33 posts categorized "Books"

June 04, 2011

The Last Cookie Dance

The Last Cookie Dance

By Brunonia Barry

  Byzy in his wheelchair

A few weeks ago, we hosted a sweet sixteen party for our Golden Retriever, Byzantium. The cake was made of hamburger and Charlie Bears (tiny dog biscuits), and the guests included his first girlfriend, a Portuguese Water Dog named Roberta, who looks incredibly youthful for her thirteen years, though we suspect she may have had a bit of work done.

Byzy, of course, has never had any plastic surgery whatsoever and doesn’t look a day over ten. The last time we took him in for a checkup, our regular vet was on vacation, and we saw someone new. At the end of the examination, the new vet declared Byzy “quite a specimen.”

In addition to being a specimen, our dog is a local celebrity. Byzy was the inspiration for the dog of the same name in The Lace Reader, a canine who hails from a line of feral Golden Retriever cave-dwelling warriors that protect the inhabitants of Yellow Dog Island. The idea of Golden Retrievers as warriors seems to greatly amuse most of my readers who always ask about the real Byzy. When I tell them he’s sixteen, they look amazed. Their next question is usually “What do you feed him?” 

“Far too much,” I answer. But hey, our puppy loves food. And he is sixteen, for God’s sake, and still here, so keep your judgments to yourselves. I don’t say that last part aloud, of course. I love my readers too much to be so rude.

Byzy has had only one severe health problem in his long life. One morning a few years back, he was acting lethargic and dazed. Since we were scheduled to leave for Italy on a book tour three days later, we took him to the vet to have him checked, something we might not have done so quickly if we hadn’t been leaving town. It was a good thing we did. He had a tumor in his spleen that required immediate surgery. While we sat in the waiting room stunned and worried, Byzy had his spleen removed. Two days later, he was dancing for cookies. 

Byzy’s cookie dance is a carefully choreographed little number that begins with a bouncy hop as both of his front feet leave the ground. That step is followed by rapid head shaking, some additional hopping, and a bit of subtle growling. The end of his routine is punctuated by one sharp, quick bark followed by thirty seconds of quiet but intense staring. If, after thirty seconds, a cookie has not been proffered, the dance routine is repeated until the desired results are achieved.  

Though we know we spoil him, we can’t help it. We love the cookie dance. It is hilarious. And so, two weeks ago, when it suddenly stopped, we were concerned. He didn’t get up with us that morning. When we were in the kitchen making breakfast, he didn’t join us.

Worried, we went to the front hallway where he always sleeps. He stood up to greet us and promptly fell down. We helped him up. He fell again. We weren’t too concerned at first because Byzy has a bit of hip dysplasia which is common to aging Golden Retrievers, and he sometimes has difficulty getting up in the morning. When things didn’t improve as the day went on, we scheduled an appointment with the vet. Byzy’s back legs didn’t seem to be working. We lifted him with a towel-sling and carried him to the car. By the time we arrived at the vet’s office, both Byzy and I were shaking.

The vet stood him up, then curled Byzy’s back paws under, one at a time, watching to see how long it took for him to straighten them. He passed the test easily with his left hind foot, giving the vet a haughty WTF look, but when his right paw was curled under, Byzy just stood there. He didn’t seem to know that there was anything wrong until he lost his balance and began to collapse. The vet eased him down to the floor.

The diagnosis was neurological. Byzy’s brain was no longer sending signals to his right hind leg. He wasn’t in pain, he was simply surprised every time he fell.

“What can we do?” We asked.

“There isn’t much you can do. He’s comfortable, he’s happy, . . . and he’s a fighter,” the vet told us. “Enjoy your time with him.”

Determined to do just that, we took him home.

The next day, we discovered Handicapped Pets in Nashua, New Hampshire. What a great company! We bought Byzy a “wheelchair” that supports his back legs while at the same time keeping them moving.

The brochure said that it was possible for the chair to have a restorative power and that it could help improve the functioning of injured legs. My husband read that part aloud and looked at me hopefully. “Maybe it’s just an injury,” he said. “Maybe he will spontaneously heal.”

“Maybe he will,” I said, but my voice lacked conviction.

Whether restorative or not, the wheelchair has worked wonders. It took a few days of adjustment, both for Byzy and for us (you try lifting a 90 lb. dog and holding him up while struggling to adjust a web of snaps and clips). Once we got the routine down (it required cookies) and installed a ramp, Byzy began bombing around our back yard, tearing through flower beds, shredding tulips and peonies and anything else in his path. We were delighted.

We have now established a new ritual: Byzy rolls through the house, down the ramp, and into the back yard. When we come back inside, we disconnect him from the wheelchair. He stands for a few minutes, then collapses. He sleeps for most of the day, which is nothing new. Byzy’s favorite activity has always been sleeping, unless there was something more interesting to do like walking, swimming, or eating. Eating beats sleeping every time.  

It was eating that inspired what I am now referring to as the Memorial Day Miracle. Byzy was sleeping in the front hall. We were grilling steaks. All of a sudden, Byzy, sans wheelchair, came jogging though the doorway and onto the porch as if nothing had ever been wrong with him. He demanded our steaks. He had attitude. He did his cookie dance.

A minute later, he collapsed. We cut up some steak and hand fed it to him. I cried with joy to have shared that inspirational “last dance.” It’s imprinted on my heart.

We knew it couldn’t last, and it didn’t. But it was great!

We understand that this neurological damage will progress in the same way that these things invariably do. But for now, we are taking our vet’s advice. We are enjoying our sweet sixteen year old for a while longer. Our fighter. Our specimen. Who dances for cookies…and steaks.

Do you have a beloved pet who inspires you?




April 10, 2011

Where in the World are the Tarts?

Brunonia Barry Barry_mapoftrueplaces
I've been on the paperback book tour for The Map of True Places. Or rather, I should call it the culinary tour of Connecticut and Vermont. Great stores, great people, and great food and wine at about nine PM every night. I tried, Weight Watchers, I really tried! But it's just not hospitable to refuse these local favorites. Local Vermont Cheeses and maple cured sausages? Okay, so maybe that was breakfast, but you get the idea. I'm back home for a few days, hitting the treadmill and the bike and eating my five point Think Thin bars. More tour to come, but I'm determined. Thank God I'm not going south this time. On my last tour, I went to Charleston and New Orleans. Weight Watchers didn't stand a chance.


Viets_Uplift Elaine Viets    
I'm spending this weekend in my hometown, St. Louis, at the Missouri Writers' Guild Conference, where I'll get to see Nancy Pickard, another featured speaker. I hope I didn't disgrace myself giving the keynote speech at the banquet last night. I promised the conference organizers my talk would be mercifully short. Sunday morning, I teach a three-hour master's class on creating characters. Then I fly home to Fort Lauderdale on Southwest Airlines. That's the airline that had a plane with a huge hole in the fuselage. Don assures me the flight will be perfectly safe. I told him if I die in a plane crash, I will haunt him for the rest of his days. At night, he will hear me whispering "I told you so."


Barbara O’Neal HowToBake
I am cooking for zillions, cleaning my house because it hasn't really been cleaned since I went underground to finish the current book two months ago.  (It is not finished, BTW.) There is a wedding this week.  My son and his smart, tough, beautiful fiance, whose mother referred to her as "ours."  Doesn't get any better than this, I promise you.   Next week, I'll get back to finishing the book.  Now, if you will excuse me, I have some bacon jam that needs to go in the crockpot.....


Kindred Spirits_lowres Sarah Strohmeyer
I am on deadline for my YA book Smart Girls Get Everything!

[Yet she had time to look up the recipe for Barbara’s Bacon Jam to post on Facebook.][Sarah's link broke, but this is another recipe.]


I'm hunkered down with the windows closed, praying for rain, waiting out pine pollen season. Another week should do it. These pine trees are way oversexed. No wonder they're the first trees to grow in a barren field.
Tomorrow, I'm off to a week-long retreat with some of my writer friends, so I'm packing the car with computer, notebooks, bedlinens, a 12-pack of Pepsis,a bottle of bourbon and a frozen casserole for the night when it's my turn to cook supper. (No Cheetos though. Gave them up for Lent.) I hope to come home with 5000 more words on my 2012 book and a good sense of where the book's going.


[When I asked the Tarts to write these, I sent a reply to Margaret that I had problems with alder tree pollen and had in Washington State, Vermont and California. To which Diane chimed in…]


Chamberlain_midwife Diane Chamberlain
No no, Holly, you don't understand what Margaret is talking about. The pine pollen isn't the make-you-sneeze type. it's the takes-over-the-entire-world type. I made the mistake of opening my office window yesterday and by evening a layer of yellow dust was on every sheet of paper and piece of equipment and ME in my office. I’d covered all the porch furniture with green sheets that are now completely yellow. I've lived lots of places but never experienced anything like this till moving to NC. So this time of year, when you long to open the windows, you must fight the urge and keep them closed.

So that's what I'm up to, along with being chained to my desk, 2 weeks from deadline with the book from hell (oh wait...they all are) that still has no title. It's this deadline that's preventing me from going away with Margaret and the gang for a week of writing and balderdash. :(


Harley Jane Kozak Kozak_DateRefuse
I'm rehearsing this week for the Romantic Times Convention -- I'm the M.C./Joan Rivers-type person for the Mr. Romance Contest (male cover models), as well as singing, dancing and performing Shakespeare at the Vampire Ball, in a show entitled "Zombie Dancers from Planet 9."


Kathy Reschini Sweeney
Today, I am in shock.  My baby boy is 16.  He was a bit of a surprise - one that has turned out to be the greatest delight of my life.  But don't tell him I said that.  He already gets away with too much. How did all these years go by?  I need cake.  Stat.


Joshilyn Jackson Jackson_BackseatSaints
Today my husband and I are engaged in an EPIC SCRABBLE BATTLE. The loser must give Mentally Ill Grudge-Holding Cat his Kitty-Prozac all month. Mentally-Ill Grudge-Holding Cat needs his meds, but he hates to be touched only slightly less than he hates to be pilled. The person who loses this battle gains Mentally Ill Grudge-Holding Cat’s considerable, baleful, and long-memoried  ire. OH, this cat. You shouldn’t make him angry. You wouldn’t LIKE him when he is angry. And since I work from home, I am available to be ired at all hours of the day. So.  I am not going to lose. I have a pocket full of blank tiles and a fistful of illegal tranqs. I LOVE my husband, but if first skill and then luck and finally cheating all fail me, I will have no choice but to roofie my beloved and swear up and down I was victorious.
PS Margaret! I read this and immediately thought
Margaret are you grieving over all your pines unleaving?
 But pines don’t have leaves. And un-needling does not rhyme.
Margaret are you feeding, needing, bleeding, pleading, BAH!
 I actually get a grant from the state of Georgia to NOT write poetry.

Yes yes it is a SPECIAL pollen bowl kind. We have it. For a month the purple car is yellow and the orange car is yellow and my cream trimmed rosey-bricked house is yellow and the green grass is yellow and THE VERY FREAKING AIR IS GOT’DAMNABLY YELLOW.


Sticky fingers_1_very_sm Nancy Martin
I'm hitting the campaign trail to sell Sticky Fingers.  (In the Philadelphia area?  Come to the Borders store in Springfield on Friday, April 15th at 6pm or at the Philadelphia Book Fest on Saturday from 11am to 1pm.)  I'm also finishing up the 8th Blackbird book--which should be published early in 2012.  And . . . my iPad arrived!  Now I have to learn how to use it.  Any suggestions for good apps?


Nancy Pickard Pickard_scentofrain
I’m busy distracting myself from my book that keeps saying it doesn’t care if I need to make a living, it still has percolating to do.  Have I ever mentioned that I think commerce and art are TERRIBLE bedfellows?  Of course, that’s not what my favorite Kansas playwright thought about it.  William Inge, who wrote Picnic, Splendor in the Grass, Bus Stop, Come Back Little Sheba, and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,  (wow, right?) said that forcing art through the commerce sieve and vice versa was hunky-dory.  His actual quote is:  “Literature flourishes best when it is half trade and half an art.” I agree, but only when my book actually gets finished and then published and I get paid.  Until those moments, the bedfellows continue to kick each other and bellow and be total nightmares. And let’s not overlook the fact that Bill Inge killed himself.  Damn, I just made myself feel like sitting in this coffee shop and crying. He was so brilliant, and he suffered so from depression and from hiding his sexuality from the pigs and bigots of his day.  Well, you’d never know it from what I just wrote here, but I’m actually feeling happy and springy, in spite of sieves and stubborn books and tragic playwrights.  Here, everybody, have a double latte and a chocolate truffle.

Hank_drivetime Hank Phillippi Ryan

The ducks are back! But you know that..Flo and Eddy have been baffled by the ice on their backyard pond, but other than that, it's a sure sign it's spring. My tulips and crocuses are pushing their way out of the still-frozen earth, and I saw a whole flock of robins in our neighbor's yard. (It was almost scary, you know? Cue Tippi Hendren.)  Right now I am somewhere in the air between Boston and Indianapolis,  gave a speech in Indy to a wonderful group who wanted to know all about e-publishing.  (Gee, I wish I knew. Don't we all?)  Yes, there's a new book (cross fingers please, everyone) which I am editing now. (It's easier to cut than add, right?)  Looking forward to the MWA symposium in two weeks, then the gala Malice Domestic convention where DRIVE TIME is up for an Agatha for Best Mystery of 2010. (Yes, our NancyP is up for one, too, sigh, but she's sold more books than I have, I bet, so don't I need the teapot?)  Is it time to send my winter clothes to the dry cleaners? Ah, I'll think about that later. 

March 27, 2011

Provence, by our guest, Bridget Asher

Joshilyn says: My friend, prolific and bestselling novelist Julianna Baggott (who writes under her own name for poetry and lit fic, Bridget Asher for her women's fic, and N E Bode for a popular
series of YA novels) is blogging with the Tarts today. She's a witty and charming blogger, and even KIRKUS liked her great book:

"Unabashedly romantic and unafraid of melancholy, Asher's book is a real
charmer about a Provencal house that casts spells over the lovelorn."
-Kirkus Reviews


France is (Demandingly) Romantic


Before I fell in love with France, I fell in love with a Frenchman. This is how it goes down sometimes with the French.

“Every good love story has another love hiding within it.” When I wrote that line in the first draft of my new novel THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, I knew it was true for my main character, Heidi, and that it is true for me as a novelist. Each of my novels has some version of my own love stories hiding within it. So … this is the love story that made me fall in love with France, return, and, in a second love story, write a novel set there.

I was twenty when I lived in Paris, wearing my leather bolero jacket with its multitude of zippers, heavy on the eyeliner and requisite brooding. I had no spending money and had to take three metros to get student dining which offered unlimited bread. I learned to bulk up on bread. (I actually gained ten pounds in bread alone.) I lived in a house with a host family that didn’t care for guests. My room was at the end of a bent hallway. I was told not to use too much hot water. Their son, Alban, was a twenty-three-year-old who dressed as some kind of mascot for store displays. I never quite figured that out. My French was sketchy.

In fact, I didn’t go to classes much. Why learn French in a classroom when I called learn it everywhere I went.  And so my French was mostly learned in the places where I went – namely bars. (My French gets bawdy before I even know it.)

I met said Frenchman in one of these bars. We were crazy about each other.  The romance was perfect because he was about to be shipped off for mandatory military service in, get this, Antarctica. It’s true. Better yet, we could only barely understand each other. Communication is key – and a lack of communication can be blissful. We gazed, sad and forlorn. In fact, we felt star-crossed.

Later, I went back to college, surrounded by un-brooding, non-star-crossed American boys, and I’d get the Frenchman’s letters (which only came in a huge bundle once things had thawed – it was pretty seasonal. This was – gasp – pre-Internet). And they were romantic (and dark – people losing appendages due to frostbite and all).

By the time his service was up, I’d graduated. I told my friends that I’d know immediately once I saw him if we were right for each other -- within four minutes.

I did and we weren’t.

But neither were things right with any American boys. I wanted someone who’d gaze but who also understood me -- a fellow-brooder who got my pop culture references. I wanted someone who thought we had the potential to be star-crossed but who was actually right there by my side. And, a few years later, there he was. I married him.

A gajillion years later, we went to France together to do research for THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED – with five kids in tow (our four and a niece).

It was a messy, loud accumulation of a big obnoxious rowdy life we’d built together. I remembered what it was like to be foreign. I ate food and truly tasted it. (This is one damn foodie novel – recipes in the back and all.)  I smelled lilac – and it wasn’t scented candles. I looked closely at the small white blooms on the roadside flowers and found they were actually small white snail shells, imprinted with delicate swirls.

And because the foreign world around me had awoken my senses, I got to look at my husband anew too. Once the senses are awake, it’s hard not to see this person you love with fresh eyes. (And, let me add, there’s nothing like living with five kids in an ancient house in a tiny village in the South of France to make you feel star-crossed while under the same roof.)

France allows you to be romantic – in fact, it demands it.

And so the novel swelled all around me. I collected details madly, and when I got home, I wrote madly. The novel is about grief – but how grief is a love story told backwards – and about love – the stories we tell and the real love we come to rely on.   

Provence Cure_pb_1

Julianna Baggott is the author of seventeen books, most recently THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED under her pen name Bridget Asher, as well as THE PRETEND WIFE and MY HUSBAND’S SWEETHEARTS. She’s the bestselling author of GIRL TALK and, as N.E. Bode, THE ANYBODIES TRILOGY for younger readers. Her essays have appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times Modern Love column, Washington Post, NPR.org, and Real Simple. You can visit her blog at http://bridgetasher.blogspot.com/ and her website at www.juliannabaggott.com. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=650103952#!/profile.php?id=650103952



March 19, 2011

True Places

True Places 

By Brunonia Barry

Byzy at the Lake

It is not down in any map, true places never are.

                                                                                           Herman Melville.


That quote is from Moby Dick, my all time favorite book. It was also the inspiration for the title of my second novel, The Map of True Places, which comes out in paperback this week. As I embark on the paperback tour, I am talking with readers about the true places their lives, and so today I thought I’d share one of mine.

The maps of our lives have changed so much in recent years.  There are the usual life changes: people are born, people die, families break apart, new families are formed. Change happens (to borrow a descriptive quote from Hemingway) gradually then suddenly. A few of our sudden changes have radically shifted our perspective: 911, Columbine, Katrina, the financial meltdown. We’ve recently suffered hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and a nuclear disaster. This last week the world was literally rocked on its axis.

So how do we navigate our lives when our old maps have become obsolete? The answer, I think, lies in finding our own true places: safe havens that are home to us and make us feel like our better selves. Sometimes these places are real. Sometimes they exist only in memory and imagination. Almost always, they are connected to the people we love.   

The truest place in my life is a real one, a Victorian summer-house on a lake in New Hampshire. It  was built by my great grandfather more than a century ago and has been handed down through the generations. The camp hasn’t changed much in those hundred years, which makes it easier to conjure images of the people who have touched my life there, some who are still with me, many who have long since gone.  

Standing in the old fashioned kitchen, I don’t have to look far to summon a memory.  Over there is the bucket my grandmother gave us to pick blueberries for the pies and muffins she always made.  Here is the megaphone my father used to call us back when we swam too far from shore. There’s the soapstone sink in the kitchen and the hand-pump we primed at the beginning of every summer with water from the lake.  I can still hear the creaky slamming of the back door and the laughing of children as they rush in and out.  

In the washroom across the hall, the medicine cabinet door won’t close properly. I can see my mother’s compact on the glass shelf, and I can see her too, standing in front of the mirror, her lips pursed as she applies Revlon Fire Engine Red lipstick, blots it with tissue, then puts on another coat.

In my true place, my mother still gets dressed to go dancing. She is not confined to her RA wheelchair. My father doesn’t shake from Parkinson’s. I don’t find him scared and frozen in place in the back hall but rather out on the porch playing with the dogs or pitching horseshoes with the uncles. My grandmother, gone many years now, is still the outspoken matriarch who so frustrated her son-in-law, my father, that one day he locked her in the pan closet in the kitchen and wouldn’t let her out until she promised to be nice to him, which she was from then on.  

In my true place, I can bring all of the generations back to life at once. My reverie supposes that time is non-linear, and that all the characters exist in their happiest moments. People who never knew each other gather together for a weekend celebration. A favorite uncle who read stories to me when I was little reads the same stories now to my brother’s grandchildren. My first dog, Skybo, rolls on the front lawn with my sixteen year old golden retriever whose hip dysplasia has miraculously healed. Pine needles hang from their ears, and moss sticks to their muzzles. My grandmother sits on the front porch shelling peas with the great granddaughter she never knew.

My true place is always sunny and warm, except at about 4PM each day when a quick thunderstorm follows the curve of the White Mountains and moves swiftly across our little lake. We giggle and run for cover. The storm disappears as quickly as it has come. There may or may not be a rainbow.

We gather for dinner around the big oak table in the dining room, under the clock that has ticked the minutes away since the day the camp was built. When I was a child, the sound seemed so loud that it sometimes kept me from sleep. These days, its ticking is just as loud, I am told, but I cannot hear it unless I’m in the same room.  The sixteen-inch rainbow trout my grandfather’s brother caught when he was a young boy is still mounted above the door, and the piano, always off key from the cold that sets in after Labor Day, still sits un-tuned in the corner by the window.

After dinner is over, my grandfather goes to the piano and plays any tune we can think of, in any key, and my aunt sits on top of the piano belting out God Bless America in her best Kate Smith. After that, we play canasta or go for a late swim. The little children fall asleep on the rug where they have dropped from exhaustion and have to be carried up to bed.

My truest place, though real, has the luxury of fantasy. I am, after all, a fiction writer. Fantasy has always been easier for me than reality. Still, this place, with all of its reflected memories, is more real to me than anything in my everyday world, and I hold it in my heart. If all goes well, the family will gather here again next year, and it will, summer after summer, become a true place for the next generations. 

Whether real of imagined, true places are more important than ever in these times of great and sometimes devastating change. I wish for true places, real, imagined, or simply remembered for all those who are suffering today.

 I’ve told you about the place I hold dear. What are some of your true places?


January 21, 2011

The Inner Peace Pal

By Diane Chamberlain

OceanWant inner peace? Well, do I have the solution for you!

I was a naïve newbie to Facebook when I first discovered the path to inner peace. One day I was reading Facebook comments when my eyes were drawn to the ad at the side of the page. It read “Today only! All 39-year-old women get 25% off on purses!” And I thought, Wow! How cool is that! What an amazing coincidence that there’s an ad for women my age! This must be my lucky day! (all right. It wasn’t 39. But let’s pretend). It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that Facebook knew my age and just about every other fact about me and put that ad there to seduce me.

Facebook also must have known that I was on deadline, being treated for high blood pressure, and freaking out in my totally disorganized office, because a few days later a new ad appeared:  The Inner Peace Pal (not the real name, but not all that different either) promised to help me find the calm buried deep within myself. I was suckered in once again. I clicked on the ad and went to a lovely site that told me how the The Inner Peace Pal could help me.

The Inner Peace Pal was a little program I could download on my computer to gently remind me to center myself throughout my workday. I could set it to send me the reminders every hour or every half hour or every ten minutes. Whatever I wanted. Well, I wanted inner peace in a big way, so I set the IPP to send me a reminder every five minutes.

Yes, you’re right. This was not a smart move.

The first twenty second reminder  came as I was working on the manuscript for my most recent novel, The Lies We Told. The IPP dimmed my monitor screen with a pretty picture and suggested I shut my eyes and take in a few deep breaths, noticing how my lungs filled and emptied, filled and emptied. In and out. Ahh. Very nice.

Woman breathing 

Back to the manuscript, in which a category five hurricane was destroying Wilmington, North Carolina.

Five minutes later, the screen  dimmed and the IPP suggested I shut my eyes and focus on the present moment, which I did. I felt the soft warm air on my arms and heard the chirping of birds through my open window. Lovely. This was nice.

My characters were doing this Doctors Without Borders type work in the airport, treating the victims of the hurricane. Helicopters filled with the wounded were landing every minute on the tarmac, and the life and death battle to save the injured was--

The screen dimmed. The Inner Peace Pal suggested I think about standing above a peaceful valley, stretching to the sky.


 There was a little 'x' in the corner of the IPP screen and I hit it. I'd skip just this one reminder so I could get back to my manuscript. Maybe I should have set the IPP for every ten minutes, I thought. Or twenty. But I couldn't take the time to fiddle with it now.

Back to the helicopters. I’d created a romantic triangle between three of my characters and they were sweaty and tense, working in impossible conditions while their emotions were heating up and—

The screen dimmed. Focus on your internal organs, the Pal suggested. Think about all that is going on inside of you.

Inner organs 


I hit the x.

That was it. I had to turn the program off. Only it wouldn’t turn off. No matter what I did, every five minutes it would try to calm me down. I went into the control panel of my computer and clicked on the “remove program” icon and removed the Inner Peace Program altogether.

Finally, peace. Back to work.



One of the helicopters landed, and despite the tension between them, my characters worked together to slide a patient onto a stretcher. They raced toward the airport, hoping they weren't too late to--

The screen dimmed.

I screamed.

I turned off the computer. Turned it back on. Five minutes later, the Pal told me to close my eyes and imagine I was floating in the air.

I told it to go @%#$ itself.

Kill computer 

It took a couple of emails to the Pal’s inventor to rid my computer of the Inner Peace Pal.

So need Inner Peace? Stick to a yoga class and lemon ginger tea. Or just give in to your Inner Freak-Out. That’s what I’m going to do.


Di office 


September 23, 2010


We, the subset of the TLC backbloggers called Help Me Out Here (HMOH) email group --dedicated to making less of ourselves -- do more than talk about healthier eating and more exercising, we talk gardens, nature, travel, books, books and books. We READ!


When I quit my full-time job, I knew I'd have more time to read.  What I didn't expect was the extent to which my new situation would encourage me to expand the borders of my biblioverse (I made that up.  Cool, huh?). And with some of my extra time, I read book reviews and am accumulating a huge TBR list.  Here are some books I never would have tried when my reading time was so limited that I didn't want to waste it on anything but my tried-and-true favorites:
INTUITION by Allegra Goodman; THE SENATOR'S WIFE by Sue Miller; and HOUSE RULES by Jodi Picoult.  In non-fiction, I've read BORN ON A BLUE DAY by Daniel Tammet, a synaesthetic man with Asberger's syndrome; THREE CUPS OF TEA, about Greg Mortensen's work building schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan; and BRIGHT-SIDED, by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Do you push your own reading boundaries?


Jodi (who is at present lolling around the South of France)

Jodi Ste maxime

The books I've read so far since I left home.   Sara Paretsky's HARDBALL; David Baldacci's DIVINE JUSTICE;  Dick Francis' LONGSHOT; Julie Hyzy's STATE OF THE ONION; and in the process of reading Dick Francis' STRAIGHT.  Bob bought a bunch of Dick Francis books from the used book section at Murder by the Book in Houston cuz he became enthralled with Dick Francis' work.  I discovered I really hadn't read all of them, so am catching up.  Then, of course, I have my Nook with me which has on it:  Lee Goldberg's MR. MONK IN TROUBLE and MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT; Janet Evanovich's SIZZLING SIXTEEN; Julie Hyzy's EGGSECUTIVE ORDERS; Victoria Thompson's MURDER ON LEXINGTON AVENUE; Avery Ames' THE LONG QUICHE GOODBYE; Carolyn Haines' BONE APPETIT; and Carolyn Hart's LAUGHED TIL HE DIED.


Storyteller Mary

I have eclectic reading tastes, open to suggestions from many sources . . . Saturday night a doctor at a party suggested  THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN and MAKING THE GHOST DANCE.  My nieces pointed me toward Janet Evanovich, THE HUNGER GAMES, and TWILIGHT.  From my sister, the “Cat Who” series, and Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak.  Book clubs (three different ones) and my storytell email community add more, Mrs. Pollifax and (eclectic indeed) the Elm Creek Quilters.  In the car I’m listening to Sharyn McCrumb’s THE DEVIL AMONGST THE LAWYERS.

Elaine brought me to TLC, and now I’ll never lack for good reading, with Bubbles, Blackbirds, Josie, Helen, Maisie, and presently Judy Larsen’s ALL THE NUMBERS,*  the fun just keeps on coming.



This Sunday I started AMERICAN PASTORAL of Philip Roth (while taking my breakfast in bed – my week-end péché mignon). I remember the day I discovered the author. It was in November 2002, the day we first left our one-month daughter with the baby-sitter and went out for dinner given by an American lawyer. We spoke literature with a guy sitting next to us (American as well) and he turned out to be very fond of Philip Roth, an author we didn’t know at the time being. The next day my husband and I started devouring his novels.

The book that is waiting for me is LES BRAISES (EMBERS) by a Hungarian writer Sándor Márai. The first translation of this book was made in France and after it appeared in other foreign languages but strangely under its French title, not the original one.



I’ve just read the charming faux mystery novel HEAT WAVE by Rick Castle (of the great Castle TV show).  The inside back liner says his "first novel . . . received the Nom DePlume Society's prestigious Tom Straw Award for Mystery Literature.”  Nikki Heat’s oh-so-tough-and-smart NYC detective work with her funny, endearing, romantic ride-along writer is just great fun.

Laraine Mary 

Judy Larson Allthenumbers_lg 


Judy Merrill Larsen

I’m reading THE HELP and loving it.  Two other books that stand out for me from this summer are Anna Quindlen’s EVERY LAST ONE (I adore her.  I want to be her when I grow up.) and Lynne Griffin’s beautiful SEA ESCAPE.  On the top pf my TBR pile is Franzen’s FREEDOM (I know . . . people have said I should snub this but I’ve heard it’s amazing—and not just from Oprah).  When the weather gets crisp and I’m hankering to make chili, stew and meatloaf, I gravitate toward weightier books.  In the summer, I want lighter (although given the books listed above who knows).  Does anyone else find that their reading changes with the seasons?

Laura in PA Laura_bubbles

During our vacation, I read THE HELP, which was awesome, and Nancy’s entertaining OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION, which helped assuage the disappointment in my forced inactivity due to a leg ailment.

I read mostly mysteries, with some fiction and romance thrown in. On the mystery front, I was excited to hear about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, by E.J. Copperman (AKA Jeff Cohen). I love his Movie Theater mysteries, and he didn’t disappoint with this new series.  Others include our own Jackie’s Maisie Dobbs (Loved! Looking for more); G. M. Malliet’s DEATH OF A LIT CHICK, second in her excellent series; and Alan Bradley’s THE WEED THAT STRINGS THE HANGMAN'S BAG, the second of his wonderful Flavia de Luce books.

I MUST read series in order. Am I alone in this? Also, when you finish a book, do you just pick up the next one on the pile, or do you have to peruse and figure out what you’re in the mood for?



Alan S.

I finished Elaine Viets' HALF PRICE HOMICIDE; Laurie King's A GRAVE TALENT, THE MOOR, and A DARKER PLACE; and Robert Parker 's CHANCES and SMALL VICES. Elaine puts Helen in an outrageous situation in a totally believable manner. King and Parker have me rereading paragraphs, not to untangle syntax but to savor what I just read. Do you find six books a week excessive?



I avidly read Jennifer Crusie’s new MAYBE THIS TIME and I’m devouring Jill Mansell’s backlist. I’ve finished all the current Mansell’s from Borders and library, acquiring one from Paperback Swap and now will do Amazon for the rest.


Becky Hutchison

I prefer fairly Lighthearted Cozies:

DIVA LAS VEGAS by Eileen Davidson



particularly if they involve -



DEAD AND KICKING by Wendy Roberts

TOMB WITH A VIEW by Casey Daniels


Good witches:

A WITCH IN TIME by Madelyn Alt

A CAST-OFF COVEN by Juliet Blackwell








and Psychic Ability:

A GLIMPSE OF EVIL by Victoria Laurie


Sometimes I have two or three books going simultaneously depending on time of day:



BOOK OF SHADOWS by Alex Sokoloff



CROSSING THE LION by Cynthia Baxter


- Or -


Room (i.e., my kitchen):



Does anyone else read more than one book at a time?

Becky photo

Karen in OH

In the last two weeks, I've read: DRIVEN TO INK, by Karen E. Olson; four titles in the Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse series; BUZZ OFF, by Hannah Reed (I went to her signing in Waukesha); FOOL'S PUZZLE and MARINER'S COMPASS, by Earlene Fowler; two flowershop mysteries by Kate Collins; THE VIRGIN OF THE SMALL PLAINS, by Nancy Pickard; HER ROYAL SPYNESS, by Rhys Bowen; THE GUN SELLER, by Hugh Laurie; and Robert Parker's ROUGH WEATHER.

I read a lot. I like reading all the books in a series, and often collect series. Summer is a time for light, frothy reading; winter is my time for lengthier novels and classics. Whatever did we do for fun before TLC?  So many good books to read, and such fun writers and readers!

Karen & Elaine Viets 11-8-09

June 26, 2010

Summer and a Whole Lot of Smoke

Summer and a Whole Lot of Smoke

By Brunonia Barry

Last weekend, as my six week book tour for The Map of True Places came to a close, my husband and I drove north to New Hampshire for a much anticipated friends and family reunion at Brunonia Cottage.

Now, if you think I’m so egotistical that I named a summerhouse after myself, it is simply not true. I was named after the summerhouse. A Victorian cabin built by my great grandfather with family money that has long since disappeared, Brunonia Cottage has been in my family for six generations. It stands alongside three similar summerhouses on a small lake in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and as true places go, this one is at the center of my map.

Campsign That the cottage has survived all these years is testimony both to the building practices of the time and to dumb luck. It has nearly collapsed under various winter snow loads, lost several of its outbuildings to falling trees, survived multiple economic downturns, family breakups, extremely rambunctious children, hurricanes, an ex-convict who holed up there one winter using the walls for target practice, and a wildfire that almost claimed all three camps.

The cottage didn’t have a name until the first year my grandfather attended Brown University. Evidently, Brown students often refer to their beloved alma mater as Brunonia. The summer after his freshman year, my grandfather named the cottage after his university. Carried away by his own collegiate enthusiasm, he named the canoe and the cat Brunonia as well.  He was what my grandmother liked to call a rabid alumnus. An amateur composer, he wrote fight songs for Brown’s football team and drinking songs for his college buddies. Ultimately, there were far more drinking songs than fight songs, my grandfather being more enamored of liquid refreshment than contact sports. Years later, when his grandchildren were born, he strongly suggested that each one of us be named Brunonia, and though I’m quite certain he was kidding, I know that everyone at least considered the idea. He was a charismatic character who could talk people into doing all sorts of silly things. His powers of persuasion were greatly enhanced by the fact that he had quite a bit of money, which everyone hoped to inherit. My mother, being a more down to earth New England type, refused to saddle me with such a first name, seeing the inevitability of nicknaming and imagining the difficult time a girl might have with the nickname Bruno. So Brunonia became my middle name, and eventually, as my grandfather always suggested to me, it became my pen name as well. 

My grandfather was my writing mentor. He was a wonderful piano player and wrote quite a bit of music, which he would always play for his guests after dinner and a few drinks. He and my grandmother kept a flat in New York and, in the early days, they often took the milk train down from Boston to go to Harlem and listen to jazz. They lived a charmed life and a rather fast life. In the end, to the horror of both his wife and children, there was nothing left to inherit.  One day, he woke up and simply announced that everything was gone. When the family protested in disbelief, he answered, “What are you complaining about, you had fun didn’t you?” And they had to admit that they had. Adventures with my grandfather were the essence of fun.

When asked what he would do now that he’d spent all his money, he replied that he planned to retire to Brunonia Cottage and grow marijuana, an idea that sent shock waves through the rest of the family who feared he might be serious. At seventeen, I found the idea delightful. But he never got the chance. One night after dinner, he went to the piano and played a medley of the songs he had written, including all of the Brown football and drinking songs. Then he stood up, swore under his breath, walked out to the back porch and collapsed.

The following summer we found two huge marijuana plants on the beach. Most likely, they were planted by one of my cousins or by the hippies who lived across the street, but it made us wonder.


Isn’t it funny, the things you remember . . . and the things you don’t? I had forgotten about the marijuana plants until the day of the reunion when my friend, Gail, reminded me. She also reminded me that I had taught her to smoke. Not marijuana, Marlboros.

 I was incredulous.  “I have asthma,” I said. “I don’t smoke.”

“Well, you did that summer,” Gail said.

 And then another memory started to flood back, the memory of lighting up our stolen cigarettes and practicing the art of French inhaling. The next morning, having taken our example, the little kids tried the same thing in the woods and almost burned down the state of New Hampshire or at least all three camps. Everyone ran outside, carrying brooms, hoses, buckets of water, blankets, anything they could find to smother the flames that were quickly spreading across the dry pine needles in the grove between the cottages. By the time the volunteer fire department arrived, the flames were out, but we spent the next three nights taking turns keeping watch to make sure the fire hadn’t spread underground and wouldn’t reignite. We were all immediately grounded, and the little kids missed a trip to Santa’s Village, something they were still lamenting last weekend at our reunion. I offered to drive them that afternoon, and to pay for it as well, if only they would stop complaining. 

On the day of the fire, smoking was banned in all three cottages with one exception made for my grandmother who had been chain smoking unfiltered Camels forever and refused to give up her habit. Her smoking was relegated to the front porch where she quietly puffed away for years. We tried on several occasions to get her to quit, citing the health risks. She was in her eighties when she told us she didn’t want to hear another word about it. She said that she would never give it up, that she’d been smoking all her life, and that it hadn’t hurt her yet.  The minute she made her pronouncement, I became fearful. Be careful what you declare, my mother always used to say. Don’t tempt the imps. But my grandmother was a powerful matriarch, so I told myself that any imps would be crazy to mess with her. And, even in her eighties, my grandmother was the healthiest woman I had ever met. In all the years I’d known her, she’d never had so much as a sniffle.

A year after my grandmother made her declaration, she died in a fire caused by smoking in bed. Irony isn’t an imp, it’s a bitch.

Someone mentioned the death of my grandmother at the reunion, and someone else just as quickly changed the subject. That’s the way it goes with people you know well. They know when to move on.

“I gave up smoking three years ago,” Gail said quietly to me.

“Let’s all have another drink,” someone else suggested. 


To learn more about Brunonia, click here

January 04, 2010

Love, Friendship, & Backstabbing.

Love, Friendship, & Backstabbing.

By Lisa Daily

Love & Friendship:

Have you ever had your life get so crazy that it feels like you're struggling to breathe?

It's been a little crazy around my house lately.  Really crazy, in fact.

My fellow tarts, being the wonderful women they are, have graciously allowed me to give up my spot on the blog, so that I can focus more of my brain cells on the round-the-clock chaos at my house.

For this, I am grateful.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to blog here at the Lipstick Chronicles --I've had a fabulous time with all of you, and I will miss you very much.  I've never seen such a fantastic group of backbloggers anywhere.

I am also truly honored that you, the Tarts, asked me to blog with you in the first place.  You are wonderful, prolific, gifted writers -- and I am so thankful to know you all.

And in that spirit of friendship, love and kindness, I am going to use my very last post as a Regular Tart to introduce my very good friend Eileen Cook, who has a smart, funny book coming out this week. 

Eileen Cook and I met Sarah on the very same day.  Eileen & I were camped out on a hotel lobby couch after wandering around the RWA conference in San Francisco.  I was disappointed, because the one author I was dying to meet wasn't at her signing table.

I took a book anyway.  (As you all know, Tart books make lovely gifts.)

Ten minutes later, Sarah Strohmeyer plops down on the couch next to me, ticked off about being late to her signing.  (She'd been blogging.)  Eileen and I sympathized, and the three of us begin to joke around.

Sarah looks at the coffee table, points to The Sleeping Beauty Proposal and says, "Hey, that's my book."

I say something witty like, "Ohmigod.  You're the one author I was dying to meet."

The three of us gab for an hour or two, discover a mutual obsession with the movie Idiocracy, and Sarah tells us a story about the time Bill Clinton attempted to make a move.

It's always great when authors turn out to be as cool and interesting as their books.

Anyway, it felt like a full-circle kind of moment that this was my last official blog, and that Eileen has a YA book coming out this week called Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood.

Getting Revenge cover
Popularity is the best revenge.
In the final weeks of eighth grade, Lauren Wood made a choice. She betrayed her best friend, Helen, in a manner so publicly humiliating that Helen had to move to a new town just to save face. Ditching Helen was worth it, though, because Lauren started high school as one of the It Girls--and now, at the start of her senior year, she's the cheerleading captain, the quarterback's girlfriend, and the undisputed queen bee. Lauren has everything she's ever wanted, and she has forgotten all about her ex-best friend.

But Helen could never forget Lauren. After three years of obsessing, she's moving back to her old town. She has a new name and a new look, but she hasn't dropped her old grudges. She has a detailed plan to bring down her former BFF by taking away everything that's ever been important to Lauren—starting with her boyfriend.

Lisa:  Have you ever sought revenge like a character in the book?


Obviously, due to legal implications there is no way I’m going to admit to anything.  If you crossed me earlier in life and now that you’ve read the book you’re wondering if what happened with your favorite pair of jeans maybe wasn’t an accident… well, I can neither confirm nor deny anything.

What should be clear is that people shouldn’t mess with us writer types. We’re a lethal combination of overly sensitive and creative. Our imaginations are capable of creating entire new worlds, people, and futures. Coming up with a way to mess someone up is practically easy. Luckily, we’re typically satisfied to have those that cross us have their brains sucked out of their nostrils by hungry zombies on the page and don’t need to take our revenge into the real world.

I actually prefer fictional revenge. You’re highly unlikely to get jail time for fiction. Plus, it can be really hard to find a hungry zombie when you need one. They’re highly unreliable. For me, writing has always been a cathartic way to deal with strong emotions: anger, passion, despair. There’s a release that comes with letting those thoughts that we normally keep locked down, tucked away from public viewing, out for some free time. On the page, unlike life you want to constantly increase conflict. You push your characters to the breaking point to show that even what seemed imaginable can be survived. Head shot distance

Writing allows us to put old demons to bed. (I like to picture them in footie jammies) We’re able to play things out on the page and let them go. Writers don’t need to live in the past, because we can live in any world we can imagine.  And we can imagine better than just about anyone.

Lisa:  Did you get to keep that custom made "not a Barbie doll" on the cover of your book?


Tragically, no.  The doll currently resides on a shelf in my editor's office.  Interesting trivia: the doll came with lace thong panties.  This makes me suspect publishing companies are not the typical buyers of custom dolls.

Lisa:  Do you think Sarah would be perfectly justified in exacting some sort of revenge on a certain ex-President?


Well, she should definitely write him into her next book.  And maybe make him bald. Fictional revenge really is the best.  You can go so much larger, or imply smaller, as the case may be.

Lisa:  Thanks for being here today, and best of luck with your terrific book.


Thanks for having me!

Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood is in bookstores Tuesday, Jan 5.

November 23, 2009


Optimism versus Pessimism

By Lisa Earle McLeod 

TLC is delighted to welcome guest author Lisa Earle McLeod.

The sunny-side-uppers claim that a positive attitude is the secret to success. If only all the Eeyores of the world would start thinking more positively, we could cure disease, create world peace, and line our pockets with riches.

Yet the self-proclaimed realists assert that they're the only ones are willing to face the facts. Leave life to the Pollyannas, and they'll skip us off the edge of a cliff, clutching copies of "The Secret" to their chests, passionately chanting, "I believe I can fly, I believe I can fly."

But which side is right?

The answer is both. Or neither, depending on whether you prefer your glass half-full or half-empty.

Any cynic will tell you, ill-informed optimism deludes people into ignoring reality. Yet doom and gloom pessimism sucks people into depression and inaction, neither of which are very helpful in bad situations.

The pessimism versus optimism debate is actually a false choice. It's an either/or myth, perpetuated by people who are completely exasperated that the clueless optimists/pessimists on the other side won't see the truth.

However, the real duality we need to embrace is facts AND faith.

As in, the facts may be pretty awful AND having faith that you will ultimately prevail is one of the best ways to insure that you do.

Originally cited by Jim Collins in the classic best-seller "Good to Great," the ability to simultaneously face the brutal facts of your current situation AND hold onto the faith that you will prevail is one of the hallmarks of a great leader, and it's the secret to surviving adversity.

The nuanced differences between the facts and faith duality, and pessimism vs. optimism debate, are important.

Facts are just that, facts. However, pessimism is a negative emotion that you attach to facts. Yes, your business might be going broke, or your disease might only have a 2 percent survival rate, or your 401(k) may be worth less than it was when you were 20. But those facts don't have to dictate your response. The ability to look clear-eyed at a situation doesn't mean succumbing to despair.

That's where faith comes in.

While optimism is usually connected to certain outcomes: I'll meet Mr. Right, I'll find a new job next week, I won't have to do any more chemo, faith is less scripted.

It can be faith in God, faith in yourself or just a general feeling that the world tilts toward the greater good. It's a belief that things eventually work out OK, even if the process is messy and you don't know what OK is going to look like.

I explore the facts and faith duality in my new book, "The Triangle of Truth," which comes out in January.

One of the things I uncovered in my research is that the ability to tolerate uncertainty is what separates the people who can survive difficult situations from those who are flattened by them.

Optimism and pessimism are both based on assumptions that things will play out in certain ways. Yet people who are able to tolerate the ambiguity of uncertain outcomes are able to assimilate facts AND faith at the same time.

Embracing ambiguity is hard for us humans. The optimists and the pessimists may seem sure of their perspectives, but the truth is, nobody knows for sure how life will play out.

We never did and we never will.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a syndicated columnist, author, and keynote speaker.  Her new book The Triangle of Truth:  The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small will be released in January  - Learn more about Lisa at - www.TriangleofTruth.com

Side note from Kathy Sweeney:  Want to help some families facing the bad economic reality with some good old fashioned generosity?  If you've been following TLC, you know about Rachel Rothenberg and her victory in the Jeopardy Teen Tournament.  Rachel is donating 20% of her winnings to charity, and we at Team Rachel are helping raise more money for our local food bank by taking orders - this week only - for the shirts we designed to celebrate our champion. For details, please e-mail me at [email protected] or check out Kathy Reschini Sweeney on Facebook.  THANKS!  (And thanks to Lisa for sharing this space today!)

November 22, 2009

Me -- a left-wing nutcase?

LC loves Lorna Barrett and her New York Times Bestselling Booktown Mystery Series. We like her as L. L. Bartlett, too, when she writes the Jeff Resnick Mystery series. But at least one reader doesn’t like her at all.

By Lorna Barrett

Last week I got a rather spiteful review on Amazon for my latest book. Okay, those of us in print should be used to lousy reviews--especially on Amazon. Onestar  

What is it about that particular online retailer that brings out the nastiness in readers? I suspect a good number of those venom-filled reviewers are frustrated writers who’ve been unable to see their work in print from a traditional publisher and want to take us down a peg. Although, to quote Dennis Miller, "That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong."

Still, what was wrong with my book that inspired this woman to leave a one-star review, commenting that my book has an incredibly weak plot full of talking points from liberal causes?

If she thinks my plot stinks – I can accept that. Goodness knows, I don’t have a PhD in plotting. But just what are these liberal causes of mine? Feed the hungry

First off, food pantries. Heavens, what a radical concept! God forbid anyone should want to feed hungry children, the unemployed, the elderly, and the homeless. (And if you don’t believe the need exists, perhaps this recent report from The Washington Post will change your mind.) http://tinyurl.com/yahsvwl

And how about going green? Another extremist concept. Apparently, only liberal do-gooders see the point in refraining from polluting our planet, or to stop edible food (and its recyclable packaging) from ending up in the waste stream. Banishing plastic grocery bags for the reusable kind? Sheer heresy!

Gosh, ya think the FBI has a file on me? Gulp!Go green

But let’s get back to that one star review. It’s apparently the only review she’s ever published on Amazon. (At least under that name.) If nothing else, my book brought out the passion in her. Sadly, that passion appears to be hatred, but if nothing else, I INSPIRED HER! After all, has she logged on to sing the praises of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue? (Not as of today, at least.)

Okay: I write cozy mysteries. I also write psychological suspense under a different name, but that’s for another post. Apparently some readers (this woman among them?) think that "cozy" equals "full of fluff." And why is "murder" a perfectly acceptable subject, but helping hungry people and recycling are not? Perhaps some cozies are "light"--but they don’t have to be. And the better ones are like all good books: they make you think. Although sometimes I believe engaging brain and actually thinking is a lost art for some of our citizens, but that’s another rant.

Bookplate_Special.sm2 So, what’s the name of this book of mine full of liberal thinking?

"Bookplate Special."

And by the way, it’ll debut today at #20 on the New York Times Bestsellers mass market paperback list. That pleases me, for if a lot of people read it, they might be inspired to recycle and/or donate to food pantries (they can really use it, especially at this time of year). Imagine the havoc that would cause!

I couldn’t be happier.