Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Christmas! The scent of pine and cinnamon apples. The twinkle of colored lights. The strains of the familiar carols. Snow glistening on the meadow...

Halt! Rewind. Over the last few days as I tip-toed around the web, mostly what I've read about is how stressful the holidays are...and how tired people are feeling. There's dread and irritation instead of joy and anticipation. What happened?

You say there's no money this year? I'll share something with you. In the last sixty-two years, I don't recall a single year--not one--where money was plentiful. Unlike some people, we didn't have credit cards. Still don't. If we don't have the money in the bank...then we don't have it. That never stopped Christmas from arriving at our house. Some years there were more gifts than others. Some years our dinner was courtesy of the local food pantry (and thank God they were there!) But that isn't what Christmas is about, anyway.

When I was a girl, Christmas centered around the church and the religious celebration. I think because the focus was on giving rather than getting, the celebrations were very different.

Christmas was going Christmas caroling with friends and family. We carried lanterns (and then as I grew older, flashlights) and stopped every few houses as we walked, sang two or three carols and moved on. Most of the time, people came outside to listen. Sometimes they joined in the singing. Once in a while they offered us hot chocolate or cookies.

Christmas was baking cookies with the entire family. The kids carefully cut them out with the special Christmas cutters and decorated them with colored sugar. When they were cool, they were boxed up and wrapped so the kids could deliver them to friends and neighbors along with that year's Christmas card.

Christmas was decorating the tree. When the kids were born, we started a tradition of adding a new ornament for each of them every year. They were dated with a marker. And then, the year they left home, their ornaments went along with them so they'd have something familiar for their personal celebration. With four kids, there were a lot of ornaments by the time they left home. We always found a place for them on the tree. And every ornament had a story.

When the grandchildren came along, we continued the tradition. Some years our grandchildren were actually living with us when Christmas rolled around. And decorating the tree was still part of the tradition.

Arranging the Nativity in a place of honor was always a tradition. So much so, that the year my daughter's family lived with us, the grandkids gave up one of "their" tables so we'd have a place to put it. And then once it was all arranged, it was time to read the Christmas story directly from the source...Luke 2:1-20. For several years, I recited that from memory as my part in the Christmas play at church.

Christmas is about memories. And celebration. And giving. I think we've forgotten that in the gimme, gimme world created by the media and retail world. There's nothing wrong with receiving gifts. But frankly, how much stuff do we need? I don't remember the last time I received more than two or three gifts. Total. Most of them were from the Dollar Store. Because that's what the givers could afford. I still have them because it really is the thought that counts.

Our entire Christmas Gift budget for sixteen people is two hundred and fifty dollars. Most of that will be used to purchase gift cards because my children and parents live in other states. The hunk and I don't exchange gifts at all. Once a year--usually in the spring or fall--we'll choose to purchase something we especially desire and we'll call it our Christmas and anniversary gift to each other.

Instead of worrying about what we're getting, why not teach our children the true spirit of Christmas. Propose that they give the equivalent of one of their gifts to someone who isn't going to have a Christmas. Nope, I'm not advocating that parents toss more money on the debt pile by buying additional toys. Let your children make a conscious decision to forfeit one of their gifts so someone else will have something to open Christmas morning. Many kids have far more stuff than they can possibly play with already. There are innumerable places from churches to Toys for Tots that would gladly take your child's donation.

I suspect the true reason so many people are out of sorts and not feeling the Christmas spirit is because they've forgotten that shopping really isn't the reason for the season.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Story!

Yep. On December 1st, I'll have a new story out. I love this cover. She's so pretty--and happy. What's this story about?

Here's the blurb: When Dashylla’s masters abandon her in Silver Rock, to be awarded new masters, she makes a fervent Yule-Cris wish for two men who will love her passionately as she yearns to be loved. Nicodemus and Myles arrive in time to make all her wishes come true.

So, what's this about masters and Yule-Cris? On the planet Hypectil, there aren't very many women. The government, in the interest of peace and prosperity, has passed legislation where women are awarded to stable groups of men. Right before Yule-Cris, Dashylla's men prove they aren't quite as stable as they appeared. They abandon her in the tiny village of Silver Rock.

But on Yule-Cris Eve, Nicodemus and Myles show up, just in the nick of time, to rescue her. And Myles and Nic plan to make her life a Happily Ever After.

Would you like to know more?

I'll post the link first thing on December 1st!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Exploding Turkey

One year, I think it was 1984, we moved into a new house the day before Thanksgiving. This was after spending four weeks in a hotel with four kids, three of them teenagers. It was a move from Houston, Texas to upstate New York. The kids were out of school for that four weeks because we didn't have an "official" address.

So finally, we moved in on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. That year it was also my birthday. The next morning when we woke up we had no water because the pipes were frozen. Nothing was unpacked, but we had the presence of mind to pick up several aluminum roasting pans. For the turkey, we doubled two pans and plopped the turkey in the oven while we rousted out the necessities from the jumble of boxes that were piled high in the living room and dining room.

It wasn't the first time I had moved. Actually, it was move number forty. So the next morning chaos was not something new. There were the usual shouts of "Mom, where is...?" and the usual jockeying for space and attention. My husband was trying to figure out why we had hot water in the toilet. Just the little things in life.

When is was time to take the turkey out, the pan collapsed, burning my husband's hands. He tossed it on the top of the stove and it exploded. In a instant we had turkey, dressing, and broth everywhere...on the ceiling, on the walls and counters, down in the innards of the brand new stove...on the floor. Everywhere.

The househunk took the stove apart and carried it outside to wash the worst of it off with the hose in the yard. The boys got in an argument and my younger son "ran away". I remember kneeling on the floor trying to mop up that greasy mess and crying, "I want to go home!"

And my husband leaned down and calmly pointed out, "We are home."

Heh. Well, the runaway came home. My daughters helped set the table and my sons helped wash walls and counters. Amazingly, we sat down to dinner, thankful to be in a home instead of that hotel. And every year, we retell the story of the exploding turkey dinner.

After all, it was way better than the fire in the furnace on Christmas Day. Trust me on this.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Sixty-two years ago, I was born in Arizona. Wow, that went fast. I feel I should have something profound to say--and perhaps that's it. Life goes by fast.

Don't spend time wishing it away. We spend our time in so many ways and then look up and years have disappeared. What happened?

I was born at the tail-end of the forties, married in the late sixties at the height of the Vietnam War, graduated from college finally in the late eighties (at forty!) and suddenly find myself an official old lady in the twenty-first century.

In high school, I read 1984 for extra credit--back when 1984 seemed a very long time off. If I had ever put my mind to imagining the world we live in, I would never have envisioned the way computers and technology have changed our lives.

What have I learned?

Life whizzes by. Wear the good underwear instead of saving it for a special day. Use the fancy dishes in the middle of the week. Climb that mountain while you can. Dance on the beach under the moonlight. Stay up to watch the dawn. Sing with your kids while you watch the sunset. Go out in the country at night where you can see the glory of the Milky Way. Hold hands with your spouse. Pray daily.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Coffee Hound

I am not a coffee connoisseur. I know what I like, but I'm not a snob about coffee. I'm not a latte person, either. Coffee, cream and sweetener, and I'm good to go.

There are some places I refuse to buy coffee because I can't fix it exactly like I want it. Drive-thru coffee is far too hot. I don't want to buy coffee that I can't drink for thirty minutes until it cools down enough so I don't burn my mouth.

Flavors? Meh. Those are dessert coffees for the evening. For breakfast, give me plain, unadorned coffee. That first shot of caffeine for the day doesn't need to be gussied up.

Whipped? Cold? Blech. I'm sure my age is showing, but for me, coffee will always be a beverage meant to consumed hot. That heat rushing down the throat to warm the chest. That's part of the experience of drinking coffee. Cold coffee just doesn't convey the same sensation.

I'm a terrible coffee maker. Yes, yes, I know. Measure it in the pot and turn it on. How difficult can it be? Well. When I was a young woman, the hunk and I were friends with another couple, Dorian and Orlando. Orlando was born in Columbia (yes, South America) and he declared my coffee couldn't possibly be that bad.

The next time they came over for the evening, I made coffee...while he watched and coached me. I did everything exactly how he told me. We stood at the kitchen counter while the coffeemaker did its thing.

Finally, it was done. He poured a cup. And took a hearty gulp.

And began to cough and wheeze. "It's like rocket fuel," he gasped.

And that was the last time I was asked to make the coffee.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Black Thursday

The talk on Twitter and Facebook
Is usually about writing or Lolcats or nook.
But this week the friends are ready to fight--
Seems some stores are opening before midnight!
In fact (though it's really not right)
They're open for business, they say
Not Friday, but Thursday--Thanksgiving Day!

The chorus of protest is a swelling song
We must really do something--
This is just wrong!

My solution is simple. Why wait in line?
Why not wander in at seven or eight or nine?
Black Friday is a sad symptom of greed.
How many presents do we really need?

In the past we sang carols and put up the tree.
There were sparkling bright lights
and a Nativity.
The kids helped make presents for
Mommy and Dad.
Oh, they were so careful to never be bad.

Each day pretty Christmas cards arrived
in the mail 
with greetings and pictures and that year's tale.
There were whispers and guessing 
what was under the tree.
Sometimes there was shaking--"Oh, can I see?"

Heh. Do you remember how it was back then?
We always got one toy and candy in a tin
And new underwear and warm socks 
in a gaily wrapped box.

The thing about Christmas and
Thanksgiving Day
It's a time for family to find a way to say 
"I'm here to spend time together because I love you.
Nope, it's not money. It's not presents--
it's you."

© Anny Cook 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Details, details...

Details. There are only so many story tropes. It's the details that make it your story--or mine. Every writer has a working style. Some do elaborate outlines as they work out the story details in their mind. Some just sit down and write and work out the details as they go along. And then there are the hybrids--the writers like me who start writing what I call a jumpstart, and keep going until the details start popping up.

When they (the details) start intruding on the writing experience, it's time to stop and work on the synopsis/outline and research how the details will influence the story.

 The series I'm currently working on has been called "Fractured Faerytales at King Arthur's Court". The heroine in this book, Gardenia, has acquired a cloak (she was cold) and a staff (a handy weapon) and a pair of boots (we won't discuss what happened to her old ones.) One of the heroes has acquired a scarlet cap and two bronze wristlets.

Suddenly, I realized my characters had all this great stuff. Shouldn't it do something? Let's see. What could the boots do. Well, my character has already decided they are Merlin's magic boots. How do they work? What faerytale/familiar story would magic boots represent?

Ahhhh. Research time. So far, I've accounted for the boots, cloak, staff and hat. I haven't run across a story for the wristlets. I'll persevere.

In the meantime, each item will serve to move the story along. Did I plan it? No. But this is not the first time my brain has apparently been percolating along on its own, just waiting for me to have that ah-hah moment. With the synopsis/outline thingy more or less complete, I'll dive back into the writing.

I seldom stick to the plan--at least not closely. But it provides a springboard for other ideas. And with the Flowers of Camelot, that's pretty much the best I can ask for.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Taking a Poop

Facebook. Something about it...makes some people lose all common sense. Seriously. I have peeves with Facebook. 

1) Copy and Paste Status. NO. Don't do that. I don't want to read a status that LIKELY has been stolen from some other individual. If it's not YOUR thoughts and words AND you've posted no attribution for someone else's thoughts and words, then...why would you post it? Copy and paste is the lazy way out. If you have something to say--say it. If you like the status of someone else, then comment on THEIR status. 

2) Do not click on any link from anyone you don't know. What is it about links? Why are people compelled to click on them? Why? Chances are high (very high) that the link will lead to a virus. Why in the world would anyone engage in such risky behavior? If you really want to know about the topic in the so-called link...GOOGLE it!

3) If something offensive shows up on your newfeed, message the individual it supposedly came from to inform them. Or notify the PTB at Facebook. Or just delete it. DO NOT CLICK ON IT--and then complain when you find out you've been hacked. How do you think such viruses proliferate?

4) Please don't post every single private step you take. I don't want to know how drunk you are. And I really don't want to know how many men/women you are busy bedding. There are certain things that should be private. When I was younger there was an expression "You had to be understand why it was funny/profound/interesting/beautiful/etc." For most of the stuff on Facebook, that's still true.

5) I'm very concerned about people who post pics of their kids on Facebook. Pedophilia is a component of the top five or six current stories in the news. Why would anyone risk their child by putting their pictures on the internet? It worries me. If you want to show off your child to friends and family why not create a private photo site and post them there? Am I the only one bothered by this?

6) Big peeve...what is the purpose of "inviting" people to the release of your book? (See #7!) Am I going to buy it? No. I live in Baltimore (which is located on the east coast of the United States). I'm not likely to attend your booksigning at a bookstore in Idaho. Not likely. Nor am I likely to buy your book after I've had to take time to delete your event invitation. It seems to me...and perhaps I'm just wrong-headed about this...but if you can't take time to direct your announcement to the individuals on your friends list that live nearby instead of spamming friends who live too far to attend...then that demonstrates a certain disregard for your market.

7) Finally, I'm very sick and tired of people posting "buy my book/beads/herbal remedies/shoes/yarn/personal care products" on the general news feed over and over and over. Create a page for your products--yes, your books, too. I don't mind an announcement (My book Passion in the Pits was released today from Love Shack Publishing. Short blurb. See my page/website for details.) Trust me. If my interest wasn't caught the first time around, posting it seventeen more times is just gonna annoy me. Truthfully? I unsubscribe from that person if they irritate me enough.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc., etc., etc., are called social media. There is precious little socializing going on. Mostly, as far as I can tell, they're a hodge-podge of hawking products, political opinion pieces, and LOL comments. Sometimes an individual will exert that extra effort and ROFL. Wow...what happened to real words in real sentences?


Monday, November 14, 2011

Fifteen Minute Challenge

For those of us who lead sedentary lives, there is a tendency to sit. Sit. Sit and only move when dire necessity strikes...such as an urgent need to visit the bathroom.

Or possibly if the house is on fire.

Inevitably, this leads to all sorts of problems--real physical ailments, aside from tired eyes and fuzzy brains. Spinal issues, joint deterioration, and circulation issues are only a few of the things the sedentary lifestyle makes worse. A recent study concluded the number one way people can lengthen their lives is simply by standing.

Somehow, in this multi-tasking world, I suspect I am not the only one who lives in front of a computer, absently consuming my meals while typing madly, allowing hours to slip by with nary a muscled movement other than my fingers.

After some thought about ways I can improve my day-to-day life, I decided I will spend more time on my feet. I will also spend less time in front of the computer while still accomplishing what I need to do. I will eat with conscious deliberation, savoring the flavors in my food, rather than poking the food in while reading e-mail. And I will take up some of my former hobbies--partly because I miss them and partly because I plan to make some of my Christmas gifts this year.

But how to ensure I carry out my plan?

A) I'm designating "work time." The difficulty with working at home is there doesn't seem to be a starting-stopping time. Or lunch breaks. Or any type of breaks...

B) Out of every hour between 8 AM and 5 PM, fifteen minutes will be spent on my feet. Standing up. By the clock. Dishes count. Showering counts. Rearranging the books in the bookcases count. It's been surprisingly difficult to occupy myself for fifteen minutes every hour. With only the hunk and I around, my apartment can pretty much be straightened up in the first fifteen minutes.

C) I will stop and walk away from the computer at lunch. (Or any other meal.) Scientists have proven we eat more with less satisfaction when we eat in front of a computer or television. Since my food is measured, that means I'm really not enjoying the full experience of the food I'm allowed to eat.

D) Evenings will be reserved for those things I've enjoyed in the past. Calligraphy. Reading. Crocheting. And if those things are sedentary, then the fifteen minute rule kicks in.

It's going to be revolutionary for me. I'll let you know how it works out. If you want to take the fifteen minute challenge, let me know. I could use a buddy or two or five... :-)


Friday, November 11, 2011

Land of the Brave

My earliest European ancestor came to Maryland in 1660, settling on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. My most recent immigrant ancestor came to Pennsylvania in 1734. There might have been a Native American in there somewhere but it was so far back, we have no verifiable information.

My people were movers. Every generation the youngsters in the family moved on, settling in strange new territory. They were the pioneers—the ones who established new settlements, faced the dangers of wild animals, hostile tribes, and starvation and illness. They built small log homes, cleared land, and planted crops. They were the men who sat on juries, took their turns as the sheriff, and the women who reared children with little more than a washtub and an iron pot.

From the beginning, the men went off to war when they were called. Generation after generation they fought for the principles they believed in from before the Revolutionary War to the post 9/11 conflicts. According to the RW and CW pension records, they walked long distances, took part in battles, sometimes were wounded and received little recompense for their trouble.

In the early times in our country, there were no supply lines for the soldiers. Uniforms and weapons and food were provided by their family. Battles were fought on home soil in towns and across farmland where people lived. In the pension record for one ancestor, his actions are described. As a very young man (sixteen), he led British soldiers on a wild chase across the country-side so they wouldn't find the American soldiers sheltering in his barn overnight. They'd arrived the evening before to fetch fresh meat for their camp. If the British soldiers found them, they would also know his family was supporting the rebellion.

There is much talk today about soldiers and sailors, about our veterans who have kept our country safe. I just want to point out that courage doesn't always wear a uniform. Sometimes it wears a skirt or overalls. Without the families at home, keeping things going, there wouldn't be many veterans.

On this Veteran's Day, let us also remember the support team.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Memory Chest

My friend and fellow writer, Tom Williams and I were talking about a gorgeous wood chest he made for his tools. I mentioned the hope chest my grandfather made for me and he suggested "Post a picture." As I thought about it, it seemed that wouldn't quite do the chest true justice. So I decided to write a short post about the real meaning of this chest.

When I was ten, our family decided to move from Arizona to Indiana. My mother had been collecting things for my hope chest. Since there was limited space in the truck (we were "moving" ourselves), she left my hope chest items with my grandparents.

It took almost all day to pack the truck, trailer, and car so it was evening when we finally started out. In New Mexico, near Lordsburg, out on a narrow two lane highway through the desert, she died in a car accident. I never knew about the things she'd collected for my hope chest.

We went on to Indiana and then Chicago, Illinois. I grew up and three weeks after I turned eighteen, I married the hunk. The night before our wedding, we were putting away the last of the things in our apartment when our landlady knocked on the door. A package was there for us.

Very excited, we tore open the box. Inside, wrapped in a wedding ring quilt my grandmother had made, was the chest in the picture. And inside the chest, were the cactus glasses in the top picture (among other things)! I still have the ten glasses my mom collected. Every year we use them for special dinners.

I'm ashamed to say I didn't know how to take care of the quilt and after some years, it disintegrated. And the chest, as you can see, has fallen on tough times. Twenty moves have not been kind to the chest my grandfather so lovingly put together for me.

I do find it interesting that every one of my children (even the single fellows) have put in their bid for the chest and glasses after the hunk and I are gone.

This month I'll turn sixty-two. And next month the hunk and I will celebrate forty-four years. It seems like only yesterday that we were eagerly exploring the secrets of the small chest called Hope.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Down, out, finished

We live in a world where convenience is at every hand. We call, we Twitter and Facebook and e-mail. Lights come on at the touch of a switch. Water is available at the twist of a faucet.

Until it's not.

Yesterday, I had no internet for about twenty-four hours. I wasn't the only one. There are conflicting reports as usual, but at least my area code was down. From other people I heard the outage was more wide-spread than that. The powers that be aren't really discussing the extent of the outage. Naturally.

Today, my apartment complex is shutting off the water. Today and tomorrow. It seems there's a water main break within the community that has to be fixed. In theory the plan is to shut it down from 9 AM to 6 PM. Why? Because people will be gone to work. Except for those who don't go to work. Or have little kids. Or work a different shift.

The hunk is filling the bathtub so we can flush. We've taken care of our morning routine. Breakfast is almost finished. And then we'll settle in for the day.

There's an odd phenomena that kicks in when something isn't working. Even though you might not need the particular utility immediately, your brain knows something isn't right so your whole being takes on a waiting attitude. Restlessness sets in. You can't quite settle down because whatever is wrong subliminally disturbs you.

And then when it all finally goes back to normal it takes a little bit to settle back into life. I think an outage of whatever (water, electricity, internet) is a faint warning that the conveniences of modern life are fragile and not to be depended on. It takes very little for them to be gone.

How will we cope then?


Friday, November 4, 2011

Milky Way Walk

About thirty years ago, my son and I stood on a lonely road in a silent campground. It was near two a.m. He woke me up, needing an escort to the bathrooms that were located about a quarter mile away. One hard and fast rule in our family was that none of the kids went to the bathrooms alone after dusk.

I couldn't find the flashlight so we set off in the dark. There was so little ambient light that I could bare discern his presence even though he was wearing a very light colored shirt. We hiked from our individual camp site out to the "main" campground road and then turned toward the restrooms. The little drive down to our camp site was hemmed in by trees, but the main road was clear and open to the sky.

I made some inane comment about the lack of moonlight and he looked up. And stopped dead in his tracks so I nearly ran him down.

"What is that, Mom?"

"That's the Milky Way."

We stood there so long we started shivering though the night was warm. As we stood on that deserted little gravel road, I pointed out the constellations I was familiar with. We talked about how I used to walk out into the desert with my father and look at the stars.

After a while, we continued our journey to the restrooms and eventually made our way back to the tent. He grew up as our children do and left home. Over the years whenever we've had the chance to get together, inevitably we will look at each other and say, "Do you remember?"

Yes, we remember that time out of time as we stood under the glory of the Milky Way, billions of fiery stars flung across the sky.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nobody will ever know...

Interesting philosophy. If nobody knows, then "it's" all right--whatever "it" is. Unfortunately, that seems to be the prevailing attitude in our culture. As long as no one knows what we're doing, then it is all right.

If you take this to the obvious conclusion--then as long as a serial murderer isn't caught, what he's doing is all right.


Then where do we draw the line? With the easy anonymity of the Internet, people can be anybody they want to be, do anything, say anything with no perceived consequences. When the time arrives for the reckoning, they are always surprised and shocked. After all--nobody is supposed to know!

That is foolishness of the strongest sort. Better to assume that everybody will know. For sure--sooner or later--they will know your secret. Whatever it is, it will be revealed in the most embarrassing fashion possible.

Every so often, I'll be asked in an interview what my number one piece of advice for new authors would be. It's always the same.

Remember you are on stage 100% of the time. Whatever you say, do, write will come back to haunt you when you least expect it. There are no secrets on the Internet. Be polite and professional all the time. You never know when the person you are talking to will be a potential reader.