Sunday, December 29, 2013

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep…and other miscellaneous end of year stuff

New Year's resolutions have basically become an annual joke.  Every January 1 we make resolutions for the upcoming year and if we're lucky, they remain valid for the rest of the month.

So, this year how about making some resolutions you'll actually be able to keep during 2014?  Here's a list of several such resolutions.  I hope you accept these suggestions in the spirit of humor in which they are offered.  If I've offended anyone, I apologize in advance.

1.  Gain Weight.  Let's face it, you already have a start on this one with all the holiday meals, candy, beverages, and snacks.

2.  Go Deeper Into Debt.  You probably have a head start on this one, too, from holiday gift shopping.  After all, even buying new things for yourself…well, it was probably stuff you needed and with all the great sales this year who could resist?

3.  Spend More Money.  This goes hand-in-hand with the second item on the list.  Spend it now while you're still physically able to get out to do it.

4.  Don't Get A Better Job.  Since having any job is better than not having one, be happy with status quo.

5.  Whatever Shape You're In Is Fine.  Seriously…round is a perfectly acceptable shape.

6.  Don't Go Back To School.  Look at your current life and time schedule.  Now add a part time college schedule to that plus the cost of tuition (probably the same amount as that new 80-inch HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) and the cost of expensive college textbooks.  Hmmm…a fine bottle of rare vintage wine or a bottle of aged single malt scotch vs. Concepts of Economics Vol. 1.

7.  Drink More Alcohol.  Open that fine bottle of wine or scotch and watch your new 80-inch HDTV.

8.  Smoke Like A Chimney.  When someone chastises you for putting second hand smoke out there, ask them if they've traded in their gas-guzzling car for a bicycle.

9.  Stay At Home for your vacation.  If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television, and even weirder food…then travel out of the country.

And last but not least…

10.  Don't Volunteer!

And now for something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python for stealing…uh, I mean borrowing…their catch phrase).

As a follow up to Christmas, a few words about that much maligned holiday treat, the butt of so many jokes, that humble yet seemingly inedible concoction—fruitcake.
Food historians theorize that fruitcake (any cake in which dried fruits and nuts try to coexist with cake batter) is older than Moses.  Ancient Egyptians entombed fruitcake and Romans carried it into battle, probably for the same reason.  Fruitcake was built to last and it did, well into medieval times.

It was in the 18th century that fruitcake achieved totemic status.  At that time nut-harvesting farmers encased fruits and nuts in a cake-like substance to save for the next harvest as a sort of good luck charm.

And thus the problem.  Any cake that is not meant to be eaten doesn't deserve to be classified as food.

Our love/hate relationship with fruitcake began in the early 20th century when the first mail-order fruitcakes became fashionable gifts.  It ended up as a mass-produced product using barely recognizable fruits and packed into cans as heavy as barbell weights.

And another something different…

While celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there's one thing you should keep in mind—the darker the liquor, the bigger the hangover.  According to a new study that compares the after effects of drinking bourbon vs. vodka, what sounds like an old wives' tale is true…to a point.

Brownish colored spirits such as whiskey and rum contain greater amounts of congeners than clear liquors such as vodka and gin.  And what are congeners, you might ask?  They are substances that occur naturally or are added to alcohol during the production and aging process, many of which are toxic.  They contribute to the alcohol's color, odor, and taste.  They also interfere with cell function, and I'm NOT talking about your mobile phone. :)  And they viciously punish your head and tummy the next morning.  According to the study, bourbon is aged in oak barrels and has thirty-seven times as many congeners as vodka, which is heavily filtered to remove impurities.

Drinking in the study was relatively moderate compared to some New Year's Eve binges.  The average blood-alcohol content of the survey participants was 0.1 percent, somewhere between 0.09 ("mildly intoxicated" and considered legally over the limit in most states), and 0.15 ("visibly drunk" and definitely on your way to jail).  The study's findings may not translate to your holiday party.

The bottom line, however, is that congeners are not the primary culprit in the dreaded hangover.  The credit goes to the alcohol itself

Wishing everyone a happy AND SAFE New Year's Eve and a marvelous New Year.  May 2014 bring you happiness and health.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Legend of St. Nicholas

Who is that man in red? The man who, every Christmas Eve, brazenly breaks into people's homes, helps himself to cookies and milk, and leaves things behind resulting in a mess of wrapping paper and ribbon for others to clean up the next morning. Reindeer and a heavily laden sleigh can't be good for the roof. Soot from a chimney tracked all over the floor…something else left behind for others to clean.

Yet every year we anxiously anticipate his arrival, track his progress through the skies, and welcome him into our homes.

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father when he provided them with a dowry so they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas' popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

Sinter Klaas Comes to New York
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick's Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a "huge pair of Flemish trunk hose."

Shopping Mall Santas
Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday's rejuvenation in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a live Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.

A Santa by Any Other Name
18th-century America's Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning Christ child, Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children's stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn't find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.

The Ninth Reindeer
Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, When Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh with the light of his red nose. Rudolph's message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May's friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences since 1964.
 Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and most of all 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holiday Season—Mistletoe, Hunky Santas, and Santa School

Thanksgiving is over. Now the rest of the holiday season is here. I was going to say, "What's happened to this year? Where has it gone?" But I think I'll save that, might use it in my New Year's blog.  :)

It's hard to believe that Christmas is only a little over a week away.  And, while Christmas seems to get most of the publicity with shopping ads, Mall decorations, movies, and Christmas episodes of television shows, it is certainly not the only holiday of the winter season.

In addition to Christmas, we have the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Muslim Eid holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the week long African American heritage celebration of Kwanzaa, winter solstice and Yule.

Mistletoe Trivia:
Why do people kiss under the mistletoe?  After all, mistletoe is a parasitic plant you find in the forest attached to and gaining its sustenance from its host tree.  The entire plant is poisonous, especially the berries which are extremely toxic.  Ingesting the berries causes acute stomach and intestinal pains, diarrhea, weak pulse, mental disturbances, and the collapse of blood vessels.  Death has occurred within ten hours after eating the berries.  Not exactly what first comes to mind when you think of kissing.  :)

The tradition of linking mistletoe and kissing started in Europe.  According to Norse mythology, Baldur, the god of peace, was shot and killed by an arrow made of mistletoe.  After the other gods brought him back to life, Frigga, the goddess of love, transformed mistletoe into a symbol of love and peace.  And to this day, everyone who passes under the mistletoe must receive a kiss.

Hunky Santa Show:
And there's the Hunky Santa Show held each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through the Christmas season.  Just where is this event featuring your anything-but-typical Santa?  Where else but Southern California, at Los Angeles' Beverly Center.  Instead of a round tummy and big beard, these guys have buffed bodies with 6-pack abs and are probably more receptive to champagne than cookies and milk.  The above Santa is an excellent example of a candidate for Hunky Santa (in my humble opinion).  :)  

Santa School:
What about the place where Santas go to learn how to properly Ho Ho Ho?  The Santa Claus School is located in Midland, Michigan.  The non-profit school has been in operation for 76 years and turns out both Santas and Mrs. Clauses from around the globe.

So, the next time you see a Mall Santa, remember that he's most likely not merely some guy who stuck on a false beard and climbed into a red suit on a whim.

Be sure to check back here next Sunday, December 22, for the Legend of St. Nicholas.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

OPEN IN PRIVATE—A Conversation With Carli and Parker

It's just a little over two weeks until Christmas and by an incredible coincidence I just happen to have a new release Christmas eBook currently available.

OPEN IN PRIVATE by Samantha Gentry is an erotic Christmas romance novella from The Wilder Roses, the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance at The Wild Rose Press.

I was fortunate to be able to snag a few minutes with Charlene Vance and Parker Simmons who agreed to sit down with me and share a little bit about their Christmas story.

Thank you Parker and Charlene for taking time from your busy schedule.  Especially you, Charlene.  As a professional personal shopper, this is definitely your most hectic time of year.

Carli:  Thank you for inviting us, Samantha.  And please…call me Carli.

Parker:  (grins at Carli)  She's so well organized that even with this being her busy season she's able to make time in her schedule.  As for me, I'm happy to tackle any questions you want to throw my way.

Carli:  You're right about this being my busy time.  In addition to individuals, I have several corporate clients whose shopping lists include employees and business associates in addition to family and friends.

If I'm not mistaken, wasn't Parker one of those corporate clients?

Parker:  I still am.  In fact, that's how we met.  Carli had been doing all my shopping, both personal and business, for five years.  It had become a very comfortable and efficient working relationship.  We had also become friends during that time.  Then one day, everything changed.

That sounds ominous.  What happened?

Carli:  We had our Christmas shopping meeting, just like every year—the Friday before Thanksgiving.  I give him a list of everyone I purchased a gift for on his behalf the previous Christmas, what I bought and how much it cost.  The process was always the same.  He would go over the list, add and delete names and approve a price range for each individual.  Only this time it was different…very different.  This year he hit me with a real shock that changed everything.

That's a very dramatic statement.

Parker:  (laughs)  It wasn't really all that dramatic.  I told Carli I had gotten divorced the previous April and my ex-wife, all her family, and all her friends were off the list.

Carli:  I have to admit…once I got over the shock, I was elated.  (shoots a sly sideways glance at Parker)  I had secretly lusted after this man the entire five years we had worked together, but he was married which made him off limits.  Then suddenly he was available, but second thoughts reminded me he was a client.  I had always believed that it wasn't wise to mix business with personal, especially when the personal is pleasure.

Parker:  My marriage had fallen apart a year before I finally took that big step of getting a divorce.  I had trouble coming to terms with what I had originally perceived as my failure.  And during that year my thoughts had often gravitated to Carli, thoughts far removed from anything connected to business.  So, I turned our Christmas shopping meeting into lunch…

Carli:  Which resumed that evening as dinner…

Parker:  Which unexpectedly exploded into one hell of a night!  But the cool clear light of dawn also brought its share of doubts and concerns.  The thought of jumping into a relationship, of once again becoming emotionally involved, frightened me big time.  Commitment was definitely not on my agenda.  Been there…done that…didn't need to do it again.

Carli:  Everything happened so quickly.  I didn't know which way to turn or what to do.  I was so confused about what was happening between us.  Could I be content with the no-strings-attached situation Parker seemed to prefer?  I had been divorced for seven years and 'never again' for a serious commitment had been the constant in my life.  But with the passage of time and the prospect of developing something real with Parker, the concept of 'never again' began to rapidly slip from priority to no longer occupying an important place in my life.

It sounds as if the two of you definitely had some problems to work out.

Carli:  Smooth sailing it was NOT.  For a while, I thought it was over as soon as it began.  My pragmatic side also feared that I might have lost my best client.

Parker:  And I have to admit that I didn't help matters.  Everything seemed to be moving too quickly and I didn't know how to handle it.

I'm sure there are many couples who have had to deal with these same issues.  Could you share with us how you handled it?

Carli:  We certainly could, but…

Parker:  We won't.

What?  You're going to leave us hanging?  Or worse yet, let us think that everything suddenly and miraculously turned out okay?

Parker:  Nothing is that easy.  You don't wake up and discover that there are no longer any problems.

Exactly.  So…what happened?

Carli:  (smiles)  I'd love to tell you, but…

Parker:  (nods his head in agreement)  You'll need to read the book.

That's all you're going to tell me?

Parker:  (makes an exaggerated show of looking at his watch)  Oh no!  I think we're out of time. (laughs)

Thank you, Parker and Carli, for being with us.


OPEN IN PRIVATE an erotic Christmas romance by Samantha Gentry from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance at The Wild Rose Press)
and other online vendors of eBooks.

As a personal shopper, Charlene Vance values her professional association with long time client Parker Simmons. But at the meeting to discuss the list for this year's Christmas purchases, she learns that Parker is divorced and the ex-wife is off his list. When lunch leads to dessert between the sheets, Charlene is eager to move their relationship beyond good business and incredible sex.

Parker Simmons doesn't want anything more permanent than what's on the menu for today. But Charlene's enthusiasm to experiment in bed satisfies his darker appetites and suddenly he's craving more. Parker might need her help with holiday gift ideas but he's got his own shopping agenda. On his list? Gifts only for Charlene—to open in private.

PG-EXCERPT #1: (publisher's excerpt)
"Everything looks so good. I think I'll have the shrimp salad." Carli closed her menu and set it on the table.

Everything looks good to me, too, and I don't mean the food. "I'm going to have the chicken carbonara…and a glass of wine with my lunch. Would you join me?"

"Well, I usually don't drink during business meetings, but yes," she extended a sparkling smile, "I'd like that. A chardonnay."

He placed their lunch order with the waiter, then returned his attention to her. "We've had a very nice business relationship for five years. You obviously know a lot about me from doing my shopping, but I don't really know that much about you personally, other than you have great taste, are very intelligent, and have a good sense of humor."

The waiter arrived with the bottle of wine Parker had ordered. After opening the bottle, he poured each of them a glass, put the bottle in the ice bucket, and left.

Parker raised his glass toward Carli in a toast. "Here's to another successful Christmas holiday season." He tilted his head and raised a questioning eyebrow. "And perhaps to an even closer working relationship?" Maybe something hot and naked in a big bed?

"I'd like that, too."


Be sure to check out my website for more excerpts from OPEN IN PRIVATE and information about my other books.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and Peace On Earth. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Remakes Of Successful TV Series

As is blatantly obvious, television quite often looks to the past when searching for new series ideas. This situation occurs for two primary reasons.

1)       The network has a current hit and wants to capitalize on that popularity by creating a spinoff.

Spinoffs have long been a popular and successful (for the most part) tactic for the networks.  Some shows have been so finely crafted that they were the genesis of several spinoffs. For example, ALL IN THE FAMILY gave us THE JEFFERSONS, MAUDE, and GOOD TIMES. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW gave us LOU GRANT, RHODA, and PHYLLIS. And we can't overlook the entire LAW AND ORDER franchise and the highly successful CSI franchise.  And, of course, JAG begat NCIS which begat NCIS: LA

2)       The network is looking for a ratings boost so it turns to hit series from the past and hopes that reviving them will be a ratings winner.

And in that department they have come up with some significant blunders when trying to capture that elusive lightning in the bottle for the second time. Far more remakes have been total disasters than once again successful series. Some of the remakes that have worked are HAWAII 5-0 which kept the original theme music and also the opening main title style. Some other successful remakes include BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, DALLAS, and V.

But it's more fun to take a look at some remakes that just didn't work at all, some of the blunders.

DRAGNET (2003):  Law and Order kingpin, Dick Wolf, tried to bring back Jack Webb's classic cop drama. It wasn't a bad idea. The original Jack Webb series had a very specific style that was totally Jack Webb's vision right down to the almost wooden dialogue as personified by that iconic phrase—"Just the facts, Ma'am." It was an individualistic style everyone knew. The remake, however, fell victim to the decision by committee mentality of constant tinkering by TV executives which resulted in a jumbled mess.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2002):  An attempt by UPN to remake one of the most creative and interesting series on television was a colossal failure. Without the guiding hand and creative genius of Rod Serling, including his physical presence as the host introducing each episode, it was a dismal failure. They even went so far as to replace those great musical notes that made up the theme song.  All you need to do is come out with the first eight notes and the theme song is not only recognized but its message is clear.

GET SMART (1995):  Fox brought back the classic spy spoof comedy originally created by the comedic genius of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. And they brought it back with original cast members and it still failed. This remake picked up where the original left off with Maxwell Smart having bumbled his way to the top of Control as the chief. But instead of letting Don Adams continue with the role that made him famous, the secret agent work was handled by his nerdy son (I believe played by Andy Dick) which made the whole series feel like a lukewarm second rate attempt. The remake lasted only 7 episodes.

THE PRISONER (2009):  The original classic British series starred Patrick McGoohan as Number six in The Village…a place that seemed to shift and change before our eyes and before the eyes of the main character so that not believing what you're seeing was the only rule that seemed to be true. The original had a subtext that said it never really took itself seriously. The remake had a bigger budget, larger cast, and better production values but somewhere in there it lost the feeling of the original.

THE FUGITIVE (2000):  CBS thought they could not only cash in on the highly successful original series, but also the hit movie starring Harrison Ford. But with a series and also a movie, everything about THE FUGITIVE was known. Who the characters were, their motives, and even the outcome. They didn't try to reinvent the wheel, they pretty much exactly copied it. No surprises, no edge of the seat action, nothing to hold the audience's interest.

FAWLTY TOWERS (every remake ever attempted):  Don't try to duplicate perfection! There were only twelve episodes made of John Cleese's FAWLTY TOWERS and each one was the epitome of what a sitcom should be—brilliant writing, marvelous characters brought to life by an excellent cast. There have been so many attempts to capture the success of this British sitcom with one remake after another in several countries. Even here in the U.S. we gave it three attempts before finally realizing that it can't be done.

With successful American translations of British sitcoms (All In The Family from the British Till Death Do Us Part, Sanford And Son from the British Steptoe And Son, and Three's Company from the British Man About The House), we obviously thought we could strike gold again. The first attempt starred Harvey Korman and Betty White. Despite proven and popular talent in the leads, it never got beyond the pilot stage. The second one tried a switch by putting Bea Author in a female Basil Fawlty role and it was cancelled after one season. The third attempt starred John Larroquette, fresh from his successful and popular role in NIGHT COURT, in a remake attempt that copied the original plots but not the characters. Another failure. The original FAWLTY TOWERS was done in the late 1970s and is as funny today as it was then. I have the twelve episodes on DVD and each time I see them I literally laugh out loud even though I know what's coming.

Some other major blunders in the remake department are: the 2011 CHARLIE'S ANGELS which lasted 4 episodes, the 2008 KNIGHT RIDER, the 2007 BIONIC WOMAN, WONDER WOMAN which never made it past the pilot, ROCKFORD FILES which never made it past the pilot, and the 2013 attempt at a remake of IRONSIDE which lasted only 3 episodes. My personal opinion on the IRONSIDE remake—colossal blunder moving the setting from San Francisco to "the gritty streets of New York" (as the publicity release referred to the location).

Are there any television remakes that you found particularly disappointing? Or surprisingly enjoyable? Any series you'd like to see remade?