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31 posts from December 2008

December 31, 2008

Listing Slightly

Typewriter_john_olsen_01 Listing Slightly

By Elaine Viets

Margie said if I didn't do a list for List Week at The Lipstick Chronicles, I'd be at the top of her list, which is not where I want to be Number 1. So here goes. I’m writing TLC's 1,265 blog. Our backbloggers have chimed in with almost 38,000 comments. I’d get the exact number, but you guys won’t shut up.

Sarah, Nancy and Harley were the TLC founders, and I joined after Susan McBride left. I’m glad they invited me. Some of you are old friends I knew when I lived in St. Louis. Others, as Mary Lynn once said, are new friends I’ve never met. Here are my:

Ten Good Reasons I Like Being a Mystery Writer

(10) I get to be part of this cool blog.

(9) I know a lot of professional secrets, including "the small penis defense."

The people in my books do not resemble anyone, living or dead. My agent and lawyer told me to say that. Some mystery writers have bad guys who bear an amazing resemblance to former bosses and boyfriends. These writers have disguised real people so well only their 234,789 closest friends recognize the villains. They use what we in the trade call the "small penis defense."

Let’s say I am a Famous Mystery Writer, and I want to make my former newspaper editor into a serial killer as a petty act of revenge. He deserves it, after the havoc he wreaked on my brilliant work.

Naturally, I don’t want to be caught. I describe the guy so faithfully a blind person could see him (meaning no disrespect to the visually impaired) and then give the bozo a small penis. My coworkers and I called him the Dickless Wonder, because of the way he defended us to management. We know no man will go into a court and admit he’s the guy with the small penis in my book.

Except it happens. DW sues me for damage to his professional reputation. I argue that the damage is small. DW makes a passionate appeal to the court.

"Your Honor," DW says, "this alleged writer has ruined my life, using a thinly disguised version of me in her book. I am a serial killer who buried four bodies in my garden. But I only killed insurance executives who denied cancer victims’ claims. And I created something beautiful from their worthless lives. They provided mulch for my prizewinning roses. I was beautifying my neighborhood when that Famous Mystery Writer destroyed my reputation by saying I have a . . ." (lowers voice to a whisper) "small thingie. It’s not true, Your Honor, and I will show you."

The DW unzips to horrified gasps from the spectators. The judge demands silence while he examines the evidence.

"Famous Writer is indeed correct, DW," the judge said. "You must pay all court costs. You are guilty of  . . . inadequate exposure."

Oops, we’re running short on space. Back to why I like being a mystery writer:

(8) I work at home.

While my friends battle traffic to get to their offices, I make the grueling trek across the living room to my office. Oops! Watch that pileup by the couch. Those magazines need to be recycled.

(7) I save money on dry cleaning.

Just toss that bathrobe in the washing machine.

(6 ) Interesting people help me with my work.

Poison experts, medical professionals and police officers have all helped. I’ve called my pathologist friend, Cutup Katie, and asked her, "Can you kill someone with a wine bottle?"

"Full or empty?" she’ll say. Anyone else would call the police.

(5) I know all the FedEx locations in a five-mile radius, and which ones have Saturday pickup.

Got to get those manuscripts to New York on time.

(4) I talk about literary issues with other writers.

We discuss story arcs, the price of box wine, and why that total sellout @##$% got a multimillion dollar advance when we’re so much better.

(3) I can curl up with a good mystery – and say it’s research.

(2) My husband is the safest man in South Florida.

He knows if anything happens to him, I’m the chief suspect.

And the number one reason:

I get away with murder – at least in fiction.

December 30, 2008

Power Outages

By Sarah


You can thank a power outage for the late posting of this blog. For some reason, ever since my technically inclined 20-year-old nephew came to visit, our modem has been on the fritz and I’ve been going nuts. I don’t want to blame him, but I can’t help it. Could it be that he’s downloading huge files? Negotiating with the Chinese?

Experiences like this, minor inconveniences, really, illustrate how wedded our family has become to the internet. With the modem down, we sat scratching our heads trying to figure out the conditions at Sugarbush for skiing. (Call a friend who went the day before never occurred to us.) Ditto for finding a phone number. We were at a loss realizing we couldn’t just type in someone’s name and city, having forgotten the tattered phonebook in the drawer.

So pathetic.

And to think that twelve years ago we knew nothing about going online. I remember a book I bought about how to go on the World Wide Web. It was as thick as three phonebooks and required me to type in all sort of TCP numbers into my Mac. Even so, it was dialup and took forever. What we got, as I recall, was a very basic Yahoo! web page, glorious by our standards. I felt like Alexander Graham Bell calling Watson when, after trial and error, that first SoVerNet page slowly scrolled down the screen. Eureka.

“They’re like billboards,” a friend told us, in trying to describe web pages. I remember thinking of the Web as some dark highway with Yahoo! and Gov.Net popping up in the distance. (This was before Google or even – gasp – Amazon.)

Come to think of it, how did we live without the Internet?

How did people find out about books? Through newspapers, I suppose, or word of mouth. One of the great luxuries of being a newspaper reporter was the ability to read the “wire” as it came across on big machines that had to be kept in cooled rooms. Sunday morning after a neglected Saturday night could mean walking into a room of paper filled with random bits of current events – from the weather to Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

Now, of course, everyone can read the “wire” instantly. The cooled rooms are gone as is the paper and, frankly, I believe that’s a good thing.  There’s a lot of moaning and hair pulling about what’s happening to newspapers and books, but people are losing sight of the issue. All that’s changing is the medium. The message is still the same. Newspapers may no longer be printed on paper. That doesn’t mean the news stops. Content will out.

The same goes for books. Will we ten years from now be buying bound paper? Maybe. (It is, after all, a medium that’s lasted 500 years.) My guess is we’ll be reaching for a more instant form – ebooks – that will provide convenience while eliminating romance. However, there’s a lot to be said for ducking into a bookstore on a rainy day with a new date, a potential love. I’m afraid that sitting on the couch and clicking through the Kindle can’t compare to pressing a book into the hand of a new interest and earnestly suggesting that he/her read it because it meant so much.

In the meantime, we live in a hybrid world, not quite sure where all this is going. How, for example, will cookbooks exist when Epicurious lists hundreds of recipes to which readers continually update with comments and improvements? Why buy a whole CD when we want to hear only one song? (This, my musician friends tell me, is the downfall of music. How many of us bought the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls to hear Miss You when we ended up falling in love with Shattered? The beauty of buying whole albums was that it forced you to listen to the other work.)

Or, for that matter, why use a phonebook when a quick online search will suffice?

Oh, right. Those power outages. That’s one thing about books – no energy necessary.



P.S. Sorry, Margie, for not turning this blog into a list. Having just now been able to get online, I didn't get the memo in time. Hope you're enjoying those bath salts I got you for Xmas. Errr,they were bath salts, you know.


December 29, 2008

Guatemalan Worry People

This is List Week at The Lipstick Chronicles. At least, that’s the memo I got, but Margie’s on a ChristmasHannukahFestivusKwanzaaNewYear party binge, so it remains unconfirmed.

Guatemalan Worry People

by Harley 

Those of you who recall my family’s holiday incident, “The Death of Santa,” earlier this month will not be surprised to learn of its domino effect. Last week my 8-year old daughter found an old note from the Tooth Fairy.

“Mommy,” she said, studying it, “this printing looks like yours.”

I said nothing. My daughter looked up at me.

“It’s you!” she yelled. “Again! Every fairy is you, every Claus is you – is God you?”

“No, no,” I said quickly. “I’m not God.”

I mean, I am God, in an eastern philosophy “you are the Buddha” sort of way. But I like the idea of gigantic guardian angels, goddesses, guys walking on water and St. Joseph of the Realtors. In that context, I’m definitely not God, I’m not even a demigod. My only aliases are the usual triumvirate: Santa, Tooth Fairy, and Easter Bunny. No phony passports or special skills involved, just the planting of toys, money, and jellybeans in the dead of night.

Which brings us to another interesting life form that is not me. Like the Tooth Fairy, this species operates within bed linens. I refer to the Guatemalan Worry People.

My friend Margaret gave them to me for Christmas. They are one inch tall, of indeterminate gender, dressed in perky little outfits. They come in a tiny box with instructions no larger than a fortune cookie fortune, which read:

Guatemalan Worry People

There is a story that when the Maya Indians of Guatemala have worries, they tell them to worry people and then put them under their pillows at night. By morning, the worry people have taken their worries away.

I figure the Mayans, with their advanced system of hieroglyphics, their own calendar, and history of human sacrifice, know from stress. If this cure works for the Mayans, that’s good enough for me.

And you! Since the Guatemalan Worry People come six to a box, I’d like to share the effects. It’s one of the many services we at TLC provide. Give me your best worries and I’ll put them under my pillow this week along with the Guatemalan Worry People. We will then report our findings to the N.I.H.

Here are the ground rules: no global warming or mortgage crisis anxieties, please. No world hunger, North Korea, natural disasters. These are valid worries, but they are outside the scope of this blog. Let’s remember that the Guatemalan Worry People are the size of paper clips. Give me your tiny worries, the ones you can’t fix through legislation, volunteering at soup kitchens, or sleeping with dictators.

I’ll start.

1.     The worry that one day hair will grow in my ears.

2.     The worry that letting my children watch “I, Carly” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” will lead to diminished capacity in the prefrontal cortex.

3.     The worry that not flossing every day will give me a heart attack.

4.     The worry that they’ll never make the sequel to The Golden Compass and I’ll never find out what happens.

5.     The worry that, speaking of Blond Bond, they wore him out with too many stunts in Quantum of Solace, and not enough sex, and he won’t want to do the next one.

6.     The worry that Jen still pines for Brad, that Brangelina can't be getting enough sleep, producing new children every four months, that Britney will never get her act together, and that Madonna will never find happiness, despite the Kabala and truly amazing muscle tone.

Your turn!



December 28, 2008

The Dead Fish Rule

The Dead Fish Rule

By Anonymous

Images There are good sides and not-so-good sides to Christmas falling on the middle of the week. More time to prepare, more time to clean up, more time off from work. 

And therein lies the not-so-good side.

An extra weekend means extra houseguests. Not that we don't love to see them....we do! We love the greeting and eating, reliving the memories and catching up on each others lives. As for catching the viruses they've brought into the house? That, not so much.

For some reason, this winter has been deadly for the stomach flu. (Yes, yes, we know it's not really a flu.) Personally, I blame it, as I do everything these days, on global warming. A vicious cold snap trapped everyone indoors and then a bizarre thaw provided a fertile, humid ground on which to grow the nasty buggers. All we know is that as soon as our much anticipated houseguests arrived, they announced they were ill. Or, worse, they got ill. In our bathrooms.

Of course, being naturally gracious, one does not pinch one's nose and direct the treasured houseguest to the nearest hotel. Though, in the case of one Tart, the stricken visitor had the good sense to check in a nearby Best Western beforehand. (Said Tart, oddly, created a festive "barf bucket" for the guest complete with tea, ginger ale, Coke syrup, Lysol and Star Magazine.)

And we do feel sorry for them, honestly. Bad enough to be ill; far worse to be so ill so far from home.

Yet... One cannot help feeling a twinge of trepidation, or in the instance of the stomach bug, dreaded anticipation of one's own destiny with nausea thanks to its violent contagiousness.

Therefore, the question of the day is how does one handle such matters delicately and with tact?

Or does one just wait for the fish to be thrown out after three days?

And tell us how you've survived your worst houseguest moments. Did they refuse to leave? Did they bring twelve snotty children? A smelly dog? Cantankerous Uncle Albert?

After all, misery does love company. And, in our case, vice versa.




December 27, 2008

How Did You Find Us?

How Did You Find Us?

By Sarah

It's the weekend between the holidays, so I thought this might be a good time to dish on some secrets we here at TLC have been hiding from you, our valuable and trusted readers. For example, as with most Wizard of oz blogs, ours has a "control panel" allowing us to monitor activity on the site including how many hits we're getting at any given hour and how people are linking to us.

This, I'm afraid to admit, is my newest addiction - clicking on the google.com/search links that brought you here.

While many of you have TLC bookmarked (thank you!) or you've been able to find us through our individual website links, there is a vast, unexplainable and partially weird population out there that comes to us by accident after running a search on Google. How weird? Here are some examples from yesterday's blog about Festivus:

"Saturday Night Live parody "It's a Wonderful Life" but beat up Potter."

Lipstick fantasies

Private cameras. (This was translated from Arabic. I'm expecting a call from Homeland Security any day now.)

Humpty Dumpty Socks

The Fabulous Moohla

Miss Pigg Pair GlassesPiggy

am I an alpha male?

tacky quacker factory

died waiting for the doc

smarty pants martini recipe (also in Arabic)

And my favorite....

that's why you're the press secretary, boo-boo

Naturally, it being the internet, some are rather blue, as in other links from yesterday:

female boss removed my panty

pi "phi" nude

"Naughty book." (This one came from google.com.vn, whatever language that is.)

Then there are the standbys, most of which are related to Kathy's blogs, it seems - Man law, movies for guys and chick movies.

Kate I wish I'd never written one of my first blogs on Kate Gosselin, star of Jon & Kate Plus 8, before they became famous for something other than demanding the state of Pennsylvania pay for a nurse to help them raise their babies since, according to Kate Gosselin, society had a responsibility to pitch in because the fertility drugs she took result in multiple births. Lucky- or not - for Jon and Kate, their show has been so successful, Medicaid is no longer needed. Though there might be the question of psychiatry bills twenty years hence for their numerous offspring.

That blog received so many hits (and I got so much hate email), I finally removed it.

But the blog that people consistently use to find us? Questions to ask before you get married. On any given day, we get ten or more hits on that. I can't even find the original.

My own question is - is it a good or bad sign that people are turning to the internet for life-altering advice?

So how did you find us? Anyone who can prove they came here through monkey sex steamroller gets the rest of my Christmas cookies.


December 26, 2008

TLC Festivus: The Airing of the Grievances

TLC Festivus: The Airing of the Grievances

By Kathy Sweeney, who spaced and forgot today was Friday, so sorry this is late

Blog frank-costanza festivus Festivus. It's a holiday for the rest of us, and it occurs on December 23rd.  But hey, this holiday season goes on for weeks, so I'm extending Festivus for a couple of days.

More to fill in here after I get this thing posted because I forgot this was my day.  No excuses, just saying.  Okay here is the fill-in part, which is a basic history of Festivus for the uninitiated:

It all started, as many things do, at a Toy Store.  Frank Costanza (the great Jerry Stiller, who played the character on Seinfeld) recounts the life-altering event:

Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.

Thus was born Festivus, a holiday for the rest of us.  The Festivus traditions include the sole decoration of Festivus: a stainless steel pole.  Frank Costanza explains:

Cosmo Kramer: And is there a tree?
Frank Costanza: No, instead, there's a pole. It requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting.
Frank Costanza: It's made from aluminum. Very high strength-to-weight ratio.

As the family sits down to Festivus Dinner, the celebration commences.  More from Frank:

Frank Costanza: And at the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year!
Frank Costanza: The tradition of Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you're gonna hear about it. You, Kruger. My son tells me your company STINKS!
George Costanza: Oh, God.

The Airing of the Grievances is a Festivus Tradition.  Basically, you go around the table and tell people how they pissed you off.  As you can imagine, it can be hilarious, or it can be like the day of the long knives, depending on the crowd, the mood, and the amount of Festivus booze consumed up to that point.

The final Festivus tradition is the Feats of Strength. Traditionally, the head of the household selects one person at the Festivus celebration and challenges that person to a wresting match. The person may decline if they have something else to do, such as pull a double shift at work. Tradition states that Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned in a wrestling match.  We've never done the feats of strength, so I can't share much about that.  In the spirit of Festivus romance, we always leave the pinning of the host to the hostess.  As a result, one almost never hears the host air a grievance about the hostess, since the host is not dumb.

2007 Festivus After a Festivus for the Ages at the Rothenbergs on Tuesday, I decided to share the tradition with our TLC community, or as Mary Lynn said "Great friends I've never met."  I love that.

Plus, today is a weird day - some people are at work but not really doing much, some are at work and tearing their hair out because they have end-of-year stuff that has to get finished, some are shopping, and some are still doing dishes that have to be hand-washed and wondering what possessed them to ever use such a serving piece.

Off we go then.  

Here ye, here ye, oy yea, oy yea, let all stand up and know that this is the official start of the TLC Airing of the Grievances.  The honorable Frank Costanza presiding in absentia.  You may be seated.  Let's all repeat the Airing of the Grievances creed: 

The tradition of Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you're gonna hear about it. 

So it is written so it shall be done.

My first grievance:  To you, Hank Paulson, and your merry band of theives, confidence men, grifters and tellers of lies.  You need to be slapped upside your collective heads, be they bald or furred. And I'm including you, Governor Blog, in this group.

My second grievance: To you, nasty people who need to get a life because you have way too much time on your hands.  This is obvious because you spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about my gay and lesbian friends and who they are kissing.  Go get drunk, let loose and get yourselves laid for a change.  Then re-set your priorities from 'stun' to 'care'.

And my third grievance (for now): To the wingnuts on TV who cancel the good shows.  I sentence you to watching an endless loop of reality TV on those new Virtual Reality goggles until you claw your own eyes out. And THEN you can re-schedule our TV shows.

Ahhh, Can't you just feel the spirit of Festivus?  Your Turn.  Go.

December 25, 2008

Christmas Cheer!

Christmas Cheer!

by Nancy                          Go to fullsize image

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate the holiday! And for those of you who want/need a little extra something to make it through the day or heighten the merry-making, here are some of our favorite de-stressing/enjoy the season/what the-hell-I-deserve it/Let's-get-it-on, Santa, baby!/ How-does-anybody-put-together-these-damn-toys libations.  And, of course, we'd like to hear from you today, so tell us how early in the morning you've ever broken out the holiday beverage of your choice. And what is it that you sip while watching the kiddies open their presents? Hot chocolate? With a dash of Bailey's? Or something else? (Maybe William has a Breakfast Martini?)  Let's hear your ideas, folks.  Or if we don't, we'll know you're celebrating the season just right!

Basic You-Can't-Go-Wrong Mimosa (Hey, it's full of Vitamin C!)

one bottle champagne

one bottle OJ

(Add a dash of orange liqueur if you're feelin' especially frisky.  And here's some music to go along with it.)


The Merry Mama Mimosa (which Margie says is faboo! While you're mixing, here's a video of one of my top ten Christmas songs.)

one bottle champagne

one bottle passion fruit juice

1/2 cup fresh raspberries


Glogg (or is it Glurg? Glopp? Gargle?  For the pyromaniacs in the crowd.  Check out this guy, because I'm not sure he's kidding.)

2 bottles red wine

1 bottle vodka

20 cardamom pods

10 cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

1 orange peel

1 and 1/2 cups slivered almonds

1 and 1/2 cup raisins

10 dried figs

Boil the ingredients in a pot.

Now comes the cool part:  Set the glogg on fire!

While it's burning, put 1 pound of sugar cubes (yes, that's cubes) into a sieve. Then pour the hot liquid over the sugar until all the sugar has melted. (We hear you're supposed to do this with the lights out so the flame looks more spectacular, but honestly, make sure Santa isn't doing the honors because--take it from a kid I dated back in high school--facial hair is flammable.)  Cover the pot to extinguish the flames. Ladle into coffee mugs & serve for some really happy holidays!

And just because I love community theater, here's a clip from Fezziwig's ball, complete with recycled prom gowns and shaky singing. Enjoy the season, everyone!   Go to fullsize image

Merry, merry from the Tarts!



December 24, 2008

Working Your Way Up



Working Your Way Up

By Elaine Viets

My acting career began at age six. Like many actors, I got on my knees for this part. I played the cow in the grade school Christmas pageant.

I wanted to be the Virgin Mary, but that role went to a blonde named Kathy, even though I was pretty sure there were no blue-eyed blondes in Israel that first Christmas. The pageant director, Sister Mary Chandelier, was not interested in authenticity. Kathy got the part and swanned around in blue bedsheets. Kathy faked the angelic look, in my opinion.

Most Christmas pageant actors work their way into better roles, but not me. I never made Virgin Mary, or even a shepherd.

For the boys, Joseph was a great honor, but many weren’t enthusiastic about that role, which required them to stare awestruck at a Betsy Wetsy doll in a shoebox manger. The young Josephs did like the brown beard that did double duty on Lincoln Day.

The Three Wise Men were the coveted guy roles. The Wise Men wore gaudy turbans and carried gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold was usually a spray-painted candy dish. Nobody knew what frankincense was, but it sounded like Frankenstein, which made it cool.

One Wise Man, Jimmy, carried a gigantic two-dollar bottle of bath oil he’d bought for his mother’s birthday at E.J. Korvette. That was the myrrh. The class would have been horrified to know myrrh was used in embalming.

I don’t think the Wise Man’s mom was heartbroken when Jimmy dropped the bottle on the way home. The bath oil "stank like a New Orleans whorehouse" according to his father, who had to explain to Jimmy’s mother how he knew. He blamed his knowledge on his service in the Navy. Jimmy’s Mom, with three kids under ten, accepted his excuse.

About the time I quit believing in Santa Claus, I no longer wanted to be in the Christmas pageant. I decided the pageant was for little kids, and lost two of the fun things about Christmas. Now I like to go to Christmas pageants, but only if I know at least one kid in them. Watching other people’s darlings flub their lines is no fun.

This year, my St. Louis friend Jinny Gender reached a turning point in her family’s Christmas pageant. "My grandkids are too old now," Jinny said. "Margi was Mary last year and we all know that is the ultimate role. At our church, the baby Jesus is played by the cutest baby who can sit up but not walk. A pacifier is usually included. The year Margi was Mary, baby Jesus was a Chinese girl."

I should add that Jinny’s Margi is not our Book Tarts’ Margie, who could never play a virgin anything, except maybe a wool sweater.

Jinny’s granddaughter earned her starring role. So did her brother, Trip. He was a Wise Man.

"Margi and Trip started by being part of the ‘multitude’ with the littlest kids and worked their way up to sheep," Jinny said. "If you look at the pictures, you will see that one of the sheep wears a Dalmatian costume, but we are not biased. The little shepherds wear bathrobes and Birkenstocks. One year a shepherd wore a toy tool belt. Maybe he was Joseph's helper.

"The angels are ballerinas and they waft down the aisle," Jinny said. "Someone who is tall holds the star on a pole over the heads of the rest. Trip was the Wise Man with the myrrh."

"The congregation sings all the appropriate carols with this production. I usually have cried like a baby throughout. You could ask why as Unitarians we even have a Christmas play, since we don’t believe that Jesus is God’s son."

But Jinny knew that answer: "So sentimental grandmas like me get to smile and cry and sing and enjoy the tradition."

Happy holidays – and may all your little ones work their way up to Wise Men.

December 23, 2008

Xmas Xtreme

Xmas Xtreme

By Sarah

I have a confession to make: I've been known to overdo Christmas to the extreme. Okay, I'm not as bad Soul christmas as the woman I once interviewed who lived in a 360/24/7 Christmas house in a strange enclave on Lake Erie, a small cottage that smelled perpetually of cinnamon and baking almond cookies, decorated even in August with fake snow and Otis Redding belting out Merry Christmas, Baby in the background. No one is as bad as she was. But, as far as normal people go, it's fair to say I'm in the extreme.

Mostly I buy way too much stuff. Every year, I claim I'm going to cut back and this year seemed to hold real promise. The economy was in the toilet, we'd blown all our hard earned cash (and credit) on an addition, we have a daughter to send to college and yet...my Discover bill? I don't dare look at it next month.

Then there's the issue of family gatherings. This Christmas brings back-to-back houseguests, from today until the 31st. Also, as so often happens, my editor sent her revisions to The Penny Pinchers Club on Friday with a cheerful "see you next year" note attached. Hey - I'm lucky to have an editor who actually edits, much less a book contract. I ain't complaining.

Just that...I spent $279 on groceries yesterday for a Christmas dinner that'll feed fifteen people with prime rib, horseradish cream, a poached pears and watercress salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips Poached pearand a dessert of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate. I have yet to wrap any of the presents I've purchased and still have money to mail to various nieces and nephews. My house is a mess. And I'm pretty sure the neighbors hate me because my Basset hound, Fred, snuck over to their house yesterday and ate a bottle of Eucerin and some Christmas chocolate.

What I need is a Christmas consultant - the kind of furiously organized woman one hires for weddings. I dream of Impromptu Gourmet where one can order a full Christmas dinner. I'd like to come home and find the prime rib and sides waiting along with the boxes from LL Bean and Orvis.

Then again, I realize how silly I'm being. Who cares about the rareness of the prime rib or whether the wool pants I ordered for Charlie are really Scottish Highland lambs wool? Think back to your fondest holiday memories. Do any of them center on the fabulous, extravagant gift or expert wrapping job? I'm willing to take a bet they don't.

My best memories are of being with my family. One Christmas Eve my atheist (or, perhaps, agnostic) neighbor welcomed us home from church by lining our road with paper bags filled with sand and candles. Flexible flyerWe all hopped on sleds and slid down to her house where she was waiting with hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. The image of my rather staid mother zooming down the hill at midnight on my Flexible Flyer, her hair flying, her church perfume still fresh on her collar, is one I'll never forget.

Then there's the time when Charlie and I, poor beyond words, woke up to a white Christmas Eve in Vermont. He was in law school and exams had just ended. Anna was almost three. Magical as always, Charlie went down to the frozen "fire pond" and shoveled a maze of paths on the ice. The sky was brilliant blue, the snow sparkled. Our black-and-white cat Jainey delicately made her way through the snow and, okay, my brother in law and sister in law sent us an order of Omaha steaks that day. The one Omaha gift that has ever meant anything, truthfully. When you've been eating chickpeas and rice for three days straight, Western fed cattle is a delicacy.

I guess this is what we're all shooting for, we creators of Christmas. We want to manufacture those special moments our children will refer to with nostalgia in adulthood. Or, as I get older, the ones I'll replay in my mind on my death bed. Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed, sure-fire way of insuring a perfect Christmas. It all depends on a number of random factors - timing, mood, weather, underlying happiness.

But what I do know is what I learned from my neighbor, Katherine Arbogast. Paper bags, sand and candles don't cost very much. Neither do hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. So what's stopping us from being the ones to spread the magic?

Okay...what's your best Christmas memory? And, was the butcher right to suggest I cook the prime rib at 20 min/lb and remove it 15 minutes before the final cooking time? Or should I put it in at 450 and quickly turn down the oven to 300?  I've cooked about ten prime ribs in my life and it's always a mystery.

Merry Christmas,



December 22, 2008

Christmas Movies, Part Deux

by William Simon (as Forrest Gump would say, "Aaaaagain....")

The doorbell rang at 5:00am. 

Normally, that would lift me about three feet off the bed, but I was already awake.  The Boss looked at me funny, Boo actually raised an ear.  I got up, put on my robe (it's 29 down here today, and for us, that's COLD), and went to the door. 

"Western Union!" a disgustingly cheerful voice called.  I hit the lights (for reasons I won't get into, I am very big on lots of light outside, especially at 5am) and looked through the peephole.  Yes, it was a Western Union guy. 

I opened the door, and he cheerfully asked, "Mr. Simon?"  Something brushed my leg, and I looked down to see Boo, nine pounds of canine alertness, had actually gotten out of bed and followed me.  I replied in the affirmative.  "Telegram for you, sir!"  He handed me an envelope.  "Sign here, please!"  I signed where he said to sign, shooed Boo back inside, locked the door, hit the dining room light, and opened the envelope, all the while considering a letter to my Congressman asking if it would be justifiable homicide to shoot someone that perky and cheerful at 5am. 

The Boss came in, rubbing sleep from her eyes.  "WHAT," she asked, "is this all about?" 

"No idea," I said as I ripped open the telegram.  "But let's find out." 


Okay.  Now I knew who had actually composed and sent the telegram, and signed everyone's name to it.  The Boss shrugged, mumbled something about "Defy her at your own risk", and headed for the kitchen.  Boo (the little traitor) fell into step with Dawg Fud Givr Person and went with her; he's a dog, but he's not stupid, and his motto is "She Who Controls the Kitchen Controls the World."

So, in the interests of helping out, I jumped into the shower and stood there for ten minutes.  It was very nice, until The Boss came in and turned on the water.  I woke up lots quicker then, especially when she slapped a cup of coffee into my hand.  Once out, I put my robe back on and headed to the office upstairs, clutching the over-sized cup of Life Giving Caffeine in both hands, freezing for a moment at the sight of the Christmas Tree on the landing (a 60's flashback, sue me), and turned on the computer.

After receiving Orders from Headquarters….. here we go, CHRISTMAS MOVIES, PART DEUX!!!!  (Can you stand the excitement?!?!)

LA LOVE ACTUALLY:  I don't believe I left this off the first time.  Absolutely brilliantly written movie inter-connecting several stories, all about love; the trials, the tribulations, the joys, the heartaches, the incredible soaring highs and the brutally devastating lows.  The Prime Minister and Natalie sequences will make you laugh out loud, the Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson story will break your heart, Liam Neeson is the perfect example of what a Dad should be (Dad….not a Father.  There's a huge difference) and I even liked Rowan Atkinson for once.  (Is he an angel or isn't he?  I still don't know.)  Buy it, watch it, add it to the library.

TLI TEN LITTLE INDIANS (the 1965 version):  Yes, it's the Agatha Christie chestnut about ten people in a deserted chalet, cut off from the world, being murdered one by one.  There's enough snow in it to make it a Holiday Classic, though, in addition to Shirley Eaton in her absolute prime (marrone…. no wonder Hugh O'Brian lost his head).  It's clichéd now, but I remember the first time I saw it, it scared me half to death.  If you know the story already, just enjoy.  If you've not seen it, try to guess who the Killer is before the end.  One of Dame Agatha's greatest puzzlers.

We're skipping over the usual schmaltz like THE CHRISTMAS SHOES, and all the original and distaff versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.   Enough already of sick children, dying mothers, or having a Moment of Clarity and realizing you've spent your life being mean and nasty and suddenly turning over a New Leaf.  Sure, yeah, happens all the time.

WWS2 One last one.  NOEL (West Wing, Season 2, Episode 10)  I know it's cheating to include a television show, but this one is so far beyond brilliant, it's got to make the list.  Christmas Eve in Washington, Josh Lyman is showing signs of stress.  A psychiatrist is called in, and the conversation roams everywhere and nowhere and back again until the truth is revealed.  I'm not sure (and too lazy to look it up) but I believe Bradley Whitford (Josh) and Adam Arkin (the doctor) received nominations for this episode.  Go with it, even if you didn't follow the entire series.

As someone recently said, Merry Merry and Happy Happy to You All....or, as we say here in Texas, "Merry Happy, y'all"....