Monday, December 26, 2011

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep

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 2012? 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 72-inch LED HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) plus 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 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. If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television programs, 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 cakelike 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 2012 bring you happiness and health.

And Peace On Earth for everyone.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

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 by providing them with a dowry so that 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.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas. Moore's poem, which he was initially hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus as a right jolly old elf with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head. Although some of Moore's imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped popularize the now familiar image of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in a miniature sleigh led by eight flying reindeer leaving presents for deserving children. An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas created a new and immediately popular American icon. In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore's poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper's Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.

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 by 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.
And speaking of Santa and Christmas gifts…I have an erotic romance Christmas short story titled A Gift From St. Nicholas by Samantha Gentry, available as part of the HEARTS 'N' HOLLY anthology from XOXO Publishing (, also from Amazon as a Kindle ebook ( and other online ebook stores.

Adult Excerpt #1:

She turned out all the lights except for those adorning the Christmas tree. A soft glow filled the room. The same warmth permeated her body, sending a tingle of anticipation coursing through her veins. She went straight to the bedroom, undressed, and snuggled beneath the blankets.

It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed when a sound roused her from sleep. She slipped quietly out of bed, pulled the sheer red negligee over her nearly nude body, and walked down the hall toward the living room. One quick peek confirmed what had awakened her...the popping of the champagne cork.

For decades Santa had been portrayed as a rotund, grandfatherly type with a long white beard, but the Santa holding the champagne bottle and wearing the traditional Santa cap definitely was not anyone's grandfather. The lights on the Christmas tree lit the corner of the room. She watched as he touched a match to the kindling in the fireplace. The flickering illumination highlighted the hard planes of his bare chest. An impressive bulge at the crotch of his tight red pants grabbed her attention, causing her heart to beat faster and her pulse to race.

Adult Excerpt #2:

"I'm so glad you finally gave up on the cookies and milk."

"I found champagne to be so much more exciting." She took a sip from her glass. The bubbles tickled the inside of her mouth. The sensation left her wanting something else to tickle the inside of her mouth, something more sensual...something more desirable.

"Have you been a good girl this year?" There was no mistaking the suggestive tone to Santa's voice.

"I always try to be a good girl."

"I do have a list, and I checked it twice."

"What does it say about me?"

His eyes twinkled with amusement, the look quickly shifting to desire. "According to my list, you've repeatedly been very good."

Check in next week (Monday, December 26) for a list of New Year's resolutions that you won't have any difficulty keeping and a discussion about that much maligned holiday treat—fruitcake.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

10 Signs That The New Man In Your Life Might Be Married

First of all, I'm not stating that only married men cheat and not married women. Married women certainly engage in extra-marital affairs, too. Sometimes the cheater is having an affair with someone who is also married and sometimes the partner is single.

Unofficial surveys have shown that men seem to enjoy no-strings-attached affairs more than women and single men aren't nearly as offended as single women to discover that their new lover is married.

I came across an article a while back listing 10 signs indicating that a woman's new romance could be a married man. My first thought was to use it as backstory information for one of my characters who had a past affair with a man and didn't know he was married. Then I decided to share the information with you, too.

10) When with you, he pays for everything in cash.
In today's electronically controlled society, most people don't carry that much cash with them. If he pays for everything…restaurants, hotels, etc., in cash it could be his way of keeping his wife from finding a paper trail such as credit card receipts.

9) He can only spend time with you during a specified window after he gets off work.
If he continually places restrictions on when and where the two of you can be together, then he could be married (or dating someone else while dating you). No wife and no other girlfriends? Then no need to constantly be rushing home by 10PM because he has an early morning meeting. This also applies to never being able to see him on holidays.

8) He works as a traveling salesman, or a similar type job.
It's very easy for a married man working in a job that requires him to travel to have one or more girlfriends in different towns. It could take an unsuspecting woman quite a while to discover the man she has fallen in love with is really married.

7) He never invites you to his home.
There are two primary reasons for this: either his lives like a slob so that his residence looks like a garbage dump or he's married.

6) He won't answer his cell phone in front of you.
Taking calls while on a date is generally considered rude, but for him to never take a call while with you could be one more indication that he's married.

5) When you call his cell phone, you always get his voice mail then he returns your call.
As with number six above, this could be another indication that he's married.

4) He never introduces you to his children, friends or family.
Two main possibilities here. Either he just isn't very serious about you or he's married.

3) He says he's filed for divorce, but you can't find any record of the filing anywhere in the state.
This quite often happens after she becomes suspicious about his marital status and confront him. That's when he admits he's still technically married, but he and his wife are separated and he's filed for divorce but the two of you need to be careful until the divorce is final.

2) His wife calls you.
After getting over the shock of discovering your new romance is really married, explain to her that you did not know you had been seeing a married man, then call him and let him know you won't be seeing him again and why. There's always the remote possibility that she is his ex-wife and he no longer has any association with her but she's not ready to let go of the former relationship…but not likely.

1) You come home and find his clothes dumped on your porch.
This one should be self-explanatory.

Several years ago I used situation #2 in a book, with the storyline having hero's ex-wife confront the heroine pretending to be his wife in an attempt to get him back even though they had been divorced for ten years.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

7 Myths About Marie Antoinette

So many truths have been attributed to Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France who was beheaded during the French Revolution along with her husband King Louis XVI. Perhaps it's time to set those myths to rest by revealing the real truth.

It's generally accepted that history is written by the winner which means the loser usually gets the short end of the stick. And it seems that's what happened to Marie Antoninette who was held responsible for the French Revolution…something that wasn't true.

1) The first and most famous myth is quoting her as saying, "Let them eat cake."

We can start with correcting the quote. The actual phrase was "Let them eat brioche" and was most likely spoken by the Spanish born Queen of Louis XIV. Marie Antoinette was actually considered very generous to the starving people of France.

2) The next myth said Marie Antoinette was a blond.

She has been portrayed in movies and in books as being blond, but in reality she was a redhead, or more accurately a strawberry blond. Madame du Barry, her great enemy at court, nicknamed her la petite rousse—the little redhead.

3) The next great myth says Maria Antoinette was French.

Again, not true. She was the youngest daughter (15th of 16 children) of the Empress of Austria. Her marriage at age 14 to the 15 year old grandson of Louis XV of France united the houses of Bourbon and Hapsburg—definitely a political marriage intended to end nearly 950 years of hostilities between the two countries. As a foreigner in France, she was blamed for all of France's misfortunes.

4) Marie Antoinette's obsession with fashion and interior design bankrupted France.

Starting approximately 1786 she was wrongly nicknames Madame Deficit even though her indulgence in fashion and interior design was not responsible for bankrupting France or causing the French Revolution. France's treasury was broke long before she arrived on the scene. Part of France's extensive debt came from France funding the American colonists during the American Revolution. Of course, that wasn't so much France striking a blow for freedom as it was France striking a blow against England.

5) Myth has it that Marie Antoinette milked her own cows.

Marie Antoinette commissioned a little peasant village to be build on the grounds at Versailles. The village consisted of a working farm and dairy with cottages for a dozen impoverished farmers and their families, an example of her concern for the poor. She did treat her visitors to fresh milk poured from porcelain jugs with her monogram, but was not the one to procure the milk from its source.

6) Myth says Marie Antoinette was promiscuous.

Even though untold numbers of stories circulated about her being wildly promiscuous with lovers of both sexes, they simply weren't true. She remained a virgin for the first seven years of her marriage, having wed at age 14 on May 16, 1770, and not consumating the marriage until August 22, 1777.

7) And finally, it was believed that Marie Antoinette was the power behind the throne, therefore responsible for Louis' decisions.

She was not Louis XVI's puppet master. Her mother, the Empress of Austria, despaired of her daughter's inability to control her husband. Marie Antoinette freely admitted that she lacked any talent for politics and confided that her husband wouldn't permit her to have any input in his government. She did manage to pressure him into making certain ministerial appointments, but that was the limit of her influence.