Wednesday, December 30, 2009
To save energy costs, we turn our heat down at night to 64F. That means it's liable to be 54F in my office. That's a tad nippy if one wants to work (or boot up one's computer. That's why I leave my computer ON from November through April and just reboot every morning before I start my work for the day).
For years, I had one of those oil-filled electric heaters. They work well ... IF you turn them on at least two hours before you want to use a room. (And it's best to close the door to keep that s-l-o-w-ly created heat confined.) I wore a LOT of clothes while trying to work in that kind of environment.
Then, last year, hubby bought me one of those Edenpure heaters. They work with a light bulb that heats copper, and a fan to blow the warm air into the room. While it's a lot more efficient than the electric oil heat, it still takes hours to get my office up to a decent (working) temperature.
Of course, the summer is just the opposite. It's hot as hades in this office, and the lovely cool air courtesy of our Carrier central air isn't cool by the time it winds its way through the entire house. And when the afternoon sun hits my office window, YIKES, besides being steamy, I can't even see my computer screen for sun glare.
I'll bet many of you are saying, "Why doesn't she get a blind on that window?"
The truth is, I have one. But my cat Fred chewed the cord right off, so now I can only lower it eight inches. (Don't you just LOVE cats!!!) It's not a standard-sized window, so I had to special order it. Me thinks I'll start cashing in the deposit on pop bottles and save for a new blind for next summer.
How are you staying warm this winter?
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I like that. It draws out the fun, gives you something to look forward to. Stocking stuffers are always fun. We've been trying to cut down on the goodies that go into them (think chocolate: milk, dark, chili (can't wait to try that one), little boxes of Russell Stovers), but inevitably, they stockings are stuffed with them. Hubby tries to be good, and somehow I always end up with purple, pink, and turquoise pens--makes it easier to find the changes when I edit a manuscript. And he always includes those little Post-It tabs that I can use when editing a ms to mark the pages I have changes on. (By the time I'm done reading, there's a rainbow of tabs sticking out!)
My brother always gets me the best stuff. This year he gave me the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince DVD (which I did not get to see at the theater), AND Julie and Julia (which I did), AND the best of Will Farrell on Saturday Night Live, and even MORE stuff. (He really goes overboard and I LOVE IT.) On Sunday, he called me to ask what I'd gotten from my hubby. LOTS of DVDs (it's going to be tough to sit down and write the next book and NOT be tempted by all those lovely movies and the entire run of several TV shows). So I dutifully gave him low-down.
His puzzled reaction: "I thought you said you got good stuff."
Hey, I happen to love every one of those movies, including A Christmas Story, Inside Moves, Murder By Decree--I haven't seen the latter two in a long time and wonder if they'll hold up to what I remember. It'll be interesting to see Murder By Decree again (Sherlock Holmes as played by Christopher Plummer, with James Mason as Watson), especially considering I plan to go see the new Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. (who I love!!!). And it was odd to find out that the director of Murder By Decree also directed A Christmas Story. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum!
My brother was also absolutely horrified to find out that hubby had also given me the 1096-page biography of the Queen Mum. I had to shake my head at that one. I've already read the first two chapters and can't wait to really dive into it.
So I guess it's true--one man's trash is another man's (or woman's) treasure.
And what did Santa bring YOU this Christmas?
Friday, December 25, 2009
I think that's when I got this thing for sheep. I started buying them. Oh, not the actual creatures. Get real--I live in the suburbs.
My first sheep was a stuffed toy. But I'm not really into stuffed animals (although I do seem to have more than my fair share). I like that they're placid animals--at least as figurines. They sit quietly in my cabinet and seem to have a calming effect on me when I'm ready to yank out my hair over some idiotic situation. Although an acquaintance of mine who works at a "living museum" (think Sturbridge--but not as grand) says sheep can be really stoooopid--and even throw tantrums. Who knew?
About ten years ago I bought my first orphaned sheep at an estate sale. Somehow they'd been separated from the other nativity figurines. I wasn't exactly sure what to do with them until after a trip to Italy, where I got a St. Francis figurine. Then my little display kind of evolved, including an orphaned lamb.
Things haven't exactly gotten out of hand, but I do try to pick up as many orphaned nativity sheep as I can find at garage sales and such, and I usually don't pay more than 50 cents for them. My first ram came from a charity shop in England (a gift from my mother--he's the one with the black horns). One Christmas my friend Janette even gave me a Cherished Teddy (in a kilt and holding a lamb!) to act as shepherd for my flock.
I don't think I added anything to my collection for more than a year before these guys showed up just days ago.
They needed a home...and I'm happy to give it to them.
Merry Christmas--and happy holidays all!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The very first time we went out, was actually our second lunch together. I didn't call it a "date" because I was friends with a lot of guys at work and we often went to lunch, almost always Dutch treat, too. But Frank invited me out to lunch on a very snowy day and I figured I ought to wear my boots. Moon boots. Big, Ugly, Clunky, Boots. I was sure we were going to a diner or maybe even a fast food joint for pizza or a burger. No, he takes me to a real swank place called Chestnuts, where everything on the menu was so expensive it made your eyes go BOING!
So there I was, Little Miss Unsophisiticated with her moon boots, and knitted hat and turtleneck (hey, I was cold!), and all around me are these svelt, model-like women in sleeveless dresses cut down to the navel and dripping with jewelry, sipping sherry or chardonnay, and there I was with a whiskey pop (a highball). But it was a lovely lunch and when he dropped me back off at the office, he handed me a gift. (A GIFT!!!!! Handmade stationery.) I was so surprised, I gave him a kiss on the cheek, which I think startled and surprised him, too.
For years we went to a lovely little restaurant in the basement of and old office building, that had the most gorgeously decorated rooms for dining (black lacquered tables, plenty of mirrors, and lots of sparkling chandeliers), a sumptuous bar, and exquisite Christmas decorations. We'd have a couple of drinks (Manhattan for him, martini for me) and always ended lunch with their famous white mousse. But then they lost their lease and moved to another historic building, and totally changed their decor to all white, no window treatments (there had been no windows in their previous location, which tended to make the place feel more intimate), and no charisma. They were out of business within six months.
After that, we often had lunch in lovely Tastings, the test-kitchen restaurant owned by the Wegmans grocery chain. But Tastings has now closed--and they've reopened as Next Door Bar and Grill and they don't (yet) serve lunches. (Bummer.)
So this year we ended up in Keanan's--a very nice casual-style restaurant, which is always nicely decorated, and has a wonderful staff. We had a lovely lunch...but it just wasn't the same. We've eaten there on many occasions--not always happy (like the day my Dad died), and have always had a nice lunch. (One of the waitresses even knows what we drink--even though we might only go there six times a year.)
I'm hoping by next year we find some other wonderful little restaurant that will make the Christmas lunch as special as it once was. Of course the one thing that has always been the same is my lunch companion--and through the years I couldn't have done any better.
Do you have a tradition like this?
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
He went through a lot of hobbies. For a while he did leathercraft. I still have--and use--the wallet he made for me over 30 years ago. He made jewelry. (I wear 14 rings, five of them he made.) But one of his most endearing projects were his wood carvings--a hobby that stayed with him for a long time. He liked to do variations of Santa, and literally did hundreds of them. These little guys were one of his first efforts, and look pretty primitive when compared with his later work. He gave them to me for my birthday in 1992. When he'd finished them, he thought they looked like they were singing--and that they should do that under a lamppost--so he made one of those, too!
At first, he was very critical of the painting of his carvings, and even asked my husband to do a few, but in no time he was better at it than Frank, and adding more and more decorations to the little guys. He did fat Santas, tall Santas and a lot of short Santas. His favorite were Tomties--little elves that help Santa. (As pictured on the right.) He made a LOT of these, and usually they were doing something, (like this little guy holding the candle) and usually wore "wooden" shoes.
I'm really not sure how Dad got into carving, but for him, it was an adventure, albeit a usually solitary affair. I had my critique group, and Dad had his carving buddies that he saw every few weeks. One of them moved to Berea, KY--home of The Kentucky Artisans center, which, like the name says, showcases the work Kentucky's best artisans. Dad's former carving partner wanted to make a certain carving, but it wouldn't come out right, so Dad made one and sent it to him as a prototype. Unknown to Dad, the man put Dad's carving into a local competition where it took first prize! (The one on the left is another version of that prizewinner.)
As far as adventures go, one day Dad was in his workshop carving, when he called up to my mother. "I've cut myself." She figured he'd cut his hand, but he'd actually dropped the knife on his thigh. When she got down to the workshop, there was so much blood, she thought he'd slashed an artery and got on the phone to 911, then hauled him upstairs to wait for the ambulance. There was blood everywhere--on the workshop floor, the stairs, all over the kitchen. The EMTs arrived in record time and got the bleeding under control, but they sent him to the ER just in case. Then they wanted to see THE CARVING KNIFE. When Mom showed the guy, he nearly went into hysterics of laughter. He'd been expecting a 10-inch carving knife, not a tiny 1-inch blade. (Hey, those suckers are sharp.) Ninety minutes later, Dad was belly-up to the bar at my Aunt's house where they were supposed to go for dinner--and only 30 minutes late. (Hey, there was a Manhattan waiting with his name on it.)
One of my favorite carvings is Santa stuck in the chimney. From the top, all you see are Santa's legs sticking out--but turn the carving over, and there's Santa's sooty face.
Dad didn't do too many carvings these last few years. His remaining carving buddy moved away and it wasn't so much fun any more. But last year for Christmas he gave me two of his last efforts. One was unpainted, the other was a Bear dressed in overalls. They live in my office, with a couple of fishermen, an owl, and an unfinished Santa tree ornament. The rest of them reside on a little bookshelf in my living room. I have carved bunnies, birds, a deer, and even a walrus, and I love them all.
Dad passed away in October, so there won't be just one more "found" carving to go in my collection. (I know they're there--I've seen them in his workshop, which is pretty much just the way he left it.)
It's the end of a wonderful tradition. While it makes me terribly sad, I have all these wonderful pieces that Dad made, a lot of them signed "For Lorraine made by her Dad."
The were the best Christmas presents ever.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Of course, my office still looks like a bomb hit it, but that's because I haven't found a home for the all the clutter that got stacked in here two weeks ago. And I still have all the clobber from the craft shows I did for the past month hanging around. (That's a LOT of boxes.)
But, truly, knowing somebody is going to come and clean does actually keeps you from messing the place up too much--which is really rather counter productive. In fact, yesterday I found myself washing the wall behind the stove, and then I cleaned the sinks and scrubbed the top of the stove (Soft Scrub and baking soda--an unbeatable combination!).
The guilt is starting to abate about needing someone to come in and clean. As my friend Jan told me, "you're contributing to the economy and keeping someone in a job."
I like having a clean house, and wonder why we didn't do this years ago.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I did some major shopping the other day (I was gone from 10 a.m. until after 4 p.m.) and everyone I ran across was NICE. I was in Macy's and not only did a salesperson approach me and ask if I needed help, she stuck with me for half an hour, made sure I had boxes, and found someone to ring up my sale. You see, this woman was a DISTRICT MANAGER, but she was helping out because they were shorthanded. Let me tell you, Macy's is now MY favorite place to Christmas shop. (Except for bookstores, of course.)
People held the door open for me and my mother.
People wished us "Merry Christmas," "Happy Holidays," and to "have a nice day."
Traffic was heavy, but no one acted like an idiot and refused to let me change lanes when I needed to.
I wish this Christmas spirit could last the whole year.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
For days now, I've been trying to find the time to make cut-out cookies for Christmas. I've assembled all the ingredients and yesterday I bought two new cookie cutters. (A martini glass--wonder why I got that? And a school bus. (My brother is a substitute driver and is an absolute NUT for cut-out cookies so I thought I'd make him a batch.)) I've been looking in stores for a Scotty dog cookie cutter for months. I found one online but didn't want to pay $10 PLUS shipping, so no Scotty dog cookies this year.
I dug out the bag of cookie cutters the other night and I'm sure there's a bunch missing. But where would I have put them? When I had my booth at the Craft Antique Co-op, I sold hundreds of cookie cutters, and I know when I went out of business that I didn't sell them all. But where did they go?
This year I thought I'd try to do more than just slap on icing. I'm going to pipe the cookies so they look like they came out of a decorating magazine. The only problem is, I'm not all that handy with a pastry bag. I figure my first efforts will probably look ... like first effort, but I shall persevere...at least for an hour or so.
Have you done your holiday baking yet?
Monday, December 14, 2009
Yesterday I spent a wonderful two hours in an independent bookstore in Medina, NY. It's called The Book Shoppe. Owner Sue Phillips and her assistant Robin made me feel so welcome. Not only did they have a table full of books for me to sign, but they had cookies and coffee waiting for me and the customers. (I'm not a coffee drinker, but the aroma was heavenly, and on a cold December Sunday, very welcoming.)
In between customers, Sue and Robin graciously answered my questions about running a small bookstore, and I gained more than a few ideas to incorporate into future Booktown Mysteries.If you're ever in Western New York, stop in picturesque Medina, and definitely check out The Book Shoppe.
Friday, December 11, 2009
On a recent visit to my local bookstore, I wandered through the mystery section to see what was new (and did they have copies of my book(s) and those of my friends). On all the cap ends were holiday mysteries. Lots of them. Whoa!
A quick look at the copyright dates proved that these were NOT new books getting preferential treatment, but that the bookstore was trotting out seasonal backlists to satisfy its readers' desire to get in the holiday spirit with a little touch of murder.
I told an author friend of mine that we needed to write holiday books that we could trot out every year. Unfortunately, it's usually the publisher--not the author--who decides these things.
Still, I do have a holiday story I can trot out every year. Okay, it's available year-round on Amazon Shorts, and I rarely trot. Add to that, the title gives no clue that the story is set during the holiday season. It's called "We're So Sorry, Uncle Albert," and it's so forlorn (i.e. lack of sales) it isn't even ranked any more. I wanted to explore the relationship between the have and have-nots within a family unit. What would it take to goad family members to even consider bumping off a “loved one?” And what are the possibilities of getting away with such a crime? And why not set it during the holiday season?
Will I ever write a novel set at Christmas? Well . . . maybe. I do have one in the closet that takes place around Thanksgiving -- and the epilogue takes place on Christmas Eve. And my first Victoria Square Mystery takes place Halloween week and ends--you got it--at Christmastime!
(But one never knows.)
What's your favorite holiday book/story?
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
These letters seem to have a bad rap with a lot of people, like they're just a brag-fest. But the thing is, I don't hear from some of these people for 11-12 months at a time. It's nice to catch up on what's going on in their lives, even if it isn't an interactive conversation.
A friend of mine has had a couple of bad years. Her college-age son has been quite ill and the last couple of letters have chronicled his progress. And that's the key word--he has made progress and it going to go back to school in January after taking more than a year off for a medical leave. Mind you, I never knew her son, but we were critique partners for a couple of years and we got along really well. I was so sorry to hear about her son's problems, and I'm glad he's on the mend.
I know I'll get at least two or three of these letters. I even got a couple of holiday letters from fans of my writing. They sent Christmas cards to me at my PO Box and included their letters. I read about families I never knew, their vacations, their dogs and cats, their parents and siblings. It was fascinating!
I used to send letters out, but now I'm not so sure. I had two life-altering experiences this year. I made the New York Times Bestsellers list (7 weeks in all--talk about a brag-fest) and I lost my Dad. The best of times and the worst of times. In between, I've been numb. And now, I'm just sad.
So far we've only received two cards. I'm looking forward to seeing what the mail brings in the next couple of weeks.
How about you?
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
For years, I've been teasing my husband with a line from an old "Bickersons" comedy routine. (No, I'm not old enough to remember them first-run; I got an old cassette out of the library and learned the routines playing them over and over again.) In it, Blanche wails, "Why can't I have a maid?"
When I lived in a small bedroom in my parents first house, it was easy to keep tidy. Same in my first two (small) houses. But then I got married and moved into a sprawling contemporary ranch house. (The original owners had expanded with four additions, and finished off three-quarters of the basement, too.) We, therefore, essentially have four living rooms (it only took 11 years to furnish this place), and we rotate their use on a regular basis.
I don't know how I kept the place clean when I worked a full-time job and had a booth in an antiques co-op (for 12 years), and wrote (but not published) books, as well, but somehow I managed. Now that I don't have to squeeze cleaning and laundry into my life, it's gotten out of hand.
It's been a stressful year, and cleaning the house was not on the top of my to-do list. So, after talking about it for months (okay, really, a couple of years), we bit the bullet and called a cleaning service, and then stressed about it or a whole week.
I'd always heard of women who clean before the cleaners come. "That won't be me," I said.
Two hours before they were to arrive, I found myself on my hands and knees cleaning the bathroom floor. Decluttering took the better part of an hour. Everything got stashed in my already messy office, which we hadn't contracted for them to clean. I had to leave to run an errand, so I wasn't there when the two ladies showed up, and wondered if I could find a way to STAY away while they were there.
No such luck. They were here for over three hours.
It turns out, I'm not the only writer around who has someone in to clean. One of my (very successful) author pals said hiring someone to come in and clean her house on a regular basis was the best thing she ever did for her writing career. It freed up hours and hours every week, giving her more time to devote to her career. (And she has a REAL career.) Still, I can't help feeling guilty.
Why do women feel they should do it all? My husband quit cutting the grass three or four years ago. Same with snowblowing the driveway. Gutters? There's a guy for that, too. Wanna dig up the garden in a big way? Just pick up the phone. We both work from home--and usually seven days a week--and he doesn't feel a lick of guilt over no longer doing his "home chores." So why should I feel like I'm not holding up my end?
Will somebody tell me it's okay to have the house cleaned on a regular basis -- and not by me? (And by the way, it really is nice to have a clean house!!!)
Monday, December 7, 2009
Actually, on Friday, I didn't have a clue what the new book would be about. Okay, I did pitch a one paragraph load of hogwash over a year ago, thinking I'd come up with something--but maybe might have a better idea in the meantime.
Mind you, it wasn't really hogwash. It's just that I pitched something off the top of my head figuring if I couldn't come up with anything different, I'd make this work. Then I read the pitch about a month ago and started to panic. I thought over and over again about the figment-of-my-imagination idea and how nothing was happening in the idea-generation portion of my brain that would expand that 150-word paragraph into an 80,000 word book.
I had a BIG day Saturday, and I'd forgotten to set the alarm, so I laid awake in bed (because it was warm there and the rest of the house wasn't) and decided to think about the story so I wouldn't fall back asleep. Maybe I'd come up with that "better" idea. But I didn't. I started thinking about the setting where the murder would take place. I started thinking about the weather, the time of day, and who would be nearby. After about ten minutes, I decided I'd better head to the COLD, DRAFTY office and start putting these ideas into the computer before I lost them.
I didn't write a lot. Not even a page. But it was enough to get me going. I've had the story on the back burner all weekend, and I feel like I'm ready to make a first stab at Chapter 1. In fact, I'm looking forward to it. (Which isn't how I usually approach a new book. Usually I go into total procrastination mode.)
Now all I need is 80,000 words and a really good title. (And I'll bet coming up with the title will be harder than coming up with the storyline.) I may end up having a contest to come up with the title, and if I do--I'll let you know.
Friday, December 4, 2009
For years I've been telling anyone who'd listen that I don't like to cook. I think that may now be a lie. Lately it seems I'm a lot more interested in food prep than I have been. It might have a LOT to do with the fact that so much of the food we buy is processed with sodium or high-fructose corn syrup and I really feel better knowing what's in the food I eat.
That's one reason why I expanded my vegetable garden this past summer. We grew broccoli and Brussels sprouts (which Mr. Groundhog ate most of), tomatoes, a TON of green beans (yum!), potatoes, parsley and cilantro.
For the past few days I've been a cooking machine. Wednesday I made Potato-Leek soup (the recipe is included in Bookplate Special) and a mince pie. Friday I made a HUGE lasagna. Yesterday I made a huge vat of turkey-vegetable soup (which will probably feed me for the entire winter, and nobody else in my family will eat it--I freeze it in small containers), and made cookies for the coming holidays. (Shortbread and Oatmeal Raisin cookies.)
The thing I'm noticing is that ... I'm now enjoying the process. Mind you, I love to cook with my husband, but lately we haven't done much of that. (Note to self: Bug Husband To Cook With Me.)
This year I've frozen a ton of onions, leeks, and parsley, good stuff for soups and stews. I have a bunch of crock-pot recipes I want to try. And since I became a cozy mystery author, I always seem to be testing recipes to include in my books. (Too bad most of them are so fattening. But, it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for my readers. And if you believe THAT ....)
Sadly, all this domesticity hasn't manifested into a massive clean up of the old homestead. And this week for the first time in my life, I'm hiring someone to come in and give the place a good going over. (I think I'll go hide in the basement while they're here.)
But when I'm in the kitchen, I'm not exactly having fun ... but I do notice I feel completely content when I'm cooking something or other these days. I like that feeling.
How about you?
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I know, I know--officially winter doesn't even start until the Solstice on Dec. 21st, but I'm already fed up. Mind you, we have had a glorious fall. It was almost 60 degrees on Sunday. But we also had our first snow on Tuesday. And so I quoted Ebenezer Scrooge: "Bah. Humbug!"
I like where I live. I like the changing of the seasons. I just wish winter came and went in a week. I was never even disappointed those years we didn't have a White Christmas, either. And the worst: February. Okay, the days actually start to lengthen so that you notice it in February, but the shortest month seems the longest because we always seem to have two or three storms a week. Lake Effect Snow dumps right off either Lake Erie or Lake Ontario, and when you live close to the shore (thank goodness, not THAT close), you get more snow than those who live farther inland.
And, getting back to Christmas, now I'll have to suffer through at least three weeks of Der Bingle and everyone else who ever did a Christmas album singing about a White Christmas. (Okay, I like The Drifters version. It makes me laugh.) I'll have to be regaled about Walking In A Winter Wonderful, and A Marshmallow World In The Winter. Okay, I like the song Baby It's Cold Outside, but I'm with the guy telling the chick how miserable it is. Stay inside, honey, until at least April!
Five months is a long time for one season. (Okay, technically it's shorter, but we've been snowed in in April before.) I have no plans on moving. I'm stuck here. Guess I'll just have to turn up the heat and put on another sweater.
And how will you cope this winter?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
For several years now, we've had a digital camera. We love it! It's so easy. And we can crop the shots, dump the bad ones, and tweak those that are too dark or too light. (And doesn't everybody want to take a picture of their classic toaster?) But we haven't printed anything in years. So now we're in a quandary. Where do we get prints?
It seems to me that I remember buying prints online -- but I don't think I took them. I think they were in someone else's photo album and I just clicked on them, gave my credit card number, and voila! They arrived in the mail a few days later.
So how do I do them for myself? And how do I crop the pictures.
So now I have to go on a quest for new knowledge. It means slogging through web sites, uploading, cropping (again). Or do I take my flash drive to a store and they do it?
I don't miss the old days of film, but I do miss getting my prints.