Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I might poke my head in here sometime over the next few weeks, but I might not. I'm facing a number of deadlines and other stresses from now until mid January--the crowning event is probably having to feed 80 plus college swimmers in my little house mid January (Don't ask!)--and two of the kids will be home for Christmas, so I want to enjoy their company as much as I can. (One is a law student and has already informed me he'll be holed up working, too.) So, Merry Christmas (or merry whatever holidays you celebrate) and happy new year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last bookmas clues

The Twelve Days of Bookmas has been fun to play. Or, I haven't actually played, since I haven't been guessing--good thing, because I would never have been able to figure out any of the answers. But I've had fun coming up with clues. Sometimes the appropriate (in my odd mind) clue jumped out at me the moment I saw the answer and sometimes I was, er, clueless.

So here we go, for the last time--the answers to these clues are two children's books.

1. I somehow missed this series, though it looks like my kids could have read it. I don't think they did--at least, I know I didn't read it to them. I had to go to good old Wikipedia to figure out a possible clue. So here it is: I didn't read these books, but I did read--or at least I have a copy of--the two volume set of Le Mort d'Arthur from my college days. Unless Wikipedia lies, there's some connection there.

2. I'm not sure if I read this book by this author or not, but if I did, it wasn't a favorite. I do, however, have two copies of a slim book he co-authored.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bookmas clue

Woof!

Revision Brain

I'm working on revising my novella--the novella isn't being particularly cooperative--so that's where I am. I'll post a Bookmas clue, if I have one, at 12:15 pm EST.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bookmas Clue

Today's clues are brought to you by the letter "W": 1. Watch; 2. Win; 3. Wave; 4. Wings.

Cooking Catastrophes

A word about my Bookmas clue of yesterday--sadly, I speak from experience.

My husband is an excellent cook, but he has made a mistake or two in the kitchen over the years. This particular time we had my parents over for dinner, and he was making Nigerian Beef-Spinach Stew. He was using the recipe from our American Heart Association Cookbook, but this one seems pretty much the same.

Unfortunately, in the last minute flurry, he grabbed the baking soda instead of the corn starch. He realized something was amiss when his sauce started foaming.

I'm not sure we've had that dish since.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bookmas Clue

Don't confuse corn starch with baking soda unless you want to eat and brush your teeth at the same time.

Trying to find the Christmas spirit

Tis the season and everyone should be happy, right? All should be well with the world. And everyone in my immediate world is well, but...

A woman I knew years ago, the mom of kids that were in some of my kids' classes back in elementary school, died December 4. Her husband died eleven years ago--when the kids were still in grade school--so now the "kids"--ages 21 to 26--are orphans. I became an orphan this year, but I am so much farther along in my life.

And Sunday I found out one of my youngest son's high school classmates--a young man 21 or 22 years old--was in a serious car crash Saturday night. He's injured, but I don't know yet the extent or duration of his injuries.

So I'm thinking today of families that must spend their Christmas at hospitals or funeral homes and of the doctors and nurses and others who will spend the holiday with them. And I'm hoping Christmas peace finds its way to those places and those people, too.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Quantum physics

No, I'm not going to talk about science, I just thought I should explain, in case my clue yesterday wasn't obvious, what I was referring to: Schrodinger's cat. The link will take you to the Wikipedia article. I don't know enough about it to tell you if the article is correct or not, but it does mention the cat.

How do I, an English major, law school drop out, former regulation writer, current romance novelist, know anything about Schrodinger's cat? Sadly, it's not due to my scholarship or thirst for knowledge. It's because of my kids.

Third son was a physics and computer science major in college, and first son was an aerospace major who started thinking about graduate school in plasma physics around the time he graduated. (I thought there were only three states of matter--the world has changed a lot since I was in school.) So we had what I call the "cat book" in the house--a physics book with a picture of Schrodinger's cat on the cover. Of course I asked about it and of course I didn't understand the answer, but I did remember the cat.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bookmas Day 7

Wanted: Cat, dead and alive.

If I say any more, this clue will be too obvious.

Christmas letters

So I'm working on the annual MacKenzie family Christmas letter. So shoot me.

I've never understood why some people are rabidly against Christmas letters. What could be more in the Christmas spirit than taking some time to review the past year and sharing it with friends and relations? Do people object because the letter isn't written personally to them? But then why is sending a purchased card with only a signature better?

I confess I didn't grow up in a family that did Christmas letters or family pictures for that matter. What I remember is dad bringing home big books of cards. We'd pour through them, and my parents would choose the card they wanted. Then my dad would order them--he worked for the U.S. Senate and I think there was some place to order cards there--which seems like an odd notion now, but I never thought about it then. In some amount of time, he'd bring the cards home, imprinted with my parents' names so they didn't even have to sign them. I do think my mother addressed the envelopes by hand--this was way before word processors.

I turned to the "dark side" when I had young kids. We did the kid Christmas picture, and I tried to write a letter with every card. I had this crazy idea that my friends and relations might actually want to know a little of what was going on in my life. But my life isn't that exciting, and it really isn't that exciting when I'm recounting it for the 10th or 20th or 30th time.

Light bulb moment. Since by then the word processor had been invented, I realized that even though I was a terrible typist, I could write this all once, allowing myself to be more amusing (perhaps) whilst not suffering terminal writer's cramp, and then print it out multiple times.

Yes, I know there are Christmas letters that provoke eye rolling. I've gotten a few. Okay, I may even have sent a few. While most recipients seemed entertained by my efforts, the word did come back through the grapevine that one family member was not a fan. Fine. So I stopped sending this person a letter. No big deal.

And I like getting Christmas letters, even the eye roll ones. I'm extremely disappointed to open a card from a friend to find just a signature. These are people I care about, even if we only correspond once a year. I want to hear what's up in their lives.

Of course, as I'm working on the letter, I just realized that when we replaced the ancient desk top computer, I lost my address list. Hmm. Maybe some lucky folks will escape the MacKenzie family Christmas letter this year.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bookmas Day 6

So I didn't get disqualified from giving clues--Jessica just sent the puzzle out late.

If you guys get this one at all, let alone quickly, I'll fall over in a dead faint. Which would be a very bad thing as I might be driving home from the dentist then. This is only for my semi-annual check up, but I still hate it. I won't let the hygienist anywhere near my mouth unless she's got the topical anesthesia at the ready. And as you get older...my husband has to go in tomorrow to get an old filling replaced. Apparently they wear out. What's up with that?

Okay, another lame clue. When my mother was alive, I used to pick her up once a month while the kids were in school and we'd go to the mall for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. We didn't have a lot of time--she lived about 20 minutes from my house, assuming traffic wasn't hideous, and I had to be sure to be back to fetch the kids from school. And as she aged, she had trouble walking--and seeing--so she wasn't up for a long day of shopping. We always made time, though, to go Borders and pick out that month's Signet Regencies which we would share. Little did I know I was doing research for my next career.

She hated to take up too much of my time, but as she got older and her glaucoma got worse, she had to give up driving. She loved clothes--she, unlike me, was very stylish--and my father was as bad as my husband is to shop with, so I would often go with her to the clothes stores in the mall. One her favorite stores says on its site that it's known for its "legacy items." (Italics is theirs from the site.)

So here's the clue: one of these two editors could be the son or grandson of the folks who started the store my mother favored, but if he is, he misplaced the "s" at the end of his last name.

Personal Training, Dentists, and Bookmas

I skipped the gym/exercising for five full days due to the copy edit crunch. I hate to do that. Usually I can manage my schedule without having to resort to such a full court press, but when I'm facing a hard deadline, I don't have much choice. I know, though, that I'll get back to my routine--and having to show up at my weekly personal training session tomorrow (today when you read this) helps.

I do like my routine, though. I'm such a boring person. I even eat the same thing for breakfast and for lunch every day.

But tomorrow (today when you read this) I don't get to follow my routine. After the gym, I have to go to the dentist. I hate going to the dentist.

All this is to say I don't have the Bookmas puzzle yet, and I'm not sure I'll have time to come up with a clue as I'll be running around most of the morning. I'll post something if I can, but if you don't see anything, that's why.

Or maybe my last clue was too easy and I've been banned from further clue giving.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bookmas Day 5

Okay, I've given up on having the cleverest clues. I'm aiming for the most long winded, incoherent, odd clues.

As a writer of Regency romances, I have to deal with a certain amount of history. Some Regency writers are history nuts--or, I should say, history enthusiasts. Not me--though in my defense, back when I was in school, history was mostly about white men and battles. Not the interesting stuff, IMHO, of course.

But now that I'm writing books set in 1816-1821 (the novella I'm currently working on is actually set in 1785), I need to think about things like...bathrooms! Did they have anything beyond chamber pots, and if so, what? (But chamber pots are sort of funny--I've used them to bash villains over the head.)

Anyway, if you've been keeping track of me over the last few months and aren't here just to see if I have a decent Bookmas clue (and yes, you might want to move along if that's your goal), you know I went to England in the fall for fun and research. And poor Mr. MacKenzie got dragged along. After we got back home, we--actually, I think it was Mr. MacKenzie's fault--realized we live on the east coast of the US where there are a lot of historic houses built in the time period of my interest. So we visited Homewood House in Baltimore--I blogged about our visit.

The docent was very patient. We were her last tour and I wanted the full show. It was very near closing time, but she seemed to enjoy taking us around--she gave me a high five when I recognized an Argand lamp. Even though Homewood House is on Johns Hopkins' campus, I guess not so many history buffs go through it. And then I was delighted to see a sort of fancy night convenience like one I'd seen in England. After the tour, I had to buy the big illustrated book Homewood House by Catherine Rogers Arthur and Cindy Kelly because I like to look at pictures of objects that my characters might use or see when I'm trying to picture scenes. And then Mr. MacKenzie found Temples of Convenience & Chambers of Delight by Lucinda Lambton that's mostly about bathrooms and I had to have that, too.

So, no, Jessica didn't come up with a series about historical bathrooms of New York City--but, hey, maybe that's an idea! But the title of the series she did develop has something to do with public utilities. My 1785 novella, which I am not setting in London partly because I want to finesse the whole late 18th century Georgian powder and patch thing which has never been a real romantic idea for me, would probably not be able to have this utility in the book; by 1816, yes, probably I could have this as part of the London streets in my stories.

Another video

So you all probably know what yesterday's Hanukkah video was a take off of. Er, I didn't really. So here's the original song done in an amazing--to me, at least--a cappella way that even shows you how he made the sounds.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Copy edits and Bookmas Day 4

The copy edits for The Naked King are on their way to NYC, tra la! I now have oatmeal for brains...perhaps that will keep me safe from zombies. Part of the challenge with this book was trying to be sure it was consistent with my novella, "The Naked Prince," which will be out in the anthology An Invitation to Sin in February. I wrote the King before the Prince, but the Prince will be in bookstores before the King. (The King comes out in June.) And I handed the King in almost a year ago...I often feel like I'm in some sort of weird other dimension. A time warp, maybe...and no, I'm not going to sing.

So, I hope I was successful. I'll get another look at the book when page proofs arrive, but those are expensive to change.

And now on to the clue. I am not very good at guessing games, and I think I'm not very good at guessing game clues. What comes to mind at the moment--and remember, I've got oatmeal for brains--is a story about Jane Doe. Jane was born in the "town" I grew up in. I say town in quotes because it was more a postal address--the place was unincorporated and spread out over a good bit of territory. Anyway, I still live not far from this "hometown." I was at church one Sunday, at the donut hour after Mass, when I got talking to a woman whose daughter had been on our neighborhood summer swim team. Since I was the adult volunteer in charge of the team, and did all the data entry work, I knew her name--mostly I knew her daughter's name--and had chatted with her on the pool deck over the years...though I think her daughter was only on the team for a year or two.

Anyway, we got chatting. It was probably around the time I'd sold my first book, The Naked Duke. Somehow we got around to that fact, and my friend said, oh, her cousin wrote romance novels. It turns out her cousin is Jane Doe!

Happy Hanukkah

When my kids were in nursery school, the school would celebrate all holidays, including Hanukkah. Being Catholic and going through all Catholic schools, I'd never been exposured to the story and customs. And I have to say, it always seemed that the non-Jewish kids, mine included, ate all the latkes. Anyway, I saw this on Facebook and had to share.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bookmas Day 3

Coming up with a clue for this one was really hard. The first thing that came to mind was the name of the series rhymes with the last name of a late 18th century writer who wrote a famous biography. Yeah, that's pretty lame, I know.

Romance University

I'm over at Romance University today with two of my pals, talking about our agent.

At some point I'll post the next Bookmas clue.

And in between this and that, I'll be working on my copy edits.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bookmas Day 2

I'm a law school drop out, married to a lawyer (a law school classmate). I'm also the daughter of a lawyer and the mother of a law student. If you haven't seen this video, take a look--it's not 100 % accurate, of course, but it's close enough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMvARy0lBLE

Here's the clue: far too many people probably went to law school because of this lawyer. Again, you need to post your answer in the comment section here: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Day of Bookmas

Here's my clue to help you guess the answer to today's question:

Some Regency heroes spread this, especially in their salad days.

See the question and post your answer in the comments section here: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Twelve Days of Bookmas

I'm deep into copy edits--more on that later, once I've made more progress. But meanwhile I'm participating in a fun contest my agent is running. I'll be posting clues on my Facebook fan page, but I'll post them here, too, for those of you not on Facebook. Here are the details: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the States.

If things have gone according to plan--and I sure hope they have--I have the copy edits for The Naked King in my possession, so I probably won't be posting anything here for a while. When I'm not working, I should probably spend some time with my family, don't you think?

I hope you all have family and friends around you--even if you aren't celebrating Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Revising--Letting Things Cook

Is that a good title for the day before Thanksgiving?

I finished the first draft of the novella...well, sort of. I doesn't really have an ending yet, and I know I'm going to be mad at myself when I go to revise it and get to the end to find a mess, but it's done for now. Thanksgiving and copy edits for The Naked King are coming. Time to put the novella aside.

This is actually the way I like to work. I try to finish a project with enough time before the due date to get some distance from it and then revise and polish. The thought of typing "The End" and hitting the send button in virtually one motion gives me hives. There are some writers who can do that, but I'm not one of them. Even when I think something is in pretty good shape, I realize I'm wrong about that when I go back in and start the polishing process. And having the copy edits for the King will be perfect to "clean my palette." (I haven't seen the King since January, but these are copy edits and it looks like I won't have a lot of time with them, so I will have to restrain myself and try not rewrite the book. I could probably revise until my editor yanked the manuscript from my grasping hands.)

The novella isn't due until January, but I have these copy edits, and my publisher has gotten very efficient at turning those into page proofs and zapping them back at me, and then there's the small matter of Christmas and family, so while I feel as if I'm in good shape, I don't feel like I have a lot of time to spare.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Out of the pool

The stitches came out today--yay! So I asked the doc if I could go back to swimming. He said sure--yay! But then I thought to ask him if I could wear swim goggles. Oh, no. Nothing that would put pressure on the wound for a month--the cut is near my right eyebrow.

I know there's a crazy water polo-playing Californian on swimmer boys' college swim team who swims without goggles, but even the thought makes me cringe. Swimming 3,000 meters in an indoor, chlorinated pool with no goggles? I think my eyes would explode.

So it looks like no swimming for me till almost Christmas. I am not happy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Discussing projects

Some authors love to talk about their books, both published and in progress. I don't. I sometimes wish I did--it might make writing synopses easier. But, eh, I'm just not that good at it. At book signings I often hand folks the book so they can read the back cover copy rather than try to tell them about it.

I recently had someone ask me about the new trilogy I've just agreed to do. Now that I'd accepted the contract, would I tell her about it? Er, no.

I'm not being coy. I guess the plot--what happens in the book--is not so interesting to me as how it happens and the relationships between characters while it's happening and the funny things that happen along the way. And until I start writing the books, I don't know how all that will play out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Deciding on a Agent

I've been thinking about choosing agents recently--talking about it on an authors' loop and with a friend who's in the agent-choosing process. Many of my thoughts are in a post I wrote for my agent's blog here.

There are a lot of things to think about and options to weigh, but I think my most important advice to someone facing the agent decision is: Know Thyself. Know what you want. Do you want an agent to hold your hand or one to just sell your work? Do you want one who edits or one who doesn't even read your material?

There are no right or wrong answers. Different writers want or need different things. And an agent that can be perfect for your best friend may be terrible for you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Dangers of Exercise

Yesterday I arrived at the gym, all ready for another adventure in personal training. First, though, I wanted to get in a little cardio. Two of the treadmills that face the TVs were free, so I picked the one with better proximity to interesting shows--I prefer the news to sports stations--and hopped on.

Big mistake.

Repeat after me--always, always check that some idiot has not left the treadmill running.

I hopped on, and my feet were promptly carried backward. The rest of me, illustrating some lovely rule of physics I'm sure, pitched forward and then down. The brain on board was trying to make sense of this. Why am I falling? Oh, the treadmill is running. Who would get off a treadmill and leave it running? This can't be good. Oh, damn, this is going to hurt.

Then bang, whizz, I'm on the floor.

No personal training for me. Instead I go off to my regular doc and then on to the plastic surgeon for two stitches to go with my assortment of scrapes and bruises.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Novel versus novella

I once heard a non-writer ask why an author would write a novella rather than a novel. My short, non-sexy answer is because the author has a contract for a novella rather than a novel.

My novellas--I'm working on my third now--have all been contracted at 25,000 to 30,000 words. That's roughly a quarter of one of my novels. (My novel contracts have been for 95,000 words--give or take, you understand.) So in writing a novella, I have to limit things: limit the time over which the story takes place, limit the number of characters, and limit the focus to pretty much the hero and heroine.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Progress

Today I start writing the last chapter of the first draft of the new novella. I think I know what the scene will be, but I never know how things will really go until I put the characters together on the page.


Monday, November 15, 2010

We interrupt this program...

I'm trying to get a first draft of a novella finished before Thanksgiving--and before the copy edits come for The Naked King--so blog posts will be sporadic.

In the meantime, here's a link to this hilarious (IMHO) video. Mr. June (who is also one of the singers) is a high school classmate of my third son.

Enjoy!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Summer swim team


Here's my summer swim team, the Glenwood Tigers, from many moons ago. I'm pretty sure I'm the fourth from the right in the front row with the white jacket and the headband.

I was an okay swimmer--not a star by any stretch of the imagination. But I worked hard, learned the strokes, and had fun with my summer friends. Since I went to Catholic school, I didn't see most of these kids during the year. Actually, I'm not sure how many of them saw each other, since I think the pool probably drew from more than one public elementary school neighborhood.

I think one of the greatest things about summer swimming is--assuming the parents and kids don't go all competitive crazy--that it builds community. What other activity brings together boys and girls from ages 3 or 4 (if we include pre-teamers) up to age 18 or 19 as well as parents and often college-aged coaches year after year after year?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

With thanks to all who have served and are now serving our country, and in memory of those who gave their lives.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Swim parents

Swimmer boy is a college senior; my years as a swim parent are coming to an end. Since oldest son was also a relatively serious swimmer through high school, and the middle two sons swam some, I've spent many, many hours on pool decks outdoors, slathered in sunscreen, or indoors, inhaling chlorine-laden air.

Being the parent of a kid in sports is a delicate balance. If you've ever attended a kid sporting event, you've probably seen parents behaving badly. I've signed Parents Codes of Ethics for rec soccer leagues and cringed when other parents berated the referees at basketball games. As a board member of the local summer swim league, I've spoken to--and had to make rulings on the behavior of--a number of wacko parents. One parent even adopted a cloak and dagger method, contacting me through an anonymous email site and adopting a pseudonym to tell me about a possible league rule violation--yes, she was involved because some new swimmer was displacing her daughter in the meet lineup.

It's easy to make fun of crazy sports parents, but at the same time, I, at least, can sympathize. There were times over the years when I was the parent in charge of our summer swim team that I did things that, in retrospect, I would have done differently if I had them to do over again. I may have lost perspective once or twice, and may have occasionally become a bit too ego-involved in my own kids' performances.

The thing is sports take lots and lots of parental time. Weekends are eaten up with matches or games or meets; week day mornings or evenings or both are busy with practices and constant carpooling. And different kids deal with competition differently--and so provoke a different emotional response from the parental unit.

And sometimes the parent is living or reliving their past sporting success--or failure--through their children.

But there are lots of good things about being a sports parents. I've made lots of friends and met a lot of great people, both parents and kids. Hopefully, everyone learns some good lessons about hard work, success and failure, and good sportsmanship.

And not to take sports too seriously.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Swimming and mourning

If you don't follow competitive swimming, you might have missed the news about Fran Crippen, the 26-year-old elite swimmer who died in the 10K World Cup open-water race near Dubai a few weeks ago.

I never met Fran, but I know people who knew him. He's the same age as one of my sons. And my boys were competitive swimmers, though never at Fran's level.

I was talking yesterday about mourning my father, but Dad lived a long life. He was 95 when he died, and, frankly, by the end all the systems weren't working that well. He couldn't see much or hear much, getting around was a bit of a challenge, and he was becoming forgetful. He didn't look his age, but he probably looked 85.

Fran was so young; he was just at the beginning of his life. (And while I mourn my father, I can't really imagine the pain I'd feel if I lost one of my children.)

Here's the thing about serious athletes--they are used to pushing themselves to failure and beyond. I don't think you get to be an Olympic quality athlete unless you have an incredible work ethic and a high tolerance for pain.

I haven't heard if they figured out what went wrong that day in Dubai, but I hope if there are more safety measures they can take to prevent this from happening again, they take them. I don't think it is realistic to expect the athletes to stop themselves when they are in trouble.

Here's a link a couple of my friends with sons connected to the University of Virginia's swim team posted about Fran: http://www.virginiasports.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=17800&ATCLID=205022430

Monday, November 8, 2010

November Mourning

The Catholic Church--and perhaps other Christian churches--sets aside time in November to remember the dead. All Souls Day follows All Saints Day (which follows Halloween). Our parish has a Mass of bereavement, and since my dad died this year, I got an invitation. And because mourning is a longish, complicated thing, I decided to go--and Mr. M very kindly went with me.

The service was very nice, but I was glad I brought tissues. In some ways I'm at peace with my loss--Dad was 95; he'd had a long life, but the quality of that life was declining and we were facing some hard decisions about his continued independence. But in some ways, the pain is still raw.

I feel a jumble of emotions: love, regret, sadness, nostalgia. Now I'm no longer anyone's child. At my age, having raised four children of my own, it seems that shouldn't matter, but somehow it does. Mourning my dad--and my mom--is mixed up with mourning the passage of time, my changing position in life, even the changing nature of the world I live in.

Friday, November 5, 2010

College Football

Here's the marching band getting ready to parade through campus before the football game.

I went to the University of Notre Dame, so I had a large dose of college football. Back then we got season's tickets because we were students. I'm pretty sure I went to all the games my freshman and sophomore years. Junior year I think we had not very good seats behind some very tall guys. By senior year I'd stopped going.

Do I hear a collective gasp of horror? Yes, I know it borders on sacrilege, but I just wasn't that into football. I'd rather walk around the lakes and hear the roar of the crowd in the distance than be in the stadium.

I'm still not very into football. I enjoy the band and the pageantry. And the energy in a college football stadium can be fun. But all too soon I get cold and bored--and my butt and back get sore from those metal bleachers--and want to go do something more interesting. So I took a pass on this game. I would have stayed to watch the band, but the swim parents' breakfast was starting, so I had to go.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Little Fall Color

This picture hardly does the scenery justice, but here is one of the views I saw as I was walking up to campus last weekend.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halloween Painting

When I was in Boston, I called Caroline Linden to see if we could get together. She said sure, after her daughter finished painting a window.

Say what?

Apparently her town has an interesting Halloween tradition--kids can sign up to paint pictures on windows of participating shops. Above are three examples. The artists have a certain "window" of time in which to do their painting, and then the judges survey the entries and pick the winners.

As you might guess from the photo, these paintings took some effort. We saw a few of the artists at work. First they taped out the area they wanted to paint. Then, if they wanted a background like in the three pictures above, they had to paint that and let it dry before coming pack to add the rest of their picture.

Very cool--I wonder how the idea got started?

Oh, and not to worry. At some point after the contest, the organizers wash all the windows clean on artwork.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Close Encounter of the Bad Kind

So on Friday, my first day in Boston, I ran into a car.

Here's the deal. I hadn't gotten enough sleep, I was a little stressed from travel, and I was in a hurry. I was walking up to campus to catch the men's intra-squad swim meet, but I'd missed lunch (the flight was at lunch time) and I was hoping to get something to eat along the way. I saw the walk sign at the next intersection and ran to make it. I got about a step or two into the intersection when--wham!--I collided with a car.

It was as if the car had sprung up out of nowhere.

I was fine, so I picked myself off the front passenger-side fender and walked in front of the car to continue across the street. I turned to the driver and said something like "I had the walk sign." (The whole conversation was civil--no yelling or anything. Just as if we were discussing the weather.) And he said--he was a guy maybe in his 40s--well, he'd had a green light and I hadn't looked. Which was true. I'd forgotten the most basic rule of street crossing--look both ways before you cross--so I said, "sorry" and finished crossing the street.

After the initial shock and befuddlement wore off, I was irate. I thought to myself, hey, I was the pedestrian. Pedestrians have the right of way. So what if I didn't look? Drivers can't hit pedestrians in crosswalks. And how did he know I didn't look? He must have seen me coming. (Or maybe he just assumed I hadn't looked since I ran into his car.) I was going to call this blog "Crazy Boston Drivers."

But the fact of the matter is that I had far more to lose from that encounter than the driver did. Frankly, the thought of getting hit by a car is a complete nightmare. So here are some points I need to keep in mind.

1. Look both ways before you cross the street. It's a bit ironic that I made it through England without getting squashed and then run into a car when I'm back in the right-side driving States. As far as I know the driver wasn't talking on a cell phone. He did stop. (I was a bit miffed that he didn't apologize or ask how I was, but the encounter may well have given him a near heart attack.) I wasn't on a cell phone, I just was stupid. But given the number of folks, both walking and driving, who are also talking or texting---well, it's a wonder there aren't more accidents.

2. When I'm a pedestrian, I think I feel too assertive. Yes, I might have the law on my side, but if I also have a car driving into my side, the law will be cold comfort. In the battle between pedestrian and car, the car always wins. The driver might end up in jail, but the pedestrian ends up in the hospital or the morgue.

3. I need to be more careful when I'm behind the wheel. I'm driving a multi-ton death machine. I don't think of my car that way, but if it connects with a person, that's what it becomes. Even if the pedestrian is a complete idiot and even if I haven't broken any laws, I will feel terrible if I hit someone. I need to remember that wherever I need to be is not more important than someone's life or health. And I need to be careful not to drive with my brain on autopilot.

Saturday I was walking back from campus, trying always to cross with the walk sign after looking both ways, when I heard cars honking. The light was green, but the first cars weren't moving and the cars behind them were impatient. When I got up to the intersection, I saw the problem. A man with a cane was hobbling as fast as he could across the street. Now that I'm supersensitive, I've noticed that some of the walk signs don't give even an able-bodied pedestrian adequate time to navigate the roadway. Folks with handicaps or age-related infirmities have a huge challenge.

We all need to chill and think of the other person. I'll try to do that when I'm back in the driver's seat.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flying solo

By the time this posts, I should be off to the airport to fly home to D.C.

I've often told people I'm used to traveling by myself. This is technically true. Most of my trips during the year are to writers conferences, so usually Mr. M stays home. But this trip to Boston reminded me that while I usually travel alone, I am anything but alone when I arrive. I almost always room with a friend, and I have plenty of friends to hang out with during the day. I love seeing folks and catching up with them at workshops, over a meal, or at the bar. And I often meet with my editor and my agent. Writers conferences--at least romance writers conferences--are noisy, busy, crazy, people-filled events.

This trip I'm much more alone. Yes, I saw swimmer boy--and other swim parents I've seen over the four years swimmer boy's been on the team. I even got a chance to see my writer pal Caroline Linden and her family. But I spent a lot of time by myself. Not that I don't spend a lot of time by myself at home, but that's different.

So while I was glad to come, I'm glad to go home, back to the familiar surroundings, familiar routines, and, yes, Mr. M.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Off to Boston

I'm flying up to Boston for my fourth and last "swim parents' weekend." Swimmer boy is a college senior. (Happy dance--the end of tuition payments is in sight!) Mr. M can't get away from work, so I'll be flying solo.

I have to confess I never know quite what to expect when I arrive. Freshman year we found swimmer boy in the infirmary, freshly diagnosed with mono. Junior year he just had some dread respiratory infection. Sophomore year was relatively uneventful--Mr. M had to stay home that time, too, and it was also at Halloween, so maybe the planetary forces have aligned and I won't encounter any exotic germs this time. (Of course, bed bugs are now on my mind whenever I travel...always something.)

I'm hoping to catch up with my writer pal Caroline Linden while swimmer boy is at the football game. (I went to the University of Notre Dame--I've had my fill of college football, thank you, shivering on those backless bleacher seats.) I'm also hoping to have some time with swimmer boy--at least he's promised to let me take him to dinner Sunday. (Offering food usually is a pretty good way to catch a college son's company.) But I've learned to go with the flow and adjust at the last minute...well, at least to try to.

I'm bringing my computer--maybe I'll get some writing done.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NaNoWriMo

I didn't know what NaNoWriMo was when I first saw it popping up in people's posts. It stands for National Novel Writing Month--there's a web site that will probably tell you all you want to know about it here.

I've never done NaNoWriMo. The concept seems a little weird to me frankly, but then I'm sort of a solitary beast. I don't work with a critique group or even a critique partner. The reason I'm mentioning it is that November is NaNoWriMo, so the activity starts in just a few days.

Some writers say they are always running into people who tell them they want to write a novel. I don't have that happen to me (maybe because I am a solitary beast?), but I think I've encountered two such folks in the last few weeks. I told them what I tell everyone--with apologies to Nike--"just do it." Just sit down and start the book and keep at it until it's done.

And then revise, revise, revise, of course, but we don't need to go there yet. The first step is to get something out there. Which I guess NaNoWriMo can help with, if the thing appeals to you.

The other myth that I like to dispel is that writing is fun. It may be for some folks, I suppose. I personally find writing hard work. Torture sometimes. Thinking about writing a book can be terrifying. I face doubt and despair each time I start a new project--which is where I am at the moment, except I do now have a first chapter, thank God.

Writing a novel is not a sprint, it's a marathon, long and grueling. And you'll probably hit many walls along the way. But, like running, it feels great to have done it--until you need to do it again, of course.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Adventures in Election Land

When we were walking back from voting, we ran into Jim putting out political yard signs. (Mr. M wondered if yard signs--signs you stick in your yard advertising candidates--was a local phenomenon, since he didn't remember seeing them anywhere else.) Somehow or other, Jim managed to give us one of these signs to take home and put in our yard.

I met Jim many moons ago when our mutual friend, Bob, was running for city council. Bob had run our summer swim team and had helped me in many ways when I had that job. His campaign treasurer had had to back out at sort of the last minute, so he was in a bind and asked me to step in.

I'm not a political person. I'm registered with a political party, but I don't like talking politics. My dad was a Republican and my mom was a Democrat and they never--or never that I can remember--got into political debates. Also, growing up in the Washington, D.C., area and having worked for the federal government, I'd say I'm a little politically jaundiced. The elected folks come and they go, you know? But city council is a nonpartisan election and Bob was a good guy, so I said yes.

The best thing about Bob's campaign was I volunteered to have a car sign. That's a candidate's sign that attaches with magnets to the top of your car, so you're a mobile "yard" sign.

I noticed two things about this experience:

1. I tried very hard to drive nicely--not that I don't always try to be a considerate driver...well, okay, I want to try to be a considerate driver. But with Bob's name on the top of my vehicle, I had to think of him, too. If I cut someone off in traffic, they might take it out on Bob at the polls. And how embarrassing would it be to be pulled over for speeding in the Bob-mobile?

2. At least some of my kids were still in grade school, and with the sign atop, my car was instantly identifiable in carpool line. Also, it was a great, civic way to embarrass the boys, and we know moms live to embarrass their children.

Bob was elected and served a number of two year terms, so every other year, the Bob-mobile rode again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Voting

We voted--on Saturday, actually. This is the first year we've had the early option. It was particularly handy for the primary, as we were in London when the actual day to vote rolled around.

We read in the paper that at least one call bank connected to our political party will be downloading the list of those who have already voted and removing them from their call database. Hooray! That's one less annoying call I'll have to field. The recorded messages from candidates really get under my skin. Mr. M and I joked that we'd vote for whoever robo-called us the fewest times. (Of course we wouldn't really choose a public official on that basis...but it is tempting.) I did feel bad during the primaries when one candidate actually called in person, and I had to tell him we'd already voted. Again, not that I would have voted for him just because he called personally--I still don't like to get political calls--but he won points with me for the effort.

We also managed to bypass the folks littering the path to the polls--though I'm not sure, with the early voting, there were actually any folks electioneering--by going in a side door. I'm not a fan of running that gauntlet, unless I run into folks I know and can catch up on their lives and general neighborhood news. I guess political organizations must have some evidence that handing you literature as you're going into vote works, but I always arrive with my sample ballot filled out, knowing whom I'm going to choose.

There are fewer early voting centers, so we didn't go to our normal polling place. They seemed to have improved procedures since the primary--or we just had folks who were better with the details--because everything went smoothly and we were in and out in a timely fashion. Then we walked over to the farmers' market to pick up some produce before walking home.

So we got our exercise, voted, and bought some of the ingredients for Mr. M's next cooking adventure. All in all, not a bad morning's work.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trusts and estates

Thinking about Knole leads to thinking about inheritance--there were fights within the family over who should inherit the place over the years. And issues of inheritance leads to wills...

I was trying to get all our papers in order before we flew off to London just in case the plane went down. Yes, I'm cheery that way, but I've been dealing with my father's estate these last few months and so am particularly sensitive to the need for survivors to be able to locate important documents. (Kudos to my dad, by the way, for doing a great job in that department.) Anyway, Mr. M happened to look over our wills. We'd done them mostly to name guardians for our kids, and now the baby is 21. Guess it's time for an update.

So when we got back to the States, we went to see a lawyer. As I say, I've been dealing with my dad's estate--and my mother's as well--over the last few years, so wills and estate planning have been on my mind more than in the past. But talking to the lawyer made me wonder...How much do I really want to control things after I'm dead?

There are ways to structure estates (assuming there's anything to pass on) so surviving children can't get the use of their inheritance until they are 25 or 35 or older. Of course setting up a trust and having a trustee administer the funds makes complete sense if you have a young child or a disabled child or one with serious issues that would compromise his ability to manage things wisely. But other than that...I dunno.

And then there is the issue of divorce. If a child marries and then the marriage dissolves, do you want the ex-spouse taking any inheritance off to a new marriage?

Hmm. You know, I guess I'd like to think my kids would be able to handle things--and if they can't, they've got bigger problems than the few bucks they might be getting from me. Again, I have to hand it to my parents. When we had to finally clean out Dad's apartment, there was no fighting over stuff. (Actually, my brothers wanted me to take everything--and dispose of it one way or another.)

I do want our family heirlooms to find a good home. They have meaning beyond any price tag. But money? Obviously nice to have, but eh, I'm not sure how much I really care what happens to that. (Assuming I haven't already spent it all myself!) I'll be dead, after all. And I don't have a house and lands like Knole to keep up.

Yes, it's probably a good thing I'm not a wills and estates lawyer.

And no, the picture above is not of one of my family's heirlooms. It's a tureen and cover from about 1752-56 that I saw in the British Museum. The fish is a plaice. I just looked that up in my trusty OED--it's a "well-known European flat fish." Gee, thanks for pointing out my fishy ignorance, OED.

Friday, October 22, 2010

More on Knole, part 3

A few more thoughts on Knole.

In some ways Knole was our favorite of the houses we visited. The Royal Pavilion was fantastic, but it was "modern" in comparison to Knole and it had never been truly a home. Leeds Castle was beautiful, but it had been changed so it no longer struck us as authentic. Even Mr. M found this annoying, but then I had to ask myself why shouldn't someone redo their house? We've certainly done a thing or two to improve the MacKenzie hut. However, when you live in a historic place...when is it just your house and when is it a national treasure? (I should point out that a good bit of Knole is not open to the public and is probably much more "comfortable" than the parts we saw.) Hmm. The "historic designation" discussion--or battle--is alive here in my neck of the woods as well.

Knole is full of stuff that makes a historical romance novelist's heart beat faster. Because it's so large, many rooms were only used occasionally, so much of the house, including the furniture, looks like it would have in the 18th century. I tried to absorb as many details as I could--and of course I bought the guidebook.

I knew servants in big houses would get perks; for example, the maid might get her mistress's casts off. I didn't realize that earls and dukes could get perks, too. Many of the furniture pieces at Knole are royal castoffs, given away when the king wanted to redecorate or thought the things were out of fashion or a little shabby.

I'd seen pictures of Knole's Cartoon Gallery, which always caused me to scratch my head. Er, cartoons? Where? LOL. My modern uneducated mind at work again. A cartoon is...well, I'm just going to quote my Oxford English Dictionary: "A drawing on stout paper, made as a design for a painting of the same size to be executed in fresco or oil, or for a work in tapestry, mosaic, stained glass, or the like." While we were there, one of the docents was showing the others that the best way to view the cartoons was in a mirror, since they are actually the mirror image of the final artwork.

Well, it was a great place to visit--and now I have the guidebook to peruse. Maybe I'll also read Virginia Wolf's Orlando, which is based heavily on Knole.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More on Knole, part 2

We couldn't take pictures inside the house, alas, so no photos here.

One thing I found fascinating about Knole is that it's been in the same family since 1603 and is still the family's home. That kind of history boggles my American mind. What would it be like to grow up in the house your father and his father and his father and his father etc, etc, grew up in?

I still live in the area where I was born, but I'm only a first generation Washingtonian. (Or should I say District of Columbian to distinguish us from the Washingtonians on the West Coast?) My folks are from the Midwest. I don't know my extended family well, and I'm more than a little fuzzy on my grandparents' and great grandparents' histories. One grandfather was born in Ireland; I think all my great grandparents were from Ireland or England, but I'm not sure. I've never been to Ireland.

When my dad died in February and I had to empty out his apartment, everything came to my house. Some of the things have since gone off to kids, charity, or the dump, but some qualify as heirlooms of a sort. I wish I remembered their significance. I'm sure my parents--or at least my mom--told me the stories--whom they belonged to, where they came from. I just can't remember.

I've already asked my mother-in-law to write everything down.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More on Knole, part 1

London Day 4 002

The picture above is not of a town—it’s of a single house: Knole in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Knole was our first destination outside London. We took the Tube to Charing Cross Station and caught a train for the roughly half hour ride to Sevenoaks. If there was signage in the train station pointing us toward Knole, we missed it, so we wandered around Sevenoaks until we finally found a visitor’s center (or centre, as it would be spelled there) and got directions to the main entrance. It wasn't until we were leaving that we found the footpath I’d been looking for when we arrived.

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Nice, yes? From here we would have gone up through the medieval deer park to the house.

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Fallow and Sika deer roam the grounds—I’m not sure which kind these are—or perhaps there are some of both.

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We arrived before the house was open to visitors, so we walked around the wall that encloses the grounds.

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Mr. M is 6’3” (when he stands up straight) so you can see the wall is formidable—and the doorways are sometimes short.

What wasn’t enclosed by the wall was protected by a beautiful fence.

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And here’s the entrance—note the blue speck (moi).

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Once inside the entrance, you’re in the Green Court.

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From the Green Court, you pass through the Inner Wicket (again, I’m a blue speck)

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to the Stone Court (this is the other side of the Inner Wicket taken from the Stone Court)

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and the entrance to the Great Hall.

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I hope I got that all correct—I’m working from my feeble memory and the map in the guide book I (thankfully) purchased.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Homewood House

As we discussed our wonderful London adventures, Mr. M pointed out that there are plenty of historical properties far closer to home that we could explore. We do live just outside Washington, D.C., after all. We may not have medieval castles, but we have many buildings from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Hmm. This made me remember that one of my favorite reference books, Steven Parissien's Regency Style mentions Homewood House numerous times. Homewood House is in Baltimore just a short (depending on traffic, of course) drive up I-95. Baltimore is also where two MacKenzie boys happen to reside at the moment. And when I actually looked at where Homewood House is in Baltimore...it turns out it's within spitting distance (not that any of us would be so uncouth as to spit) of son#3's apartment.

Road trip!

So Sunday we had a lovely brunch with two sons and one fiancée, took a quick peek at some fascinating miniatures as well as some late 18th/early 19th century items at the Baltimore Museum of Art with one son, and then headed off for a tour of Homewood House.

The only way to see Homewood House is with a guided tour, and we totally lucked out--it was just Mr. M and I and the guide. I could ask a million questions, and our wonderful guide didn't seem to mind. (I did warn her beforehand that I was a writer.) She was delighted I recognized the Argand lamps--and I was delighted to see a water-closet that looked just like the one pictured in The Soanes at Home by Susan Palmer that I'd bought at the Sir John Soane's Museum in London.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Historical Day

I have to confess that I rarely attend my local RWA chapter--Washington Romance Writers--monthly meetings. Life just seems to get in the way. I was sorely tempted by WRW's Historical Day, but it was in Alexandria...in Virginia...across the Potomac. Inertia had me in its grip until the lovely Michelle Willingham emailed me to see if I was attending. Turns out she was going to be on my side of the river and would give me a ride. Hooray.

Michelle picked me up at 8:30 am and we chatted about publishing, traveling, and kids as she followed her GPS's rather circuitous and puzzling directions to Alexandria. We arrived early, so had time to browse the local outdoor market. Michelle suggested we stop in the neighborhood Books-A-Million and I was thrilled to see they had two Naked Viscounts and a Naked Baron on the shelves. I signed the books--Michelle provided the "autographed copy" stickers--and we still had time to grab a cup of coffee before Historical Day began.

Our first speaker was a fencing expert who brought examples of historical and modern sabres, epees (rapiers), and foils (court swords or short swords). Third son was a fencer in college, so some of the information sounded vaguely familiar. After the presentation, many of us went next door to historic Gadsby's Tavern for lunch. I particularly enjoyed catching up with fellow Kensington author Christine Trent, who sat next to me.

After lunch we put on our dancing shoes and learned some English Country Dances. I've had the opportunity to do some of this dancing--which is a little like our square dancing--when I've been able to attend the Beau Monde soiree before the RWA national conference. It's lots of fun, but I can never remember the steps--even while I'm doing the dance--so there's usually a lot of laughing involved as well. If you'd like to learn a little about it--and see and hear the Duke of Kent waltz, one of the dances we stumbled through today--check out Beau Monde members Marissa Doyle's and Regina Scott's blog, NineteenTeen here.

After the dancing, a storyteller/Alexandria tour leader treated us to Alexandria ghost stories--he made a few of us jump at least once--and showed us how to flirt with a fan in the Colonial era.

By 4 pm the program was over and Michelle and I made our way back to Maryland by a much more direct route. We're still scratching our heads over why the GPS sent us hither and yon in the morning.

It was a great day with great folks. I'm so glad Michelle persuaded me to get out of my writer's cave for the day!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dating disasters

I'll confess I wasn't ever a huge fan of dating. Maybe it was me; maybe it was the era I grew up in. I suppose going to an all girls' Catholic high school had something to do with it--and then going to an all male Catholic university the year it went coed. Dating just felt artificial, awkward, and uncomfortable.

Hmm. Should a romance writer admit that?

My favorite dating disaster story comes from my senior prom. A friend fixed me up with a boy from one of the area's all male high schools. He worked part time at a funeral home and wanted to be a priest.

Right. This is sounding real promising. But it gets better!

I had terminal cramps at the dinner before the prom. They were so bad, I had to go upstairs at my hostess's house to lie down. He came up to pat my hand and practice being sympathetic for when he was a priest, I guess. I sort of think the funeral home didn't let the high school guys anywhere near the bereaved.

When we got to the prom, some guy got sick in the bathroom and my date ditched me to tend to him.

Very memorable.

I did go to his prom a few weeks later. It must have been completely normal, since I can't recall a single detail.

Or, wait, maybe I can. I think we might have double dated with the friend who'd set me up with the guy in the first place. Her date--whom I think was in my class in grade school--held forth with some argument about ants having souls and being of the same "value" as people. My friend was scandalized by this, and ardent debater that she was, argued vehemently with him for the rest of the date.

Needless to say, this wasn't the beginning of a budding romance, though I think my friend actually dated the ant guy for quite a while.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dating issues

An article in Wednesday's Washington Post, "When to dump your date: Litmus tests in the age of Facebook," got me thinking. (Click here for the article.) My dating life was spotty and many, many years ago, but had I had superficial things that would make me dump a date--or not want to date someone at all?

Yes, I think I did.

I'm a bit height prejudiced. I couldn't get too romantically interested in a guy who was my height or shorter. And I wanted an older man--well, only a year or two older, but not my age and certainly not younger.

I once went out with a guy--again in high school--who wore those little shoe boots--I don't know if they even have them any more. They weren't real boots, but they weren't regular shoes either. Plus he'd installed a foot-shaped accelerator pedal in his car. Two strikes against him.

A guy got points in my book for driving stick shift. (I'm somewhat horrified to admit we no longer own a standard transmission car and none of my sons--except maybe the oldest whose wife is teaching him--can drive stick.) Driving a VW bug would be another plus.

I have to admit, I was a little concerned when I discovered Mr. M's family belonged to a country club.

Especially after writing yesterday's post, I was happy to see the women in the article gave guys points for cooking.

Of course, being the mother of four sons, I feel somewhat insulted that anyone might judge my boys on such superficial things.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cooking

When I was newly married and still worked for the U.S. federal government, I had to go to California on business and leave Mr. M at home. The women I worked with on that trip wanted to know if I'd left the man a refrigerator full of prepared meals. I responded politely--no--but I was a bit insulted on Mr. M's behalf. Did they think him so helpless that he couldn't open a can of soup or make a sandwich?

Actually, I do "get" the concept of gender-specific jobs. I'm as prejudiced that way as--or more than--the next person. Car care and garbage toting are male jobs in my mind.

Er, I guess I'm a little less clear on female jobs. Maybe I'm just a touch lazy?

But cooking is different. When I was growing up, my mom did all the kitchen work--except the outdoor grilling. That was always dad's domain. But when dad retired, he took over the cooking duties. The same thing happened in Mr. M's family. And our oldest son, the aerospace engineer, is at the moment a professional triathlete, house husband, and the family chef. (My daughter-in-law blogs about their adventures in the kitchen--and elsewhere--here.)

Now that I think about it, Mr. M and I met in a kitchen. We were both first year law students, both living in the law dorm, and both learning how to cook in the dorm kitchen. Since our class "sections" never overlapped, we might not have had much interaction if Mr. M had followed his first inclination and purchased a meal plan. So I guess it's probably fair to say my whole life was changed by a kitchen.

I have to confess that Mr. M didn't immediately show signs of great culinary promise. Not that any of us law students were amazing chefs. Food was simple and quick, things like scrambled eggs and omelets. One memorable time, Mr. M tried to make pancakes. He cut all the ingredients in half, except the egg. How does one halve a single egg? The result was what we fondly refer to as "scrambled pancakes."

But he's progressed over the years. Now he watches cooking shows and collects recipes. He's the one who prepares all the holiday meals as well as our weekend feasts.

And what do I do? The dishes, of course!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Naked things

I've had a lot of fun with the Naked nobles, and one of the most amusing Naked activities is finding Naked products. We stumbled on this store, the Naked Tea & Coffee Company, in Brighton. If they have a web site, I couldn't find it.

I've seen Naked Juice trucks in my area. I was at a swim meet a few years ago with one of my Naked tote bags when a mom asked me if it had something to do with a local vineyard. Turns out there's the Naked Mountain Vineyard & Winery in nearby Virginia. (And there's also a Naked Winery in Oregon.)

Probably my favorite Naked establishment is the one we stumbled on when we were in Ocean City, Maryland a few years ago: The Naked Crab. Mr. M knows a gifting opportunity when he sees one--I got a Naked Crab t-shirt and hat for Christmas that year.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Columbus Day!

Happy Columbus Day to everyone in the U.S.--and happy Thanksgiving to you Canadians.

Columbus Day is a federal holiday, but Mr. M doesn't get it off, so things here are business as usual--probably a good thing as I get more writing done when Mr. M is at the office.

Mondays are a gym day, so I'm off to do some running/jogging. I'm hoping to see a pal I haven't seen since the school year began. My youngest was in grade school with her oldest; she's the one who got me to join the gym. We used to be workout buddies, but her teaching schedule changed in September, so our paths haven't crossed.

But school is out today! Maybe we'll be able to chat and catch up. Conversation seems to make the minutes on the treadmill go by faster.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Jewel Tower

Back to our London trip. The Jewel Tower was something else we probably wouldn’t have seen if we hadn’t gotten the London Pass.

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You might think there would be jewels in the Jewel Tower, but you would be wrong. It did once hold Edward III’s treasures.

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It had some seriously low doorways, as Mr. M. demonstrates. Fortunately, he didn’t literally demonstrate by whacking his head. There was a helpful sign on the other side that said: “Low Doorway. Please mind the step.”

The stairs were like many we encountered in the historic buildings—these are probably better than most of the Tower’s stairs.

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I’m happy to report we managed NOT to fall down any of them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Personal training

Yes, I survived my first session with the trainer, but it wasn't pretty.

On one hand I'm in good shape. I swim. I run--or perhaps purists would call it jogging, but I work up a sweat. I spend an hour to an hour and a half pretty much every day doing some kind of vigorous exercise. (Let's ignore for the moment all the hours spent writing butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Good for books; not so good for butt.)

I don't even need to lose weight.

BUT I am in serious need of strength training. My goal is to be able to manage a 50 pound suitcase with, if not ease, then at least not a hernia. When I roll up to the counter to check my bag, I'd like to be able to get the damn thing on the scale without engaging in a serious wrestling match. Is that too much to ask?

And my doctor has become a bit of a pain at my annual physical. I'm at that age where bone density is a frequent topic. He tells me I need to lift weights.

I like to swim. I like to run. I like to move. I do not like to lift weights. Truthfully, I don't really know what to do and how to do it to get stronger without hurting myself.

Ergo, the trainer.

Gee, maybe I'll even be able to do a real push up some day!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back in the pool

For the last few years, I've been swimming with a Masters group twice a week on a fairly regular basis. But with one thing and another--session break, my trip to Europe, getting sick--I've been out of the pool for about two months. Tonight (I writing this Tuesday night) was my first night back, and--lucky me!--it was a distance night. We did some warm up--I felt fine. Actually good. And then came the main set--three 500s and two 250s for a total of 2,000 meters. Groan. I did it, but it was not a pretty sight. I was very happy there were only three of us in my lane and no one was in a huge hurry.

When the coach brought out the kickboards, I decided it was time to warm down and call it a night. I'm not much of a kicker in the best of circumstances--and tonight was definitely not the best of circumstances.

I lasted most of the practice--about an hour and 15 minutes out of an hour and a half practice. And tomorrow (today when this posts) I have my first session with the personal trainer.

More about that...if I survive.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Monument

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I’ll confess we saw some sights we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t gotten the London Pass before we left home. The Monument was one of these. We stumbled upon it in our trek from the Tower to St. Paul’s. It was built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire that decimated London in 1666, so it’s possible my characters could have visited it. It stood out from its surroundings more back then.

This is a sketch of the Monument in 1811 taken from the Monument web site here.

We climbed the 311 steps to the top, took some pictures, and climbed down—and got a certificate to mark our accomplishment.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

The Gherkin

(My daughter-in-law told me about Windows Live Writer—I’m testing it out to see if it makes managing the blog better…or not!)

Friday I talked about the London Eye and how it seemed to dominate the London skyline. The Eye isn’t the only usual structure in London, of course. Mr. M. brought one to my attention even before we even left the States—”The Gherkin” or, more formally, 30 St. Mary Axe.

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In my opinion, it’s not as jarring to the senses as the Eye because it blends in with its surroundings more.

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I had fun looking for it from my varied vantage points above London. I confess it reminded me a bit of searching for the pickle when I read the Richard Scarry books to the kids.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The London Eye


No, we didn't go on the London Eye. Mr. M. has height issues, and I was able to get my views of London from a number of more historical vantage points. A friend took her family on it and shared her pictures--it looked like fun, except...

I have my photos rotating through my laptop as wallpaper, and this morning this picture of the Horse Guards parade grounds was cycling through. A lovely, historic-looking building--with the London Eye curving between two of the roof lines.

Ahem. I don't mean to offend anyone, but am I the only one who thinks the Eye gives the London skyline a bit of a carnival feel?

I have to admit I'm a born and bred Washingtonian--that is, a Washington, D.C. native. We take our skyline very seriously. Buildings in the city can't exceed a certain height. (According to a recent article in The Washington Post, the limit is 130 feet.) There are arguments about this. I understand that it may be more cost effective and efficient to build vertically. The same Post article said that a 30-story tower is going up in Rosslyn, just across the Potomac in Virginia. But I'm very happy with the height ban. I like the horizontal feel of D.C. I like the way it looks--at least the Mall and government buildings. (Another confession--when I was around 13, my girl scout troop visited New York City, and I found all the tall buildings a tad scary.)

Not far from the house I grew up in, a religious group built a very large building. I have no problems with that religion and I actually think the building is quite attractive. What I don't care for is its effect on the skyline. If you've ever driven the Capital Beltway in Maryland, you probably know which building I'm thinking of. When you see it rising out of the trees, you might wonder if you'd detoured to Disneyland.

I have similar feelings about the London Eye.

Security

No, not airport security--walking around security. Keeping your stuff secure and out of pickpockets' hands.

I think I may have gone overboard with this. I got talking to a clerk in a travel shop, and he persuaded me it would be a good idea to take precautions. I bought a waist wallet and a special purse. I even convinced Mr. M to get a man bag. That was a bit of a hard sell, but I told him to think of it as a camera bag--and he did carry his camera in it.

Did we need this stuff? Not sure. I did pick up a brochure at St. Paul's that warned about pickpockets, but I didn't feel any more at risk in London than I do in D.C. or New York. I didn't bother with the waist wallet, but I was happy to have the purse. It wasn't at all stylish, but it gave me piece of mind. It had a handy exterior pocket for my Oyster card and was big enough to hold pretty much everything I needed--camera, scarf, gloves, sunglasses, and most of the research books I bought.

And now that we have this stuff...I guess that means we need to take more trips, eh?