Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Surprise! defines surprise like this:

–verb (used with object)
1. to strike or occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness: Her beauty surprised me.
2. to come upon or discover suddenly and unexpectedly: We surprised the children raiding the cookie jar.
3. to make an unexpected assault on (an unprepared army, fort, person, etc.).
4. to elicit or bring out suddenly and without warning: to surprise the facts from the witness.
5. to lead or bring unawares, as into doing something not intended: to surprise a witness into telling the truth.

6. an act or instance of surprising or being surprised.
7. something that surprises someone; a completely unexpected occurrence, appearance, or statement: His announcement was a surprise to all.
8. an assault, as on an army or a fort, made without warning.
9. a coming upon unexpectedly; detecting in the act; taking unawares.

Life is full of surprises. Some are good; some are bad. I've had my share of the bad ones over the past year. More than my share actually, so I was overdue for some of the good ones.

And I got a really good one this past Monday. #2 son has been visiting me and the day after Christmas we were supposed to go visit his older brother who is married and has a four year old. Now, I love my sons and my DIL, but you must understand that after raising two boys, I derive great joy from buying girly stuff. So while I enjoyed the white Christmas we had, I was very disappointed our trip to see the grandbaby was delayed a day.

But we needed to stay safe and the roads were quite treacherous. On Monday, though, things were fine and we travelled without incident. I pulled out my gifts and distributed them to both boys and to my daughter in law, and they were excited by what they received. Then the granddaughter opened hers and oh my gosh, it was just a giggle-fest as she unwrapped rhinestone necklaces, a new outfit with sparkles on the top, a child-sized pink travel neck pillow with a cat head on one side and a cat tail on the other, a personalized Princess Tea Party CD and a big story book. Her stocking had lip gloss, nail polish and a little bit of candy. Her great-gran sent her a tiny tea set in a wee wicker basket. Of course she had to try everything on, wear some lip gloss and have a tea party while she listened to her CD.

Then I was given a box wrapped in red and white paper. "This is from all of us," my daughter in law said. I tore off the wrapping and found a sturdy cardboard box with these words on the outside:


Color me stunned. Speechless. Almost in tears. Of all the presents in all my years, this ranks among the very best because I know it was a stretch for my kids to buy it. And you will have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers to get it away from me.

But now I have to figure it out. I spent yesterday morning trying to just get it registered with Amazon and in the process I messed up my network. At that point I was completely frustrated and had to just set the Kindle aside until my stress levels dropped. Eventually I figured out that certain letters in my network password were capitalized. Duh.

So now it's registered, I've downloaded a free book from Amazon for practice and set up a Romance collection to categorize the download. I'm still a looooooooong way from conquering the Kindle, but doing so will keep me out of trouble. ;-)

So... who else has a Kindle? And what tips and tricks can you offer me? Where can you buy books for the Kindle besides Amazon? And what about covers? I want to get one but there are so many choices.

The best tip today will win a paperback book from my stash. Kinda funny, huh? A paperback in exchange for an e-book tip? Surprise!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oh, to be young again...

I'm spending the day (and evening) with a group of friends from college. It's been more than ten years since I've seen many of them -- more like 15 in some cases. Oh, the wonder of Facebook to let you find and reconnect with folks from your past.

After my high school reunion this summer, I'm hopeful that we will be able to recapture old times -- even with our older selves who need to go to bed early and really need to watch our salt intake these days. And several of us will be bringing our spawn, so that should prove interesting as well.

It's a nice way to spend this time between Christmas and New Years -- which for me is like Limbo Week anyway. Now seems the right time to look back at the people we used to be and compare that to the people we are now.

And, in general, be surprised we all turned out so well... ~snort~

In this week of relative calm -- in between sleeping off big meals and figuring out how your new toys work -- what are you doing?


Monday, December 27, 2010

Holy Snowstorm, Batman!

For those of you not in the south or the east, you may not be aware of the freakish weather we're having. Snow. Lots of snow (for us at least). Over four inches at my house, which is a little higher in elevation than the city, which had an official measurement of 2 inches or so. We had a white Christmas, which apparently has not occurred in Huntsville since the late sixties. The county has no snowplows, no real system in place for dealing with weather aside from closing overpasses and sending a couple dudes out with shovels and some salt.
Suffice to say, Christmas went awry for several of us. On top of blizzards, slick roads, cancelled plans, sick kids and stomach viruses, we just couldn't muster much of a blog for today. So here's a picture of my neighborhood, as taken Christmas morning.

What's the weather like in your neck of the woods? Feeling the East Coast's pain... heard there's 15 inches in Virginia...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from the Playfriends!

The Playfriends wish you all a very happy, healthy and safe holiday season!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Round Two

Many of you might remember the 'Abigail fiasco' in September. Well, yesterday afternoon we finally brought home our little sugar glider. (for those wondering what the heck is a sugar glider, here's a site with some basic info). Jingle Bell is an early Christmas present for the girls...okay, for myself. We're really excited to have her in our lives.

So far, the poor little thing is a bit upset. And, understandably so. She's only eight weeks OOP (out of pouch) and was taken away from mom and dad last Friday. Today she was taken away from the only family she's known and came to our house. If I were her I'd be a extremely irritated too.

All things considered, I think she's doing remarkably well. She only crabs (a sound that remarkably resembles an electric pencil sharpener) at us when we actually touch the pouch that she's sitting inside. We can talk to her, look at her, even stick our hands in the cage without her lunging at us. I'm really hoping that by the end of the long weekend we'll be able to touch the pouch, or even her without fear of being bitten.

So far I haven't been able to get any current pictures of her in her new home, this picture was sent to us by her first mommy a couple weeks ago. Isn't she cute?

So, did you get any early Christmas presents?


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blast from the Past - Christmas trivia

This was first posted last December as part of my now-defunct Walkabout Wednesday series. I'm repeating it because (1) it's neat Christmas trivia and (2) I'm without internet service [using my apartment's business center to do this and can't tie up the computer for long] and I need a blog for today. So bear with me and enjoy the rerun.

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 named 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 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

* 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 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. I just got back from a weekend trip with two friends. The trip included a day at Stone Mountain which is decorated with millions of lights for the holidays including a tree atop the mountain itself.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like a freakin' disaster...

I think we all know that while I'm a planner and a list maker, I am not a perfectionist. "Good Enough" works for me. I have enough stress in my life without intentionally adding to it with ridiculous expectations of myself. There's plenty for me to hate myself for without adding unrealistic goals I will fail to reach.

Seriously, why set myself up for that kind of stress, disappointment, pain and self-flagellation?

So it is with hand-wringing horror I watch a friend amble merrily down the path towards soul-crushing disappointment of failure to deliver.

She's hosting Christmas at her house for her entire family for the first time. The list she made for herself even had me gasping. Dinner is being made completely from scratch. Completely. She's not even using canned cream of mushroom soup for the green bean casserole. At this point, I'm afraid she's going to decide to churn her own butter and hunt down the turkey with a musket.

Um, this girl struggles with grilled cheese sandwiches.

On top of this, she's making gifts for everyone -- on top of the regular gifts, everyone will get a hand-made memento of Christmas 2010. And these aren't small, easy gifts either.

House will not only be cleaned, but all rooms will be decorated. She even bought little Santa hooks for the shower curtain in the bathroom. Did I mention that this decorating involves repainting a couple of rooms that need it?

And did I mention that she's in graduate school? She has finals to take *and* essays to grade before the end of the term. And she has a part-time job outside the classes she teaches too.

This would be a monumental task for Martha Stewart -- who has a whole team of assistants AND at least some some experience in cooking, decorating, and crafting. This girl -- dog love her -- is no Martha. And has a lack of assistants as well. I respect (and even envy) the ambition, but, yikes, way to set yourself up.

Back around Thanksgiving, I tried to (gently) tell her that she might be setting her goals and expectations a little too high. (If for no other reason than she hadn't even started any of this.) When that didn't work, I flat-out told her she was insane. I was brushed off. Just because *I* couldn't handle something like this, I shouldn't be projecting onto others.

Okay, then. Have fun. I'll send a big bottle of wine. You'll need it, dearie.

Last time I checked, I was, sadly, being proven right. I wish it were otherwise, but...

So, it's T-minus-four today. Wonder how it's going? I'm afraid to call, though. It could be really ugly. I think I'll double the wine delivery...

So, are you one of those perfectionist people? Do you try for a Martha Stewart-type holiday? Do you succeed in achieving it? (Realize we reserve the right to hate you on principle if you do.) Or are you a "Good Enough" person? Ever set yourself up for disaster?


Monday, December 20, 2010

Traditional or Unusual? Favorite Christmas Movies


Its not that I forgot it was my day to blog, its just that last night I drifted away into sleep from a confused fog, overloaded with sugar cookies and little people exposure. After a weekend with my kids and my sister's kids, I wanted to do nothing more than sleep. But it was fun! We baked and decorated sugar cookies (and they didn’t ridicule me when I got the icing recipe wrong). Drove around looking at Christmas lights in the nearby neighborhoods. And watched most of the Christmas movies I own. Everyone played well together, and I even got some work done. All in all, a good weekend.

Speaking of Christmas movies, I’m finding myself addicted this year. I watched them in my office while I made Christmas presents and the kids and I have been watching them each evening when we sit down for dinner. I’ve got Home Alone (the original, although I also love Home Alone 2), Frosty, Rudolph, Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street… We also watch Christmas specials from some of the kids favorite shows, like Phineas and Ferb and Backyardigans.

I’ve noticed a lot of “favorite Christmas movie” posts on Facebook lately. All the classics are usually mentioned, but I’ve never seen anyone talk about one of my favorites. Maybe because it is a little off the beaten path in Christmas sentiment. The Ref, starring Dennis Leary, is about a couple on the verge of divorce who are taken hostage by a thief who ends up playing marriage and family counselor for the evening. Totally adult. Totally irreverent. Makes me laugh every time.

So let’s talk favorite Christmas movies and/or specials. Seen any good ones this year? Any I should add to my “To Buy” list?


Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Recipe Favorites

Among my family traditions, which I believe I've posted about, it getting together with my mom and sister to make goodies for Christmas. Cookies, candies, fudge... if you can dip it in chocolate and roll it in sprinkles, its fair game. Little Sister is a fair amount (lot) more domestic than I was (am) taking after my mom, so she really gets excited about baking day. Even when she was as young as 3, she'd demand to help and grumble when she was only allowed to unwrap Hershey kisses or sprinkle powdered sugar. Fortunately, she's graduated to more advanced work.

A few years back I shared by Oreo Truffles recipe. They're amazingly simple to make and stunningly awesome to eat. This year I thought I'd share another recipe and invite everyone to post some of their holiday favorites. I'm always ready to add a new classic to our repertoire. This year is another recipe for my non-baking friends. Its really just a lot of microwaving and assembly, but with great results. A fabulous project to do with the kids. LS always enjoys making these.

This one's for you, PM!

Hershey Kiss Mice

- 1 jar cherries with stems
- 1 package chocolate bark
- 20 Hershey kisses
- almond slices
- wax or parchment paper
- gel tubes of black and red (optional)

Start off by unwrapping about 30 Hershey kisses. Yes, the directions say 20, but if you consider losses for ones with broken tips and the couple the kids steal, you'll end up with just enough. Melt chocolate bark until creamy according to package directions. Lay out a sheet of wax paper to put your mice on to dry. Dab a cherry lightly with a paper towel (helps the chocolate stick better if its not drippy wet) and dip the cherry into chocolate while holding the stem (completly cover cherry, but not stem). Place cherry on its side on the wax paper (the stem of the cherry is the mouse's tail). Press a Hershey kiss to the opposite side of the cherry with the point sticking out like a nose (the mouse's head). Place two almond slices in between the cherry and the kiss for the ears. This must be done quickly and one at a time so the chocolate hasn't hardened yet or the kiss and ears won't stick. You can stop here, or if you feel the need, can use decorator gel to make a nose (black) and two eyes (red or black).

Variations can include using white bark instead of chocolate, although you'll need white kisses to coordinate or it will look weird. Maybe even get those cherry cordial kisses. Definitely don't get striped Hershey Hugs or a flavor like Mint that won't go with the cherry. You can also take this to a whole new level of neurosis by mounting the mice on open faced oreo cookies, like the photo and decorating them. Cute, I think, but unnecessary. They're pretty darn adorable on their own. And tasty, I might add.

What's one of your holiday favorites to make this time of year? Share!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ice & Snow Days

This past week the weather has been playing havoc with things in North Alabama. During the last week of school for the year, the school systems has canceled one day, let the girls out early on another day and is having them make up the first day tomorrow. It's sorta hard to make plans when I wake up each morning wondering if I have to scramble to find childcare.

The first day they were out was a complete bust. We didn't have anything. Yesterday, however, ended up being a mess. There were accidents all over the state thanks to icy road conditions. Our local radio station has even gone national with this video showing the conditions in their parking lot.

Doesn't look like there's anything on the ground does it?

You'd think I'd be rejoicing for the extra time off of work...yeah, not so much. If this time off had come in January (like it normally does) instead of two weeks before Christmas I might have been. But I've got things to do! I did end up cuddling with Zilla, Sweet Pea and Baby Girl as we watched the Sorcerer's Apprentice late yesterday afternoon though. Was really nice to spend some time warm and snuggly with them. Just wish I hadn't been making mental lists the entire time. Oh well.

The biggest issue with all of this weather is that it's early. Really early. We normally don't see snow and ice until sometime in Jan and then again in March. I'm worried that this means were in for many more days and weeks like this. I honestly wouldn't mind...if we ever got enough snow to actually play in. It's been years though and my Michigan roots miss the powdery white stuff.

How's the weather where you are? Is it colder than normal? More/less snow and ice? Are you ready for summer yet?


P.S. Congratulations to Jeannie Lin, Homer's winner from yesterday. Please email with your snail mail address to claim your prize.

P.P.S. Congratulations to alinaduffer, PC's winner from Tuesday. Please email with your snail mail address to claim your prize.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dinosaurs, Anyone?

We're delighted to have a friend of the Playground back with us today. He's quite the Renaissance man in both his private and professional lives and is sharing about his latest release, which is quite a departure from his previous works. He'll explain the how and why below. We're having a cold snap here. Oh heck, who am I kidding. It's freaking freezing! So we've built a roaring fire to warm the place up for you and our special guest Homer Hickam.

After Red Helmet, my romantic coal country novel written for Thomas Nelson, and My Dream of Stars, the memoir I co-wrote with Anousheh Ansari for Palgrave-McMillan, I was itching for a change of pace in my writing. Publishers, of course, hate this. They like to pigeonhole their authors in specific genres because that's the easiest way to market them. When you see a book by John Grisham, Dan Brown, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, and so forth, you can be pretty sure what you're going to get. A quick check of my backlist, however, and you see nonfiction military history, memoirs, techno-thrillers, historical fiction, self-help, and romantic fiction. This is a failing in marketing but I have to follow my heart where it leads.

My next book was one I had agreed to write for the Thomas Dunne imprint of St. Martin's Press. I'd already written for them the rough and tumble series that included The Keeper's Son, The Ambassador's Son, and The Far Reaches about Josh Thurlow, a hard-drinking, womanizing fellow who is slowly going mad in the South Pacific of World War II. Actually, I consider these three novels to be my most literary works and underappreciated. They delve deeply into the hearts and souls of men and women thrust into the crucible of war. They are Heart of Darkness times three. Sometimes Josh and his compatriots make my readers cry, sometimes they make them laugh, but they are always interesting. These novels have sold well enough but I still consider them undiscovered gems that may resurface after I'm gone to that great bookstore in the sky. To the astonishment, amazement, and delight of American Literature professors of the future, I think these novels will remake my reputation. Well, we like to dream.

Anyway, I get passionate about things. It's just the way I am. For the last dozen years, my most passionate sideline has been hunting dinosaur bones in Montana and I'm pretty good at it, having found two Tyrannosaurs out of the 38 ever found. This began honestly enough when Joe Johnston, the director of October Sky (based on my memoir Rocket Boys otherwise known as Homer's little annuity), was hired to direct Jurassic Park III. Joe was going into the field to research the script so I tagged along with him into the bone-rich ranchlands of eastern Montana. Once there, three things happened: I fell in love with hunting ancient bones, I fell in love with the Montana ranchlands, and, most importantly, I fell in love with the people who live there.

Not counting their pickup trucks and 4-wheelers, the people who live in those rugged badlands and ranchlands live the pioneer life of the 19th Century. Their lives revolve around their families, their land, and their cows (not cattle - call them that and they know you're an outsider). Garfield County, their home, is the size of Connecticut which has around 3.5 million people. The population of the county, however, is less than 1000. Their nearest neighbors are generally 30-40 miles away. What they do is raise cows while being fiercely protective of their property. I liked them immediately but it took a while to be accepted. I am dogged, however, and after a few years in search of the elusive and wily dinos, the cowboys and cowgirls of Garfield County gradually became my friends. Good researcher that I am, I began to peel back their lives, their loves, and their secrets. And, of course, I wanted to write about them.

But how to write about these marvelous folks? I briefly considered a memoir, telling in a humorous way my sometimes bumbling, sometimes successful attempts to discover dinosaurs while also becoming a friend of these isolated ranch folks. This was tempting as my memoirs always sell very well but, after giving it some thought, I decided nonfiction would be considered too intrusive by my new Montana friends. I therefore decided to write about them in a fictional genre I hadn't yet touched: Mystery. My editor at St. Martin's gave my idea the go-ahead and I set about it.

All my other novels have been written in third person and that was the way I began the novel that would become The Dinosaur Hunter. But as I got into it, one of my minor characters kind of sat up and started talking. His name was Mike Wire and he was the top hand at the Square C Ranch owned by Jeanette Coulter, a dour, spunky widow, and Ray, her teenage son. Against all reason, Mike was in love with Jeanette, an affection that was decidedly not returned. I woke up one morning and threw the hundred pages I'd written away and just let Mike tell the story. And did he ever! I learned, to my surprise, that he was a former Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective who'd also worked as a private eye for Hollywood. Retired by a gunshot to the stomach and disgust with the film industry, Mike had escaped to Montana to pine over Jeanette and look after Ray and the people of that land he had come to love. Enter a young paleontologist by the appropriate name of Dr. "Pick" Pickford, and his two lovely female dinosaur diggers, and the story gets going. Murder and mayhem ensue, not to mention what has been called one of the most unusual and oddly erotic romantic moments in a cow barn yet written in a popular novel.

Happily, my foray into the mystery genre has worked as The Dinosaur Hunter, out on Nov. 9, 2010, is selling very well. It has even been picked up by The Mystery Guild Book club as one of their alternate selections! To my surprise, it's been included into yet another popular genre, the western. In fact, it's been one of the top western best-sellers on Amazon for weeks! Holy Larry McMurtry! Carolyn See, the always tough reviewer for The Washington Post, loved the novel but thought it was one for the guys more than the gals. Based on my correspondence, I don't think that's so if, for no other reason, that
passionate, odd, peculiar, and somewhat scatological romantic scene in the barn already mentioned. And if that's not enough to get you to read The Dinosaur Hunter (or get it as a gift for that special reader), I guess I've missed my calling.

Oooooooooookay. I received a couple of book store gift cards and I'm pretty darned sure how I'm going to use them now. ;-)

Leave a comment and tell us where your heart leads you. One commenter will win a copy of The Dinosaur Hunter. Lucky you, whoever you are.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Annual Holiday Wish Game...

With Christmas right around the corner, it's time to get your Grinch on and let some of that holiday frustration out.

Time to play Be Careful What You Wish For!

I love this game! And y'all are so good at it that I look forward to it each year.

Here are the rules for those who might be new: I will make a wish. You will grant my wish -- in such a way to make me regret wishing it. You will then get to make a wish, and the next commenter will make you regret it. So, let's say I wish for a million dollars. The first commenter will grant my wish, but make me regret it by giving it to me in pennies. That person makes her wish -- say for a full-body massage. The next commenter grants it -- but the massage is provided by a hobbit who does it with his hairy hobbit feet.

Get it? Come on, you know you need to get Grinchy and let it out. This is a safe place, my friends. You know you'll feel so much better afterward.

And the more evil your attempt to thwart a wish is, the better.

I will be providing prizes for those of you who excel at this exercise. My criteria for prizes will, of course, be completely arbitrary and probably unfair as they will be made up on the spot. ~evil grin~

So here we go!

I wish someone would come finish stripping the varnish off the kitchen floor.

Go! Thwart!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Treasure Hunt

I think that on Christmas morning, several different categories of people emerge. There’s the “wake up at 2 am and rip through the presents in 2 seconds” people, usually consisting of anyone under 12 years of age. Then there’s the “get up at a reasonable hour, stroll through breakfast, and savor the presents” type, which I tend to embrace. I think there is also one in the middle, the groggy parents who get through the presents quickly, then nap on the couch while the kids play.

But I’m definitely one who likes to savor Christmas morning. We open stockings, eat cinnamon rolls, then take turns opening all the gifts. I enjoy that much more than present opening at a relative’s house on Christmas Eve, which is basically a free for all, where I have to figure out what presents my kids have after digging them out from under all the scattered wrapping paper. I’m always on the lookout to preserve the magic of Christmas morning without pushing my family into impatience.

I recently spoke to author Rhonda Nelson about a really cool Christmas morning tradition that she instituted when her children were young, because she, too, wanted to make Christmas morning a neat memory, rather than just a quick rip through the gifts. One year, after her children were asleep on Christmas Eve, she took all of their presents and hid them in various spots. Then she made up clues and turned Christmas morning into a treasure hunt.

Of course, when the kids got up the next morning, they thought they’d been robbed! But once they realized it was a game, they were really excited and asked for the game year after year. This year, I’m looking forward to trying this out for our family. First, I wonder how long it will take them to realize there aren’t any presents under the tree? (about 2 seconds) Then will they be excited by the prospect of finding their gifts one by one?

So tell me, are you a speeder on Christmas morning or savorer? Have any suggestions for clues or unusual places to hide the gifts?


P.S. The winner from Friday’s Free Book Friday is susanwilson44. Please email Smarty Pants at to collect your prize.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December Website Update

December is here and it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the

Okay, not really, because it never snows in Alabama in December and I don't
foresee me having the time to decorate the swing set, but we *are* gearing
up for the holidays and part of that includes the last update (and
newsletter) of 2010!

First of all, many thanks to all of you who came to celebrate our 5th
birthday. I can't remember what life was like pre-Playground, so each
birthday is special to me, and I (and all the other Playfriends) are truly
honored you spend time with us in our corner of cyberspace. ~fans eyes~


So, updates. Yeah.

First off, Angel collected al the Playfriends holiday sanity-saving tips and
posted them in School. We hope they help!

And if you really need some help facing the holidays, I'll point you back to
the Clinic Archives where Counselor Shelley weighs in:

Next, pop over to the Sandbox and meet Meagan Hatfield, who was definitely
one of the highlights of the Orlando RWA conference for me:

Our Book of the Month is one that's near and dear to me (and not just
because I'm listed in the dedication) - Pamela Hearon's THE TIMESTONE KEY:

No guest bloggers this month because we're all too busy, but never fear,
we're lining up great guests for 2011. Keep an eye on the sidebar for
updates. But the blog will still be hopping all month long - if for no
other reason than at least one of us will be near a nervous breakdown at any
given moment. It's kind of amusing at times.

On behalf of Insti, SP, PM, and Angel, I wish you a very happy and safe
holiday season - whatever and however you celebrate at this time of year -
filled with fun, friends, family, laughter, and love.

I remain,

The Problem Child


Kimberly Lang

Friday, December 10, 2010

Free Book Friday (The Chilly Edition)

Baby, it's cold outside. No, seriously. It's friggin' freezing. There's no doubt that December is here and so is another round of Free Book Friday. Can you believe we've been doing this for over a year? Crazy.

This month, I'm very pleased to give away two books including a 'win it before you can buy it' copy of Kira Sinclair's January release Caught Off Guard. For those who read Kira's debut book Whispers in the Dark, Caught Off Guard is the story of Karyn's spunky friend Anne. Not a traditional December Christmas book, per se, but the book opens on a cold New Year's Eve and they look chilly on the cover, no? He needs to take that woman inside and warm her up. I betcha he does just that. :)

Caught off Guard by Kira Sinclair

Runaway heiress Annemarie Prescott vowed never to return home. Until life interfered…

The Plan: Run like hell from the society chains of her past.

The Reality: Run into Blake Mitchell…the most seductive one-night stand of her life. Unfortunately Blake was hired by her mother. His job? To convince Anne she must embrace the legacy she never wanted, and keep her safe while he's at it.

The Bonus: Blake's touch still tempts Anne to sin! And how…

The Complication: Danger looms and Anne realizes Blake does make her feel safe. Especially in the bedroom! But as soon as the bad guy is caught, Blake will be gone…unless Anne opens her heart and admits her bodyguard is more than just a hot distraction.

All I Want For Christmas is a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks
Toni Davis's Christmas wish list

1. Springing my best friend from the psych ward.

2. Living somewhere that doesn't have coffins in the basement. Occupied coffins.

3. Finding Mr. Right. Please make him tall, dark, handsome, and alive.

This Christmas isn't so merry for Toni. Her best friend's been locked up in a mental hospital ever since she told the police she was attacked by vampires, and the only way for Toni to get her out is to prove that bloodsuckers really do exist. So she's taken a job as a bodyguard for the Undead, but she gets more than she bargained for, especially when she meets Ian MacPhie, a Scottish rascal looking for Ms. Right.

Although Ian's nearly five centuries old, he looks and acts like a twenty-seven-year-old hunk.

How can a dead man be so damn sexy? Could Mr. Wrong be Mr. Right? One forbidden kiss could lead to an eternity of passion--and all it takes is one moment under the mistletoe . . .

To win, comment in the thread with the phrase "I'm chilly - warm me up!"

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Hit the Ground Running

We're home. :-) We had a fantastic time spending Thanksgiving with my family and a wonderful time soaking up the Christmas atmosphere at Disney. The only problem is I came home and hit the ground running. Somehow in my preparations for the trip and being gone from home and work for 12 days, I forgot that Christmas was only a couple weeks away when we got home. Yeah, *points to self*, not the world's greatest planner.

I was behind at work and had to catch up. I'm behind in my Christmas shopping. I have 2 parties this weekend and I don't have the ingredients for the dishes I'm bringing or the presents that I need to exchange. Oh, I know what I need to's just getting there to actually purchase that's the issue.

I went out at lunch yesterday for a quick stop at Toys-R-Us...2 hours later I returned back to the office. I figured middle of the week, middle of the day, shouldn't be bad. I was wrong. The place was a zoo and to top it off, they were out of almost everything I wanted. Leaving there, I vowed I wouldn't return again until after Christmas and then promptly had to eat my words when I realized I needed to return something I bought. I'm tempted just to wait until after Christmas but am afraid I'll totally forget about it and miss the return window.

At this rate, I'm afraid I'm going to come skidding into Christmas with my hair all a wreck, an insane look in my eye and a permanent snarl on my face for all the nasty people who make Christmas shopping a nightmare. If I survive we're going to have a lovely Christmas...I just have to get there first.

How are you Christmas preparations coming?


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree, Verse Two

I've made progress since last week. The tree is up, it's decorated and there's even one wrapped package under it. Yay me!

My shopping is done also. It's all piled on the futon in my office, waiting to be wrapped. Some of it will have to be mailed and the rest will be hand delivered at various and sundry times.

I've made my Christmas card list and two partial boxes of cards are on the dining room table waiting to be signed and addressed. I don't expect that to happen quite yet. I still have to compose my annual Christmas letter, complete with photo of the granddaughter. Or maybe it will be family photos from my mother's visit in the fall and from Thanksgiving.

The rest of the apartment is decorated too. The wreath's on the front door, the bar has red mesh garland with some hurricane candles and a poinsettia. The wire basket that usually holds fake apples now has Christmas balls in it.

The Nativity set is in place. I got it in Bethlehem so it's very special. I visited Israel in August 1980 and our tour of the walled city was so fast I tell people that I ran where Jesus walked.

The stocking is hung by the bookcase with care. No fireplace, so this has to do. I also got a new stocking hanger this year. Some certain individuals I know complained about my small stocking and flimsy hanger last year. Okay, problem rectified. ;-)

And here's the tree. I like how it turned out. It's traditional like me and has a few old ornaments on it, but mostly it reflects my new life.

And one of my favorite ornaments is this. Of course it stands for my first name -- Marilyn. But I also like to think it stands for Me or Mine because I don't have to argue about whether or not to put tinsel or garland on the tree, whether I'll open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, whether I eat turkey or ham or a Healthy Choice dinner on Christmas.

It's my life now and different as it may be, I can make what I want of it. In our divorce group, we call it "creating a new normal."

There's still lots to do and a couple of Christmas parties to attend. But also, I have a couple of Christmas romances I want to read. They caught my eye on the shelf and I bought them last month. I told myself I couldn't read them until I'd finished NaNoWriMo. I started reading the first book last night. I was crying by the end of the acknowledgements. I'm such a sap. I also have Christmas movies on my DVR and I need to watch them or it'll fill up and dump them off.

So... are YOU ready for Christmas? Or at least on the way to being ready? Are you like me and it's just not quite the Christmas season until you've heard Bing sing "White Christmas," watched at least one Christmas movie and read a Christmas romance?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

When your inspiration doesn't inspire me...

I’ve noticed a lot of authors post pictures of their “inspiration” for their heroes. I always appreciate a picture of a pretty man, but it’s not something I like to do myself. And sometimes I’m unhappy to see who the hero is supposed to look like and wish the author hadn’t posted the picture.

I mean, my definition of handsome could differ widely from yours. I know I’m always disappointed to find out that the author pictured George Clooney or Brad Pitt as their hero because neither one of them really does it for me. And sometimes, if it’s someone I really don’t like, it can ruin the experience of the book for me.

I’ll admit that I’m not a very visual writer. Even I don’t have a perfect picture of my hero in my mind when I write. I know his basic stats – hair, eyes, build, maybe a dimple or something – but beyond that, he’s not real sharp in my mind. I’d like to say that I do it intentionally, so as not to let my perception of handsome influence yours, and it’s true to a certain extent, but it’s really more for reader in me instead of the reader of my book. I personally like to fill in my own blanks as to what the hero looks like when I read – which is why I’m almost universally disappointed in whoever plays the hero in the movie – so the less the author tells me about specifics, the better off I am. That preference bleeds over into how I write.

That’s why my two favorite covers – of mine – don’t really give a good view of the hero.

For Magnate’s Mistress…Accidentally Pregnant! I think they got Chris darn near perfect: he looks like a sailor boy, with a great body and sun-streaked hair. But his face isn’t really clear. You get to fill in the blanks.

And for the upcoming Girls’ Guide to Flirting With Danger, this image of Devin really fits that basic image I had of him in my mind: the hair and build are right, but beyond that, let your imagination fill in the rest.

So what do you like? Authors who give you really concrete details – or even pictures – to show you what the hero looks like to the author? Or do you like to fill in the details yourself? And how do you feel about the cover models? If he doesn’t match your visual image, does it bother you? Or is any picture of a pretty man worth looking at? ~grin~


Monday, December 06, 2010

MOANday: All I Want For Christmas Is...

An FBI Agent…


OR a firefighter… or two…


OR a warrior…


OR a nature buff…


OR maybe just someone who likes to lay around and look at the lights…


Oohh La La! Yep, I’d love a hero in my stocking for Christmas. ;) Merry Christmas and Happy MOANday!!!


Friday, December 03, 2010

A Painful and Expensive Lesson Learned

I have recently survived a minor ordeal that, while frustrating and expensive, was also time consuming. Now that I have been able to put it behind me, I thought it best to share my story so you don't make the same dumb mistakes I did.

Apparently, my old car being my first purchase, I did not really grasp the whole concept of a title. I did, but I didn't. I knew the car had one, but that my leinholder had it until the car was paid off. When I made the last payment they sent me something. Maybe a title, I don't know. I'm more inclined to say it was a lien release, not the actual title. Whatever it was didn't look official and important enough for me to take note. I was unaware I was supposed to 'do' something with it. So, basically, I immediately lost it.

No thought was given to this for five more years. When the car blew up, I considered selling it to a junk yard or a friend of DB's. When DB asked about the title, I made that Tim the Toolman sound. "Errh?" Title. Uh, don't have that. Thought you could junk a car without one. Nope. They have to make sure they aren't purchasing a stolen, stripped car.

Ok, no problem. Went on the Alabama DMV site, downloaded the replacement title form and got a money order for $15. Went in and the lady told me they didn't have my title. Why not? The car was registered in Alabama for 9 years? Certainly they had something. Turns out, they requested it from my lienholder and they never responded. Awesome.

So I went to the Nevada DMV site and called to confirm they had a copy. Hallelujah, they did. But to get it, I'd need a letter from my lienholder showing my title was now clear ($17 + 7-10 days). I'd also need a notarized letter saying I'd lost my title and needed a replacement (free with my bank, thank goodness). Mail that along with a check for $35 and I could get it in 4 to 6 weeks. I could also expedite it by express mailing the request and paying to have it express mailed back ($18 each way).

Get the letter from Ford, mail it at the post office and wait. Somehow, express took 1 day there but took 4 days back, but there's no refunds of course. They come to deliver it, DB is home and waiting, but she just leaves the 'missed you' note thinking he's asleep (we have a day sleeper tag) so I have to leave work early the next day to go claim it at the post office (since I work 7:30 to 5 and the PO is open 8:30 to 4).

Ok, so, title in hand, I march back to the DMV triumphantly. The woman says "do you have the car here?" Uh, no. It doesn't run and its stranded at the dealership. Oh, well, they can't accept an out of state title without a vehicle inspection. Ok, so is it supposed to magically levitate? No, I have to get a police officer to inspect the car and fill out the form. Once I come back with it, it will take 4 to 6 weeks. I said lots of ugly things and left in a huff.

Driving to the dealership, on the phone with the police station, I finally get an office to meet me out there. I got voicemail the first time and was certain I was doomed to not get it done that day. But I did, got the car inspected, and returned to the DMV, where I got ugly looks from the ladies when I walked in. One even went on break when I was next in line, so apparently they did not appreciate my attitude. I didn't appreciate theirs, either.

Turn in the form. They try to give me grief about needing my mother's signature since her name is on it. We have a long discussion about "or" versus "and" and that we were an "or" and therefore, did not need her permission. (Which I REALLY didn't want to get since her name had since changed and I could just imagine they'd want more forms filled out for that.) Finally, we have a breakthrough and we move forward. I write a check for $18.75 and she tells me it usually doesn't take 4 weeks, but that with the holiday it might take two or more. Ok, fine.

Glorious, glorious, the title has arrived. Now, a month and a half and $121.75 later, I can finally sell my car for a whopping $350. Hardly seems worth the effort, really. I had considered several times just setting the car on fire and being done with it. But, alas, a lesson learned. Keep up with your titles! Its important. I'd been passively car shopping for a long time. Had I known this was going to be an issue, I would've gotten the ball rolling on the title thing months ago. But no, it wasn't until the car blew up that I realized this was a problem. You don't want to try and get those things replaced at the last minute. There is no last minute, only 4-6 weeks later.

Any lessons learned lately that you'd like to share? Spread your wealth of knowledge and save us all a couple trips to the DMV.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Favorite Fictional Character

Right about now I should be standing in the middle of Disney World. Zilla the girls and I have been here for the last week. I've been planning this trip with my family for months now. We're mainly here to unwind, enjoy the Christmas decorations and get into the spirit of the season.

However, this got me to thinking. One of our favorite things to do at Disney (well, at least mine - Zilla could care less) is to get a hug from my favorite characters. Mickey, princesses, fairies, captain list goes on forever. I'm even hoping to find Thumper this time! I've heard a rumor that he's lurking somewhere in the Animal Kingdom.

In discussing this with my family it started a rather heated debate about who is the best/favorite fictional character. To my dismay Sponge Bob made the list at my house. But so did Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables and some fictional mouse detective that I'd never heard of. So, who is yours? Could be a cartoon character you've since you were a kid. Your favorite character from a book and/or movie. Anything fictional...who's your favorite?

I'll bring back a surprise from the happiest place on earth for one poster along with a copy of my Jan 1st release, Caught Off Guard.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree

A week ago I blogged about how much I dreaded Christmas last year. This year it’s much different. I’ve been ready to get going with Christmas since Thanksgiving, but I’d told myself I couldn’t do anything Christmas related until I finished my 50000 words for NaNoWriMo.

I finished Monday night. Well before midnight even. I didn’t have quite the sense of elation I had two years ago when I finished my first book, but it was close. Plus I knew that now I could save the still-needs-to-be-finished WIP on the external hard drive, pack away all the notes, store away my magical, mystical mojo beads, blow out my salt candle and get started with my Christmas decorating.

A tree is an important part of Christmas for me. I remember as a small child going with my daddy and sister out to woods somewhere and cutting a cedar tree. It would make the house smell so fresh. When my boys were young, we’d make an annual trek to the Christmas tree farm and chop our own. We learned the hard way to not only take exterior looks into consideration, but to make sure the trunk was straight. We had one Christmas where the tree was tied to a closet door knob to hold it upright.

Then the boys got older, headed off to college and I entered the artificial tree era. They have really nice ones now – lush and looking darned near real. Burn an evergreen candle and you’d think it WAS real. Now they even come with lights already on them. Now how cool is that?

Last year my Christmas tree was a little on the “Charlie Brown” side. It was only four feet tall and I’d bought it from a thrift store. One branch had broken where it attached to the trunk, so I had to wire it in place with floral wire. But I put that side against the wall and no one was the wiser. I decorated it with a few things I’d brought from my house plus some new dollar store decorations. It served its purpose but I knew I wanted a full size tree for this year. I even budgeted for one and figured I’d start looking early and hope for a good sale.

At Labor Day a group of girlfriends and I went to the beach to visit another friend, and when she was showing us around her apartment, she pointed to a large box in the hall closet and said, “I really need to take that to the thrift store.”

“What is it?” I asked, being nosy.

“It’s a Christmas tree.”

“Oh? How tall?”

It turns out it was a 7 ½ foot slim pre-lit tree which was EXACTLY what I’d planned to buy.

Someone had given it to her the year before and she’d decided to downsize. I offered to buy the tree from her, but she said she was planning to give it away anyway, so I could have it for nothing. We had one problem though: our car was full, so how would I get it to Huntsville?

“Easy,” she said. “I’m coming up in a few weeks and I’ll bring it then.”

Christmas tree situation solved!

This episode is now fondly referred to as the Sisterhood of the Traveling Christmas Tree.

I’m planning to pull out my boxes of decorations plus a collection of new ornaments I got earlier this year thanks to several dear friends who gave me a generous gift card to a Christmas shop right when they had everything at clearance prices.

When I get the tree up and decorated and have the rest of my place done, I’ll post pictures. Maybe I can even find some photos of the Charlie Brown tree for a before and after comparison.

So, are you a real or artificial tree person? And when do you put your tree up? I remember another real tree episode where the tree died. And I mean DIED. When you’d shut a door or even walk across the hardwood floor, you could hear needles fall. Two weeks before Christmas, every brown, dry needle was on the floor. So we undecorated it, took it to the dumpster and bought another tree. ~sigh~