Bathtub Reading

Reading Santa

I read a lot. I mean A LOT. I may review one or two books a week, but I read a bunch more than that. The bulk of what I read is catalogued over at my book blog. Anyway, Rob did a “ten books that have stayed with you” thing over on Facebook, and since I’m tired and crabby and really wanna finish decorating my tree, I’m going to participate.

Again, these are in the order they occur to me. And I’m posting them without comment. Some are good literature, some are media tie-ins. All had something in them that has stuck in my brain.

  • The Eight, by Katherine Neville
  • Certain Women, by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne
  • A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
  • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
  • Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik
  • Mothers, by Jax Peter Lowell
  • Maiden Voyage, by Tania Aebi
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  • Outside Lies Magic, by John Stilgoe

It should be noted that these are not a TOP ten, or BEST ten, they’re just ten books that I go back to from time to time.

Honorable mentions go to Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg, and anything Keith R. A. DeCandido has ever written, especially his stuff within the Star Trek universe, but his original work as well, because he’s just so damned readable, and because he always has these details that seem insignificant until you realize that they make his characters sing. Seriously, go read Dragon Precinct (and its sequels) because they’re just AWESOME.

So, why is this called “Bathtub Reading”? Because my measure of how much I adore a book is how long I’m willing to stay in the bath with it. Really good, gripping, compelling writing leaves me cold and pruney. Books that are just okay don’t cause me to linger that long.

Today’s Santa: A Santa ornament with a book (perhaps the book of Naughty and Nice Names?) seemed an obvious choice for this post. He’s very heavy. Ceramic. Hand painted.

What I Didn’t Do Today

Most years, I spend Candlemas in a personal bubble. I light candles, even if it’s bright out, just because I like the scent of melted wax and faint smoke. I write notes to friends. I sing along with my favorite music. I soak in a bubble bath while listening to NPR.

Today, I didn’t do any of that.

Not that it was an unproductive day.

We slept late, partly because I took a muscle relaxant before bed (my back is still hurting), and partly because the dogs actually let us.

We brought Ace the Foster-Chihuahua to PetCo, where he met his new owner, and was taken to his new home.

We went to the comic book store, where we spent a ridiculous amount of money ($91) because we hadn’t picked up subscriptions in two months.

We went to brunch at Cracker Barrel, because I really wanted French toast.

We did the second half of our grocery shopping (the first half was done on Thursday night, when we went to CostCo).

We then came home, where I had planned to sip a latte and then either watch a skating show I’d DVR’d or take a nap, but since my last 1099 had arrived, I did the taxes instead. (I don’t typically have them done this early, and it seems odd to not have them hanging over my head for another ten weeks.) We don’t owe anything, and we’re getting money back.

I baked a batch of chocolate chip bar cookies, because I felt the need to mark the fact that the taxes were done.

At that point I was about to settle down with a book, when I remembered that the first Sunday Brunch posting of 2013 is supposed to go live in the morning, which meant I had to write it RIGHT NOW. It’s now finished.

And it’s almost midnight.
And my back is stiff and sore.
And I feel like whining a little.

Done now.

Seven things

It’s a bit after eleven, and I’m tired, so a list post is all I have time for. Seven things I did today:

  1. Breakfast. Usually I just have a protein shake. Today I had fluffy, fluffy scrambled eggs.
  2. Media. I’ve become addicted to recently. I especially like streaming it over my Google tv, because I’m old-school and don’t like watching things on my computer screen.
  3. Dogs: Our foster-dog, Minnie the Pocket Pointer, is learning how to be an inside dog. She spent most of the day running around the house, and didn’t have any indoor accidents.
  4. Exercise: I had a really long (but at a low weight) workout on the weight machine, because I’ve mostly been swimming all summer, and now the water’s too cold.
  5. Water: For the first time in days, or weeks, I’ve had enough water. I don’t like drinking water, so for me, this is a major achievement.
  6. Reading: I’m in the middle of a supernatural mystery/thriller about an interdimensional jewel thief. It’s really good, and I can’t wait to finish. For those keeping score, it’s an actual paper book, not a Kindle file.
  7. Writing: Spent the last two hours editing an interview for All Things Girl. It goes live at 7:00 tomorrow morning.

Time to watch Bones and then head to bed.

Thursday 13: Things my Mother Taught Me

I have to confess: I was working on a completely different Thursday 13 list for today, but it’s still in draft form, and not quite ready, and this morning at the dentist, while reading political posts on Facebook and HuffPo and Jezebel, I was thinking about my mother.


Last month, she wrote a birthday letter to me in her blog, and it made me cry, but over the years she’s also been a source of sage advice, and I thought I’d share some.

  1. Stand up for yourself, and for the things you believe in. If you don’t, who will?
  2. It’s okay – and even healthy – to think of yourself first from time to time.
  3. Never underestimate the simple pleasure of a bubble bath.
  4. Thank-you notes and good hygiene never go out of style.
  5. Happy feet = a happy heart.
  6. Trust your body, and trust your instincts about your body.
  7. Every woman – indeed, every person – should live on their own for at least a year before getting married.
  8. They should also travel.
  9. And have at least one truly-tragic love affair.
  10. You do not have to marry the first person you sleep with.
  11. Pretty underwear can lift your mood. If it matches your outfit, even better.
  12. When moving house, unpack the kitchen first, and get it set up completely.
  13. Coffee, chocolate, and a good book can save your sanity.

Thursday 13: Cocktail Hour

This weekend the US celebrates Labor Day, and Fuzzy and I are hosting a joint birthday bash/pool party (I turned 42 on 8/17 and he turns 40 on 9/7) so I thought I’d celebrate with a cocktail-inspired Thursday 13. The fact that this is one more way for me to be not-writing my novel or not-writing my collection of short stories is mere coincidence. Cheers!

  1. Cosmopolitan: My version is classic: cranberry juice, vodka, Cointreau, and lime. Yes, I got hooked on them because of Sex and the City, but they’re perfect in summer even years after the series has ended.
  2. Mojito: Rum, Mint, Lime and a simple sugar syrup. Light and sort of tropical. Goes well with Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights on DVD.
  3. Cuba Libre: It’s really just rum and Coke with a hint of lime, but calling it Cuba Libre makes it sound so much more exotic, don’t you think?
  4. Mint Julep: I was actually disappointed when I learned that this was basically just bourbon, mint, and sugar. I always envisioned something more like a parfait…or something frighteningly green.
  5. Cape Codder: I’m a big fan of cranberry juice, but I’m also a fan of simple recipes. Cranberry juice. Vodka. Twist of lime. Ice. This was my first cocktail, and it’s still a favorite.
  6. Jameson & Ginger: Four years ago I was at a writing workshop/conference/thing in San Francisco, and the host of the workshop asked a couple of us to join him at dinner. There, he introduced us to his favorite drink: Jameson & Ginger. Technically, I suppose you could make this with any Irish whiskey since all it is is whiskey and ginger ale, but J&G is such a pretty phrase. Mad Men fans might have heard of it.
  7. Tequlia Sunrise: The trick with these is to use really good Tequila, not cheap Cuervo. The recipe is simple: tequila, orange juice, a splash of cranberry juice. They’re great by the pool, but not out of place at brunch.
  8. Bloody Mary: If the Cape Codder is my cocktail, this one is the one I associate with my mother, although I’ve been drinking them on and off this summer as well. Ingredients are vodka, tomato juice, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, lemon, and celery, but you can simplify that by using V8 and peppered vodka. (To make these really lethal, let the celery stand in a glass of peppered vodka for several hours before serving.
  9. Margarita: A classic margarita is actually pretty simple: Tequila, cointreau, lime, and simple syrup. I like mine on the rocks, but feel free to blend yours. The salt on the rim of the glass is optional, but the contrast of sweet, tart, and salty is really pretty nifty.
  10. Martini: The classic version is my fave: Gin. Vermouth. An olive. And unlike James Bond (who apparently liked his drinks weak), I prefer my martinis to be stirred. You’re actually supposed to do the stirring in a mixing glass, then strain the drink into a chilled cocktail class and add the olive. (Why is a shaken martini weak? Because when you shake it, the ice chips and water melts into the drink. Proper stirring, on the other hand, requires a special spoon designed so the ice does NOT chip.)
  11. Death in the Afternoon: Like the book that goes with it, this is a creation of Ernest Hemingway. It’s a mixture of absinthe and chilled champagne, and if you drink enough of them, using REAL absinthe, they could make you wish for death. In the USA, however, real absinthe (which contains wormwood) is illegal.
  12. Champagne Cocktail: Sugar, Angostura bitters, and champagne, garnished with a maraschino cherry. Elegant. Delicate. Addictive.
  13. Sex on the Beach: This one has cranberry juice (which I love) but also has one of the best names, ever. In addition to the cranberry juice, it has orange juice, peach schnapps, and vodka.

“Writing a novel is not method acting and I find it easy to step out of it at cocktail hour.”
~Bret Easton Ellis

Thursday 13: Summer Dreams

Miss Rio

As much as I complain about the summer weather in Texas, there are certain parts of summer I love. As a kid, my summers were spent at the Jersey Shore; now I pretty much live in my pool from mid-May through mid-September. In any case, I haven’t done a Thursday-13 in ages, and since I’ve refreshed the blog, it seems appropriate to visit favorite memes.

Here, then, are 13 Things I Love About Summer (Then and Now):

  1. Sand: In my hair, between my toes, and stuck in the folds of damp bathing suits. I was with my Mother in Mexico in June, and my beach bag still has traces of sand in it.
  2. Sea & Ski: I’m pretty sure they don’t make it any more, but those funky green and brown bottles were ubiquitous when I was little. Not only did that sunscreen stay on in water, but it had this indefinable “beachy” smell that I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to recapture with aquatic perfumes for decades.
  3. Noxema: Yes, in previous incarnations of this blog I’ve written whole posts about Noxema, but I love it. I still use it.
  4. Tan Lines: Okay, look, I know you’re not supposed to sun-bathe, and I don’t, I swear. I even remember to use sunscreen (most of the time) but the tan lines I get are from swimming for a couple of hours every day, not from lying around imitating broiling meat.
  5. White Cotton T-shirts: While these are hardly restricted to summer, there’s something about a simple white t-shirt that is instantly soothing. They’re soft enough for sun-burned skin, make tan skin look tanner, and go with shorts, skirts, jeans, or just over a bathing suit. As a kid, my favorite summer “pajamas” were my grandfather’s cast-off t-shirts.
  6. Natural Highlights: Okay, we all know this mermaid hasn’t seen her natural hair color for more than 1/4 of an inch at a time since she was fifteen, but the blonde color being sported this summer is naturally enhanced by the sun. (And I had strawberry blonde/golden brown hair when I was young, I swear!)
  7. Swimming: I am my most creative self when I get to splash around in water every day. I love having my own pool, and in summer, I’m in it for hours every day. On heavy writing days, I do my own version of “interval training” where I write for thirty minutes and swim for thirty minutes all day.
  8. Going Bare: Bare feet and bare faced, that is. I love shoes, but I love being barefoot even more, and this summer, I’m so sun-kissed that I haven’t worn make-up since mid-June, except for a little gloss and mascara. (I do, however, moisturize. Religiously.)
  9. Beach Reading: I don’t generally read at beaches, but I love reading beachy books. Anne Rivers Siddons, Dorothy Benton Frank, Wendy Wax, Nancy Thayer, Elin Hilderbrand – these authors (and others) keep me entertained all summer, in between the books I read for review.
  10. Shark Week: This year is the 25th edition of The Discovery Channel’s salute to all things sharky, and while I have never, ever missed a year, I’m giddy with delight that Shark Week spans my birthday this year.
  11. Summer Produce: Last month, I wrote about watermelon over at All Things Girl but I also love peaches and plums and avocados and fresh tomatoes and berries of every ilk.
  12. Late Sunsets: While I believe Daylight Saving Time has outlived it’s usefulness now that we live in a 24/7 society, I still enjoy long summer evenings. There’s nothing like floating on your back in the pool and watching the first stars come out. (I could do without the mosquitoes, though.)
  13. My Birthday: As a kid, I hated that my birthday was in August – August 17th, to be specific – because my friends were all off on last vacations with their families before school started. Now, though, I revel in my August birthday, because there’s NO COMPETITION. No holidays (well, sometimes Ramadan, but that doesn’t affect very many of my friends), not many other birthdays (September, however, is glutted with them) – it’s MY MONTH. (I share with others, but…only a select few). You’d think that since I’m turning 42 next week, I’d be upset about my birthday, but that’s not true at all. I love celebrations. I love having a cake with my name on it. I take the day off work and celebrate myself. Birthdays are AWESOME!

So that’s my list…what are your favorite things about summer? I really want to know!

Every-day Magic

Today, I’m taking prompts from the November/December project “Do You Believe in Magic?” at CafeWriting. It’s a site I started in 2007, and then took a long hiatus from, but it’s back, and you’re all encouraged to participate.

In any case, the prompt of the moment is: Give me seven examples of every-day magic. and as I like lists, I thought I would.

  1. Puppy kisses. None of my dogs are actually puppies any more – even Max will be two in a couple of weeks – but they still give sweet puppy kisses, and cuddle when they know I’m upset about something.
  2. My grandfather’s stuffing recipe. I posted it a few days ago. On the surface, it’s simple – bread, apples, onions, bacon, celery, spices – and yet it’s instant joy when it comes out of the roasted turkey and goes into a serving bowl. Yes, I made extra.
  3. The birds in my back yard. I’m not sure we get the same ones every year, but certainly we get members of the same families. There’s a family of cardinals who come back every winter and spring, for example, and this blue jay that is almost as big as a chicken. I love that they keep coming back, and even when they’re annoying (like the grackles) I feel like I’m being visited by special creatures.
  4. Imagination. I use it to put me inside every book I read, and to help me create everything I write. I feel sorry for people who are so linear, so rigid, that they cannot imagine anything other than what they have.
  5. Music. The right song can bring me out of the deepest funk or calm my nerves, depending on the moment. Most of the time, though, I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while I’m writing.
  6. Bubble Baths. Scented soap suds, toasty-warm water, a rolled towel, soft light – instant relaxation, softer skin, and hey, you come out of it smelling great, as well.
  7. Candlelight. There’s something about flickering flame that changes the dimensions of a room, and the tone of an afternoon. I like electricity as much as anyone else, but I have a special fondness for candlelight.

Box of Me

Some men’s memory is like a box where a man should mingle his jewels with his old shoes.
~George Savile

Louisa May Alcott wrote, in Jo March’s voice, of the treasure boxes Jo and her sisters kept in the attic. Part real, and part metaphor, these collected the essence of each of the four “Little Women.”

“Jo” on the next lid, scratched and worn,
And within a motley store
Of headless, dolls, of schoolbooks torn,
Birds and beasts that speak no more,
Spoils brought home from the fairy ground
Only trod by youthful feet,
Dreams of a future never found,
Memories of a past still sweet,
Half-writ poems, stories wild,
April letters, warm and cold,
Diaries of a wilful child,
Hints of a woman early old,
A woman in a lonely home,
Hearing, like a sad refrain—
“Be worthy, love, and love will come,”
In the falling summer rain.

– Louisa May Alcott

For Café Writing this month, we are asked to list seven things that would be in our own treasure boxes.

The lid of my keepsake box bears no name; the box itself is made of dark walnut and is very simple. It was hand-made just for me, by my mother’s only brother. At some point over the years, the back piece, which was merely decorative, was lost. Originally a place to store toys, it now sits at the foot of my bed. What does it hold? Here’s a list of what may or may not be inside.

  • Zorro’s paw prints, invisible to most, indelible to me, for he uses this box as his step onto our bed, and sometimes curls up on the blanket draped across it.
  • Letters my grandfather wrote to me during my childhood, painstakingly printed for the eyes of a young girl who had not yet learned to parse cursive writing.
  • Barbie and Chuck (not Ken) and their wedding party, all in couture from my mother’s sewing machine. If you listen carefully, you can hear the echo of her voice cursing the teeny, tiny darts she had to make.
  • Spiral notebooks full of old stories and bad poems, some going back to 1975, which is when I really began writing. (I was five). Some are covered in doodles, some are not.
  • Ballet slippers and tap shoes, all sized for tiny feet, from when I took such lessons. Old leotards, worn tights, and an ice skating costume I inherited from a cousin and wore in a performance of Really Rosie when I was seven.
  • A red binder full of old MUSH code, including the first dragon I ever Impressed in an online game, and the first song Fuzzy ever typed to me, as well as printouts of email from before we were married.
  • Fishing poles and beach hats, from summers spent at the Jersey shore with my grandparents. Old reels, and a favorite beach towel, faded beyond recognition but still scented with sand, surf and Sea & Ski.
  • Suzuki books and crumbled rosin cakes, and the programs from various honor orchestras I was in throughout the years. A t-shirt from the National Cello Institute, ca. 1986.
  • Powder puffs with traces of scented bath powder still clinging to the fibers, and empty lip gloss tins like the ones currently being sold by TINte. (I liked Root Beer best.)
  • Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, which were always fun to read. The copies from the school library pre-dated the whole “update for a modern audience” trend, but somehow they never seemed horribly dated.
  • Leather pony-tail wraps, and beaded pony-tail holders, from when I wore my hair in tails or braids every day, some with smiley faces instead of beads.
  • Records and tapes ranging from vintage Shaun Cassidy (yes, really, Shaun – and my mother never knew I had that one), to the movie soundtrack of Grease on vinyl (I’ve got it on disc now), to Billy Joel, Erasure, and Voice of the Beehive, this last which was the official soundtrack of the Thursday Nights at Mel’s Diner Ms. Pac-Man Tournaments in 1988 & 89.
  • Vials of sand from Sandy Hook, NJ, Martin’s Beach, CA, and the black sand beach in Baja Sur where we had a very windblown picnic with my parents several Christmases ago, plane tickets from a 2002 trip to France (we both got the flu, but we didn’t care because we were puking in French toilets), and old maps of SFO’s MUNI and the NY subway system.

Written for Café Writing’s November/December Project: Option 6, Seven Things, and also for Thursday Thirteen. Yes, I know, 13 is more than 7. This isn’t a math quiz.


There are times when, no matter how patient you want to be, little things just annoy you far more than they should. This week, partly due to funky, indecisive weather and an abundance of eye-hurting overcast days, and partly due to not sleeping well, and partly because I’m stressing about Fuzzy’s trip, and my parents’ arrival in a couple weeks, I’m cranky and peevish.

I was going to do a Thursday Thirteen list of “things that have been irking me lately,” but instead I’m going to list a few as a sort of purging measure. Many of these will be related to use of language.

Video Tutorials. Hate them. I am not a visual learner. I NEED words. I can follow the most convoluted written directions with ease, but if you throw pictures at me, my brain explodes. Also, if I’m doing something I require instructions in order to complete, I need to be able to flip back and forth, and video just isn’t a good choice for that – at least, not for me.

The phrase “return back to.” By definition, if returning is reverting to a prior state (of being, of ownership, whatever). The use of “back” in this phrase is unnecessary, and sounds really stupid. “I returned the book to the library.” “Let’s return to simpler times.” I realize that language evolves, but why are the stupid people in charge of the evolution?

Using IM instead of Email. Unless we’re in the middle of a conversation, chances are that even if my computer says I’m online, I’m really not. IM is for immediate chatting. I don’t like it when people use it as an off-line messaging service. I use three different computers all of which use different multi-chat software, on a regular basis, so chances are I won’t see your message anyway. At least five different people have left me messages on IM in this fashion in the last three days. If you know me well enough to be IMing me, you should have my email address.

“People that.” And general that/which/who issues. WHO is for people. THAT is for things and groups. “People who have blogs…” “Blogs that are about language.” (For a really good explanation of this issue (that/which/who) check out this page at

Websites, especially blogs, that require one to register in order to comment. With one exception, I refuse. If you’re so afraid of what people might write in your comments, why are you publishing your writing to the web?

“Engage with.” Again, it’s just clunky awkward phrasing. Bad: He didn’t engage the audience. Good: He didn’t engage the audience. (Not that not engaging your audience is ever good, but…)

I reserve the right to add to this list as more things occur to me, but right now I’m tired so I’m going to bed.

Thursday 13: 0710.03

Thirteen Things about MISS MELISS
Things that Begin with U

  1. UFO: I don’t really believe that there are aliens who borrow people for experiments, but I have to admit that I often stare up at the skies and wonder. Don’t we all?
  2. UHF: I grew up before remote controls were ubiquitous, and before cable television was widespread (in fact, because my parents were anti-television, we really didn’t have cable until I was in high school, and even then, it was only basic). The first television I remember had two channel selection dials, and there were often really interesting things on the UHF channels.
  3. Ulalume: One of my favorite of Poe’s offerings, and appropriate for this month.

    The skies they were ashen and sober;
    The leaves they were crisped and sere-
    The leaves they were withering and sere;
    It was night in the lonesome October
    Of my most immemorial year;
    It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
    In the misty mid region of Weir-
    It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
    In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

  4. Umber: I like the word, it reminds me of the deepest notes of a cello. I like the richness of the colors this clay-y pigment produces: Raw Umber and Burnt Umber. I like the autumnal feel of both those color names, as well.
  5. Umbra: The darkest part of a shadow, where the source of light is blocked completely. It’s such a mysterious and romantic word, even if it is dark.
  6. Umbrellas: I’ve had favorite umbrellas – black ones that opened automatically and a clear bubble-style one leftover from the early seventies, with yellow trim and a white handle that just screamed for Go-Go boots to go with it. I also like the use of umbrellas in movies and novels – Gene Kelly’s dance in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Julie Andrews using one as “Mary Poppins,” and the scene in Little Women where Friedrich and Jo finally admit their feelings, under the umbrella, in the rain.
  7. Undertow: I always thought the undertow was a sort of deep sea monster, and I never quite believed in its power until I was caught in one at Half Moon Bay when I was thirteen. Wet denim, in case you were unaware, is one of the most uncomfortable fabrics on Earth. Being rolled in white water is scary, but coming out of it, figuring out which way is up again, and making it to shore alive – that’s just exhilarating.
  8. Underwear: I like pretty underwear. True, no one sees it except me, and maybe Fuzzy, but it makes me happy. Also, it has to coordinate with my outfit. This is important. I blame my mother for this fetish.
  9. Undine:

    In Teutonic folklore, undines are female water-spirits who like to associate with humans. They often join villagers in their dances and merry-making. An undine was created without a soul, but by marrying a mortal and bearing him a child she obtained a soul and with it all the pains and penalties of the human race.

    Undines, like all mythological water-beings, have always fascinated me.

  10. Undulate: This word is visual onomatopoeia. It just sounds like a writhing, sensual dance with swaying hips and bare feet and sweat and spice and firelight.
  11. Unicorn: I went through the requisite unicorn phase at the end of elementary school and beginning of junior high school – about the same time that those shirts with a rainbow arcing from sleeve to sleeve across the chest were popular. In a dish on my dresser I have a pair of sterling silver unicorn earrings that I just can’t toss, even though I’ve no intention of ever wearing them again.
  12. Unicycles: I’ve never ridden one, I’ve always wanted to. Like juggling, riding a unicycle is one of my unvoiced circus trick dreams.
  13. Unique: I would rather be unique than boring, any day. I have moments where I am only interesting inside my head, but I hope I’m never average.

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