Star Lines
Saturday, December 21, 2002
  Last Minute, What'll I do? Gifts:  If you haven't finished shopping and/or haven't a clue as to what to get that persnickety person left on your list, here are some ideas that you can put together in a hurry and won't cost you a limb:

1. Movie Night:  Get a nice glass or ceramic bowl (most dollar stores have them for a buck) and fill with packets of microwave popcorn, candy bars, a liter of soda and a VHS or DVD movie (buy used at Blockbuster).  You can add a copy of the current TV guide or the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly or People magazine.  Perfect for your favorite couch potato.

2. Humor: Any tape, CD or book by Dennis Miller or George Carlin.  They're both smart, funny men and laughter is always a great gift.  For the older generation, Bill Cosby. :)

3. Puzzling Tower:  Buy an inexpensive jigsaw puzzle, a paperback murder mystery, a mystery movie on VHS or DVD, a crossword puzzle magazine, a Rubik's cube, or anything that has to be "solved".  Stack in order of size with largest on the bottom (like a pyramid) and tie with a big bow.  A big hit with mystery fans.

4. Back Rubs:  Check with your local gyms; many have gift certificates for sessions with their on-staff masseuses.  I got this as a gift one year and the lady actually fixed my back.

5. Basket of Love:  Get a pretty wicker basket (go back to the dollar store, they also have them) and fill with chocolates (I recommend Godiva), hot cocoa or fancy coffee, a pretty glass mug, a package of shortbread, scented votive candles and holders, a paperback romance novel, a romantic movie on VHS or DVD (Kate and Leopold was cute), Romantic Times magazine, scented bubble bath, etc.  Wonderful for your significant other.

6. Aromatherapy:  Fill a gift bag with different kinds of potpourri, scented candles, incense, etc.  You can add little baskets and holders, too.  Look for holiday scents like evergreen, cinnamon, gingerbread and vanilla.  Or make your own wonderful homemade pomanders by covering oranges and apples with whole cloves (just stick them in the rind like push-pins.)

7. Hot Lunch:  Get an oversize soup mug and fill with packets of instant soup and crackers.

8. Car Care:  Get your favorite driving maniac a gift certificate for a tune-up or an oil change.  Add a car freshener, the latest issue of Car and Driver magazine, or even a pair of fuzzy dice for their rearview.

9. Pet Lovers:  Hit the pet supermarket and check out their selection of pet products, treats, and toys.  Fill a stocking (which you can also get from the dollar store) with these goodies, and add a magazine or book about their pet's breed.

10. Phone Home:   Buy long distance calling cards for out-of-state friends.  It's always great to stay in touch during the holidays. 
Friday, December 20, 2002
  Best Movies of 2002:  I didn't get to see too many (again) and some of what I saw actually debuted in 2001, but I didn't get to them until after January and I could rent them on VHS.  My theater-going days are pretty much over, except for some kids movies now and then with Mike and Kathy, but I don't mind -- I don't miss anything when I rent the tape.

#1 -- Brotherhood of the Wolf -- Breathtaking and hands-down, the best movie of 2002, maybe the best I've seen since Titanic.  Period-authentic, beautifully shot, and with a inspired cast of actors I never heard of before.  Reminder warning, this is not a film for children or animal lovers -- much graphic gore, violence, sex, and depiction of animal cruelty.  I am left wondering how they managed to make the fight scene where the MC spun swords in his hands look so real.

#2 -- Ocean's Eleven -- George Clooney was probably a con man in another life, and I enjoyed how he played this one.  You could tell that everyone on that set was having a great time.  The mix of talent ranged from excellent to phenomenal; even Brad Pitt couldn't come off all broody and tragic with so many terrific actors around (which he usually does.)  But when did Eliot Gould get so old?

#3 -- Reign of Fire -- For the dragons and Christian Bale more than anything.  Plot had too many flaws, they skipped some of the interesting parts, and the whole movie felt too short, but still fun.

#4 -- K-19 The Widowmaker -- I like sub movies, probably because the damn things scare me to death.  Liam Neeson was incredible, and stole most of the movie away from Harrison Ford, who could lighten up a bit on the post What-Lies-Beneath grimness.  A bit unrealistic view of the Russian navy of the time, but interesting and they didn't try to whip out a Hunt for Red October ending.

#5 -- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone -- Hey, I watch kids movies sometimes.  The whole Harry franchise bears studying, so I got the tape and watched it over the summer after I read the first book.  Nice adaptation, too many very smart adults being very oblivious, but the kids were well-cast and cute.  Ron's supersized chess game was my favorite part.

I saw a few other movies -- Minority Report, Spider-man, Murder by Numbers, and Kissing Jessica Stein are the ones I can remember -- but I don't count movies as best of unless I want to buy the tape.  Will I ever work up to ten movies in a year?  Doubt it, can't sit that long without my retinas frying. :)  
  Bedazzled:  The play was a huge success, thanks to the kids who acted and danced and sang like they were on Broadway.  Seeing the story come to life took my breath away, it was so gorgeous.  Everyone had a wonderful time, I think, from the laughter and applause coming from the audience.  Kathy was the perfect toy soldier and Mike, who had the closing lines of the play, delivered like a pro.  My kids love the stage and really did the family proud.  At the end, the children got a much-deserved standing ovation that reduced me to tears.  I am still inclined to mist over and sniff this morning, but we're off to have our school Christmas party and celebrate the triumph.  
Thursday, December 19, 2002
  The Big Debut:  My light-years-off-Broadway production of The Perfect Christmas Present will have its one and only run tonight.  We're pretty excited, but I suddenly realized I have given no thought to what I'll wear. I don't think the Duchovny-The-Halls tshirt would go over well. Maybe the Reading Is Sexy one? :)  
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
  Holiday Working Music:  Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F Major for the fussy stuff.  Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet for the really big boxes.  Pat Benatar, Best Shots while I'm packing the last of the overseas boxes (sorry to my AF friends, the me-and-the-kids-care packages will be a little late this year.)  Anakwad Montano, Sky Spirit (gorgeous native American music) while I make out the last of the Christmas cards, for a spiritual finale.  Celtic harp on a personal CD, played by my friend Kevin for the long hot bath I deserve after.  True, I listen to a very weird range of music, but it keeps the neighbors guessing. 
  Uh-oh: Today's allotment of SPAM included this little gem:

Get more smiles, more flirting, and a lot more sex! "New Scent" Makes You Simply Irresistible To ANY Man OR Woman...Guaranteed!

I had this instant vision of me standing in line at the grocery store, and the cashier lunging across the scanner . . .

Your Friends Will Envy You!

Sounds more like they'll be attacking me.  I love my friends, but I think I'll pass.  
  Minority Report:  Watched the movie in three separate sittings -- there will be no rest for the wicked author this week -- and I think Nobby was right on the money with his mini-review of it.  Tom did his usual acrobatics and was a bit more soulful than usually, but I mostly liked the actor who played his nemesis (the government investigator? Not sure what his job title or role name was.)  Special effects justified the budget, I supppose.  The story came across like most of Philip K. Dick's stuff -- cold and constipated -- so I don't think he's spinning in his shroud over the film version.  That author did not like women, though, that's for sure.

That wraps up movies for me this year.  My best of list will appear shortly.  
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
  Honest Wages:  When I picked up Kath from school today, she was jumping around like Tigger -- which meant she punched out somebody, or got away with something.  "Hey kiddo, what's up?"

"Mommy, look!" She displayed two shiny new quarters. "Nicholas paid me."

Boy, money, my daughter -- all my systems went to Defcon3. "Paid you to do what?"

She gave me a sweet smile. "Make paint for him."

"Did he." I settled back down to Defcon4 -- apparently there was no pending outraged mother wanting to know why my kid punched out or did something to hers, and maybe there would only be moderate environmental damage involved. "What did you make the paint out of?"

"Rocks and dirt."

"That's all?" I was suspicious, but then I still can't get the glue she made from Play-doh, wax and something else last summer off one of the porch chairs. "Nothing else?"

"No, Mommy. Just rocks and dirt." She did a little hoppy dance around me. "And he liked it so much he paid me."

I had a instant flash back to when I made money the first time.  I think I was about five, and I remember taking my little red wagon -- yeah, I had one -- into the yard, digging up about half of my mother's garden, and then going door to door selling flowers to our neighbors.  I charged a penny a flower, and I think I ended up with about thirty cents before Mom realized what I'd done and came after me.  I was in the dog house for a good month after that.  My kid is much savvier than I ever was. "Good work, honey."

"I'm going to put my quarters in Daddy's Christmas card," Kathy told me on the way home.

That was weird. "Why?"

"'Cause he always looks for money when he opens a card." She beamed at me. "So he'll be surprised, right?"

I just wanted to see his face when she explained all this.  I teased her with, "Hey, why don't I get a quarter in my card?"

"'Cause you just like reading the poems."

My kid also knows her parents. "Oh, right."  
  Back by Popular Demand:  The ever-desirable, always advisable

Top Ten Things You Should Never Give a Woman for Christmas, Version 2.0

1. Hair-agami (TV advertised hair-folding accessory) -- Honey, if we wanted to look like we slapped a donut to the back of our heads, we would go roll around the shelves at Dunkin' Donuts.

2. A Chia Pet -- if we'd like to see green grow on something stationery, we'll water you.

3. John Basedow's Fitness Made Simple Videos -- it's not that simple, okay?  Plus there's something very wrong with the size of John's head and it freaks us out whenever we watch him flex.

4. No-brand Boxed Chocolates -- they're made in sweatshops in Mexico, and we're pretty sure the workers spit in them. Spring for Godiva at least.

5. Britney Spear's Greatest Hits -- We like albums with more than one song on them.

6. Nipple Rings -- not without lots of morphine, and you have to get a matching set. Lower.

7. The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker and Michele Scicolone -- what, so we can end up looking like Tony or Bobby?

8. Cubic Zirconia Jewelry -- Hold out until you can afford a real diamond, we know the difference.

9. Season tickets to a sporting event -- Unless you consider opera or ballet a sport.

10. A crock pot -- we already have you, dear. 
  The Weather Outside: is frightful -- fifty-one degrees, according to the radio, Antarctica, according to my toes.  The children are demanding extra quilts and hot chocolate, while cats sit piled together on the bed and give me group disgusted looks (hey, guys, everything is not my fault.)  I know this is summer weather to most of you sturdy Northerners but us beach bunnies have thin blood.  I guess the idea about someday moving to Maine would result in family mutiny.

Still, despite the inconvenience of wearing extra clothes and our general wimpiness, I like the cold.  Not like Florida has very defined seasons to begin with, and the past couple of winters have been so warm I didn't bother to put away the swim suits.  A little chilly weather makes things feel much more Christmas-y.  Santa will just have to skip wearing Bermuda shorts when he makes his rounds this year.  
  Danger Sarah:  (Mission Impossible theme music)  I've challenged my friend and fellow writer Sarah to do something specific before December 31, 2002, or else.  Else will be me writing an extremely embarrassing story about the something specific, featuring Sarah as the MC, or worse.  I already have the first scene plotted . . .  
Monday, December 16, 2002
  Voice from the Past:  The fittings went very well, everyone likes their costumes and I only have one minor alteration to perform (the one kid I didn't measure has shoulders like a pro wrestler.)  I rushed home for a few minutes to dump the sewing box and final costume, but before I could reach the door the phone rang.  Was probably a telemarketer, I thought, but answered it anyway.  At first I couldn't identify the cheerful voice on the other end, only that it was an older woman, but she wasn't trying to sell me anything.  She went right into chatting about my books and my kids and my website, and I thought it was (again) a fan who somehow got my number.

Then she asked, "So, what are you doing for the holidays, Snow Snake?" and I about fainted.  I haven't heard that nickname in twenty years -- the lady on the phone was my old pal Sharon (now a retired colonel) who was my partner in crime all through our training days.  We lost touch about ten years ago when she started bouncing around overseas bases, and I've always intended to track her down but you know how that goes -- there's never time.  She heard about my books through the grapevine, ran into one of my friends at Wright-Pat and finagled my phone number out of him.  Even better, she's flying down here after New Year's and we'll have a chance to see each other.

Snow Snake.  God, I actually answered to that once.  And no -- I'm not going to tell you civvies what it means. :) 
  Liam:  Watched (listened to, mostly) "K-19 The Widowmaker" last night while I was sewing, and was pretty impressed.  It was a bit unrealistic -- only one member of the crew was shown drunk, everyone was clean, polite, and knee-jerking their loyal to the Party every five seconds.  Russian troops of the time were quite a bit different.  The boat was cool, though, and support cast was solid gold.  Liam Neeson quietly stomped Ford's rather predictable performance into the dust.  Ford seems to have only two emotional modes these days: boyishly charming or menacingly grim.  No boyish in this movie, and he's getting too damn old to pull it off anyway.  I've always thought Liam Neeson was a terrific actor, so maybe I'm prejudiced.  A very tense, surprising film.

I can't remember if I mentioned seeing "The One" with Jet Li a few weeks back -- another solid movie.  Okay, martial arts meets SF, but the special effects were pretty intense and I absolutely loved the ending.  I've liked Jet since watching Romeo Must Die and he just gets better and better.  Maybe it was all those Bruce Lee movies my first ex made me watch that's corrupted me . . . I've got to work in seeing "Minority Report" before I post the best movies list now, to be fair, but that will pretty much wrap up my movie watching for 2002.  
  Costumes are:  DONE.  And the Holy Family never had such nice robes, I think.  The little girl who plays Mary is one of those children who looks utterly gorgeous in blue, so I think she'll be very pleased.  My shepherd, otoh, was disappointed that he wasn't getting a nifty robe (I remade two of my old Chinese silk robes into costumes for our three kings) so I'm going to slip one embroidered with a huge fire-breathing specimen on the back to his mom after the play.  If I give it to her before, he'll find a way to ditch his not-so-exotic outfit and wear it.

Final fittings tomorrow, then all I have to do is be a stage Mom on premiere night and herd the 4th and 5th grade on when they get their cues.  I confess, I'm really excited.  My first play, my costumes, and my kids.  We're going to have a great time, I just know it.  
Sunday, December 15, 2002
  Treats:  I am not a good candy-maker; I burn everything.  Part of this is due to being easily distracted while cooking, also I am scared of molten sugar, which is a lot like volcanic lava and will leave scars on any spill-klutz like me --so of course I spill it on myself every time.  My mother loved to make homemade fudge, though, and it's become kind of a holiday thing for me.  Here's my recipe for fudge that won't burn, maim or otherwise scar you:

No-Brainer Fudge

3 cups Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 can 14 oz. sweet condensed milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
dash of salt
[optional add-ins: chopped nuts, mini marshmallows, raisins, M&Ms etc.]

Put morsels, milk, extract and salt in a sauce pan and melt over low heat. Stir frequently to blend. When it looks like fudge -- after about 5 to 10 minutes -- remove from heat, stir in your favorite chopped nuts, marshmallows, M&Ms or whatever. Pour into pan (I use an 8" pie pan), spread out, cover with foil or plastic wrap and put in refrigerator. Chill for two hours, take out, cut into squares, enjoy.

Note on fancy toppings: Before you put in the fridge, you can also top the fudge with coconut, maraschino cherries, pecan halves. etc.   
  Chuckles:  I've been stopping in FM chat lately and it's been very good for my soul and various funny bones.  Hanging with the clan is an instant rejuvenator -- you're in a room full of writers who are going in all kinds of directions and there's all this terrific energy and support and just plain old kinship.  Then we get silly and go off on a tangent -- and after tonight, I will never be able to read Green Eggs and Ham to my kids with a straight face, no, never . . .

Then there are my other friends, my non-writer friends, who do their part, too.  Jessie was checking out something on Locus, and found a certain photo site.  She studied said photos for a few minutes, then asked, "Are these people like from the Appalachias or something? Check it out -- don't they look inbred to you?" When I saw to whom she was referring -- some professional folk, as it happens -- I laughed so hard I nearly did myself an injury.

Finally, my children always remind me that while life can get crazed and confused, they will always put an interesting spin on how.  My daughter has been making snowflakes out of scrap paper, and taping the results to the sliding glass door.  Tonight she called me over to inspect her latest art work, and I discovered she used first three pages of the galley copy of Steel Caress (which Mom had stupidly put next to the scrap paper bin) to make three gorgeous snowflakes.  Happily, I have an extra copy, or the production department would be wondering "What the heck happened here?"  
Adventures at the KeyBoard

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