"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, December 31, 2012

Traditions from my house to yours

I think everyone has at least one little tradition to ring in the New Year. There is a certain food to be eaten or a song to be sung or a dance to be danced. Even if you live in self-imposed exile, I'll bet you do at least one thing to differentiate between this year and last.

We spend New Year's Eve with friends, typically staying out too late with just a touch too much food and drink. Then on New Year's Day, we turn the TV on at seven so we can watch the Rose Parade (on KTLA because Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards are the best).

Then I fall back to sleep until ten or eleven or so.

Sometimes I make a big breakfast, but no one demands it, so I don't have to. The big thing is New Year's Day Night dinner. We absolutely must have the same meal every year. It's tradition.

Of course, being married to Dale, we must have black eyed peas. They are well-known as a New Year's good luck food. Typically, they are cooked with some kind of pork, onions, and hot sauce, and served with collard greens. Legend is that the peas symbolize prosperity because they swell when they are cooked. The greens stand for money, and pork is used because pigs root forward, symbolizing progress.

Or maybe it's just a Southern thing.

I let Dale fix the black eyed peas. He doesn't really have a recipe. Everything is just "to taste." I'm responsible for my half of the heritage equation.

My family always had cabbage and ham on New Year's. According to my grandmother, it was to ensure prosperity for the new year. Since my family was as poor as a flock of church mice, I have no idea why they thought this worked. I did read that cabbage and ham is a traditional New Year's dish because green cabbage leaves resemble paper money.

The bad news, perhaps, is that I hated cabbage and ham and wasn't forced to eat it. Nor was I interested in learning to make it. This meant, when I decided to honor this tradition, I had no idea how to prepare the dish.

I have memories of a huge pan full of cabbage, ham, and possibly some cheese, that cooked all day. I knew that, not only would cabbage not survive such torture, the house would reek for months. Instead, I found a recipe in the New Dieter's Cookbook for cabbage and ham hash. Here's the picture:

Basically, you saute chopped onions and cabbage in a little margarine, then add grated carrots, diced ham and cooked potatoes, black pepper and a little Worcestershire sauce. Of course, mine doesn't quite look like the picture because I add more cabbage, but it's good. And, voila - Tradition, Take Two.
What are your traditions for New Year's? What is it you absolutely MUST do if the new year is to go forward?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Another year, another chance

A new year is upon us. I get a little excited about the new year, thinking that is some kind of clean slate. It's not. It's the day after another day, one more day in the continuum of life. But it's as good a day as any to review what we've done, re-align goals, set new priorities, and resolve to do better.

I hope 2013 treats you well. Believe that it will be your best year ever, and to paraphrase Rob Brezsny, that life is conspiring to shower you with blessings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What did you do for the holidays?

Usually the day after Christmas I am in a coma, induced by the lack of sleep during the days leading up to the holiday, capped off with a marathon day of present opening and driving to multiple homes for food, more presents, and more food. If I've gotten a book for Christmas, I usually read it. Yes, the whole thing. Otherwise I nap, eat, then nap.

This year I had to write my column, so I was up at seven to take care of the dogs, put on the coffee and think of what to say. In the words of the Cable Guy, I got 'er done. I also walked the dogs, then walked down to Radio Shack to get hubby's new phone activated and get more exercise, all in one swell foop.

I've got just enough oomph left to fix dinner, so I'm going to let you do the talking.

What did you do for Christmas? More importantly, what did you do the day after?

Here's a jaunty little tune for you to write by, "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy." Marcus is on the end and not visible in much of the video but he's the one doing the beatboxing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Merry Holidays!

Okay, that doesn't work nearly so well as Merry Christmas. Whatever your celebration at this time of year, I hope your joys are many and your troubles are few. Here is the Carline Christmas card to wish you a wonderful holiday and fabulous New Year.


Once again, the Carlines have had to be flexible, adaptable, and agreeable to everything from the unpredictable weather to our changing lives. we might as well welcome the holidays with happiness and cheer. Welcoming them any othe way would only bring coal to our stockings.

Marcus is in his third year at Cal State Long Beach. To say he is thriving in the Music Conservatory is an understatement. He is now a member of the top vocal jazz group Pacific Standard Time, he wrote and produced a song for an album collection (yay, royalties!) and he's keeping his grades up so far. This year he's also learning about living in an apartment and having to deal with roommates and landlords and neighbors. It's been a real eye-opener.

Dale is still at Raytheon and still going over the figures on a daily weekly basis to see when he can retire. He did a little basketball coaching this year with the Teen Hoops, who were “3peat Champions.” The Placentia Youth League also lured him back to teach two teams, one first-thru-third graders and one fourth-thru-sixth graders, who finished their seasons 0-2 in the championship games. Tearing his Achilles slowed his own activity down this summer, but he is obeying doctor’s orders and the leg seems to be healing. He went to the Frozen Four NCAA Hockey Championships again, this time in Florida. Currently, he’s on business travel to Massachusetts for a month, but he’ll be home in time to wrap presents.

And me? I haven’t been doing much. Showed Snoopy at three horse shows, wrote and released another mystery, attended a few conferences and conventions, wrote my column, and was elected a Placentia Library District Trustee. Speaking of eye opening, I found out early this year that I have cataracts. The left one is teeny, but the right one finally got so huge, I had it removed and a bionic lens installed. It’s wonderful it is to see again, after spending the year trying to look through a fog in that eye. I feel like I can see for miles (and miles and miles —cue rock song).

This year’s trip to the mountains of Northern California with our friends seemed brief. Most of the kids were able to go this time, but we didn’t take any side trips along the way because everyone had to get home and back to work. It was also hotter than blazes up there. I’m not sure if we had record heat this summer, but it was mostly uncomfortable for a large portion of it. Good thing I have a little pill for my internal summers, or I might have been writing this letter from behind bars.
You might have noticed a new addition to our family in the photo. The red dog next to Dale is a rescue, who wandered up to the ranch. I decided either I needed a hole in my head or another dog. Dale voted for the dog. Her name is Lady Spazzleton. Dale calls her Lady and I call her Spazz. I believe this is because Dale is optimistic about her and I am practical. She’s a sort of golden retriever, with perhaps a soup├žon of something else. Perhaps Muppet. At any rate, she keeps Duffy entertained by careening through the house, wrestling. I’m thinking of selling tickets.
So that’s our year. As usual, there are changes. Marcus is in an apartment, Dale is in Massachusetts, I’m a library trustee, even today’s weather is not a sure thing. I used to hate change (and still howl when anyone moves my things around), but then I heard Willard Scott say something that adjusted my thinking: “When you’re green you’re growing, and when you think you’re ripe, you’re rotten.”  So now I’m trying to embrace the differences that time brings. I hope you all keep growing, too.
With Love and Good Wishes for a Wonderful Holiday,

Dale, Gayle, and Marcus (and Snoopy, Duffy, Katy, Spazz, and Frostie)


Saturday, December 15, 2012

I'm so glad I went.

According to Mapquest, Holy Trinity Church in San Pedro is 37.7 miles from my house and should take 44 minutes to drive there. It's a long way to go to hear a choir of mostly volunteers sing The Messiah. It's a doubly long way to go at rush hour on a Friday night.

But Marcus is one of the non-volunteer, paid singers in that choir and he was singing last night. In light of the recent national tragedy, I had to go. I would have gone even farther to see my son, my only child. To hell and back.

Add rain to the Friday night traffic and you'll understand why it took me about an hour and a half to get to the church. I drove around the strange neighborhood before finding a place to park along a curb, about a block away. Since I have apparently misplaced my umbrella, I put my raincoat's hood up and trudged to the entrance. Or, an entrance. It was a large door with a sign on it about food, beverages, and cell phones. I pulled on the handle and it opened.

So my first faux-pas was to come in through the side door. Although I've been in quite a few churches, I have not been in a lot of Catholic churches. I was just hoping to get in and out without some kind of genuflecting mishap. There were a lot of people already in the pews. I walked around to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and saw a table at the REAL entrance with programs and a cash box.

"Hi, I came in the wrong door," I announced and gave them $20. The man looked at me like I had two heads, but was welcome, anyway, and handed me a program. I chose a seat in the back, to the left, and got as comfortable as one can get with their tush on hard wood.

Soon a tiny little lady sat next to me, and by tiny, I mean elfin in size. She craned her neck and scanned the backs of everyone's heads.

"Gee, I hope I can see," she said. "There weren't any closer seats."

I pointed to the racks of hymnals in front of us. "You could always sit on those."

She then talked about the rain and the traffic, and then wanted to know all about Marcus when I told her that I had come from Placentia to hear him. After a few minutes, she said, "You know, I think I will sit on those books." She stacked them all up and sat her tushie down, pronouncing the view "much better."

I love helping people.

The program was very good. The soloists were mostly excellent, and the choir sang beautifully. It was comforting to hear this soothing, uplifting music when my heart had churned all day. A few more tears came when the priest asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims, but it was nice to be in a room full of other people bowing their heads, even if they were strangers to me.

The best part of the evening was hugging my son. Yes, I hugged him a little too tightly. We talked, we laughed, and made plans. He had to rush off to a party, so I left. I felt strengthened and warm, like a tired runner who gets that second wind. All would be well with my soul.

The drive home went quickly, even though it was still raining. I went to bed happy that my son was happy, on his way to be with friends and have a good evening.

I didn't take any pictures of the event, or any video. But this YouTube clip captures the moment.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Plans change.

Yesterday was hugely busy for me. I began by meeting up with my friends, Sylvia .and Tameri, for a wonderful tour of the Princess Diana Collection on the Queen Mary (in Long Beach), followed by a delicious high tea in The Tea Room. It was fun and light and lovely and especially great that Sylvia and Tameri, who had never met, got along so famously.

You'd love to think that even though your friends come from different periods of your life, they'd all mesh together if you got them in the same room.

After the perfect morning/afternoon, I took a little nap and then joined my friend Robin for the midnight showing of The Hobbit. To be honest, the way the movie has been filmed left my motion-sickness-prone stomach a little queasy, and I found myself thinking that the whole thing could have been sculpted a little finer. But any time spent with Robin is quality time.

As I dropped into bed at four a.m., I thought, I will spend Friday sleeping. Chilling. Recuperating.

Marcus is singing at his paying gig, Holy Trinity Church tonight. The Messiah. It's in San Pedro, which is a goodly forty-five minutes from my house. I had thought about going to hear it, then decided that trying to get to San Pedro on a Friday night might be madness. It  would be okay if I didn't go. Marcus would be okay if I missed it.

And then I woke up to the news in Connecticut. Twenty children dead, shot. Typing those words takes my breath away. Twenty young lives that will never realize their dreams. Twenty families that will never have a Christmas of pure joy again. The gifts that were bought for those kids, the plans for the next two weeks to visit Santa and sing in the church or school program, the future that will never be...

Every year, I put out the pictures of Marcus with Santa. These are two of my favorites.

I like this one because Marcus is only three and is wearing one of those ugly Christmas sweaters that isn't ugly because three-year olds can get away with that kind of fashion.

This one is my absolute favorite because it's an action shot. Marcus, at five, is going over his list with Santa. They are deep in discussion. I love that. You'll notice the very bedraggled Simba, too. He was Marcus' constant companion.

Tonight, I'm going to go see my son and try not to hug him too tightly.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Next Big Thing (is somewhere else)

I'm a sucker for my friends, truly. When the delightful and engaging author Terry Ambrose offered me a seat on his Next Big Thing Blog Tour, my first thought was "Why of course I'll do that."

Then I thought about it. My next big thing is already here. The Hot Mess is out and about, available in ebook and paperback for your enjoyment. Not only that, but I already did a Next Big Thing blog about it back in November. You can read about it here.

So I declined.

Then, last week, Pam Ripling (aka Anne Carter) sent me an email. "Want to be tagged in my Next Big Thing Blog Tour?" Once again, I explained my predicament. I can always trust Pam to think outside the box.

"It's all optional," she said. "Just tweak the answers to do it on The Hot Mess."

So I was planning to do that, but when I read my last NBT post, I had already answered all the questions about The Hot Mess and I wouldn't change a thing, except to say that it was already released.

Snoopy dressed for Christmas.
Then I had an idea. I will point you to my horse's blog. I may not have a Next Big Thing, but he does. I'll let him answer the questions. So, go visit Snoopy's blog to learn about his Next Big Thing.

And do check out my friends' books.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What I do know.

Before I begin, I need to give you my Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gift spiel:

Visit my Amazon page to get the right book in the perfect format for you!

Back to business: this post is a companion piece to something I wrote for my alternate universe, Crime Fiction Collective, about writing what you know. Go read that first. Here's the link. Go on. I'll wait here.

Now that I've told you all about how I write about what I don't know, I'm going to talk about the perils of writing about what I do know.

I'm putting Peri on the shelf briefly, and writing a new mystery with new characters. No, I don't know if it will become a series. Yes, Peri will be coming back.

Have I answered all your questions?

The thing is, this mystery will include one of my great loves - horses. While at a horse show in Burbank, I was walking up to the barn one morning when I saw the pile of used shavings at the end of the aisle and thought, what if there was a body under there?

And that's the way most mysteries are born. I decided that this would be easy. I know a lot about horses and horse shows and I have more than a couple of experts to answer any questions.

Now that I've started plotting and developing characters, I've discovered this will not be as easy as I believed. Knowing too much about a world might be more challenging than knowing too little. I need to write about the world so that horse lovers get enough horse stuff, but mystery lovers are not bogged down in too much horsefeathers.

Not only that, but as big as the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association) is, it's a small community. Everyone seems to know everyone. I can't make any of my fictional characters resemble anyone real. Harder than it sounds, people.

Even the crime and its motivation must be handled with a special touch, since I'd hate for the AQHA to think that I think there are crooks and murderers around every corner.

I am nothing if not stubborn, so this book will get written. It will just have a HUGE disclaimer.

Me and Snoopy at the Del Mar National Horse Show

What about it, writers? Is it easier to write what you know or what you don't?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Contest winners and so much more!

I have three winners in my book giveaway! (Pardon me while I use some exclamation points! I can't help myself! Editors won't let me use them, so they get all backed up in my fingers! I must let them out!!)

There. I feel better.

The three winners are: Stephen Connell, Laura Joseph, and a lovely lady named Candy with no last name but an intriguing email address that begins with "dragonfly". Candy already received her ebook, Stephen will get his paperback as soon as I have the copies in my hot little hands, and Ms. Joseph needs to tell me what kind of book she wants so I know what to send her.

This means the contest is over, but I've got more good news to report.

1. I've released the paperback version of The Hot Mess a week early. You can now get it on Amazon. It may take a week or so until you can order it from Barnes & Noble and the nice independent bookstores in your neighborhood. Here's the Amazon link.

2. Just in time for the holidays, I've also released a packaged set of all three Peri mysteries plus her short story, Clean Sweep, all for $7.99. This is about $2 off the price if you purchased them all separately. Such a deal - look for The Peri Minneopa Mystery Set.

3. If you're already a Peri reader and just need the latest one in the series, still remember that $2.99 for The Hot Mess is less than you'd pay for a fancy Starbucks coffee, and will last longer!

4. I knew you could give an ebook as a gift to someone, but I recently discovered that you can actually schedule it. So consider giving an ebook to arrive in someone's cyber-stocking on Christmas morning, along with that new Kindle HD. Or schedule one book a night for Hanukkah. Or a December birthday... the possibilities are endless. Visit my Amazon page for some ideas.

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I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.