Saturday, June 30, 2007

There Is No "I" in Tea

But there may be a “U” in tea. July contest!The name of one lucky commenter will be drawn at random to receive two beautiful issues of Southern Lady’s Tea Time magazine, chock full of recipes and tea lore, a Maine treat and some other sweet stuff. You’ll have to supply your own cup of tea. I’ll be having mine iced on vacation, so look for a new post with the winner after July 11.

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ~C.S. Lewis

I’m a tea drinker. Although I love coffee, it doesn’t seem to always agree with me (Coffee ice cream seems to be okay, though *g*.). My favorite brand is King Cole tea, which is manufactured in New Brunswick, Canada. So, sometimes foreign intrigue has been involved when I want to purchase it.

I came across this tea when I was working in another school district. The school nurse walked by, and she smelled terrific. Actually, it was her mug of tea. Her mother lived in Calais, Maine (pronounced “callous” here---sorry, Francophiles) and she went grocery shopping in Canada every time she visited. My friend CeCe knew someone who worked on the railroad, so we had this poor guy smuggling tea into Maine. Anytime one of us went to Canada on vacation, we were given cash to bring back boxes. Tea mules, as it were, but fortunately the gauze sachets were not secreted in any uncomfortable places. Last summer I went to Montreal, and the only souvenirs in my suitcase were six boxes of tea. King Cole can also be ordered online, which somehow takes all the fun out of it.

Tea is the new “hot” thing for health. According to the King Cole website:

A growing body of research indicates that the tannins in tea are naturally-occurring flavonoids that have strong antioxidant properties. Drinking tea is a natural and pleasant way to increase dietary intake of antioxidants.

There is mounting evidence that suggests that antioxidant-rich foods may play a role in reducing the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and stroke.

Sign me up.

Tea has been a regular part of English life since the 1660s. It gained in popularity when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza. She was a teetotaler who preferred tea to wine and ale, and soon everyone at court was drinking tea. Eventually, the public sipped along with the aristocracy.

English people take their tea seriously. The London Times printed letters for months whether one should add milk before or after the tea is in the cup. Opinion was mixed. And heated.

Tea rooms in Britain today serve “full” tea from three to five o’clock. On the menu: savories (small sandwiches and appetizers), scones with clotted cream and jam, cakes, cookies, shortbread and other sweets. And tea, of course. I guess I’ll have to skip dinner.

Drinking tea is obligatory in most historicals, even though the heroes always mutter that it’s swill. Sebastian in Suzanne Enoch’s Sins of a Duke drinks tea that is “awful, something bitter and tasting like old sticks.”

Classes are taught in tea etiquette. There are rigid and mysterious rituals associated with it in China, Korea and Japan. Apparently tea had something to do with the founding of a country, too. I just know I like to drink it, hot or cold.

What’s your pleasure? Coffee, tea, or both? If tea, milk or lemon?

What ritual do you have that makes you happy? Any exercise/health hints you swear by? Do you take vitamins? Thank goodness for Centrum Silver.

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty. ~Japanese Proverb

We had a kettle; we let it leak:Our not repairing made it worse.We haven't had any tea for a week...The bottom is out of the Universe.~Rudyard Kipling

Great love affairs start with Champagne and end with tisane. ~Honoré de Balzac

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gush and Mush

Romance. We’re addicted to it. We think we can never get enough of it, either in fiction or real life. But like a steady diet of anything, I wonder if we’d really like it if we ate it all the time. I do like to read other stuff---mostly mysteries, thrillers, the occasional “women’s fiction” (whatever that means), history. I don’t do self-help books. I’m either perfect or beyond saving, not sure which.

And the man in my life? We’ve been talking Tall, Dark and Handsome all week long, and he qualifies. He can be quite a romantic, too. Examples will follow. But I’d probably think he was a pod person if he behaved too well. Would we really like a guy to anticipate and take care of our every need, gush how great we are everywhere he went? Think Tom Cruise. Think couches. Poor Katie. Kate.

When I met my husband, he was a college student. I had already graduated and was working in New York City. He’s still older than I am, if you were wondering. For our first date, he sold blood to finance dinner and a movie. He then took a two-hour bus trip from New Jersey to the Port Authority, walked over forty blocks, bought me cheap champagne and flowers. When we walked to the restaurant, he asked me if I liked chicken. I said yes. “Take a wing,” he replied, extending his elbow. So hokey, but that first Friday night date lasted the whole weekend and we are extremely married.

When I turned 40, he sent 40 red roses. Okay, so every one of them died the next day. I thought it was an omen, but it wasn’t his fault.

He gets my car filled with gas Saturday mornings while I sit in my pajamas typing. If they didn’t yap about it on the news, I’d never know gas prices are outrageous. And then he grocery shops, which I hate.

There are lots of little things he does for me. Maybe not grand gestures like heroes do in books and movies. We’re not dancing in the dark like Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (You thought I’d say Ginger Rogers, didn’t you? But I looked it up.) and he’s not swinging me around the factory floor like Richard Gere does to Debra Winger. But he does our taxes. Sometimes we even get a refund.

What’s your most memorable romantic moment? Something that happened to you, something in fiction or film? Let’s get a little mushy.

Check back July 1 for the next contest!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Survey Says!

I am not an evolutionary biologist. I am definitely not remotely scientific. I was an English major with a minor in Speech. I don’t even know how a toaster works. But intrigued by the recent Tall Dark and Handsome results from the Beau Ideal post, I set off on a scientific exploration to discover why TD & H rules.

After wandering like Moses through the Internet (even coming unfortunately upon what was evidently a Neo-Nazi site), I’m still not sure. But here are some interesting facts:

According to National Geographic, female lions prefer their males to have dark manes. Dark-maned lions are hotter. And I don’t mean cute. They actually suffer from heat stress, but they’re tougher and stronger---they can take it. Female lions think they’re cool.

A Polish study showed that taller men had more children. Women liked them for the hard-wired evolutionary biological characteristics: tall=good health, social status, protection and strength. Tall men cannot be easily dominated by smaller men. Tell that to Napoleon, who, I understand was not really so awfully short. “The Little Corporal” was just an affectionate appellation; it didn’t mean Boney was short. He was, at 5’6”, actually taller than the average Frenchman (and yes, I know some say he was 5’2”, but there’s some kind of measurement mix-up according to Ask Yahoo, my source).

So, there you have it. Most of us like tall, dark and handsome men, and have since we were cavewomen. But I wouldn’t turn away a tall, fair and handsome guy---he’s got feelings, too.

Thanks to all of you for your participation in my "research,"not only how you like your men to look but how you like this blog to look! I'm a creature of habit, so it's back to "normal." But tomorrow is another day.

Do you know any myths you’d like to bust? Want to share a scientific fact? Enlighten me.

History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon. ~ Napoleon

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Beau Ideal

I went to college with a girl who once declared, “I love little guys.” Unlike most of my contemporaries, she preferred short men. I, on the other hand, was plagued by guys who made me feel too big. I was 5’6” (notice, I say was---somehow I’m now down to 5’4 and almost ½" as I pack on the decades and the pounds) and rather robust. I wanted to feel delicate and petite. My 6’3” husband finally did the trick (but I think he’s shrinking too).

And I think opposites attract. I’m blonde (now courtesy of my hairdresser) and my husband is dark. Most of my heroes fall right into the tall, dark and handsome cliché, although Hart from Paradise is blond because he’s kind of an angel. Just like me.

What does your ideal man look like? I don’t want to hear any nonsense about good personality and sense of humor, kindness to kids and kittens. If you were creating a hero, tell me what color his eyes are and if he has a devilish grin. I’m assuming he has all his own teeth.

I require three things in a man. He must be handsome, ruthless and stupid. ~Dorothy Parker

Thursday, June 21, 2007

From Clueless to Connoisseur

For two years, I’ve lived in a quaint New England college town whose chief claim to fame is its U.S. News and World Report rating as home to one of the best universities in America and birthplace of Chester Greenwood, inventor of the ear muff. There is a parade in Chester's honor every year down the thriving, brick-fronted main street. At first glance as you drive through town, you think you’ve stepped back a century. Looking more closely, you see the university has taken over a lot of the big Victorian houses as office and academic buildings, and there’s a hippie store amongst the funky others that has cornered the patchouli oil and incense market in western Maine.

I am ashamed to say I do more of my shopping at Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town (all those cheap books, you know, plus they have a Dunkin Donuts in the store). But since I’m on vacation, yesterday I decided to visit Twice Sold Tales, an enormous UBS with considerable organization despite its laid-back vibe.

I really scored. For $15 I bought a 1,536-page, eight-pound book, The Connoisseur’s Complete Period Guides to the Houses, Decorations, Furnishing and Chattels of the Classic Periods, published in 1968. It spans from Tudor times to early Victorian, and is loaded with articles, photographs and illustrations. Like a lot of people, I do research online, but I’m really a hands-on kind of person, so this book is fabulous for me…although it makes me sneeze and itch a little.

What I’m loving most is the faces in the portraits. There’s Wellington, there’s Castlereagh, there’s an unknown lady with Shirley Temple curls. Or maybe Shirley had hers. There’s a lot of stuff pictured courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, my favorite place on earth, and one painting loaned out by “the Earl Spencer,” Diana’s grandfather. I could spend the rest of the summer discovering exactly what crizzling and cartouches are.

Have you ever found something you just had to have, even if you didn’t have a practical use for it? What's your favorite research tool/site? Anything interesting about your town?
Petworth: The Drawing Room by J.M.W. Turner, c. 1828

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Inventing Romance

School’s out, and I’m in.

I am making myself sit in a 9’x12’ room. There’s only one window, and I have to do a little Exorcist maneuver to look out it from my desk. I will write. I will not blog too much. That’s become easier since some of my favorite blogs have gone dark or have been cut back.

I will let myself read, though. And maybe pull some weeds in my perennial garden. I shouldn’t bask in the sun too long because I’ve had skin cancer, but I’ll put on plenty of sunscreen, grab a book and a can of Coke Zero. I’ll sit in the green resin Adirondack chair next to the raised bed garden and work on enhancing my Vitamin D quotient and my wrinkles. Watch the ants crawl all over the peonies. Swat at the flies. Listen to the hummingbirds sucking out nectar from some mysterious purple bush I have. Only after I’ve written. A lot.

That’s it. That’s summer (Except for a trip to Las Vegas, with my new laptop so I can write by the pool or in the room *g*.). What are your big plans?

If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance. ~Bern Williams

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Deep End

Yes. It’s official. I’ve jumped.

Into the Paranormal Pool.

Just for fun I’ve submitted to Samhain’s On the Prowl category, which features shape-shifting cats.

Stop laughing right now. You remind me of my kids.

I find the idea very appealing---they’ve told me the concept they want and determined the 20,000-30,000 word count. I, who frequently get verrrry stuck around 60,000 words (as I am right now in Paradise), am delighted by this.

I’ve already written a slew of novellas. In a future blog, I’m going to condense them into one-sentence blurbs and you can be stunned by my range as a writer and snicker all you want. Not for nothing is my alterna-blog Begin As You Mean To Go On subtitled “prologues and first chapters from a genre- confused writer.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t see my way clear to inserting shape-shifting cats into anything I’ve already written without wanting to cough up a fur ball.

Now before you think I’m going to drown in the Paranormal Pool, let it be known that in my genre-bending book Third-Rate Romance, I do a little vampire riff. Here’s a snippet:

Lucien stirred, his sleep disturbed. A noise below. Not the scrabbling of the manor mice. A human noise.

His hunger. It overwhelmed him. The housekeeper would have left him something in the larder. Someone else better not be eating it.

He flung the tapestry counterpane from his bed. The moon had already risen beyond the window, orange as a Tangier melon. But it had been years since he left his country estate. His life was bound here, tied in knots as intricate as a spider’s web.

Lucien belted his velvet robe over his lean, naked body. He padded barefoot down the stairs, not feeling the chill of the worn stones. The only thing he knew was the hunger, nearly painful in its intensity.

The noise again. A rustle. A thud. A soft curse.

His body vanished against the wall, the shadows in his kitchen elongated by a single taper. All of Lucien’s senses were on full alert. He frowned, concentrating on the candle. It flickered once and extinguished.


The voice was young, female. Ripe. She smelled fresh, like apples. But she was hungry, too. A state she was not used to, for Lucien could nearly touch the soft swelling of well-nourished flesh beneath her woolen cloak. Delicious.

So, cats, vampires, they’ve all got teeth, right?

What’s your very favorite genre to read or write? Have you ever tried something that is completely outside your area of expertise? I’m still trying to find where my area of expertise is. I seem to have misplaced it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


There is nothing so sweet or sexy than watching a guy with a little kid. According to MSN’s Erika Rasmusson Janes, here are the signs to look for if you’re wondering if your man is dad-material.

1. He treats his mother well.
2. He’s selfless.
3. He’s not easily grossed out.
4. He’s a great uncle.
5. He doesn’t mind taking direction from his partner.
6. He likes ketchup.

Now, go forth and multiply! Happy Father’s Day! Any favorite fathers in favorite books?

A father carries pictures where his money used to be. ~Author Unknown

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Eight Is More Than Enough

I have been tagged by several people on this Eight Random Facts thing. There are rules. I can’t follow them. I don’t have eight people to tag because they’ve already tagged me. If I tag them back we’ll all wind up revealing 64 random facts right on up to infinity, which is a sideways 8, as I have previously posted below in Eight Days a Week. Whew. But I will do my quasi-confession, just for the fun of it. You will be astounded and stupefied with the knowledge, I’m sure.

1. I skipped fifth and seventh grades, graduated from high school at 15 and college at 19. For this reason, I always feel like the youngest person in the room even when I am really the oldest. And I’m still smart enough to know I’m definitely not the smartest.

2. I dropped out of an MSW graduate school program when my work study required me to drive a blind social worker around and I didn’t have a driver’s license. She would have been a better driver.

3. I was a Brownie but never flew up. Cookies were only 40 cents a box when I sold them.

4. I was Alice in Wonderland, Katrina van Tassel (Legend of Sleepy Hollow), Miss Higa Jiga (Teahouse of the August Moon) and Stella (Streetcar Named Desire) in school plays and acting classes. No typecasting for me.

5. I have never tried sushi and I never will.

6. I am very distantly related to the painter John Trumbull (Declaration of Independence). In high school, my etching won an art prize. Old John and I could have discussed techniques if he hadn’t been really dead.

7. In college, I was second runner-up to the May Queen. The first runner-up was a professional model. The queen was the most popular girl in the school. I contemplated what I could do to seize the crown (fire ants in the strapless bras, spray paint disguised as hairspray, hiring a hitman, etc.), but I was a good girl. A picture of the three of us was in the New York Daily News and Newsday.

8. I once had lunch with Jackie Kennedy’s half brother and a table full of elementary school kids.

Now, what’s one weird thing you’d like to share about yourself?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Twisted Knickers

Quite some time ago I bought myself a long, slinky, lace-trimmed black nightgown (Odd. When I first typed this, it was mightgown, though I certainly didn’t feel mighty like Wonder Woman wearing it.).

When my kids saw me in it, they laughed, rather dampening my enthusiasm. They didn’t think it was appropriate for their mom to look, well, kind of like a hooker. They were used to seeing me in pajama bottoms and T-shirts. Not sexy, but snooze-worthy.

Years ago, I had cute underwear. Now I’ve got Bridgette Jones’s granny panties. Industrial strength underwire bras. Sensible cotton nightgowns that can double as dustrags.

And I used to have cute shoes, too. Lime green. Hot pink. Leopard print (maybe those weren’t so cute.). For a girl who treasured the Bloomingdales catalog like a Bible, I’ve fallen from chic to meek.

I love reading the hero’s journey as he strips the heroine of her petticoats, stays, shift, and stockings. There’s something amazingly liberating after each string gets loosened from the corset. But most naughty artwork of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries shows people with their clothes on as they “get it on.” There was just too much of it to get off. Oh, you know what I mean.

Underpants as we know them are a relatively modern invention. In 1757 a German doctor said a woman shouldn't wear pants or closed underwear because her nether region needed air to allow moisture to evaporate so it wouldn’t decay (!!!). But it was okay to wear them in cold weather(and to protect against insects!!!).

There’s nothing worse than a middle-aged woman looking like a Barbie Doll, but I’m in the mood for a pick-me-up. What’s your secret weapon when you want to feel frisky or fashionable? How many thongs are in your drawer? You can post anonymously now, so we won’t be shocked.

A lady is one who never shows her underwear unintentionally. -- Lillian Day

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Eight Days a Week

I’m always looking for love in all the wrong places. As a romance writer, I read a lot of marriage-sex-and life-oriented stuff, trying to stimulate my recalcitrant muse. I came across an article in The New York Times recently called “A Date with Destiny.” Apparently every engaged couple in America wants to get married on July 7, 2007. 7/7/07 has vast appeal (far more than 6/6/06, the author Michelle Higgins noted---Satan sucks).

I got to thinking about lucky numbers, about which I obviously have no clue, or else the Maine Lottery Commission members would be on my doorstep with one of those giant cardboard checks. But eight was a big number in my family. My birthday is October 8 (write that down), October also being the 8th month in the original Roman calendar. My dad’s birthday was August 8, my mom’s January 28. They were married on March 8. We lived at 81 Lincoln Boulevard. So far 8 has not panned out for me with the ponies or Powerball.

Eight is a lovely number, looking like infinity. The No. 8 tarot card means strength. In China, it’s a lucky number because it sounds like “wealth” or “prosper.” In the middle ages, 8 was the number of "unmoving" stars in the sky, and represented the “perfectioning of incoming planetary energy.” I don’t know what that means, but it sounds good. There are a zillion interesting math facts about 8, but since I stopped teaching Title One math, I’ve shut that part of my brain down.

How to transfer all this digit data to writing? Apart from checking my word count every paragraph, hoping somehow those 250 words were really 2500, I wonder if I should set a daily numerical word goal. For the past few weeks I’ve been doing VaNo with the Romance Vagabonds and some other Vanettes. We tantalize each other every day with number of words written and snippets. Thus far I’ve ranged from a few hundred words to over 4,000. I am consistently inconsistent. Christina Dodd aims for ten pages a day. Many writers don’t let themselves leave their desks until they’ve typed 1,000 words. Keeping that pace, you can complete a book in three to four months, maybe even finish three books a year. Right now, I’m happy if I write a little every day.

How about you? Daily goals? Deadlines? For those of you who did NaNo/VaNo, is it helpful to have the pressure? Do you have a "best" time of the day to write/get stuff done? I seem to be fresher before I go to work in the morning. Do you have a lucky number or a lucky anything?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Clothes Encounters

Kilts. Jeans. Tuxedos. Pristine white cravats. Boxers. Briefs. Cowboy boots. Whatever our favorite heroes are wearing, they’ve probably got on too many clothes.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to period clothing lately, because in my new WIP Paradise, my tortured heroine Eden by necessity has to dress (and mostly undress) herself. And quickly, else she’ll get in trouble. I’ve already ditched her undergarments, sent her maid packing and she's sewing her own clothes. Too bad there's no Velcro yet.

And I’m thinking about privacy, too. In a household of more than a dozen people, how can one carry on a clandestine affair without anyone catching on? Oh. The secret staircase.

I’m not much good keeping secrets, but Eden has a huge one. I’m wondering if her combination of strength and submission is realistic. This new WIP is taking me places I never expected to go, and it’s a disturbing, dark road. Nothing may come of it, but I’ve written over 53,000 words since the middle of April (Thanks, VaNo.). I may have to work on my Key West Hiasonesque thing simultaneously just to shed a little sunshine on my gloom. Wouldn’t want to go nuts like Mrs. Rochester. I live in a cape and there’s no attic.

So, which outfit would you like best on (and off) your hero? Do you like your guys in suits or sweats? Have you ever worn period clothing? Ever kept a deep, dark secret? Tell all.

Thanks to all of you who shared such great perspectives for the Great Expectations contest. You always give me great things to think about and greatly enrich my writing experience. MsHellion, send your mailing address to and you’ll get your great stuff!