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Friday, December 30, 2011

3 Ways to Combat the Winter Blahs

As the holidays wind to a close, it's difficult not to feel depressed as you put away the decorations. After a sparkling, light-filled December, January is bleak and grey, isn't it? In Texas, where I live, January is the one month out of the year that we can expect to see snow. But the rest of the month is usually just bitterly cold and dreary, with more sleet than snow. And add to that any kind of seasonal affective disorder, or cold, or flu, or any other ailment you might have, and it just gets worse.

But the post-holiday season doesn't have to be a stellar letdown. In fact, there are easy steps you can take that can ensure that January remains, if not as sparkly as December, at least not a complete wash. You need to move quickly, though, and take decisive steps--otherwise, it's too easy to fall victim to the short days, grey weather, and chill in the air.
Your missions, should you choose to accept them, are as follows:

Step 1: ABC--Always Be Completing

As soon as I turn in one project to my agent to rep, she asks me what I am working on next. And this is a smart way to look at life. Don't tie your identity or wellbeing to one month of the year, one season, one holiday, or even one manuscript. Instead, as the holidays wind down, look for projects to start in January. Your New Year's Resolution might be your next big thing, so get excited about it.

Step Two: Get Out of Dodge

Too much of the holidays are consumed by travel. And sometimes this travel isn't the most enjoyable, if you're dealing with a lot of traffic or family guilt or both. So step back and plan an outing that just satisfies your soul. Don't worry if you can't afford to book a cruise. Some of my best outings have been spontaneous road trips my husband and I plan. We just get out the map; look at all the destinations within an hour's drive, and go. Our most recent trip put us in downtown Decatur, Texas where I ate the most amazing grilled cheese sandwich, and we found a brand new thrift store to scour. Fun doesn't have to be expensive, and travel doesn't have to take you far.

Step Three: Get Help If You Need It

There's no shame in getting help if you are genuinely suffering from depression. This time of year can be extremely difficult on even the heartiest souls. So if depression really is threatening to overwhelm you, talk about it. Your physician or counselor, or even a trusted friend can help you gain perspective on a situation. And if need be, your physician can help by starting you on a mild antidepressant. I've seen both holistic practitioners and traditional physicians for various ailments, and both have helped me combat stress and depression through supplements and even medication if the need arose.

Right now, I am combating the winter blahs by finishing a current work in progress and beginning edits on another one. What steps will you take to make your January a little brighter?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Swiss Cheese recipe for first drafts

So the truth is my w.i.p usually flows really well... right up until I hit the first love scene and then I falter. Every time. I’ll struggle with this for weeks because I feel like this is the part of the story that counts and it should be perfect.

But it doesn’t have to be perfect on the first draft.

Swiss cheese doesn’t fall apart, despite its many holes! I read this on a blog post last night and ding – I got it. You can find that blog post here! Lots of great information on that site and Thank you to Write to Done for helping me grasp this concept.  http://writetodone.com/2009/06/23/first-draft-secrets-four-simple-steps/

I’m struggling over the first draft of my sixth story and I finally “get” it. Swiss cheese is more complicated to make than many of the other cheese recipes. A newly formed cheese must cure for four months to a year before it’s ready to be eaten. So remember that while you’re crafting your first draft. Once it’s completed you must let it cure for a while before it’s ready to be sent out to the world. This is only the first stage of the creative process. The second stage of the writing process is the editing, and this is the stage you should spend more time on.  

It usually takes me about four to six months to finish a story. This year my new year’s resolution will be to finish a first draft in two to three months. I want to be quicker on the first draft so I can spend more time on the edits. Because if you think about it, the editing is the yummy frosting, the delicious toppings and you should take more time polishing your masterpiece than creating it.

Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s taken me a long time to realize this. The famous Nora Roberts saying “You can’t edit a blank page” is true. But you can edit crap. Tell the story. Period. Don’t worry about showing versus telling, world building, or any other rules for that matter. Just tell the story. Get it all out and then you can go back later to make it shine.

Set daily goals and write. It doesn’t matter if its crap. Just write.

I think one of the key elements to writing a first draft is marking your holes as you go. That way it’ll take less time to spot them later in the editing stage. If you need to research something put in a little * or a ? or even an ____. It’ll help you remember where you need to come back and fill in the spaces, expand on an idea, or even research on a subject.

Using the highlighter is extremely helpful with this as well. Utilize all your tools at hand and don’t be afraid to make up some rules as you go. I remember when I first started writing I was so afraid to deviate from my original set plan that I almost stalled out to a complete stop. I did as a matter of fact quit writing for about five years. And then when I picked it back up again, I swore I would make my own rules, edit the rules I have already learned to fit my style and don’t be afraid to deviate from my initial plans. If you stall out on chapter six don’t be afraid to pick up at chapter nine where all the action is if that’s what your muse is telling you to write. You can always go back in to fill in the blanks.  

More than likely, if you’ve participated in Nanowrimo this year and haven’t finished that particular manuscript but are so close, then I imagine the words are starting to stutter to a halt. So this is a great time to come to terms with the fact that this is a first draft. When it gets hard, don’t worry about whether it’s right or good, just get it done.

Swiss cheese doesn’t fall apart, despite its many holes. I love this phrase and I hope it’s given you the light bulb moment it gave to me. This post has just a hint of the info you need for the Swiss cheese recipe for writing. Read the entire original post to get all the goodies from it. It was a great help to me and I hope it will be for you.

Until then here’s a Swiss Cheese Dip recipe for you to try! It's great for parties! (And this coming from the Lady Scribe who hates, hates, hates to cook. So I know if I can do it, anyone can LOL.) 


  • 8 oz cream cheese softened
  • 1 cup mayo (not miracle whip)
  • 2 8 oz pkgs shredded swiss cheese
  • chopped green onion
  • cooked bacon cut into pieces


Mix cream cheese, mayo and swiss cheese. Add onions, spread in casserole dish, sprinkle with cut up bacon. Bake at 325 for 30 mins      

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Olivia Kelly ~ Lady Loquacious ~ asks: Do These Parachute Pants Make My Butt Look Big?


What does it mean to you? When you realize that your favorite jeans have holes in them, are too small or too big (you evil witch!) or are acid washed, and it’s time for a new pair, are you thrilled to go shopping? Or does the idea of crossing the mall threshold make you break out in a sweat and want to hide in the closet with a box of chocolates and a Julia Quinn novel?

That’s just me? Oh.

Well, as you might guess, I’m not big on shopping. I used to be. I used to live at the mall every weekend with my girlfriends. I think it’s actually a required part of the American Teenage Girl Rite of Passage. (Shopping, gossip and finding a musician or movie star to crush on make up the 98.6 percent of a teenage girl’s time. The other 1.4 percent of the time is complaining there’s nothing to do.)

Partly, I think I hate shopping now because I’m still carrying around extra weight from the baby. (He’s six.) Mostly, though, I think it’s because I seem to fall prey to the Looks Fantastic in the Dressing Room Syndrome—you know the one. It’s when you try an outfit on, maybe something out of your comfort zone, and between the fun-house mirrors and the anorexic, gum-snapping rabid sales lady, you wind up buying parachute pants. For example, I mean. Not that I have ever worn parachute pants.


Anyway…LFDRS seems to strike when I least expect it. Sometimes I can even wear a shirt or dress, or haircut, for weeks before catching a glimpse of myself in the hall mirror and shrieking “Good Lord, why didn’t you tell me?!” Apparently, I need a personal shopper/dresser—like a movie star.

(Please don’t tell me you think they all actually manage to look like that just “running out to pick up a coffee” or “hanging out at the beach”? That would be very, very depressing. For me, I
mean. I’m sure it’s lovely for them.)

A personal shopper! Why do I always think of these things after the holidays?

I think my personal Fashion Lows include:

*A poodle perm (it was the 90s)
*Hip-hop paint-splashed, one strap overalls (it was the 90s)
*Pairing a “skort” with knee high boots (it was the…oh, wait. That was last week).

My Fashion Highs include:

*My Junior Prom dress; fire engine red and sequined, with spaghetti straps. It was one long column, with a slit up the side. I’m still not sure how I made it out of the house that night.
*My new brown corduroy jacket from Kohl’s; cute, casual, form fitting and warm.

Umm. I’m thinking.

Well, that might be it.

How about you? What are your Fashion Highs and Lows?

Did you perm your hair or fluff your bangs? Have you ever owned a jacket inspired by Michael Jackson’s Thriller phase? Did you wear bellbottoms, fringe vests, shoulder pads, Doc Maarten’s or that fake turtle-neck thingy that goes under your sweater? (And do you happen to know anyone who has a personal shopper they would like to loan me?)
Not Sexy. Not even a little bit.

Oh dear, it’s the Poster Girl of 80s Fashion Perfection.

Gosh, I wasn’t expecting all this—I just need some milk and toilet paper. Did you see my Gucci headscarf?

~ Olivia

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays

The Lady Scribes would like to wish everyone Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas.

We are taking the week off to spend time with our friends and families, but look forward to visiting with you again December 26th. May your holiday be filled with joy, love, and laughter.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Truest Blessings

I’m going to be a little selfish and hijack the blog for a day to give thanks to a few important people in my life. Tis the season to be thankful and after the year I’ve had, there are so many people in which to thank.

You see a year ago my husband was laid off at this job and while this hasn’t been the worst thing I’ve ever experienced — it was darn close. We were one paycheck away from being kicked out onto the streets. We struggled just to pay gas in order for me to go to my barely-above-minimum-wage-job and I have three children in which to take care of. The oldest two teen boys live with their dad one week and then come to my house for the next week. I ended up having to stretch those weeks into two because I had to do most of the traveling and couldn’t afford to go see my own kids part of the time. It was horrible, very lonely, I missed those little devils like crazy, and there were times when I got a little down. Yes, the person who always determines that you keep putting one foot in front of the other and never get depressed because life is never that bad got a little down. I admitted it.

And yet, we persevered. Somehow and not without help either. But I have much to be thankful for this year now that the hubby has a brand new job and we’ve moved into a new apartment. I still don’t get to see my kids as often as I’d like, but I’ll get them all summer long this year. So I’m content to see them on the weekends for now. After all, my oldest is nineteen and the second boy is fifteen, they’re almost grown. So I want to take a moment to thank my oldest boys for sacrificing their time with me so that I could get on my feet again. They truly are troopers and you know I know they love me no matter what happens.

I also need to thank my parents for being there with unconditional love and support, pulling me out of more financial woes than I care to admit this year. And Jake, you’ll always be my real hero. Christi, you'll always have a special place in my heart and the Lebo's crew, thanks for six years of good times. Thank you to my former boss, Leah. And she knows how special she is to me.

Ava Stone has been my mentor and friend for almost three years now. This year she was my guiding angel in this crazy industry called publishing. She did the most unexpected thing when I stayed at her house for our writer’s retreat weekend. She knows what she did and I will be forever grateful to her. I only hope one day to return such a favor. I hope she knows how much it means to me and how much I’ve come to care for her. Ava, you truly are a standard onto yourself and you don’t even know it. You’re a blessing, a wonderful mother, a truly compassionate person, and someone I look up to. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for just being you.

Thank you to Princess Jerrica and her knightly husband for a wonderful job offer in a desperate time of my life. No wonder you're both so blessed in life and love, your giving spirit to others is something we should all aspire to. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

My crit partners have been invaluable to me this year and they have been there every time I needed to vent my frustrations, whether it’s been about writing or my life. I cannot thank you enough for the time you take out of your day to listen to me rant. And I know I’m not the easiest person to like either but I have to say they do more than tolerate me, and for that I’m grateful. So thanks to Samantha, Heather, Erin, Amy, Mindy, Tammy, and Julie. And to the new folks who just joined this year, all I can say is you’ve joined the greatest crit group there is. You simply won’t find a better, more classy, stand-up group of writers on the net. They truly are one of my truest blessings. Thanks ladies. PS. Thanks to Erin for offering to pay for the seminar when I came up to the writer’s retreat. The offer was genuinely appreciated and I love that you’re such a giving person. Thank you.

Marie Higgins who has been a long time crit partner for going on fifteen years. That's a long time to support someone, lol. I hope it's many, many more.
A special thanks to Heather Boyd and Mindy Moore. Heather designed all of my beautiful covers for me and although, she didn’t ask for anything in return. I felt I should pay a little but even so, it was nowhere near what it was worth. But what gave it so much meaning was that it was done in friendship and although, we’ve bumped heads before, you’ve become someone special to me. I look up to you and I hope you know how much it means to me that you don’t ask for anything in return. I tip my hat to you, Heather from across the waters and wish you a very Merry Christmas. And Mindy Moore my editor who’s birthday gift to me last year was a free edit, may your every wish come true. You’ve struggled for a while as I have and are so deserving of every bit of success you’ve had thus far. Merry Christmas, ladies.

I have to take a moment and thank Maggie’O for being my very first fan lol. She’s waiting patiently on this next installment and I love her for that. Colleen for being a wonderful friend and fan, for reading every book and cheering me on. Sandi, my favorite pirate wench who is dying to read my pirate story but we just can’t figure out how to load into onto her Kobo. She’s patiently waiting on it to show up on the Kobo site. Thanks for your patience. And to all the rest of my few fans, there aren’t many in number but they sure are sweet. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I always believed the best part about writing was creating a great story. I’ve since learned that sharing that story with someone else and receiving an email or a comment that I was able to take them away from life for a second. That truly is one of my truest blessings. It warms my heart to know that by the end of a story I’ve given someone else the warm and fuzzy feelings I’ve gotten so many times after reading a great romance. We have the greatest genre as well as the greatest community — despite some of the uproar going on lately about the industry — I still believe this is the greatest reading community there is.

I think the biggest lesson I have learned this year is the truest blessings don’t come with a price tag. They’re there with you, every day. May we never forget how important it is to tell them “I love you.” 

Happy reading everyone, and may you have a wonderfully, blessed holiday season as I have. Take a moment and say your thanks to the important people in your life. I’d love to know who influenced you this year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Danby Regency Christmas Summons Prize Extravaganza

Tonight the authors of the REGENCY CHRISTMAS SUMMONS COLLECTION will be chatting live at http://hrcg.chatango.com/ from 8:00p - 10:00p Eastern time.
Presented by: Lilia Birney, Christi Caldwell, Phyllis Campbell, Jane Charles, Aileen Fish, Catherine Gayle, Samantha Grace, Suzie Grant, Julie Johnstone, Olivia Kelly, Jerrica Knight-Catania, and Ava Stone, in honor of the release of our Regency Christmas Anthology, consisting of A Summons from Yorkshire, A Summons from the Duke, A Summons from the Castle, and A Summons from His Grace.

A Summons From Yorkshire
Regency Christmas Summons Collection 1

In AVA STONE’s The Counterfeit Christmas Summons, Lady Emma Whitton has decided its time to take her future in her own hands. She has been in love with Viscount Heathfield since she was in leading strings. Unfortunately, it's been almost that long since she's laid eyes on her brother's old friend and vice versa. Tired of waiting for him to remember her, Emma pens a holiday invitation (in her brother's hand) to Heathfield and waits as patiently as she is able for her one true love to arrive. * Heath isn't quite certain what to make of the very strange summons he received, but his curiosity is most definitely piqued. He heads north to Danby Castle, only to find that his very orderly life is about to be turned upside down.

~ * ~
In AILEEN FISH’s The Viscount’s Sweet Temptation, Lady Harriet Thornhill knows the summons from her grandfather means he’s decided whom she must marry. Determined that she’d only marry a man of her choosing, she stows away in her friend’s father’s carriage, only to find herself alone with young Archibald Napier,Viscount Morley. * Morley’s plans for a quiet Christmas vanish when he discovers the sweet young lady hiding under the blankets in his carriage. As she claims an acquaintance with his sister, he feels duty-bound to see her safely back to her family.* A broken carriage wheel leaves them stranded, and Harriet’s reputation is at stake. Morley’s not ready to take a wife, until he’s told he wouldn’t be a suitable husband for her. With memories of her sweet, tempting kiss filling his thoughts, he prepares to fight for the hand of the woman he believes he could love.
~ * ~
JULIE JOHNSTONE’s Gift of Seduction - The day Andrew Whitton, Earl of Hardwick chooses his fortune over the woman he loves, Drew discovers that money makes for a cold bed partner. Now, no matter how far he runs, the memory of his betrayal haunts him, and there’s not enough liquor to dull the past or diminish his disgust. * Charlotte Milne trusted in happily ever after until her knight turned out to be wearing rusty armor. Drew, the scoundrel, seduced her, though she very much enjoyed the seduction by the man she’s loved since childhood. Left scandalously ruined, Char flees her home intent upon forgetting Drew and proving her worth. * Separated by disloyalty and pain, each struggle to bury the memories of the other until a mandatory summons from the Duke of Danby sets them on a path of collision to Danby Castle. With the tides of irrevocable change rising, Drew must find a way to show Char that even the most selfish of rakes can be redeemed by love before the woman of his heart becomes the wife of another.

A Summons From the Duke
Regency Christmas Summons Collection 2

In JERRICA KNIGHT-CATANIA’s Loving Mister Lockwell, Lady Isabel Whitton has no use for people other than her twin sister -- she much prefers the company of her books. So when she discovers that all her cousins from near and far have been summoned to her home, Danby Castle, for Christmas, she isn't pleased. To make matters even worse, the deplorable Mister Lockwell has come uninvited. * Damien Lockwell, 3rd son of the Earl of Totterdown, has invited himself to Yorkshire for Christmas. Spending the holiday with the Whittons seems far preferable to watching his father drink himself into a stupor. And Lady Isabel proves to be just the kind of entertainment he was looking for -- she's smart as a whip and quite the most unique creature he's ever met -- not to mention she despises him, which is the most thrilling part of all for a man like Damien.
~ * ~
In LILIA BIRNEY’s A Second Chance For Christmas, Philip Whitton has been summoned back home by his grandfather after a wastrel existence in Italy, studying music and trying to forget his first love. Emily Barlow, nee Ware, is picking up the pieces of her shattered existence following her husband's death. Thrown together by chance on the road back home to Danby, Emily and Philip rekindle the flames of their old passion. Will the fire burn itself out like it did before, or are they ready to follow their hearts and live out the truth of their love?
~ * ~
In SAMANTHA GRACE’s Twice Upon a Time - since her father’s untimely death, Felicity Halliday has relied on the medical knowledge learned at his side to treat London’s most disreputable in order to support her family. Life has been hard, but everything changes the night she is snatched from an alley behind a theatre and tossed into a nobleman’s carriage. * It has been less than a fortnight since Julian Beckford returned to London after a sojourn in India, and he’s already up to his top-boots in one of his cousin’s mad schemes. When his foolish cousin decides to engage an actress to play his wife over the holidays at Danby Castle, Julian becomes an unwilling party to the lady’s abduction. Along their journey to Yorkshire, Julian makes a stunning discovery about his cousin's pretend wife....and finds it’s possible to love Twice Upon a Time.

A Summons From the Castle
Regency Christmas Summons Collection 3

In CATHERINE GAYLE’s An Unintended Journey, Abby Goddard’s life is going along just swimmingly, apart from the disappearance of her life’s love—Wesley Cavendish, a man well above her station. Just before Christmas, Grandmama dies after revealing the identity of Abby’s grandfather. The Duke of Danby, no less. Now the entire family will travel to Yorkshire to confront Danby, hoping to gain a dowry for Abby. But then Wesley reemerges, sparking a hope Abby thought long destroyed. * Shall the prodigal son’s sole inheritance be an unsightly gash? Wesley Cavendish aspires to the political realm, despite his father’s near-murderous opposition…not to mention his opposition to Abby Goddard. But since Father died, will the new Earl of Fordingham rescind Father’s disgraceful allegations? Fordingham thwarts Wesley at every turn, threatening marriage to a prominent Tory family—which precludes Abby—to put an end to Wesley’s Whig involvement…unless Wesley can find a loophole.
~ * ~
In SUZIE GRANT’s A Caribbean Jewel for Christmas, blackmailed by a British Naval Commander, Captain Randall Whitton, a smuggler with a penchant for gold is rescued by Jewel Derington, a feisty plantation owner and the very woman who betrayed him in the jungles of Barbados. Escaping danger has never been so thrilling. Together they are drawn into a political game of winner takes all from which only his grandfather, the Duke of Danby, can rescue them.

 * Fascinated by the glitter of his Caribbean Jewel, Randall's lust for gold soon fades. His quest to tame this fiery treasure catapults them both into an adventure where the stakes are higher and the prize greater than either of them have ever dared dream.
~ * ~
In CHRISTI CALDWELL’s Winning a Lady’s Heart, for Lady Alexandra being the source of a cold, calculated wager is bad enough....but when it is waged by Nathaniel Michael Winters, 5th Earl of Pembroke, the man she's in love with, it results in a broken heart, the scandal of the season, and a summons from her grandfather--the Duke of Danby. To escape Society's gossip, she hurries to her meeting with the duke , determined to put memories of the earl far behind. Except the duke has other plans for Alexandra....plans which include the 5th Earl of Pembroke!

A Summons From His Grace
Regency Christmas Summons Collection 4

In JANE CHARLES’s Compromised for Christmas, Miss Elizabeth Whitton craved excitement and adventure. Unwilling to endure one boring Season after another, she convinces her uncle in the Home Office to let her work for him. * John Phillip Trent has been spying for the Home Office in the stables of Tuileries as Jean Pierre Bouvier for more than two years, his only English contact – Lisette Renard a servant girl inside the palace. * When a summons from the Duke of Danby slips through the proper channels, both Elizabeth and John’s covers are compromised. To escape the palace and France with their lives, they’ll have to depend on each other and the miracle of Christmas.
~ * ~
In OLIVIA KELLY’s It Could Only Be You, Harry Connelly has crossed an ocean and pushed his half-healed, battle weary body to its limits to confront the man who stole the life he should have had; his grandfather, the Duke of Danby. Wounded, Harry collapses in a small village’s church, and is nursed back to health by the vicar's beautiful daughter, Lily Beaumont. A man haunted by the demons of war, he should know better than to become involved with such an innocent but he cannot stay away from her. Harry's forced to make a decision. He can wield his decades old anger and bitterness against his grandfather, to compel him to acknowledge the damage he caused, and demand that the duke make monetary amends. Or he can turn his back on the past, and create a future with the woman he is beginning to think he cannot live without.
~ * ~
In PHYLLIS CAMPBELL’s Becoming a Lady, Dorothy Paxton is not pleased when a handsome Englishman walks into her inn and announces he's taking her back to England to reunite with the grandfather who turned his back on her years ago. Her escort, Calvin Seton, bribes her by paying her brother's doctor's bills, and soon she's on the ship sailing for London. Little by little, Calvin's charm softens her heart. While her lady's companion teaches her to become a lady, Dorothy is secretly wishing Mr. Seton would do some teaching of his own...in his bedroom. Yet she must control her desires or she's no better than her mother who succumbed to a nobleman, only to have him leave her. Dorothy will not repeat history. Or will she?

December 1812 ~ the powerful Duke of Danby has summoned all of his wayward grandchildren home for the holidays. If you could summon anyone home for this holiday season who would it be? OR where would you like to be summoned?
Comment below with your email address for an entry in the Prize Extravaganza drawing held tonight during the live chat.
Prizes include:

1 $79 Kindle from Amazon
•1 of 3 $50 gift cards (2 from Amazon, 1 from Barnes and Noble)
•1 of 3 $25 gift cards (2 from Amazon, 1 from Barnes and Noble)
•1 complete set of Catherine Gayle's LORD ROTHEBYS INFLUENCE series
•1 complete set of Ava Stone's SCANDALOUS series
•1 of 2 copies of Jerrica Knight-Catania's THE ROBBER BRIDE
•1 copy of Suzie Grant's FOR THE SAKE OF SIN
•1 copy of Suzie Grant's THE DEVILS DAUGHTER
•1 copy of Suzie Grant's WRONG KIND OF PARADISE
•1 complete set of Jane Charles's ONCE UPON A TIME trilogy
•1 copy of Jane Charles's TO WALK IN THE SUN
•1 copy of Aileen Fish's THE MISTLETOE MISHAP
•1 copy of Phyllis Campbell's SPANISH EYES
•1 copy of Phyllis Campbell's QUEEN OF HEARTS

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Meaning of a Gift.

At Christmas I think it is especially important to remember the true meaning of a gift. I know you probably think you already know what a gift is, but do you really? Ask yourself this: if you woke up Christmas morning and there was nothing under the Christmas tree for you but a lump of coal would you be disappointed, sad or angry?

I bet many of you would be angry. As a society, we have come to expect Christmas gifts. Is this the true meaning of a gift, one that we expect because we think we deserve it? I think not. A gift is something given just because someone thought of you. It is unexpected and when received, no matter what it is, it is appreciated.

Because in my own life, I see that I sometimes forget the true meaning of a gift, I have really been contemplating this lately as I buy gifts for Christmas.  Recently, I heard a speaker who really drove home some points for me that I would like to share with you. 

Here are five red flags that you have misplaced the true meaning of a gift:

1. You make a gift list on Amazon and get irritated when someone buys you something other than what’s on your list. How dare they! Really? How dare YOU! A gift is not something you pick out and say, buy me this. A TRUE gift is something someone else has taken the time to think of, found, and given to you especially because they think you will appreciate it.

2. You buy someone a gift simply because they bought you one. Yes, that’s polite, but that is not the true spirit of gift giving. Tit for tat is not what it’s about. Christmas should not be like a game of Risk. You bought me a gift, so I need to buy you one or my ship is sunk. If someone unexpected bought you a gift be appreciative, but don’t feel you must rush out and buy them a gift just because they bought you one.

3. You judge a person by the amount they spent on you. Naughty-naughty. Be glad there is someone in this world who simply thought of you and be grateful and thankful for that.

4. You use gift giving as a way to make your children behave. I am so guilty of this, but I am really trying to stop this terrible habit. What are we teaching our children if we teach them that if they are good they will get a gift. No, no, no. Gifts are given out of pure love.

5. You don’t realize the best gift is one of time, understanding, love and friendship. Don’t think every gift must cost money. Give the gift of time. Call an old friend, your parents, or your grandparents.

Spend time you don’t think you have with your children, friends and family. You can do it. I spent two hours yesterday playing electronic Battleship with my two young children. It was a great gift of love and laughter that they gave to ME!

Happy Gift Giving!

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

7 tips to Survive an Aussie Christmas!

1. Forget Snow, toss out the winter woolies
The closest I get to a white Christmas is watching Love Actually on DVD or listening to Bing Crosby crooning at my mum’s house. Bikinis and boardies are often the norm for kids on Christmas Day. And yes, I do feel silly singing Christmas carols sometimes. Those lyrics are just so wrong for us.

2. Forget roasting chestnuts on an open fire
Hey, total fire ban, man. Gotta act responsibly when you’re down under or face the wrath of the firemen and Santa when they come around with lollies for the kids. Not even a slab of beer as thanks for their hard work would get you out of a fine.

3. Did I mention it gets hot?
Historical Temps for December have ranged from 26.8C to 42.2C. That’s 82F to 108F. We rarely get to the cooler end of the scale - sometimes the nights don’t feel any cooler either. What you want on a Christmas day is a good stiff breeze, air conditioning, or some place to get really wet!

4. About the tree ...
As far as I can tell, we pretty much all use the fake Christmas tree on this side of the world. Eucalypts are the dominant tree and they just look odd with glittery balls attached. Mine comes out each 1st December then gets packed away by the end of the month. I honestly can’t remember seeing a real tree at Christmas.

5. Carols by Candlelight
Picnicing at night while listening to carols and watching the fireworks is an amazing experience over here. Mind you, if you have kids you are AMAZINGLY glad to get them back home again when it’s all over.

6. The Long Christmas Lunch or the Day of Frenzy
In my experience, there are two kinds of Christmas Day. The one where you’re on the road from dawn, after wrenching your sleepy/grumpy kids from bed, and don’t get home till dark. And the proper one where you are queen of all you survey, eat one meal that stretches forever and even get to have that much needed nana nap in the afternoon. Never mind that you’ve probably eaten too much. Thanks to point 3 (above), you’ve already sweated off the added pounds. LOL

7. Drink, Drink, Drink Drink Responsibly
Aussies are pretty good drinkers but you should know the risks of trying to keep up. There is always the chance of a booze bus (Random Breath Testing) around the next bend in the road to ensure you lose your drivers license.

For those of you staying in or braving the frenzy this Christmas season, enjoy yourself and take special care on the roads. Merry Christmas!

Heather Boyd - Lady Wicked

Monday, December 12, 2011

Top 5 Ways to Stay Sane During the Holidays

The span of time between mid-November and about January 5th is the WORST time of year for me. Not that I don't love it -- I do. It's just that it can be such a stressful time, what with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, my anniversary, my birthday, my daughter's birthday (which also happens to be Christmas Day, so she has three parties in the month of December! That's her at her b'day party yesterday with a chocolate goatee!), Christmas Day, New Years and all the tons of traveling we have to do.

Now, I know I'm not the only one stressed out about all the stuff going on at this time of year. I'm sure there are some of you who get to stay home, cuddle by the fire with your loved ones and watch It's a Wonderful Life on TV while you exchange a few meaningful gifts over hot cocoa. But for the rest of us, it's go time!!

So for those of us who have no choice but to run around like chickens with our heads cut off, here are my stay-sane tips for the holidays...

1) Drink....lots of alcohol! If it weren't for the booze, I'd be ripping everyone's heads off. I know, I probably sound like an alcoholic, but I promise I'm not. And I am NOT suggesting you "tie one on" every night! But just a half glass of wine or a light beer at the end of the day can really help take the edge off. Or, if you're feeling more festive, try whipping up a Mexicocoa! Click on the pic to get the recipe...

2) Go to your Happy Place...in your mind, at least. Hubby and I are taking a few days to head to the Caribbean in January. I cannot WAIT. But since I have to, I try to go there in my mind when I'm feeling stressed and annoyed with holiday shoppers who seem to have lost any semblance of human decency. I close my eyes and picture myself swaying gently in a hammock under a palm tree, with a fruity cocktail in my hand (don't worry -- it's always after noon in my visions.)

3) Blow Sh*t Up...as our own Suzie Grant would say. Not for real, silly! For pretend! Find a video game, whether for your XBox, iPhone...whatever...that will let you take your frustrations out on zombies rather than on real people. Or even just a fun game that let's you escape into another world for a bit. I, personally, have gotten hooked on Holiday Town for my iPhone/iPad.

4) Buy Presents...for yourself! I'm really big on rewarding myself for a job well done, and if I get through a trip to the mall without tackling some crazy biatch to the ground, well, I think I deserve a prize, don't you?? Nothing big. It can be as small as a gourmet candy bar (Dylan's candy bars are amazing!), a tube of lip gloss, a yummy smoothie or a pair of fuzzy socks :) Whatever you're feeling in the moment, go for it! You'll feel much better, I promise!

5) Screw It! Seriously. Sometimes, you just have to blow off the 130th holiday party and choose to stay home. There's nothing more important than your health -- both mental and physical -- so stop worrying about who you might be disappointing and just take a night off, for goodness sake! The world won't end because you missed it.

Whatever you do, have a safe and wonderful holiday season! Oh, and don't forget to leave your own tips for surviving the holidays! Leave a comment and be entered to win a prize in the Christmas Summons Prize Extravaganza!!

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Friday, December 9, 2011

Interview with author Callie Hutton

Please help me welcome a wonderful author Callie Hutton!

Callie’s been making up stories in her head since elementary school, and writing since she learned to type in high school. 
She loves falling in love, did it herself, and now enjoys writing about it. And yes, she falls in love with all her heroes.

Although she’s lived in several states, Oklahoma is where she’s hung her hat for the last several years, but she originally hails from New Jersey. An Okie-Jersey girl. And proud of it.

Her hubby supports all her ventures, truly being the wind beneath her wings. They have three children, with two still at home. And they’re happy their two dogs allow them to share their home.

What genre(s) do you write? I write Historical Romance, primarily. I have a contemporary novella coming out with TWRP in 2012.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Both. I do a character sketch, and a brief outline of the book before I start. But I don’t follow it exactly, and change as I go along. By the middle of the book, I have a pretty good idea how the rest of it will go, although that can always change.

Why do you think people should choose your books over another author? Because I write the type of story that is both funny and serious in parts. When I re-read my manuscripts, I find myself laughing and crying even though I wrote it.

What do you hope readers take with them after reading one of your stories? I hope they take away a good feeling with them. I love a book or movie that makes me smile at the end, and say “Aww.” I hope readers will react that way to mine.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? I tend to write about strong women who want a man who loves them for themselves. As I said in one of my books, he loves her because of her peculiarities, not in spite of them. My heroes don’t always recognize that in the beginning, but by the end…they know.

How long have you been a writer? Since I could hold a pencil. I made up stories in my head since I was a child.  It was how I lulled myself to sleep. Some nights I was anxious to go to bed so I could continue my story. Even now I’ll make up stories about people when I’m in a crowd. Although I’ve had articles published over the years, it wasn’t until last summer that I decided to write a book.

Please tell us 5 miscellaneous facts about yourself.
·         I once interviewed Peter Lawford for a magazine.
·         I was an ‘extra’ in a Bette Midler movie.
·         My first published story was in a magazine from Scotland.
·         I’ve lived in seven states.
·         I read over 200 books a year.

Please leave a comment with your email to win a digital copy of Callie's new book!

You can find Callie at www.calliehutton.com, or on facebook https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Callie-Hutton/206166449404454

A Wife by Christmas

High School Principal Max Colbert needs to get rid of that pesky History teacher, Ellie Henderson. Getting her married off is the perfect solution, except everyone he introduces her to doesn’t seem right.
            In 1906 Guthrie, Oklahoma, History teacher, Ellie Henderson, has been a thorn in High School Principal Max Colbert’s side ever since he took over three months ago. When she’s not flying by his office, late for her class, with books and papers jumbled in her arms, she’s attending Suffragettes meetings against his orders.
            Because of her family connections, he can’t fire her, but he can certainly find someone to marry her, and keep her busy in the kitchen. And far away from his school. Max soon finds that what seemed like a good idea can turn into disaster when Miss Ellie Henderson is involved. The woman is a master at getting into trouble.
            With the Christmas season in full swing, he has many opportunities to introduce her to prospective husbands. However, the uncomfortable feeling is growing that no one is worthy of the minx…


Max Colbert glared at the woman perched on the edge of the chair across from him.  History teacher Ellie Henderson had been a thorn in his side the size of the Oklahoma sky ever since he’d been appointed principal of Logan County High School three months ago.
She sat there, humming. Humming! His gut twisted and he clenched his jaw.  Drat the woman for being so unconcerned while he fumed.  It was important to get his emotions under control, needed his years of experience to kick in.  He took a deep breath and leaned forward.  “Miss Henderson, your unapproved activities have gone too far. I am going to have to fire you.”
            Ellie’s right eyebrow rose, meeting him glare for glare. “No. You can’t.”
            “Yes I can, and I am.” Blood rushed to his face.
            She stood and placed both palms on his desk, and leaned in. “I will tell my Uncle Jesse.”
            Max pushed his chair back and got to his feet. He moved close enough to see the light dusting of freckles across her nose. “It won’t make any difference.”
            “It will if you plan to be Territorial Superintendent of Schools.” They were now almost nose-to-nose.
            Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. “I will get that job on my own merit.”
Not without Senator Jesse Cochran’s endorsement.”  Her hazel eyes narrowed.
His jaw tightened, his mouth working as if to say something. Then like a rag doll, he collapsed into his seat and leaned back, eyes closed. “Miss Henderson, you are a pebble in my shoe.”
            “And you, Mr. Colbert, are a horse’s behind.”
            He opened one eye. She again sat primly on the edge of her seat, adjusting her skirts.  The two red dots on her cheeks the only indication of her anger.
“You may leave now,” he said through gritted teeth.
            Ellie bowed her head slightly. “As you wish.” She stood, smoothed back the hair always loose from her bun.  With head held high, she sailed from the room, closing the door softly. Her skirt stuck in the door. She re-opened it, yanked the skirt, and banged the door shut.
Max winced at the sound. His left eye twitched.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Make it Work

Tim Gunn's onto something, you know?

If you don't watch Project Runway, what's wrong with you? Oops, I meant to say: if you don't watch Project Runway, Tim Gunn is the aspiring fashion designers' mentor. He delivers them their challenges, tells them the constraints they'll be working within ("You have $10 and 1.25 hours for this challenge of designing an avant garde showpiece."), and comes in during their work time to talk things through with them, giving his honest take on what is working and what isn't working. And, inevitably, at some point during every episode he'll say, "Make it work."

It's a simply phrase, a simple concept, but a difficult thing to put into action. Still, whenever I get frustrated with whatever project where I've bitten off more than I think I can chew, or when I write myself into a corner that I can't see the way out of, or when I am too easily distracted by things in my current writing venue to concentrate--any time any of those things happen, I hear Tim's voice in my head saying, "Make it work."

I used to just let those frustrations get the best of me. I'd set the writing project aside and say I couldn't fix it. I'd go for weeks or months without writing, because I was "stuck." I'd tell myself that my idea was too big, too bold, something that another writer was capable of but not me.

That's not really the best way of handling these things, though. Or so I've found.

You see, just because the idea is something unfamiliar and not one I've tackled before, that doesn't mean I can't do it, and do it well, and make it work within the niche I've carved for myself even if, on the surface, it doesn't seem like a good fit. It just means I've got to get creative and make it work.

Just because I've written myself into a corner doesn't mean I can't figure out a better solution, if I sit down (maybe with a trusted CP or two) and talk it through. And it doesn't even mean that I have to immediately toss 20+ pages of hard work. It just means that I've got to buckle down, put my nose to the grindstone as my Grandpa always used to tell me, and make it work.

Just because there are distractions where I'm currently working doesn't mean I can't change locations and find somewhere new to work. Too many things going on at home? Try Starbucks. Too expensive/loud/crowded/etc. at Starbucks? Try the local library. Too quiet/stuffy/stale at the library? Try the park/mall/a friend's house while they're at work if they'll give you a key. The key is to recognize what the problem is before it becomes too much of a problem, and then make it work.

Why am I writing about this right now? I've been in a funk, and trying to convince myself that the problem is one of those things listed above, or one of countless other excuses for not getting my writing done. In reality, though, I've just got to make it work.

Thank you, Tim Gunn.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gifts That Keep Giving

This year my husband and I told our children we wouldn’t be having an extravagant Christmas. Not that we ever have really extravagant Christmases, but I always find myself wondering as the time draws closer if the kids have enough to open. I know it’s a ridiculous thought, and all I need to do is stand at the threshold of their bedrooms to realize they have an overabundance of “enough”. Yet, that gnawing feeling returns every year. Do they have enough?

When I think back to Christmases when I was a child, I remember opening many presents Christmas morning. It was always exciting. I can, however, only name a handful of things I received: a bicycle with a basket and streamers on the handles, a Barbie Dream House, and later, a ten speed bike. My favorite was the Dream House.

My son was just informing me yesterday Barbie is bad for young girls’ body images, because it is physically impossible to be built like a Barbie. Thank goodness, because an inability to bend your elbows and forever walking barefoot on your tippy-toes must get pretty uncomfortable. (I can’t be the only one who lost one of Barbie’s shoes within the first 10 minutes of bringing her home.) But tossing political correctness out the window for the moment—Oh, wait! I already did that—the Barbie Dream House was awesome.

I created my first love stories in that three storied building that was as tall as I was. Let’s just say it saw a lot of smooching, on the cheek, that is. Oooh, and love in an elevator. Again, very innocent expressions of affection. Of course most of the stories involved a love triangle. How could it not with only one guy? Barbie was the heroine, Ken was the hero, and Marie Osmond was the villainess. I’m sorry, Marie. I absolutely adore you, but your doll only had one dress. It was lovely, and secretly Barbie envied that sparkly, purple ensemble that didn’t fit her freakishly unnatural figure, but if you wear the same clothes all the time, people are going to start talking.

In my early stories, Barbie, Francie, PJ, Malibu Barbie and an assortment of other Barbies I can’t remember never wanted to include Marie. At first, it seemed to be a result of Marie being mean to them, but eventually, the truth became apparent. Barbie and her blonde minions were acting like rabid pack animals. (Speaking of blonde minions... Did anyone else ever think Skipper was a result of an indiscretion in Barbie's younger years? Sister, my foot! Why did she live with Barbie? I never heard anything about their parents.) I saw their behavior as deplorable, and I wanted to cry on Marie’s behalf. I consoled Marie and promised I wouldn’t allow the mean girls to treat her badly again. In a later story, she’s the one that got the guy.

The Barbie Dream House wasn’t the real gift my parents gave me. It was simply the tool to manifest just two of the gifts that have stayed with me a lifetime: creativity and compassion.

The other day I remembered a true a story from when I was five years old. I loved to be outside in our large yard. It was filled with irises and lovely hiding spots created by bushes and trees. In my imagination, it was my pasture. I rode my horse, her mane flowing, my hair blowing in the wind, in search of magical treasures and fairies. I had the best time galloping across the grass, slapping my hands against my thighs to create the sound of horse’s hooves.

One day a little girl who came to visit her grandmother regularly came over to play horses with me. Her grandmother’s house was behind ours and shared a fence. We laughed and reveled in the joy of being young, energetic, and dreamy. It was a great day. But the next time I invited her over to play, she said something my five year old brain never forgot. “My grandma said I can play, but I can’t be running around flapping my arms like a chicken.” I was so hurt by this soured woman who probably never knew an ounce of joy her entire existence.

Later, I went to my mom and cautiously brought up what the lady had said. I was looking to her to see if it was okay to have an imagination. Was it okay to dream and live in the moment? She didn’t disappointment me. Instead she gave me one of the greatest gifts in life. Not only did she give me permission to indulge my creative side, she taught me that I didn’t have to allow other people’s beliefs or opinions to limit me. Now I look back and feel very sorry for my friend. I hope she had other people in her life that encouraged her like I did.

This memory made me wonder if my worries about whether my kids have enough at Christmas is really concern about if they will get all the things they really need for a full life. Will they know how to love well, work hard, and laugh even harder? Will they see the good in others? Will they recognize the value of friendship, loyalty, and compromise? At the end of the day, will they feel like enough?

Honestly, I think the answers are all yes. We have amazingly bright children with hearts of gold, which I think my husband and I can only take partial credit for. Our children are surrounded by loving family devoted to giving them the true gifts in life and in turn, our children have become gifts that keeps giving.

What gifts of a lifetime did you receive as a child? If you're a parent, what gifts do you hope to give your own child?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tis the Season For Ugly Sweaters!

Last weekend I received this little gem in my in-box from one of my favorite restaurant (no need to bring finger foods):

Close fascimile (always wanted to use that description)
Would I go? Of course! Hot Builder as my date? Check! Fugalicious Sweater? Uh...hm...er...Not exactly. 

I had no idea where I'd get such a thing.  So, I scoured the internet for hours, looking for just the right inspiration. Those faint of heart, stylish or perpetually queasy of stomach, I would advise you to quit reading. Right. Now.

This is a seriously hawt look. 

Snoop Dogg just lost some doggy years.

For the love of God don't look below Colin Firth's shoulders.

What is he doing for her to make *that* face?

Apparently, Ugly Christmas Sweaters are a Big Deal, because there are websites dedicated for such an occasion. Here are a sampling:
  • These guys claim to have the largest selection of  Ugly Christmas Sweaters
  • Sweaters are sorted into three categories: ugly, really ugly and butt ugly.
  • They're drinking more than just hot chocolate and eggnog at the North Pole.

Here's what Hot Builder picked to wear:
Understated but festive

As for me, I settled on this:
I'm a nonconformist.

What's the craziest, tackiest or just plain ugliest Christmas Sweater you've ever seen or *gasp* worn? Thanks for stopping by!