February 29, 2016

Happy Leap Day!

In case you weren't aware, today is Leap Day--that extra day we add to the calendar once every four years to make up for that pesky extra quarter of a day it takes us to get around the sun every year. In honor of the day, I thought I'd do some research on the subject. So without further ado, here are a few things you may not know about Leap Year. 

1. Leap days are necessary to keep our calendar in alignment with the Earth's actual trips around the sun. The actual journey takes us 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds. If we didn't adjust and add that extra day every 4 years, we'd lose 6 hours every year. After just 100 years, we'd be off-kilter by about 24 days. Another 100 and we'd be off by almost an entire season. You can imagine what chaos would ensue. 

2. This Leap Day thing isn't new. Julius Caesar introduced the first leap year back around 46 B.C. His Julian calendar had only one rule: Any year evenly divisible by four would be a leap year. Unfortunately, that math created too many leap years, but it wasn't until Pope Gregory XIII introduced his Gregorian calendar around 1,500 years later that we came up with the current system. So here's how it works There's a leap year every year that is divisible by four, except for years that are both divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400. So the 2000 was a leap year, but the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. According to ScienceWorld, the added rule about centuries was a fix to make up for the fact that an extra day every four years was too much of a correction. 

3. Lest you think that we're all on the same page when it comes to Leap Year, you should know that A whole leap month is added to the Chinese calendar every three years. The leap month's place in the Chinese calendar varies from year to year. 2015 was a leap year in the Chinese calendar. A leap year in the Ethiopian calendar occurs when an extra day is added to the last month of the year every four years.

4. It's acceptable for a woman to propose to a man on Feb. 29. The custom has been attributed to St. Bridget, who is said to have complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for men to propose marriage. Patrick supposedly gave women one day to propose.

5. People born on leap day are often called "leaplings" or "leapers" because I guess "Bob," "Tom," and "Mary" is just too boring. Most folks born on February 29 celebrate their birthday on Feb. 28 or March 1 on non-leap years.

6. The twin cities of Anthony, Texas, and Anthony, New Mexico, are the self-proclaimed Leap Year Capital of the World. They hold a four-day leap year festival each leap year that includes a huge birthday party for all leap year babies.

7. If you were born on leap day, you share a birthday with composer Gioacchino Rossini, motivational speaker Tony Robbins, jazz musician Jimmy Dorsey, actors Dennis Farina and Antonio Sabato Jr., and rapper/actor Ja Rule.

8. Apparently, there's a leap year club: The Honor Society of Leap Year Babies is a club for people born on Feb. 29. More than 10,000 people worldwide are members. I'm assuming that this would exclude any "leapers" from China or Ethiopia since February 29 has no special significance for them.

9. Hollywood has not let us down. There's a leap year movie starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. The 2010 romcom "Leap Year" is about a woman who travels to Ireland to ask her boyfriend to accept her wedding proposal on leap day, when tradition says that not only can women ask, but men cannot refuse a woman's marriage proposal.

10. Leap years in history: During leap years, George Armstrong Custer fought the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876), the Titanic sank (1912), Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning is electricity (1752) and and gold was discovered in California (1848).

So there you go! Now you know. 

February 14, 2016

Miss Frankie on Killer Characters

Miss Frankie is talking about Valentine's Day when she was a girl on the Killer Characters blog today. Stop by and say hello if you get a minute!

photo credit: LIFE-PRESERVER via photopin (license) 

December 12, 2015

12 Things From My Life That Begin with "D"

in no particular order
and for no reason other than I needed something 
to blog about today

1. Deadlines. For a writer, they're part of everyday life, and they can be pure hell. Learning the discipline of writing is essential because there's nothing that can kill the muse faster than having to be creative on demand. But you know what they say . . . the only thing worse than having a deadline is not having a deadline.

2. Daughters. They're my kids and my best friends. They get me when no one else does. For every minute of grief or worry they've brought me, they've given me three minutes of joy.

3. Decorate. When I have the time and the energy, I love to decorate for the holidays. Unfortunately both of the above things have been in short supply the last few years. I haven't even bothered putting up a Christmas tree most years that we've lived in Florida. I'm not sure if it's because it never feels like Christmas here, or because I just really have no energy. I did get one up last year, but I'm pretty sure this year is going to get away from me again. 

4. Dreams. For most of my life, I haven't remembered my dreams. I suppose I did dream, but I never remembered what I dreamed about except an occasional recurring dream about being chained in a tower in a medieval castle. That dream is gone and now I dream about things like working for my old boss and frantically trying to get to work while something is obstructing my path. Then for several years, I dreamed about some people from my past--and not a good past. Those people reappeared in my life, and I guess the dreams helped me to be ready for that. 

5. Dogs. There was Angel, (part giraffe, part gazelle, and part kangaroo) my poorly socialized dog with ADHD and OCD. And there was Sammi who was my oldest daughter's dog and who lived with me for a while. And there's Cleo, my current grand-dog. who is a sweetheart and a rescue dog. And there was Pride my Doberman pincer, upon whom I based Max, the dog in the Candy Shop mystery series. And there were Holly and Copper, one a poodle and the other a doberman. I'm feeling puppy fever again, but with a new kitty in the house it's probably not going to happen anytime soon. 

6. Dance. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a professional dancer. More specifically, I wanted to be a June Taylor dancer, but I don't think I ever confessed my professional dance aspirations aloud, and I think they died away somewhere before I was 8. Besides being a novelist, being a June Taylor dancer is the only thing I ever really wanted to be when I grew up.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket7. Dad. I have one, as do all of you :) Mine passed away on October 6, 2006 at the age of 82. He was a World War II Veteran who loved the great outdoors and dreamed of being a Park Ranger when he was a young man. He grew up on a farm and spent so many hours working in the fields, he almost didn't graduate from high school. That near miss bothered him his entire life.

8. Daydreaming. I'm all for it, and I'm lucky. I'm a writer because daydreaming is my job!

9. Dictionary. In 7th grade, I made a poster that was supposed to read "How To Develop your Mental Abilities." I misspelled two words on that poster, so it ended up reading "How to Develope your Mental Abbilities." Not only did the other kids in my class make fun of me, but the teacher did too--and this right after she laughed at me because I didn't know how to spell marijuana. (This was before it was a household word where I lived, and I was absent the day we learned what it was.) This all happened the year after I had Mr. Graybill, the world's most obnoxious teacher, in 6th grade. Mr. Graybill made the leather wallet I was crafting for my dad (see above) a public example of how not to do leatherwork. The public humiliation I felt over that stupid poster nearly did me in, but I became best friends with the dictionary that day. After that, I could out-spell almost everyone I knew. Even my Straight-A Sister -- the one who graduated 3rd in her class -- asked me how to spell words.

10. Deployments. My son-in-law was active military for the first 9 years of his marriage to my daughter and he spent more Christmases, birthdays and anniversaries in the Middle East than he spent at home. He was willing to be there because he believes that if we don't fight them over there, we'll have to fight them here on our own soil. War looks a whole lot different when it comes knocking on your own front door than it does when it's an abstract principle. I'm proud of my son-in-law and proud of his service to our country, and I'm proud of my daughter for standing at his side and keeping the family together while he was gone. 

11. Dishwasher. It's my favorite modern convenience. Need I explain? 

12. Down East. A place I've visited a few times and one place I've always wanted to live. 

December 04, 2015

10 Favorite Christmas Movies

Last week I talked about my struggles to seamlessly shift into Christmas mode now that I live along the Gulf Coast. I vowed to make an efffort to immerse myself in Christmas spirit this year, so in that vein, I give you the list of my 10 Favorite Christmas Movies:

Most of you are familiar with this movie, I'm sure. It's the story of Ralphie, a kid living in the 1940s, and his efforts to convince his parents and/or Santa that he needs a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas. It's about much more than that, too--his relationships with his parents, his kid brother, his friends, and the neighborhood bullies. I've seen this movie at least 100 times, and the scene when his dad points out that one last present hidden away in the corner still brings a tear to my eye. 

My kids and I quote from the movie all the time. (A-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus...) I defy anyone who sees this movie to ever pronounce "fragile" properly again or sing Deck the Halls without becoming politically incorrect for a few seconds.

It's not Christmas at my house until we've watched this movie. It's old, of course. Made in 1954, it's the story of a couple of army buddies who team up after World War II as a successful song-and-dance team. They end up trying to help their former commanding officer to save the inn he's now running after leaving the military. It's full of sweet charm and romance and, of course, plenty of song and dance. If I have the story right, the movie was made to showcase the song (of the same name) which was introduced in an earlier movie, "Holiday Inn" starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. 

This one stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. I love "Sisters" (both versions) and the dance where Danny Kaye broke his foot in the middle of shooting and kept going without missing a beat of that catchy, syncopated rhythm. A true classic.

This movie follows the lives of several different couples on the way to Christmas. There are, of course, romantic couples but there are also different kinds of couples--friends, parent and child, cases of unrequited love, and business partners, all negotiating their way through complicated and troubled relationships or forging new ones. 

The movie stars Emma Thompson (who breaks my heart every time I watch it), Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Gregor Fisher, Liam Neeson, Martin Freeman, Kiera Knightley and, many others. It's centered around Christmas, of course, but it doesn't have to be the holiday season for me to watch it.

4. Noel

I don't think this movie is as well-known as the others on my list, but it's one of my favorites. It's set in New York City on Christmas Eve and, like Love Actually, is a composite of different stories about people who need a Christmas miracle. It stars the late Paul Walker, Alan Arkin, Penelope Cruz and Susan Sarandon, among many others. 

I'll confess that I'm not usually a fan of Sarandon's, but I really enjoy her performance in this movie (and in Stepmom, which reduces me to a blubbering blog of something unpleasant every time I watch it.) Walker's performance is sweet and touching. 

An unmarried food writer who has misled her readers about being the perfect housewife and mother must try to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas. Since our hapless heroine can't cook anything at all, hijinks ensue. Throw in a baby borrowed for the weekend and an ardent suitor who leaps at the chance to play husband, and it's a fun time for all. 

There are actually two versions of this movie: one made in 1945 with Barbara Stanwyck and Sydney Greenstreet and one made in 1992 starring Dyan Cannon, Tony Curtis, and Kris Kristofferson. I like both versions, but of the two, the 1945 version is my absolute favorite. I didn't realize until I was writing this blog post that the later version was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can learn something new every day.

This is a true classic, based on the tale by Charles Dickens. I don't know how many different movie versions of this story exist, but there are a lot. Whoopi Goldberg made one. Mickey Mouse made one. The Muppets made one. Vincent Price made one. Ronald Reagan made one. Mr. Magoo made one. Susan Lucci made one. Jim Carrey made one. 

It's been remade on various TV shows too, from The Andy Griffith Show to The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis to The Animaniacs to The Six Million Dollar Man. IMDb (International Movie Database) lists 184 versions

Of all the various versions, my favorite is the one made in 1984 starring George C. Scott. Scott's performance as Ebenezer Scrooge is terrific. He's my favorite Scrooge of all.

Clark Griswold is an "every man" character who's kind of dorky and sweetly sentimental. All he wants is the perfect Christmas. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. Take his immediate family, which has a few issues of its own, toss in his parents and in-laws, some uninvited guests and some snooty neighbors, and you have a recipe for disaster as only Griswold can deliver. 

It's full of moments I'm sure some people would consider inappropriate. It's got some language, too, so if those things bother you, you'll want to skip this one. 

There are three movies in the Santa Clause set, and I do like them all, but the first is my favorite. Starring Tim Allen as Scott Calvin, a divorced father who works too much (yes, that's a required element for almost any Christmas movie), Judge Reinhold plays the ex-wife's new husband, and Wendy Crewson plays Allen's character's ex-wife. Eric Lloyd stars as the son they all share. 

Scott inadvertently becomes Santa after the current Santa is killed after a fall from Scott's roof on Christmas Eve. Scott becomes the new Santa for the night and takes his son along for the ride. Naturally, complications must arise, and they do here because Scott's ex-wife and her new husband are trying to convince their son that Santa isn't real. That's hard to do since the kid has gone around the world in a sleigh--a fact psychologist stepdad finds deeply disturbing.

What can I say? I'm a Santa Claus fan. I'm also a Paul Giamatti fan and a Kevin Spacey fan. I'm not sure I'd call myself a Vince Vaughn "fan" (as in I'd go out of my way to see a film because he was in it) but I enjoy a lot of what he does on screen. Together as Santa (and Santa's bitter older brother, Giamatti and Vaughn are brilliant. 

The snowball fight scene can make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I've seen it as does the scene with the sibling support group. Maybe it's just me as a middle child identifying with all those overshadowed siblings, but I laugh every single time. 

An uptight, conservative, businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family's annual Christmas celebration and finds that she's a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life. They're close. They bicker, but it's obvious they love one another. She is much more buttoned-up and watching her with this family makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable every time I watch it. 

It's got a great ensemble cast including Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Daines, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson (is there anyone else who can play the dad of a big, warm, messy family quite as well?), and Luke Wilson, plus a host of others. 

I find family dynamics endlessly fascinating, which is one of the reasons I like this movie so much.

These aren't the only Christmas movies I enjoy and watch repeatedly. I could easily extend the list to my top 20 or even top 30. What can I say? I love Christmas movies. If I had to pick an Honorable Mention (okay, I don't have to, but I can't leave this one off the list), it would be A Christmas Visitor starring William Devane, Meredith Baxter and Dean McDermott. Another one that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it -- probably because back in the day, I was a huge fan of Knot's Landing and there wasn't anything more moving than watching Greg Sumner mourning the loss of his beloved wife. Good grief! All the man has to do now is swallow and I'm a mess. And, yeah, he swallows in this one. 

Anyway, this is my list. What's on yours? 

November 28, 2015

Switching Gears for Christmas

Thanksgiving is over in the US for another year. The food is put away, the autumn decorations have disappeared and Christmas music is playing everywhere. Are you ready to switch gears?

I grew up in Montana, where it's cold. The cooler temperatures signal the change from summer to autumn, from fall to winter. By Thanksgiving, the trees are bare and the wind is cold. Even in Utah, November was mostly cold and dark, and there was snow on the mountains even if there wasn't snow on the ground. All of that made it easy to switch gears.

Things are different here along the Gulf Coast. After living here for six years, I am starting to notice some subtle signs of the changing seasons, but they are subtle.

My daughter observed today, for instance, that by late November the Cypress trees have turned brown. For the first few years we lived here, I assumed the trees were either sick or dying. Now, I'm starting to think it's a sign of the season.

Source via Creative Commons
Christmas decorations are different here, too. I'm used to lots and lots of Christmas decorations. Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, too. Starting in late September, stores and neighborhoods are decked out in whatever the theme of the season might. Unlike New Orleans, along this stretch of the coast, very few people get into the Halloween season, and nobody hires a professional artist to paint leaves or turkeys in their store windows.

I'm used to Christmas lights in abundance, covering trees, bushes, houses, stores ... what have you. In Salt Lake City, the LDS church decorates Temple Square with thousands upon thousands of tiny twinkling lights, and walking through the square to look at the lights is a popular pastime in December.

Decorations are very different here. Not wrong, just different. Since trees don't drop their leaves in this climate, it's probably a fire hazard to string thousands of tiny lights in the branches--or maybe it's just a different custom. Whatever, Even after 6 years, I still don't think "Christmas" when I see palm trees with their tops dark and trunks wrapped in lights.

Nor am I used to Christmas shopping in flip-flops and capri pants, although I'm not going to say I don't enjoy that. I do.

I miss snow in theory, not in reality. But the differences mean that switching gears to Christmas season doesn't happen naturally for me. Even if I'm out Christmas shopping, it doesn't feel like Christmas shopping, so Christmas Eve always sneaks up on me. One day it feels like the middle of the summer, and the next people are expecting presents under the tree I haven't put up yet.

I'm going to try really hard this year to get with the program. To embrace Christmas the way it is here instead of expecting it to magically become what it was there. I want to find a way to make my heart feel like this -->

Maybe I'll turn on Christmas music or watch Christmas movies on TV, pull a few Christmas books from the shelves and read them again. Because I don't want Christmas to sneak up on me again. This year, I want to be ready!

(An Addendum:)  After writing this post, I set off to snap a few pictures of Christmas decorations in my part of Florida. One of our cars was already on the fritz, and the remaining "good" car broke down on the way to take the pictures.

Luckily, my dear friend, Wendy, came to our rescue and by some miracle we even passed a couple of decorated trees on the way home.

Thanks, Wendy, for pulling over so I could get pictures in spite of everything that went wrong. Sharing one just wasn't enough, so here's another.

To add to the seasonal joy, our only TV sizzled to its untimely death today and since I recently discovered that my computer won't play a DVD, watching Christmas movies may not be on my list of things to do for the season this year -- but I'm determined to press forward.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells ... Ho Ho Ho!

November 20, 2015

I'm Not Crafty

For years, I've maintained the delusion that I'm a crafty person. I want to be crafty. Really, I do. I see things in stores or on Pinterest or in other people's homes, and I think, "I could do that." But the sad truth is, I probably can't. For years, whenever I pick up a power tool, my kids have, in effect, told me to put it down and back away slowly. Drills and things routinely get the best of me. Not in a disastrous way, but I struggle. I freely admit it.

And even if I can actually make the thing, I never know what to do with it next. Two years ago, I worked up a bunch of courage and decided to make a thing. I'm not even sure what you'd call it, but I saw some appealing knobs at a craft store and, with my youngest daughter's encouragement, decided I could make The Thing. 

In my imagination, it would be cute and it would be mounted on my wall, and I could use it for hanging bags. I'm a serious bag-a-holic--not purses or handbags, mind you, although with an unlimited budget, I could probably take my place in the handbag collectors' hall of fame. No, I'm talking about reusable shopping bags, cute totes, and bags collected from attending writing conferences over the years. I have a few. And by a few, I mean lots. And lots.

But I digress. 

I'm talking about The Thing. 

My daughter actually pulled out her power drill and let me touch it. I painted and I drilled and I screwed in the cute little knobs, and voila! The Thing was born. I actually made it. I didn't hurt myself or anyone else, and I don't think I even drilled a hole into my daughter's table. That's how successful I was. 

I packed The Thing up and drove it home across four states, where I carried it into my office and leaned it against the wall--and there it remains to this day. Because, having made the thing, I have no idea how to mount it on the wall so I can actually use it. 

So maybe I should stick to crafts that don't require wall mounting and other things that are beyond my capabilities. I saw these on Pinterest and thought they were cute, and even seriously considered making them. Two things stopped me: 

1. I would probably never actually use them, and 

2. I'm pretty sure they would require the use of a hot glue gun, which I'm perfectly capable of using, but not without significant globbing. If I'm going to hot glue something, it needs to be something much larger and more forgiving. 

So maybe I need to take on something bigger. Something more like this. I could probably handle this. I'm not sure what I'd do with it once I finished it, but I might be able to actually corral a heap of buttons into a rough heart shape and glue them in place. 

This is not to say that I'm completely inept. I can wield a mean crochet hook. Once the weather turned cool back when I lived in Utah, out would come the yarn and the hook and I'd make afghans for everyone. But crocheting here along the Gulf Coast ... well, it just doesn't cool down enough for long enough to get my crochet on. 

I'm pretty well adjusted most of the time. I take my lack of craftiness in stride. But there are some times of the year--usually as we start ramping up for the holidays--when te urge to craft rears its head and I long to hit the craft store with grandiose ideas and an unlimited budget. 

But first, I really need to get The Thing mounted on the wall. I need that space on the floor to heap my new crafts. 

November 10, 2015

A Game & a Giveaway!

There's a game with a giveaway today on my author page here on FB. Hurry over, like the page, pick a number, share or tweet the post, and you could win a signed copy of a Piece of Cake mystery!

Posted by Jacklyn Brady on Tuesday, November 10, 2015