The Christmas Tree, Phase 2

So, when last we spoke of the holiday season, I was cooking a turkey and wondering what my cats were doing to the naked Christmas tree at home.

To look at them right now, you’d think they were innocent.


photo of cats sleeping
Sophie and Rex are look innocent now


photo of a kitten asleep
Athena never does anything wrong… or so she says.

But after 5:00pm, that’s no longer the case, as evidenced here, when Stumpasaurus Rex decided he needed to investigate the dishwasher. He ends up in there at least twice a week. No idea why.


photo of a cat sitting in a dishwasher
Rex checks to make sure the dishes are clean before we put them in the dishwasher

Last night, with the room spinning due to an inner ear thing I have going on, I decided it was time to put the lights on the tree. What’s not to like about vertigo, a step stool, and electricity?

Remember those adorable, innocent balls of fluff? I don’t know where they were. Demons replaced them. And in case you wondered, no, LED lights do not stay lit any better than regular tree lights. I know this because Athena and Rex were all about loosening random LEDs on the strand so that sections of the lights would go off and I’d have to sit down and fight the stupid strand again.

Yes, I do know that Christmas tree lights are strung by hand (yes, really), and if I had to do that, they would never work. So I am thankful when the things work at all. But if these cats want to be on Santa’s Nice List, they really need to leave the damn tree alone.

Tune in later this week as we start the Broken Ornament Pool. Once the lights were on the tree, the cats seemed to lose interest, but we’ll see what 5:03 has in store for me tonight. They are, after all, still trying to eat the tree.

As an aside, are you looking for the perfect gift for a writer? Yeah, I wasn’t either. I mean, really that would be a bigger MacBook Pro… Sorry, I was working on my Christmas List.

So, a few weeks ago, in some part of my cyber-life I was complaining about maybe needing some of those tip-less gloves so I could write with warm hands. I didn’t think anything else about it. But on Wednesday night, we found ourselves at World Market, looking for wine for the rest of the week.

I was pretty focused on Sauvignon Blanc, so I wasn’t paying much attention when my friend said, “Hey, they have a whole selection of gloves for you!” Sure enough, there must have been 15 pairs to choose from.

Writer Friend got me this pair for Christmas. If you look closely, you’ll see what appears to be an elf hat buttoned on them. Don’t give me grief. I was focused on wine. Pulled the gloves out this morning and realized those “hats” turn them into fully functional mittens!


photo of fingerless gloves
The ultimate gift for cold writers

Awesome! And so much more useful that the cat’s version of a muff, where they lay down on my hands and keyboard while I try to work!


Only 27 days, 13 hours left til Christmas! I have a lot of knitting/baking/wrapping to do between now and then. Are you ready?


Billionaire Bachelor’s Revenge is Available

Thanksgiving turned out to be an awesome day for me. It’s the day my new book, The Billionaire Bachelor’s Revenge, hit Amazon’s shelves! I’m really proud of this book. Here’s the teaser:

The Billionaire Bachelor's Revenge Book CoverMeg Taylor needs help only one man can provide. But is she willing to pay Evan Alton’s price?

Meg didn’t realize her father was embezzling money until it was almost too late. Now, she views it as her responsibility to save the company from the trouble her father caused. In an effort to save the business, she turns to Evan, her former fiancé to help financially support the business. Since he was the man her father pegged as the thief, she’s sure he’ll be willing to help, but doesn’t know if she can handle the personal price he offers: posing as his lover until he recoups the money he puts into the business.

Evan Alton is bent on revenge, out to get everything he was due years ago: the girl, the house and the business. Once he has them all (at least in public), he’s going to destroy them in the same way Meg destroyed him years ago. Unfortunately, his heart has other ideas and at some point he’s going to have to trust the woman who betrayed him years ago.


Everything’s Better with Real Whipped Cream

So, after 19 years in the South, I finally ate at Waffle House.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s Thanksgiving, aka National Mashed Potato Day, and I want to talk about Waffle House? Not really. It was more a confessional thing. Really good waffles though.

We just put the turkey in the oven. I’m excited and terrified because I feel like this year’s cooking isn’t doing what I wanted. Nothing like potentially poisoning your extended family with cheesecake.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Sour Cream Bourbon topping from Gourmet. It’s an awesome cheesecake, and a great substitution if you’ve hit the point where making another pumpkin pie is going to get you institutionalized.

Normally the cream cheese works with me and everything turns out nicely, with a few small cracks on the top that are easily covered by the sour cream bourbon (or in this case Glenlivet) topping. Not so. Yesterday, I got the San Andreas Fault going through the cheesecake. Did I stop and think, hmmm, how can I fix this? Did I read the recipe as I was making the cheesecake?

No, not so much.

I just put the topping on the cheesecake and kept going. And here’s what it ended up looking like:

photo of pumpkin cheesecake
Luckily, a spoon smooths this topping and makes it look better than this.

Do not start with me. Had I thought about it, I would have put a flag over the fault line because clearly that spot will have more alcohol in it. But here’s the thing about cheesecake:

It’s really hard to tell when it’s done. It jiggles. And it’s cracked, and it’s just odd looking. And it has to sort of set up in the refrigerator after you bake it. So it doesn’t look right when it comes out of the oven. It’s a total crap shoot.

So crap shoot dessert, although the French Apple Pie — do  not start with me about the French on Thanksgiving; everything is better with streusel topping — looks fantastic.

French Apple pie photo
No promises about the turkey or the cheesecake, but we can all feed off the French Apple pie

But we got a surprise phone call and suddenly the turkey cook was tied up, and if you’ve cooked a turkey, you know it has to get in the oven on time if you want to eat before Saturday. So suddenly, I’m working on the turkey. Which was so not what I had planned. Sweet potato casserole, yes. Pie, yes. Main part of the meal that everyone looks at when I’m already nervous about the damned cheesecake? No.

So, a little nervous. And if this works, I will be telling everyone at dinner what I’m thankful for: not killing them with poultry and dairy products.

And pie with real whipped cream. Because everything’s better with whipped cream. As long as it’s homemade.


Building the Tree

You know you’ve been out of work too long when…

  • You’re excited about Michael Strahan’s new dressing room reveal tomorrow;
  • You know which Twilight star is dumber than a post, which one is the post, and which one actually has a brain. And uses it;
  • You no longer stop typing when a cat lies (lays?) across your arms;
  • You have to go to The Oatmeal to figure out if it should be lays or lies. (It’s lies.)
Photo of kids building a fake Christmas tree
“Yeah! We’re building the tree!!!”

I know you’re all shocked because this is two posts in two days, as opposed to my usual once a week/month/lifetime routine I’ve had going lately. But I knew you all wanted to know how the tree building went.

First, boys do not know how to fluff trees. Shocked, I am. Especially since I’ve been re-teaching this skill for five years. So I went through the refresher. Some branches have to point forward to cover the florist wire, some to the left, some to the right, some down so we have a full tree. And still, the skill does not come naturally to those with a Y chromosome.

OK, this tree is 11 years old, so it gave up on full years ago. But it was a really good tree I got for about $2.32 when I worked at Michael’s because that was more fun than potty training one of my children. Yes, I really chose retail during the holiday season over potty training a child. And I wonder why I haven’t been nominated for Mom of the Year.

photo of Kids building a Christmas Tree
Scout Son tries to fluff like Snarky Daughter. Yes, I see she is wearing a barcode on her elbow. Yes, I have the Photoshop skills to fix it, but why miss this opportunity to embarrass her?

Back to the tree. Rockefeller Center’s got nothing on this 7.5-foot plastic concoction currently sitting in my living room. Snarky Daughter, being a girl, was all about the fluffing.

You know what’s really depressing? A Christmas tree without stuff on it. So we built the tree and Stumpasaurus Rex immediately tried to figure out how to scale the tree. Given that he’s missing a back leg and can’t jump well, you’d think I could breathe a sigh of relief. The problem is, he’s muscle. Since he can’t launch himself, he pulls himself up things. He is regularly at the top of the 6-foot cat tree.

Which is the other reason I was worried about the tree. Given that they already have one thing to climb in the room, would the cats see the difference?  I really expected a cat as a tree topper.

Rex is crafty. He spent the evening under the tree trying to figure out how to get up the clothing hanger branches. We’d be watching TV and all of a sudden some part of the tree would start shaking.

Photo of kitten exploring Christmas Tree
“Finally, you brought the trees inside! Where are the birds and squirrels?”

I had a glass of wine and generally ignored it. Athena, Goddess of Christmas Trees, felt that this tree was like any other plant (real or fake) in the house and it was meant to be eaten. For that, I grabbed a spray bottle and shot her with water. She was not amused. I expect a retaliatory hairball any time now.

This morning, I’m staring at an empty tree and the cats are totally. Ignoring. It. Totally. Like, OMG.

I may speed up the process and add lights. So tune in next time (I almost wrote tomorrow, but that seemed like a promise I was going to blog tomorrow, hahahaha) to see what’s going on with holiday preparations.

And find out if I mess with Bon Appetite’s Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe or if I keep it pure for Thanksgiving.


40 Days Til Christmas

40 days and 14 hours. That’s how long we have until Christmas. Yes, I’m a little surprised that I was able to Google days til Christmas and come up with a Christmas Countdown clock. I shouldn’t be, but it seems like there are better programming choices than that.

Anyway, Christmas. 40.5 days of shopping left. I know. There are a ton of you who haven’t given this any thought yet. Clearly none of you are flying home for the holidays. But we are, and that means I have to do a ton more planning for the holiday than I’d like.

There are the folks I don’t normally see but this year I’ll have to find a nice gift for. Hard to do when you see each other every other year. These are the people in my life who would, on this coast, get homemade Irish Cream truffles, sea salt scrubs, knit scarves or some other Pinterest-inspired gift. But since I have to get it across the country without breakage, I have to either buy supplies/bottles and ship them to California and spend a day in the kitchen there, or I have to make it here and pack it very carefully. And hope TSA doesn’t decide they want softer hands and spiced pecans.

Of course, next week I’ll be writing that great holiday favorite: the family Christmas letter.

Photo of kids with Christmas tree
Scout Son and Snarky Daughter try looking cute in front of the Christmas tree.

Being a freelance writer gives me a leg up on most in that department because I have InDesign so I can put together something nice and spend an extra 100 hours making sure everything lines up perfectly. Because I know you’re all going to pull out rulers and check to see if the spacing is equal on all columns.

My letter comes and goes depending on the news. The year my mom died and I was getting divorced I didn’t do the letter. Merry Christmas! May Death and Destruction Stay with Me, Not with You! Somehow, I couldn’t find a lot of happy to share that year.

This year, even with the loss of a job, I feel like there’s good news. Snarky Daughter and Scout Son each get a column in the newsletter, so I only have to find about 300 words of happy, and with two books coming out this month, I think I can wing it.

But that’s next week. This week, I’m cruising Pinterest for cool homemade gift ideas, making a shopping list for pies for Thanksgiving. And putting up the Christmas tree. Tonight. No ornaments or lights, just the tree. I want to see what the kittens will do to it. I fully expect to find Rex sleeping at the top tomorrow morning. I’ll keep you posted.

Feel free to start the pool on how many times the cats knock it over.

What’s that? Why am I putting up a tree when I won’t be here?

That’s a really good question. The answer involves pitiful faces on sweet children who want to decorate for the season.

Whatever. I have gifts to work on.


Stress Baking aka I Need to Move

So, I’m standing in the kitchen ready to kill one of my children because, you remember when I said, “Don’t eat these Kisses because I’m going to make Peanut Blossom cookies with then”? Yeah, clearly one of them didn’t remember that either because I notice I’m short on Kisses (in all ways possible), and while I totally agree that Hershey’s is screwing with me by making smaller packages, I don’t think it’s all on them, Scout Son.

Not that I’m naming names.

And usually this wouldn’t piss me off, I mean, I’m not a chocolate Nazi. We currently have, no lie, about 100 oz. of chocolate chips in the house, along with 3 pounds of chocolate to make truffles later this month. As long as I have 2 cups of chocolate chips to make cookies at any given moment, we’re good.

Stress baking, mom?

photo of Peanut Blossom Cookie
I suppose the good news is that I don’t want to eat them. Of course, that’s not good news for Sarcastic Roommate, who announced this morning that she was beginning a healthier living plan. Sorry.

Yes, Snarky Daughter. Go back to enjoying your weekend with your father and leave me alone.

In my kitchen. With my Kitchen Aid Professional. And a glass of wine.

You know that scene in Under the Tuscan Sun, where she ends up looking at the movers and saying, “So, um, two boxes,” and she pockets the blue vase? I think she got the better end of the deal, because I’m pretty sure this mixer is my blue vase, and hers was a lot lighter.

I didn’t get up planning on baking. I got up planning on painting my nails and chaining myself to a chair and finishing the story I’m working on because I’m on deadline. And then I was going to finish a cover design for someone and then I was going to rework my resume so I could discuss it with my step-mother and find a job.

But instead I opted to read for a few minutes hours. The problem here is Lani Diane Rich and The Fortune Quilt. I started it one night a few days ago. I thought I was picking up a light, humorous romance. But the Universe is not done sending me messages, because while there is a romance in this story, this is a story about a woman who is an emotional wreck, has been laid off and runs away from home to lick her wounds and start over.

Do you have any idea how badly I want to do that? I so seriously want to take my kids and go sleep on someone’s couch and just start over, I can’t begin to tell you. I keep trying to do what’s best for the kids and stay here, near my Ex, so he can see his kids, because that’s the responsible thing to do, and while I don’t want to be married to him, he’s a pretty nice guy and a good dad. And Snarky Daughter can finish high school where she’ll get two years of college credit free. But then Scout Son wants to apply there this year, so really, it’ll be four more years here, and I’m beginning to think paying for two years of college would be emotionally cheaper than what I’m going to pay for Four. More Years. Here.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that staying here is killing me. Unfortunately, here in Non-Fiction Land, I have about $20 in savings, and after I pay the bills, about that much in my checking, and unless my lottery numbers were good on Tuesday (and I think I’d have heard something on the news by now if there’d been a big winner), that’s not enough to start over with.

So I’m pretty much stuck right now, trying to figure out how to get unstuck, and wishing like crazy I had an artsy, Bilby, Arizona to run away to, where I could work in an art supply store while I found myself for a couple of months and then got the job of my dreams, the guy of my dreams, and the quirky cottage of my dreams.

With a kitchen big enough to hold my Kitchen Aid, and some shelves for my books. And no guilt for dislocating my kids because for once, just once, I could put my needs before everyone else’s. And everything would work out fine.

In the meantime, I’m moving on to Ginger Snaps.



The Perfect Pie… and How it Died

“Mom, I had an epiphany in health class, and you were right.”

“Duh. About what?”

“It turns out, I can’t eat store-bought cookies and stuff. I need to learn how to bake.”

Trumpets blare in the background, heralding my success.

“Told you so.”

You see, that’s how this blog started. I wanted to bake cookies with Snarky Daughter, but she wouldn’t help. Then, two hours later, with the scent of cookies wafting upstairs, down comes She Who Can’t Be Bothered, to eat the fruits of my labor. I don’t think so.

“You didn’t want to bake them, you don’t get to eat them. And by the way, it’s time you and your brother learn how to cook. I’m not sending you out into the world without skills, so you’re going to cook once a week. And then you’re going to blog about it.”

Or not. But they have been cooking semi-regularly. Scout Son became my baker; Snarky Daughter my chef.

So I was thrilled when I learned I was right and she was going to have to learn to bake. In our house, I may not know what’s for dinner, but I can bake a cake/cookies on any day.

Vegetables? Meh. Chocolate chips and butter? Always in the house. The chips are ideally purchased in five-pound bags. Isn’t it that way in your house?

Continuing on in the You Were Right Conversation:

Photo of French Apple Pie
Before the accident. We were too broken up to take an “after” photo.

“What do you want to make?”

“Um, cookies?”

“Really? We’ve been talking a lot about pie lately.”

“Pie would be good. But isn’t pie hard?”

“Not if you understand the chemistry going on. Besides, if you can make pie, you can make anything.”

Nothing like trial by fire.

A few days later, armed with butter, brown sugar, spices and pounds of apples, I explain the secret to pie crust. Time. And freezing a lot of the ingredients to stop the formation of gluten.

Four hours later, Snarky Daughter pulled the Perfect French Apple Pie out of the oven. Can I just tell you how awesome this pie was? No, there aren’t words. But it was better than some dates I’ve had.

It was phenomenal. Right up to the moment I went to put it in the refrigerator and watched, horrified, as it slid off the cookie sheet and crashed to the floor. The ceramic pie pan shattered.

Yes, I did look at a four-inch piece of flaky, joyous crust and wonder if it was bad form to pick it up and eat it off the floor. I also wondered if we could pick through the ceramic splinters liberally scattered throughout the filling.

It took about twenty minutes of cleaning up to realize I wasn’t so upset about the loss of pie, as it was the loss of this pie. The first pie. The perfect pie. I literally stood there calculating how long it would take me to make another pie (duh, four hours). And what I could put it in since, you know, my pie pan was toast. And finally realized I was upset because it was Snarky Daughter’s First Pie that I killed.

I made another pie in an emergency pie pan two days later. It wasn’t the same. And now I’m on a search for another ceramic deep dish pie pan. Because practice makes perfect.