Sunday, December 29, 2013

Do Not Place Your Trust Blindly in the Chocolate Index

Finally, it's that time of year.
The one weekend in which I have NOTHING to do. No shopping, no decorating, no cleaning, no laundry.
Okay, there may be some laundry.
The weekend between Christmas and New Years. The one weekend every year when I can kick back, eat chocolate Santas while watching the Complete DVD box set of whatever 1980's hit television show I didn't watch during it's original prime time run but still somehow managed to incorporate all the tag lines into my everyday conversation. (This year it is Twin Peaks. Which, from the two episodes I have watched so far may be more fairly described as not so much of a 'hit' as a 'constant state of schizophrenia'. Which is probably why I can completely relate.)
No concerns about working out or eating right or doing taxes – the New Year is still days away.
It is also the time of year when everyone from the lady at the grocery store to the dude in the bow-tie who hosts CBS Sunday Morning looks back over the previous year.
I catch myself reminiscing as well. It is probably all that hot chocolate, free time and enormous 1980's eye-wear. (Have I ever mentioned that during most of the 1980's I dressed exactly like Maggie O'connell from Northern Exposure? And a little like the Log Lady from Twin Peaks.) Okay. Enough with the reminiscing.

This is the weekend to play with the new Christmas goodies – like my Mini-Bonsai tree: 
This is really more of an exercise in faith rather than tiny tree gardening.
I know. Not much of a tree yet. But after 7 days of 'cold stratifying' they are suppose to burst forth in a zen display of tiny, well manicured branches.

And my new bird feeder:
Behold the rare MidWestern Squirreltle Dove The Squirreltle Dove is flightless yet still manages to take shelter in the smallest of feeding alcoves.
It is also the weekend to play with the writing journal my daughter gave me. It is full of inspirational quotes and writing prompts such as:
What does regret taste like?

And I have an answer:
Regret tastes like that piece of chocolate you really, really wanted. The one shaped in the international symbol for caramel. No need to consult the chocolate index on the bottom of the box. No one would dare to make another, lesser chocolate in the legal, copyrighted, trademarked caramel square...but instead, you bite in and the chocolate is waxy and the filling, while initially chewy turns more and more into jelly with weird crunchy bits. In your brain, you can taste the rich creamy caramel but in your mouth the only thing sticking to your teeth are those unidentifiable, slightly raspberry tasting bits. You want to throw the remainder of the offending candy away but that would be wasteful. Wrong. So you own the lesson chocolate. Not so much savoring as reliving the impulse which brought you to this place. Even after brushing your teeth, the taste of the imposter lingers, as do the calories, now wasted.

The question got me to thinking about regret. I actually have very few. The biggest one – which involved a poorly canceled engagement – was, with the help of time, maturity and the amazing stalker-ing abilities afforded by Facebook – rectified. The others really fall more under the category of 'things I wish I had done'. Such as 'I wish I had gone to Jamaica for my co-worker's wedding ' and 'I wish I hadn't let these extra pounds creep up on me' and 'if only we had snuck into that stranger's wedding photo'....
Because honestly, if I were to change the more major decisions I have and haven't made – such as a different career path or a different house choice or even better financial decisions – I would not be where I am today. And what's the point of wasting a bunch of energy on regretting things that may or may not have brought me to such a wonderful place?

So, as this glorious weekend of nothingness draws to a close. As we prepare to celebrate the ending of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I leave you with this:
Live your lives with conviction and determination. Find happiness in the day-to-day. Even if, once in a while, it means getting stuck with a weird jelly candy instead of an amazing caramel.
And if you're a little afraid, just do what I do and stick your finger in the bottom of that decision. If it turns out to be a lesser nougat or maple weirdness just stick it back in the box and move on.
Because life doesn't come with a chocolate index printed on the bottom and face it, life is too short to waste those calories.

(Please note, I wrote that little exercise after a HUGE Christmas dinner which had followed a HUGE Christmas breakfast which had followed a HUGE Christmas Eve dinner. I had no business breaking into a box of chocolates and in the less stuffed light of day, the chocolates – which were a gift from my sister-in-law – are quite delicious. In no way did I mean to step on Forest Gump's toes with that little box of chocolates analogy. I mean, you can see the flaw in his logic. No one ever eats a chocolate out of the box without first consulting the chocolate directory that finer candy companies place on the bottom of the box or at the very least, poking the bottom of the candy to test it out.)

So from the Coast of Illinois:

Happy Poking!
Happy 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays! I'm Not Ready Yet!

As I write this I am trying very hard to NOT grab all the cookies off the cookie plate, crawl under the Christmas tree and chug the gallon of eggnog in the fridge in a massive rogue Holiday Panic Attack. But I can't. Because I have yet to purchase any eggnog. And there are no cookies.

I had my traditional Holiday Panic Attack the first week of December when I realized that my work schedule did not allow for my annual Holiday Prep Weekend. The annual HPW consists of me taking a couple extra days off around a weekend to allow for decorating, shopping, card writing and cookie baking.

Traditionally I succeed in getting some decorations up and a few gifts purchased. Oh, and I have a nice lunch by myself at a fancy mall restaurant, usually The Cheesecake Factory although California Pizza Kitchen lured me in last year with it's stuffed pablano pepper. I come away feeling well rested, a little pampered and slightly smug even though I have only checked off two or three things from my list of things to do.

I talked myself down by telling myself that decorating is really a family event and my daughter loves to bake. But then I counter with 'you haven't sent out a single Christmas Card.' And then the voice in my head laughs. I haven't sent out a Christmas card since 2001. Well, that's not entirely true. I send out reciprocal cards to those who send first. This causes me great guilt so I end up writing out cards to anyone over sixty years old or more than one hundred miles away. Naturally, these never arrive in time for December 25. But really, the season extends through New Years so the term Christmas Card is really too confining. I live to push the boundaries of social convention.

And there are cookies. My Mom made her famous French Cookies:
Theses are fried two at a time on a tiny waffle iron. Thanks Mom!
And I baked two batches myself, because the weekend I experienced my first Holiday Panic Attack rolled into my Holiday Exhilaration Festival. This would be the period in which I feel anything is possible. Make two wine cork wreaths? Pour me another glass and get the glue gun! Hand embroider tiny dancing elves on sweaters for everyone to wear Christmas Eve? Sure! Do you want them waltzing or doing the macarena? It helps that we had a beautiful snow fall which lasted most of the day. I baked a batch of Spritz cookies and then, as they only use the egg yolks...I baked a batch of Meringues.

I wrapped packages that day as Love Actually played on the television.
Please note, the cat is not a gift. He is a threat.
  Including the package which needed to be sent to my neice and nephew in Germany. Which usually doesn't get mailed until December 20th , causing the lady at the post office to reprimand my tardiness and my niece and nephew to call me "die Tante, der nicht Eigentümer einen Kalender oder zu verstehen, wie lange es dauert, um die Dinge nach Deutschland versenden“. I am pretty sure that translates into 'the Aunt who is beautiful and our favorite'.

I love wrapping packages. I crease the paper so no raw edges showed. I use ribbon that coordinates with the paper. I hand make my bows. My packages have pretty paper and shiny ribbon strung horizontally and vertically with a lovely bow adorning the intersection. Yup. Packages one through five look beautiful. The remaining gifts slowly devolve until the last few look as if I wrapped them with my toes. While drunk. And with my eyes closed.

I managed to get my kitchen tree up.

My Dad gave me this tree 30 years ago when I was away at school. It is the first decoration to go up and the last to come down.
 And our family tree was decorated in shifts, and while it doesn't look like something off the HGNetwork, it looks beautiful. (I am ignoring the pile of storage boxes which remain in the family room downstairs. At this point it would be crazy to put them back in the store room.)

Apparently I was still drunk from wrapping packages when I took this one.

Wow, I could so start freaking out again.

But that annoying voice in my head, who sounds a little like Mary Tyler Moore unless she is singing in which case she sounds like Roseanne Barr, reminds me: It's not about the gifts or the tree or the cards. This season is about remembering to believe in something you can not see. It's about holding tight to the people and memories that are most dear, remembering the ones who have slipped away and planting that seed of wonder, amazement and hope for those who may be having trouble finding it.

It is also about letting this scary-ass Santa head see the light of day for another year.

You better believe he sees you!  

Happy Holidays to All from the Coast of Illinois!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Blatant Friend Promotion! or Look out, there's some new authors in town!

(12/19/13 Just a quick update - new cover! new cover! new cover!...oh my!)

What's the point of doing a blog if you can't on occasion use it to promote someone?

Actually, this particular blog is promoting two someones. These two women, Nazarea Andrews and AJ Elmore, are two writer chick friends of mine. Today we are celebrating the publication of their joint novel:

Prince of Blood and Steel

Seth Morgan has returned home after two years spent building an alliance that will take his family's crime syndicate to a new level in New York City's black collar society. He expects a warm welcome as heir of the Morgan empire. He hopes to finally marry Nicolette, the woman he's loved his whole life.

What he finds is a different world, one where his family's legacy is in ruins. His big brother, Caleb, has changed into someone cold and bitter, plotting to overthrow their patriarch. And Nicolette, daughter of the criminal banking industry, has left the family entirely.

When a vicious misunderstanding leaves Caleb dead, Seth is left reeling. Desperate for truth, Seth is forced to turn to his only remaining cousin, Emma, for support. As he tries to mend his relationship with Nicolette, he begins a search for answers that will take him from the dirty streets to the highest reaches of their illicit empire.

Torn between the desire to protect those who mean the most to him, and a need to learn more about Caleb's death, he grows distant to protect them. As each secret surfaces, he realizes that the only way to restore his family is to take his place at its head, and fully embrace the brutal way they live.

Interested in a copy?

Want to enter to win a copy?
a Rafflecopter giveaway

And now a little about the authors:

Nazarea Andrews is an avid reader and tends to write the stories she wants to read. She loves chocolate and coffee almost as much as she loves books, but not quite as much as she loves her kids. She lives in south Georgia with her husband, daughters, and overgrown dog.

You can find Nazarea at:

Aj Elmore has a BA in Journalism from the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University, and lives and works in Huntington. She writes across an array of fiction genres, and even dallies in poetry at times. She strongly believes in experience as inspiration and research, and whole-heartedly supports the idea of artistic community and cross-genre, cross-media collaboration.

And one more little tidbit – the cover of this book is courtesy of the Illustrated Author, aka Melissa Stevens. Melissa is a talented artist and writer in her own right. You can see more of her work and contact her at:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Les Hungré Birds

She sits outside, looking into the window at the warm glow of a kitchen. A biting winter wind whips around her. She holds her small body tighter, puffing against the frigid assault as a splash of water caught in the wind washes over her. She sets her sight on that warm bountiful kitchen opens her tiny toothless mouth and begins to sing: "I Dream a Dream...a Dream of Seeds..."

No, this is not Anne 'Fantine' Hathaway but the tiny chickadee who is staring into my kitchen window. I don't like her accusatory stare but it is my own fault.

I have let the bird feeder go empty.

I fear the large speckled starling Jean Valjean will incite the handful of titmice and finches. Their tiny beaks will peck into me as they whistle and caw 'Let Us Eat Soot Cakes!'

That evil mourning dove Madame Thénardier has already caused a disturbance, complaining that her tiny feet freeze when perching on the metal bird feeder. And those filthy squirrel convicts running around the yard waving French flags and bathing in the fountain...

And a tiny Cardinal Cosette sings: 'Freedom...Freedom...'
Oops, that's George Micheal...


Dear Lord, I hope they don't start launching pigs...

Give me Sunflower Seeds or I Poop on your Deck!