Monday, October 29, 2012

Inexpensive Christmas Giving

My grown kids have asked that we come up with a less expensive Christmas this year.  Could we exchange names and thereby cut down on spending?
I totally agree. This past year’s events reminded us all that family is more important than anything else.  Things can be replaced; time with family can’t.
The couples in our extended family will exchange names with each other, and the kids (siblings and cousins) will exchange names.  We are to keep it all secret (we’ll see how long that lasts) until we open presents.  We are placing a spending cap on the gifts as well.
The individual families may give to each other, but everyone has been asked not to give outside their own household. This way others will not feel obligated to reciprocate.
I am proud of them because I have always objected to the commercialism and greed that accompanies this season.  Christmas is about family and not about trying to outdo each other or going into debt. I like what this teaches the children and grandchildren.  

I am looking for suggestions, but here are some of my favorite inexpensive gift-giving ideas:
1.    A sock exchange.  I used to belong to a group of ladies who gathered every year to swap Christmas socks.  We each bought a pair of Christmas socks to give away at a Christmas party.  We gathered at one house with our socks gaily wrapped in a gift bag.  We also brought a party dish to share.  We’d place the bags by the front door and wait for everyone to get there, then we’d pick out one bag, put on our new socks, and walk about all night in our Christmas footsies.  Our annual group picture was not of our faces, but of our stockinged feet.
2.    This exchange idea could also be done with a pair of regular winter socks, funny t-shirts, Christmas ornaments, or home baked cookies.  This can probably be upscaled to include inexpensive bottles of wine, movie tickets, or homemade theme baskets, but I like the idea of keeping it inexpensive. Anyone can spend money; it takes genius to give a great inexpensive gift.
3.    White Elephant exchange. A white elephant gift is an item that someone gave you that you might be able to regift to someone who will appreciate it more. You can only pray you don’t end up taking it home again. You decide beforehand in what order people, one by one, will chose a gift, how many times the gift may be “stolen,” and how many times a person can have something “stolen” from them. You need a minimum of six people to play this well. Our writing group, for example, exchanges books we don’t want at our Christmas White Elephant, while the others go home ecstatic over their new “finds.” 

Teaching children the selflessness and joy of giving isn’t easy.  To make it a true gift that comes from them they have to be the ones invested in the process: earning or saving the money, planning and searching for an appropriate gift, and keeping it secret since the attention should not be focused on them but on the other person.  What better way to teach them that the love and effort that goes into the present is more valuable than a gift purchased with one swipe of Mommy’s credit card?
Lofty ideals? I will let you know how it goes.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Work in Progress

I write for a living though I’ve yet to make any money at it.  You see, I could not live without writing.  It is as much a part of my existence as breathing and eating.  That’s not to say I don’t want to one day get paid for my writing.  I’m just not there yet; I’m still learning the craft.
I finished my first manuscript four years ago, and I immediately sent a query to a literary agency and to the editor of a small publishing house.  The agency answered first requesting the full manuscript.  I sent it within two weeks, but it only took them two days to send back a rejection.  It came accompanied with six pages of revisions and the manuscript dripping in editing marks. Ouch.
Next the editor from the publishing house requested the same manuscript but I just packaged it all up into a folder and filed it away. What the literary agency suggested made sense. It stung.  It was painful.  But it was correct. I knew I had a good idea; I just didn’t know enough about the craft to do it justice.
I soldiered on.
I finished and polished two children’s stories next and entered them into a well-known, national writing contest. Several writer friends warned me that very few ever placed in that contest and I was in for more disappointment.
I was getting good at growing a thick skin, so while I waited for that rejection, I started on a romance novel. 
I felt like a floundering college freshman, I couldn’t decide on a major. What kind of writer did I want to become?  Fiction? Children’s lit? Romance? There is so much to learn about the craft of writing well.
It took me twenty months to write the romance novel.  My protagonist begged for mercy since she was pregnant the entire time. Not satisfied with the end result, I packaged this one also, filed it, and moved on to my next project.
In the meantime, my two children’s stories placed in the top ten percent of the nationwide contest.  I looked at those again and wondered if I should not pitch them to editors.  Instead I ended up drawn to my first manuscript.  Maybe I could I read it this time (and the list of revisions) without wincing and crying?
It was time to get serious about being an author. 
I envy writers born with words that flow onto the page.  I have to pry mine off my fingertips like those dried flakes of skin you make with Elmer’s Glue. Half the time they disintegrate into nothing.
I have lots of ideas for future projects, but I cannot continue creating manuscripts and not seeing them all the way through the publishing process.
There’s a big difference between being a writer and being a published author.
One day (I hope it is not posthumously), you will see my work in print.  By that I mean published traditionally.  I want to hold a copy of my work in my hands and flip through its bound pages.  I want to open my email and find that a check has been deposited into my bank account because of it.
Then I will know what it means to say, I write for a living.   

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Ten Commandments of What I Will Not Eat

I may not land a cooking show on TV, but I have been to the mountaintop (okay maybe it was just a med clinic) and that should give me some cred. I have been eating since birth which makes me an expert.I have suffered from lactose intolerance all my life, so my body can tell from one smell, one bite, or one look whether a food will agree with me or not.
The following are the ten foods I avoid.  You have been warned.
1.    Nothing alive, nothing of the insect family, and nothing related to octopuses or frogs can skitter, slide, or skip onto my plate.
2.    I will not be pressured into eating processed meats (i.e., bologna) or pressed meats (i.e., Spam).
3.    Anything that once looked at me, pulsated, undulated, or strained internal body fluids in a past life can just pass on by.
4.    Without a proper and polite introduction, I refuse to gnaw on the feet or hooves, ears, necks, or tails of animals; and I don’t care if they are  disguised with clever names like “calf fries” or “mountain oysters,” I am not that kind of girl, thank you.  
5.    If it refuses to stand still and be chewed – squid, boiled okra, the “meat” in menudo – I refuse to eat it.   
6.    I will not eat anything deceptively packaged and meant to lure the unsuspecting or the innocent - licorice is a faux candy; real candy does not taste like that.
7.    Anything hotter than 100 on the Scoville Scale wasn’t meant as food consumption.  It was meant to peel paint off walls, thank you.  
8.    Gluttony is already a major sin, so a supersized anything counts as a double sin.  
9.    Thou shall not call all non-poisonous weeds full of vitamins a “vegetable.” Stop selling Kale in the produce aisle. It should be outside with the gardening supplies.
10. International flights to and from China are in blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and should be banned from serving “the pork noodle” dish to innocent, unsuspecting tourists. 

Monday, October 8, 2012


I called family and apologized in advance for disgracing the Martinez name and honor.  I begged my best friends to stand by me as I prepared to publicly humiliate myself.
The weekly newspaper hit the neighborhood Thursday morning as I prepared to leave town for the weekend – not because of the column I had just written but because I was on my way to a teacher’s conference in Dallas.
I opened my copy and saw her – LadyBoomer – in her place in the centerfold of the small community paper, every word as I had written it. It was up to the readership to decide if I was a writer or not.
*  *  *  * 
Three months before (December 2001) I had just survived a divorce that had taken five months to finalize.  I was ready to forge a new future when I opened my weekly Herald and saw an ad looking for an op-ed/personal column writer.  All I had to do was dust off my resume, create a column voice, and submit three, 250-word samples – all in one week’s time. 
What did I have to offer?  I was a newly single, fifty-something woman with an empty nest, facing the new millennium with an even emptier pocketbook – and I loved to write.  There it was:  I was a lady, a boomer, and single. Surely, there must be others in my situation.   Maybe we could commiserate and laugh at ourselves while we did it.
I submitted everything well within the time limit and I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Every week I opened the paper and nothing. 
I came home from work one day in late February to a phone message from the paper’s editor.    My hand shook as I returned his call.  The response for the job had been overwhelming and it took a while to read and choose the top four applicants.  I had been chosen among three others.  
The editorial board had decided to let the readership choose the winner.  They would print one entry every Thursday throughout the months of March, April, and May, and the column to get the biggest response would go weekly in June.  Was I in?
My confidence was a low as the pay, but I figured I would get some experience from all this.  I was asked to beef up my three columns (up to 450-550 words), and resubmit before the last Thursday of each month.  (I worried since the assignment wasn’t alphabetical and I was last in the rotation, I might be the weakest writer.)
The first column played with the author’s last name and how people always worried over how to pronounce it. I read it and got nervous.  It was so “cute.”
The next Thursday we read about junk mail and I started to worry.  This one was so “tame.”
The third writer told about a daily fight she had with her husband over their one Lazy Boy chair.  I lost interest halfway through except this was my competition.
I. Was. In. Big trouble.
This was when I started calling my family and apologizing. I begged my friends to not abandon me. I called my editor and asked if it was too late to change my name to a pseudonym.
He laughed at me and told me to leave it to the readers.
*   *   *   *  
I got home late on Sunday from the conference to find my answering machine flashing with messages from family and friends. I started my computer to find both email inboxes full of emails, all congratulating me.
The column on “Why I Joined the Gym” (because I was looking for a man my age, healthy enough to get his own evening snacks) was a hit. LadyBoomer received 643 emails that week.
PS:  LadyBoomer ran from March 2002 until I retired her in October 2005. She was a grand old gal. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ten Things a Lady Should Never Admit

Disclaimer:  People and events mentioned below are fictitious and do not resemble anyone living, dead, or writing this blog.
1.     A lady never admits to the size on the tag of her dress unless it is a one-digit number and does not include the letter “X.”
2.    Her relationship with the bathroom scale is sacrosanct and will NOT be discussed or debated with anyone.
3.    A lady’s hair color is her “true” hair color and should not be disputed.  She paid for it; it’s her true color. Get it? Good.
4.    It is not polite to ask a lady who really dragged who first down the church aisle. All anyone needs to know is that it was love at first sight and a marriage proposal quickly ensued.
5.    A lady never admits to impetuous or unwise purchases.  Large wraps are making a comeback and can accentuate too-tight or too-short dresses dramatically.  Likewise, really tall strappy heels make quite a statement worn with the right dress, besides why else did God create podiatrists?
6.    A lady has no idea what the commotion is about when the said lemon meringue pie, the dozen of glazed doughnuts, or the gallon of Blue Bell comes up missing from the kitchen. She has no idea whatsoever.  Go bother someone else.
7.    A lady never snores, laughs like Mr. Ed, or chews like a camel.  A lady does not have bodily emissions of any kind, and anyone who says so is rude and a bore. Is. That. Clear?
8.    She doesn’t know why there is a whole shelf of depilatories in the medicine cabinet.  That stuff is for removing stray hairs and chin whiskers, things that would not dare grow willy-nilly on a lady’s face.
9.    Though there is reason for paparazzi to lurk in the bushes surrounding her house, a lady is never seen unclothed (especially in daylight. Sorry, Kate.).  She prefers slimming black dresses and stunning vertical stripes.
10. A lady never admits that briefs that once hugged her curves but now cigar roll down her tummy or refuse to hike over her derrière have anything to do with her diet or exercise regimen. The stingy manufacturers are at fault; they skimp on material nowadays.