Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

I've listed my resolutions and dreams on my group blog,
Do hop on over and see what I and my Jungle Red sisters are resolving.
It will be an uncertain new year as John has health problems and we don't quite know his diagnosis yet so please send prayers and positive vibes in our direction.

Let me wish each and every one of you a blessed, peaceful, joyful, healthy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Party's Over

Today was sad in a way as our Christmas houseguests went their various ways, to Phoenix, LA and Sonoma, leaving us with just our Aussie kin. It was also a big sigh of relief that I won't be cooking breakfast for sixteen people again, nor endlessly loading and unloading the dishwasher. But as the year draws to a close it has reminded me how precious family is to me. To be surrounded by people I love and who love me is a great blessing. To sit around, everyone laughing or singing or playing highly competitive games of Spit or Scrabble is about as good as it gets.

I just wish that holiday celebrations did not have to include so much food. I can see how the tradition started. Long ago, when ordinary people led simple lives for most of the year and a boring diet with little meat and sugar, the Christmas feast really meant something. To be able to have turkey or goose and Christmas pudding full of fruits and brandy was the ultimate in good fortune for those people. For us who eat what we like every day, it doesn't mean much any more.

So now there is enough laundry and housecleaning waiting for me to work off some of those extra pounds. And I'd like to wish you all a happy, healthy New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas to All!

If you want to see me and my Jungle Red sisters celebrating the holidays, please click on the link below.

And my very best wishes for a blessed Christmas.


Monday, December 19, 2011

A Touch of Magic

Yesterday I took my two granddaughters, Lizzie and Meghan, aged 12 and 9 to the Nutcracker Ballet in San Francisco. It's a tradition that started when Lizzie had just turned three. The other grandmother and I splurged for the front row of the orchestra stalls. She was entranced by the whole thing, peering down into the orchestra pit and waving at the players as they warmed up. When the music turned scary, she hid under her seat. When we got home she re-danced the whole ballet for us--we especially loved the mouse king dying and her version of the Russian dance!

We've been every year since, adding sibling Meghan when she was old enough. I keep expecting them to tell me they are now too old for such childish pleasures but they still seem to love getting dressed up in party dresses. And I have to confess that I still feel the magic too. All those adorable little girls dressed in their Christmas finery and wishing they were Clara. And that haunting music. And the glorious ballet of the real adult dancers--the pas de deux and the Russian dancers! And the excited children in the audience, really into the story--there was a collective gasp when the first mouse appeared, and when Clara magically turned into a princess.

But this year I found strange thoughts creeping in. I could suddenly see the brother Fritz's point of view. Everyone favored Clara. She was given the toy. He wasn't. He was always scolded. No wonder he tried to snatch it away from her. And during the interval that is exactly what my granddaughters said. The psychology of the Nutcracker!

Another thought always goes through my head as I watch Clara dancing. I am back at ballet school, aged 11, which I guess is about Clara's age. And I have grown too tall. When a ballet is cast my friends are the wood sprites and I.... am a tree. I kid you not. I was a tree in the fricking ballet. I dropped out soon after, not wishing to spend my life as a tree/flagpole/giraffe in subsequent ballets. So I stare at that stage and think "I would never have been Clara."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hooray for Royal Weddings

As the year draws to a close and we all start assembling our "best of" lists, I'm thrilled to tell you that Naughty in Nice, my latest Lady Georgiana book, showed up on the immensely popular Tressugar.come list of favorite books. So thrilled.

And for someone who writes about the royals it was a perfect year. Obviously the royal wedding was the highlight--but which royal wedding, do you ask? Apart from Hollywood royalty like Kim Kardashian, there were several real royal weddings this year, each a brilliant spectacle. In Bhutan the king married a well educated, well traveled commoner in a big Buddhist ceremony. In Monaco Prince Albert finally tied the knot. The queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips married a rugby star in a definitely relaxed and not at all royal ceremony and then there was Kate and Will's big day. This has to be my favorite royal wedding ever and the only one that has felt to me like a real love story and happily-ever-after.

Did you have a favorite royal moment this year? Should we take bets on what Kate and Will will name their first child?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The real tree revealed.

After several people emailed me about the lovely Christmas tree on my blog I have to confess that it's just a stock photo I found and not mine at all. So in the interests of full disclosure, here's a picture of my real tree.
Please do not examine too closely the inadequate nature of the gift wrapping. Luckily it's dark.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's a Wrap.

I have skills but gift wrapping is not one of them. That was brought home to me today when my church had its annual giving tree and everyone brought wrapped gifts. Some of them were true works of art--ribbons, bows, sprigs of holly, mini santas.  Mine--well, my had paper around it, stuck down with Scotch tape. That is the extent of my wrapping ability.

I suppose at heart I'm a practical person and it doesn't seem worth going to lots of trouble for something that will be ripped off and discarded. At least that is my excuse. Maybe I'm just not good at creating Martha Stewart worthy gifts. But I have to confess that I love to receive them. I have a friend who has a craft boutique every year and her gifts always have such interesting additions to the wrapping--beads and small toys that make the present fun.

Maybe it's because I have to do all the wrapping that I just want it done as quickly and painlessly as possible. Sixteen people all with a couple of gifts makes a lot of presents to wrap. with the smaller ones I now go for bags. They look good with no effort. But there is no bag big enough for a large kitchen appliance. Or for some toys.

One year we decided to have a green Christmas and made fabric bags to be reused every year. I still have them. The problem is that after they've wrapped something once, they need laundering and ironing before they look good enough to wrap something else.... and ironing is another of my lacking skills!

Ah well. It's the thought that counts, isn't it?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Trying to Make up my Mind

If you're feeling confused this week, it's because I've been trying out new designs for this blog. I thought the old one with the lighthouse was a little blah so I experimented. The black one was dramatic, right for a mystery writer in many ways, but the side bar was hard to read. So now I'm going with the hint of historical and mysterious and I hope ease of navigation.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a Perfect Christmas

My shopping is almost complete and guess what, I haven't bought a single Lexus to put under the tree.  Actually if my family had their way, it would only require a very small tree because so many people want gift cards to their favorite stores. How Christmassy is that? We might as well not exchange gifts at all but set up a clearing house with a debit and credit system. you would have spent fifty dollars on me so that's a fifty dollar credit in my column, but I would have shelved out one hundred on the kids, so I'm minus fifty.

Call me old fashioned, but I am still looking for the perfect Christmas, one with simple home made gifts and lots of laughter around the fire. I got a sample of it a few years ago when I took a Christmas markets cruise up the Danube and we stopped off in small towns along the way. They were selling hand made wooden toys and carved ornaments and the scent of mulled wine and sausages and spices hung in the cold air. Children, bundled up against the cold, looked in wonder at the twinkling lights and the magical toys. And I thought--that's the feeling I want at Christmas!

I understand it's not realistic. How many of us have the time to carve a few toys in the evenings? I'm even thinking of serving store bought cookies this year. The problem is that we have so much, year round that people think we have to raise the hype to make Christmas special. Hence all those commercials about a Lexus with a bow on it. But actually we want to go in the other direction--to retreat from the commerical side of life and make Christmas magical and simple and other-worldly.

When I was growing up in the dark ages Christmas was the only time we had turkey. So it was special. It was the only time in the year that nuts and tangerines and dates appeared in stores so they were special too. And Christmas plum pudding and mince pies were treats. Now we can buy any food we want, any day of the year. So nothing really to look forward to.

This year I plan to try hard to recreate my ideal Christmas. We'll have the whole extended family and I'm hoping it will be cold enough for a fire in the hearth and mulled wine and singing Christmas carols and silly family games that have us all laughing. Any tips on how you conjure up the Christmas spirit?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Are the Royals worth it?

As the author of the Royal Spyness series, I've been doing royal gossip Mondays on my blog. Today I'm going to be a little more serious, because the news of Prince William's brave and daring rescue last week made me want to counter all those people who complain that the royal family are not worth keeping around.

There is a small but vocal minority in Britain that thinks we should do away with the royals and make Britain into an efficient republic like America (pause to chuckle here).  These people think the royals sit around idly doing nothing in their expensive palaces and sip tea while receiving vast amounts of money from the working poor.

This may have been true in the days of King Charles Ist but the modern royals have a work schedule not many of us could emulate. I go on a book tour for about two weeks each year. Two weeks of waking early, flying to a new city, touring bookstores all day, sometimes doing some radio or TV interviews, then speaking at an evening event before collapsing exausted into a hotel bed. At the end of two weeks I am whacked. However the queen has been doing this every day of her life. Every day of making speeches, meeting new people, eating three meals a day with strangers watching and the press ready to jump if you make a false move. Let me tell you that it requires stamina.

And the other members of her family do similar amounts of goodwill and charity work. Princess Anne is the real family workhorse. Prince Charles was mocked twenty years ago when he started an organic farm. Now it seems he was way ahead of his time and his methods are being copied all over the world. And now Prince William is serving as an RAF search and rescue pilot and proved last week that this is not a grace and favor position but he is indeed walking the walk. I watched the video of him holding the helicopter steady a few feet above a raging ocean while his fellow officer rapelled down to pluck men from a sinking cargo ship. And his brother was fighting in Afghanistan until his presence was leaked to the press and he had to be whisked out for his own safety.

As the new Duchess of Cambridge (I refuse to call her Kate Middleton as the press still does) will find out, she won't have a life of leisure ahead. And I bet she'll perform splendidly.

So three cheers for the hardworking royals. Oh, and by the way.... they cost less than President Obama!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Making a list, checking it twice.

Many people I know are cutting back on Christmas this year, but I'm doing just the opposite... not exactly from choice. It started when my brother in Australia announced that he and his wife would be paying us a visit over Christmas. This would be the first time in ten years so my daughter Clare announced that she and her family had to come and join in the fun. (My son is currently living with us and daughter Jane and family live close by so that's an extra 5 people). Then my daughter Anne from LA asked if she could bring a friend who would otherwise be all alone over Christmas.

So that makes 16. Sixteen people for almost a week.
We are lucky in that we have a big house with enough rooms to put people but I'm currently buying or borrowing air mattresses, a fold up table, and trying to get my list of presents done well in advance.

Then there's the little matter of food. Christmas day is easy. Big brunch then turkey. mince pies, Christmas pudding. The day after Christmas (that we still call Boxing Day) is easy. John's turkey curry.
But the others? I was all set to buy a Costco lasagna until I realized that Anne and her friend don't eat red meat, or dairy and the friend doesn't eat gluten, and my brother and his wife are diabetic and don't eat any refined starches. So I hit on the brilliant idea of a paella one night, a seafood cioppino and brown rice another and one night of soups and baked potatoes.

Any other brilliant suggestions, please? Easy. Dairy free. Red meat free. Refined starch free. And tastes good. What a challenge....

I expect we'll muddle through. I plan to put up a roster so that there are the right number of people to help in the kitchen at all times and I've told John he is on constant food buying runs. And I'm telling myself it will be fun. It will be fun... it will be fun....