Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Happy 2010!! With New Year's Eve tomorrow, I thought it might be fun to do a glitzy party decoration for this month's craft. Thanks to MarthaStewart.com for this pic that, for me anyway, inspires all sorts of centerpiece possibilities. Martha, being the fabulous Martha, she has glittered lemons with velvet leaves. Seeing how I'm still snowed in from Tulsa's Christmas Blizzard, I don't have lemons and I'm not brave enough to beg Hubby to brave our icy hill to get them, I did a quick survey of supplies on hand and was surprised by how many things could be used.

Apples either glittered or rolled in sugar. Colorful metal balls stolen from the Christmas tree. Oranges stacked with clippings from the evergreen bushes in the front yard. How about a pile of mini-gifts wrapped with sparkly tin foil? Wind any color ribbon through it and voila--your house is just as great as Martha's!! If your roads are clear enough to host a party, you could even stack up your snacks on a pretty cake plate or fancy bowl!!

Can you tell I love parties?! Anyway, hope you have fun!! And please send pics of your masterpieces!!

Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

One Last Package

The calendar may say it's December 29th, but there's still a great big package sitting under the tree with my name written in gold lettering across the tag. Only it's not a "real" present and it's not really "under the tree."

You see, my still-wrapped package is 2010--a year that will be filled (hopefully) with lots of wonderful surprises. And while I can't know everything that is in store for me in the coming year, I do know a few definites that are inside the box...

*My first-ever romance, Kayla's Daddy, will debut with Harlequin American in just a few short weeks! It earned a 4 1/2 star Top Pick from RT Magazine (and an early fan letter from a loyal HAR reader in my inbox this past week).

*My second romance, A Mom For Callie, will debut with Harlequin American in July.

*My third romance/first "holiday book" (title being tweaked) will debut with Harlequin American in November.


And that's just part of my 2010 package. The rest will bring new people, new places, new accomplishments, and new experiences.

I'll admit there's a part of me that wants to rip the paper off my package as fast as I can, but there's also a part--an older and wiser part--that wants to open the package slowly, to savor each and every moment as the gift it is.

Because it is a gift. All of it.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2010 be your most magical year yet!

~Laura

Friday, December 25, 2009

Warm Wishes for a Merry Christmas


Most of you know I’m a Florida gal. Florida, where temps often hover in the 80’s, even in mid-winter. Most Christmas Days, my fervent hope is for things to cool down enough that I can light our once-a-year fire in the fireplace. The only boots I own are the ones I use wading in the river when I go fishing, and my scarves are light, frothy things designed to add a dash of color (not necessarily warmth!) to otherwise drab outfits.

Not so this winter. This year, I’ve had to expand my wardrobe for a visit to my daughter’s in Maryland over the holidays. Suddenly, curling up under the blankets beside a roaring fire doesn’t sound like such a strange thing to do. This picture, taken from her back porch, will tell you why.

Wherever you might be this Christmas, the authors of Harlequin American Romance wish you warmth and joy and the merriest of holidays!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lee’ s Christmas Checklist

Dear Readers,

By the time you read this, I will be pretty well ready for the holiday.

Shopping done (as many 100-mile gifts as possible). Check.
Menu planning and grocery shopping for Christmas Eve buffet, Christmas morning brunch and Christmas dinner. Check.
Pick up the turkey (organic free-run) from the butcher. Check.
Gifts wrapped. Check.
House decorated. Check.
Get into the spirit of the season by watching my favorite holiday movies (While You Were Sleeping, Love Actually and White Christmas). Check.
Today . . . Christmas Eve . . . I only have two things left to do. Decorate the tree and wish you, our dear and cherished Harlequin American Romance readers, a holiday filled with joy, peace and love.

xoxo
Lee

PS: To celebrate the much anticipated (by me!) release of my July American Romance—FIREFIGHTER DADDY—I’m running a contest on my blog, The Writer Side of Life. The prize? An autographed firefighter calendar and other goodies. Every time you post a comment on one of this month’s posts, your name will be entered in the draw. To increase your chances, you’ll receive five bonus entries if you become a follower of my blog (click on the link in the sidebar) and ten bonus entries if you sign up for my Very Occasional Newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, simply send an email to lee (at) lee mckenzie (dot) com. I know you know the drill—remove the spaces and insert the symbols.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Writing Tip...Sort of

Well, I got out my trusty book, A Novel Idea, this morning, ready to once again share a writing tip, but after some thought, I thought of another tip that might be of better use this week.

Just write.

Right now, I'm in full vacation mode. My son is home, my daughter is finally on Christmas break, and my husband is due to stay in town for the next two weeks. I can think of a hundred reasons not to even look at my computer. And actually, from last Thursday to yesterday afternoon, I didn't even step in my office. I was tired of emails, Facebook, and deadlines. All I've been wanting to do is sit on the couch and watch Christmas movies.

Maybe some of you felt the same way?

But yesterday, when I was a little snippy with some people (okay, my husband), it occurred to me that maybe what I needed wasn't to make another batch of cookies, run to the mall, or organize the pantry. Maybe I needed to do the one thing that made me happy, no matter what....write.

So I wrote four pages.

It's not much. Most days I have four pages written by the time I eat breakfast. But it was enough to keep my mind on my current WIP. Enough to convince me to stop worrying about Christmas menus, relatives arriving, clothes not fitting and the frigid weather outside our door.

Immediately, I felt a lot better! Maybe some of you will feel the same way.

So, my writing tip for the month is to write. Even a little bit. Even if it's not very good. Write because you're a writer, and it's what we do.

Then you can go bake some more cookies. : )

Shelley Galloway

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bumps and Thumps in the Night


So, we're at the lake house ... again. I hope you don't mind me mentioning my new "toy." I'm a bit obsessed, trying to get the house ready for Christmas company. Here's a photo from this morning, facing west, about a half hour after sunrise.

The thing is, we've lived in the same house in Richardson, TX for 32 years. Now we've owned this place only five weeks and I've been here about seven times, some visits for the day only. I haven't gotten accustomed to it yet. There are different sounds to the blowing of the heating and air conditioning, the dull, slight roar of the hot tub, the steady hum of the heater on the porch. The mattresses are different and the furniture makes one pause when navigating in the middle of the night. The upstairs ceiling slopes and if you're not careful, you'll bang your head hard enough to see stars. And not those endless stars in the night sky outside, without the city lights.

These differences seemed minor at first, but this morning, I started to realize that they are shaking up my creativity. (At least, I think they are; we'll have to see when I write the next book.) I've started whole new "what if" scenarios in my head. My imagination runs amok when I hear noises in the night. While soundly sleeping I swear I felt the bed frame get bumped. Two night ago I thought I heard my car door open and close, but of course, no one was outside and the car was locked. Last night there was a mysterious low beeping noise coming from downstairs. I couldn't locate it or see any blinking lights, like a fire alarm battery going bad or some small appliance left on too long. When I finally turned on the overhead light, the beeping stopped. I still have no idea where that sound was coming from, but I'm fairly sure I'll hear it again.

Is my lake house haunted? I don't think so, but I can see where people come up with the idea that a house could contain mischievious or evil spirits. Since I've written paranormal romances before, I can certainly imagine all types of situations where my heroine (or hero) might feel irritated or in danger. I never felt that way in my own familiar home in the city, where the concrete slab doesn't shift and there are no footsteps overhead. (Just the occasional raccoon or cat running across the roof, taking a shortcut from one food dish to another.) In the city there are no pine cones falling from the huge tree outside, landing on the deck or roof, and there are no birds that sound like strange creatures wailing.

I went into the city of Mineola a few days ago, right around sunset. Many of the businesses were closing for the day. The darkening clear blue sky still held an orange glow. Christmas music played from speakers along the main street. Twinkling lights and decorated trees glowed warm in the flower shop nearby. All this atmosphere, and yet, I saw no other people around me for several minutes. I was only one street away from Broad, which is also US 80, but no car doors slammed or tires hummed on the pavement. I felt almost as if I were in a episode of "Twilight Zone," for those of us old enough to remember that series. I experienced a vivid reminder of how my heroine might feel when she arrives in Brody's Crossing, searching for her family.

So, I'm embracing these new experiences as much as I'm loving the lake and the trees. I think they will make me a better writer. At least, I hope they will. You'll have to let me know when the book finally comes out in 2011, tentatively titled Texan in Her Heart. I'll start writing it after Christmas. Have a very happy holiday. I hope you find joy in simple things and experience all the warmth of the season. I'll post a new recipe on January 4th, and when I do my next blog, I'll be well into the book and will probably have more updates from the lake. Best wishes for a wonderful new year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blessings

This month I thought I'd talk about blessings. I haven't been thinking about romance much these past few months as I've been working on nonfiction projects and dealing with my mother's illness.


Yet Laura Bradford asked on our HAR writers' loop about when she'd get her January author copies, and so I remembered to ask for my cover of my February release. I absolutely love it, and I'm not saying that because I'm supposed to either. So here it is for you to see:


I must admit that I am not a holiday person. The holidays have always been a time of great stress. My mother was born on Christmas Eve so we have her birthday. Then as a kid of divorced parents, it was always at least 5 places to be.


This year before the season gets crazy (my mom will be 72) I wanted to stop and count my blessings. I love my family. I have a great job. I've written 23 novels. My Idiot's guide is finished. I've been asked to write articles on teaching for VisualThesaurus.com. I have great kids and a fabulous teaching career. I have eight healthy cats who tell me they love me daily, probably because they're hungry, but still. It's the warm fuzzies that count.


And I have you, my readers, who have hung in there with me. I can't believe it's ten years. Christmas 1999 I was polishing up book #2 and trying to get my editor to buy it. Now I'm looking forward to 2010 and all the possibilities that are before me.


Have a joyous holiday and a wonderful New Year everyone.


Michele





Friday, December 18, 2009

That Christmasy Feeling

The holiday spirit just hasn’t hit me yet this year. With deadlines and copy edits and all the other things life brings on a day-to-day basis, there hasn’t been time to think about it, much less decorate, shop, and wrap. And it’s only one week until Christmas!

I need help!

I’m looking for suggestions to get my spirit in gear. I’ve read some wonderful blog and Facebook posts about memories of Christmases past, learning the true meaning of the holiday, and how to de-stress at this most maddening time of the year. But none of them have done the trick. I feel like Scrooge, and that’s not how I want to feel. So let me know what you do to get in the mood for what’s been called the most wonderful time of the year.

May the spirit of the holidays be with everyone this year and on into the next. That includes me!


Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Yule, Happy Kwanzaa to all!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The celebration started early this year!

Hi, everyone,

This is an extra-special blog post for me because I’ve got some good things to share with you all.

First, I’ve just received confirmation of the title for my third Harlequin American Romance. I’m thrilled about this because the title works in two ways--and either way you look at it, it’s perfect! FAMILY MATTERS is tentatively scheduled to hit bookstores in October of 2010.

Next, I recently sold my fourth Harlequin American Romance and, believe me, I’m still doing the happy dance over that! Though both the title and publication date are tentative, the good news is that DADDY’S HOME should be out--fingers crossed--sometime in 2011.

And last but not least, I’m happy that my blog date falls mid-month, as it gives me yet another reason for this early celebration: the chance to say happy holidays to you all!

May you enjoy a safe and fun-filled holiday season, and may you find the new year brings you good health, much happiness, and success in everything that matters to you.

All my best, always,

Barbara

~~~~~~

Barbara White Daille
http://www.barbarawhitedaille.com

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Cowboy Christmas


Since Christmas is just around the corner and my release this month is called A Cowboy Christmas (Dec 09) I thought it fitting to share Omar Barker's famous Christmas Prayer Poem. Trust a Cowboy to whittle down the true meaning of Christmas!


A COWBOY'S CHRISTMAS PRAYER
By S. Omar Barker (1894-1985)

I ain't much good at prayin', and You may not know me, Lord-
I ain't much seen in churches where they preach Thy Holy Word,
But you may have observed me out here on the lonely plains,
A-lookin' after cattle, feelin' thankful when it rains,
Admirin' Thy great handiwork, the miracle of grass,
Aware of Thy kind spirit in the way it comes to pass
That hired men on horseback and the livestock we tend
Can look up at the stars at night and know we've got a friend.

So here's ol' Christmas comin' on, remindin' us again
Of Him whose coming brought good will into the hearts of men.
A cowboy ain't no preacher, Lord, but if You'll hear my prayer,
I'll ask as good as we have got for all men everywhere.
Don't let no hearts be bitter, Lord.
Don't let no child be cold.
Make easy beds for them that's sick and them that's weak and old.
Let kindness bless the trail we ride, no matter what we're after,
And sorter keep us on Your side, in tears as well as laughter.

I've seen ol' cows a-starvin, and it ain't no happy sight:
Please don't leave no one hungry, Lord, on thy good Christmas night-
No man, no child, no woman, and no critter on four feet-
I'll aim to do my best to help You find 'em chuck to eat.

I'm just a sinful cowpoke, Lord-ain't got no business prayin'-
But still I hope You'll ketch a word or two of what I'm sayin':
We speak of Merry Christmas, Lord-I reckon you'll agree
There ain't no Merry Christmas for nobody that ain't free.
So one thing more I'll ask You, Lord: Just help us what you can
To save some seeds of freedom for the future sons of man.


Wishing all of our blog readers and their loved ones a Very Merry Christmas and a Safe and Healthy New Year--Ti yi yippee-yippee-yay!

Marin
A Cowboy Christmas
*in stores now*
www.marinthomas.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Traditions



This year my best friend and I decided to start our own Christmas Tradition. Debra and I have been friends since fifth grade. We were in each other’s weddings. Our kids grew up together and her oldest daughter and my youngest son were in the same high school graduating class. And third generation, Debra babysits for both her granddaughter and mine.

So this year we took our granddaughters on a weekend excursion to Marble Falls, Texas to see the Christmas lights. We made a jaunt to Johnson City where the girls raced around under the light wrapped trees and clapped their hands in awe at a horse drawn carriage and Santa Claus. We watched a living nativity play and petted the animals. We drove through a display with a light tunnel and the girls stuck their heads out of the sunroof and squealed at all the beautiful lights. In Marble Falls we strolled through a Christmas display and sipped hot chocolate. The view off our balcony took in the reflection of the Marble Falls light display across the lake. We even talked the girls out of lunch at McDonalds and dined at the Bluebonnet Café where we sampled each other’s slices of homemade pie. According to my granddaughter, Lilly, it was the best day EVER! And an extra bonus for me Marble Falls and the Bluebonnet Café are the setting for my 2011 release.

Debra’s favorite part was the tiny Christmas angel at the nativity play, Samantha enjoyed petting the sheep, and Lilly loved sticking her head out of the top of the car. For me, it was just sharing a new adventure with wonderful people I love.
Wishing everyone a blessed Christmas full of both old and new experiences.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's almost Christmas and so far the Grinch has sent $800 worth of heating repairs, $900 worth of auto repairs, one car sent to the junk yard (we had about $5000 in that), $300 for a new garbage disposal, $600 for Hollyball dress, ties, hair, corsages, and just this morning in the midst of printing my edits that are due the 17th, the laser printer decided it needed a new $100 ink cartidge. Oh--and did I mention we finally got the Christmas tree up and gorgeous only to have it topple over, breaking ornaments we've had for decades? (This month's pic is of Abbey, Russell and Hannah all dolled up for the big dance. Terry was off picking up his date!)

Okay, so while none of that has been fun, I was snuggling with Hubby on the sofa last night in front of the fire with a wonderfully sappy Lifetime Christmas movie playing when it struck me how incredibly blessed we are. When we were first married, that much calamity striking at once would've meant a dreaded call to the folks to beg for money. Now, it just means covering the big, honking holes in the sofa with blankets for a little while longer! Ornaments break, but the memories attached to them will be with me forever.

I'm grateful for family and friends and my goofy, infuriating pets. While I need to lose a few pounds, I'm grateful for the bounty of food always in our cabinets and fridge. The older I get, the more it seems like my favorite parts of Christmas have less to do with gifts and more with the true gifts of family traditions. Playing epic games of boys versus girls Trivial Pursuit on Christmas Eve while watching The Grinch and Christmas Vacation. I love seeing friends and baking and the special hush of Christmas morning when it feels as if the whole world's taking a much-needed breather.

Happy, happy holidays to all!! What are some of your favorite family traditions?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Household Cleaning Tips for Christmas

Since Christmas is just around the corner....who doesn't need a tip on tidying the house throughout the holidays? Here's a few suggestions from English media personality Anthea Turner, best known for her role in Perfect Housewife, where she taught disorganized housewomen and men how to clean and run their houses.


Anthea's Christmas Cleaning Tips for a Pristine Home


De-clutter

If it is not beautiful, useful or seriously sentimental – get rid of it! Invited a friend who can be ruthless and rid you of things you do not need.

Recycle old magazines, use a lever-arch file to store recipes and magazine articles you want to keep. Tear them out and recycle the rest.

Get rid of the piles of papers and junk sitting on your dining table to let you actually use it for meals with the family.

Clean

Do not let the little jobs build up such as cleaning under the bed, tackling the shower curtain, and cleaning the grouting - old toothbrushes are perfect for scrubbing at those stubborn marks between tiles.

Have cleaning wipes to hand for last-minute clean ups. From the telephone to the bathroom sink, a quick swipe will do the trick.

Wipe dirty marks off the painted walls and skirting boards by gently wiping with a damp cloth and a little all-purpose cleaner.

Ensure your oven is prepared to deal with the Christmas turkey and all the trimmings. Tackle stubborn marks on the grill.

Stainless steel can often look dull with watermarks and sticky fingerprints. Create a Christmas sparkle on your appliances by using a special stainless steel cleaner, which will clean away the sticky finger marks whilst still being gentle on the surface.

Try to do a little cleaning every day up towards Christmas to ensure it does not turn into a mammoth task that you have to tackle the night before.

Organize

Organize yourself by putting systems in place that will help things run more efficiently so you can keep your home looking sparkling clean.

Have filing trays for post coming in and shred all confidential statements that are not needed but taking up space.

Invest in clear storage boxes so items can be filed away but easily located. Anthea’s Christmas Cleaning Crack-down tips

Anyone else have a holiday cleaning tip?


Marin
A Cowboy Christmas *in stores now!*
http://www.marinthomas.com/

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Australian Style

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!
(or Christmas: Australian style)

As I write this from my home in Colorado listening to Dean Martin croon a collection of Christmas songs, snow is falling in big, fat flakes outside my window. All is warm, safe and cozy inside. The piney scent of our Fraser fir Christmas tree, purchased from the local boy scouts fills the air. A pumpkin and apple spice candle is burning, the fire is blazing and occasionally the bells on a passing horse-drawn sleigh can be heard in the otherwise silent landscape outside.

This picture-perfect Rocky Mountain township defines the idyllic notion of Christmas. Front yards sport pines or spruce decorated generously with lights. Icicle lights hang above front doors and are strung along eaves and balconies, accentuating the already wintry landscape.

The shops on Main Street are absolutely enchanting. Many are remnants of the Victorian era. Strewn with festive illuminations, their window displays tempt you to enter, look around and enjoy the magic of the season while sipping hot apple cider.

I’m reminded of the contrast in the seasons between the two wonderful countries I live in, as I departed for the airport from my home in Australia, just a couple of weeks ago. For although this is the Christmas season throughout the Christian world and beyond, in the southern hemisphere, it’s also high summer.

At nine am, the temperature was already climbing towards the century mark, promising another impossibly humid day. Although summer is my favorite season of the year, I was looking forward to stepping off the plane 30 hours later, into the winter chill of Colorado.

As we drove down our street, the familiar smells of early summer filled the air. Frangipanis and late blooming Chinese jasmine competed with the cloying heat. Brilliantly colored hibiscus and bougainvilleas vied with the purple jacaranda trees, dropping the last of their blooms just as the orangey-red tracts of Poinciana’s pushed their way towards the baking hot sun.

These cheerful trees with climbing-friendly branches, would be our companions throughout the Christmas holidays of my childhood. In Australia, summer is synonymous with Christmas and so the two-month hiatus from school was always called, the “Christmas holidays”, although they lasted until the end of January!

Since Australia is an island continent and most of us live near the coast, at least part of those holidays we spent at the beach. Families would exodus the city en masse to a nearby coastal community, staying in anything from tents and caravans to family owned beach houses.

During those glorious two months—whether spent at the seaside or at home—we’d live in our togs (swimsuits), swim every day, never wear hats (or sunscreen), burn and peel several times, consume massive amounts of watermelon, wear our togs to the mall for pictures with Santa, never wear shoes, have competitions to see who could peel off the largest piece of skin from crispened shoulders and backs, eat the warm centers from freshly baked white bread from the local bakery as we sauntered home with the morning’s paper, play endless games of scrabble, Monopoly or backyard cricket, and constantly pick at our burnt noses and lips, dreading the all-too-swift passing of January and our return to a new school year.

The actual Christmas period is a huge holiday in Australia—although rarely a particularly religious one. Businesses close down on Christmas eve—or, if that falls on a weekend, then the Friday afternoon beforehand—and don’t open again until after the New Year.

Although stores try hard to duplicate an idealized northern hemisphere Christmas complete with fake snow, Santa, reindeer, snowmen, Christmas trees, sleighs, more snow etc.—the resultant manufactured notion of Christmas in wintry latitudes fails to convince or satisfy when outside the mall, the sun is hot enough to fry eggs in the car park.

And as for Santa coming down the chimney on Christmas eve? Forget it! Most Australian homes don’t have chimneys. But curiosity and logic would fly out the door when we’d awaken on Christmas morning to find our gifts beneath the fake Christmas tree—or as happened one year, on a trampoline in the backyard!

Christmas dinner is celebrated at lunchtime on Christmas day. Our mums would spend the morning sweltering in the kitchen, preparing the traditional heavy winter fare of their northern hemisphere ancestors.

Occasionally, the festive fare would feature turkey, but more commonly, an enormous leg of baked ham, accompanied by salad, mashed potatoes, hot plum pudding, custard, hard sauce, ice-cream and Christmas cake would be served. While adults drank champagne, the children pretended to, with glasses of sparkling apple juice.

I have fond memories of my father-in-law on the days following Christmas, dressed only in his pajama bottoms, carving the leftover ham for breakfast. One hand would be fisted around the shank, the other grasping a knife as he shaved off generous slices to go with fried or poached eggs and lashings of thick white toast. Those hams were so big (and tasty) they’d provide breakfasts and lunches through New Years.

Lately, Aussie families have begun to forgo European traditions for their Christmas repast. Many opt instead for freshly cooked king or tiger prawns (shrimp) from the local Fish and Chip shop, a backyard barbie (barbeque) at which the men folk can show off their cooking skills, or a picnic of sandwiches on the beach (with the emphasis on “sand”!)

Boxing Day (the day after Christmas and also an official holiday) brought with it both the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race and a five day Cricket test. This soporific period of too much arm-chair sport and over-indulgence in Christmas leftovers would segue lazily into the New Year. Families would pack up and return to the city. January would seem to fly by and before long, our Christmas holidays were over.

Australia Day, celebrated on January 26th, signaled the end of our summer freedom and the return to a new school year. School uniforms (compulsory throughout Australia) were bought or altered. Feet, flattened, tanned and spread wide by a summer without constraint were squeezed into freshly polished shoes. Hair that hadn’t seen a comb all summer would be put through the torture of removing all the knots—or cut short!

With new textbooks and stationery purchased and school bags packed, we’d walk or ride to school over a carpet of Poinciana blossoms. It was as if these magnificent trees that had shaded us all summer were mourning along with us the end of our Christmas holidays for another year. Although the summer was far from over—the heat often lasting into April and May.

The return to school brought with it new expectations, new challenges to be learned and achieved, growing to be done, friendships made and lost.

We’d walk through the school gate, stomachs fluttering in anticipation at who our new teacher would be for the upcoming year and hoping the bully whose taunts we’d endured the previous year had been permanently expelled—or was in another class.

That first week of school heralded the beginning of summer sports fixtures every Friday afternoon. The school swimming carnival was the first official meet of the school year. I well remember standing on the starting blocks, tanned and toned, my sun-bleached hair falling in my eyes as I prepared to dive in. I loved these events, for although I couldn’t run to save myself, I excelled at swimming!
Swim meets at local, District and State level over, it was nearing the end of February already. Only nine more months until the Christmas holidays!

What’s your favorite season or time of year and how does your family celebrate Christmas?
CC Coburn
Colorado Christmas (Nov 09)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I really didn’t forget to blog this month. I’m just having trouble posting thanks to the blizzard messing with my internet satellite connection. We’re definitely going to have a white Christmas here in Michigan – at least we will if it keeps snowing like this. Last Thursday night we got 16 inches. This week we’re getting hit again – with that lovely wintry mix of rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow. We even had lightning and thunder this morning –- when I was out with a broom trying to sweep the snow and ice out of the satellite dish. Hopefully this time I’ll be able to post although my blog has changed a bit. Like Linda, I intended to post about the holiday season – which I love, but as usual I’m not ready for it. I have cookies to bake, gifts to buy and wrap – and have yet to put up my tree. Of course the tree doesn’t stay up thanks to my cat who loves to climb it. I don’t remember how many times we had to put it back up last year. Tomorrow, since we’re certain to be snowed in, we will put up the tree and bake those cookies and wrap the gifts I managed to buy before the blizzard hit. The snow is very pretty, but it does make getting ready for the holiday – and blogging – much more of a challenge.
I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year!
Lisa

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

Are you in the Christmas Spirit yet? On the first day of December I was thinking about everything I had to do for the holidays and getting a major headache. But then we had the Advent coffee at our church and sang beautiful Christmas carols. That always gets me into the spirit of Christmas.

I said “we sang”, but even though I love to sing I didn’t embarrass myself. When I was a kid, my brothers and I went to a Catholic school. All the kids at various times sang in the choir. There were a couple of us who couldn’t sing. A nun christened me and another girl the hummers. And we were the best hummers, she said. So I’m still a hummer. I only sing when no one is listening.

My dh is an exception. When we put up our Christmas tree, it was cold. My hubby’s nose was slightly red from going in and out of the house so much. I started singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, inserting his name for Rudolph. He didn’t think that was funny, but you have to sing when you’re putting up a tree, even if you can’t. Right? He said if I didn’t stop the dogs in the neighborhood were going to start howling. They didn’t. We got the tree decorated without incident, except he wouldn't stand by it when I took the photo. Now we’re ready for Christmas, except for shopping, cooking and all the other stuff.

To add to the spirit it snowed. Yes, it did. Right here in Texas. Beautiful snow flakes looked like confetti falling from the sky. It wasn’t cold enough to stick to anything but it was pretty while it lasted. A winter wonderland. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening… Tis the season, and yes I’m singing.

Silent Night is my favorite Christmas song. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas is another, and O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, Little Drummer Boy and so on. Rocking Around the Christmas Tree is a fun-get-you-in-the-mood one, as is Jingle Bell Rock. What is your favorite Christmas Song? One that gets you into the spirit of Christmas.

This is my last post for 2009. Happy Holidays everyone!! Let the Christmas spirit ring. Rockin’ around the Christmas tree…. (It’s really good you can’t hear me)

And a Happy New Year!!!!

Linda
http://www.lindawarren.net/
Skylar’s Outlaw – Jan 2010

Monday, December 07, 2009

Warm Family Time by Megan

This week, my husband's family convened for an important event. It was the first time all the siblings had been together with their mom in several years. Spread across the country, they find it hard to get "home" at the same time.

Family time filled with warmth, laughter, reminiscences, and of course, food. Old tales were retold and enjoyed as though it were the first time anyone heard them. The "kids" completed one another's stories and sentences. New stories of children and grandchildren were passed around with photographs to keep everyone up to date.

I soaked it all in, reminded how wonderful a big family can be, and how dear to me these people are who welcomed me into their family and made me one of theirs.

This family feelings is the essence of Harlequin American Romance and perhaps why I love to write for this line. The warmth, love, laughter, and support of family members are things we can understand and enjoy.

These are the things I wish for you as the December holdiays approach: love, laughter, and support for hard times. A family, whether born into, married into, or made of friends.

Megan Kelly
megankellybooks.com

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bargains galore

The holiday season is upon us. This year, things are tough. Businesses are shaky, and many are out of work. However, all is not bad. For the first time in ages, inflation is nonexistent. In fact, we’re experiencing deflation. That means that a dollar today stretches farther than a dollar last year.

People aren’t shopping as much, and worried merchants are offering all kinds of bargains to entice buyers. One of my favorites is free shipping from online retailers. I often shop online, sending gifts to loved ones directly via the Internet. In the past I could count on shipping fees that totaled as much as 20 percent of the cost of the gift. (Outrageous, but they had me coming and going!) This year, no one is charging for shipping. Gotta love that.

What are some of the great bargains you’ve come across?

Best wishes for a warm, safe and healthy holiday season,
Ann
www.annroth.net

Friday, December 04, 2009

Recipe of the Month: Applesauce Cookies

My mother made two kinds of cookies that I'll always love: Applesauce and Sugar. Now, you probably have a ton of sugar cookie recipes, especially this time of year, so I thought I'd share a recipe that's a little different. If you have children around, or overnight guests during the holidays, or just folks who love to snack, these cookies are great. They even have food value! I love them for breakfast with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk. Enjoy!

Virginia Chancellor's Applesauce Cookies

1/2 c. shortening (or butter or margarine if you don't want to use shortening)
1 c. (or slightly less) sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 c. applesauce (any type of plain applesauce, but stay away from the chunky kind)
1 c. 100% Bran Cereal or Bran Buds (see, I told you it had food value!)
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (I use more because I love nutmeg)
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Optional: 1 c. raisins

Blend shortening (butter/margarine) and sugar in a large bowl. Sift dry ingredients (except soda) in a separate bowl. (In this modern age, I don't believe you actually have to sift flour, but at least mix up the dry ingredients.) Add egg to sugar and shortening and mix well. Add soda to the applesauce and stir gently. (Note: Make sure you have the applesauce in at least a 1 1/2 cup to 2 cup container because it will expand.) Alternate mixing dry ingredients and applesauce into sugar/shortening/egg mixture. Add bran cereal and (optional) raisins and mix well. Bake 2 inches apart at 375 degrees for approximately 15 minutes, but check to make sure they don't get too done. The cookie will be moist and springy to the touch but the edges will be lightly browned. Try not to burn your hands or tongue as you can't wait to taste them. Enjoy!

Hint: If you put a sheet of waxed paper between each layer when storing them, they are easier to separate. Store in an airtight container or well covered with plastic wrap to avoid drying out.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Beagle Strikes Again


Last month, I relayed how I was at our beagle’s beck and call. After she tore her ACL, she needed surgery…and I was needed to cater to her every whim for two weeks. The good news is that her fur is growing back nicely, and while she’s not ready for a long walk, she is definitely almost back to normal.

The bad news? She’s almost back to normal.

Yesterday was a busy day for me. I needed to finish line edits for Second Chance Hero, my June 2010 release, and get them to the FedEx office by four o’clock. We’d also promised to make a pot of soup for church-Advent has started, and our church hosts soup suppers, followed by a brief prayer service.

But was mostly on my mind was finishing up my sister’s Christmas present. My sister Kelley lives in Athens, Greece. Every Christmas I send her a few boxes filled with all kinds of gifts for her and her girls. This year, they asked for makeup and movies. And all kinds of American junk food. For the last month, I’ve been buying things and gathering it all. Tuesday night I ran to WalMart and bought candy and Poptarts and Kraft Mac and Cheese.

Yesterday, every time I read over forty pages or so, I’d either make soup or wrap presents. Phoebe slept, which she pretty much does about twenty hours a day.

At five o’clock, I was feeling pretty darn good about myself. Line edits? Sent off at three o’clock! Soup? Done! And there, sitting in the middle of my dining room table, was my crowning achievement for the day-Kelley’s presents were ready to go. I had the two boxes taped, addressed, and custom forms filled out. All ready for me to take to the post office this morning.

My husband and I went off to church. He served soup, I ate and chatted. We helped clean up. Then, just as we were walking into the sanctuary, my cell phone rings-it’s my daughter. Uh oh.

It’s cold and has been pouring rain all day. So, I tell my husband I’ll be right there and go take the call. Lesley’s upset. Uh oh. Immediately, I start worrying about car accidents and boyfriend troubles. Then I hear the news.

When she came home last night-not fifteen minutes after Tom and I had left-she found Phoebe and Suzy the wiener dog eating chocolate Santas on our basement floor.
Yes, you guessed it. Phoebe leapt up on the table, pulled a twenty pound sealed box off, dragged it downstairs, and together she and her buddy gnawed through the side of the box, chewed of f the wrapping paper and ate six chocolate Santas and a box of Milk Duds.

And the corner off of the Amazing Race, Season 1 Boxed Set, too.

To say I was upset is pretty much an understatement. After hearing that Lesley had everything under control and the dogs were outside, I went into the church service.
I’m ashamed to say that no matter how much the pastor preached about gratitude and forgiveness, I was thinking evil things about that beagle.

When we got home, the dogs ran around, happy as clams to see us. Chocolate doesn’t seem to affect them anymore than a can of Alpo. I looked at the destruction, thought of how I’m going to have to fix everything up again, and just about cried.

Yes. The beagle struck again…and won.

My husband poured me a glass of wine and told me to go take a bath.

Right now, it’s seven am. The beagle’s sound asleep, happily curled up on her sheepskin bed. I’m dressed and plan to go get my sister’s package ready again. By this afternoon, I know those boxes will be in the mail. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get them out of the house. See, I know they’ll be safer traveling to Greece than they will be on our dining room table.

Phoebe just better hope she doesn’t need surgery on her other ACL any time soon!

This is my only post for December, so I hope everyone has a blessed and peaceful holiday season…or at least no pet disasters. But if you ever have had a pet spoil a holiday, please share! I’d love to know I’m not the only one with a crazy, lovable, destructive dog!

Shelley

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NOVEMBER WINNER!!!

CONGRATULATIONS Nicole S.! You’re the November winner. To receive your free autographed books please contact Ann DeFee and C.C. Coburn through their Web sites.

To enter the contest simply leave a blog comment and your name will go into the drawing. Easy and painless. And FREE BOOKS.

So check back often and be sure to leave a comment. Good luck and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Family favorite

Every year, my husband cooks the turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving, and sometimes for Christmas as well. He’s tried numerous methods with the turkey, most of which work fine (we won’t mention the one or two years – out of thirty-one – when the turkey came out dry).

Through it all, he’s remained faithful to the same stuffing recipe. I have to admit, I’ve never tasted one to equal it, so I’m going to share it here.

This recipe makes enough to stuff a turkey. If you want, you can make a double recipe, put the remainder in a casserole and spread some of the pan drippings on it for added flavor.

I have no idea where this recipe came from. My apologies for failing to give credit.

Warning: this recipe is neither vegetarian nor kosher. And it is laden with fat and calories. Just reading this recipe might cause you to gain weight.

Raisin-Sausage Stuffing

6 cups of toasted bread cubes
1 cup of raisins
1 lb roll of pork sausage (mild or hot)
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons salt

Mix bread cubes and raisins in a bowl. In a pan, brown the sausage. Pour off the fat and save it. To the pan, add the celery and onion and cook until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the sugar, lemon and salt. Pour the sausage mixture into the bread/raisin mixture and stir. Add the reserved fat and stir. (I warned you.)
It’s now ready to stuff the turkey, or heat in the oven.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm a sucker for all cutsie Christmas crafts and this Santa is adorable!! I found this project at Kaboose.com, but a fun variation would be to make three wise men. I would think the same basic instructions would work, only switch up the heads!!



What you'll need:
1 potato chip canister
2 sheets red felt
1 sheet white felt
1 sheet black felt
1 sheet peach felt
Cotton balls
1 large white pom pom
1 jumbo craft stick
1 glittery silver chenille stem
2 medium wiggle eyes
1 small pink pom pom
White craft glue or hot glue gun
Scissors
Patterns--http://crafts.kaboose.com/img/images_holidays/Printable_SantaPattern.pdf


How to make it:
  1. Print out patterns.
  2. Cover the top half of the potato chip can with peach felt.
  3. Cut the jumbo craft stick in half.
  4. Poke a hole in each side of the potato chip can; this is where the arms will go.
  5. Wrap red felt around the can, line up with the bottom of the can and trim so that it overlaps the peach felt. Do not glue to the can just yet.
  6. Hold the felt in place and use a black marker to mark a dot on the red felt where the holes in the can are. Remove the felt and cut a small slit where each marker dot is; this is where the arms will slide in.
  7. Glue the red felt in place, making sure that the slits line up with the holes in the can.
  8. Cut the jacket trim from the white felt using the patterns. Glue the center trim piece on to the red felt, starting from the top of the red felt. Glue the bottom jacket trim around the can, covering the center jacket trim at the bottom.
  9. Cut the arms of the jacket from the red and white felt using the patterns. Lay the white arm trim down first, the red felt on top of that overlapping the white. Lay the craft stick on top of both, the rounded end should be sticking out about 1” from the white cuff. The flat (cut) end of the craft stick should also be sticking out about ¼”, just enough to insert into the can. If it is not, trim the felt to allow some of the stick to show. Fold the felt around the stick to create the sleeve and glue in place. Repeat for the other arm.
  10. Cut the belt and boots from the black felt using the pattern. Glue the belt around the can, about ¾” above the bottom white trim. Glue the boots to the bottom of the can.
  11. Bend the silver chenille stem into a buckle, trim where needed. Glue onto the belt.
  12. Insert the arms into the slits/holes in the side of the can. Glue to secure.
  13. Glue a sheet of red felt around the top of the can, just at the rim. This will be the hat. For now, just glue the felt around the rim and continue to the next step.
    Starting at the back, glue cotton balls in place for hair and beard. Use the photo as a guide.
  14. Gather the felt of the hat and tuck in and glue as you go to create the cap shape. Bend the cap downward and tack to the side to keep it down (if needed) using glue. Glue white pom pom to the end of the hat.
  15. Glue on wiggle eyes and pink pom pom for nose.

Tips:
**For the example, a cylinder chip can was used, but you can use any type of cylinder for this project. Try coffee creamer containers, juice cans or even an empty salt container.
**To jazz up this cute Santa, use white glitter felt for the cuffs and jacket trim instead of plain white felt.

Happy crafting!! ;-)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Package Stalker

The title says it all. I, Laura Bradford, am a package stalker.

Or, at least, I was this weekend.

You see, after waiting for what seemed like an eternity (though, in actuality it wasn't long at all), I got word via a fellow writer that January's author copies had been sent off...

A week ago.

While I was away (in St. Thomas).

And to the house I'd been living in for the past few months (yet no longer was).

Ugh.

Once I got word the box had been delivered (and accepted) by the new owner of said former house, I began to stalk. And I mean, stalk.

Unfortunately, as it was Thanksgiving at this point, the acceptee was apparently out of town.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

How do I know she was out of town? Because there was no sign of life every time I drove by. With "every" time being something like five or six times...

A day.

Until I hit finally hit jackpot yesterday afternoon.

I can't tell you how excited I was to finally have that package in my possession. Wait, actually I can. I was THRILLED!!!

Sure, I've seen my name on books before (both real and pen). And yes, I get excited every time. But this one was different.

Because it's my first-ever romance and it represents a burst of faith I had in myself--faith I grabbed with two hands as I took off in a sprint. KAYLA'S DADDY (Harlequin American, January) is the fruit of that faith in tangible form.

I can't tell you how many times I've looked at that book in the past day. Or how many times I've opened the cover and read the "Dear Reader" and "About the Author" sections. Or even how many times I've thought ahead to the first few readers who pick it up off the shelf in a store somewhere across this country...

It's magical. And it was more than worth the title of psycho stalker.

Really.

So how about you? Have you ever been so excited to see/get something that you couldn't wait for nature to take its course?

Have a great weekend!

~Laura

P.S. A Daddy For Christmas--my first-ever Harlequin on-line read to kick off my first-ever romance novel--debuts December 7th at e.harlequin.com. A new chapter will be posted each day for twenty days (weekends excluded). I hope you check it out!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanks

My mother has a tradition at Thanksgiving. We all hold hands, the meal spread before us on the table, and tell everyone assembled what we’re thankful for this year. When I was a kid, this made me cringe. First, the tradition made sure everyone was staring at me—horrifying when I was a self-conscious teenager. Second, what the heck was I going to say? I would obsess for days ahead of time to come up with the perfect short, thoughtful phrase. Inevitably, I would flub it and a slight titter (or out-right guffaw from my brother) would circle the table. Eventually, as I matured, I learned to play to the crowd, keep it simple and the moments eased on by.


These days, it’s so easy to focus on the worst. Crisis after crisis hits the headlines and pops out of every mouth, TV, blog or tweet. The stories are frightening and devastating. Every-day life is full of small calamities, too: the car breaks down, the toilet backs up, the cat throws up on the new sofa, bad hair, really bad dust-bunnies. Sometimes it seems like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Then Thanksgiving arrives and I remember my mother’s tradition. I spend a few days thinking about all the great things in my life and I re-focus on what’s important: family, love, laughter.


This Thanksgiving, I won’t be sharing a meal with my family, but maybe that’s a good thing. The turkey would need a sweater to keep from catching a chill while I list all the things I’m thankful for this year. I have a wonderful husband. I have terrific friends, some of whom just helped us move. You have to be grateful for people who help you haul an eight-foot sofa up five flights of stairs. I get to write every day. I have romance readers who enjoy my stories. The list goes on and on.


Now I’m going to pass this wonderful tradition on to you. Join hands, everyone. What are you thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hopes, Dreams and Wedding Things

From the moment my son was born—even before if I were honest—I’ve dreamed of a better life for him. Although my own life is admittedly good, I wanted him to be healthier, more at peace with himself and others, get a higher education, achieve success earlier or, in short, have a better future than the one I’ve carved out for myself.

By and large, he’s fulfilled those dreams, along with a few of his own. He combined both our goals by playing baseball all the way through college, managing to graduate with honors. He landed a terrific job, sprang up the ladder into management, bought a wonderful house. Last week, to the applause of our closest friends and family, he realized one of my biggest dreams when he slipped a simple white band on the elegantly manicured finger of his best friend, the love of his life, and my new daughter-in-law.

This girl—young woman, actually—is everything I could have ever wanted for my son. Of course she’s beautiful, with glossy raven hair, dancing brown eyes and a figure most women my age would give their eye teeth to have again. She’s also kind, generous, soft-hearted and close enough to her own family to assure me that she has her priorities straight. Most importantly, when my son looks at her, he is filled with so much happiness, he glows. And she glows back.

But sometimes, to achieve your own goal, you have to muck with someone else’s.

They married in an enormous old church, one with aisles on either side of long, centered pews. The wedding planner, a woman with her own vision for the ceremony, insisted my son stand on the far right while the bridal party entered from the far left. Which meant he couldn’t see his bride come through the doors into the sanctuary. Alternatives and compromises were suggested and soundly rejected until the groom, in the interest of having “the perfect wedding,” agreed to stand where he was told and wait to see his bride once she cleared the final aisle. But some dreams cannot be denied, and, as soon as the Wedding March sounded, my son left his assigned spot by the minister and crossed the dais so he could watch the woman of his dreams walk down the aisle to him…a move that brought tears to every eye in the church. (Okay, so maybe the move clashed with the wedding planner's dream, but she went with the flow.)

Now that the happy couple is off on their honeymoon, I realize that my hopes and dreams require updating. List-maker that I am, I'm tempted to start another list. Or maybe, in the interest of being green, I’ll simply recycle the one I have for the next generation.

What dreams do you have for your children? For yourself? And how will you go about achieving their fulfillment?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Quick, Easy and Delicious Holiday Appetizer

For me the holiday season is all about family, friends and food, so I thought I’d share my favorite party appetizer of all time.

Baked Brie

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
8-ounces Brie cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the Brie (the white rind is edible!) in a shallow baking dish and set aside.

Chop the sun-dried tomatoes and cover them with boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes, until soft. Drain well. If you buy sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, then they’re good to go as is.
.
Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan. Saute tomatoes for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Add garlic and saute for about 30 seconds, still stirring constantly. Stir in the basil, parsley and balsamic vinegar. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.

Cover the Brie with the tomato mixture and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is soft and warm, about 10 minutes.

Serve with plain crackers and a thinly sliced bagette. The warm cheese spreads easily and the topping is mouth-wateringly delicious. Seriously. You must try this. Your guests will love you for it!

Happy holidays!

Until next time,
Lee
The Writer Side of Life

Monday, November 23, 2009

Five Glorious Days

I'm scrambling this week in an effort to get ready to leave for the long holiday weekend (taking my mom up to my cabin in Young). As I juggle seven things at once, I dream about having an entire week - five glorious days - off all to myself. Now, don't get me wrong, I take a couple weeks vacation every year, but it's always a trip. You know the kind I'm talking about. The trips where you work extra hard in order to go and then extra hard when you get back catching up on everything.

As I was walking my dogs this morning before work, I got to thinking about what I would do with an entire five days off to myself. It wasn't hard.

On day one, I do nothing. Okay, doing nothing isn't realistic. What I mean is I'd have no obligations whatsoever. I wouldn't have to drive my son to class or run to the bank or dash home from the office to meet the plumber who's fixing my broken water heater. I'd sleep in until I woke up. Then I'd lay around and watch TV or read a book (wouldn't that be bliss?). Next, I'd take a nap (are you seeing a sleeping trend here?). When I was hungry, I'd lumber over to the phone and order pizza.

On days two and three, I'd write. UNINTERRUPTED writing! Writing where I could finish more than a page and a half before the phone rang or my son needed to locate something that would bite him in the nose if it was any closer. Writing where the pages practically wrote themselves because the ideas flowed nonstop.

On day four I would take care of all that writing related stuff that has been piling up for months. I'd update my webpage. I'd judge those contest entries. I'd work on a new book trailer. I'd put together a fall newsletter. I'd set up a Facebook account!

On day five, I'd spend a full twelve hours refilling my inner well doing things just for me. I'd go shopping and buy a ridiculously expensive pair of shoes or a new purse that I just 'had to have'. Maybe I'd drive down to Tempe Town Lake and walk the perimeter, something I've been wanting to do for five years, ever since they built the lake! I'd definitely meet a friend for lunch or coffee and spend a good two hours catching up. Sounds really nice, doesn’t it?

Maybe one of these days soon….

Oh, did you notice not once during these five days did I mention doing a load of laundry?

So, how would you spend five days all to yourself?

Warmest wishes,

Cathy McDavid

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Things I'm Learning in Mineola, TX

Good morning from Lake Holbrook, where the weather has finally cleared. We've had rain and drizzle for several days, keeping us indoors and keeping some furniture deliveries away. We moved into the lake house last weekend and now we're looking forward to Thanksgiving here next week. Happy holidays to you and your family wherever you are spending turkey day. It is my most fervent wish that you do not spend the holiday at an airport!

I wanted to share a few things I've learned over the past two weeks. Keeping in mind that I'm a city girl and I only had what other people told me and my experience at our primary house, I was a little surprised.

1. If local people tell you they'll be here, they'll be here. (People from other communities may not be so reliable.) If they tell you they'll be here at 9:00 a.m., be ready at 8:00; they may well be early.
2. Give away plenty of autographed books, especially if the person you are giving them to has some knowledge of the area where they are set. Almost everyone is from someplace else.
3. Do not expect city amenities at restaurants, and do not expect to find a nice bar where you can go for a glass of wine with friends. If the VFW doesn't serve it, it doesn't get served.
4. Expect lots of stories about the origins of things and the histories of neighbors. This may not necessarily match the other histories you've heard or the legal records you've seen.
5. If they don't sell it at Wal-Mart, you probably aren't going to get it (new.)
6. Don't expect to go shopping anywhere but Wal-Mart after 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.
7. Don't expect to go out to a restaurant with dim lighting except on Friday or Saturday night, if then.
8. Ask if people will deliver large purchases, especially after explaining that you do no own a pick up truck. (Expect some looks of pity or disbelief.)
9. If something needs to be done, you can probably find someone's brother, cousin, neighbor or friend who will do it gladly for a reasonable price (unlike in a large city, where apparently no one really needs to work.)
And finally, on a personal note ...
10. Carefully consider what you need to take upstairs and what you need to retrieve from upstairs before running up and down the steps a dozen times in a row. At some point, you will lose the desire for mascara, clean socks and that magazine you were reading.

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a great week.

Victoria

Friday, November 20, 2009

Perspectives

Last week I had the opportunity to take 14 high school journalism students to the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association High School Journalism convention in Washington, D.C.

St. Louis had the wettest months on record in October, making all of us think that moving to Seattle or Forks might not be so bad. When we left St. Louis, the weather was the first sunny day most of us had seen in over a month.

We flew right into the remnants of Hurrican Ida as she traveled up the eastern seabord. From the moment we landed at Reagan, the rain started and didn't let up until we boarded the bus to the airport. We flew right back into rain on Sunday's trip home. It's been over a week since I've seen dry ground or the sun.

The first night of our trip, however, after shelling out $36 each for a monument-by-night tour, we all donned the 40 degree weather and the pouring rain to tromp around Washington, D.C. Two of us had umbrellas, although the wind made them useless. We simply got soaked. I was wringing my socks out and stomping my feet to get the feeling back.

Yet, none of that mattered. We were there on Veterans' Day, and as we reached the Korean War Memorial and saw the faces etched into the wall and the life-size statues, it struck all of us that the soldiers had endured so much more. We were climbing on and off a bus, eventually destined for a dry Metro ride back to the Marriott Wardman Park hotel. So we braved on. Up the stairs to see Abe Lincoln. Back down to cry over the Vietnam War wall. We walking down Pennsylvania and waved at the snipers atop the White House.

I realized it was all about perspective last week, especially later when we chose not to go to the award ceremony and went sight seeing instead. Having been entered but never winning, we figured that Murphy's Law said if we skipped, we'd place. We did. The yearbook I advise took 6th in NSPA's national best of show competition. The website my kids do (www.fhhstoday.com) took 10th. Eight of the 14 placed in individual writing competitions. Yeah, it sounds like bragging but the truth is my kids are awesome.

Sometimes a change of scenery and a break is necessary for perspective. Sort of like missing the forest because of the trees. DC was a great experience. We were humbled. Reenergized. It was a chance to simply feel the lifeblood of another place (albeit wet). As for me, I had a great trip and are glad to be home--even if the sun still won't come out.

Michele

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Very Wicked Evening


Living in the center of the country has its perks, I'm sure, but the chance to enjoy a Broadway musical isn't one that happens often. I envy those who live close to NYC and have the opportunity to enjoy seeing some of the best theatrical productions in the world. In Kansas, that doesn't happen very often.


Quick backstory: In 2003 while I was attending RWA's National Conference, three of my fellow RWAer's and I enjoyed a day of sightseeing. We were near Times Square when I looked up to see one of the biggest and especially longest billboards I've ever seen. I took a picture...or so I thought. None ever showed up on my camera. But I raved about it to my family when I returned home, saying that someday I wished I could see the musical I'd seen advertised on that billboard.


A week and a half ago, I had the immense pleasure of attending that Broadway musical--WICKED - The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz--not in NYC, but in Kansas. A bit ironic, yes? My oldest daughter bought tickets months ago and insisted I go with her, her hubby, and one of her friends from work. I did, and it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.


Now, I've been to some excellent theater productions in my life, ranging from some of the best high school and college plays in the area to two summers of theater-going that starred many big names from Broadway, movies and TV, including Joanne Worley from Laugh-In and John Raitt from Broadway and movies. I even have autographs! And I have a clue about the hard work that goes into theater productions, because I acted in several plays in high school and helped start a local community theater, once upon a time. But nothing compares to the wonder of the evening a week-and-a-half ago.


The scenery was magnificent, the costumes were... well, out of this world, even from our front row balcony seats. I hadn't read the book by Gregory Maguire, although my daughter had, so I was in for a surprise, and it was fascinating how the author took a well-known story and opened the eyes of the world to what "really" happened. The two lead actresses, Helene Yorke as Galinda (Glinda, the Good Witch) and Marcie Dodd as Elphaba (the Wicked Witch), could both belt out songs that sent shivers through me. The rest of the cast was equally good, and I've never enjoyed anything so much.


Hugs and lots of love to my daughter Sabrina, who not only bought the tickets and wouldn't let me back out, but also surprised me with a souvenir T-shirt afterward. I'll always treasure the memory of seeing the show and will wear the shirt with joy. A movie version of the musical is scheduled for 2012, so if you haven't seen the show, you'll have the chance to see the next best thing. Don't miss it!


Defy gravity!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thanksgiving Meal: Gravy Woes

The success of my Thanksgiving meal is a crap shoot every year. I freely admit--don’t even pretend to be--could care less that I'm not--a great cook. I know--only a person who would be just as happy if meals came in little white pills would think this way. I have no idea where I acquired this attitude about food. I truly enjoy eating out at my favorite restaurants, but spending time in the kitchen... Nope, I'd rather be writing or gardening or just about anything else but slaving over a stove (except maybe cleaning). The only part of the Thanksgiving meal I never hear a complaint about at my house are the mashed potatoes--probably because I use real butter and heavy whipping cream.

So every November I spend countless hours surfing the web for no-fail recipes and helpful hints to make my Thanksgiving meal palatable--not delectable--I'm realistic about my abilities in the kitchen. I don't know about anyone else but I can never make good gravy. Usually it's tasteless and either too starchy or too runny. This year I came across a hand-written note in one of my mother's cookbooks. She must have gotten the tips from a women's magazine years ago. I've since stuck the note to my refrigerator hoping that come Thanksgiving Day I'll be able to make decent gravy.

Note: Use a wire whisk to stir the gravy to avoid lumps. Cook the flour in the fat (before adding liquid). Don't be stingy with the salt.

If the gravy tastes burnt add a little peanut butter to mask the taste.
If the gravy is too thick add chicken broth to desired consistency.
If the gravy is too thin dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 1/4 cup water and add while boiling and stirring. Repeat if necessary.
If gravy is too bland add a bit of sherry, salt and pepper or poultry seasoning to enhance the flavor in the natural juices.

Feel free to jump in here with your own helpful tips for making a great Thanksgiving meal--my family will be forever grateful!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marin
A Cowboy Christmas 2 stories in 1 book! (Dec 09)
http://www.marinthomas.com/

Sunday, November 15, 2009

ANYONE EVER NOTICE?

My husband has always done most of the work around our house himself. It’s saved us tons of money over the years. He roofed the house himself. He does air conditioning, electrical and mechanical. But as I’ve mentioned before, we moved to a more rural neighborhood this summer with a couple acres. All our married life, hubby has dreamed about having a real shop for his projects. Not just the garage, where I get upset when he kicks my car out or leaves his tools, nails, etc scattered. So part of the deal when we moved was that I got my smaller single story home and he got to build his shop. Of course, it’s proving more costly than he’d anticipated. Big surprise, huh! Now if I haven’t made it clear, this shop is his. I have very little input. I get to make decisions about the house and spend money making it nice and he gets to design his shop.

But here’s the fun part. And I don’t think I’ll mention it to him and spoil his fun in thinking he’s the only one enjoying this project. As we’ve gotten older, and given that we both still hold down full time jobs, he’s actually hiring contractors to do some of the work. Today so far we’ve had three dump trucks making a huge mound of dirt in the back and currently there is a bobcat running around. It may be hubby’s shop, but watching these young guys work is certainly more fun than I’d anticipated. Tight jeans, cotton tee shirts, and sunglasses. Toss in a little good old fashioned sweat. Truly a romance writer’s heyday. I’m feeling remarkably inspired to write today. But has anybody except me noticed how these guys get younger every year?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Burning Cars & Just-right Cupcakes

Ever have so much to do that you pretty much end up doing nothing? I'm afraid that's where today is heading--straight back to bed!!! LOL!!! Daughter Hannah has all sorts of college scholarship paperwork due by the 16th, I've got line edits due the 16th, bills need paying, the house is filthy (even by my lackluster standards), prescriptions need to be picked up, bank deposit dropped off, laundry needs tackling . . . See? I'm exhausted just thinking about doing any of it!! (This month's pic features me at a local booksigning. Keep reading for details.)

Part of my exhaustion stems from an equally nutty week. Garbage disposal is broken. It's snowing in the freezer. Downstairs plumbing is needing attention. Roof is still leaking. Sons' cars went to the shop. One we fixed for $500. The other got put out to that great junkyard pasture just north of the Tulsa airport. That call was awful. Made even worse by the mechanic stating the reason the motor fried is that it hadn't seen oil in MONTHS!!!

Breathe, Laura . . .

In happier news, on Thursday, I got to meet up with old friends and make new ones at a library function held in Tulsa. After a panel discussion and booksigning, we were treated to yummy lunch. Having just heard the fabulous car news, I aimed for the brownie tray. I needed chocolate therapy STAT!!!

Speaking of therapy . . . Hannah and I discovered the BEST new place for naughty girl fun called Kupcakz. I'm not sure if this is a national chain--if not, sorry. The frosting is like some crazy, sin-filled, rapturous creamy goodness that's like no frosting I've ever had. I noticed last time we snuck in (we don't tell the boys we're going!! LOL!!) that you can even order frosting shots!! I promise next week to get back on my diet, but this week it just wasn't happening!!

It's new contract time again, so I'm also having guilty, sinful pleasure inventing my new Harlequin American series!! My working title is Buckhorn Ranch and the stories center around three Oklahoma cowhunks (as I like to call them) and their cowgirl sister. Now, mind you, these stories could never see the light of day, but for now, me and Cowboy Cash are having wicked good fun!!


Have an awesome weekend!! ;-)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

News!

I just wanted to share some news with Harlequin American readers. I'll be continuing my Brody's Crossing series into 2011 with two new books, tentatively titled Texan in Her Heart and The Texan and the Cowgirl. Both of them will feature either a hero or a heroine introduced as a secondary character in other Brody's Crossing books. Also, the mystery of why Cal and Troy's mother left the family years ago is finally explained when a visitor arrives in town, looking for answers. Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Household Cleaning Tip

Twenty Minutes to Tidy

I found this household tip at http://www.stayathomemoms.about.com/

Of course my teenagers refused to help in the experiment but I thought what the heck--I'll
give it try by myself. I confess it took me thirty-five minutes not twenty--mostly because the high traffic area in my house includes the stairs and those take the most time to vacuum.

1. Start a Load of Laundry
Save time by letting your kids sort the laundry while you work on a different chore.
After the laundry is sorted, throw a load of messy kid clothes into the washing machine.
If you don't have a washing machine, have the kids sort the clothes and bag them for your next trip to the laundromat.
Time Limit for You: 3 Minutes
Tip: Spray stain remover on the clothes needing extra attention first. While it's working, move on to another chore so you don't have to wait.

2. Straighten Up the Family Room
Have your children arrange the magazines and books.
Kids can dust with socks on their hands.
Time Limit for You: 0 Minutes. No time investment for you. The children are doing the work.
Tip: Your family room touch up can be left to the kids so you can focus on other areas of the house. Give them age appropriate chores to keep them safe.

3. Pick Up the Toys
Have your children pick up their toys as fast as they can.
Hold a contest to see who can put away the most toys.
No losers in this game. Choose a prize everyone can enjoy when time's up.
Time Limit for You: 0 Minutes. No time investment for you. The children are doing the work while learning how to pick up after themselves.
Tip: Baskets and bins make toy pick up easier and more fun for children.

4. Make the Beds
Start with your own bed. You deserve a made bed to crawl into at the end of the day.
Pull the top sheet and comforter back in place. Straighten up the pillows.
Older kids can make their own beds to help save time.
Time Limit for You: 4 Minutes
Tip: Wrinkle-resistant sheets make your bedroom look cleaner than crumpled up sheets.

5. Vacuum Daily
Vacuum high-traffic areas every day.
Alternate vacuum days between the kitchen and bathroom.
Time Limit for You: 5 Minutes
Tip: Use a handheld vacuum cleaner for spot cleaning without having to drag out the big vacuum cleaner.

6. Wipe Down the Kitchen
Use a disinfectant wipe to clean the counters, fixtures and sink.
Don't forget to wipe the refrigerator handles little hands have been touching.
Take a quick swipe inside the microwave with a damp cloth.
Time Limit for You: 2 Minutes
Tip: If you have a lot of counter space, only clean the counter areas where you prepared your children's food for the day.

7. Disinfect the Bathroom
Clean all bathroom fixtures with a disinfectant wipe.
Wipe the bathroom counters
Time Limit for You: 2 Minutes
Tip: Add an automatic toilet bowl cleaner to keep the inside of the toilet clean for 2-3 months.

8. Load the Dishwasher
Put the day's dirty dishes into the dishwasher.
Start the dishwasher at the end of the night.
Time Limit for You: 3 Minutes
Tip: Use downtime while you're cooking to put the dishes away.

9. Freshen Up Your House
Use air freshener throughout your house.
Spray fabric refresher on your furniture, especially those areas where the kids hang out.
Time Limit for You: 1 Minute
Tip: Open windows on a sunny day to remove odors with fresh air.

Time's up! You and your family just tidied up the house in twenty minutes.

I see only one drawback to this method of cleaning for those of us who really despise housework--the temptation to substitute the 20-Minute pickup for a thorough housecleaning once a month!

Happy Cleaning

Marin
A Cowboy Christmas Dec 09
http://www.marinthomas.com/


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Launch Day to Me!



Or—The strange and wonderful feeling of being a debut novelist.

It’s been quite a year (and a bit) since I got The Call in person at the RWA conference in San Francisco. Although I was overjoyed that a twenty year undertaking had finally been realized, in some ways it didn’t feel quite “real”.
It started to get real around the time that my debut novel, “Colorado Christmas” was listed on Amazon. Up until then, I couldn’t help thinking it could all fall in a heap. Not that I didn’t have confidence in Harlequin or my wonderful editor, Paula Eykelhof, or even the belief in the evidence of my advance check – it was just that somehow, until that concrete proof that my book was actually in production and people could order it—it was still all a little surreal. Like I might wake up and find it was all a dream.
Maybe it was the 20 long years it took to get The Call that had me feeling jittery?
Well now I’m feeling jittery in a different way because today is the official launch day for my book!
I’m jittery about whether people will enjoy it and want to read more of the O’Malley Men and subsequent books of mine. A Top Pick review from Romantic Times had my head swollen bigger than a watermelon, but how am I going to feel when I get my first negative review?
So far I’ve had some lovely fan letters from readers. And even my husband liked it: “Apart from spoiling it with all that mushy stuff”. Any wonder I write romance? (grin)
Still, he did love Louella (the very naughty pig) and asked if she’d be returning in any other stories. Well… no… she wasn’t but then I ran it by my editor and she thought Louella deserved an encore performance. So Louella is back in book #2 of The O’Malley Men series, “The Sheriff and the Baby”.
It’s interesting hearing from readers what they liked about the book, each one so far has remarked on something different which surprized me. Some enjoyed the light-hearted moments, others the romance, or the quirky characters and yet others remarked on impact of the… well, I can’t tell you about that because it would be giving away the ending! So you’re just going to have to read the book and tell me your favourite part of “Colorado Christmas”.
I’ll choose my favourite comment and give away a copy to the winner in my December 10 blog. Since you might already have read “Colorado Christmas”, I’ll autograph the winning copy to whomever you wish to give it as a Christmas present. A perfect Colorado Christmas gift!
Till next month - happy reading everyone!
CC

Monday, November 09, 2009

Prize for best tip on getting organized!

Oops! I forgot to blog last month and nearly forgot again today. I used to be a pretty organized person, but lately I’ve been so busy and so immersed in the books I’ve been writing that many other things are slipping past me. Like blog dates and housekeeping and cooking anything that requires more than a microwave to defrost and reheat it. :)

I need help getting back on track! So I will reward the person with the best organizational tip for me the full set of the wedding party books!

My system of sticky notes on the side of my desktop computer isn’t working. They usually become unstuck or disappear when other stuff – like school papers, junk mail and bills get piled above them. Writing notes on the calendar only works when I remember to look at the calendar – same with the appointment cards that are held to the fridge with magnets.

I suppose I could use some computer program, but I alternate between my desktop and my laptop so much that it would have to be a program compatible with both XP and Vista – and my Blackberry. The program can’t be so technical that it’s too difficult to use and not so much work that I’ll never use it as has been the case with some programs. And if it’ll dust and cook, that would be a definite plus. :) I’ll settle for it reminding me to do those things – like scheduling different housekeeping jobs in addition to appointments and birthdays and all those other things that I’d love to keep track of!

On the bright side, I do have a good reason for being so forgetful. I’ve been busy writing. My next Harlequin American is an April 2010 release, HIS BABY SURPRISE, about a hockey player who finds a baby on his doorstep. This December I have a Christmas novella for Silhouette Nocturne, NOTHING SAYS CHRISTMAS LIKE A VAMPIRE, in the Holiday with a Vampire III anthology. I have another Nocturne in March 2010, MISTRESS OF THE UNDERGROUND, and I return to writing for Harlequin Intrigue with MYSTERY LOVER in June 2010.

Please help me get organized again! I’d love to hear how you keep your busy life running smoothly! And I’ll send out those autographed books to the person with the tip that I think will get me back on track!

Thanks for your help, happy reading & happy early Thanksgiving!
Lisa Childs

Sunday, November 08, 2009

THAT TIME OF THE YEAR...

In September I blogged about the drought in Texas. It hadn’t rained in months and things were looking bleak. The rain started in early October and shows no signs of stopping. No one is complaining. Yet. But give us time. Texans love to complain about the weather.
Below is a picture of the lake in our backyard when it was so dry.
On the right is what it looks like now. A big difference.
As I’m typing this it’s drizzling. I can hear the gentle tap-tapping on my window. The wind’s blowing from the north, slapping the rain at times against the window. By morning the temperature should be in the forties. Fall has arrived and winter is not-so-patiently nipping at its heels.

The soft cadence of the rain reminds me of my husband’s dad and stepmom. They grew up with tin roofs on their homes and loved the rhythmic sound of the rain hitting it. Years later and living in their own home they said how much they missed that sound when it rained. When our stepmom was dying of cancer, my father-in-law would turn a washtub upside down near her window and turn on a water sprinkler. That soothing tap-tapping lulled her to sleep. I always thought that was true love.
My muse loves this weather and my creative juices get recharged. I can write, write, write and get totally lost in the story and my characters. I’m working on a Christmas story so this is perfect weather to weave some magic. I could use some snow, but that rarely happens in Texas.
This is perfect weather for reading, too. Curling up with a good Harlequin book is my favorite pastime. Since I’ve been published I don’t get to do much of that, so it’s really a treat when I can.

Do you have a favorite time to write? Or read? Do you have a favorite sound that’s comforting?
Happy Holidays.
Linda Warren
Madison’s Children – SuperRomance Oct ‘09
P..S. I wrote this blog earlier in the week. Today it’s sunny and bright, but the mood here is sad. My heart and prayers go out to the soldiers and their families at Fort Hood, and to all the soldiers and their families around the world.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

November Memories

The crunch of leaves, the bite of the wind, the layering of clothes. Did you just turn on your heater, or has it been on for a few weeks? Is it still pouring rain? Are there mums blooming where you are? Are you counting the days till Christmas?

What does November mean? Simply put, it marks the eleventh month on our calendar. But I'm wondering what the word brings to mind to different people.

To a writer, November might mean participating in NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write 50,000 words, and not edit, not doubt. Turn off that internal voice that tells you you're doing it wrong. Dedicate yourself to turning out pages.

To a child, the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving counts off the days till the next break from classes. It might mean raking leaves at his/her home or for neighbors. Or shoveling snow! A high schooler might look forward to the Fall Dance. Or not. LOL In some areas, it's Girl Scout cookie time! Yum.

As a mom with little children, November meant visiting Santa, shopping for Christmas presents, and getting an annual picture taken, printed and stuffed in Christmas cards to mail on December 1st. It meant making sure my kids were wearing sufficient clothing--does every child fight putting on a jacket? Wearing a coat? Taking an umbrella? Okay, okay. I know. There's not enough room in the locker at school. It's bulky/hot/stupid looking. Don't get me started on hats and gloves!

Early in the month, I start planning holiday meals. First I have to think of Thanksgiving--what to take to each house I go to on Thanksgiving, when to shop, when to cook. Can I make anything ahead of time or will it just get eaten?

Thanksgiving was usually the first holiday when my mom would make noodles. Egg noodles in chicken or turkey broth. My mouth is watering just thinking of it. I remember sheets of waxed paper with rounds of uncut noodle "dough" drying. Mom taught me to roll the rounds, cut into thin noodles and unroll them to finish drying. The strips always stuck together, and the challenge was to unroll each without tearing it. In my own small house, I've had my dining table filled with drying noodles, plus a card table, plus several TV trays. (Did you guess I like noodles?) My husband asked how much of each ingredient I needed and I had to calculate--for my family of noodle-lovers or for his? How many leftovers did we want? For how long? For how many people who'd want to take home some noodles?

I've never cared for turkey. For me, a plate of noodles on top of mashed potatoes (yes, I said on top of, not instead of), with some buttery corn is sufficient.

Until it's time for chocolate pie!

I try to be thankful for the blessings in my life every day, not just on Thanksgiving. So, now it's your turn--what does November mean to you?

Megan Kelly
megankellybooks.com

Thursday, November 05, 2009

That first sentence

My husband and I love to share the opening sentence of whatever we’re currently reading. (It’s really fun! Try it.)

We’ve learned that not that all books start with a brilliant first line. Sometimes the entire first paragraph is what hooks us.

But this blog is about that first sentence.

I thought I’d share some, taken from books on my keeper shelf. Bear in mind that my keeper shelf is huge! Choosing only a handful wasn’t easy, and I ended up pulling out books at random. In no particular order, here are the first sentences in those books, with the punctuation exactly as printed:

“If it had not been for my fiance’s alcoholic cousin Mookie I feel quite sure that my daddy would still be a member in good standing at the Oconee Hills Country Club.” (Mary Kay Andrews, HISSY FIT)

“Sophie Dempsey didn’t like Temptation even before the Garveys smashed into her ’86 Civic, broke her sister’s sunglasses, and confirmed all her worst suspicions abut people from small towns who drove beige Cadillacs.” (Jennie Crusie, WELCOME TO TEMPTATION)

“The wild child of Parrish, Mississippi, had come back to the town she’d left behind forever.” (Susan Elizabeth Phiillips, AIN’T SHE SWEET?)

“What if I told you I had a fantasy?” (J.R. Ward, LOVER REVEALED)

“There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.” (Janet Evanovich, ONE FOR THE MONEY)

“Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood.” (Sarah Addison Allen, GARDEN SPELLS)

“I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.” (Laurie R. King, THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE)

I love all those sentences and loved the stories that followed.

What about you? Do you judge a book by its first line or paragraph? If not, what (besides the author) makes you decide to read a particular book? What’s the first line of the current book you’re reading?


Until next time, and eager to read your replies,
Ann
www.annroth.net