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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year from the Wet Noodle Posse! We hope 2005 was good to you, and that 2006 will be even better!

Anyone have any special plans? I always go to a friend's house, where she has tamales and we drink champagne at midnight and ring in the new year with those important to us. It's a family deal, so everyone goes.

What about traditions? Other than eating black-eyed peas for good luck (YUM), I don't have any. My mother in law was asking about the Times Square ball. Do you know they've been dropping the ball since 1907, except during the "dimout" years of WW2? The concept of dropping a ball goes back to 1833 in England, where the ball would drop at 1 PM every day to allow ship captains to set their chronometers. We still have one like that in DC, at the Naval Observatory.

The Times Square Ball started out as irons and wood, with 25 lightbulbs. It was 700 pounds. It was replaced by an iron ball weighing only 400 pounds in 1920, and that one was replaced by a 150 pound aluminum ball in 1955. In the 80s, they added a stem to Now it's made of Waterford crystal, since 2000. What's special this year? 72 of the crystal triangles in the geodesic dome have a "Hope for Fellowship" design that link, symbolizing fellowship and community. The 1,070 pound ball is computer controlled, and has lightbulbs made especially for it by Phillips!

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Now, who knows when fireworks became part of NYE? They're supposed to scare off "bad forces" from entering the New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

What to write about on December 30? By Trish Morey

While most of you are freezing Upover, battling snow, blizzards and sleet, Downunder we’re sizzling. After a slow, slow start to summer and a gorgeous mid 20’s C Christmas Day, summer has suddenly kicked in with a vengeance. Today it’s been 40.5C in good old Adelaide, capital of South Oz, maybe a couple of degrees *cooler* in the hills, certainly not much. Tomorrow we’re expecting 38C before a late, stormy change.

So this is Christmas season downunder, or at least, the quiet catch up week between Christmas and New Year that you wish would go forever, the catch your breath week between the frantic pre Xmas rush of the old year and the breathtaking promise of the new. It’s like the pause button on the DVD control. And despite the heat, I love this week!

All of which is a very long winded way of saying I haven’t got a clue what to write about today. Can it only be a month since the last 30th?? And no, I’m not going to bore you with a blow by blow account of my first month at Curves. Suffice to say, I’m pleased with the progress, desperately sad they close for an entire 10 days at this time of the year, and very reluctant to have my first measurement check when I go back after Xmas and their closure (how mean is that??)

And I’m not going to talk about resolutions. Heck, I’m no good at resolutions. New year’s day doesn’t do it for me. I must have resolved to give up smoking a brazillion times before I actually managed to and that was only because I drank so much *seemingly* gorgeous schnapps at an Oktoberfest so many years ago that I wanted to die the next day and smoking was the furthest thing from my mind. Quite frankly, overdoing the schnapps could be a registered method of cutting out the fags! Okay, so it may not be recommended, but it cured me of both the fags and the schnapps – what a deal!

So no, no resolutions from me, no pontificating (much against my nature, I assure you) and no moralizing. Simply a wish that your new year brings the things you’ve been striving for, the goals, the health, the happiness and the wealth, however measured.

Have a wonderful new year everyone, wherever you are!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Returning to Slidell Post Katrina

by Maureen Hardegree

As we always do, my husband, daughter and I went to my parents' home in Slidell, Louisiana on December 26th. That's when my family celebrates our Christmas. My brother, two sisters, and I live in Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. I hadn't seen the hurricane destruction except in pictures and via news coverage. Viewing it months later, in person, these are my impressions of the trip to my former hometown.

Snapped trees, blown out signs, and blue roof tarps popped up outside Laurel, Mississippi and became more abundant the closer we drove to the Louisiana state line. A lot of debris had been cleared. I was surprised to see fields full of unused FEMA trailers. One of my friends said the trailers are sitting there because the trucks needed to transport them are being using to haul heavy debris. The sight of row after row of unused trailers bothered me even more when we arrived at my parents' house and discovered that one of my sisters' old grade school friends, who is a single divorced mom with kids, is still waiting on her trailer and living with her mom and dad. Michelle's mom is battling cancer. Michelle has been waiting for a trailer for three months. In the two days I've been home, my parents, who learned of her plight have stepped in to help and have arranged for several of the local churches to help rebuild her house. This is but one story, I think. How many other people are out there waiting?

Entering into my parents' neighborhood called Pinewood, I saw very few pines left, large root balls and stumps litter the curbs (too heavy for regular pick-up), and lots of sunlight beating down. My husband tells me their street looks a thousand times better than when he came three weeks after the hurricane to clear debris with my dad. The trees and shrubs have new leaves, the few pines left have put out new needles, and the surviving camellias are blooming in shades of pink and red, from cotton candy to scarlet. My parents' backyard has one tree standing, a leaning pecan. Dad has high hopes for his garden in the coming year, now that he has a sunny backyard. A blue tarp covers part of the roof next door and the roof across the street. One neighbor's live oak, which fell on the house, is now gone. I don't remember ever seeing so much sky. My parents were lucky. I was glad they bought a house in the north side of town and that the only tree that hit part of the house winged the garage.

My sister, sister-in-law, mom, daughter and I decided to venture to the south side, near Lake Ponchartrain yesterday. As I drove my van with Georgia plates past destroyed houses and cars and piles of debris, my mom assured me what I was seeing was better than it was a month ago. Signs outside a few businesses declared "Now Open" or "Help Wanted." Restaurants I loved like Salvaggio's and Vera's Seafood are gone. The apartment on Rats Nest Lane where my sister lived years ago, is gone. Only slab and a plywood sign with the address spray-painted on it remained. I saw a metal door wrapped around a tree trunk, overturned cars and boats, collapsed houses, and little signs of hope, like a FEMA trailer decorated for Christmas and a few apartments and houses that have been rebuilt. Another plywood sign wedged in a tree trunk where rows of fishing camps once stood declared, "May all the Camps Rest in Peace." "Amen," I said. Again, I am thankful for my parents' good fortune.

Last night, friends from high school and I went to dinner at one of the few restaurants open, a tradition we've upheld every year since some of us moved away and married. We weren't going to let Katrina stop us this year, either. The restaurant we went to last year flooded, then burned down. We spoke of the changes and about the challenges of rebuilding. Two of my friends who live in southern Mississippi lost their homes. One friend, Kitty Timko, will be featured as a Superheroine in August. She was in the process of adopting her daughter Katherine from an orphanage in Russia when the hurricane hit. I listened to their stories of how they make do and go on. Their optimism about the future made me feel optimistic, too. The refrain for the evening was that normal might take five to ten years, but for Slidell, Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast the new year had to be better than 2005. They all said the local churches, churches from as far away as California and Oregon, and friends and family have given them the most help when it came to rebuilding their lives. Taking help was hard. Asking for it was harder. What matters most to them now is the people they love who are still here. What they mourn are the sentimental items like baby journals and photographs that are gone and can never be replaced.

One of my friends' husband travels through western Louisiana and eastern Texas for business, where Rita hit. He said those people are even worse off. They aren't getting as much help from what he could see.

So if you have the resources to do so, please keep giving. Some Katrina victims and many Rita victims still need your help. If you have given, thank you. The people from my former hometown will never forget your generosity.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Keeping the Magic

by Ila Campbell

I have the distinct feeling this is the last Christmas my daughter is going to believe in Santa Claus. It has nothing to do with her age (which is 6-1/2) and everything to do with how she reacted to Christmas morning this year.

She was the first one up, and instead of shouting and squealing and begging us to get up, she quietly tiptoed over to the tree and…

…organized the gifts so that her presents were on the right side of the tree, her brother’s on the left and the shared gifts in the middle.

This doesn’t sound so grave, but is an indication of the mindset that will bring down Santa. During her inspection, she noted the wrapping paper was divided into two types and asked me which was which.

“The red’s from Mom and Dad, and the snowmen are from Santa,” I answered.

“I’ve seen the snowmen before, haven’t I?” she replied.

Rats. “Probably. Santa used it last year, too.”

“Why would Santa use the same one for two years?”

Ummmm. “To keep it simple. That way you know which ones are from him.”

“Oh.”

About two minutes later: “You saw Santa last night, right?”

I sensed another trap. “Why do you ask?”

“You had to see him, because you wrote our names on his presents.”

“Are you sure Santa didn’t write them?”

“They look the same as the ones from you and Daddy.”

“Right. Well, I must have seen Santa last night then.”

“I knew that. This present’s a video. These are books. And I can tell by this shape it’s Polly Pockets. Can we open them now?”

Finally!

And so I believe this will be the last mystical, magical Christmas for Detective Daughter, which will be a shame. My son, I think, will last longer than six years – he lacks the analytical nature and deep-seeded need to know absolutely everything about everything.

But even though there’s a feeling of loss at having her outgrow this time of wonderment, I’m so doggone proud of how smart this girl is getting, it’s almost like a whole ‘nother gift.

I hope if she does lose the magic, she can find it again. Maybe someday she’ll become a writer like her mom, and learn to recapture that magic again on the page

I hope everyone had a joyful Christmas and that your magic lives on next year.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Everybody, Chill! by Theresa Ragan

Okay, what I want to know is why the heck do some people get so upset over the tiniest things? Road rage, getting mad at a store clerk, yelling at kids. I know life is stressful and everybody is busy, but come on. We all have stuff to do. Kids, holidays, decorating, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, dogs and cats to feed, vets, doctors, pain-in-the-butt relatives; does it never end? No, it doesn't. But that's life, and life is going to happen every single day. What I don't get is why people can't chill. Just know that it's going to rain after you wash your car, somebody's going to spill on your floor after you mop it, and you're going to get that phone call you've been waiting for as soon as you step into the shower. There. Now you know. So get over it. Stop and smell the roses. Make the most of each day. Smile at one another and be kind to strangers. It's still December, but a new year is right around the corner. Life is short. Be happy!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Keep Your PC Hands Off My Christmas

Delle Jacobs

I've joined the War Against the War on Christmas. After far too many years in State Social Service, the world of the terminally politically correct, I've decided it's time to stand up for what I believe, not what a bunch of bureaucrats and judges think I ought to believe.

I believe in honoring the diversity of all human beings, not merely tolerating the differences between human beings and their cultures. What I have worked for and believed in for so many years is the honoring of differences, because there is no one right way of doing things. I have always found great beauty in the cultures of people all over the world as well as in my own back yard. And I took an active part in encouraging cultural diversity in every way I could.

But that doesn't mean I'm willing to let my own culture be destroyed that others might flourish. My culture is as valuable as any other. If all cultures are to be valued, then it must be all of them, not just a few. To take away vital aspoects of one culture diminishes al othersl.

Religion is a major part of most cultures. For some, religion IS culture. Where is the line drawn? I don't know. But I do know my religious roots extend far into the past through some very dangerous, dramatic and bloody history, and they color everything I do, every decision I make, no matter how objective I try to be. I think that's how people are put together. And Christmas, for me, embodies my most cherished heritage. It is my culture.

So I believe in Christmas. Whether it's manger scenes or carols or Santa Claus or shopping in malls jingling with Salvation Army bells and stinking of perfume sprayed at unwitting allergics like me, it's my Christmas. It's all a part of the traditions of the past and the innovations of the present, a wild, heady mix of religion, fantasy and crass commercialism. It's all Christmas. It's not Winter Break, Solstice Celebration or any other euphemism you might want to give it.

So fine, don't put manger scenes on courthouse lawns if it bugs you. But don't tell me I can't call Christmas what it is. Nor am I going to hide my celebration behind my own doors. It's my cultural heritage. Get used to it. I'm not giving it up.

So it's not Happy Holidays. It's MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Very Longhorn Christmas Eve --Bridget Stuart

When my husband was considering taking a professorship at the University of Texas-Austin, I flew out with him to scope the town. While he interviewed, I drove around, trying to decide whether I could live here or not.

Well, Austin was greener than I expected; lakes and trees and hills instead of flat desert with blowing tumbleweeds. So far, so good.

But as I tootled about in my little Toyota rental car, I constantly found myself wedged in between huge high shiny pickup trucks--and on the back of each one was a sticker or even a metal emblem of a longhorn cow head. Major freak out; I had no idea there were so many cattle ranchers in Austin! I felt intimidated, like a wee calf in a herd of bull steers. If we moved out here, how would I make conversation with so many cowboys and cowgals? Would I have to read up on breeds and feeds?

Nope. When I mentioned this later to some real Texans ("hey, you all are really into your cows out here") I got enlightened pdq that this cow head thing was actually the symbol for the local college football team, the University of Texas Longhorns. Ohhhhh. Yeah. Okay.

The Longhorns poked me again the next day, when I was out with the real estate agent. She drove me past the University and she pointed out a gi-normous stadium, mentioning some experience she'd had there, when the crowd went wild as they "brought out the bull". I guess I wasn't listening closely enough, because I came away from this drive-by with the distinct impression that the University of Texas had built a billion dollar stadium for the express purpose of staging bullfights. I was mucho impressed, and I commented on this later to my husband's local friends: "I think it's great that there's so much Mexican culture here in Austin, with that big bull ring and all."

Disbelieving stares.

Uh, it turns out the bull is the mascot for the Longhorns. Not the real ones who go "moo", but that damn football team again-- I mean, that sweet, adorable football team for whom I now cheer. Go, boys!

So back to our first Christmas in Texas. Yes, we made the move. We sure aren't in Boston anymore...

Christmas trees in Austin all seem to come from North Carolina and a nine foot tree costs one hundred and fifty bucks. I'm not kidding. After pricing them, I put my foot down and told the Professor, aka my husband, that we were getting a fake tree. He couldn't handle it. He grew up in North Carolina, and this was not his style. I'd never had a fake--excuse me, 'artificial'--tree either, but hey, I never drove through a flash flood in an arroyo before this year. (Yes, I did. In February. Wheee! Now I know the reason for all those big high trucks.)

We got the tree, and it looks fabulous. Not as fabulous as our new Texas friend Carolyn's tree, which is silver with fiber optic branches and rotates continuously. Still, we're happy with our humble green one and are keeping our jealousy under control, at least when Carolyn's within earshot. Oh yes, and I bought a Longhorn ornament to hang on an upper branch, so now we're official.

But I've got to get some Christmas-tree-scented candles before tomorrow, so the Professor will stop mentioning the lack of piney fresh air in the house. Pine Sol-ing the floors, I've been informed, is not an effective substitute.

I just love living in Austin. Merry, merry Christmas everyone, wherever you are. And hook 'em, Horns!

--Bridget Stuart

Friday, December 23, 2005

Stressmas

by Jill Monroe


Like many, Christmas was a magical time while growing up. Now...not so much. Now I have to:

1. Shop for every family member.
2. Buy a special card for the dh's family.
3. Clean and decorate a house.
4. Have the kids' picture taken for the photo that goes into my Christmas cards.
5. Bake.
6. Plan with the other PTA members the holiday parties for school.
7. Practice, make costumes and make sure the kids know their lines for the Christmas play.
8. Help plan the Christmas celebration for the children at church.
9. Address and mail Christmas cards.
10. Wrap all the packages and get the stocking stuffers.

And I haven't even gone into getting everyone dressed and driving to church for Christmas Eve service, Christmas Eve dinner with DH's family, early morning family time with the kids and dh and then brunch at my family's. Then back over to the dh's for the kids to open their stockings. Well, I guess I just did.

Sometimes I feel the Christ has been removed from my Christmas and replaced with Stress. Stressmas. Really, this time of year is no longer magical, and honestly, I don't know how to stop it. This SHOULD be a time of getting together with family, and thinking of the family created over 2000 years ago. We should be thinking about good will to everyone, instead of being cranky and worried about all the "things" we have to do.

Truthfully, I don't see the stress leaving this time of year. I'm going to keep a list of things I can do that will keep the meaning of the holiday in mind, while also relieving a bit of stress.

1. I'm going to light a soothing candle. I'm also going to keep in mind the guiding star that led others.

2. I'm going to take thirty minutes and bake gingerbread cookies with my children. Hopefully I can pass on this tradition that generations of women before me enjoyed with their children, and create a connection with our past. And since I'm a teacher, I cannot pass up this "teachable moment" and will share that gingerbread could be found in Medieval cookbooks, and that children used to decorate their Christmas trees with shaped gingerbread cookies - long before bought ornaments.

3. I'm going to play a variety of Christmas music, and turn off the TV. I'm no Esri when it comes to carrying a tune, but there's something about singing that lifts the spirit, whether it's Silent Night, Deck the Halls or Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

4. I'm going to pray. I'm going to ask God to give me patience and take away the stress. Then I'm going to thank God for my family, my kids, for the job that allows me to buy those presents that need to be wrapped.

Last month I wrote about Thanksgiving. There's something very meaningful about Thanksgiving happening right before Christmas - I think you need a thankful heart to appreciate the gifts we're given. And God's most important gift of all.

So, please share with me how you keep the stress out of this time of year. I know not everyone specifically celebrates Christmas, but I know there has to be a stressful holiday - I'd love to hear how you keep the meaning and leave out the stress.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas tradition by Debra Holland

Debra Holland


When I was a girl, my family used to attend Christmas Eve candlelight service, and it was always my responsibility to sit next to my grandmother. I was the oldest granddaughter, and my “Omi” and I had a special bond. Omi seemed to enjoy the service, singing the hymns in her rumbly, German-accented voice. But during the inevitable singing of “Silent Night,” she’d always start to cry. I’d squeeze her hand, wishing I could make her sadness go away. She’d take out a handkerchief, blow her nose, and squeeze my hand back. By the end of the service, her sorrow seemed to pass, and she’d return to her obvious enjoyment of the holiday.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and collecting her stories that I learned when “Stille Nacht” was sung, she became homesick for her Christmas past. She mourned loved ones long dead, a beautiful house that was destroyed, and a special time of celebration that only existed in her memory.

* * *

Here is a description in (mostly) Omi’s own words of her childhood Christmas Eves:

In Germany, Christmas Eve is the most important time of the Christmas celebrations. Our family festivities started around 6:00 in the evening. Earlier in the day all the children had taken a nap so we could stay up as late as we wanted. Then we dressed in our best clothes and went downstairs to wait impatiently in my father’s study. Finally, we would hear a noise, as if St. Nicholas was just leaving. Full of excitement, we waited a few long minutes. Then my father unlocked the doors to the Christmas room, and we rushed in.
When we went into the room we would see a Christmas wonderland. The large, beautifully decorated Christmas tree first drew our eyes. It was lit with dozens of burning white candles in little gold holders, which clipped to the branches. From the branches dangled round glass bulbs, glass icicles, and silver tinsel. In addition to the glass ornaments, the Christmas tree also held special treats of marzipan shaped into flowers, fruit, and miniature bread loaves, different types of chocolate figures, and candy rings filled with sugary liquid.
Each child had his or her own little table piled high with their gifts. In those days we did not use wrapping paper and so it was often possible to immediately see that much longed for present. Also at each table was a “Buterteller” a colorful plate filled with cookies, exotic nuts such as almonds in the shell and Brazil nuts, as well “South Seas fruit” of bananas and oranges.
Before we could go to our tables we would sing Christmas carols. We started with singing to the Christmas tree. I don’t remember the name of our first carol, but the first line was “On the Christmas tree the lights are burning.” The second song was “Oh, Tannenbaum.” We sang several more carols and ended with “Stille Nacht.” Then each child would recite a poem about St. Nicholas. I had a difficult time being patient and waiting until we’d finished the singing and reciting. The whole time I would eagerly examine the tables from afar and try to pick out which one belonged to me. Finally the singing was over and my father or stepmother would lead each of us to our own table. We didn’t have much time to examine our presents because we were only allowed to choose one gift before dinner.
After each child had picked a gift, we went into the dining room. The table was festive with brightly lit candles, decorations of evergreen, and the best china and crystal. The traditional Christmas Eve meal always included a carp from our pond. A week before Christmas, my father had caught the carp, keeping it alive in a trough of water, so it’s system would be cleansed of pond water.
The entire carp, including the head and tail was beautifully arranged on a big platter. The carp would have a slightly blue tinge. One year I wandered into the kitchen to find out how the fish came to be that color. I was shown how the carp was prepared with vinegar in order to take away the sweet taste. It was the vinegar that caused the blue color.
After dinner we were finally able to spend time with our gifts. My father seemed almost as excited as his children. He would walk around and watch us play with our presents. He kept his hands in his pockets and jingled his keys. Occasionally he would say that this was all much too much--as if he wasn’t the one who’d arranged the lavish festivities.

* * *


To this day, our family has retained many of our German traditions. Christmas Eve is always a wonderful celebration with extended family. Christmas day is spent with immediate family. Growing up, I always thought I was so lucky because I had TWO Christmas celebrations, complete with presents. My friends only had one.
What I didn’t realize until I became an adult was that the reason I was so lucky had nothing to do with presents, and everything to do with having a loving family who made the holiday special. And not just Christmas, but every holiday all year around. In my entire life, I’ve always had wonderful holidays--every single one.
My family is not a gift I take for granted. As a therapist, I hear a lot of unhappy holiday stories. This week, I’ve helped several people emotionally prepare for holidays with their dysfunctional families. I’ve also counseled the grieving friends and co-workers of a man who’d dropped dead at work of a heart attack. His family will mourn his passing this Christmas.
About six or seven years ago, I started taking a few quiet minutes on Christmas Eve to sit and appreciate the presence of every single family member. I absorbed the happiness around me into my heart and gave thanks to God for the special time we all had together. I knew at future holidays, some of these loved ones would no longer be present. When that happened, I didn’t want to have the guilty feeling: I didn’t appreciate what I had until it was too late.
Now, having experienced several Christmas Eves without my Omi or my father, I’m so grateful that I took those moments. And I will again this year. But as I appreciate my family, busy chatting with each other, playing with their gifts, or preparing a meal, I’ll also take a moment to thank my Omi and my father for all the love they’ve given me.

During this busy holiday season, I hope you, too, find a few minutes to appreciate all your blessings.

And also, as you celebrate this Christmas or Hanukkah, may the angels’ ancient blessing reside in your heart:

PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO ALL.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas Specials

My students don't believe I lived in a time before VCRs and DVDs. They don't get my excitement when a Christmas special comes on, because most of them own the DVDs or videos.

I know it wasn't just my family who planned meals/bathtime around Christmas specials on TV. Rudolph night,

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Charlie Brown night,

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The Little Drummer Boy. Even the dh has a Little Drummer Boy story, that his mom and her boyfriend had him out, driving around, and all he wanted was to be home watching The Little Drummer Boy.

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Does anyone remember the one called "The Night the Animals Talked?" It was animated, not the stop-motion. The animals in the stable were given the power of speech to spread the good news about Jesus's birth, and they were so excited, but as dawn approached, they lost the power again. I LOVED that show - I remember watching in on Christmas Eve eating in front of the TV with my brother (a VERY rare treat) - but I've only met one other person who remembers that show.

My son's favorite when he was growing up was The Grinch, the animated one. I can recite almost the whole thing, I've seen it so many times. And I love it too, probably going back to middle school, when my school put on the play and my best friend was Cindy Lou Who.

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Another one I love is The Year Without a Santa Claus. The best characters are Snow Miser and Heat Miser. Remember that awful Batman and Robin movie, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was Mr. Freeze? And he loved watching Snow Miser. Best part of the movie.

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Then there's Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Burgermeister Meisterburger, remember him? For some reason, though, this one has lost its appeal over countless viewings on ABC Family.

I'll admit that Frosty is my least favorite special. I didn't even watch it this year. (Yes, I'm almost 40. So what?)

Then there were the specials with the stars, like Bing Crosby. I know, I know, he wasn't a good guy, but didn't he look like a nice dad? And I remember seeing David Bowie on the special way before I even knew who David Bowie was. I still love that version of The Drummer Boy best. Everybody had specials, and they always seemed so happy.

Now we like the Christmas movies. A Christmas Story, The Santa Clause, Christmas Vacation and Jingle All the Way (yes, my son had to have a Turbo Man. They weren't that hard to find.) I always mean to watch the special romantic movies made this time of year, I just never remember to...

What are your favorite Christmas shows? Your kids?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Gift of Friendship by Diane Perkins

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
--- Robert Frost

It seems entirely appropriate for me today to talk about this special set of friends called The Wet Noodle Posse. This is the time of year to remember friends and to let them know what they mean to us, so here is my special thanks for this special set of friends.

We joined together at first as the 2003 finalists in RWA’s Golden Heart contest and it was terrific to share that experience with each other, when we spend a great deal of time on the important topic of What to Wear at the Awards Ceremony. I mostly lurked in those days, because so much of that time was overwhelming to me. I sold my first book, The Mysterious Miss M by Diane Gaston, because of being a finalist and I was preparing to retire from my day job.

When I had been a GH finalist in 2001, a similar loop faded away, but not this one. I continued to mostly lurk, but I watched this set of women become closer and closer. In 2004 one of my big regrets was that I could not be with them at the get-togethers that they’d planned for the Dallas RWA conference, but after that time, I was determined to be more involved with them. This group was too important to pass up. I began posting more often and, even though I felt like a party crasher, I was met with open arms, more like a prodigal daughter! Now messages from the GH2003 loop are what I open first in my morning email, before I start writing, even.

The Wet Noodle Posse is also one of the first places I go to for support. These ladies care about each other in a total way. I’ve seen it over and over. The cyber hugs flow no matter whether they are needed for a writing crisis or a personal one. No matter is too small--if it hurts, hugs are forthcoming. What is remarkable is that you can feel the genuineness of the hug coming through, even though we are merely communicating through the written word. When the issue is bigger, more than hugs are given. Similar experiences are shared, so that no matter what it is, you never feel alone with your crisis.

These are smart ladies, too. They also give wonderful, sensible advice, but never in a way that makes you feel the friendship is dependent upon you following it. Advice is given as a gift, a prop to help hold you up when you are feeling low. And if action is required, these ladies pour in support for whatever you decide to do. It gives a person the feeling that their own judgment can be trusted.

The ladies of The Wet Noodle Posse also care about their world. It would have been more difficult for me to endure the Hurricane Katrina devastation without these ladies, especially Sandy, Debra, and Anna, who became personally involved. The thing is, they let us be a part of the direct help they gave: Sandy taking in a hurricane victim family, Debra going to Louisiana to help, Anna volunteering with victims evacuated to her town. We could send Sandy’s family clothes, gift cards. We could help fund Debra’s trip. We could feel the value of our assistance in the stories they told of how they helped. I think we felt we were all in this together and knowing we could help meant a great deal.

If you keep reading the Wet Noodle Posse blog, you will soon see what I mean. The blog is one way these ladies are sharing their special gifts of friendship to a larger world. Read the blog daily. You will soon see how special a group of women this it.

When I think of being a Golden Heart finalist in 2003 and how it led to me selling my first book and how I actually went on to win my Golden Heart category, it all pales in comparison to the real gift of being a finalist that year. The real gift is The Wet Noodle Posse. They are what I treasure most.

So at this holiday season and in the New Year to come…..remember: Be Good To Yourself….Or Else!

The Wet Noodle Posse demands it.

(for more musings on friendship, see Diane's posting on the Warner Women blog, http://warnerwomen.blogspot.com/)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Saying Goodbye, by Kiki Clark

“I can’t recommend rabbits as pets. They chew on electrical cords and baseboards, dig at the rugs, occasionally mark, and they need more affection than you realize, while relating very subtly back to you.” That’s what I’ve always said, and I speak from experience, since I’ve owned two rabbits.

The first was Glory Roberta. Glory was a charity case. Our friend, Katherine, hosted an ex-boyfriend for a while, out of the goodness of her heart. Her heart had a lot of goodness, because the ex bred rabbits as a hobby, and populated her yard with cages during his brief visit. Then he didn’t separate the young bunnies according to sex in time, and they populated some more, whereupon he left town. Katherine eventually found homes for the rabbits, but in the meantime their numbers were culled by a wandering dog that tore open the cages and killed quite a few. Glory Roberta, nameless and still young, was inherently wily. She escaped the dog and decided to live the wild life through two Colorado winters, occasionally coming to the back door and eating the food Katherine put out for her. After two years, Katherine decided enough was enough, and caught her.

You have to respect a rabbit like that. When Katherine asked if we wanted to take this super-bun, we agreed. Glory looked just like Peter Rabbit, sans the blue coat, and she had a lot of personality. Also, she was always happy to be petted, even from the beginning. I think she had been handled a lot before the dog incident. We had Glory for about four years – through the spider bite that caused large sections of the skin on her head to turn black and peel off; through the subsequent effects that caused her tear ducts to scar over and cease draining so that her cheeks were wet; through cysts and her subsequent spaying. But believe it or not, this is not really her story.

We moved late in Glory’s life, to a house with a tiled sunroom – an ideal environment for house rabbits. And we decided to get her a friend. We took Glory to the Humane Society and introduced her to a variety of prospective buddies. The first one was aggressive. The second one chased her around and around the enclosure, trying to hump her even though they were both fixed. As I recall, his name was something like “Frisky.” And then there was Charles. Pure white, with the red eyes of the albino and lop ears that hung down on either side of his face, his name was listed as “Whitey.” We surmised he must have belonged to children, maybe a kindergarten class, because you could have picked him up by one leg and he wouldn’t have objected. He sat in the enclosure, cleaning one ear, while Glory hunkered in one corner, still panting from her encounter with Frisky. “We’ll try him,” we said, and took them both home.

Charles was an ideal friend for Glory. You wouldn’t have known her tear ducts were faulty, because he cleaned her cheeks. He groomed her a lot, and her fur, which had gotten a little clumpy in her old age, took on the soft, fluffy characteristics of the true Rex breed. We put a pet door in the side of the sunroom, leading to a fenced area with a dog-proof hutch in it. Charles learned how to use the door in about five minutes. Glory Roberta took a day or two. She had ideas about how the door should work, and never went through it without chewing on it or giving it a resentful sideways shove.

The great outdoors was a revelation to Charles. Glory Roberta taught him to dig, and he came inside every summer evening with his claws muddy and worn, although somehow he and Glory managed not to tunnel outside their fence. Amazingly, his white coat never held the dirt or mud, and we took to calling him the Teflon Rabbit. When it rained, he sat in the roofed hutch, pondering the world. He sat there when it snowed, too, leaving canonical rabbit tracks in the fresh powder and looking just a little less white against it.

Glory’s health problems multiplied alarmingly when she reached the age of six, and we put her down when the only alternative was exploratory surgery. We brought her body back because we had heard the surviving rabbit could pine and cease eating, but Charles gave her corpse a sniff and hopped away as if to say, “I knew that was coming.”

We decided not to get another rabbit, but to double our attentions to Charles so he wouldn’t be lonely. It worked remarkably well. Charles, who had been very subservient to Glory, seemed happy to be out from under her dominant personality. He still dug in his tunnels and enjoyed time outside, but he was more likely to spend his long afternoon naps on a bed of towels in the sunroom, periodically coming into the living room and lolloping up to be petted. In the evenings, when his energy was high, he would race across the living room, leaping into the air with lapin joy. One memorable time, I even got him to play peek-a-boo. He was never the larger-than-life character that Glory had been, but he had a sweet, quiet charm.

He had an inborn terror of dogs, but played host to the neighborhood cats. They jumped the fence and sat in his little yard, fascinated and confused by his prey smell and movement combined with the fact that he was almost as big as them, and loved having their company. I often felt bad that our own cat, Tilly, treated him solely as a rival for our attentions, and responded to his friendly overtures by running away or batting him on the head. Eventually he stopped trying.

People were charmed by Charles. We would give them a papaya tablet to feed him. Little kids giggled, while the more adventurous adults followed our instructions and lay on the floor with the tablet between their lips, getting a whiskery kiss when he took it from them. He wasn’t a lap sitter, but he loved for either of us to kneel on the floor next to him, so he was against a thigh. He would press his head against us and close his eyes while we petted his silky back and thickly furred ears. When we stopped petting, he licked our jeans or skin in a little reciprocal “thank you.” Sometimes he shoved his head under our hand or rooted it against our fingers as we rubbed the bridge of his nose. He was never a lap sitter, but he would climb practically onto our heads for a piece of banana or apple, and we had to move the Christmas tree into another room so he wouldn’t trim all the lower branches.

The years went on, and included two trips to the emergency room (Charles had a knack for getting critically ill on weekends). Rabbits have very few states between well and dead. We developed a saying – “The only difference between a live rabbit and a dead one is five minutes of looking thoughtful.” We brought Charles back from the brink of death twice with the use of subcutaneous fluids and antibiotics. He never minded needles, but the antibiotics were an ordeal, with him spitting out pills secreted in apples or coated with bananas. If we managed to fool him once with a certain food, he refused it the next time. Nothing worked twice. During his second illness, we tried a syringe. He lay on his back in my lap, eyes closed tight, legs trembling, apparently defeated except for the trickle of medicated goo that he pushed out with his tongue and that I repeatedly scooped back in. I had to cut dried medicine out of his chin fur three months later, as he refused to ever clean it off and it had matted hard.

That was only three months ago. When a nine-and-half-year-old rabbit becomes incontinent for the second time in six months, it’s a bad sign. Kidney stones were very likely, and would require surgery. But there were other symptoms as well. I could feel Charles’ ribs, shoulderblades, and hips under his beautiful fur. During the last few days, he ate so much his stomach was distended, but he still lost weight. And he had no fever, but sat next to any heat source available, whether it was us (his favorite), the baseboard heaters, or close to the woodstove. Yesterday he began to tilt forward as he was sitting up, as though he were nodding off. Then I noticed he was doing it even when sitting up to eat, as though he didn’t have quite enough strength to stay reliably upright. But he didn’t evince any signs of discomfort, and hopped around with no trouble, lifting his head to be petted, as always.

I didn’t want him to suffer. I didn’t want to force the usual antibiotics past his tightly clenched lips for ten days, only to see no improvement and have an emergency vet ask if we wanted to have an x-ray or consider surgery. Our regular vet, Dr. Bauman, owns rabbits herself. She didn’t quibble when I brought Charles in this morning, but nodded understandingly. “He’s really old,” she said. “They don’t usually get better when they’re this age.” I asked the usual questions, and she assured me that they would give him Valium, pain killers -- a raft of comforting drugs. Only then would they overdose him on an anesthetic. I opened the wire traveling cage and kissed the top of his head one last time while he tried to get out. “Mommy loves you so much,” I said tearfully, then went to the lobby to fumble with my credit card and car keys. I left the cage there. Dr. Bauman said they would give it to the local wildlife rehabilitation group.

When Charles recovered from his last illness, I knew it was only a matter of time. Most domestic rabbits die at around age six. I wrote his eulogy then, while I was so grateful to have more time with him and thinking about the ways I would miss him when he eventually went away.

For Charles, 1996-2005

Our rabbit, Charles, is no more.
Those strong white feet have
Leapt across that farthest shore.
His ruby eyes and sweetness,
I will miss. Likewise the way
He gamboled ‘cross our (spotted) floor
To gently kiss my feet.

He is no more.
________________________________

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Messages That Find Us

The Messages That Find Us

How many of you save the messages from fortune cookies . . . well, the good ones anyway? You know the ones you want to come true. The ones that say, "You will become rich beyond your wildest dreams." Does that mean if you haven't been dreaming about cruising down the street in a late model Beemer, you're out of luck and likely be stuck with you mother's version of "classic" forever? Or maybe it means rich in a different sense, like in love, or in friendship, or perhaps fame?

Or how about this one, "Your practical nature will reap you big rewards." This sounds like something your parents tell you when they want you to major in something safe that will get you a well-paying job when you graduate from college, instead of majoring in something "frivolous" like painting. Personal experience talking here.

Who writes these things, anyway? I have this mental images of a wise little old man half-crocked and chuckling to himself as he scribbles on tiny scraps of paper. Some long-lost cousin of Confucius, who has an excess of free time on his hands.

Okay, I had to know, so I looked it up on the internet and found out that fortune cookies originated on American soil, San Francisco more precisely, and are an outgrowth of the American tradition of dessert after dinner-the supposed perfect end to a Chinese meal. The messages are scribbled by retirees-hence my vision of the little old man-and by college students in need of tuition money-not my college student, someone else's.

Nevertheless the word "fortune" instills a sense of magic, which gives us hope. Let's face it, the world has too many days when hope is short supply. It makes us feel better to think just maybe the scribblings of the little old man, on break from a round of golf, could possibly come true. So we tuck the secret message away in a book or a drawer and forget about it until we are in need of results.

Messages are not just in fortune cookies. We get them with tea, like Good Earth brand. Usually these are quotes from wise folks we revere. I saved a piece of wisdom from the infamous Jack London off of a tea bag. Jack said, "You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club." Which I take to mean, writing is work and won't get done if you avoid it. All writers I think can relate to this one.

Another of my favorites, which I keep beside my computer says, "Never be afraid to sit awhile and think." This one, at first glance, seems to contradict London's warning against procrastination, but I prefer to interpret it to mean that once the initial work is done, it requires reflection. Reflection time is valuable and not wasted. This is a message that could be put to good use all over the world, not just in a writer's life.

My latest indulgence, Dove Chocolates Promises are loaded with all sorts of inspirational wisdom on the inside of their sweet smelling foil wrappers. Here's one of my favorites, "Smile. People will wonder what you've been up to." We could all do with a little more mystery in our lives, eh?

If you've been looking for an excuse to let loose, you'll love the next couple of messages: "Go against the grain. Temptation is fun . . .giving in is even better. Make someday today. Or the one that has me worried, "Don't think about it so much." It, huh? I scan my brain for the it. Could it be the Christmas cards I haven't written? Or the presents I haven't found yet? If I don't think about it, it will soon be a moot point. Only seven more shopping days until Christmas! I'm sure Santa is in a panic over it and desperately needs my help! I'm off to find the club Jack London was talking about. Then, once the it is history, I'll sit around my yet-to-be-purchased Christmas tree awhile drink some appropriately spiked eggnog and think about the blessings of this year and my wishes for 2006.

Season's greetings, everyone. May 2006 bring Peace on Earth.

Lorelle

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Get High on the Highs

Writing is a volatile profession. Some days are awesome: you finish a book, you master a difficult scene, you get a call that your book finalled in a contest, you see your book posted on Amazon for the first time... the list goes on and on. There are so many amazing moments! Like getting your cover flats in the mail and realizing you absolutely adore your cover! Like today! I got my cover flats for my May paranormal romance from Warner in the mail and I'm soooo excited!!!! I danced around the room and stared in awe at it for twenty minutes before I remembered to pat my dogs. It was a writing high.

But as I was enjoying the moment, I remembered how insanely stressed I'd been only a few weeks ago as deadline pressure crushed me. I remembered how bummed out I'd gotten earlier in the year when the teen line I wrote for shut down. I recalled those bouts of insecurity where I convince myself my book is horrible and I'll never be able to salvage it.

And then I remembered my husband's words of advice: "Don't get so high on the highs, and don't get so low on the lows."

Well, I disagree with the first part. I think we should allow ourselves to get high on the highs. Let's get even higher! Let's embrace every last good thing we can think of, and celebrate it!

But definitely, I agree with the second part. What's the point in letting those low moments get us down? Why do we let the bad things take away the joy we have in the things that are going well in our lives? Even on my worst day, when it feels like everything is falling apart, there's always something good going on. The question is whether I take time to notice it, and to appreciate it, and to let the positive vibes of that good thing flow over me. Instead, I often find myself dwelling on whatever is going wrong and allowing that to overshadow the things that are going well.

Today, I got my cover and I love it. I'm going to bask in that greatness and not let anything take away the excitement of this amazing moment, not even the fact that.... wait a sec! I'm not going to even think of those depressing things! What's the point? To take away my happiness? Fergeddaboutit! I'm staying positive and I'm going to enjoy this moment!!!!!

So, without further ado, here is my new cover!! And now I'm off to write, and I'm going to be smiling every step of the way. So there!

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Visit my blog for more yakking by Stephanie

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

by Pam Payne

We're down the the wire. It's only 10 days until Christmas, and we're not talking shopping days here. I've limited my Christmas buying this year to immediate family only--kids, husband, mother, and mother-in-law. Husband's family, including all kids, will get my usual fare of used hard back books. (Hey, they look like new, but only cost $1)

What's unusual about my family is that the youngest is often the most mature. She's demanded that I don't spend much on her. She prefers I buy something used, or (her first choice) that I donate money to a humanitarian aid project like the H20 project or the one where your donation buys a herd of goats for a family--which is what I did for her last year.

With many of the merchants trying to rid the holiday of its religious meaning, I'm all for stopping all Christmas gift-giving if it means shopping at those stores. Stop and think about it. We buy hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of gifts because it is Christmas. Not because it's the winter solstice. Not because it's the "holiday season." I say if they don't want "Christmas" then they shouldn't reap the rewards of Christmas shopping.

This year, my store of choice has been the Salvation Army. You can buy many brand-new items there, plus all kinds of unique things in excellent condition. Yes, I've had to bite my tongue and shop at what we call the Evil Empire, but I haven't spent any major bucks there. My husband's favorite store has been the little privately owned guitar shop in the next town. The owner is an older man who loves to talk--and talk--and talk. But he gives us great prices and personal attention, and we're helping an individual rather than a corporation.

Isn't that what Christmas should be about anyway? Caring about individuals, helping where we can, taking the time to really think about the gifts rather than just plopping the credit card on the counter for the latest craze? It's about family getting together, it's about going to church to acknowledge the real reason we're celebrating in the first place. It's about love, when you come right down to it.

And what is there to love about going into debt to support mega-stores who won't even recognize the reason for the season?

In other news, my Christmas story is out right now in Woman's World. I've gotten phone calls and emails from friends and family all over the country, and one from Canada, saying how much they enjoyed it. This is totally new to me, and it has completely made my Christmas. I couldn't have gotten a better gift than to know I gave someone a few minutes of reading pleasure.

And at the risk of once again being politically incorrect, I wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Merrillee's Musing Part II

You will notice I have a blog dated December 13. My blog day is December 14. As I mentioned in the previous blog, my computer skills are sometimes lacking. I thought I was posting that blog just past midnight last night so imagine my surprise when it posted at 9:26 PM December 13 instead of 12:26 AM December 14. Now how did that happen? Next month I will start here at the blog site rather than in my Word program that promised me I could compose there and transfer to the blog. It didn't happen. I had to retype the whole thing. I couldn't even copy and paste. Sometimes I think a little computer knowledge is a dangerous thing. I actually think I know what I'm doing when I don't.

In other computer related stories, my husband had a computer crash when we returned from our Thanksgiving visit to Baltimore where our older daughter lives. He depends completely on his computer for business. So when it's down, he has problems. Several computer people blamed the demise of his computer's operating system on his anti-virus software. The software installed to protect against viruses took over his system. Our daughter's boyfriend makes a living trying to hack into the government computers to test for weaknesses in their security. He now has my husband's old computer hard drive and is trying to recover the little bit of data that my husband didn't back up before we left. Remember everyone. ALWAYS BACKUP YOUR DATA. ALWAYS. Even if I can't figure out how to post my blog on the correct day from my Word program, at least I can back up my work each day.

Pool update. The water is within one foot of the tile line. The only thing swimming in there today is a little tiny frog. He looks like he's having fun.

So until next month. Happy holidays and always back up your computer.
Merrillee

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Merrillee's Musings

See below for an explanation of the picture. It has nothing to do with Christmas, my favorite holiday.

Church services, gathering with family, Christmas carols, parties, Christmas trees, lots and lots of lights, Santa, wreaths, nutcrackers, gifts, Christmas cookies, my grandmother's chocolate caramels. I love them all. I love everything about it, even the hectic pace and the rush to get everyting done. I like to shop. I like to decorate my house. I like to send cards to folks I only communicate with this one time of year. I like to get their cards, and all those newsy Christmas letters.

This year I'm incredibly behind with it all. I'm behind because I have a January 15, 2006 deadline for my third book, the first one I've sold on proposal. And amidst all that I had one week to go over and return copyedits for my second book, a June 2006 release. Not to mention all the yard work that was postponed because of the pool construction. That pool I talked about in my blog last month. The good news: It is filling up with water as I type this and should be full by tomorrow afternoon. The bad news: Here in north Florida the temperature will be 44 degrees tomorrow morning. By afternoon it might be 62 degrees, not exactly good swimming weather even if the pool is heated. And I still have lots and lots of unfinished yard work. Here's an updated picture taken just before they started to fill the pool with water. Next month I'll post a picture of that hot tub in use.

Well, I tried to post a picture of the pool, but blogger tells me there was an error. The blogger engineers will look into it. So will they tell me what happened to my picture? Oh, now I see the picture is not here but at the beginning of my post. The computer can sometimes be a great mystery to me. My knowlege about computers is mostly trial and error. When everthing is going right, they are incredible inventions. When things go wrong, they seem like a curse.

I'm looking forward to Christmas and a visit from my two girls. I think we'll find the time to share some relaxing moments in that hot tub. Here's wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas.

It's nearly Christmas, are you ready?

By PrisAKiss

We're halfway through December and I'm only halfway through my Christmas shopping, haven't even started baking, and still have decorations waiting to be put up. Funny thing is, I'm not stressed about it. As usual, my life is hectic. Any Posse member can attest to my tendency to overschedule my calendar. With three busy daughters, I'm always on the go. But, we're usually on the go to somewhere fun. :-)

Yes, I'm looking forward to sleeping in the first day of Christmas vacation, though I doubt I'll sleep late. There are gingerbread houses to make, which means gingerbread scraps to eat. Making our houses is a multi-day event complete with frosting, candies and sweets to sneak. One necco wafer for the roof, one for me. One Andes mint for a window, one for me. You get the picture. :-)

My girls will bicker over whose house looks better. Of course I'll say they all look great (while thinking mine isn't too shabby, either). And my hubby, bless his estrogen-overloaded soul, will escape to his office and the blackhole known as "the internet".

There'll be Christmas music (in Spanish and English) serenading us, while we sing along. We'll have tins of homemade salsa to deliver to friends and neighbors. I'll have a pernil (a pork roast basted Puerto Rican style) ready to go in the oven when we get back from mass on Christmas Eve. There are comfy pjs we'll change into before we watch a Christmas movie. This year it's The Polar Express. We'll say our prayers, think of family we'd love to be with and friends we're thankful to have. This year, since we're staying home in Illinois, my girls will pray for a white Christmas. Me? Being a Florida girl, I'll pray we don't run out of wood pellets for our wood stove, and bless the electric blanket my mother-in-law gifted me with last year. Wise woman, isn't she?

So yes, my life is hectic and we live a frantic pace. Yes, there are tons of things I'd like to get done, or still need to get done. But I'm realizing I can't stress about them. Not over the holidays. This time of year I try to step back and just enjoy the ride. Be thankful for family and friends to have fun with, to love, and to cherish.

There's plenty of time for stress, later. But not before Christmas, not before my birthday (the 28th-- don't even ask how old I'll be) and not before Three King's Day (Jan. 6th), either. We Puerto Ricans/Mexicans know how to draw out a celebratation. Santa comes along with baby Jesus, and then the Three Kings arrive bearing more gifts and festivities. So you see, I don't have time to stress, there's just too much fun and too many memories to make.

Whichever holiday you celebrate, or however you celebrate this season, I hope you do so with gusto! I know I will be! And like every good Posse fan, remember... Be good to yourself, or else!

Hugs,
Pris

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Happy Endings
by Dani Collins

When I wrote my Xmas newsletter this year, I invited friends and family to keep up with my ‘hilarious writing antics’ here. Probably the most laughable news is that I’m making all kinds of dates for dinner and drinks in Atlanta next year, when the RWA conference will be on. Meanwhile, I have no promise of income past April, just my usual rosy-lensed view of the future. If only I could package and sell that optimism, eh? Then again, that’s pretty much what I’m trying to do, I guess, writing romance. Happy Endings R Us.

But here I am at the end of my year, and isn’t this the usual time to gauge whether or not it was a happy one? Hmm, let’s see. My year started kind of crazy. The American Title competition took up a lot of writing time, so most of the accomplishments were promotion blurbs. While Hustled to the Altar made it to the final four, it didn’t win. The title that did, can be found back on the Noodler page; it was written by our own Janice Lynn.

Then I had the upheaval of moving. Twice. (We rented the first month.) I managed to finish a manuscript, though. Hot Beds, Cold Feet. Since it had been over two years since I’d done that, I was pretty tickled. My agent has since sent it to editors, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

We settled in the new house just in time for school to let out, so I spent the summer on the beach. I know, poor me. Fortunately, I’d bought a Neo, one of those nifty word processors that don’t let you play solitaire or check email—all you can do is write. So I wrote about a hundred pages between sun-screening kids and jumping off the dock.

Then the kids went back to school, and I finally faced long, uninterrupted days. I crept into my *adorable* attic office where I wrote one word on a sticky note, and attached it to my monitor: Produce.

The teachers promptly went on strike.

That only lasted two weeks, and by the end of October, I had managed to revise an old paranormal manuscript. (I exorcised the ghost, so now it’s just ‘normal.’) I sent the ms for critique to another amazing Noodler, our darling Bridget Stuart, a writer of generous spirit and wonderful insight.

While she worked her magic, I decided to spend November doing something called NaNoWriMo, which is just fun to say. Try it. If you want to try it, be prepared to devote the month of November to writing a novel. I did, and eighteen days later, I had a fifty-six-thousand word manuscript. I’m still in shock. It was like having a baby delivered by the taxi driver, when I’m usually the one eleven months pregnant, calling in a team of experts to extract via C-section. The ms needs TLC to make it submission-worthy, but I’m excited to get on with it—and apparently there’s something called NaNoEdMo in March, if I don’t get to polishing this one right away, which I might not, because I have another dear friend who likes to caution me to let my stories ‘sit.’ (Hi, Cathryn!)

I will admit, it’s good advice, and it’s the reason I didn’t go straight back to the beginning of the ms and start revising, the minute I typed ‘The End.’ But there I was, with half a month left that I had blocked for the Nano story. I considered a double-header, then decided to goof off with something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I started rewriting Hustled as a screenplay. Because I’m just not getting enough rejection from New York. However, it’s been a fun exercise, and hey, nothing forces you to sharpen your dialogue like condensing 400 pages of it into 100.

Now it’s December, and la goddess Bridget has just sent my ms back, all deliciously red-lined and happy faced. (A spoonful of sugar, you know.) I’m hoping to have it ready to send to my agent by Christmas, because agents don’t get enough submissions this time of year, when absolutely every hack on the planet throws something in the mail, just to prove they’ve accomplished *something* in the last 365 days. But if there’s time left in the year after that, I have a couple of contest entries I want to prep for January.

And wow. You know what? I’ve accomplished a lot this year. I’m satisfied with this particular happy ending.

Hopefully you're enjoying one as well, looking forward to a bright beginning for 2006. Check back in January, and we'll swap resolutions. Merry Christmas all,
Dani






Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Family Tree

by Charity Tahmaseb

Our Christmas tree isn’t winning any prizes. If Martha Stewart ever got a glimpse of it, she’d probably break out in hives (a notion that pleases me, possibly too much). We didn’t even have a tree our very first Christmas together. Instead we opened Christmas presents on our wedding day, our ears strained for the phone call that would signal Bob’s deployment to Somalia.

The following year, Bob bought a tree at Target along with red, gold, and silver balls. It looked like we’d plucked it from the center of the Christmas decoration aisle and plunked it down in our living room. It was pretty, but it didn’t have any soul.

When I suggested we exchange tree ornaments instead of anniversary gifts, Bob commented we’d have to stay married a long time for a decently decorated tree. When the kids came along, we added them to the ornament exchange, and they look forward to the ornament shopping excursion almost as much as Christmas Day. Almost.

There is no grand plan, no theme, color or otherwise, for our tree. On the branches, you can find fragile Faberge style egg ornaments and spun glass ones next to the wooden blocks Andrew painted when he was four. We have an ornament commemorating the year 2000 and engraved pewter bells for our tenth anniversary. Thanks to Andrew’s obsession with nutcrackers last year, we added an entire squad of soldiers to our tree. Very soon, each nutcracker soldier will end up with a princess companion, courtesy of Kyra.

In a way, our tree--and its ornaments--is a history of our family. Each year, we add a page, in the form of glass and glitter, bright paint and homemade creations.

And each year, we hang fewer and fewer of those red, gold, and silver balls.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Rose by any other name

Some questions from Terry McLaughlin--

I recently found out I'm going to be a grandmother for the first time. Awwww... Okay, now back to blog business.

One of the first topics that popped up after the big announcement was the baby's name. Something from the family? Something Irish? Traditional? Modern?

We writers get to choose our characters' names, and it's A Big Deal. Some of us adopt pen names, which is An Even Bigger Deal. Parents choose their children's names, which is The Biggest Deal Since Sinatra Played Vegas. Names are powerful things, aren't they? Full of meanings and layered with contexts and filtered through our life experiences, all wrapped up and tied with a big identity bow.

So, here's the questions part. What are some of your favorite names? Names you've picked for your characters? Memorable names of characters you've enjoyed? Clever names for pets you've known? How did you choose your children's names? What name would you have chosen for yourself, if you'd had that chance?

Friday, December 09, 2005

White Christmas

by Lee McKenzie

In my November 9th blog I mentioned that White Christmas is my favorite holiday movie of all time. I watch it every year. Why do I enjoy this movie so much?

Is it the costumes? I love the dresses with the full skirts and narrow waists worn by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Not that my waist was ever as narrow as Vera-Ellen’s. At least not since I was 10. My favorite dress is the black evening gown that Rosemary Clooney wears to do her solo performance at the nightclub in New York. In my imagination, I look just as stunning as she does in that dress. An imagination is a wonderful thing.

Or is it the sets and backdrops that are so unabashedly fake? In an industry now governed by computerized special effects, it’s refreshing that the simplicity of a cardboard set still works. Okay, it works for me.

Or maybe it’s Irving Berlin’s masterpieces? After all, who doesn’t love the title song? And Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen’s "Sisters" routine? Although I must say, I love Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s version even more!

Is it the humor and the love stories? They are so wonderfully heartwarming and innocent. Then there’s the way they help the general. Would somebody please pass the Kleenex?

At the end of two hours you just know it’s going to snow. And it does!

I haven’t watched White Christmas yet this year because when I do, it’ll mean my shopping is done, everything has been wrapped, and the house is completely decorated. I’m almost finished shopping, but I like to take my time with the decorating. So when I finally do settle in for an evening with Bing and Danny and Rosemary and Vera-Ellen, the season truly will be upon me. And just like White Christmas, I know everything will be perfect.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Why Victoria’s Secret Is So Desperate – and Scared. By Jenna Ness

Ah, ‘tis the season to be shopping at the mall. Pushing my nine-month-old’s stroller, I trudge alongside my sister-in-law and her own stroller. Her three-year-old son is bounding alongside us through the bedecked halls. Burl Ives is singing over the intercom as we aim towards center court, where a crowd of children await the attention of a holly-jolly Santa. Smiling to myself, I look over the children’s heads, past the bows and bells and elves.

Voluptuous mannequins stare back from a window display in black see-thru bras, thongs and garter belts.

For those of you who don’t know, Idaho is a fairly conservative state. Apple pie, church on Sunday, God-and-Country rallies held every July. And yet Victoria’s Secret chose to advertise their particular brand of holiday cheer here. I mean, c’mon, if this was Las Vegas, in the Forum shops at Caesar’s Palace, that would be one thing. But in a family mall in a conservative town? Right next to Santa’s workshop?

Cringing, my sister-in-law and I hurried off to the other side of the mall.

We aren’t the only moms to be offended by Victoria’s Scenery. Recently, some moms in Virginia took umbrage at the lewd, lesbian S&M acts depicted by mannequins in the windows of their local Victoria’s Secret. (You can see the full story in Newsweek here. ) In response to their complaints, the mall managers basically told them that if they didn’t like the display, and were worried about what their kids would see, they should simply avoid that part of the mall. Gee, thanks! And when the moms tried to show their feelings by picketing, the mall ordered them to leave. Victoria: 1. Moms: 0.

But this isn’t a blog about morality or the perils of raising a family in modern society. I could talk about that, but it’s just too depressing. What I’d like to discuss instead are two other issues brought to us by the letter M: Money and Middles. And the real reason why Victoria’s Secret is so desperate.

If you’ve seen their current forced, cheerless TV ads, featuring models who rip off their clothes and moan into their cleavage “buy me, buy me now” (or some approximation), you know what I’m talking about. Victoria’s Secret has become like that sad, sad girl we all remember from high school who was so desperate for love and attention that she gave bragging rights to half the football team.

Why?

Because Victoria’s Secret is part of the sagging middle, that’s why.

Everywhere across America, the middle is shrinking. (Except for where our waistlines are concerned, of course!) The market is getting split and separated into categories based on niche and income. Seriously, consider this:

In retail, who is doing booming business? Saks and Neiman-Marcus. Target and Wal-Mart. People either want to seriously blow their money, or hear it squeak from being pinched so hard. Middle-of-the-income department stores that are neither luxe nor cheap, like Sears and the Gap, are struggling. And Victoria’s Secret has been reduced to desperately trying to get attention it hopes will translate to sales.

Which grocery stores are doing well? Luxury grocers like Whole Foods, or discount grocers like Food 4 Less and Wal-Mart. In the meantime, the traditional grocery stores, with unionized workers and a wide range of middle-items at middle-prices, are fighting to keep market share. Albertsons, the second largest grocery chain in the country, recently put itself up for sale.

And finally, the most pertinent questions to all of us writers.

Which genres of romance are booming? Inspirationals, where warm-hearted folks fall in love without dancing or drinking, and seal the deal with a peck on the cheek. And super-sexy stories where lust-maddened couples anonymously fall into bed and go at it for twenty pages a pop.

Which authors are doing well? You’ve got the Noras and J.K. Rowlings of the world, the blockbusters that keep publishers in business. Then you’ve got everybody else. The personalized attention that mom-and-pop booksellers used to give to midlist authors is gone in this era of big box stores and amazon. So again, the middle is disappearing – and with it, the midlist.

No one really knows how to sell mass market anymore, since other than the Super Bowl there no longer is a mass market event in America. And so the Super Bowl can continue to demand – and receive – escalating advertising rates. It is unique. Everything else is splitting up. We’re becoming a country of hard-to-market-to niches. So in the absence of any sure data, advertisers throw sex and violence at the wall and hope something will stick.

In the case of Victoria’s Secret, it hasn’t worked. Limited Brands, its parent company, recently reported a third quarter loss of 13 million dollars, caused mostly by slumping sales at the lingerie chain. So take that, Victoria. On second thought, let me put this in language you’ll understand: bend over and take it.

Right in the pocketbook.


Author’s note: Last month, I promised I’d write a blog about confidence. I have a bunch of ideas about that, but I figure I’ve been wordy enough for one month. “Confidence: How to Get It (It’s Easier than You Think, Duh)” will show up some time next year.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A holiday of goodies

by Anne Mallory

One of the best things about the end of the year...holiday treats. Is it any wonder we all gain a pound or twelve over the holidays with all the goodies abounding in all their goody goodness? Chocolate covered pretzels, shortbread, butter cookies, gingerbread, buckeye balls, pies...excuse me while I make a trip to the kitchen.

I recently discovered a sinful treat at allrecipes.com that I want to share with everyone who craves delicious desserts: Caramel Shortbread Squares (topped with chocolate). They are incredible.

The Wet Noodle Posse website has some fabulous holiday treat recipes including Carrot Cake, Sugar Plums, Angel Delight, Rich Plum Pudding, Profiteroles and Christmas Wreaths. You can view and print them HERE.

What are your recent discoveries or favorite holiday treats? Tis the season to not worry about the waistline. ;)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Are you finished?

by Colleen Gleason

Okay, I'm going to make this short and sweet...'cause we've all got so much to do, I don't want to keep you from it!

So, who's finished with your holiday shopping? Who did it all online? Who braved the stores the day after Thanksgiving to find the best bargains?

Who hasn't got a clue what to buy for half the people on your list???

For me, it's not so much doing the shopping...it's what to buy. So, I put together a list of ideas for various people on your list--all for under $20!

And for those of you who are too busy to click over to the WNP site to read the list (ahem), here are a couple freebies for you....

  • Buy a website for someone you love! Or at least, register the domain name and put up a basic site. This is a great gift for a teen in particular. The cheapest place I know of to register a domain name is GoDaddy. They also have freebie website building software, so you can do a temporary site. ($6.99 for the domain name + your time and effort)
  • Okay, how about a candle? I know it sounds boring, but I'll tell you...some of those candles at Illuminations and White Barn Candle Co are fabulous! And pricey! I don't buy them for myself, but I would love it if someone else did! (hint, hint!)
So now I'm fresh out of ideas...anyone? What's your best gift idea for under $30?

Colleen, who's off to spend last year's massage therapy gift card...and do some more shopping!

Monday, December 05, 2005

In Praise of Felines

I’m a cat person. With few exceptions, I have been enchanted by every cat I’ve ever met. For this month’s Faves page at the Wet Noodle Posse web site my fellow Noodlers share stories about their favorite pets. When I saw the call for postings I was stumped. How could I ever choose a favorite?

The first cat who owned me as an adult (I was in college at the time) was a black and white American shorthair named Shasta (after the soft drink). She was the epitome of cat, elegant and aloof, and she ruled our home with an iron paw. She liked to wake me up in the middle of the night so that I could sit with her while she ate. She would sit on my lap for hours, but if I so much as twitched an eyebrow, she left in a huff. If ever a house needed a pet door, it was ours, because Shasta loved to go outdoors just as much as she liked to be inside. Every evening we would jump up and down like jacks-in-the-box, letting her in and out. My parents called her Miss Come and Go. Shasta had a soft side, though. When I took a trip to Scotland she took up residence on my bed, making a nest out of my forgotten robe and meowing at everyone who would listen. When I came home she wouldn’t let me out of her sight for a week. When she passed away at the age of thirteen I felt as though I’d lost a child.

I swore I’d never have another cat after that, but it was only a month or so later that a co-worker’s cat had kittens. When I went to see them (believe me, it was against my better judgment) I met Thunder. Thunder was a tiny female tortoise-shell who was the busiest little bug I’d ever seen. She was nosey, noisy and as far as I could tell, never slept. She used to run around my apartment, vocalizing “vroom, vroom.” My friend Lucy said she was going to buy Thunder a little leather jacket and have “Hell’s Kitten” embroidered on the back. I have a hundred Thunder stories, but time and space are limited here, so I will tell you the most important thing about her. She was a fighter and she taught me to be a fighter, too.

When Thunder was eleven and a half years old she was diagnosed with diabetes. The vet suggested we try to regulate her blood sugar with diet, but after a month or so we realized that wasn’t going to work and she started on daily insulin shots. I taught her to jump up on the end of the kitchen table for her injection, and never once did she balk or refuse. There was no joy in the task for either of us, but she seemed to know it was necessary. But since there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for a scratch behind the ears, we got along fine.

Thunder’s sugar crashed one Monday afternoon in the spring of 2003, and I rushed her to the vet, sure I’d lost her for good. Our vet, a saint if there ever was one, managed to pull her little fanny out of the fire and saved her life. I knew our time was limited, though, and I took care of her as best I could. That July, when I went to New York for the RWA conference (that was my Golden Heart year and I couldn’t bear to miss it) she and Max, who’d joined our family about a year and a half after I got Thunder, had not one, but two pet sitters.

By October, as I watched her grow more thin and frail, as she stopped eating and drinking, I knew it was time to let her go. I took her to the vet, who once again pumped her up with fluids and medicines to increase her appetite and gave us the gift of a week in which to say goodbye. The morning of her death I left her nested on my bed, bright eyed and chirpy. I would never have left her if I’d known the scratch behind the ears I gave her would be our last. Maybe she knew that, and put on an act for my benefit. Maybe not, but nevertheless, she was gone by the time I got home from work that day.

I buried Thunder in the little woods behind my house. I can see her grave from my kitchen door. One week to the day after her death I got “the call” from Silhouette, and as I listened to my editor make her offer and rave about how she loved my book, I stood by the door, thinking “We did it, little bug. We did it.” I dedicated “Daddy in Waiting” to her, since she spent almost as much time in my study, keeping me company, as I spent there writing it.

I think Max missed Thunder as much as I did, but in a way, her passing allowed him to step out from under her shadow. He always waited patiently for Thunder to have her injection before he got his breakfast. He allowed Thunder to go downstairs first each morning. Thunder was always first in line for pets, but Max was always willing to wait his turn. He is the epitome of the gentlemanly cat, very handsome, but not arrogant about it at all. He had a stroke a week after Thunder’s infamous sugar crash, but because of the brilliance of our WonderVet, he survived. Now it’s his turn to take medicine every morning, and mostly, he’s good about it. It’s as if he, like Thunder, knows how important it is. He’s surprised me by turning into a regular snuggle-bunny, but that’s fine, too. I like the little taps he gives me on the arm when he needs his ears scratched or a kiss on the head. Every morning he lays on the pillow by my head and stares at me until I wake.

As he grows older (at seventeen and a half, he’s been labeled “in pretty good shape for a senior citizen” by the vet) I wonder what our future will be. Knowing nothing good last forever doesn’t help me accept the inevitable. Of course I say I’ll never have another cat, because certainly there isn’t another cat on earth like him. Or Shasta. Or Thunder.

But, of course, when you’re a cat person, anything is possible.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Fa-la-la-la-la, la la, la, what?

You expect it this time of the year, right? The craziness, the non-stop you're behind before you start Hallmark moments. Losing your place, and forgetting what you're looking for while you're wandering around Bloomingdale's with a few hundred of your friends and neighbors.

There are Christmas carols on the radio before Thanksgiving now. Entire radio stations devoted to nothing but Rudolph ringing and sleighbells prancing...

Wait--I ring-ting-tingled the wrong thing...

Well, when you've been humming about Frosty since just after a steamy southern Halloween (we sweat in our costumes in Georgia), what do you expect? You're bound to mix up a beat of two come December.

I love Thanksgiving and Christmas. L-O-V-E them. But a little love can go a looooong way, if you know what I mean. I was sharing on my eHarlequin Superromance loop the other day that I've made a pact to produce a stress-free holiday for myself and my family--no matter how hard I have to work for it. (Come on, a girls got to dream!)

Fa-la-la-laing is hard work? You've got to be kidding, I found myself demanding several holiday seasons ago--once my son was old enough to have his own social agenda, the grandparents began making noise about wanting to "share" our joyous season now that said grandson was so much fun, and my husband and I were exhausted by Dec. 1st.

Where's the fun, I asked? Where's the magic? Where are my Rudolph reruns and a cup of hot chocolate by a cozy fire (at the time, we were stringing lights outside in the freezing cold, at the last possible minute before our holiday drop-in party was supposed to begin)? When had the holidays turned into an all-out sprint for the finish line?

As grown ups, we pay the piper for our Hallmark memoires. If we don't scrimp and save and put away a heafty downpayment (that is plan ahead, streamline the expectations, and get the work out of the way before the fun's supposed to begin) we're likely to lose our minds and be found wandering department stores aimlessly, whistling a warped Christmas carol that no one else seems to be hearing over the store speakers.

Or is that just my reaction to holiday overload and panic?

Hmmm... Maybe I should have asked how honest these blogs were supposed to be...

Anyhoodle... Such was the swirling chaos of my thoughts as I shoved aside half-wrapped gifts, manuscript revisions, and unaddressed invitations to this year's holiday party, so I had a few minutes to write this post. What should I chat about with the Posse? What's the best way to share the magic and beauty I believe thrives this time of year, but also manage not to come off sounding like a hokey gift card commercial?

Honesty seems the only thing I can pull off lately... And don't think I don't enjoy a juicy bit of rationalization as much as the next girl. But excuses just don't seem to work for me anymore...

So, honestly... I have been humming messed up jingles for days. And some days have felt less magical than others (when there were two Santas ringing Salvation Army bells outside the SAME STORE yesterday, for example, hum-bug actually crept into the holiday tune I swallowed mid-stanza). But I suppose that's the point of my meandering (for more pointless, Pollyanna musings, hop over to my website journal).

The holidays can be tough. Brutal even, if we find ourselves not in the mood, while others are all smiley and excited about their day. But magic still abounds, never fear. Never let yourself forget it.

The magic is that we care so much, believing in the peace and generosity of the season, no matter the aggravation (I did leave a donation with Santa #1, even though I scowled at the second guy). There's beauty in how we keep working so hard year after year, making holiday moments special for our kids, friends, and family (especially the grandparents, because, honestly, look how special they made things for us).

I'm planning the detials a little sooner this year, but I'll still space out from time to time, when the exhaustion creeps up on me. I share that, so you'll feel more affirmed when your Fa-la-la-la-la, la la, la, what? moment comes. Don't sweat it. Happens to all of us (some more than others, my husband assures me with a pat, as he leads me from Bloomindales). Shrug off the bumpy stuff, 'cause I'm here to tell you, it's all worth it.

I wouldn't trade my holiday mania (the memories I'll be looking back on years down the road), for anything--not even the good night's sleep I sometimes weep for. With magic like this, who needs rest?

I wonder if I should make an extra pie for the party... you can never have too many pies... And we should do more lights this year... Maybe invite the new family that moved in down the street to dinner...

Anyone else hear Alvin and The Chipmunks singing I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, or is it just me???

Happy holidays, everyone!!!

Anna DeStefano
www.annawrites.com

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Week of Firsts by Janice Lynn

This week has been full of firsts in my life. My first book, JANE MILLIONAIRE, was released. My first radio interview in regards to my book. My first online chat. My first book-signing. My first time for someone to say I kept them up all night reading MY book. The first time I read a book I wrote from cover to cover when it's a real cover. My first time seeing a book I wrote in a bookstore. Lots of firsts. Which is all good and grand and great. BUT (why does there always have to be a but?) it's also a time full of reflection. A time to look back over the steps I took to reach this point. And it all started with a dream. A dream to write a book. When the desire to write actually morphed into a dream, I'm not really sure. As long as I can remember (way back in elementary school) I've wanted to be a writer. Not just any writer. A writer of romance.

It was around 9/11 that I realized I was dreaming in the sky and not doing one thing to try to grab hold of that dream. Sad how it takes something that shakes your foundation to make you willing to take risks, to go after a dream. Once that dream formed it grew and grew until in some ways it became more than a dream--almost an obsession. I needed to write. Needed it as much as I needed to breathe. Writing filled my nights when I should have been in bed, beside my husband, sleeping so I'd be rested for work the next day held, but my passion for putting the thoughts in my head on page burned too strong for sleep. Although, like most writers, I wanted my manuscripts published, the actual writing, creating characters and places and living a whole other life through my stories was the real passion. The writing itself. At times along the way I lost sight of that passion. The thought that publication is what it took to validate my skills, my stories blinded me at times. Why? That's hard to answer, but I think it goes back to forgetting WHY I started writing. I wrote for me. Because it gave me great pleasure. At too many bumps along this path, I wrote for the wrong reasons. Wrote striving more toward publication than for my passion. Sad, but true. This week, I've been reminded of what it felt like to write that first page, to finish that first chapter, that first black moment, typing THE END for the first time. Remembered the pure and simple joy of what it felt like knowing I'd started a book, wrote the story, and finished. No drug could ever offer a more surreal and giddy high.

Holding my book and experiencing all these first reminded me of my passion. I made me feel guilty that in the hustle and bustle I've ignored or not truly appreciated some very precious gifts that I've encountered along my writing journey. It also reminded me of that old saying (which is so appropriate in regards to my first book which carries a rose theme) TAKE TIME TO SMELL THE ROSES ALONG THE JOURNEY. I know I've seen that phrase written several different ways, but regardless of how I've paraphrased it, you get the point. There are so many of us writers, both pre-published and published who forget to stop and smell the roses during our journey. I think it's a natural part of the writing process to go through these emotional highs and lows. Certainly most of the writers I know readily admit to going through similar experiences and going through times where they lose the passion because of various reasons. Tonight I challenge all you writers to stop a moment with me, think about where you are now compared to where you were when you started your journey (even if you're a new writer this applies, because if you've written a single word that's a step toward your dream & if you've written 50 books it still applies, because it's so easy to let the world steal passion.) and breathe in the roses!

Friday, December 02, 2005

"Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall..."

Let's review why we like romance, in all its nuances and subgenres. Actually, I guess we'll have to stick with reviewing why I like romance, since no one else is writing this blog entry and no way I'm doing a poll at....wait a sec...10:08 p.m. You're stuck with my opinion, only. But I'll venture a guess that I'm not so different than any other rabid romance reader out there.

I like romance because of how it makes me feel as I'm reading it. There's a sense of euphoria, of anticipation, and I'm frequently struck by the very real belief that I am capable of great things. This is as I'm sitting, or curled up, or even standing in line at the grocery store - in other words, while not in motion, not doing anything at all except reading, I feel...empowered. I know what I like - it hasn't changed since I picked up my first Barbara Cartland when I was 13 years old. I like manly men and interesting women, and great dialogue, and intriguing plots with great twists and love scenes that make my stomach do that flipping thing. That's not to say that I don't like chick lit, or action adventure, or literary fiction, or Dear Abby. I'll read anything if it'll hold still long enough. But what I love is romance. Nothing else feels the same. Nothing else moves me in quite the same way.

So tell me why it is that I've read a few romances over the past year or two that just didn't meet my expectations? They were good books - with all the ingredients I mentioned above. But just like the red velvet cake I tried to make on Valentine's Day, which had all the right ingredients, they fell flat. I began to think it was me. Had I reached some level in life that romance no longer punched my buttons? I read more, and discovered that no, it's not me. I did read a few that gave me That Old Feeling. So it has to be the books, right?

Silhouette recently rocked a lotta boats when they came out with new guidelines for what I'd thought was their bestselling line - Desire. It seems that the line will now be more like Harlequin Presents, complete with rich, alpha men and stories that are more plot-driven than character-driven. I have to wonder, why did Silhouette make this change? Could it be that the line isn't selling as well as previously? Is this a knee-jerk reaction, an attempt to get readers to come back? If so, where did the readers go? Did they defect to erotic romance? To vampires? Werewolves? Chick lit? Are all these other subgenres of romance intruding on sales of tried and true romances? After all, how many readers can there be? It's by nature a finite number, and if the demographic analysts are correct, that number is shrinking because young chickies just ain't into the romance thang. Why is that? My daughters want romance in their lives - why don't they read it? This is purely conjecture on my part, but I think it's because young women today are jaded. They lost their innocence and dreams of fairy tales to MTV and The Real World. Yeah, like that's so real. As if.

I notice that almost every house is adding an erotic romance line, no doubt chasing the magic that is Ellora's Cave. (Side note: I question how well the erotic romance books will do in print - I think one of Ellora's biggest draws is that the books are purchased for online reading, in the privacy of the reader's home.) But every house can only print so many books, again because of that finite number of readers. Where will they cut back? Historicals? Romantic suspense? Chick lit? Does it matter? Only to the readers of those subgenres. Meanwhile, the erotic romance readers are no doubt rejoicing.

But I digress. I want to know, is romance as we know it going the way of the dinosaur? Will the number of books I can buy that give me That Old Feeling continue to decline? I hope not, but the fact is, I'm finding it harder and harder to locate them. Maybe it's as I said - maybe the publishing houses are so hell bent to find 'the next big thing', they've abandoned what's carried them through the past three decades. Or maybe it's us, the readers, demanding more books, more variety, more....what?

But this still doesn't explain what I remember one editor called 'meh' books. Yeah, it's all there, but it's just 'meh'. Nothing I'm going to remember five minutes after I put the book down. Nothing to give me That Old Feeling. Why is that? I'd love to think it's because I'm a writer, that I'm much more persnickety, that I pick books apart. But that can't be it. I've read books within the past year that I was so absorbed in, I forgot to eat. No way was I paying any attention to craft while I was reading. I'm afraid to say this out loud - but the hard truth is, there are some books out there that are just 'meh' books, and that's what's hurting sales. It's not the additional genres. It's not the inability to gain new readers in the youngsters' ranks. It is the defection of romance readers - people who get tired of shelling out 6 bucks for a blah read.

I had someone in the industry - someone who's been working it for 25+ years, tell me that she sees the problem as authors getting in a rush. They write so fast, they forget to add the magic. They take classes, read books, learn every facet of writing, then sit down and write a perfect book. But it's 'meh'. It's got no soul. No take-away.

What's the answer to the dilemma? I have no idea. It's about as quantifiable as finding out how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. What do you think?

EDIT: After reading this over, I realize there may be some authors, paticularly those who write for Desire, that might think I'm criticizing the line. Please know, that is not at all the case. Desires have always been a favorite of mine. I only pointed out Silhouette's decision to change the guidlelines, and my curiosity about it. I could also point out the folding of other lines and the beginning of new ones that are not, in the purest sense of the word, romance. It points to an upheaval in the industry, and that, in my rambling, long, ovulating way, is what I was getting at with this entire blog. I want to know - why?