Thursday, December 31, 2009
I don't know about you guys but I love the party aspect of New Year's Eve. Staying up to watch the ball drop. Fireworks and champagne. This year we waited to have our annual Playground Christmas party until tonight. There will be food, Rock Band, a few adult beverages and plenty of friendship.
Do you have big plans for tonight? How are you celebrating New Year's Eve? Will you be dressed to the nines to dance the night away or curled up on the sofa in your PJs watching the ball drop?
Wishing everyone a healthy and happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
"You just have to believe," I told them. "No matter where you are, Santa Claus will find you."
And sure enough, Santa found them that Christmas and every Christmas since. For it's been the custom to hang our stockings by the fireplace each Christmas and even my thirty-something son finds his filled.
This Christmas was a little different. I'm living in an apartment with no fireplace and my sons didn't visit me on Christmas. I'd planned to visit my mother at Christmas because I needed to begin establishing a "new normal" routine for this season, but when she had surgery earlier this month and spent two weeks in the hospital, the trip became even more important because she needed help with just about everything while she began her recuperation.
I'd decorated my new apartment with a small tree from the thrift store (why pay $75 for a tree when you can find the same thing for $7.98 at Thrift Mart?) and put a wreath on my door. I wrapped my patio railing with evergreen garland and tiny white lights, and I bought two poinsettias to brighten up my kitchen and dining table. I put out some candles and found a spot to hang the really pretty crystal and mistletoe ornament Angel gave me for Christmas, and in a last-minute fit of tradition, I put a stocking hanger on the built-in bookcase and hung up the stocking my mother made for me when I was a little girl.
The stocking qualifies as an antique now and probably should go in the Smithsonian, but that's another story. I commented in an email to the other Playfriends that I wasn't really sure why I hung it because there'd be no one to fill it.
You see, I'd stopped believing in Santa years ago and so had my boys. But hanging those stockings and filling them with trinkets and candy was just a little piece of their childhood I could hang onto. I saw them both this year on the Sunday before Christmas and instead of trinkets and candy in a stocking, I gave them a Walmart card in a gift card holder (Grandbaby got lots and lots of princess and Tinkerbell stuff including a Tinkerbell Pez dispenser, and that's another story too). Cop-out, I know. I guess I figured that was just part of the "new normal." With the gift card, they could buy food or put gas in their vehicles or purchase socks and underwear if that's what they needed.
So imagine my surprise when I got home from my trip late on Monday and found a message from Santa scribbled on the little white board stuck to my front door. And imagine further surprise when I discovered several small gifts under the tree that I hadn't put there. And color me gobsmacked (don't you just love that word?) when I glanced toward the bookcase and saw my stocking brimming with surprises!
I got a new journal (I almost bought one a few days before because I wanted to start a new one for my journaling -- that's gonna be one of my resolutions -- and counseling sessions in 2010 but hesitated for some reason), and a Starbucks card (tall lattes here I come!), some note cards (to write thank you notes for all my wonderful gifts), lots of candy (Snickers, Reese's peanut butter cups and Kit Kat bars! Santa, you remembered!) and an apple and cinnamon oil diffuser with the little sticks (my office is going to smell so good). Last but not least, a pair of socks with snowmen was stuffed into the toe of my stocking. And as I type this, I'm wearing them to keep my feet warm in the sub-freezing weather we're having in north Alabama.
Isn't it amazing how even when you stop believing, others don't? We all know Santa didn't appear in the flesh at my apartment, but the spirit of Santa did and I think you can all guess which four people make up that spirit.
Enjoy the song below and pay attention to the lyrics printed below the player. And thank you to my special Santas for reminding me I need to keep believing.
Children sleeping, snow is softly falling
Dreams are calling like bells in the distance
We were dreamers not so long ago
But one by one we all had to grow up
When it seems the magic's slipped away
We find it all again on Christmas day
Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that's playing
There's no time to waste
There's so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe
Trains move quickly to their journey's end
Destinations are where we begin again
Ships go sailing far across the sea
Trusting starlight to get where they need to be
When it seems that we have lost our way
We find ourselves again on Christmas day
Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that's playing
There's no time to waste
There's so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe
If you just believe
If you just believe
If you just believe
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
See, when the tingling in my fingers got really irritating and the pain in my shoulder and wrist got too bad, I finally went to the doctor. He gave me 17 shots -- literally -- and banned me from my computer. I told the Geek about this restriction with a laugh, and dang it if the Geek didn't back him up and threaten to dismantle the computer if I didn't stay off of it.
So, I'm sneaking in today with a quickie, drive-by post to explain my absence and announce winners from last week.
Winners are: Margay, Michele L and Julie Miller. Send me your snail mail addy at email@example.com and I'll get your packages in the mail (when I can sneak a peek at my email that is...). Thanks so much for playing along everyone! I hope you got your grinchiness out and enjoyed the holiday!
And because this post is just too short and boring, I'll add this to make it worthwhile and interesting.
Yummy. Those abs...
So if I'm AWOL in the near future, you'll know why. Possibly because the Geek has taken my keyboard with him in order to keep me off the computer. (Can you feel my withdrawl pangs? Horrid.) Cross fingers the doc can get me sorted out soon and I'll be back on the internet like usual!
And you never saw me here, okay? Shhhhh....
Monday, December 28, 2009
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday (and plenty of recovery time over the weekend)! I know our house was busy with excited children and lots of visitors. Now I’m heading to Florida to visit with my parents before my kids have to return to school. Then it is back to the grindstone for me.
Today, I’m blogging over at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood about building goals for the new year. If you are like me, and like to take some time to think about the coming year and prepare a plan of attack, join me over there! I’ll be taking questions and suggestions, and discussing everyone’s plans for 2010. I’d love to see you there!
The Playfriends are hard at work on the changes coming to our website next week (or rather, Smarty Pants is—she gets the brunt of the labor). We’re very excited and will be running a contest next week during theme week to celebrate our new look. So don’t forget to join us for that!
Hope all of our readers get a few days off to celebrate the new year this week! Enjoy!
Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Then we'll tuck the girls into bed and wait for Santa to arrive.
The fun and frenzy will probably also involve those last minute wrapping sessions. Hopefully, I won't need a final trip to the mall for anything.
Do you have any Christmas Eve traditions?
P.S. The pictures are from another of our Christmas traditions, the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN. Each year we try to get up there to do a little shopping and also stop by the hotel to see their amazing Christmas decorations.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Mystery Couple Starts "Magical" Chain Reaction
For five hours, strangers bought each other meals at a Philly diner
It played like a scene from a holiday movie -- a mystery couple, who didn’t leave their names or numbers, walked into a restaurant, finished their meal and then set-off a chain reaction of generosity that lasted for hours.
That’s just what employees at the Aramingo Diner in Port Richmond said a man and a woman did during their breakfast shift last Saturday morning.
“It was magical. I had tears in my eyes because it never happened before. I’ve been here for 10 years and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Lynn Willard, a waitress.
Willard and other waitresses told NBC Philadelphia that the couple started the chain reaction by paying double: for their own meal and for the tab of another table of diners at the restaurant. There's no evidence that one group of diners knew the others.
“I could not believe it … and it continued and continued, it was very nice,” said Willard. “They asked us not to say anything until they left, but we said ‘Merry Christmas, that person picked up your tab.’”
For the next five hours, dozens of patrons got into that same holiday spirit and paid the favor forward.
The diner’s manager said not one person was concerned about price of the check -- which averaged between $12-$30.
“It was a surprise to all of us, the girls were even taken aback,” said Linda. “Those who took the check also tipped the waitress. So nobody had to do anything other than pass it on and that’s what they did. They just passed it forward.”
It’s a true holiday story that proves how a small gesture of kindness can create some magic.
Have you ever paid a favor forward?
I'm at my mother's house now, helping tend to her after some emergency surgery on December 5th and a 14-day hospital stay. She's doing well but has a long recovery ahead of her. I began my trip here with a visit to see both my sons (#2 son was visiting with #1 son), DIL and the grandbaby. We had our Christmas celebration on Sunday evening and here are a few photos of the surprises Grammy brought.
Every princess needs a fuzzy pink bathrobe.
I want to wish everyone on the Playground a very merry Christmas.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
It's time for the annual Christmas Wish game! (With a PC twist, of course.) Here's how it works: I'll make a wish. The next commenter will "grant" my wish, but in such a way as to make me regret wishing for it. For example -- Say I wish for a full body massage. You'd grant my wish, but inform me that it will be preformed by Frodo with his big hairy Hobbit feet. You'd then wish for something -- say a million dollars -- and the *next* commenter will grant your wish -- by giving it to you in pennies -- before making their own wish.
Got it? You can look at one of the past games if you need some ideas
Good Grinchy fun to release any of that holiday frustration before it ruins Christmas...
And because my inner Scrooge is already feeling better at just the thought of this game, I will be giving away prizes! I have a nice little selection here ready to go in the mail. Winners will be chosen arbitrarily by me with no guidelines up front. Could be best wish, best thwarting of a wish, most evil thought, or even the ones that make me laugh out loud.
Ready? I'll start --
Monday, December 21, 2009
Last week I learned something new about myself: I absolutely hate being physically hindered in any way. You see, I have developed tendonitis in one of my feet and the doctor has put me in a walking boot to keep it immobilized for 3 weeks in order for it to heel. Very quickly, I realized how very much I hated it.
At first, I walked like a drunken sailor. Everything felt off balance and out of rhythm. Once I started to get the hang of things, I didn’t look quite so funny, but it slowed me down. A lot. Which is exactly what the doctor wanted. He said so. But I don’t like it. I feel so much sorrier for my Drama Queen, who had 2 broken wrists earlier this year. She didn't whine at all (I'm not sure how she managed that).
I’m used to going about my business quickly and efficiently. When I shop, I want to get in and get out. I have a list and I get down to business (unless I’m shopping for clothes). Household tasks, I want to get them done and move on to something more enjoyable. And I’ve always been able to do that, except at the end of my pregnancies. This is a similar feeling of frustration.
Add to that the fact that I’m falling asleep all the time… You see, the only time I can take the boot off is when I’m seated or lying down. Since I hate having it on – you get the picture. But I get still and I fall asleep, which just seems to be making me sleepier instead of refreshed. At night, I want to take it off, so I go lay in the bed and watch television or read class work from the online course I’m taking. And fall asleep at like 9pm, which is unheard of for me.
Sigh. At least all of my Christmas shopping and preparations were done. I can’t imagine hitting the mall in this thing. Today, I have to do the grocery shopping for our festivities this week and I’m already dreading it. Who wants to take 2 hours to get groceries instead of 1? Not me.
Heard enough whining out of me yet? :) I’m sure everyone around me feels the same way. It’s just the frustration talking. On the brighter side, I’ve spent a lot of time cuddling my kids this week and we’ve watched as many Christmas specials as we can find. My hubby has waited on me quite patiently and I’m deeply appreciative (even if he has taken to calling me Bootsy).
So tell me, have you broken a bone or had to keep immobile to correct an injury? How did you handle the waiting part? Any advice for keeping my frustrations under wrap, especially during this busy holiday season?
P.S. For a smile to contradict all my negative energy today, watch our Elf Yourself video below. It's a hoot!
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
It is exactly a week until Christmas. A week! By now, everyone is buzzing about buying gifts, wrapping gifts, decorating trees, baking cookies, going to parties... its a busy time of year. I am no exception. This year, however, I've made time to do something different.
I'm volunteering Sunday. Normally, I try to do something around the holidays. Yes, I know I should do things year round, but the holidays tug at my heartstrings a little harder. Although stoic and sarcastic at most times, I'm really a mushball on the inside and get teary at the slightest nod to sentimental or touching things. Makes me crazy, especially around this time of year when every commericial is out to sell you something or make you cry, or both.
Normally my contribution involves me writing a check to the local Food Bank to feed people holiday meals. Maybe getting presents for Toys for Tots or cleaning out the pantry for donations. I've been known to adopt a family or an angel or a soldier. This year, in addition to my normal activities, I'm doing something new that requires only my time. It actually involves a semi-dangerous task I wouldn't normally attempt.
Dangerous, you say? Yes. I'm wrapping gifts at the mall on Sunday. The money we raise goes to support the Crisis Services of Northern Alabama. They provide safe shelter for domestic abuse victims, crisis hotlines and other services such as rape counseling. They have volunteers wrapping gifts at both local malls all month, so if you get a chance, stop by and let them wrap some of your gifts for a good cause. And as for the danger I mentioned, I have to tell you that it goes against my sense of self preservation to get anywhere near a mall within a few days of Christmas, but I am. For charity.
What are you doing to give back this holiday season? Share the wonderful ways you share the spirit of the season and one commenter will pick up a copy of An Affair Before Christmas by Eloisa James!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
But while I go out of my way to make sure that I know what everyone else's list includes, I usually have a hard time figuring out what to put on my own list.
Part of this is just being an adult. I mean, if I want something I generally just buy it. Sure, I go without things sometimes but never anything I truly need or really can't live without. Of course, this makes Christmas a little difficult on the ones that I love. This year, though, there's one item on my must have list.
A Nook. For those that haven't heard about it, it's Barnes and Noble's answer to the Kindle. It has a few extra features that I'm excited about - a color screen, the ability to add memory and a lending feature. However, it's back ordered until Feb 1st right now. And while I will be getting it (from my wonderful Zilla) I won't have it right away. I can't wait to get my hands on it!
And no, just because it's arriving in Feb doesn't mean it can double as a Valentine's present! :-)
So, what's on your Christmas list? Is there something that you're excited to find under your tree? Do you have trouble making your own Christmas list?
P.S. Problem Child is guest blogging today at Tote Bags n Blogs http://authorsoundrelations.blogspot.com/ Stop by and say hi!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
For those of you who haven’t done your Christmas shopping and sent off your cards, don’t panic-you are not the only one! What is it about this time of year that everything gets left to the last minute?
I am not by nature a procrastinator. I like to be organised, I need to know what I need to do and when and I am always super punctual.
Yes, there is always a but!
People are not always consistent and I am a pertinent example of that. I have never missed a writing deadline but I procrastinate on other things, usually things I am not so good at or find threatening or imagine will be. It’s amazing how overwhelming a task can be once you give it enough room inside your head. If you ruminate enough about it, it will spread to every corner of your brain until it is all you are thinking about.
Christmas shopping is time consuming and I would rather be writing, but this year I have forced myself to set goals so I don’t have that racing heart and panicky feeling the closer the big day gets. So yes, the tree is up, some but not all presents are wrapped and under it, and I am back at my desk.
Yep, another but.
Life is full of left field surprises and the trick is being flexible enough to deal with them when they arrive. I have learned to be more flexible over time. I guess having two very energetic full on boys taught me that over the years. They are adults now, but wow, was I on a huge learning curve while they were growing up!
My characters are another way I have learned to be more flexible. They – like my boys – very often have a mind of their own. They go off on tangents and do things I hadn’t planned for them to do. It’s the weirdest part of the writing process, how these imaginary people somehow morph into real personalities with real desires and wants and needs.
I think a lot of new writers (and I did this too when I was trying to break through) try too hard in crafting their characters into a stereotype or cliché of what they think a hero or heroine should be. My hint is to imagine them as real people, someone you would see on the street or sit next to at a restaurant. Study them: what do they look like? What are they wearing? What mannerisms do they use? What is their back story? Who do they care about? What is their most important goal? What do they have yet to learn?
Some writers use pictures from magazines and I do too occasionally. I once wrote a book on the basis of a picture of a man with blue-green eyes that I had pinned to my blind in front of my computer. His character came to life right there in front of me. Actually, he’s still there smiling that sexy half-smile right now!
Writing is a process and just about every writer has a different way of going about it. Some leave things to the last minute and fret over the deadline, and yet get it done by the skin of their teeth and still manage to write a best seller. Some like to set a daily word count and I have done that too in the past, but some days are diamonds and others are duds. There is no way sometimes of predicting what will get done, but one thing is certain: nothing will get done if you don’t at least try.
I love the following quote and I hope it encourages you all to make 2010 a fulfilling and happy year.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men (women) with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and will solve the problems of the human race. ~Calvin Coolidge, US President 1923-29
With best wishes,
Visit Melanie's website at www.MelanieMilburne.com.au to get more information on these upcoming releases:
The Future King's Love Child-USA December 09
The Marcolini Blackmail Marriage-Aust December 09 Christmas Gift Pack
The Venadicci Marriage of Vengeance -Presents Extra USA Feb 2010
Castellano's Mistress of Revenge- UK Feb 2010, Aust March
The Melendez Forgotten Marriage-UK July 09, Aust Aug 09
The Doctor's Rebel Knight-UK January, Aust Feb 2010
The Emergency Doctor and Cinderella- UK April 2010 Aust May
Um, wow. Just wow. That's a lot of books. Melanie's obviously not a procrastinator...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
For many years, it was one of my traditions too. Not going to see it, mind you, dancing in it.
For six years of my life, September through early December was dominated by The Nutcracker. The rehearsals, the costume fittings, more rehearsals… oh, and the drama. My high school provided the corps de ballet for the state ballet company. Fifty teenagers with their usual melodrama inflated by casting decisions, endless rehearsals… mercy.
By the time I graduated, I was Nutcraker-ed out. Just the music was enough to send me into PTSD-like flashbacks, and with every shopping mall in America having the Sugar Plum pas de deux on an endless loop, I left more than one store screaming.
I couldn’t even watch Nutcracker. Not to brag, but I think the version my company did was one of the best I’ve ever seen, plus, it’s all tied up with memories of friends and performances and “that time when…”
And not all of those memories are good ones.
So, there was no way in hell I was going to pay good money to park myself in a theater and watch a performance that would most likely send me to the closest bar in need of a stiff drink and probably not measure up to my expectations anyway.
For someone who lived and breathed Nutcracker for three months of every year for six years, I’ve probably watched the Nutcracker maybe three times in the last twenty years.
But this year, we’re going to see if I’ve matured and outgrown my Nutcracker aversion. I’m chaperoning AC’s class trip to the Nutcracker this week. AC is thrilled, because she’s never seen it live. (I know, until you read the above paragraphs, I bet you thought I’d been dragging my child to the ballet every chance I had. Teenage trauma lingers longer than you’d think. Just ask the Playfriends about my weight issues… In comparison, my Nutcracker aversion is almost normal.)
I guess we’ll find out if time heals all wounds or if I need more therapy from Counselor Shelley.
So, is Nutcracker a part of your holiday tradition? What’s your favorite bit?
*** Notes on the pictures (which I figured y’all would want to see). First, I’m kind of surprised at how few pictures I have of me in various costumes and performances. I guess it just goes to show how this was just same-ol’-same-ol’ in my teenage life and it just didn’t occur to me to document it.
But, to caption them. I'm 14, maybe 15, in that soldier picture. I’d just come off stage and was headed down to the dressing room to change for second act. The reason my hair is in pigtails is that I was a child in the party scene, with a quick change to soldier. The pigtails (and the bows) got shoved under a hat. My friend was in the same situation. Once we took off our hats, we felt we looked like majorettes, hence the pose. The next one is from 1988, so I'd just turned 16. I’m a candy cane in Act Two (I don’t know why my candy cane costume was green. It’s still a mystery. It’s a pretty tutu though…)
The last one isn't Nutcracker, it's Napoli (and I'm 16 or 17),but it's still a cute picture of me in costume!
***Tomorrow, Melanie Milburne joins us on the blog!
Monday, December 14, 2009
Oops! I’m running late on this wet, soggy Monday. I spent the weekend hostessing a party for our local RWA chapter here at my house (good times, good times) and then went to a friend’s house for tea Sunday where we spent several enjoyable hours talking about everything from where we are in our writing to kids to diets. You know, the usual writing women’s fare.
In the scramble to get the kids ready for bed and school the next morning, and the inevitable collapse after the weekends festivities, I completely forgot about blogging today! You’ll forgive me, right? :)
So let’s talk about Christmas activities. This weekend was my big one, then oddly enough, I don’t have anything else major until after Christmas, when I’m going to visit my parents in Florida. I’ll make it home just in time for the Playground Christmas party on New Year’s Eve (we had scheduling problems this year). What about you? Are you overloaded with holiday appointments or getting off easy with a party here and there?
Wednesday we welcome author Melanie Milburne!
Check out our Free Book Friday winner below!
All prizes not claimed within 7 days may be reawarded.
Friday, December 11, 2009
"Sundown" by Linda Winstead Jones - After distancing herself from a very attractive cop, vampire Abby Brown discovers she wants only one thing for Christmas--Leo Stryker. But when a murder investigation endangers his life, "she" may be the one to give him a present....
"Nothing Says Christmas Like a Vampire" by Lisa Childs - Sienna Briggs never knew she had a guardian vampire. But, when she stumbles across the truth surrounding the Secret Vampire Society, her guardian--the handsome Julian Vossimer--has only one solution to save the woman he's loved for so long.
"No Mistletoe Required" by Vicki Lewis Thompson - With Damon's sneaky help, Hayden Manchester and Riley Kinnard rekindle a long-running, very creative rivalry...that leaves them fighting over who's on top
"Her Secret Santa" by Jill Shalvis - Workaholic Ally Dauer runs the local toy drive. Only when she discovers some very "adult" toys, firefighter Eddie Weston convinces her that the best gifts are meant to be shared....
"Snug in His Bed" by Rhonda Nelson - Viv Foster hates Christmas. Hank Bailey owns a Christmas tree farm. What could they possibly have in common? Sizzling sexual chemistry and, thanks to Damon, the opportunity to act on it. After all, it's the season of miracles...
To enter, comment with the phrase "Santa, I've been a very good girl this year!" Also, share your favorite Christmas story, be it a book or a movie. Personally, I'm partial to "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Thursday, December 10, 2009
We've both agreed - and have babysitters already lined up - that we're going to see Sherlock Holmes the day after Christmas. I have to admit, it looks pretty damn good.
There are actually lots of good movies coming out this month...just not ones Zilla and I would both go see. I'm interested in: The Lovely Bones, The Princess and the Frog, The Young Victoria, Did You Hear About the Morgans, Nine (although if it turns out to be anything close to Moulin Rouge I will walk out of the theater), and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (the girls loved the first one!). I still want to see Blind Side, The Men Who Stare at Goats and possibly the Brothers although that one looks pretty intense.
Are there any movies you're looking forward to seeing? Any that you'd recommend?
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
I thought it would be fun to have this month's Walkabout Wednesday revolve around places with Christmas names. As you can see from the photo to the left, there's a place called North Pole, Alaska, and I bought this ornament at the Santa Claus House there.
But North Pole, Alaska is not the only Christmas-named place in the US. The US Geological survey says there are:
* 142 places named Christmas
* 260 names Joy
* 11 places in 8 states named Santa Claus (they are in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Ohio)
* 963 Holly names
* 51 Noel names
* 5 Menorah names (okay, that's not Christmas, but it's a December religious holiday)
* 34 reindeer place names (and 27 are in Alaska)
* 22 states with places named Rudolph
* 24 North Poles
* 24 Mistletoes
* 5 Poinsettias
* 1 Wreath
And here are some factoids about places:
* Between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2007, the postmaster of Noel, Missouri processed 30.428 Christmas cards, which was double the usual volume of mail for this town
* Christmas, Florida, which is located between Orlando and the Kennedy Space Center, has a special mailbox to accept letters for Santa. They are handled by volunteers. All the streets in this town are named for reindeer.
* Santa Claus, Indiana is home to the Santa Claus Museum, Santa's Candy Castle and Santa's Lodge. The Candy Castle dates from 1935, but has modern technology and a webcam to the North Pole where kids can chat with an elf and verbally submit their wish list. You can't visit? Then go to http://www.santasgoodlist.org/ to play. The town also has quite the competitive spirit with a fruitcake eating contest and a fastest gift wrapping event.
* Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is called "Christmas City." It hosts a Christkindlmarkt like the ones in Germany and was given its name on Christmas Eve 1741 by Moravian immigrants. This year they're hosting something brand new -- the Peeps Fest! You can learn more at http://www.christmascity.org/.
* North Pole, Alaska is 12 miles from Fairbanks and was named in 1953. The North Pole Christmas in Ice Festival features ice sculpting contests and you can take a peek at http://www.christmasinice.org/. The Santa Claus House, where I bought my ornament, has a gift shop, Santa himself and real reindeer.
And speaking of reindeer, our very own Huntsville, Alabama is home to Reindeer, Inc., a company that's been exhibiting reindeer since 1980. They've had as many as 75 in the herd at times, and because Alabama summers are way hotter than a reindeer's usual environment, they are kept in air-conditioned barns. If you've seen the movie "Prancer" then you've seen one of Reindeer, Inc.'s animals. They've also appeared in a Mariah Carey video. Mostly, however, they appear locally to entertain kids at Christmas.
Have you been to the North Pole? Santa Claus, Florida? Have you ever petted a real reindeer? Share your Christmas place adventures with us today.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
I recently read a great book where the heroine was doing the artwork for a book on the meaning of flowers. I became fascinated by this "secret language," where you could send a message to your beloved by way of a bouquet.
Why had I never heard of this? Why wasn't TelaFlora advertising the heck out of the idea? A bouquet that holds a message -- that's perfect romance fodder. A beautiful, fragrant puzzle. Hey, if you're going to plunk down the cash for flowers, you could get that arrangement to do double-duty.
So, according to Wikipedia (I know, I need a better source), "the language of flowers, sometimes called floriography, was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. This language was most commonly communicated through Tussie-Mussies, an art which has a following today."
(I just love the phrase Tussie-Mussies.)
This is awesome stuff. And, I realized, a perfect topic for a Tasteful Tuesday blog! I was going to provide a list of flowers and their meanings, and have everyone put together a virtual bouquet to send to their beloved. (Or design the one they thought a lover would send to them.)
Five minutes on the internet, though, and I realized I'd hit a bit of a snag. Seems some of the meanings of flowers have gotten a little confused over the years, as several websites listed flowers and their meanings and they didn't quite agree.
This could be disastrous! Imagine you send your beloved Azaleas. If they went to this site, they'd be told it meant "abundance." But at this site, it would mean "Fragile and Ephemeral Passion." Not the same thing.
Even worse -- your beloved sends you Lavender. Depending which site Google ranks first, you could be translating that Lavender as either "distrust" or "devotion."
And I thought the Mars and Venus language gap was difficult to bridge. You could think you were sending one message and end up sending something else entirely.
Very tricky. And now that I can't find consensus on the internet for anything other than red tulips, a couple of rose types, and rosemary, my Tasteful Tuesday blog topic is shot.
But we can talk about flowers anyway. What kind of flowers do you like to receive? Are you a classic Red Rose kind of girl? Or would you rather have peonies? Irises? Daffodils? Any flowers send the wrong message to you?
(I actually don't like roses that much. I like calla lilies, orchids, peonies, and daisies. And I'm very superstitious about red carnations. They're bad luck. They give me the willies just looking at them. Of course, guess what the first flowers DG ever brought me were? I put a smile on my face, thanked him, and put them in the closet until they died -- only pulling them out when DG came to my room. Do you know how long it takes carnations to die? FOREVER. But it was the thought that counted. I know that he meant well. He now knows not to bring me red carnations. ~grin~)
***Instigator is blogging over a the Blaze Authors blog today about Christmas music. That's pretty Tasteful!
Monday, December 07, 2009
So from the Playfriends to you, have a VERY NAUGHTY CHRISTMAS!!!
Donna Alward is featuring Problem Child on her blog today: www.donnaalward.blogspot.com There’s a chance to win a prize pack from 12 authors in Donna’s 12 days of Christmas. (Problem Child is the 8th day :) )
Sunday, December 06, 2009
First, we welcome Aussie writer Annie West to the Sandbox where she dishes about everything from Alpha Heroes to the weather in Oz:
Then, head over to School, where the Playfriends share their holiday recipes in Study Hall: http://www.writingplayground.com/school.html#holiday09
Pop into the Library for a review of Honorary Playfriend Lynn Raye Harris's newest, CAVELLI'S LOST HEIR:
And don't forget that though the Clinic is still shuttered while Counselor Shelley becomes Dr. Shelley, all of her articles are still available in the Clinic archives. She has two articles to help you through the holidays and one to help make those New Year's Resolutions stick this time:
Things are busy on the Blog this month as well. We started the month with a week of guest bloggers --a big thank you to all of our guest bloggers for visiting this last week! Later, on 12/16, Melanie Milburne makes her first trip to the Playground. Our new "Theme Week" runs the 7th-11th, and as the holidays creep closer, it's not unlikely we'll be moved by that holiday spirit with contests and games and such.
The Playfriends have BIG, *BIG* plans for the new year. FAB plans. We're very excited. But we all must survive December first. On behalf of Angel, Smarty Pants, Instigator, the Playground Monitor, and Problem Child, thanks for a fantastic 2009. We hope you have a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or whatever you choose to celebrate with your family and friends.
The Playfriends of The Writing Playground
Saturday, December 05, 2009
As promised, here are our winners for this week:
Monday—Mariska, please email Angel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday— RachieG, please email Instigator at email@example.com
Wednesday—Sheila Deeth, please email Playground Monitor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday— Virginia, please email Problem Child at email@example.com
Friday—Sherry Werth, please email Smarty Pants at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please send your snail mail addresses to the emails above, so we can get your gifties out to you. Thanks again! Tune in next week for Theme Week!
Friday, December 04, 2009
Thanks for inviting me to come play on the Playground this week—it’s great to be here!
In November, Harlequin Intrigue Senior Editor Denise Zaza hosted an Intrigue Pitch contest on http://www.eharlequin.com/ . And while the winners have been chosen (all the finalists were invited to submit their mss, btw!), the Intrigue Authors Blog and boards there are still buzzing with questions and discussions about writing for the line.
We’ve been chatting a lot about writing for Harlequin Intrigue—some of the qualities that are unique to the line, like fast pacing, larger-than-life heroes, ending scenes with hooks, heroines who are smart/scrappy/strong, villains who demand the best and more from our hero/ine, sexual tension and deep emotions, how much sex to have in the book, the differences between Intrigue and Silhouette Romantic Suspense, and so on. And as we were discussing what kinds of stories work well for an Intrigue, I got the idea for my blog post here.
Traditional romance storylines.
Yep. Amidst all the shoot-em ups and explosions and clues and daring escapes, the most popular storylines for Intrigue are ones that feature traditional romance story hooks. Of course, with Intrigue, we take that familiar story and twist it up with danger and heart-stopping passion and villainous show-downs. That traditional story of a woman with amnesia, a hero in uniform, a Cinderella tale, friends becoming lovers, cowboys and on and on are all storylines that sell really well in Intrigues.
Take my December 09 Intrigue, BEAUTY AND THE BADGE. Hmm… Any clue what that storyline will be about? I’ve taken a romance classic—the Beauty & the Beast fairy tale—and turned it into an Intrigue. I made my hero, Detective Kevin Grove, a “beast”. He’s big, he’s bad, he’s scarred inside and out, and you guessed it, he’s not handsome. But, ooh, does he ooze masculinity. And he’s got a protective streak in him that runs straight down to his bones. Both traits that make him a perfect Intrigue hero. My heroine is the beauty who wakens him in the middle of the night, needing his protection. She’s also the one woman who can break the spell of mistrust that encases his heart. She’s stumbled upon murder and conspiracy at the company she works for, and has nowhere else to turn. There’s even a wise grandmother/fairy godmother who plays matchmaker. He’s gruff—she’s stubborn. He’s sexy—she notices. When he falls, he falls hard, knowing he’ll probably wind up with a broken heart—but she’s the one with the magic, remember? It’s her love that ultimately saves him. After they get the bad guys and he saves her life, of course.
I thought it’d be fun to turn some traditional romance story themes into something Intrigue-ing today. I challenge you to put your own suspenseful twist on a favorite romance storyline of yours. What’s something you’d like to see in an Intrigue?
Here are some examples:
Plain Jane—spinsterish secretary sees her boss get murdered. Her boss’s handsome son, a cop, comes to her, demanding answers to the murder. When he sees that the killer has his eyes on her, too, the cop steps up as her personal bodyguard—keeping the witness safe. What he doesn’t count on is how close quarters with the surprisingly sexy secretary not only fuels his passion, but soothes his grief and awakens his heart as well.
Get the idea? You don’t have to be as detailed as I’ve been. I tend to be long-winded.
I’ll give away a copy of my brand new release, BEAUTY AND THE BADGE, to one lucky poster. You can see all my books on my website at http://www.juliemiller.org/.
Have fun. And good luck!
Ooh, fun - a challenge! Thanks, Julie. Everyone, be sure to comment, even if it's just to share your favorite themes and check back in Saturday for our lucky list of winners!
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Hi everyone! Thanks so much for having me over at The Writing Playground. This is my first visit and I’m thrilled to be here!
I thought I’d talk briefly about endings, wrapping things up and making them tidy. Maybe because Christmas is in the air. Or maybe because I’m almost (so close yet it seems so far) from the point of handing in my current story. I’ve done some of the hard work but the hardest is yet to come – rewriting the ending. After all, typing ‘the end’ on a book is enormously satisfying, especially when a writer sometimes has doubts if she’ll ever get there.
I’m a girl who loves happy ever afters. I adore that sigh-worthy finale to a book that makes you sink into your chair with pleasure. I dislike movies that end suddenly, without resolving issues, leaving you feeling stranded, high and dry. If I’ve invested my time into a book (or a film for that matter) the end is the pay off for me. OK, so I don’t need to know precisely how many children the hero and heroine will have and whether they decorated their home in pastels or vibrant colours, but I do like to know all the issues have been resolved. In a romance that means that they each admit their feelings (even if heroes may be a bit laconic about it), they confront their issues and find a way to move forward together.
I’ve been waiting right through the story, hanging on every word through tense scenes, following the highs and lows of a rollercoaster ride that’s full of emotions, surprises and doubts. Hopefully it’s been a nail biting ride – after all I want my money’s worth. Is it any wonder I, and other readers, want to luxuriate in an ending that not only wraps up the story but resolves all doubts?
This is where I’ve run into trouble with my current manuscript. I wrapped up the issues OK, but I was galloping along so fast, trying to get it down between major interruptions. The result: I rushed it. Yes, there was emotion, but really, it needed more layers, more depth. There wasn’t enough to really hit the reader with the intensity of the hopes and fears and finally the joy that I was trying to deliver. It didn’t live up to the promise of the earlier chapters. So, I’m revising to get it right before I send it to my editor.
I think it’s because by the time I get to the final chapter I feel a little like a horse who’s been out on a long trek and sees its home paddock ahead. I pick up pace, I become focused on where I’m going and I don’t take as much time as I should to enjoy the scenery as I go. Do horses enjoy scenery? Well, you know what I mean!
Having said all that, I can report there’s enormous satisfaction in going back and fixing this. The bones of the ending are there. It’s just fleshing out the all important emotional detail. Normally I aim to write all of that together, but at least this means I know where I’m headed and what I have to do. And, fingers crossed, it seems to be working. My poor heroine is having a terrible time. So is my hero. Great! That way we’ll really enjoy it when they overcome the obstacles between them.
I’ve always been a fan of a terrific beginning in a story. Yet, as I think about endings I realise some of the strongest scenes come at the conclusion of a story. Think about Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, going off with his old foe/friend Claude Rains, talking about ‘the beginning of a beautiful friendship’. Just after he’s given up the woman he loves because he believes it’s the right thing to do. Or the memorable ‘Frankly, my dear I don’t give a damn’ at the end of Gone with the Wind. Or the destruction of Manderley in Rebecca.
Are you someone who loves the delicious wait till the end? Do you enjoy not knowing how a story is going to be resolved? Or do you do as one reader I’ve met and read the ending before you start the story? Do you want a long, slow ending, or do you prefer a short sharp scene with maximum impact? A fan of epilogues or not? Or maybe you like a twist of surprise in the tail. Do you have favourite endings you’d like to share?
To make it enticing to share, I’ll offer a copy of my December Harlequin Presents Extra release: BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INEXPERIENCED WIFE to one person who contributes to the discussion. Easy! If you want to find out more about the book visit my website or go to eHarlequin where you can read the opening. I’m happy to say I can guarantee Dario and Alissa get their happy ever after ending.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
I first met Missy at the 2008 Heart of Dixie Romance Readers' Luncheon when I sat at her table. Her first book had just come out a few months before and it was exciting to share the joy of that event with her. We've started a campfire in the middle of the sandbox to keep us warm, but rain may drive us into the playhouse today. Warm or cold, indoors or out, please welcome Missy Tippens to the Playground.
Hello to all my Alabama buds! Thanks for inviting me to play today. I’d love to give away a copy of my new release, A Forever Christmas, in a drawing from among those who comment today. Just let me know you’d like to enter!
November and December can be so hectic. We go from stressing about what type pies to bake or how we’re going to cook the turkey on Thanksgiving, straight into worrying about shopping for Great Aunt Myrtle for Christmas. We have community activities, church events, family gatherings and lots of parties. And we usually have to take a wrapped ornament and/or food to each event! It takes a juggling act to keep up with it all.
Oh, yeah. And then there’s the writing, too. Sometimes it becomes an afterthought…
…unless you have a deadline. And a deadline is a great thing to have! :) I had a February deadline this year and have a January deadline this coming year. So I’m learning how to plan my holidays to include my writing schedule. And even if you haven’t sold yet, you can set deadlines for yourself. Don’t let the whole holiday season slip by without investing in your writing career. Consider it a gift to yourself!
First, I’ve found the best way to handle a deadline is to figure out how many work days I have (leaving a few days open for the holiday), then divide it into the total number of words I need to have written. 30,000 words left to write, and 30 work days to do it? Write 1000 words a day. And don’t get up from the computer until you’ve done that. Oh, and in case you’re thinking about it… Don’t pop over to the Internet and start shopping online, either. :) Don’t answer the phone. Don’t worry about the pile of dirty laundry. Write those thousand words. Then you’ll have the whole rest of your day/evening to fill with holiday prep.
Right now, I’m spending the days while my kids are in school working on my writing project. Then I use the afternoons to work on blogs posts, phone calls, email, etc. Of course, soon the kids will be out of school, so I’ll have to make adjustments. Luckily, they like to sleep late. :)
I took a few days off at Thanksgiving, and plan to do the same for Christmas. What about you? Do you have a plan for writing through the holidays?
Don’t forget to comment to be entered in a drawing for my new Steeple Hill Love Inspired release, A Forever Christmas!
About the book:
Sarah Radcliffe’s quiet Christmas back in her hometown will be lost if she agrees to direct the church’s Christmas pageant. But when she meets two little boys determined to gain their father’s attention, Sarah agrees to help. Then she discovers that the dad in question is Gregory Jones, the man she loved and lost.
The single dad is working himself to the bone to give his boys the Christmas of their dreams, when all they want is some family time. Time that includes a new mommy. If Sarah can learn to open her heart, she may receive the most wonderful present of all—a family of her own.
Missy Tippens is a pastor’s wife and mom of three. She has a story included in Blessings of Mossy Creek, published by BelleBooks. After ten years of pursuing her dream, she made her first sale of a full-length novel to Steeple Hill Love Inspired. She still pinches herself to see if it really happened! Her debut novel, Her Unlikely Family, was a 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year contest finalist and is now available in large print from Thorndike. His Forever Love was a June 2009 release from Love Inspired, and A Forever Christmas is available now!
You can find Missy at http://www.missytippens.com/. And she blogs all over the place: http://www.lifewithmissy.blogspot.com/, http://www.seekerville.blogspot.com/, http://www.writingbyfaith.blogspot.com/, and http://www.craftieladiesofromance.blogspot.com/. She’s also on Facebook, MySpace and Shoutlife, so be sure to give her a holler!
P.S. Be sure to check back here on Saturday for a list of the entire week's winners!
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Waving to everyone this holiday season! It’s exciting for me to see 2010 coming because I debut my new Faith Winter name in August 2010 with a new paranormal series called ‘The Renegades’ with Grand Central Forever. (Think hot super soldiers created from a government experiment at Area 51). I end the year with a fun contemporary Santa Baby from Blaze. I love this story and I think that’s because the heroine in Santa Baby has my kind of bad luck -- and still she manages to find her way to a rich hunk of a man! :)
Speaking of men – I had a wonderful Turkey day with my man. We saw two movies. Yes two! I have to say though that I thought the Thanksgiving weekend choices for movies were slim picking. We saw New Moon, of course. We went to the matinee on Thanksgiving and shared the theater with about 7 other people. It was perfect! No crowd. I liked the movie well enough. It had great werewolf and vampire special effects but too much Bella crying/nightmares and too little plot. The parts I liked though, I really liked. Then, we saw The Road. Viggo Mortesen. Need I say more? He had lost tons of weight for this movie which was sad and emotional. It was not a happy movie but it was a movie that speaks to the soul and makes you think. Viggo showed the exceptional actor he is.
Here is a link to the trailer: http://www.moviefone.com/movie/the-road/32581/main?flv=1
There are so many movies coming up I cannot wait to see!
The Book of Eli! Denzel! This looks sooo good! http://www.apple.com/trailer/wb/thebookofeli/
The Tooth Fairy! http://www.moviefone.com/movie/the-tooth-fairy/34807/video/tooth-fairy-trailer-no-1/44593788001
Yes I know! Night and day, but they both look amazing.
So I have books to give away! I’m a movie fanatic. Tell me what movies you’ve seen recently, or movies you’re looking forward to, so I won’t risk missing anything good.
Two prizes drawn from comments:
*A set of my Blaze releases to date: Hard and Fast, Santa Baby, and Lonestar Surrender
*A copy of Awakening the Beast, Captive of the Beast, and Beast of Darkness
And don't forget to visit Lisa at her website http://www.lisareneejones.com where you can find out more about her upcoming releases.