a box of poop to Homeland Security. Well, not exactly.But he was a repeat offender. As a matter of fact, he chose one victim twice simply because she swore he'd never fool her again. 

The target was Cathy, a friend of mine from high school. After Poopapalooza 1, she tried and tried to find a way to exact her revenge--but a whoopee cushion in his truck just didn't quite equal Dad's prank. When she told him she'd never fall for it again, well, that was like throwing down the gauntlet. He looked for a way to trick her into opening the box for a second time, and she unwittingly gave him the solution when she commented on a local souvenir--an outhouse ashtray. (Yep, we're about as redneck as you can get without being Jeff Foxworthy's blood relative.) 

I was seven months pregnant with Collin at the time and had been visiting Cathy, her then-husband, Ralph, and their son Damien (no connection to the character in "The Omen"). Dad sent the ashtray to Cathy with a message I was to relate: he knew she liked it and was sending it as a peace offering. She was touched--until she opened the little outhouse and saw the tiny turd, standing straight up in the tiny potty. 

                           (Not exactly like the one he gave Cathy, but close enough.)

"I'm gonna kill that old man!" Cathy shrieked. (She didn't know it couldn't be done without a silver bullet.) 

I've got a lot of Christmases to cover, so please bear with me. Twelve days may not be enough.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Today, I have another snippet from Superhero in Training, in which my two human protagonists, Charlie and Will, are meeting for the first time in the comic book store Charlie inherited from her late grandfather....

The funeral procession had begun.

The funny part was that nobody had died. Brenda Walker, who lived down the street, had just found out she was pregnant. Okay, in 2013 that's not exactly the big deal it was in 1953, but Brenda's ultra-conservative Southern Baptist Republican parents would have disowned her seven ways to Sunday if she'd publicly embarrassed them with an out-of-wedlock baby—so Brenda's hero of a hubby, who married her in a quickie ceremony the day before he got shipped off to Afghanistan, was conveniently killed in action. Now, she was mourning the death of her hero, who had given his life to save his fellow soldiers.  She looked good in black. She'd probably wear it until the baby was born. She'd play the grieving widow to the hilt.

"Who died?"

"Nobody," I said without thinking.

William has also posted a snippet--from our joint project, Same Time Tomorrow. Be sure you check it out, along with his latest photoblog!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Encore: Deck the Halls

Because I'm still not back to 100%, I'm going to repeat a post I did back in 2007. Most of you weren't reading my blog then (it was still on MySpace!), so it will be new to you. For those who have seen it before, it's been a while, so please don't send me lumps of coal! And be sure you check out all the cool blogs listed on my sidebar, like William's photoblog--which, coincidentally, has the same title as mine today--Gayle's Square Dog Friday post featuring Hamish in an elf hat, and London Lulu's Christmas blog!


I love Christmas. I love the big dinners and the music and the presents and the family all together for that one special day. Most of all I love the real reason for Christmas. I love knowing that 2000 years ago, God came to earth to live among us, to know us and to save us. I love thinking about what that first Christmas must have been like, and being able to see it so clearly in my own mind. 

I don't love so much of what Christmas has become: angry people on the roads and in the malls, pushing and shoving, jostling for position in the lines for the most popular gift items. I don't love crowds and high-pressured sales pitches and lazy bums who prefer to steal someone else's money and/or gifts instead of working for their own. 

I was at the mall last Christmas. It was funny, actually--as I went from one store to another, a young man attempted to charm his way to a sale: arms outstretched, big smile, big tube of very expensive lotion in hand in a bid to convince me I could not live without that lotion. Little did he know. I changed lanes, moving to the other side of the aisle, and that big smile instantly vanished. I can only imagine what I was called in that disappointing moment! 

Then there was the turkey who attempted to help himself to my cash. I felt his hand the minute it hit the zipper on my messenger bag. I came down hard on the trespassing hand. "If you want to keep that, buddy, you'd better take it back NOW." 

I think he had an accident, if you know what I mean. 

I don't love that there are some who want to celebrate Christmas even though they don't believe in God, in Jesus. And I'm not referring to religions other than Christianity. Our Jewish friends celebrate Hannukah. Our Muslim neighbors have their holy days. I don't know much about other religions, but I'm sure they have theirs as well. No...my gripe is with atheists, the real party poopers. They don't believe in God, don't believe that he came to live in our world as the infant Jesus, but they want the holiday anyway. They want to say the more politically correct "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" so they can have all of the fun without belonging to the club. 

I wonder how they explain to their kids what they're celebrating? "Oh, we're celebrating Daddy being sober for a whole year!" 

I say to them, don't celebrate a holiday if you don't believe in it. Too bad, Mr. and Ms. Grinch. No presents for you. 

My cousin Jeff, who grew up with us, is a Jehovah's Witness. They don't celebrate holidays or birthdays. My father always said Jeff became a Witness not because he really believed in their doctrine, but because he was just plain cheap and didn't want to have to buy any gifts. Jeff bristled every year when we put up our Christmas tree. He thought we should give up our tree because HE didn't believe in it. He claimed we were worshipping the tree, of all things! Dad couldn't resist--when he'd see Jeff's truck pull up in front of the house, he told us to get down on our knees and bow to the tree when Dipstick came through the door. 

Mom complained that was a little hard on the knees. 

Christmas was always a big deal for Mom and Dad, and it's at this time of the year that I miss them most. (Dad's been gone 16 years now, and Mom 9.) They were always like a couple of kids in their unabashed enthusiasm. They'd spend weeks preparing, shopping for gifts and trying to hide them from us. We were never allowed to put the tree up until Christmas Eve, and it was always the same: we'd get some form of takeout so Mom wouldn't have to cook--she'd begin preparing our Christmas dinner that night and couldn't deal with TWO meals at once. We'd watch a rerun of A Christmas Carol on TV--always the 1938 black-and-white version. 

Once the tree was up and completely decorated, the gifts would start to appear from their hiding places. They would be placed under the tree and Dad would do a count to make sure everyone had an equal number of packages. There was never one gift per person, always at least 7 or 8, usually 10. 

I remember one year Mom was a package short. Dad quickly remedied the problem with cash. He didn't want her to know it was cash, of course, so he wrapped it around a roll of toilet paper. Mom knew it probably wasn't just TP--Dad was notorious for gag gifts. He could be very creative in his gift-giving. His Christmas tradition was a little weird: instead of a lump of coal, the unfortunate target of his ire would get a beautifully-wrapped box of poop. 

I kid you not. POOP. Usually of the canine variety. I remember one Christmas when I was in college, he actually mailed the poop to a friend who was living in Tennessee at the time. I held my breath until it was received, wondering what would happen if postal inspectors happened to open the darned thing! 

I miss those good old days. 

Collin and I are making new traditions, new memories. Collin has never been good at keeping a secret--it's like lying. He didn't get that gene, for which I am grateful. 

Trouble is, I will know every gift he's giving me BEFORE Christmas. The Christmas before Dad died, he wanted a self-propelling lawn mower. He had a bad heart (only in the physical sense) and was having trouble using his old mower. To haul it in Mom's Escort, we'd have to put the back seat down, so we left Collin, then 11 years old, with Dad while we went to get it. All of our plans to sneak the thing into the back yard to hide it were, as it turned out, unnecessary--Dad came to the front door when we arrived, grinning from ear to ear. I knew immediately that my darling son had ratted me out. 

I miss those days.

(Credits: cartoons are all from Dumpday.com)


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Ghost of Christmas Past Revisited

I haven't posted anything because I've been sick the past few days with a nasty bug I wouldn't wish on anybody. I finally put our tree up today. Deck the halls with lots of Minions....

Being sick so close to Christmas reminded me of another Christmas forty years ago--has it really been that long? Last night, I told Collin about it. This morning, I told William...and I decided to blog about it.

I was sixteen when my maternal grandmother died. Grandpa spent all Thanksgivings and Christmases with us after her passing, until he went to the nursing home (I've always suspected he was at our house early, then went to my Uncle Tom's in the evening, even though he told Mom he didn't). Anyway, I was nineteen on this particular Christmas, when another nasty bug came to visit. I couldn't keep food down, couldn't even get out of bed. Mom called our family doctor, who ordered a prescription for me. But this was 1972, and the closest Walgreens that was open on Christmas Day was thirty miles away. Mom left Dad in charge of the dinner--the turkey was still in the oven--and went to pick it up.

Grandpa came in to check on me. He sat with me for a long time. We talked--he did most of the talking, because every time I opened my mouth, something came out--but he mostly told me stories. He was quite a storyteller. It made me felt better.

He's been gone a long time now, but the memories live on...of him and Grandma, of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, of summers at their place near the river, with them, Uncle Tom, Aunt Opal and my cousins. I can't smell honeysuckle today without recalling those summers....

Ah, to be a child again--but then, I never really grew up!


Be sure you check out William's latest photoblog, along with his review of the latest installement of the Hobbit trilogy. And we have a Snippet Sunday post on our joint blog....

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Snippet: An Untitled Work in Progress

Nope, this one doesn't have a title yet...it's from a sequel to my novel The Unicorn's Daughter (originally published by Berkley Books in 1990 as A Time for Legends)....

"Why me?" I asked, frustrated. "I'm no assassin."
"You're the one most likely to get close enough to him," Ted Harker said. "He loves the spotlight. Show him your camera and he'll follow you anywhere."
"Isn't there some Constitutional prohibition—" I started.
"That only applies to heads of state," he said, annoyed with me.
"He's an American citizen," I said, as if Ted needed to be reminded.
"He's a traitor. And if he won't return to the US and surrender himself, then he has to disappear. Permanently."

The Unicorn's Daughter is available in ebook format at Smashwords, and as an ebook or print edition at Amazon.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

It's All About Time....

In a recent post, I wrote about writers' schedules, how and when they do their best writing. Some of us do our best work in the mornings, while others are at their best in the evenings. Several bestselling authors have said they get up very early--four or five in the morning--and have their writing done by noon. I wouldn't even be conscious at four in the morning, let alone creative.

I am a somewhat early riser, usually up by six or seven. My left brain's awake by then, getting organized, figuring out what has to be done that day--but my somewhat temperamental right brain needs time to prepare for the creative process. From waking until about one in the afternoon, the left brain's in charge...but when the diva on the right takes over, she's a real b**** when she's interrupted! If I have an appointment in the afternoon, I get no writing done that day. All business, housework and shopping has to be out of the way before I sit down to write. If that's not diva behavior, I don't know what is!

Earlier, I was telling a friend about three authors who used to get together for lunch on a regular basis. One was quite punctual, one compulsively early, and the third habitually late. If they were having lunch at noon, Ms. Punctuality would tell Ms. Early Bird to arrive at 12:30 and Ms. Tardy to show up at 11:30. As a result, everyone got to the restaurant at noon.

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you show up early for appointments and social gatherings, or are you always keeping others waiting? When are you at your best creatively?


Speaking of creativity, don't forget to check out William's latest photoblog!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 2013 Cans Film Festival

Collin and I love movies. We especially love them when going to see them benefits a worthy cause--so every year, on the first Saturday in December, we can be found at the Cans Film Festival.

The Cans Film Festival is an annual event held by the Salvation Army and Wehrenberg Theaters--take five cans of food, see a movie. Pretty simple, huh? Not the first time, but the organizers figured that out quickly--after having to deal with a lot of cold, angry people stuck waiting outside a theater, wondering if they'd ever get out of the lines and into the seats to see the movie of their choice. My mother was still with us that first time--it was before her first major stroke, and she could still walk and drive.

This year, I wasn't sure I'd be attending. I've been having a lot of problems related to arthritis in recent weeks. Sometimes, I need a cane just to get from the living room to the kitchen. I knew I'd never be able to navigate a crowded movie theater and icy sidewalks--but thanks to my friend Carolyn and her church, who loaned me a wheelchair, and my friend Cathy, who picked it up and delivered it for me, I didn't have to.

I hope this isn't going to become a habit....

When we arrived at the theater, Collin spotted familiar faces right away--friends from church, Nicole, Kitty and Kyle (Nicole and Kyle are very talented writers, by the way--you're going to be seeing a lot of both of them in the future). They'd just come from seeing a movie--so we were surprised to see Nicole and Kyle in the theater later, seeing the same movie we were seeing.

Like Collin and me, Kyle had seen Thor: The Dark World already, but we just can't get enough of Thor and Loki!

After the movie, Collin and I went to the Schnucks across the street to buy some groceries before heading home--and there, ahead of us in the self-checkout line, was Kyle, making a few purchases before going back to see yet another movie!

Made me feel like a real wuss, whining about the cold and anxious to get home! There was a time I would have done a triple feature--but that was another century....


Be sure to check out William's review of his favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard (yes, I know....) and his latest photoblog, skyline images of his hometown!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Snippet: AN ARMY OF ANGELS

My snippet for today is from An Army of Angels, the upcoming sequel to my supernatural thriller Chasing the Wind. This is from a scene written from the point of view of the female protagonist, Robyn Cantwell, at the celebration of her marriage to visionary artist Alex Stewart....

My brothers had lined up, arms around each other’s shoulders as they sang Can’t Smile Without You--off-key--and danced in a chorus line.
We should have eloped,” I told Alex.
At the end of the song, Paulie jumped up on one of the picnic tables, microphone in hand. “Can I have your attention, please?” he silenced the guests. “Whoever had April first in the wedding pool, come get your winnings. I think there’s about seventy-five dollars here.”
They had a pool to predict when we’d get married?” Alex asked.
I shook my head. “They’ll have a pool for anything. They once had one to predict when Dad would pass a kidney stone.”

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Ignore List

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard about something I suspect might actually catch on: the Ignore List. Since so many of us have fallen into the habit of making lists for everything, why not a list for those things thrown into our laps that either aren't so important or fall under the heading of things we really don't want to do?

I'm big on making lists. I used to make handwritten lists...then I'd misplace them. Now, I make lists on my smartphone...and never look at them again. In spite of my compulsive list-making, I still forget things I need to do. I forget things we need from the grocery store.  Currently, I have appointments with both my dentist and my ophthalmologist on Monday. I'd like to forget both of them. Root canal is no fun, and I'm in enough pain as it is. As for my eye doctor, I'm convinced her receptionist only knows one number: 3. Every appointment I've had there has been at 3:00. Don't they ever schedule morning appointments?

I think this may be one reason for my decreased productivity. For years, I was a creature of habit. I was an early riser. I'd run all of my errands, stop for lunch, then go home and spend the rest of the day writing, uninterrupted. It worked beautifully. These days, there's no semblance of routine. If I try to write early, there's almost always some sort of disruption in the afternoon that puts the brakes on accomplishing anything the rest of the day. If I wait until evening to try to write, I usually end up falling asleep.

Do you have any kind of daily routine? For those of you who are writers, do you have a particular time of day to write, or do you squeeze it in whenever you can?


Be sure to check out William's latest posts at Speak of the Devil and Ottawa Daily Photo, as well as Hilary's latest post at Feeling Beachie, Gayle and the Square Ones at Square Dog Friday, and the latest photoblogs from Grace at Perth Daily Photo and London Lulu's tribute to Nelson Mandela at Princeton Daily Photo.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Whatever Happened to Tradition?

Recently, I had a discussion with a close friend who lost his mother this year. He talked about dreading Christmas without her. I understand how he feels. I've been through twenty-two years now without Dad, and fifteen without Mom. Christmas has never been the same and probably never will be again. Collin doesn't even mind the possibility of having to work on Christmas.

When I was a child, Christmas was a major event in my family. My mother was the youngest of nine children (she had two siblings and six half-siblings), who recalled Christmas as a wonderful time in their home. My father, on the other hand, did not have any good childhood memories--of Christmas or any other day. As a result, they both went all-out to give me--and later, Collin--the best Christmases imaginable. Mom wanted for us the kind of Christmases she'd had as a child; Dad wanted for us--and in a way, for himself--what he'd never had.

He insisted the tree not be put up and decorated until Christmas Eve. When I was very young and believed in Santa Claus, they wouldn't put it up until after I went to bed. When I was older, I got to participate. Every year, it was the same routine: we'd get takeout--pizza, fried chicken, anything so that Mom didn't have to cook--and watch the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. One of our local TV stations aired it every Christmas Eve, and I loved it. Looking back, I'm not sure if it was because it's a good movie, or because I associate it with how happy that time in my life was. I don't even have photos of those Christmases anymore.

Once the tree was up and the gifts under it, Dad would do a quick count to make sure we all had an equal number of gifts. They never just bought us one gift. Often, there would be 10-12 per person. If anyone was short, he could be pretty creative in correcting the oversight. One year, he gave Mom a $50 bill wrapped around a roll of toilet paper....

After Dad died, we tried for a while to keep to the family tradition, but Mom's heart wasn't really in it anymore. After she was gone, Collin and I didn't really celebrate at all. Oh, we'd put up our little tree and get gifts for each other, but it was never the same again. There were no more surprises under the tree on Christmas morning--we already knew what we were getting. We didn't even have to bother with wrapping them.

There were no longer any aromas of the Christmas dinner cooking in the oven. If I had tried to make a home-cooked dinner, the only smell that would have come out of our kitchen would have been smoke! We spent one Christmas, eight years ago, in a motel room. We put up the tree, but our Christmas dinner came already prepared from the grocery store.

I stopped getting excited about Christmas years ago...but lately, I've felt a yearning to renew old traditions. I want Collin to be surprised on Christmas morning. I want a real Christmas dinner. I want to watch A Christmas Carol over takeout and eat cookies and candy and say a prayer to observe what Christmas is really all about. I want to talk about Christmases past with Collin and remember how it used to be...before everything went wrong.

This year? No, not quite.

Maybe next year....


Be sure to check out William's latest Day in the Life blog--and he has some beautiful shots at his photoblog today as well. Also, we have a new post at our joint blog featuring a snippet of Same Time Tomorrow....

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Today, my snippet is from another of my works-in-progress, the story of a young woman who's inherited her late grandfather's comic book store, a graduate student who comes to town with a secret dream, and the oddball community in which they live--which includes a dog with a drinking problem....

Tuffy lay on his back in the cage, legs drawn up, tongue hanging out one side of his mouth. It looked like he'd vomited in one corner of the cage. "Does he do this often?" the big guy asked.
"Get drunk?" I asked as Charlie got down on her hands and knees, crawled into the cage and started scratching Tuffy's belly. "Yeah. We tried to get him into rehab, but he refused to go when he found out Lindsay Lohan was going to be his roommate."
He looked down at Charlie and Tuffy. "He couldn't walk a straight line when he was brought in."
I couldn't help laughing at that. "You gave a dog a sobriety test?"