Friday, December 26, 2008


8: books received by me from me

1: linen-silk coat received by me from me

12: inches of snow on Christmas Day

16: people fed at my house on Christmas Eve

4: chairs borrowed to seat people on Christmas Eve

7:30 a.m.: hour we allowed children out of their rooms on Christmas Day

2: children who had to be woken up at that hour (not the teenagers--it was the little ones who were sleepy)

4: presents my husband cheated and bought me after telling me to buy my own gifts

2: presents I cheated and bought my husband (3 if you count the DVDs that were for both of us)

16: Christmas Days as husband and wife

1: incredibly surprised and happy 15-year-old, the newest owner of a cell phone (not my idea)

2874: calories burned on December 24th--I usually work out between 45-60 minutes to burn between 2100-2200 calories a day--apparently, all I need to go each day is get up at 7:00 a.m. to shop and go to breakfast, then spend the rest of the day cooking, cleaning, and wrapping gifts--who knew?

12: days until my husband and I leave for Maui

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


My friend, Amy, gave me a wonderful idea for a post--list my fictional crushes. (So my husband can blame her for what follows--I'm just doing what she suggested.)

Where do I begin . . .With Frank and Joe Hardy solving crimes? Gilbert Blyth holding fast to his love for Anne? Austen's Mr. Darcy or Bronte's Mr. Rochester or du Maurier's Maxim de Winter?

In ascending order, here are my Top Five Entirely Fictional Crushes, loved from words alone and the stories they live in.

5. This was the hardest spot to fill, but after long and careful thought I had to go with Faramir, Captain of Gondor (THE LORD OF THE RINGS/J.R.R. Tolkien)

In the film versions of Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is far and away my man, but before the films were the books and in the books, first read when I was 17, Faramir has my heart. What to make of a man who can resist the One Ring? Who fights for a father who torments him? Who falls in love with Eowyn . . . (I'll get to her in another post--Fictional Women I Wish I Could Be). So Faramir it is.

4. Francis Crawford of Lymond, once Master of Culter, later Comte de Sevigny (THE LYMOND CHRONICLES/Dorothy Dunnett)

I think I'd love him for his titles alone--there aren't a lot of great titles in today's world. The first time I read the six books in the Lymond Chronicles, it took me to the end of the third book to fall for Francis Crawford. He's the epitome of a riddle wrapped in an enigma, something the author perpetuates by only very rarely using his point of view. He's a Renaissance man in the Tudor era, who can fight and love and deceive in multiple languages and across continents. He's charming, clever, athletic, cruel, loyal, dangerous, and vulnerable. And he recognizes a good woman when he meets one--even though Philippa is only ten years old the first time she crosses his path.

3. Peter Wimsey (The Wimsey Novels/Dorothy L. Sayers)

Younger son of a Duke, army captain in WWI who "had a bad war", collector of rare books and solver of mysteries in 1920s and 30s England. He babbles about anything and everything, sings like a professional, and has beautiful hands. He also has the good taste to fall head over heels for a mystery novelist the first time he sees her, as she's standing trial for her life. It's Harriet Vane who makes Peter human and crushable--I re-read the Peter/Harriet stories more often than the Peter stand-alones, just to imagine what it would be like to have a rich, titled man in love with me.

2. John Tregarth (The Vicky Bliss Novels/Elizabeth Peters)

I fell in love with John the first time he ran away from a gun in THE STREET OF THE FIVE MOONS. Art thief and avowed coward, John is bound to break into bad jokes at the most inopportune moments. He also has a bad habit of leaving Vicky to pay the bills and, although she never knows when he'll show up, she does know that he'll bring trouble with him. But she can't resist his insane sense of humor and his esoteric knowledge of English poetry--until he shows up with a pretty little wife and in the company of dangerous men in NIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS. I defy anyone (okay, any woman) to read that book and not fall for John.

1. Ramses Emerson (The Amelia Peabody Novels/Elizabeth Peters--what can I say? Clearly Elizabeth Peters and I have the same ideas of what makes an irresistible man)

Although I generally love seeing books made into films, just to see the beautiful settings brought to life, I hope I never see Ramses Emerson caught in flesh. That way, I can continue to worship him through the pages of books alone. Ramses is the son of Egyptologist parents in the early 20th century and is himself a brilliant scholar and linguist. But it's his actions that make him crushable--from disguising himself as an Egyptian nationalist to working undercover as a spy during WWI to scaling the sheer wall of a cliff-side dwelling to get to the woman he loves . . . Sigh. And when that love, Nefret, marries another man in a fit of pique, the crush is absolute. Ramses Rules. End of story.

So what can you learn about my psyche from this list?

First, that I'm an Anglophile. Barring Faramir, each of this men is British (and I think a point can be made for Faramir--at least his author is British.) True, Francis Crawford is loyal Scots through and through, but British is British, whether he wants to admit that or not.

Second, that I'm a sucker for other times and other worlds. Except for John Tregarth, none of these books or men are contemporary. What can I say? I like swords and battles and chivalry.

Third, that each of these men has something in common besides the British accent: principles. As a character says of Peter Wimsey in GAUDY NIGHT: "That is a man able to subdue himself to his own ends. I feel sorry for anyone who comes up against his principles, whatever they may be."

The principles of an art thief may not seem to have anything in common with those of a Tudor soldier or an Egyptologist. But each of these men, in their own stories and their own circumstances and their own ways, comes up against a choice to break those principles. And they don't.

Peter Wimsey lays out the facts of an Oxford poison pen even when he believes it will destroy any chance he has with Harriet. John walks away from Vicky, allowing her and even pushing her to think the worst of him, in order to save her life. Francis Crawford sacrifices every single personal love to protect his country and his family's honor. Faramir sends Frodo away with the One Ring even though he knows his father will never forgive him for not taking it.

And Ramses? He will do anything to ensure Nefret's happiness, even when it appears to take her away from him. And he will endure any pain, mental or physical, to save others. And he will drive himself to the point of illness in order to do his duty to his family and country.

And the women they love? Eowyn, Philippa, Harriet, Vicky, and Nefret are independent and stubborn. They go their own way and they make their own choices, some of them stupid.

And the men wouldn't have it any other way.

In GAUDY NIGHT (it's the one I've most recently re-read), Harriet says that she almost wishes Peter would interfere instead of leaving her to make up her own mind about their relationship. And someone tells her: "He will never do that. That's his weakness. He'll never make up your mind for you. You'll have to make your own decisions. You needn't be afraid of losing your independence; he will always force it back on you."

Here's where I make up to my husband for this post: he doesn't have a sword, or a long list of hereditary titles, or a desert cliff to climb.

But he has principles. He has never broken them.

And he has always, since we were 17 years old, forced my independence back on me.

That's not a crush.

That's love.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


My daughter likes to read. A lot. Every night around here it's "Hey! Turn off your light and go to bed!"

But last night was a new one.

While I blow-dried her hair, she kept reading. Had to use both hands to keep the pages from being blown over, but she didn't falter.

Could she be any more my child?

Monday, December 08, 2008


I finally finished my November Books post. Scroll down a few posts if you're interested.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I love Christmas.

I love the music and the lights and the gift-giving and the food.

And I love decorating my house.

My Five Favorite Christmas Decorations:

1. Christmas Trees. Plural.

One in the front room, with white lights and lots of silver ornaments but with splashes of cool colors (blues, greens, pinks.) Icily elegant.

One in the family room, with colored lights and sentimental ornaments--from the collections of kids' ornaments brought home from school over the years to olive wood ornaments my husband brought back from Jerusalem to my personal favorites, the stuffed felt ornaments my grandmother made that hung on my childhood Christmas trees. Brightly nostalgic.

2. Nativity.

I have several, including a cornstalk one I bought in Kenya last year, but my favorite will always be the white matte porcelain Nativity that my parents gave us the Christmas that we got enaged. It has been through multiple moves and not a piece has broken, including the oh-so-delicate shepherd's staff. I especially love that Joseph has his arm around Mary while they look down together at Jesus in her arms.

3. Stockings.

I made them. Enough said.

Okay, not quite enough said. I only made the stockings for the children. Cross-stitched: 3 different Santa versions for the boys and 1 Angel for the girl. Each child added to the family was progressively older before they got their handmade stocking. By the time I'd finished the third stocking (she was 6 at the time) I just couldn't face starting one more for the youngest. So I took the one I'd made for my husband, carefully unpicked his name off the top, and put the baby's name on it. Voila! I'm an amazing mom :)

Oh, and Chris and I have plain velvet stockings from Target. I'm over the whole handmade thing.

4. My gilded pinecone. You'd have to be me to understand--or have a good knowledge of the most recent STEPFORD WIVES film.

5. Pictures with Santa.

We didn't quite begin this tradition early enough--the first picture we have is when our oldest was 2--but we've been going steady ever since. We're starting to run out of room to display them. But nothing makes me happier than seeing the progression of our children through the years. We're off this Saturday morning for the annual picture and breakfast. Maybe I'll post it when we have it. For now, enjoy the photo at the top, the first one which has all four of our children, taken in 2001.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


On December 3 . . .

1986: Chris and I had our first date.

1991: Chris and I got engaged.

2007: Our 11-year-old son stays home from school with a headache. Last night he told me, "If I wake up tomorrow with a headache, promise you'll take me straight to the emergency room." (He went to school just fine today, thank goodness.)

The things we don't anticipate when we're 17 or 22.

I'm glad we were together for the unanticipated, my love. Happy Anniversary.

Monday, December 01, 2008


GAUDY NIGHT/Dorothy L. Sayers/A+
Possibly my favorite mystery ever, I re-read this every few years. This time it was for book club. Sayers was a Golden Age mystery writer, sharing the British stage with Josephine Tey and Agatha Christie. Lord Peter Wimsey is something of a crush of mine and I've wanted to be Harriet Vane since I first read this. In this outing of the series, set in the late 1930s, Harriet returns to her Oxford college and winds up investigating a Poison Pen who is vandalizing the college. Peter drops in and out of the story while he and Harriet work out their personal life, but the book is redolent of Oxford and scholarship and the pull between professional ethics and personal concerns. Every time I read this book, I wish that I had gone to Oxford.

The story of Venice in the 1990s, the book opens with the burning of the Fenice Opera House. Berendt uses the investigation and rebuilding, with all their Venetian twists and turns, to frame his look at the city and its inhabitants. Definitely made me want to visit and possibly own a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Time for me to start reading books that lead to less expensive dreams.

After re-reading GAUDY NIGHT, I was moved to look at some of Sayers non-fiction. She was well-known as a Christian writer, friends with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but she also had an obvious interest in the role of women in society. The first book here contains two short essays that scathingly and satirically deal with the concept of women as actual humans rather than a separate species from men. The second book was more difficult but also more rewarding--a Catholic artist's attempt to explain the concept of the Trinity using human creativity as a model. It was challenging but rewarding.

UGLIES and PRETTIES and SPECIALS/Scott Westerfield/B+
A trilogy of YA books set in in a utopian future where the Rusties (us) have died out after destroying much of nature and where society is now strictly kept within various city limits. But the driving force is the surgery that is done when a teenager is 16, one that takes them from Uglies to Pretties. Tally, just short of her 16th birthday, can't wait for the surgery and to join her friends in New Pretty Town. But then she meets Shay, and learns about The Smoke--a place where people have never had the surgery and live together in the wild. Tally has been sent by Special Circumstances to locate The Smoke and betray them, but then she meets a boy . . . An excellent concept but also a fairly compelling story. I definitely read them quickly to see what would happen. Although it's billed as a trilogy, the author just released a new one this year, EXTRAS. I'll get back to you.

Made into a film by Spike Lee this summer, I found this an intriguing book. A little too, hmmm, spare? underwritten? for me. It's a story of a group of Buffalo Soldiers (the Negro regiments) caught behind enemy lines in Italy. They wind up protecting an Italian child who witnessed a massacare at the church of St. Anna and they take refuge with a village while they wait for help. For such a slim book, I did learn a lot--points of view include the child, the various soldiers, a villager who is hiding rabbits under his bedroom floor, and a legendary Italian partisan. It's not by any means a cheerful book, despite the title, but curiously satisfying nonetheless.

BROTHER, I'M DYING/Edwige Danticat/A
Danticat is a well-known Haitian-American writer. This is a memoir of sorts, about her two fathers--the one who brought his wife to the U.S., leaving Edwige and her brother behind in Haiti for years, and her Uncle Joseph, her father's brother, who raised her and her brother until her parents were able to bring them to New York. You see the differences between the brother who left and the brother who stayed, but both of whom loved their families and their homeland. The crux of the story is her Uncle Joseph's death while in the hands of U.S. Immigration in Miami. A brief and easy-t0-read book that's full of emotional layers. Highly recommended even if you've never been to Haiti.

CHECKMATE/Dorothy Dunnet/A+
The last in the Lymond Chronicles, that I began re-reading last month. What can I say? I have a definite crush on Francis Crawford of Lymond and I want to be Philippa Somerville, his border-English wife. In this last novel, they have to resolve their very complicated marriage while Francis is leading the French army and Philippa is trying to chase down the truth of his birth. Seriously, if you are at all interested in historical fiction--pick up The Lymond Chronicles!

Except, of course, that it isn't. The end. There may be a writer in this world who writes impeccable first drafts--I just haven't met any of them. And if you are one, please don't tell me. I want to keep my will to live.

In the comments, Amy asked "What do you do now?"

Ah. I face the fact that the jumpy, disconnected, with-occasional-flashes-of-brilliance manuscript labeled Kieran 1 must now be turned into an actual story. With a beginning and an end (those aren't a problem) and a middle (problem).

But I actually don't mind that work so much. Rewriting and revising have never been as difficult for me as getting down the first draft. (Of course, I've never managed to revise to the point that a professional wants to read the entire manuscript--but I digress.)

I start with Chapter 1, taking out some of the historionics; then rework Chapter 2, making sure I have accurate information for Kieran to discover about the Langlies and that we get a good peek at her coping-with-stress mechanisms; then Chapter 3, where I change her locale for getting into the past . . .

I think that's as far as I'm willing to think today.

Rejoice with me. I slightly exceeded my goal of 1500 words a day, I wrote every single day in November, and I have a first draft that, at the very least, makes sense to me.

And most of all--I proved to myself that I can still write.