Saturday, December 31, 2005
XTINA DODD ENDS THE HOLIDAY SEASON WITH A BANG!
We were all in the great room after dinner, chatting and relaxing. Donna and I sat on the couch, Monty sat on a chair facing us, Scott was on the other couch, also facing us. The tree was off to our right. And right in the middle of the conversation, Monty who is a very erudite, articulate, learned man, suddenly shouts (and I’m quoting him exactly), “Ptrmmble! Shxzmnrt! Argk!”
Later he said he couldn’t find the right words. Actually, the appropriate phrase would have been, “Timber!”
Because the tree fell on us.
It fell in slow motion (the plastic base cracked and the half-inch metal screws in the trunk bent) so Donna and I were able to scramble out from underneath, laughing wildly. (That’s Donna holding the coffee cup and Monte holding the tree while Scott gets a rope.) The guys righted it, tied the trunk to the stair railing and we all sat down and laughed some more.
This was our first Christmas in our new house, and we loved our giant tree, we loved risking our lives decorating it, we loved the pine smell and the beautiful lights, and we’ll never forget this fabulous finish for a great tree.
I hope you’ve had a wonderful holiday season, too, and Happy New Year, everybody!
Friday, December 30, 2005
The Rules For Becoming a Rich & Famous Writer
1. You have to write. No point dreaming about it without doing it.
2. You have to finish what you write.
3. Never rewrite anything, except by editorial request.
4. Send it to somebody who might publish it.
5. When it comes back, send it to somebody else.
It sounds so EASY, doesn't it? So why isn't every single one of us a rich and famous writer??
That would be like saying: why isn't everyone a perfect mother? I can certainly tell you the five ways to guaranteed success in that arena.
1. Love those darling children no matter what they do.
2. Your wishes/desires/ambitions are not important: raising this tender bud of innocent joy is your only life goal from now on.
3. Home-school. Why not? Your child's mind is your most precious possession.
4. Teach them morality by example. Never curse, shout, swear or indicate other than a graceful love of the world.
5. Do not drug yourself, either by wine, coffee or xanax. All you're doing is teaching your sweetiepies that drugs are OK. Just say no.
Who has another list of guaranteed plans for SUCCESS in whatever field?
Eloisa, laughing maniacally
Teresa Brings You This Brief Commercial Break Between Blogs...
All of this talk of hot sheiks reminded me of how steamy Oded Fehr looked galloping across the desert in THE MUMMY and THE MUMMY 2. Hanging out on the back of his camel would almost be worth getting sand in your...well...your eyes...
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Xtina Dodd does THE SHEIK AND THE VIRGIN SECRETARY
I’m a sucker for the classic romances — I love Harlequin Presents with their tough, aristocratic, alpha heroes and their sweet, young heroines with their slender ankles. So when Susan Mallery started writing her SHEIK series for Silhouette Special Edition, I was in heaven (a disclaimer — Susan Mallery and I have been friends for about, oh, about a million years, so factor that in if you wish). THE SHEIK FANTASY works for me — a wild, primal man riding across the desert, capturing me in his arms and riding with me to his tent where he forces great, hot sex on me over and over until I’m mindless with ecstasy.
Oh, wait. I mean — with wild primal man riding across the desert capturing THE HEROINE in his arms … ah, never mind.
The point is, a lot of women adore the sheik fantasy, and I’m one of them. It’s my second favorite fantasy. The first is the SECRETARY FANTASY, the one where the downtrodden, homely secretary is totally in her boss’s power, but by taking off her glasses and letting her hair down, she suddenly becomes a siren who seduces him and makes him a prisoner of her power.
So when Susan Mallery wrote THE SHEIK AND THE VIRGIN SECRETARY, she put two of my favorite fantasies together and I was overcome (ha) with pure lascivious joy. I devoured the book from the opening line (“I wondered if you were currently looking for a mistress”) through the long slow seduction and the plot stuff … did I mention the long slow seduction? I had a great time with that book.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one. THE SHEIK AND THE VIRGIN SECRETARY hit the bestseller lists with a vengeance, sweeping away the competition.
But of course some women hatehatehate the SHEIK fantasy. Some people hatehatehate the SECRETARY fantasy. Some women hate them both which makes THE SHEIK AND THE VIRGIN SECRETARY a double hate.
What about you? SHEIK or SECRETARY? Love them or hate them? What plot always makes you pick up a book regardless of time period or author? What plot do you hate with such a violent passion you will never ever read it?
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Teresa sings, "Let's Talk About S*X!"
We've already answered that eternal question, "When did you first learn there was no Santa Claus?" so I've got another one for you today--"When did you first learn about the 'mechanics' of sex?" I know your mom is supposed to have "the talk" with you at some point in your life but I'm still waiting. I had to learn about the ancient mystery of love in the 5th grade from the same obnoxious, pre-Goth, know-it-all girl who probably told Kathy Caskie there was no Santa Claus. She gathered her wide-eyed audience around her in the lunchroom and proceeded to tell us all in graphic detail just exactly how the boy puts the baby into the girl. (Well, if you consider "graphic detail" being explained in terms of a hot dog and a bun.)
Needless to say, I was both horrified and disgusted. There was no way I was ever going to let any boy put THAT...THERE. After much soul searching, I decided there was only one option left to me. I would simply have to become a nun and commit myself to a life of celibacy. (I had recently read A NUN'S STORY and had found Sally Field irresistibly perky in THE FLYING NUN.) There was only one problem with that plan. I wasn't Catholic. Back to the drawing board. After more winnowing of my tormented soul, I decided that no boy would ever do something so disgusting to me--except Donny Osmond. Only for my darling Donny would I sacrifice myself to the ultimate degradation!
Fortunately for my future husband (and Donny), I discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss and Johanna Lindsay when I was fifteen and decided I might need to reconsider this whole hot dog/bun thing.
So how did you first learn about the mechanics of love? Health class? Gym class? Some precocious little snot on the playground? Or did your mom actually sit you down and gently explain the miracle of human procreation using anatomically correct terms like "wee-wee" and "Mrs. Muffin"?
And I have to add 2 disclaimers here:
1) We don't need to hear how you actually experienced the mechanics of love for the first time. This isn't THAT kind of blog.
2) If you haven't learned about the mechanics yet, then you're too young to be reading this blog and you need to get off-line before I call your mom
Monday, December 26, 2005
Connie is hereby resolved...
not to be resolved.
Christmas has barely passed into, well, the past, and I am already making my annual segue into remorse. I ate too much. I spent too much. I exercised too little. I didn’t spend enough time with family and friends and I did spend too much time in front of the computer—not working, of course, but playing computer games.
Now all this is simply the pre-lim rounds leading up to Connie Brockway's Annual Oath-Taking, wherein I swear I shall stick to a> some ridiculously exhaustive fitness regime b> some ridiculously exhaustive work schedule c>some ridiculously exhaustive household budget d> some ridiculously exhaustive social schedule e> all of the above.
Which would be all well and good except The Annual Oath-Taking is always followed within a week by The Annual Oath-Breaking.
I know this because I’ve been doing it for years and you know what? All those broken promises to myself are beginning to make me feel bad about, well, me. It's enough to make a woman suspect that maybe, just maybe, she lacks Self-Control. She may even be Self-Indulgent and lack Willpower. In fact, she pretty much sucks.
I don’t like that idea. I don’t want to be an Oath-Breaker. I don't want to be the weak-sister. I don't want to watch my friends shrink to svelte nothings (hear that Squawkers!?) as they stick to the plan while I not only don't stick to the plan, but jettison the plan right out the cargo bay. On the other hand, I do like the idea of Building a Better Connie.
But how to go about this?
I’ve hit upon a scheme; I'm going to forego the Oath-Taking altogether.
That's right, this year I am going to leap-frog right over long-term commitments centered on self-denial and strict regimens and instead promise myself a series of singular experiences that will either challenge or enrich me. Or kill me.
For instance: Rather than promise to slog along on the treadmill for an hour a day 5 times a week, I have decided to go rock-climbing at the Vertical Endeavors indoor facility. Now, I don’t know if I’ll like it. I don't know if I have any talent for it. How would I? I'm afraid of heights. For all I know I’ll fall off and be stranded, suspended like some hideous Shelob thing with a Connie face, dangling in my harness twenty feet above the screaming kiddies scrambling for cover below. So what?
It’s something I’ve been curious about and if I like it enough, maybe I’ll go back, maybe I’ll take a class, maybe I’ll get good at it and maybe it will become exericise (witness the insidious workings of my mind; I will TRICK myself into weight loss!)
So how’s it going to be with you, my little chicks? Now that the fresh New Year is standing before us, taunting us with potential and promise, how will you respond?
Lisa on "#$*%@*!"
Just before Christmas vacation, my son told me someone in his elementary school class had been overheard to say the “S word”.
“Really?” I asked, surprised that someone of so young an age would be familiar with the S word.
“Yes,” my son said grimly, “he told someone to Shut Up.”
There are categories of words in our family vocabulary, the private words (not dirty but only to be used amongst ourselves), the rude words (never to be used to anyone especially parents) and the outright filthy words (only to be used by parents who have sustained great injury, heard terrible news, or have just received a lot of heavy editing on their manuscripts).
As someone who makes a living at laying out words on blank pieces of paper, I am highly aware of their power. I don’t like swearing, and I don’t like watching an early evening network program with my children and hearing words like “bitch” tossed out so casually. The word “bitch” has lost its power to shock people nowadays, and has sunk to the commonplace status of “jerk” or “crap”. Which shows, I guess, that the more often a word is used, the more the shock value is scrubbed off until it becomes textureless and impotent. And then you have to find a newer, rawer, rougher word to take its place.
The thing is, sometimes only a really foul interjection will do the job. When you stub your pinkie toe on a chair leg and you fall to your knees screaming in agony, “Darn it,” does not begin to address the situation adequately.
I’ve used the F word only twice in my writing career, one near the end of “Worth Any Price”, in which my manly, earthy, brought-up-in-the-streets hero has nearly fallen to his death, and I had to come up with a way to express his feelings. I tried “damn” arranged in any number of phrases, moved on to “hell”, “frigging,” and so forth. But all of those responses seemed flat, juvenile, robbed of vigor. They weren’t what a man would say. So gingerly, using one finger, I typed those four forbidden letters . . . and voila, it worked, and my editor agreed it was appropriate.
I’m not advocating the use of profanity, you understand. I’m one of those people who can’t say the F word aloud and sound natural. I envy people who can. I saw a movie once in which Lauren Bacall is talking to Jack Lemmon (who’s playing an ex-President), and to express his frustration, he says Frigging. Lauren tells him, “Don’t say frigging. If you’re going to use the F word, go for the gold.”
I have to agree with the marvelous Miss Bacall. Profanity has its place in our language, out of the hearing of children, of course. (And they should never be used to denigrate another person, or cause pain or humiliation.) But I would like to make the point that although bad words have their place, they shouldn’t be used often, and never out of laziness or lack of imagination. Our vocabulary is so rich with words we don’t bother to use. There are so many wonderfully colorful words to express anger, yet we keep reaching for the same old phrase “pissed off”, like the worn-out spatula in the drawer nearest the stove.
What do you think about swearing and profanity in novels, especially romance novels? Is it sometimes allowable, or does it offend you no matter how and when it is used?
Sunday, December 25, 2005
ON THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, THE SQUAWKERS GIVE TO YOU....LAURA T!
I hope everyone is enjoying this magical day. It is a wonderful time to enjoy life, and maybe to do something spectacular for someone you love. Celebrating family and friends is so exciting on Christmas. It always seems to me that there is a special spark in the air. I'll just go ahead and say it.
Christmas is electrifying. Everyone is running around with a spark on their head. From that first magical moment when a child wakes from their imaginative night trying to catch Santa, from the excitement of the parents... the tired parents. All of those lucky women whose fiancés are suddenly down on one knee... The energy is in the air we breathe and there is just no escaping it.
I took my spark this year and sent it off to Leslie's family. Like many posters, and the squawkers here, I had to. I am not sure what the reason was.
I did not even have a choice. My spark flared to life and said, “Send me! Send me!”
I talked about Leslie to my husband almost every day after I heard about her on Squawk Radio from Eloisa. I just had my baby girl, and Leslie just had her baby girl... So, it could have been a mom thing. But I had to do something for her family, and I had no idea what. It was fun to buy all of the stuff on the auctions...but I had to do more.
I am still afraid it is not enough, but my spark could multiply or something. Who knows what happened when I sent it off with the local UPS guy, who is the nicest man in Manlius, NY?
He didn't know I sent my spark. But I am sure Leslie will catch it and see it when she opens the box I sent her this Christmas. There are toys, a baby swing, and dolls...her oldest girl lost her doll collection!
Eeek! So, I sent her off a new one. A small one, but one that will get her started again. I couldn't pass up the cool car for the dolls, and my sister-in-law, the nicest girl from Canandaigua, NY, couldn't let me pass up the My Little Ponies collection for Leslie's second daughter.
Then we found Barnie and Winnie the Pooh ready to keep my spark company in the box full of toys. My sister-in-law and I were so excited at the checkout and I almost cried.
Tim, that's my husband, caught wind of Leslie needing a digital camera. I love that he is an IT guy. So that camera and a few trimmings are in the Mary Poppins type box, too. Anything someone might need from a screwdriver to batteries made its way into the box.
I looooove jewelry, and what spark would travel without it? For Leslie's mom: gold with a teensy weensy pinch of diamond. :O)!
And the find of the season~! Children's books! One of which was made especially for Leslie's girls, I swear, and any child who has gone through the awful hurricane.
Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg by Gail Carson Levine. It is a great adventure with a hurricane theme throughout the whole book. It's enchanting and wonderful. And I hope it will make the Ferdinand girls feel as special as they are for everything they have been through.
I hope all of our sparks and well wishes and packages and cookies and decorations and cards and gift cards and seriously generous auction donations from all of the people here on Squawk Radio create some fire works for Leslie, and on Christmas Day.....
They might just weave enough magic for us all.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Happy Christmas Eve from Liz!
This was how Christmas looked in our backyard last year. This year, it's rainy and in the 40s. But I'm still loving it. I stepped out onto the front porch a little while ago and stood in the darkness for a bit, just enjoying the silence. Sometimes, I think I love Christmas Eve even more than Christmas Day. Even at 44, I can still feel the magic. If I close my eyes, I'm sure I can hear the sound of jingle bells just off in the distance, and that sled is loaded for bear.
I wish you all a peaceful Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day that's filled with all the joy and magic we knew as kids. To quote Greg Lake, "The Christmas we get, we deserve." I know all of you deserve the very best. 'Cause you're all the best. So here's hoping the holiday is magic for all of you.
Have a good one, everybody!
Happy Holidays from Xtina Dodd
To my dear friends, my fellow Squawkers and our lovely Squawk guests -- Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you celebrate! May the season be everything you want it to be!
Happy Holidays from Lisa!
The armadillo is my favorite animal. It may not be the prettiest creature, but the stalwart little armadillo is the perfect example of persistence in the face of adversity. It always gets the job done, slow and steady, despite all attempts to trap, shoot or otherwise get rid of it. Some years are more armadillo-ish than others. But no matter what challenges we face, let's be proud of ourselves for getting through them intact. With a little help from our friends, of course.
May this next year be the best one ever for you and your family!
In love, friendship and gratitude,
Happy Holidays from Connie Brockway
From all of us at squawkerradio and from the Brockway household, too.
May your holidays be filled with delights. May your reunions be many and filled with joy. May we all know peace in our day
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM TERESA AND FAMILY!!!
Squawk Radio and all of the wonderful readers I've met here have truly been one of my greatest blessings this year. I want to wish each and every one of you a Merry and Blessed Christmas and pray that all of your Christmas wishes will come true!
Click here for a special treat for you and your kids:
(And make sure your volume is turned up! ;)
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM ALL THE SQUAWKERS!
HO HO HO!!!
My personal gift to all of you...I just posted a Christmas mini-short story on my website, in the Readers' Pages. I wrote it after reading an article written by the wife of a serviceman over in Iraq. Whether we're for the war or against, I think we all feel deeply how sad it is for men and women to be so far from home, and in danger, on Christmas. So a final prayer of the day: that the turkey and stuffing is as good over there as it would be at home, and that the day be safe and happy for everyone!
AND DON'T FORGET TO CHECK IN TOMORROW TO READ OUR MYSTERY CHRISTMAS BLOGGER!!!
Friday, December 23, 2005
On the ELEVENTH day of Christmas, the Squawkers bring to thee...CHRISTIE RIDGWAY!
Confession time. Are you like me? When you were out Christmas shopping this season, did you tuck a few things in those cute red and green shopping bags for yourself? Is your favorite Christmas giftgiver none other than, well, you?
And should we feel guilty about this?
First, though, let's get a few things straight.
1. If your purchase was an outfit for a holiday event, that does not count as a "gift for yourself." You are completely off the hook, even if it was that cute pair of blue pumps you bought to wear with jeans and a sweater the night the girls went out "casual" for the holidays. Ooops, that was me with the blue pumps. You probably just went ahead and wore something you already had. Go, you.
2. If you happened to be wandering through the lingerie section looking for cute PJs for your teenage niece, and you noticed that bras and panties were on sale, and you bought sports bras for yourself, that does not qualify as a gift for yourself. Sports bras are for exercise. For when you start going back to the gym in January. Naturally, you get a pass on anything exercise-related. If a few of your favorite panties got into the bag, well, thinking of all that exercise made you realize your butt will be getting smaller so you need new underwear. Makes sense, right?
3. Make-up doesn't count either. It's not your fault! You walked into Sephora an innocent, intent on getting a gift certificate for yet another teenage girl on your list. Can you be blamed for being seduced by that darling pale blue satin bag they wrap it in? So of course you had to wander through a second time when you remembered someone else who would love a gift certificate (no, not you, you don't buy a certificate for yourself, duh) and there was a display of glosses and pencils from that cool lip plumping line you've been wanting to try. Right by the checkout counter! Sitting there with that "buy me" look, just like those little Godiva chocolate boxes next to the register at the bookstore. Irresistible. If you only bought two, you should be given a medal!
4. Then there's that Williams and Sonoma bundt pan shaped like a gingerbread house and the gingerbread-and-walnut cake mix to go along with it. Is it your fault you purchased it, then decided to buy your sister-in-law a chocolate fountain instead? Won't it cost more in gas to return the items than to just keep them and provide hours of holiday fun and yummy treats for the family?
But what if you purchased something that doesn't fall within the above-defined categories? Don't panic. Don't feel guilty. Do what I do. Wrap it up, put a tag on it to you, "From Santa" or the dog, or the plants you never water, whatever. On Christmas morning, if your family is anything like mine (one husband and two sons who do their shopping on the 24th) not a single member will comment upon or care that you have these mysterious presents under the tree. Gifts that were hand-picked for you by the one person who knows and loves you best.
And you were a good girl all year, so you deserve it!
Now it's your turn. What shame-free goodies (and that would be all of them) did you buy for yourself this season?
(Christie Ridgway has been shopping and writing in California all her life. Published by Silhouette, Harlequin, and Avon Books, her most recent release is set in sunny Palm Springs and is titled AN OFFER HE CAN'T REFUSE. Visit www.christieridgway.com for more about Christie and her books.)
Thursday, December 22, 2005
On the TENTH day of Christmas the Squawkers bring to thee... SUSAN KAY LAW
A TALE OF TWO SCROOGES
I grew up in a Christmas family. We lived in small-town Minnesota, my Mom’s family is Swedish, my Dad’s is German, and he was a Protestant minister. In short, we did Christmas up right. Shortly after Thanksgiving every decorative item on the first floor of our house was taken down and replaced with holiday decorations. And we’re not talking something tasteful, restrained, and Martha-Stewarty, fashioned from birch branches and natural straw. Nope, we went for red foil, blinking lights, cardboard angels, candy-striped candles . . . and to a young girl, absolute magic.
Part of the reason we celebrated so much throughout December was that Dad had to work Christmas. (That preacher thing.) Christmas Eve and Day were a little rushed, because the specter of “getting to church” always hung over us. When I was a teen, he served two churches at the same time, including a perfect little country chapel, miles from any town, surrounded by snow-covered fields and topped with a classic white spire. It was a tiny place – I doubt it held a hundred people – with a beautifully carved alter. On Christmas it was always packed, warm inside even though it was absolutely frigid outside. We’d darken the church until it was lit only by candles and the service always concluded with Silent Night sung in German. And every year that was, for me, the moment it became Christmas.
My husband’s from China. I always thought that one of the great advantages of marrying him was that we’d avoid that whole “whose family do we spend Christmas with?” fight. His family’s on the other side of the world and they don’t do Christmas anyway. So obviously we should do it MY way. Hey, I don’t question how he celebrates Chinese New Year, do I?
But that was before the great Christmas tree war. Every year he complained about getting the Christmas tree. It was a hassle to go stand outside in the cold and pick one out; to haul it home, terrified the entire time it was going to go shooting off the top of the car; to get it to stand up in that unbalanced stand; to take it down, and then pick up all the needles all over the place, which were many because of course somewhere along the way we forgot to water it and it turned into a fire hazard a week before Christmas. In short, he figured plastic was the way to go.
I emphatically did not agree. While I understood the inconvenience factor, heck, if easy was a criteria for how we did Christmas, there’d be a lot of things we wouldn’t be doing. A fake tree, for me, was like him shoving a plastic rose at me on Valentine’s Day . . . it just wasn’t going to cut it. Half the point of having a tree was how it made your house smell; without that scent, you might as well throw a couple strings of lights over the recliner in the corner, ‘cause all you’re getting out of the deal is blinking lights.
Not to mention I figured half the problem we had with the real tree was that we always ended up with one that was a foot taller than our ceiling. I was okay with a smaller tree. Every year he left the house insisting that, this year, he’d get a little tree, a downright tiny tree. He blamed always dragging home a monster on the fact that he brings at least one kid along to help select it. But I maintain the problem is his acute case of “Male If-big-is-good-bigger-is-better syndrome,” and for proof I need only refer you to our basement and the window that was not there when we moved in. It was cut to allow entrance to the big honkin’ television he had to have even though only way to get it in was to cut an SUV-sized hole in the wall.
Anyway, about ten years he put his foot down. He was not putting up any tree that wasn’t artificial. I said no tree that wasn’t real (except the two-foot tall ceramic one my Grandma made in pottery class, and that doesn’t count because it’s from Grandma) was coming into my house.
I was sure he’d cave. He was certain I couldn’t live through Christmas without a tree. Our kids started getting worried about December 15. By the 20th, they were whining. By the 23rd, they decamped to my parents’, who had a beautiful (and I should note, real) tree.
So that year passed without a tree. And without, I must admit, my husband getting a whole lot of jollies under the mistletoe.
I suppose, in the spirit of Christmas, here’s where I should put something about how, in our stubbornness, we both lost out that year, and how we learned something sappy about the true heart of Christmas not being found under a tree, real or otherwise.
But the truth is we’ve had a real tree every year since. It’s no longer a foot taller than the ceiling, but that’s only because we moved and our living room is twelve feet high.
I won, I won, I won! Ho, ho, ho.
So I’m wondering . . . what are your absolute, can’t-give-it-up-no-matter-what, Christmas traditions?
Susan Kay Law is too busy trying desperately to catch up on her Christmas shopping to write a clever bio. And you all know everything important about her already, except this: after twelve American historical romances (the first of which won RWA's Golden Heart Award, the last of which won RWA's Rita Award) she is now writing contemporary mainstream fiction for Berkley. Is it not, she insists, chick-lit. However, "Pissed-Off-Forty-Something-Lit" comes close. (And she swears there is not one shoe brand name mentioned in the entire thing.) Her website's at http://www.susankaylaw.com/
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
On the NINTH Day of Christmas, the Squawkers Give to You... KATHY CASKIE!
I was nine, I almost died on Christmas Eve.
My dad had recently returned from traveling and gifted me with a very primitive but pretty handmade necklace, with various dried nuts strung between colorful stone beads. Just the sort of exotic thing a little girl loves.
While I was plotting how to get a peek at the present my sister was wrapping in the next room, I absently bit into one of the nuts on the necklace. Must have cracked the shell. The next thing I knew, my eyes had swelled to slits and my throat was closing. I couldn't breathe. I ended up being rushed to the ER.
But that wasn't my worst Noel. Actually, since I didn't die, I guess it ranks up there as being one of the best.
Nope. My worst noel was when I was six and walked in on Santa, mid stocking-stuffing. My magical world came crashing down around me.
My parents weren't big fans of two kids rushing into their room on what was technically Christmas morning, but most people would call "the middle of the night." So they had come up with a plan that actually worked pretty well for a couple of years.
On Christmas Eve, we'd all pile in the station wagon and go out to look at Christmas lights. But before we could do that, Dad always needed to run up to the store to pick up some film. All the kids had to go with him. While we were gone, my mom would race around the house, pile presents under the tree, take a couple of chomps out of the cookies left for Santa, fill the stockings, then turn with a jerk and race outside as the car pulled into the drive.
But on this particular Christmas, she wasn't fast enough, or rather I wasn't patient enough to sit in the car once we were in the drive. Instead I told my dad that I would run in and get Mommy. Before he could stop me, I was through the front door--experiencing the shock of my young life.
I didn't say a word to Santa..er...Mommy. I just turned around and went back to the car...and immediately told my younger sister what I had seen. Then when school was in session, I got up for show and tell--and TOLD what I knew. If they didn't believe me, when they grew up and had kids of their own they would look pretty stupid when Santa never comes to fill their stockings.
Half the class was in tears, the other half was pleading with the teacher to assure them that it wasn't true. There was a Santa. There was! But I knew better. So I added that there probably wasn't a toothfairy either.
So, do tell, how did you learn there was no Santa? (I'm hoping none of you were in my class!) Here's what a few of the Squawkers said:
CONNIE: Stupid schoolyard Goth-girl in the making. You know, the girl who looked like she smoked cigarettes in kindergarten? All sneers and worldly 'tude. She told a group of us wide-eyed Bambi types.Then, always needing to test every theory, I asked my older brother. His furtive "Mom's gonna kill me if she thinks I ratted her out" look told me everything I needed to know. I was sixteen.
(KATHY: Oh, geez! Was that me? )
TERESA: I honestly can't remember how I found out there was no Santa Claus, but I immediately adjusted reality to MY expectations and decided that Santa Claus was an invisible spirit who visited each of our homes on Christmas Eve to spread joy and goodwill and that he really DID live at the North Pole but his house was also invisible and obviously undetectable by government radar.
(KATHY: Oh, yeah. Biiiig Bambi.)
LISA: My parents still haven't admitted it to me--LOL! I heard the rumors from my friends in fourth grade, went home and asked, and my mother and father said no one could prove there wasn't a Santa, and if I wanted to believe in him, lots of people still did. What tipped me off was the fact that Santa used the same kind of wrapping paper my parents had.
(KATHY: My eldest was also tipped off by the wrapping paper. Slight variation though. In true CSI fashion, she presented me with a scrap of authentic Santa wrapping-a piece she had saved-with 'From Santa' written in gold ink--and then a piece of Santa paper she had found in a box in the basement--along with a sample of my own handwriting. Busted! Note to parents of believers: use special Santa wrapping paper, but be sure to dispose of it in a shopping center dumpster after the Santa deed is done. No evidence, no crime, I say.)
CHRISTINA: I was probably seven, and I heard from the neighborhood kids. But my college-age kids still believe, possibly because I explained that children who believe continue to get presents from Santa.
(KATHY: I have a little sign I put up every year. Works wonders. "If you believe, you receive." Keeps my kids playing the Santa game...for Mom. Which is great, because they can't complain to me if they don't one of their presents. I didn't buy it. Santa brought it!)
ELOISA: A cruel question. I can't remember, honestly. I can tell you that my son found out when he lost a gorgeous little metal crusader knight that Santa Claus had brought him. It fell out of his pocket on the way to church on Christmas morning. We walked all the way back, and he cried bitterly over it.Then later when another crusader knight turned up somehow...and he put two and two together. But he is delightfully good at keeping the truth from his little sister, who is still a true believer at age 7.
(KATHY: Ahhh. A little hero in the making.)
Let's hear it. What was your Worst Noel? Who outed Santa?
Kathryn (who now admits she avidly collects and crafts chalkware Santas from antique chocolate moulds...it's the least she can do)
[Kathryn Caskie has long been a devotee of history and things of old. So it came as no surprise to her family when she took a career detour off the online super highway and began writing historical romances full time. Her first book came out in 2004, and yet she's already built a following for her utterly original, hilarious novels of Regency England (not to mention winning a few prizes along the way). Check out her books at http://www.kathryncaskie.com.]
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
On the EIGHTH Day of Christmas the Squawkers Give to Thee...KRISTIN HANNAH!
Well, well, well. So I’m sitting here in my living room, with a fire in the fireplace and snow falling past the window outside, and I’m trying to psyche myself up to begin my first blog. Really, it sounds like something my mother would have warned me against. “You know, honey, nice girls don’t blog…you’re sure to end up with a bad reputation if you try…” Or something like that. And as the least technologically advanced writer on the planet, I have this sense that I won’t blog correctly and will therefore embarrass myself, but oh well. Life is short and we have to try new things and I adore Teresa and Christina and their blogging friends, so here goes.
Let me say first and foremost that once again I’m caught off guard by the passing of time during this holiday season. For weeks and weeks I’m thinking about Thanksgiving and telling myself that Christmas is light years away and that I won’t think about one holiday until the other is over. Then, suddenly, the turkey is gone, I’ve cleaned up the mess, and all of a sudden it hits: I’m behind. I haven’t done anything in preparation for Christmas and it’s a month away. I have packages to mail to my sister in California and they have to be airborne by the second week in December. AAAAAGGGHHH.
That’s where I am now. Desperate to get things in the mail that I haven’t yet bought or thought about. On top of that, this happens to be a particularly crazy December for me. Why? you ask. I’ll tell you. My son is a senior in high school. For those of you that have lived through this particular terror, I’m sure you know what I mean. For those of you that haven’t, all I can say is it makes the spit-up baby and crawl-everywhere toddler years look like Heaven. He’s smack full of senioritis (I can’t imagine how I’ll survive spring when the sun in shining) and supposed to be filling out college applications.
There it is. The real center of my life right now. College applications. We’ve been visiting colleges and traveling and talking endlessly about a future that I can see much more clearly than he can. It is crazy and stressful and exhilarating. The one absolute truth I’ve stumbled across is that I should be the one going to college.
On top of all that, I’ve got books coming out. And not just one. There’s "Comfort and Joy," my Christmas novella, which is on the stands right now; the ten year reissue of one of my favorite novels, "Home Again," at the end of the month; and "Magic Hour," my next novel, in February. For a girl who usually has one book a year, this is a virtual avalanche of product. I’m not much on self promotion, but I will say that I think "Comfort and Joy" is a lot of fun for the holidays and "Magic Hour" is my best book yet. Let me know what you think.
Hmmmm. I guess that pretty much wraps up my story right now. I’d like to thank the girls at Squwakradio.com for inviting me to blog with them. Actually, it’s been really fun. I’m a big fan of all of their work and I appreciate being included in this special holiday roundup. So here’s to Happy Holidays for all of us and a great new year.
And if any of you have any advice for me in this wild ride, I sure would appreciate it. How do we survive the lot of it—senioritis, college applications, leaving home (and the corresponding fear that they’ll decide not to leave), and the new “I’m eighteen” which corresponds roughly to the old “you’re not the boss of me” but with teeth? Help!
Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of thirteen novels. She's been published in 27 languages in hardcover, trade, and mass market paperback. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii with her husband and son. Her next novel is Magic Hour, coming Feb. 27, 2006.
Monday, December 19, 2005
On the SEVENTH Day of Christmas, the Squawkers Give to Thee....JULIA QUINN!
We all have our cold weather traditions, and in my family it means that my husband will drag me to REI to purchase another piece of ridiculously expensive equipment that I will use only rarely. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the inside of my garage. I am the sheepish owner of:
Snowshoes & Boots (used twice)
Downhill Skis & Boots (used six times)
Cross-Country Skis (but no boots. Unsurprisingly, never used.)
This is to say nothing of the jogging stroller that can be outfitted with skis. I’m serious. You pop off the wheels and stick skis on. The last time we had snow here (it’s a big event if the white stuff actually sticks) my husband took every kid on the block up and down the street for a ride.
I don’t own ice skates, which is surprising, since I actually can skate. (Not well, of course. I can’t do anything well that requires coordination.) I never mastered skating backwards, but I figure that’s okay, as I am already clumsy enough when I can see where I’m going.
I also don’t own a sled, but I don’t really need one. If there’s one thing you learn at boarding school, it’s that lunchroom trays make the absolute best sleds. Of course, I don’t have a lunchroom tray, either, but I have recently learned that laundry baskets also work well, and I do have three of those.
On occasion, however, I do haul out the downhill skis and pretend that I know what I’m doing. When I lived in Colorado, the first thing most people asked me was, “Do you ski?” My reply was always, “Well, I can ski.”
There is a big difference between saying you can ski and saying you do ski.
Anyway, within a month of our arrival in Colorado in 1998, my husband dragged me to the ski store and declared that we were getting outfitted because we lived in Colorado and by God we were going to be skiers.
Plus, the resorts were running a special on season passes for locals that year, which was the only way we could justify it.
So I got skis and boots and poles and a few months later I found myself in a car, heading up to Breckenridge. There were three of us: Paul (my husband), our friend Henry, and me. I was feeling a little nervous as I had not skied for, oh, ten years, but I figured as long as I kept to the bunny slopes, I’d be fine.
After a couple of hours in the car, we arrived at Breckenridge, parked, stuffed our feet into our boots, and trekked to the bus stop.
Have I mentioned that I hate walking in ski boots?
And then, lo and behold, when we hop on the bus, both Paul and Henry exclaim, “Chaz!”
Chaz, it turns out, is another intern at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. (With all three of them on the slopes, it does make you wonder who was tending to the patients.) He had a decided twang to his voice—Texas, if I recall correctly.
Mistake #1: trusting a Texan about skiing. I’ve got nothing against Texans; heck, LisaK is one of my favorite people ever. But Texas is not known for its winter sports.
We take the bus to the bottom of Peak 8, and I find myself immediately hustled onto the Colorado Super Chair, one of those monster-quick ski lifts that whizzes up the hill fast enough to leave everyone with frostbite.
We get to the top, and the three guys begin studying the trail map. I decide that this would be a good time for me to remind Paul that I have not skied for a decade, and I would prefer to take a nice, easy green trail first. Paul offers to come with me, but I said no, he should go ahead and do a more difficult trail with his friends and meet me at the bottom. I was not being a martyr here. I will never be a speed demon, and I knew he’d be spending half his time waiting for me, and then I would spend half my time feeling bad that he was spending half his time waiting for me.
Chaz informed us that he was on vacation, and this was his fourth day in a row at Breckenridge, so he totally knew his way around.
Mistake #2: trusting a Texan about skiing. Oh, wait, was that Mistake #1?
The boys decide that they will head down a trail called Spruce. I am to take the Four O’Clock and meet them at the bottom. I smile, salute, and head down the hill, my confidence high due to the fact that had I managed to unload off the ski lift without wiping out.
The Four O’Clock was totally my type of trail. A nice, shallow incline, some long stretches where you’re just coasting, and best of all, almost completely empty. I hate skiing when it’s crowded. To be honest, I have very little fear that I will fall and break my neck. But I have a great fear of getting whallopped by some twelve-year-old flying down the hill at forty miles per hour.
But this was not a concern on the Four O’Clock. Aside from the fact that there were no twelve-year-olds zooming down the hill, it was the sort of run that you couldn’t pick up a ton of speed on, anyway.
After a few minutes, I entered a zen mode. It was so peaceful. Just me and trees and the snow and the breeze. I started thinking that maybe I did have it in me to be a skier. Maybe I could be one of those people who wants to get up at five in the morning so as to arrive at the slopes bright and early (and miss all the traffic on I-70.)
After a few more minutes I saw some buildings. Well, that’s nice, I thought. Condos right on the slopes. How convenient.
And then the trail ended.
How, you ask, do I know it ended? Because there was a street in front of me. As in a paved, can drive a car on it, street. And directly across the street was a bus stop with four people looking at me as if I was insane.
It was at that moment that I understand the reasons behind the trail’s name. The Four O’Clock would be the trail you took at Four O’Clock. In other words, the last run of the day.
Because it does not drop you off near ANY FREAKING SKI LIFT!!!!
I started feeling a little queasy. But I did what any self-respecting human being without a Y chromosome would do.
I asked for directions.
Yes, I popped off my skis, slung them over my shoulder, and trudged across the street. None of the people at the bus stop were in ski gear, so I figured they were locals and could help me out. I found the one who looked the most reasonable and asked her how I got back to the base of the mountain. She explained that I could take the bus, but the bus went in the wrong direction and I’d have to circle around, and it’d take a really long time. But if I just walked the other way, I’d be there really quickly.
It was a short walk, she promised. She did it all the time.
So I carefully repeated her directions and took off for the base of the mountain.
Have I mentioned I hate walking in ski boots?
Have I mentioned that a short walk in shoes is a marathon in ski boots?
I walk. And I walk. And I walk. For at least twenty minutes. Maybe more. I start to wonder what Paul is thinking. I have now been gone a long time.
Then I find myself in a construction zone. I am not kidding. I walked in my ski boots with my skis on my shoulders through a construction site. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, but I don’t think any of the construction workers were buying it.
Finally, I see the village up ahead. Ski lifts, hot chocolate stands. A stiff drink sounds pretty good. I stagger to a bench, perch my skis against a rack, and sit down.
I don’t see Paul anywhere, but I am not concerned. He’s probably gone up and down the mountain a few times.
And I wait.
And then I want some more.
And then I do something I should have done before all that waiting. I look around.
And I think to myself, “I’ve never been here before.”
With dawning horror, I pull out my trail map.
And I say something that really can’t be printed in this blog, because I have hiked a mile to the wrong ski lift. I am at the base of Peak 9. I am supposed to be at Peak 8.
I almost cried.
To make things worse, the only way to get where I’m going is to take a lift, ski a run, take another lift, and ski another run.
But I do it. And I only fall twice. (I should point out, however, that something I did considerably more than twice was curse out Chaz. And that woman at the bus stop.)
I finally make it to the bottom of Peak 8. This time I don’t notice the hot chocolate stands, or in all honesty, anything other than the bench. Every muscle shaking with exhaustion, I remove my skis, tuck them carefully in the stand, and collapse.
And guess how long I got to rest when I saw Paul, swishing down the hill?
Yes, I had one minute of lung reconstitution before my husband came to a splendid stop in front of me and said, “Where have you been?”
It’s about an hour and a half since we parted ways, you see.
I would like to say that I calmly recounted my adventure. But that would be a lie. Instead, I growled. I was beyond speech. I think I managed something including the words, “bus stop, ready to cry, kill, and (of course) Chaz.”
Paul says, “Chaz feels so awful.”
“Oh, really?” This, through gritted teeth.
“After we waited for you for twenty minutes, he figured out what happened,” Paul says. “I went up and then went down the Four O’Clock, looking for you. I was afraid you’d broken your leg or something.”
He’d like that, I think viciously. He has a certificate in wilderness emergency medicine he never gets to use.
And then Paul says, “Why didn’t you just hop on the bus?”
Very carefully, I ask, “What do you mean?”
He tells me that if I’d just waited at the bus stop, I could have hitched a ride straight to the base of Peak 8. That’s what he did.
I said nothing. It was either that or go for his throat.
He looks at me with concern. Says my name.
Finally, I say, “I want lunch.”
He looks at his watch. “But it’s only--”
“I WANT LUNCH! NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW!”
Chaz and Henry arrive.
Paul carefully places himself between me and Chaz. This, I’m later told, is for Chaz’s safety. “I think we’ll get some lunch,” he says.
And so we did.
P.S. I could barely walk the next day.
P.P.S. I have no idea what happened to Chaz, but should you ever meet a physician with a Texas accent on the ski slopes, do not ask him for directions!!!!!
[We Squawkers are pretty sure you readers know who Julia Quinn is, if only from the hilarious week she gave us as a Guest Squawker last summer (anyone remember the parody of J. Alfred Prufrock?). Anyway, if you don't know...Julia is a New York Times bestselling author of some of the funniest, sexiest Regency romances around. Everything else you might wish to know can be found on her website, http://www.juliaquinn.com]
Sunday, December 18, 2005
TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS CONTINUES ALL WEEK!
All of us at Squawk Radio hope you'll join us this week as we continue to celebrate the holidays with visits from some very special Guest Bloggers:
Monday December 19th - Julia Quinn
Tuesday December 20th - Kristin Hannah
Wednesday December 21st - Kathy Caskie
Thursday December 22nd - Susan Kay Law
Friday December 23rd - Christie Ridgeway
Saturday December 24th - Surprise Guest
We'd also like to bring you this wonderful tutorial to help you and your pets decorate your Christmas tree: http://www.fluffytails.ca/christmas.asp (Please notice the striking resemblance of "Fern" to my own beloved "Buffy the Mouse Slayer", currently known as "Buffy the Christmas Tree Slayer"!)
From Lisa--I hope you dance
My poor husband. Eleven years of marriage, and he still clings to this idea of maintaining his dignity. As I have been informed, mens' dignity is destroyed when men are forced to do something in public that they are less than proficient at. In Greg's case, this "something" is dancing. So when we were invited to a big formal holiday dance by some friends, Greg's instant reaction was "No way Jose." Actually, his reaction was a little stronger than that, but I'm trying to stay within the limits of good taste.
I wheedled, bribed, cajoled, threatened and implored, to no avail. Finally I said in a despondent voice, "Okay, honey. If you're not comfortable with it, that's all right. I just didn't know that after I got married . . . I would never dance again."
Off to dance lessons, with Greg mumbling beneath his breath the entire time. We started with walking. We worked up to something that might pass for a fox trot. And on Saturday night, we went to the dance.
We weren't the best on the dance floor, but by God, we weren't the worst. And although you'd have to ask Greg what he really thought of it, I think he had a good time in spite of himself. So here's to trying new things, and making these small but important sacrifices for each other. Here's to the beautiful, funny, sometimes awkward but often magical, dance known as love.
Connie sends you a xmas card
One in particular, a huge old oak tree, brings people from miles around. There are over 10,000 lights on this beauty and it literally fills the night sky with its glow.
For the last eight years our contribution has been one dwarf blue spruce which each December 10th my husband lovingly decorates with a single old fashioned string of big bulb lights. We've never thought much about it one way or the other, but I am aware that we haven't put quite the effort or expense into lighting our little tree that some of our neighbors have put into theirs.
This year for whatever reason (and I honestly can't remember what it was) we were late. Again, I didn't think anything much about it.
Well, last night the neighborhood kids came by carrolling and after being applauded, just before they left, the young mother chaperoning them stopped and said, "We are so glad you lit the tree." I have to admit, she really sounded glad, too.
I must have looked at her oddly because she was clearly a little embarrassed but she went on. "We get a kick out of watching how carefully David arranges that one string of lights (I could have told her it's called OCDC, but refrained from doing so) but when it's done it's just great. It just sits there all alone in your yard and I dunno why but, everyone just really likes it like that. It's become sort of a neighborhood tradition."
Sometimes you create traditions and sometimes traditions are created without you even knowing it. Merry Christmas, my dears.
Xtina's Great New Room Gets a Great Christmas Tree
We got a tree yesterday. It's too tall for our great room ... and the ceiling's 16' 8". Listen, don't laugh, it was free and we didn't have to cut it down.
Scott cut a foot off the bottom and a foot and a half off the top. We carried it in. (Our manly neighbor, of course, wasn't home to help, so I got elected to carry the "light" end. My contribution consisted mostly of saying, "Wait! I'm standing on a branch!")
When we stood it up, the tree hit the ceiling. So Scott went and got the loppers, stood on the ladder and cut off another foot and a half. I have no idea how we're going to get a tree topper on this behemoth. Some might say it smells like a Xmas tree in here. Actually, it smells like the whole forest.
When are we going to decorate? Well ... we've never had a tree this big before, so we have to go buy ornaments first ... and maybe it would be a good idea to wait until the kids get home ...
What absurd excess of good cheer have you indulged in this or any other holiday season?
Eloisa waves from a pile of wrapping paper...
1) I have a stack of student papers as high as my head to grade and return. Christina suggested I give them all A's, wish them Happy Holidays, and count it a day. But I have this perverse sense that they're supposed to learn from my comments. It may be perverse, but it's a persistent idea.
2) I have about a million presents to wrap and send out. I just hope that presents that hit the post office tomorrow will actually get to places like Minnesota and Texas by the 25th.
3) Meanwhile, I'm having present anxiety. Did I get too many? Will my children end up little materialistic monsters with dollar signs in their eyes? But how can I return the t-shirt with cartoon bulls on the front that supposedly change color with body heat? Or the miniature family of glass mice with real curly tails for my daughter? My daughter only asked for three things from Santa: a full set of the Narnia books, some fairy dust, and a real live fairy. So far, I'm having trouble with the last two, so how can I give up the full set of books?
4) I can't go into detail on this one because it's too embarrassing, but take it from me, this house ain't ready for Christmas. Probably a trip from the Health Department would be a good idea. They could just put a big cheery red sticker over the door and that way I could stop worrying about Chrismas dinner and what to cook after my only glass baking dish exploded at Thanksgiving (corn soufflé--who knew that was dangerous?).
5) And finally, there's this manuscript...precisely FOUR months overdue at this point. Four. Four. It's a number that rolls in front of my eyes in the middle of the night.
Honestly, there's something cathartic about telling the world... so IS ANYONE IN AS MUCH TROUBLE AS I AM???
Liz Says, Have an Acoustic Christmas!
My brother and sister-in-law actually turned me on to Ottmar, a flamenco guitarist who has released some truly stunning albums. With "Poets & Angels," he gives the acoustic treatment to such traditional carols as "We Three Kings" and "Away in a Manger," along with more secular carols like "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls." But he also introduces five original tunes, some of which he couples with the traditional numbers, not the least of which is the pairing of "Angels We Have Heard on High" with "High on Hope."
The result is an extremely beautiful feast of acoustic guitar and soft percussion, with gentle bass and keyboard thrown in. I like to listen to it when doing the last-minute shopping, because it keeps me mellow among frantic buyers and drivers, but I also like it for decorating the tree. And although we're not big entertainers during the holidays (though we do love being entertained), this would certainly be on my list of CDs to play at any gathering of friends or family.
All in all, it just makes for a very mellow holiday. And who couldn't use one of those? Happy Christmas, everybody!
Saturday, December 17, 2005
TERESA NEVER COULD RESIST BEAUTY AND HER BEAST
If you don't mind your guys a trifle bit hairy, you've always found a little Alpha male chest thumping to be endearing, and morning breath isn't an issue, the new Kong just may be the guy for you!
The new movie version of KING KONG soars from the breathtaking imagination of director Peter Jackson. The same strengths Jackson showed in LORD OF THE RINGS are in dazzling display here. Although there are enough amazing CGI special effects to satisfy even the most jaded STAR WARS/STAR TREK geek (including me), he's never willing to sacrifice heart and intimacy for spectacle. While KONG is a sprawling rollercoaster thrill ride of a movie--the original KING KONG meets INDIANA JONES meets JURASSIC PARK--it's Naomi Watts luminous portrayal of Ann Darrow that steals our hearts (and Kong's). An incurable romantic at heart, I actually turned to my husband after the movie and said, "I wish they'd have shown more scenes developing their relationship" before remembering that I was talking about a woman and a giant gorilla.
It occurred to me as I watched the movie that this Kong has a lot in common with the heroes of our novels:
1) He adores Ann and finds her antics endlessly amusing.
2) He's so attentive he can recognize her by her smell alone
3) He rejects every other woman once they meet (hurling them out of his path like rag dolls)
3) He's keenly jealous of every other man in her life (hurling them out of his path like rag dolls)
4) He'd do anything to protect her, including sacrifice his own life.
What's not to love?
On the SIXTH Day of Christmas the Squawkers Give to Thee...TORI CARRINGTON!
TORI CARRINGTON (Lori and Tony Karayianni) GIVE YOU A BIG FAT GREEK CHRISTMAS...
It was the morning before Christmas, and outside the house, triangles were a ringing, and everyone was a singing, including Dimitri’s pet mouse…
Kales Yiortes. That’s Happy Holidays in Greek. And, no, I’m not using the generic greeting in deference to Chanukah and Kwanza (although we wish everyone a warm and wonderful Holiday Season). Rather, there are so many individual celebrations that fall inside the Greek 12 Days of Christmas that I’d be here all day writing them out.
Ever since I (Lori) was first introduced to Greek mythology, I wanted to be, well, Greek. Since that wasn’t possible, I did the next best thing and married one (becoming Greek by, um, injection, as one radio interviewer recently put it). My first Greek Christmas experience came when I was twenty-two and actually in Greece; talk about having your nose smooshed into a Greek icon. I was raised Catholic in a place where menorahs are as common as Christmas trees, and icon kissing is frowned upon at best, sacrilegious at worst. But in Greece where the population is 99% Greek Orthodox…well, to say that the Holidays are celebrated to the nth degree would be understating things a bit. Then again, over the past twenty some odd years married to Tony aka Adonis (yes, that’s really his name and he’ll always be my own, personal Greek god), I’ve come to understand that for the Greeks, to breath is to live, and to live is to break plates.
At any rate, in the States, the only time neighborhood children come knocking at your door is at Halloween and during the Girl Scout cookie fundraising drive. So imagine my surprise when very early Christmas Eve morn the celebration began with groups of children from age three up standing on the stoop ringing triangles (you get the occasional bouzouki, which is kewl, and every now and again gypsies will happen by with clarinets and the whole nine), and heralding Christ’s birth with a traditional kalada (Greek xmas carol) while you encourage them to speak up from the open doorway. Tradition dictates you give them something, and while once cookies might have done the trick, now money is the way to go, with the cutest of them getting the heaviest coin. (This is also done on New Year’s Eve morning, with a kalada proclaiming Agios Vassilis’ coming.)
On the third Day of Christmas my true love gave to me, three live hens, two wild boars and lamb’s innards on a silver tray…
The true festivities begin when you return from midnight mass to break the two-week Christmas fast, the house filling up with family (Tony’s parents’ place in this instance [we lived two floors up from them that year]), the table laden with food and bottles of wine ready to be poured. The first thing I learned was to try not to name the food being piled onto my plate (well, okay, it actually took me some time to learn this; call me squeamish, but lamb intestines is so not on my list of favorites), because to have goat meat served up beside whole roasted baby pig is not only common but the standard. And if you’re dining with the Greeks, you HAVE to eat. They stop just short of force-feeding the food to you, but their methods are just as effective as saying “open wide.” This is the point where you really appreciate their custom of knocking back wine like shots of liquor and are ready to elevate tsatsiki (a very strong garlic-cucumber yogurt sauce) to a key spot on the food pyramid.
As an American in Athens, I, of course, thought I was completely prepared for what would transpire on Christmas Day. I mean, how different could the celebrations be? While the caroling children should have given me a clue, at the time I didn’t speak Greek well, so I went armed with decorations, shopped for a tree, and put gifts for everyone underneath it. Imagine my surprise at the family’s surprise when I gave them each their nicely wrapped packages. You see gifts, if any, are exchanged on New Year’s Day, even gifts for the kids (that are nowhere on the scale of those we give here) who are visited by Agios Vassilis (Saint Basil), who rings in the New Year.
Interesting, really, that the word “commercial” doesn’t exist in the Greek language. While taking a box of melomakarana, kourbeithes, diples or any other Greek Holiday sweet either homemade or sold at corner bakeries (about the only thing open during this time, including gas stations, which can prove challenging), is traditionally presented to the day’s hostess, there really is no gift-giving outside the immediate family. This proved a bit of a culture shock for me…until I understood that the money they would have been spent on gifts is instead used to fill the table with food and wine for the length of the twelve days. A tradition that sets a joyous tone, the giving coming by way of love from the heart, with warmth provided by family and a blazing fire that keeps the Kalikantzri at bay (evil sprites Tony always imagined as miniature red devils complete with pitch forks, horns and tails, that play mischievous pranks if you don’t keep a fire going during the entire 12 days. Okay, this one caused a nightmare or two for me).
And so began a fun and dizzying period of unidentifiable food, free-flowing wine and activity that didn’t stop until January 6th.
Ah, the dancing. When was the last time you went to your in-laws' for the Holidays, ate dinner, then moved all the furniture out of the way so everyone could dance until their feet hurt, or until the wine ran out, or both? From Christmas Day on, imagine a nonstop line of joined hands and happy feet moving over a carpet of broken plates while traditional bouzouki music flows from the houses to fill the streets. Opa!
Then there are the traditions I learned that first Greek Holiday Season… There are so many of them, it’s so difficult to pick my favorites, but I’ll give it a shot. First, Christmas dinner is begun with Christopsomo, round Christmas sweet bread that’s crossed three times before cutting by the head of the house, a piece given to each diner. Another similar custom is the cutting of Vassilopita, a round New Year’s cake that has a coin hidden inside. Whoever receives the piece bearing the coin is said to have extra luck for the year. (This is done in each house and later at businesses, with “the cutting of the Vassilopita“ a bit of a post-holiday party in the case of the latter, often times including the families of the employees so the season can stretch to February or until lent. Gotta love the Greeks!)
Then there was Foton or Epiphany, the celebration that officially brought a close to the 12 Days. Huge tanks of water were placed outside all the churches and blessed. A good cup in hand, I visited the church across the street with Mana (my mil), bringing home some of the holy water and, using a sprig of fresh Basil, she sprinkled it throughout the house to both cleanse and bless it for the New Year. Including everyone inside. (The first time my late mil – bless her heart -- did this, I think she was a bit upset with me because I really got showered. Kind of reminded me of a scene from the Exorcist and it was all I could do not to thrash my head back and forth and cry, “It burns, it burns!” Ahem. Sorry. I probably will burn for that one. In Greek hell.)
In all seriousness, until I experienced the Holidays in Greece, the 12 Days of Christmas existed as only a song for me. As a writer, I’ve got to appreciate the symmetry of the celebration. You have your beginning by way of Christmas, your middle via New Year’s, and your end with Epiphany. As a human being, this time of family togetherness and high spirits left me in awe and ready to face the New Year with a bag full of happy memories and, well, all partied out.
So if Tony and I could wish you three things from the Greeks, they would be good health, the warmth of family (whichever way you define it), and a very strong stomach!
Kala Christouyenna kai Kali Kronia! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)
You can find recipes for melomakarana and kourabeithes on our site at www.sofiemetro.com/recipes.htm
We've talked a lot about different holiday traditions this week. Are there any holiday traditions in your family that spring directly from YOUR cultural background?
Best-selling, award-winning authors Lori & Tony Karayianni aka Tori Carrington have published over thirty titles with Harlequin and Silhouette. Their first hardcover Sofie Metropolis was released this year and launched their own comedy-mystery series featuring the Greek-American P.I. of the same name. Their next hardcover Dirty Laundry starring Sofie is due out May 2006. For more info on the authors and their books -- and to enter a special holiday drawing! -- visit them at www.toricarrington.net and www.sofiemetro.com.
Friday, December 16, 2005
On the FIFTH Day of Christmas, the Squawkers Give to Thee...JILL BARNETT!
JILL BARNETT'S FIVE GOLDEN THINGS TO DO
I’m not sure which of the Twelve Days of Christmas Writers I am, so I’ll hope for five golden rings—the best verse of the song because it slows everything down, builds anticipation, and I always sing it the loudest by the time the pipers are piping and maids are milking. It’s the verse you laugh and smile through.
My Christmas story is about change. When my daughter Kasey was about six, I looked at our glorious tree lording over the family room and I saw nothing joyous, just way too many packages. Frankly, I was disgusted. We were a family of three. I cornered my husband, Chris, and we talked. What I remembered about my time with my mother (who died when I was ten) were the things we did together.
We decided then to change the way we celebrated Christmas and spend time together instead of time shopping. So I made a list of five golden things to do. Our first event was a day in San Francisco, with its mimes on the corners and carolers walking the streets, looking at the phenomenal display window themes of Gump’s and the huge tree in Union Square, the street sellers and musicians, all topped off by a fabulous dinner overlooking the Bay.
We picked names from the giving trees at the stores and post office and one year packed up gift boxes for Gulf War soldiers without families. (They told us the yo-yos were a favorite in the desert.) Our gifts became about giving to people who needed Christmas.
Along with Kasey’s best friend and her mother, I planned a girls’ day, with manicures together and the girls had Santa or Frosty painted on their red fingernails. Then dressed in our velvet we’d take a horse and carriage up to a 19th Century mansion and tour all the traditions of Christmas past, followed by a wonderful high tea.
Chris and Kasey and I went to the symphony, a live performance of A Christmas Carol, the Nativity, or the Nutcracker. And lastly, on Christmas Eve, we dressed up in Christmas finery and ate dinner by the fire at a favorite Christmas lit restaurant before we went to candlelight services.
Our Christmas had changed; the stress was gone and joy was back. We learned to give each other the best gift: time together. Within a few years, Kasey would say, “Remember Dad singing on the street corner? Remember the mimes?” And when we lost Chris a few years later, Kasey and I had all those times together with him to hold deep in our hearts.
So I wish for you the gift of time with those you love. And perhaps when you hear or sing “five GOOOOOOOOOL-den rings” you will think of a few golden changes you can make to celebrate the season. I would love to hear about the places and events where you live that make your Christmases more golden.
May you and yours have a joyous and most memorable of holidays!
Born and raised in the beach areas of Southern California, Jill Barnett is the author of fifteen novels and short stories, which have been published in 17 languages and have appeared on national bestseller lists. She now lives with her family in the lush Pacific Northwest. Her next book, THE DAYS OF SUMMER, will be published in June 2006
Thursday, December 15, 2005
On the FOURTH day of Christmas the Squawkers Give to Thee ...
I love the holidays. I love the smell and look of a Frasier fir, adore getting out the ornaments I’ve collected over the years, take pleasure in arranging my little village on the mantel, revel in having time with my family and friends. Once upon a time I was even one of those annoying people who had all her Christmas shopping done by October 1st.
Those days are gone forever.
Okay, I’m still annoying, but presents aren’t even a consideration, never mind purchased, if temperatures are holding above fifty —and remember we’re talking the Pacific Northwest. It was mostly a way to avoid the crowds and the lousy parking of the post-Thanksgiving rush anyway, but catalogs and the Internet take care of that. I simply wait to see what everyone wants (Lists! Gimme lists!) then spend a little time finding the best price online and have those babies delivered right to my door. You gotta luv it.
What I don’t love is my feast-or-famine social life in December. What is there, a law somewhere that says every event has to be scheduled for the same week? I’m guessing so, since that’s the way it always works for me. We held our annual Christmas Tree Slaughter early this year. The CTS consists of a group whose size fluctuates but this year was me and my guys plus my son’s girl, my oldest brother, his wife and their triplet granddaughters, our best friends Doug and Mimi, and my friend Martha and her new husband and her oldest daughter and granddaughter. We meet in the wilds of Snowshoe Tree Farm where we select and fell our trees, then descend en mass on some poor, unsuspecting local restaurant. And early turned out to be great, since we beat some of the rush. But then, instead of a nice staggered engagement calendar for the rest of the month, which the introvert in me would really, really appreciate, I have. . .
Nothing. Not a thing for the next week except my mammogram, which I’m thinking doesn’t count since we’re talking enjoyable stuff. But, oh, mama, the week after that? We have five parties scheduled. FIVE. What’s wrong with these hosts and hostesses? Don’t they know I can only be nice for so long before I implode? You can’t expect me to smile and make small talk night after night. I need downtime here, I need breathing room to recoup. I need. . .
A paper bag to slap over my mouth and nose. A mental image of that mammogram to pull me back from the ragged edge.
Whew. All righty, then. Sorry about that--I’m fine now. So where was I?
Oh, yeah. I love the holidays. I love (damn near) everything about them.
What have your schedules been like for the season?
Susan Andersen writes contemporary romance with a touch of suspense and comedy to keep things interesting. Her books have spent many weeks on the USA Today bestseller list, the New York Times Extended list, and have twice been included in RWA's Top Ten Favorite Books of the Year. She's a native of the Pacific Northwest, where she lives with her husband and kitty-boys Boo and Mojo. You can visit her website at www.susanandersen.com.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
On the THIRD day of Christmas the Squawkers bring to thee ...
Hello again, Squawkers! It’s great to be back. Thanks to the Fab Five for inviting me again.
No swimming suit stories from me this time. No snake bites, either, thank goodness. Hopefully, I can get through this blog without any crises or catastrophes, although we did have an ice storm here today and my husband is still a hundred miles from home. I thought he should get a hotel and wait it out, but Oh, no said the manly man.
I won’t blog about how stubborn he is or how stupid it is to be on the highway when it’s a skating rink. I’m saving all that up for him when he gets home.
My family is big on tradition and many of them are...well... they’re stupid. For example, we have the birthday hat tradition. Think children’s party hats. When the kids were little, everyone–Mom and Dad included–donned a party hat to sing Happy Birthday during the cake & candle presentation. At some point in the early years, we got down to only one Alvin and the Chipmunks party hat, and that became the official birthday boy/girl hat.
I’m thirty-something years old (Oh, all right, Christina. Forty-something. Geeze.) and on my birthday, I still put on the Alvin hat. I feel pretty darn special wearing that hat. We all do. It’s stupid, but it’s a family tradition.
Family traditions kick into high gear this time of year. At my house, the holiday season begins the day after Thanksgiving when we steal our neighbor’s University of Texas Longhorns (boo) yard flag and replace it with our beloved Texas A&M (Whoop!) banner in honor of the traditional rivalry game. He retaliates, of course, and the fun lasts until the New Year’s bowl games. (Since they're up for the national championship this year, we've ordered a USC flag to fly just to be neighborly.)
We have Christmas traditions that involve everything from hanging outdoor lights to the music we listen to while trimming the tree to what we eat before we leave for Midnight Mass Christmas Eve. However, the Christmas tradition that means the most to my family is something I started the year I cooked my first Christmas dinner.
After reading about the idea in a magazine, I bought a new white tablecloth and paint pens, and everyone who joined us for our Christmas dinner had to sign and date the tablecloth before we ate. Ah, the griping and groaning! Now over twenty years later, we’re running out of white space on the tablecloth. It’s covered with pictures our kids drew growing up, messages from loved ones no longer with us, and special memories from years that flew by too fast. It’s our best family tradition and a true family treasure.
So, those are some of my traditions. Tell us about some of yours!
USA Today bestselling author Geralyn Dawson intended to write a special bio for her guest appearance at Squawk Radio in which she wanted to ask everyone to please oh please go buy her December release, HER SCOUNDREL, but she ran out of time when her neighbor escallated hostilities by replacing her red and green Christmas lights with...gasp...orange and white t-sip Longhorn lights. After spending much of the day on the phone, Geralyn is currently baking cookies in anticipation of the caroling party she's hosting tonight for the local USC alumni club.
Visit Geralyn's website at http://geralyndawson.com/
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
On the Second Day of Christmas, the Squawkers Give to Thee...KAREN HAWKINS
Is it just me, or are shoes just about the sexiest thing on earth? I love them. In fact, to be honest, I have well over a hundred pairs.
That’s right – over a hundred pairs. For me, buying shoes is an empowering sign that I have money to spend on ME. On what I want. Owning shoes is listed under the Things Women Get To Do That Men Can’t Or They Look Silly category in the Book of Life. And by gosh, if there’s one thing I know, I’m a WOMAN and therefore, I get to buy lots of SHOES.
One of my male friends asked me recently, “Isn’t that programming? Thinking you should have shoes just because you’re female?” To which I offered, “I suppose you could say the same thing about wearing skirts. Perhaps YOU should wear one of MY skirts and we’ll drive out to the Starbucks near your office and have a lovely long talk about ‘gender programming’ and why it’s a bad thing.”
I love being a woman. I love owning shoes. And I love wearing shoes. If there’s something wrong with that line of thinking, I have yet to hear it.
Women of Squawk Radio, if you don’t have SHOES on your Christmas list, put them there now. Shoes are sexy, fun, and come in soooo many colors and flavors – trust me on this, there really is a shoe for every woman of every flavor and taste.
But Karen, you wail, what about the CLOSET SPACE? Where will I PUT all of those gorgeous shoes?
Hon, buy them and closet space will come. It’s there. You just have to BELIEVE it’s there.
For today’s blog, I thought I’d share my passion with you and show you all of the shoes on my Christmas list.
The first shoe is this one, which I call “Solid Gold” – a fun, jeweled strappy holiday shoe that makes me grin every time I look at it:
It’s a Nine West, which is one of my favorite brands. Quality and good price, plus excellent styling and terrific comfort. I ADORE Nine West and would like to either have these shoes or Nine West stock options in my stocking for Christmas.
The next shoes on my list are an exotic little number I deemed “Diva At Large.” Just dig these babies …
They’re spicy and rich and stylish with a hint of cherry. What’s not to love?
Next is a sparkly number I nicknamed “Diamonds R Us.” I want these for New Year’s Eve as I love dressing up and do it so rarely. These shoes are so sparkly and fun that just looking at them make me feel all sexy and feminine. Imagine opening the door to your closet and seeing these . . . would they make you grin, too?
Great, isn’t it? (happy sigh) They are just WONDERFUL!
Next on my Must Have For Christmas Or I Will Hold My Breath Until I Die List is the following little red number I’ve labeled “Fooled Ya!”
There is a struggle between fashion and comfort, and this cool optical illusion shoe. It LOOKS like a thin, sexy heel, but it’s a safe, can’t fall down wedge.
To research a certain book I’m going to write one day, I had to visit a number of strip clubs and that’s where I became aware of something called “stripper shoes.” At least, that’s what I told that nice officer and I’m sticking to it.
I have not one, but TWO pairs of stripper shoes. I have never worn them anywhere, but they’re there and it makes me grin, knowing that they’re there, in my closet. Sometimes, just owning something is a lovely experience.
The last item on my Gotta Have Da Shoes List is a pair of sexy boots.
I don’t know about you, but somewhere in my background must lurk a little lusty pirate blood because, by gum, I was MADE to wear leather boots, especially those tall, black leather dominatrix boots. I ADORE these. They make me feel feminine and in control. All I need is a riding whip and—
But that’s for another blog. (Kitty, don’t email me and ask what I meant. I am serious when I say, “IT’S FOR ANOTHER BLOG!”)
A true swashbuckler knows pirate boots go over the knee, so this last pair of boots are my ultimate Wanna Haves. I want a long black velvet coat, a white frilly blouse, and a brace of pistols to go with these …
Well, that’s my shoe list for Christmas 05. Is there anything in your closet that makes you feel sexy and feminine? Any item of clothing you own, but have never worn? Any shoes you’d like to tell us about and why you like them?
It’s a shoe day, dahlinks! Enjoy!!!
Connie Brockway apologizes for losing Karen's bio but as soon as Karen gets back from lunch she is sure that Karen will correct this situation as well as have a few short, concise words for Connie. So feast your eyes instead on the glory that is Karen and then visit her website ( http://www.karenhawkins.com )where you will soon discover that Hugh Jackman is to Karen as Russell Crowe is to Teresa. CB