It wasn’t so much a lamplight day, today as it was a firelight day. With the sky a bleak and particularly chilly shade of gray, the temperature hovering around 30 degrees, and my husband of to company headquarters in Florida at dawn, I really wanted nothing more than to declare the day “Pajama Monday,” and never leave bed.

Instead, I caught up on sleep missed because I woke up when Fuzzy did, around four, and then could not get back to sleep until after seven, took a sinfully hot shower, and moved my laptop into the living room, on a snack tray near the big blue chair. I brewed a pot of Caribou Coffee’s Mahogany Blend, set a duraflame log ablaze in the fireplace, and turned on the Lifetime Movie Network, for a day of cheerfully bad Christmas movies and the writing of articles for work.

Sadly, I had no focus. It took me four hours to generate 627 words of text, and then I forgot to incorporate the requested keywords. Seeing Wil Wheaton’s tweet that he’d accomplished roughly twice that in six hours made me feel marginally better, in that at least I wasn’t the only wordslinger struggling with the concept of putting one word in front of another in an orderly (and coherent) fashion, today. (It should be noted that while I follow Wil’s tweets, he does not follow mine, nor do I expect him to. I’ve seen people who follow celebs bitch when they don’t get followed back, and that irks me to no end.)

I made a meatloaf sandwich, finished the tail end of the cranberry sauce leftover (and frozen) from Thanksgiving, drank more coffee, let the dogs out, let the dogs back in, and watched the weather reports. I love that cold weather constitutes a “weather event” here. It amuses me that people get freaked out about the number on the thermometer. I was also amused by the phrase “frozen drizzle” to define the sort of barely-perceptible precipitation we are currently experiencing.

The thing is, “frozen drizzle” seems like something that should be garnishing a frappucino, not falling from the sky, and while I was chilly earlier today, two Duraflame logs and copious amounts of coffee, cocoa, water, and Danish butter cookies (the kind in the blue tin – totally unhealthy but oh-so-addictive) later, my body is tired, and my brain…

It’s still frozen.

Christmas Cheer

Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than cheesy Christmas movies. They’re a guilty pleasure for me, for my friend Ms. J., and even for my mother, who usually has nothing to do with commercial television. What I really want right now, is to be curled up in bed with the dogs, and a mug of tea, writing Christmas cards and watching a string of them.

Peppermint tea is my Christmas movie tea of choice, though I sometimes drink Gingerbread or Cinnamon tea. Peppermint, though, is best, especially with sugar stirred into it, so it tastes like a liquid candy cane. Sometimes, after a mug of peppermint, I’ll use the last dregs to make hot chocolate, which is it’s own special pleasure.

Earlier this afternoon, I did watch Snowglobe which my DVR grabbed for me while we were at church this morning, but it was nearly eighty degrees, which just isn’t conducive to getting lost in Christmassy goodness. It’s supposed to be cold tomorrow and Tuesday, however, and I’ve got other Christmas movies on the DVR, as well as the array available on cable all week.

Tonight, instead of Christmas movies, we watched TransSiberian, which was at least in a snowy setting. It’s a pretty grim movie, meant to be a thriller, but I found myself cursing at the idiocy of the main character more often than not. Ben Kingsley was great in it (is he ever not?) though, and I was surprised to find that Woody Harrelson’s performance was quite watchable.

Still, I’d much prefer to be watching an endless stream of happy, cheesy movies where Beckie saves Christmas, marries the dashing man about to take over as Santa, redefines life at the North Pole, and lives happily ever after.

Making Messes in the Kitchen

In the novel Little Men, one of Louisa May Alcott’s sequels to Little Women there is a scene where Jo takes her niece Daisy into a special “toy” kitchen, albeit with a real working stove, so that she can “make messes” and learn to cook. I always wanted to be Jo, never Daisy, but I always wanted that kitchen.

I never had a functioning toy stove, but I always had adults around who were happy enough to let me make messes (of a sort) in their kitchens. One such person was my mother, who made aglia e olio every Christmas Eve when I was little, and taught me to measure the milk into her coffee by color.

Another kitchen supervisor was my grandfather, who loved to bake, and was a fan of James Beard. I remember watching him consult the volume Beard on Bread one summer morning, and then walking me through the steps of making the best raisin bread ever (and even better when paired with his homemade apple butter). It is his recipe, posted here last month, that defines Thanksgiving for me, and his voice in my head when I read recipes.

My grandmother, I am told, used to bake as well (by the time I came along she would stir herself to make meatballs or lasagne once in a while, but that’s about it), and had a tradition of baking date-nut bread for the holidays. I asked my mother and my aunts if they had her recipe, and none of them did, so I’ve spent the afternoon making date-nut messes in my own kitchen. I’ve found several recipes, and will be trying a few over the next week.

I also have a bunch of cookies to make. My grandmother taught us all that “a gift of the hand is a gift of the heart,” and while I’m not much for fiber arts, I love baking, so most of my friends – at least those I typically exchange gifts with – are getting edible gifts this year.

Of course, I also have a Super Sekrit Project, but I can’t talk about it.

And I really shouldn’t be writing this right now. Why? Because the oven timer is about to go off, and I smell dates and pecans wafting through my house, and I think it’s time to see how this first batch worked out.

Coffee’s on, if anyone wants a slice.

Dance Me a Story

Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. Its the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy.
~ Jacques D’Amboise

I sat in the big blue chair by the fire tonight, and worked while we caught up with recorded episodes of 11th Hour. Then Fuzzy was called away by the Work Issue That Will Not Die, and I flipped to a recording of Jacques D’Amboise in China. I like the way he teaches children, not with formal names for steps but with sound and noise. At one point, he took the hands of a small Chinese boy who just was not getting the steps and said, “Together,” and when the child finally got it right they both laughed delighted laughs.

Dance amazes me. Sometimes it’s mime set to music, but at other times it’s abstract, bodies, rest and motion, rhythm and breath and sheer physicality.

Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.
~ Maya Angelou

When I’m blocked and can’t think of the next word that should be written, I dance around the living room, whirling and spinning and scaring the dogs. I’ve been known to tap dance to keep warm while waiting in outdoor lines for movie openings (time steps take no space and are way more fun than jumping up and down.) Last summer, On Demand had a “Learn to HipHop” series on, but we really didn’t – and still don’t – have the space, and I’m not inclined to move the furniture around.

I took ballet lessons for a while as a child. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t quit, but we moved around a lot. Sometimes I do half-remembered warm-ups before I go into the Word Lounge to write or lift weights. The railing of the balcony hallway that overlooks our living room is about the right height for me.

The Nutcracker is playing in town for the holidays, as it is playing in most every city big enough to have a company. I remember seeing it when I was five, and I remember watching Baryshnikov dance it on PBS every year. My mother and I would watch together. Some years, I still do, and it’s still magical.

I once had an album of The Nutcracker on one side and Peter and the Wolf on the other, narrated by Bob Keeshan (aka Captain Kangaroo). They had written lyrics to The Nutcracker as if it were a musical for kids, and they’re completely cheesy, but sometimes they still sing inside my head. I think I had a crush on the Russian Soldier.

Maybe Fuzzy and I will go, this Christmas.

Dancing was courtship. Only later did I discover that you dance joy. You dance love. You dance dreams.
~ Gene Kelly

Only the Good Friday #1

I heard about OTGF from Thorne who quoted Shelly of This Eclectic Life, who wrote:

We are living in some pretty negative times, aren’t we? You can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the television without hearing more bad news about the economy, the war, the stock market, the political candidates. I think that many of us are living in a state of fear (though I’m in the state of Texas).

Fear feeds upon itself. It’s like a contagious virus. I’m tired of adding to it. I want to start another kind of “virus.”
You see, I think that optimism can be contagious, too. If we consciously try to look at the good in the world around us, it will become easier to see.

I like the idea, so I offer three good things from today:

– My stepfather routinely sends me news from, and today he reminded me that not only is this month’s full moon, 14% wider and 30% brighter than most, it also comes in the middle of the Geminid Meteor Shower. Because of him, I know to spend some time outside tomorrow night, staring at the stars.

– Fuzzy not only brought home dinner, but he knew I was craving chocolate, so brought a brownie with it. AND THEN he did the dishes, rather than merely emptying the dishwasher for me, as I’d asked.

– My friend Deb made a point of calling to check in with me today. We’ve barely talked lately, and I know she’s feeling stressed, so I was really touched that she called.

What good things happened in your world tonight?

An Open Letter to Santa Claus

Holidailies had a prompt suggesting we each write a letter to Santa. I liked the notion.

* * *
Dear Santa,

Hi there, it’s me again. Yes, the hair’s a different color. Again. This really shouldn’t surprise you. I mean, no one – including me – has seen my natural hair color since I was fifteen.

I was on the phone with my mother the other night, and we were laughing about an attempt to make fortune cookies in high altitudes, from when I was seven. It’s weird the way memories surface at the oddest times, but our brains are like multi-dimensional treasure boxes that way. I don’t mind. I like surprises.

I was also thinking about all the times my mother did special things to foster my belief in you, and encourage me to expand my imagination, and enjoy childhood with all its magic and wonder – things I still appreciate today. She used to eat the carrot sticks I left out for your reindeer, and nibble the cookies, and drink the milk intended for you. One year, I woke up to find “hoofprints” in the snow outside my window, and another year a trail of red construction paper “footprints” led me from my bedroom to my over-stuffed stocking. We won’t even mention the year she stayed up to the wee hours finishing the entire wedding trousseau for Barbie, Chuck (Ken was so 1977), and all their friends – neighbors still remember the cursing that came from her lips as she worked with tiny darts. My mother was a pretty amazing elf, when you consider that she worked full time the entire time I was growing up.

When I got too old for footprints and plates of cookies, my mother still let her gentle mischief out to play. I turned 38 earlier this year, and I still receive gifts that are marked from “Santa,” and while mom and I both know that the handwriting on those tags matches her own, we play the game because it’s fun.

The point of all this, Santa, is that you and I have a very special relationship that goes all the way back to when my mother used to use Elmer’s glue and glitter to draw stars and candy canes on my packages. I may have stopped writing to you, but we have a connection, you and I, so when I give you my list this year, I know you’ll pay attention.

I could ask you for any number of things – subtract forty pounds, please, patch the dry wall in the hallway, make Fuzzy’s job less stressful, help my dog feel better, let me win the lottery (without having to play, of course, because those scratch-off things wreak havoc on my nails…) – but all of those are things for me, and at Christmas when we’re inundated with commercials for THINGS and STUFF, I believe it’s important to look outside ourselves.

So if you would wave your magic peppermint-stick wand and give the world the PEACE it needs, that would be a pretty nifty thing. Peace used to be a beautiful word – it meant serenity, but not complacence, and stillness, but not oppressive silence. Now? Now it’s something most people are afraid to ask for, afraid to want, unless they’re begging for it in the voice of a harried parent or caregiver who just wants “a little peace and quiet so I can hear myself think!”

Maybe we think Peace is bad for the economy, but look at the numbers, Santa: war certainly hasn’t helped us much. Maybe we’re afraid peace would mean bringing home soldiers and we equate that with putting them out of jobs. Santa, I’ve come to know a LOT of soldiers over the last three years – most of them relish peace as well. There are very few people who actually LIKE violence, hatred, and anger.

Speaking of anger…we all seem to be kind of bitchy and angry far too much of the time. This level of stress has become pervasive, Santa, and it’s not good. In times of economic disaster, we need to be calm, we need to be supportive, and we need to have hope. So, add HOPE to my list, please, because it never goes out of style.

Let’s throw in some TOLERANCE, as well, but only if it comes in one of those sets, like oil and vinegar for dipping bread into, with RESPECT as the other half. Tolerating beliefs that are different from yours is just the first step, you have to respect them as well. This doesn’t mean agreeing with other viewpoints, it just means accepting that there are other viewpoints that are as equally valid as your own.

I only have one more item on my list, this year, Santa: CONNECTION. We are all so wired into our smart phones and social media outlets that we’ve started interacting via sound bite. Such things are great for minor day-to-day interactions, but life doesn’t happen in neat increments of 140 characters, and despite our technological advances, we seem to be losing a lot of personal connection. When was the last time you wrote a letter, Santa, on actual paper? When was the last time you received one that wasn’t a bill or an advertisement? I’m a fan of Christmas cards, of course, but I’d much prefer it if each of us picked one day during the coming year to write a letter to a friend or relative. Not email. Not a fax. An actual letter. With, you know, postage. We need to stay connected to language as much as we need to connect to each other.

So, that’s my list, Santa: PEACE, HOPE, TOLERANCE, RESPECT, and CONNECTION. I could add LOVE, but I think if you have the other five elements, love follows on its own.

Thanks so much for your time, Santa. Give my love to Ms. Claus, and scratch Blitzen behind his antlers for me – you know how he likes it.
Best regards,
~Miss Meliss

P.S. I bet you’re totally wishing I’d asked for something simple. Like a pony.