Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Seven

This is how we feel, getting to the final day of Calorie-Free Christmas. I did a little recap yesterday, if you need one.

And before we get much farther, I’ve also posted today at the FFP Blog about loving your baby novel and fretting about its future.

But now, with no further ado:

#7 Theater – full surround experience

You could argue that yesterday’s topic, the books of Christmas, involve every sense because the imagination kicks in. But there’s something about the TV shows of our youth, the Christmas movies, the ballets and concerts that just wrap you up and transport you.

My mom commented yesterday that my stepdad’s family loves A Christmas Story. In honor of that family, who are taking me and David in for Christmas this year, I’ve put Ralphie at the top. It’s one of those brilliantly funny movie that you can watch every year and laugh hysterically at all the same parts. We know it so well, we start giggling even before the gag plays out.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum – the gloriously divine. My grandmother used to take me to see the Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas. We’d go down to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, have lunch and shop around Larimer Square. There’s something about the ballet, too, that just glistens. All those flowing tutus and graceful swaying. It feels like peace, love and joy.

This picture is from the University of the Pacific’s production, which is sadly already over. Isn’t it lovely, though? Most communities stage some version of the Nutcracker or a concert of The Messiah.

Then there’s always the old TV shows. If you’re like me, you remember the TV line-up leading up to Christmas. When would they broadcast Rudolf? Or the Peanuts Christmas Special? Sometimes you lucked into seeing a favorite, other times you missed them. But having them reappear felt like family members coming to visit after a year away and kissing you on the cheek.

So I’ll leave you with a big hug and a grumpy Merry Christmas from my favorite curmudgeonly uncle, the Heat Miser.

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Six

We’re down to our last two days of adventures in celebrating Christmas that don’t involve chowing down.

To recap, last Monday we explored the world of scent with #1 Body Butter: all the scent with none of the fat.

Tuesday, Day 2 added flavor to scent with Tea: warm, sweet, spicy and good for you.

On Day 3, we added in emotion, with the joyful anticipation of an advent calendar.

Day 4 was all about the visual, with the indulgence in the pretty and shiny and the week finished out with Day 5, the sounds of music.

So, here we are, a new week, Day 6 and onto one of my very most favorite topics.

#6 Books: a world of pleasure.

Like with the music, I have my collection of Christmas-themed books that I put away with the decorations. Every year I bring them out again, like old friends.

One of my favorites is A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. I have this very version, in fact, though mine has a few more thumbprints. My high-school drama teacher used to read this aloud every year, often on the last day of class before break. If you’ve never read it, it’s well worth it. Written in 1954, it hearkens even farther back to the poet’s childhood, with a lyrical, nostalgic retelling of a simpler, less-commercial time. Here’s a taste:

All the Christmases roll down toward the
two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon
bundling down the sky that was our street;
and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged,
fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the
snow and bring out whatever I can find.
In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued
ball of holidays resting at the rim of the
carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero
and the firemen.

If you prefer something funny, another old favorite is Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Because it’s about a church Christmas pageant, it’s considerably more church-y, but it’s also tears-running-down-your-cheeks funny with all the things that go wrong. In the end the message is about hypocrisy and play-acting compared to truly generous acts. I remember my stepdad, Leo, reading this aloud to us and how he’d have to stop to just laugh. It’s a good memory.

I should give you a taste of that, too. This is how it opens:

The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.

The toolhouse burned right down to the ground, and I think that surprised the Herdmans. They set fire to things all the time, but that was the first time they managed to burn down a whole building.

There are other books, of course. A Christmas Carol is standard, but the story has been replicated in so many ways that it sometimes feels tired to me. Still, it’s worth it to read the original tale if you never have.

So now I’m curious – what am I missing? Any wonderful Christmas books that are part of your holiday tradition?

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Five

Okay, you know what’s coming today, our fifth day of exploring ways to celebrate the holidays that don’t necessarily involve pumping on the calories.

#5 Music: there’s more out there than Rudolf and chestnuts

Yeah I know – the music thing is a double-edged thing this time of year. We’re shopping for Halloween costumes and some squeaky children’s chorus is singing Frosty the Snowman. Whoever decided that what we all most want at Christmas time is to listen to children not our own sing songs designed to go with cartoons, well… if it weren’t the season of peace and joy, we’d have to kill them.

The music is another way to make this season special. I keep my Christmas cds in the storage bins with the decorations, so they come out together. Now I have a Christmas playlist on my iPod that I have unchecked for most of the year – with 233 songs in it.

I like to seek out the unusual, the old songs. One of my favorites is Dido’s Christmas Day. I embedded it here, in case you’d like to listen while you read.

Some of my favorite albums are The Chieftains’ Bells of Dublin, which has some great old song like The Wren in the Furze, and Christmas in Rome, which is, not surprisingly, considerably more Catholic. I love Enya’s Silent Night Christmas EP, but didn’t know about the album I posted here until I searched for the EP (to no avail). I immediately downloaded And Winter Came – lovely. Annie Lennox also just came out with a Christmas Cornucopia, which bears her inimitable style.

Some fun collections include the Barenaked Ladies Barenaked for the Holidays (it has a couple of lovely Hanukkah songs, too) and the Squirrel Nut Zippers Christmas Caravan. David is fond of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Christmas Time Again. For more traditional Celtic songs, check out Jean Redpath’s Still the Night or Thistle & Shamrock’s Christmas Ceilidh. The compilations often lead me to terrific discoveries like Stuart McLean, a Canadian radio show host. He tells stories about Dave, who owns a record store. “Dave Cooks a Turkey” and “Polly Anderson’s Christmas Party” are two of the most hysterical stories I’ve ever heard. You’d have to get his Christmas Concert cds to hear them, but here’s a shorter one, just for you (from that same album).


Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Four

Yesterday we celebrated the joys of advent calendars.

(Though I noted that many of you manage to sneak in a few calories by adding chocolate to anticipation.)

Today is all about the visual.

#4 Decorations: lights, glitter, glitz and glam

Let’s face it “Christmas” decorating pulls a lot more from the holiday’s pagan roots than from the religious holiday. We’re facing the darkest days of the year, the longest nights, the weak and slanting day time sun. Thus the lights!

The holiday provides so many opportunities to add light and sparkle to our lives. Wear something glittery. Or a lot of things glittery. Bright colors with shimmering fabrics. I’ll usually get a little something special to wear for each Christmas. Maybe a new sweater with rhinestone buttons or a pretty blouse. Sometimes just a silk scarf to glam things up.

There are so many ways to use light now to decorate, too. Here in Santa Fe, the farolitas are popular. Some people call them luminarias, but those are actually small bonfires. The kind in the bags with little candles are farolitas and, if you’re like me and 99% of Santa Fe, you get the electric kind, sometimes called electrolitas.

A traditional name.

I haven’t regaled you with the tales of me spending four consecutive days on our roof, tying down those little fuckers. (Another traditional name.) But it’s worth it. One neighbor said our house looks like a castle. Five other people have stopped me to say how great it looks. It gives me a thrill of pleasure to see the lights, to hear that other people like them, too.

My way of staving off the dark.

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Three

For the last two days, we’ve played with scent and then scent plus flavor. For Day 3 of our adventures in calorie-free delights, I’d like to move into a more ephemeral sense. This sense is part thought, part emotion. It’s what enables us as intelligent beings to plan for the future.


#3 Advent Calendars: an exercise in daily joy

Remember that feeling when we were kids, of the building excitement for Christmas? How it seemed that the days dragged by and that the clock ticked ever more slowly, that magical day seeming to grow farther away not closer. Each preparation, while fun, seemed a torment of waiting. Picking out the tree, spending an evening decorating it, helping to wrap gifts, baking cookies. Every moment filled us with just a bit more excitement, a dollop more of anticipation until, by Christmas morning, we were fair to bursting with energy.

(Could have been all the fudge and sugar cookies, too.)

I used to have paper advent calendars that my mom would tape to the glass back patio door. Every morning before school, I could open a new numbered window and see a little picture. As the month progressed, more windows stood open, showing color and a growing scene. Folding open those little cardboard tabs made every day just a bit brighter. Of course, they also made the kind with little chocolates behind the tabs, but that’s *not* what we’re going for here.

The modern version of the advent calendar just got a little better. My favorite electronic greeting card company, Jacquie Lawson came out with an electronic Advent Calendar this year. And yes, I got it for myself and a bunch of my friends.

Every morning the swirling snow globe appears on my desktop, waiting for me when I start up the computer. Because computers are magic, it knows what day it is and encourages me to open a new window in the village. Then a little scene with music plays.

I love this company because of their beautiful images. Also, because they’re Brits, they have what to Americans is a more old-fashioned take on Christmas. It’s lovely and refreshing. Here’s their card of the month, if you’d like to see their stuff in action. Fair warning: if you’re reading this post after December 2010, then it’s likely not to be a Christmas card. But as I add this it’s a tree-decorating sugar-plum fairy.

Jacquie Lawson e-cards

The calendar started on December 1, but you can always have a little catching-up orgy of fun.

Enjoy building the anticipation.

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day Two

Welcome to Day Two of our adventure in exploring calorie-free ways to evoke the holiday spirit.

Yesterday I talked about the realm of scent. How lotions and body scrubs can evoke that special celebratory feeling. You may have seen my old friend, Kev, asking if this really works. He’s a rare person who has no sense of smell. He thought that for people who can smell, scent only makes you hungrier. This can be true. However, I’ve found that indulging in the scent of something delicious is satisfying in itself. Some of this might tie into breaking those habits of emotional eating, like I’ve described with fasting. Just because something smells desirable doesn’t mean you eat it. But enjoy the lovely scents nonetheless.

So today we add a layer of taste to the mix. How to enjoy flavor without calories (or manufactured chemicals with disconcerting FDA histories)?

Tea: warm, sweet, spicy and good for you

Tea is a wonderful thing. It’s warm. The range of scents and flavors vary all over the spectrum. You can drink all you like without a single calorie and, if you choose carefully, they’re even good for you. The best part is, you can add in some festive glassware for that extra celebratory touch.

Let’s face it – half the fun of Starbucks at holiday time is getting the festive red cup. It’s silly and yet it makes us happy to see them. And those special flavors they have only for the holidays? Oh yes. I saw the ripple across twitter when people announced the pumpkin-spice lattes were out. And now those ginger-spice lattes and black-cherry mochas. It’s clever marketing because having those flavors only at this time of year makes them special. That’s entirely the trick of creating your own celebratory treat.

Sadly, those ginger spice lattes are not sugar-free. And for me, now that I’m staying away from milk and from caffeine – that doesn’t leave much in the cup.

So, I’m indulging in tea. Pick a special mug for Christmas. Something that evokes the season for you. A few years back I gave my mom these great metallic mugs that look like Christmas tree ornaments. I still regret not getting some for myself. But there are lots of pretty mugs and fabulous tea pots. I like to brew my tea in a ceramic pot that I keep on my desk for easy refilling.

While shopping with my mom and Hope, I discovered Teavana. Fair warning: Teavana is quite “too.” The tea is expensive and it comes with specific instructions on what temperature to steep it at and for exactly how long. This is so not me. I boil the water. I throw the tea in an infuser, throw it all in the tea pot and it sits on my desk that way all morning. No doubt the lovely and precise sales lady who explained the instructions to me would be wringing her perfectly manicured hands in anguish.

I’m just saying – don’t let that stop you.

They got me on this blend of White Ayurvedic Chai and Samurai Chai Mate. The latter does have caffeine, but I can control the amount by how much I add to the infuser. Ah, the scent, the warm sweet taste. It’s like being in a tea house in Europe with an antique book while snow falls outside.

Or at least, how I imagine that would be.

There’s lots of easy tea choices. The site that provided the picture above seems to have good information. And Damn Fine Tea, which is run by some friends of mine, has a special holiday blend this year. (No, they didn’t give me tea to say this, but they should!) It’s also as simple, though, as plucking a box of tea off the grocery store shelf. Peppermint, cinnamon, cloves. Pick the spice that makes you feel special. Cozy up to your festive mug and sip. Let the brew transport you.

There’s a reason writers love tea.

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays – Day One

Today marks a bit of a departure from theme.

Okay – who am I kidding? Here in the land of cats and New Mexico weather, I’m forever departing from theme. Call me eclectic, if you’re feeling generous.

So, as you may or may not know, I used to write essays for magazines a fair amount. I didn’t consciously stop doing it, but I started writing novels and got, well, fatally distracted. Then, about a week ago, I had a great idea for a magazine article, but I no longer have any of my old contacts. Besides, print magazines plan issues about six months in advance. I thought maybe I could find an online magazine that runs stuff faster, but they don’t really like internet submissions, so they make it difficult.

I decided just to run my article here:

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

And by holidays, I mean Christmas. I’m sorry if you don’t celebrate Christmas – it’s what I know. That’s what this is about, too. Christmas tends to be a time of excess. Lots of feasting and treats. I’ve blogged before about Emotional Eating. Traditional holidays can be terrible for emotional eating because a huge part of the fun is the food, the special treats, parties, alluringly decorated sweets and savory dishes. All singing the siren song of enjoy, celebrate, indulge.

As of today, I’m still ten more pounds than the upper limit of my BMI. I need to lose this weight for my health. I so cannot afford to go the other direction with my weight, after all of the hard work that let me lose twenty pounds of body fat so far.

No, I’m not going to offer tips on healthy holiday eating. I’m not sure such a thing exists. And the whole “eat before you go to the party” advice is all well and good, but not much for, well, partying.

After all, where is the fun in that?

Instead, I’m offering celebratory alternatives. The holidays offer so many ways to indulge ourselves, to enjoy the scents, sights and sounds of the season – all completely calorie-free. Here’s one of my favorite ways to make that emotional connection to celebrating the holiday:

#1 Body Butter: all the scent with none of the fat

So much of the joy of holiday treats reaches out on the scent. Pies fresh from the oven, the warm redolence of a cinnamon roll, the sweet allure of a ginger spice latte. It’s well-documented that smell is the most certain way to evoke a memory also. Those warm and happy childhood memories of biting the head off a gingerbread man? They ride in on those lovely spicy smells. A good bath oil, body scrub or lotion can give you the same delighted feeling. One of my favorites is The Body Shop’s Body Butter. If you don’t want to put butter in your body, try putting it on your body. They have seasonal scents like Spiced Vanilla and Pumpkin Pie. Bath and Body Works also has a nice Warm Vanilla Sugar scent. I’ll often buy a matching scrub and butter set to use just during the holiday season. All day long I can smell those lovely scents and enjoy my secret celebration.

I wanted to include pretty pictures, but The Body Shop seems to have gone minimalist.

Tune in tomorrow for Day #2. What could it be???

Lying Tweets

Kind of a quiet sunset last night, slowly shading into salmon and violet. Quite lovely.

Something not quite so lovely occurred on Twitter the other day. But it was also kind of quiet. Once of those things where people get into conversations with certain expectations that lead them into assumptions. Let me explain. It might be convoluted because I don’t want to name names.

(Though if you know me and want to email to ask, I’ll tell you who it is.)

So there’s this agent who’s been on Twitter for a while. We’ll call him Tom. He seemed pleasant, said interesting things, didn’t seem to rep what I write. I didn’t follow him all that closely, but we exchanged comments a couple of times. About e-publishing, now that I think of it.

Well, then he turns up the other day – same avatar, which is the little picture that appears next to the words, in this case a headshot – but a different “handle. Where he used to be AgentTom, now he’s eTom. My friend, Kerry, pointed out to me what was going on. He was holding forth on Twitter bashing traditional publishing and even agenting.

He said a lot of stuff. How agents and traditional publishers only want authors with huge platforms – like celebrities and that chick from Jersey Shore. Thousands and thousand of Twitter followers, he says. A couple of writer-friends of ours had engaged him in conversation at this point. What caught Kerry’s attention was when he said:

Don Maass is not going to take anyone on unless he can make a buck from their work. No platform, no Don.

When several people mentioned that Donald Maass, who is a very well respected agent, has recently offered representation to friends, he said:

He might be taking them on but that doesn’t mean they will be published or if they are, it won’t be big time.

followed by

Jen Jackson runs Don Maass Literary. I don’t think Don is that active anymore. Don’t know for sure tho.

So, Kerry mentioned that we have a good friend who is recently represented by the very active Don, she has fewer than 200 followers on Twitter and is doing quite well with her series. This is a warning flag, when someone in the industry is saying things you know aren’t true. Doesn’t matter who he is.

Which he pretty much ignored. Because by this point, after he’d painted this very grim picture, he got to his actual point: the beauty, the glamor, the sheer profitability of E-PUBLISHING.

Now, I have nothing against e-publishing. I’ve published a book with an e-press and I’ve been pleased with the results. (I showed some yesterday.) That’s not the problem.

The issue is that he’s become “eTom” because he’s left agenting and become an acquiring editor for an e-press. You can see this on his profile. If you go to this e-press website, you can see it’s totally new, with lots of references to “us” and that it’s an imprint of another press. Which sounds fairly reputable – okay, new e-imprint of an established press, there’s a lot of that going around these days – until you look at the press and notice it has the same last name as Tom.

This is, in fact, entirely eTom’s business. His new publishing venture and he’s recruiting authors by playing on their fears, saying a traditionally published book takes three years, pays nothing and they’d never take you if you don’t have a huge platform anyway.

This makes me mad because IT IS NOT TRUE.

Allison, for example. She’s told her story in other places, but to recap: it was just over a year ago that the editor who read Allison’s full manuscript for a contest offered her a contract. Allison was able to pick from three agents, one of whom landed her a better contract with another publisher and the book is coming out in January. That is a true story. This is her first book, she has no platform, practically no name recognition and less than a thousand twitter followers.

Maybe most of you reading this are nodding your heads and saying yeah, yeah, yeah – we know. But it alarmed both me and Kerry to see so many earnest authors engaging with eTom and swallowing his lies.

If you want to do e-publishing, great – do it! But don’t sign with just anyone. Don’t let them make you feel desperate. Do your research. Pay attention to their motives.

Never sell yourself short. Especially to the guy who says it’s your only chance.


One of our morning visitors.

The trio of coyotes came by again, at almost exactly the same time. Tomorrow I’ll have my camera ready and try to get all three. They look like a mom and two teenage pups. Completely fearless. Beautiful and yet…

It puts me in mind of this:

Deliver my soul from the sword,
My darling from the power of the dog.

That’s from Psalms, but it came to my attention as the flyleaf quote in Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog. Really wonderful book, if you’ve never read it.

I like that as an analogy – the power of the dog in our lives, the shadow that lurks, that we close the doors to. We turn away and think about other things.

So, here’s an other thing.

Author Jim C. Hines often interesting statistics on his blog, about his publishing history, etc. This is an fascinating one that he cross-posted to SF Novelists about the myth of the Overnight Success. If you haven’t looked at it, it’s well-worth the time. Inspiring, even.

In that spirit, I thought I’d share some statistics on on Petals & Thorns. (Like Jim, I’m a graph and stats geek, too. Apologies if you’re not one of those.)

This shows my sales since the release day in July. As you can see, there were a lot of initial sales, which then tapered off. I pretty much expected that. The numbers were higher than I’d anticipated for a first-time author in the genre, no name-recognition, etc. These were all sales through Loose Id. When I saw my October statement, I though, eh, it’s run its course.

So, what happened in November? All Romance Ebooks started selling it. Quite the sales jump there. They were kind enough to give it a top rating and a staff pick, which I’m sure helped a great deal. You can see my royalties per book aren’t quite as high with the reseller – it’s about 20 cents per book less – but the higher traffic is certainly worth it.

I don’t know how this system works, if Loose Id typically sells a book exclusively for four months and then offers it to All Romance. My statement from Loose Id also includes columns for other resellers: Lightning Source, Fictionwise, Amazon, Sony eBooks and Barnes & Noble. It will be interesting to see if they are gradually added.

At any rate, I’m close to making RWA’s criteria for published author status. Nice return for my little 26K erotic novella. And replete with irony, I know. Petals & Thorns might get me there where my essay collection and two novels have not. I’ll take the promotion, however.

One thing I’ve learned, and as Jim Hines’ graph illustrates, too – the road to our goals seldom unfolds the way we think it will. Every success is another step, another brick in building the palace.

It’s only in fairy tales that wishes make palaces appear overnight.

In life, we build them through persistence and endurance. Always guarding against the power of the dog.

Tao of Kitty

Bougainvillea from Thanksgiving in Tucson. No need for autumnal tradition there.

Every day my cat Isabel waits for her chance to go outside. It’s her very favorite part of the day. She loves to stalk the birds, roll in the dirt sit in the sun. With these short days, she has to wait longer and longer to go out, because I won’t let her until the sun is high enough that there are unlikely to be coyotes hiding in the shadows.

Fifteen minutes ago, just after 7, three coyotes trotted by. Well after sunrise, but the shadows are still long. Isabel wanders into my office, mewing with charm, coaxing me to let her out.

Not yet.

Because it’s colder now, and sometimes blustery, she doesn’t stay out long. She’s spoilt with me working at home. Ten minutes after I let her out, she’s outside my office window, asking to come in. I don’t mind – it gets me out of my chair, after all. I’ve threatened to tweet every time I let her in and out, with cheerful encouragement to bring it on.

And they say Twitter has no real substance.

Every morning, though, Isabel seems to head out with supreme confidence and joy. Sometimes a cold gust will hit her and she’ll crouch down, flattening her ears. Other mornings are still and she’ll venture out with tail high, but come in sooner to warm up.

I wonder what she understands of the seasons. Does she have a sense that we’re just heading into winter and that there will be a long cycle of cold before her hot summer days return? Perhaps every day is new and immediate for her. She could be expecting to walk into flowers and heat any day now.

It’s likely more that she has no expectations. If animals live in the moment, then things are what they are. Yet, I know she misses us when we’re gone and she remembers good hunting spots. I watch her making the rounds of places she’s caught mice and gophers in the past. From the moment the alarm goes off, she’s prancing around, excited to start her day. I believe she understands past and future.

Some people say you should never let cats outside at all. That if you never do, they can’t miss what they’ve never experienced. I’m not sure I believe this. The world is the natural habitat for all of us. We retreat to shelter, for warmth, for safety, but that’s not where any of us belongs, cloistered for our entire lives.

So, I wait for the sun to get bright enough – not yet, and it’s almost eight now – and I watch her go embrace the world for what it is.

I try to do the same.