Friday, December 19, 2014

More Christmastime

I should start off by saying that I love Christmas movies. I think, if possible, I could spend the entirety of December watching a different Christmas movie every day. And I know so many Christmas movies are cheesy, but somehow I can tolerate more cheese in movies than books, and then my tolerance is even greater when there's red and green and tinsel and caroling involved. 

(That's not to say I love EVERY Christmas movie. I do have my limits.)

So, in the spirit of the season and its endless lists, here's another! Five of my go-to, watch-them-every-year Christmas movies: 

If I was forced to pick just one Christmas movie, it would be this one. Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, and Vera-Ellen. Two big-shot entertainers end up in Vermont with two beautiful and talented nightclub performers at a ski lodge with no snow. Bob wants to help out an old army buddy, and Phil wants to play matchmaker. And in the meantime, there's tons of great music, dancing, humor, romance, and a touch of 1950s glamour.

This movie brings to mind Christmases in the Ozarks, visiting my grandparents, aunts, and cousins. Every Christmas at Granny and Grandpas we'd watch a few movies, but ALWAYS some version of A Christmas Carol and ALWAYS with a debate on which version is the best. George C. Scott...Alistair Sim...Patrick Stewart...the musical...the Muppets...Mickey...and the Bill Murray version Scrooged if you're my husband. Really, there are so many to choose from, and a flavor for everyone (except Jim Carrey. I refuse to acknowledge it exists). It's a classic story for a reason.

Who doesn't smile at Ralphie's extremely active imagination, or cheer when he cracks under the pressure of the school bully. I can quote almost this whole movie, and don't mind doing it. It's fun and nostalgic.

Charlie Brown searches for the true meaning of Christmas, and serves as the voice of everyone who's a little burnt out at Christmas. 

One of my favorite romantic comedies, this movie set at Christmas and New Year is about love and family. It's the movie that made me fall in love with Chicago, and it's just good stuff. 

Obviously, there are so many great Christmas movies not on this list. It was really hard to narrow it down to even five! What's your favorite Christmas movie?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmastime

I posted several weeks ago a few fall-ish books, so right now it seems fitting to post some books that suit my mood during the Christmas season. I'm still in a cozy mood -- so I'm in the mood for stories that make me want to curl up with a blanket and hot drink. But if fall was all about atmospheric moodiness, Christmas this year is about feel-good stories. I'm craving romantic comedies, well-loved classics, and non-dark fantasy. So here are four books that suit my mood for this Christmas:

1. Fairwil
Happy and sad days are here! The ARCs are out for Alysia Gray Painter's final installment of the super fantastic and wonderful books set at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in sunny Los Angeles. This is feel-good fiction at it's best, y'all. Funny, sweet, sassy, whimsical, heartwarming, heartsqueezing, romantic, friendly....just fantastic. Buy the first three ebooks and gobble them up. They're only $1.99! The perfect stocking stuffer! Or post-shopping reward.

2. Something by Jane Austen
I'd probably reach for one of my favorites: Emma or Persuasion, but pick your own favorite and curl up in front of the Christmas tree with some tea and scones.

3. Shadow Scale 
This is the second book in the Seraphina series by Rachel Hartman (and doesn't actually come out until March 2015. Small details!). Think Renaissance, but with dragons. I haven't read Shadow Scale yet, but Seraphina is so, so good. If you love fantasy fiction, music, and good stories, you have to read Seraphina. Even though the book isn't Christmasy, non-dark fantasy always suits my mood for cold-weather reading, and Christmas is so much about music for me, that the huge role of music in these books also makes it the perfect read for this time of year.

4. Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
These Russian-inspired fantasy books definitely put me in the cold-weather mood. Especially living someplace where we're as likely (or maybe even more likely) to wear flip-flops as we are boots on Christmas, it's nice to have a story that gives me some cold-by-proxy. This trilogy breaks from my mini-mold here because it's serious and tense, but it's just the right amount of suspense with a dash of romance. It's spiced wine and spiked cider rather than hot chocolate, but still a great winter read.

I've got a similar movie/television post percolating in my brain, but in the meantime, what books or movies or television shows are your flavor this Holiday/winter season?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Watching...Veronica Mars


Veronica Mars (2004) PosterI've mentioned before how I like good storytelling in multiple forms, not just books. So movies, television shows, and live performances all have a place at the table. The past month or two, I started watching Veronica Mars. (Finally! Sometimes I feel like the last person in the world to have watched it). In brief: loved it. Hubby even loved it too! And here are five reasons why:
1. Veronica. Sassy, smart, a little neurotic, and a lot single-minded. Loyal to her friends, hell to her enemies. Kristen Bell nails it.
2. Veronica and Keith. The closeness of this father-daughter relationship reminds me in some ways of the Lorelai/Rory dynamic. It was a little more parent-sibling than the best friend dynamic of the Gilmores, but the closesness is there. You could tell that for each of them, the relationship with each other was the most important relationship in their lives.
3. Cast of supporting characters -- good guys and bad guys. I hate to even call them supporting characters, because without Wallace, Mac, Duncan, Logan, Piz, Leo, Weevil, Sheriff Lamb, and even Vinnie, the show would fallen flat.
4. Good mysteries. So, some of the mysteries are definitely a bit more dramatic than the average person's everyday life (murder, etc.) and necessary for a good, dramatic story, but I also appreciated  the more typical teenage detective stories: missing dogs, bullying, vandalism, rapists. It's the kind of stuff you expect a high schooler/college student and her peers to deal with.
5. More than one note.  Veronica Mars is certainly a drama, but it didn't settle for being a straight-forward, serious procedural detective show. It is also hilarious, creepy, heartwarming, and sad. Kinda like life.
Bonus love: not only is there three seasons (cancelled before its time! Curse you CW)  and a crowd-funded movie, but there's also a novel and another in publication! It's on my nightstand,




Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Nap time

Sometimes, it just works out perfectly:

A long morning nap for the munchkin + yoga + a shower + a good cup of coffee + a few more more words (sentences even!) added to the work-in-progress.

I'm trying (some days more successfully than others) to learn how to fit in bits of writing here and there around naps and bottles and playing and making sure the house doesn't implode. And it works. But mornings like this are so decadent. Like a mini vacation for my week. An unexpected downhill after an uphill climb and a burst of momentum for the next hill up ahead.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday -- in my life, it's always been a time to treasure community -- whether that be friends, family, new acquaintances, or a mixture of all of the above. For quite a few years, we spent Thanksgiving away from immediate family, but were always priveleged to break bread with friends old and new. Through the years, Thanksgiving activities have included playing games, busting out the Christmas movies, football, and lots of good food. This year in particular, Thanksgiving resonates with me because I've been reminded in recent weeks the importance of living a life of gratitude. Trying to be constantly aware of what I have to be thankful for, in a humble, pay-it-forward kind of way.

This year, I'm excited to spend Thanksgiving with some family in Missouri, but I think I'll always kind of miss our Wilmington Thanksgivings. Come one, come all -- from 5 to 18, it doesn't matter how many, it's always a fun time. And at the Mattox house, we always write what we're thankful for to pin to the cork board. In that spirit, here's a list of five things I'm especially thankful for:

1. Jeremy and Christina. Motherhood is a wild ride! When people ask, I say it's the hardest and best thing I've done to date, and I'm sure that will only get more true. And I'm so, so thankful to be on this adventure with Jeremy. He's the best person to have an adventure with.

2. Technology. Phone calls, texts, emails, Skype, even Facebook help me stay in touch with friends across the country, and have even helped me make friends with people I'd never have met otherwise.

3. Our neighborhood. I'm grateful to live in a neighborhood that is nice to get out and walk in. Trees, sidewalks, and a playground only 15 minutes away. We have really nice neighbors on either side of us, and it's just great to be in a place that feels homey.

4. WOW Bible study. Spring Creek Church of Christ (where we attend) has a fall and spring women's Bible study (Women Opening the Word), and I attended my first series this fall. What a blessing! Cassandra Martin is a gifted teacher, and the study based on I Thessalonians 5:16-18 really spoke to me in this season of my life (Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you). Not only that, it was nice being able to have a little grown-up time each week (thank you Amanda Wilkins for being the WOW babysitter!)

5. The little things. Earlier this year there was a little Facebook challenge going around: list something you're thankful for for 5 days, and challenge three people to do the same each day (a warm up to thankful Novemeber maybe?). One thing I loved seeing was all the "little" things people were thankful for: coffee (ummm...yeah), music, nail polish, books. It's fun to step back sometimes and recognize that some seemingly small thing can bring so much enjoyment to my day, or even just this moment. Baby giggles, fresh baked bread, a walk around the block, a beautiful sunset, a fun t.v. show, quiet time, friend time, a game of cards, a phone conversation, or even a box of tissues (which I am so thankful for today. First cold of the season, anyone? Thank you for sharing Christina).

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reading...Blue Lily, Lily Blue


Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)

It's no secret that I'm a big Maggie Stiefvater fan, and I am really digging her latest series The Raven Cycle. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in this planned quartet and as always leaves me pacing my house longing for the next book. Y'all. These book are so good. Magic, friendship, Welsh mythology, good guys, bad guys, and very gray guys (Literally. The Gray Man is the epitome of morally ambiguous character.). When I first discovered Stiefvater's books, I told a friend that her writing feels like a painting in words, and that is still true in this book.

So. The plot moves forward, and our band of four guys and a girl stir up some serious magic. Individually, the teenagers seek out those universally teenage things: figuring out who they are, where they fit in to the world, and what really matters to them. Collectively, they have weathered some storms and come out closer and more appreciative of each other. The plot begins to draw in, and you can see storm clouds on the horizon.

I'm not saying much concrete about the book on purpose, because this is definitely the kind of story to start at the beginning. And if you haven't yet, pick up The Raven Boys and settle in.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A little creative writing

I have philosophy that sometimes works, sometimes doesn't: the more I put my writing out there, the more it encourages me to keep at it. So in that spirit, the following is a chapter from a novel I'm working on. It's still in rough draft form, but here you go...



Rosalee double checked the cart of books that put in order, then glanced at the clock. Thirty minutes until closing, just enough time to get these books shelved. She wheeled the black metal cart from behind the desk and headed to the chapter book section of the children’s room at the library. Things were pretty quiet this evening – Mondays often were. Rosalee loved this little library. There were two public libraries in town now, but this was her favorite. It had originally been just a converted old farmhouse. Eventually, the town had added on a nice, modern building, but had left the farmhouse. First floor was now a coffee shop, and the second floor housed offices and administrative staff. Sometimes Rosalee would come to work early and treat herself to a pastry and cup of coffee at the coffee shop. Jessica had even worked there for a while in high school.

Carolyn, the full-time children’s librarian, was laying out material in corner, prepping for Tuesday’s regular story-time. That corner of the room was slightly sunken, with three steps leading down to a good-sized wedge-shaped area with a rocking chair at the point. A pile of pillows sat along one wall. Sometimes the kids pulled them out for story-time, and sometimes they’d just pull them out and read for a while when nothing else was going on. A low table lined the other wall, where Carolyn or one of the other librarians would set up crafts. Some front facing book shelves were built into both walls, providing a place to display books relating to that week’s story-time theme, or just books the librarians wanted to display and highlight.

Stephanie, one of the other part-time staff, was at the desk in the opposite corner doing some work on the computer. Rosalee was about half-way through shelving her cart when Stephanie looked up from her work and called out.

“Rosalee” she said. “Carolyn and I and a few of the reference staff are headed to Brick Oven tonight. It’s Beth’s birthday. Would you like to join us?”

Rosalee turned toward her. “Well…” she said, her first instinct to politely declinje, although she wasn’t sure why.

“I know it’s last minute,” she said, waving her hand. “Beth wasn’t sure her sitter could stay late, so we didn’t have final plans until this afternoon. If you can’t, I understand.”
“Actaully,” Rosalee said, “that sounds great. I’d love to.” After all, she thought to herself. What plans do you have. None, that’s what. And weren’t you just thinking the other day that you had become a hermit?

She finished shelving her cart of books while the other two began getting everything in order for closing. Twenty minutes later, Rosalee was climbing in her car to calls of “see you there!” and pulling out onto the relatively quiet street. She smiled to herself, looking forward to a nice dinner with her coworkers. She made a quick stop on the way at a dollar store, grabbing a cute birthday card and gift bag. At the restaurant she took a moment in her car sign the card and put the bag of coffee she’d purchased that day into the gift bag. It’d been an impulse buy – she’d had a thought of giving it to Celia Blair. But she could always buy another bag; she knew Beth liked coffee as well – she always had a mug in her hand – so it worked out nicely.

Rosalee was the last to walk in, but the other ladies were still taking off sweaters and jackets. They’d snagged a table against the wall, much preferable in Rosalee’s opinion to sitting in the middle of the room. She set her purse down in an empty chair, then dropped her small bag in front of Beth’s place. “Happy Birthday!” she said, leaning in for a quick hug.

“Oh, thank you!” Beth said, returning the hug. “Rosalee, how sweet. You didn’t have to get me anything. This is all so last minute and casual.”

Rosalee waved away Beth’s protests. “It’s not much,” she said, smiling. “But I can still hear my mother’s voice in my head: ‘Rosalee, never go to a party empty-handed.’”

Beth laughed. “My mom says the same thing.”

Rosalee moved back down the table a few chairs to her own spot and, after a quick check to make sure the hardwood floors weren’t too grimy, slid her purse under her chair. There were six ladies of varying ages around the table. Alysia, head of information services, Donna from technical services, Beth, Stephanie, Caroline and Rosalee. Rosalee was pretty sure Donna and Caroline were around her own age, Beth and Stephanie in their mid-to early 40s, and Alysia somewhere between 25 and 35. Rosalee was terrible with ages. She only guessed Beth and Stephanie’s because she knew how old their kids were. Either way, it was a comfortable group. Everyone except Rosalee had been working at the Woodson Public Library for at least 10 years. Rosalee had only been at the library for a couple of years, but the staff had been more than welcoming. This was the first time she’d ever accepted any offer for out-of-work socializing though, and she found herself to be a little bit nervous. But, as she’d been realizing more and more lately, it’d been a long time since she’d done any kind of non-family related socializing. Which, since she genuinely enjoyed the company of her co-workers, was one reason she’d said yes to the invitation.

Rosalee gave herself a little mental pep talk and picked up her menu, glancing around the restaurant as she did. She’d never been to Brick Oven before, although she heard various members of her family talk about it all the time. The d├ęcor reminded her a bit of a pub – lots of dark wood, warm light and high-backed booths. Since the restaurant had the benefit of being a stand-alone building, there were a lot of windows. Rosalee could imagine how bright and cheery it looked in the daytime, but with no less warmth. There was a long bar at one end of the building, and behind the bar you could catch a glimpse of the big wood-burning pizza ovens.

She glanced down at her menu, then turned to Caroline, who was sitting beside her.

“Have you been here before?” she asked. “What’s good?”

“Oh, we come all the time,” she said. “My favorite is the carmelized onion, pear and gornonzola; my husband’s favorite is the barbecue chicken; and my daughter usually sticks with the margarita.”

“Hmm,” Rosalee mused. “Those all sound delicious.”

“You can’t really go wrong with anything,” Stephanie chimed in from across the table. “It’s all pretty outstanding.”

Their server arrived a moment later and took drink orders. Rosalee heard Beth ask who was driving her home because she was definitely planning on some birthday drinks. Rosalee laughed along with the rest and joined in the general conversation about wine and beer preferences and which pizza they were all going to order. She and Caroline ended up deciding to split a pizza, and before too long their waiter had slipped off to place orders and conversation turned to other topics.

“So, Rosalee have you always lived in Mapleview?” Caroline asked, taking a sip of her red wine.

“No, my husband and I moved here not too long after we got married. I grew up in Carrolton,” Rosalee answered.

“No way!” Stephanie exclaimed. “My grandmother’s from Carrolton. I didn’t think anyone else even knew where it was.”

Rosalee cocked her head slightly. “Who’s your grandmother?” she asked. “I’m sure I know her.”

“Betty Mason.”

“Mrs. Mason, of course!” Rosalee said, smiling. “She lived two blocks from the pharmacy and always had the most beautiful flowers in her front yard.”

“Sounds like Gramma,” Stephanie said. “We used to go visit every summer and every Thanksgiving. What a small world!”


“What about you ladies,” Rosalee said. “Who’s from around here?” All but Donna admitted they’d grown up in Missouri, if not in Mapleview. Donna had moved to Mapleview with her husband’s job. They’d both grown up in California.

Rosalee raised her eyebrows. “That must have been quite a culture shock,” she said. She looked at Caroline with new eyes noting the sleek and expertly colored hair, easy but flawless makeup, and casual but stylish clothing. She could see it clearly – Donna may not have lived in California for 15 years, but she exuded West Coast.

Donna laughed, her brown eyes warm. “In some ways, yes,” she said. “I’ll admit I miss being equidistance from the mountains and the beach. And I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to Midwestern weather. But Mapleview is a great home. I felt welcome the moment we rolled into town, and that’s never changed.”

Rosalee felt proud of her home state.

“So what have you all been reading lately?” Stephanie asked, shifting gears.

Caroline’s eyes lit up, “I just finished the best book! I’ve been in a reading slump for weeks, so I took a chance on a recommendation from Kelly and it was perfect! I’d never have picked up this book on my own. I don’t usually read romance novels, but Kelly assured me that I would enjoy this one and I absolutely did.”

“I love a good romance novel,” Donna said from across the table. “Who was the author?”

Caroline mentioned an author Rosalee had never heard of – not too surprising since she tended to stick to mysteries and historical fiction – but she made a mental note to branch out.

“What did you like about the book?” she asked.

Caroline rested her chin in her hand and thought for a minute. “It was smart,” she said. “Smart and funny, but not silly. And the characters seemed very real. I tend to like character-driven fiction, and this story was as much about the characters as people as it was about their love story.”

Rosalee nodded in understanding. “I try to find those authors when it comes to mysteries too,” she said. “I love a good mystery, but there needs to be as much character development as there is plot development. Fortunately, a lot of my favorite authors write series, so I can usually find something I like.”

Donna asked her if she’d read a certain author and the women around the table kept up an animated discussion about books and authors until the pizza arrived. Rosalee breathed deeply, enjoying the variety of scents coming from the table. Garlic and tomatoes and savory meat. She smelled the tang of barbecue sauce from the barbecue chicken pizza that Donna had ordered, a smell that Rosalee would have expected to seem out of place. It all smelled delicious, though, savory and rich. Her stomach growled and she and Caroline laughed.

“I didn’t realize I was so hungry,” Rosalee said.

The women continued to chat as they pulled slices of hot pizza from the oversized plates in front of them. The waitress refilled drinks and took orders for new ones. Rosalee took a bite of pizza – the crust was thin and crispy, with an almost grilled flavor that she assumed came from the wood-burning oven it had cooked in. She and Caroline had picked simple toppings –tomatoes, proscuto, spinach and fresh mozzarella. It was amazing.

“I think I’ve been ruined forever,” she said after swallowing. “This is amazing!”

Donna smiled at her from across the table. “I felt the same way after my first taste of wood-fired pizza. They’ve been popular in California for a while. That may have been the hardest part about moving to Missouri!”

They all laughed and Rosalee lifted her piece for another bite. She glanced around the table as she chewed, a slight smile on her face. She was so glad that she’d accepted the invitation. Clearly her homebody ways were starting to lose their appeal because she was having a lot of fun, more fun that usually had on a Monday night. She was turning her attention to a funny story Beth was telling when she felt someone walk behind her chair and pause.

“Rosalee?” a deep voice asked. “Rosalee Barnes.”

Rosalee froze, her hand halfway to her face, her mouth hanging open. No one had called her Rosalee Barnes in a long time. And she hadn’t heard that voice in a very, very long time.

Rosalee set her half-eaten slice of pizza on her plate with a trembling hand, and wiped her fingers on the napkin in her lap. She placed the napkin on the table, and slid her chair back. She could see the other ladies glancing behind and above her head then back at her, and she could see them wondering why she still hadn’t responded, why she was taking so long to say anything.

Her knees joined her trembling hands as she stood up, then turned around. She willed her body to start cooperating, and cleared her throat before smiling.

“George Bowen you sure do know how to surprise a person.”

The eyes that smiled back at her were exactly the same midnight blue as they’d been in 1964. The smile lines that crinkled in the corners were deeper and more numerous, but Rosalee noted the same straight nose and strong chin, the same confident grin and lopsided dimple, and the thick blonde hair that had turned a beautiful silver. George was dressed casually in dark jeans, brown leather loafers, and a white button-up shirt with a navy pin stripe and the sleeves rolled up. As she reached out to meet George’s outstretched hand with her own, Rosalee also noted that he had clearly been taking care of himself as he was as trim and fit as he’d been 50 years ago. Men, Rosalee thought, instinctively sucking in her 62-year-old-post-child-bearing belly. The bastards.


“I can’t believe it’s actually you,” he said, his hand lingering in hers, his whole face lit up with a smile. “I heard your voice and it was like a ghost from the past.”

“Ghost…yes, that sounds about right,” she kept a smile on her own face, but inwardly cringed at her response. Her brain felt like that time she and Betty’d gotten her daddy’s car stuck in the mud down by the creek. They’d spent 20 minutes spinning those tires.

“So, how long have you lived here in Mapleview?” George was asking.

“Over 30 years now,” she replied. “How long have you been here?”

The question sounded wrong, and slightly accusatory to her ears, but if George thought so he didn’t let on. He just kept on smiling.

“Three days. My daughter moved here a few years ago. I’ve been coming out to visit now and then, but a few months ago I took early retirement so I decided to move closer to her and the grandkids.”

“Early retirement. Wow, that sounds nice.” Brilliant Rosalee, she thought to herself. He’s going to think you’re getting dementia.

“Well, I’m still doing contract work for the same company,” he said with shrug, “but being an independent contractor is a lot more flexible.”

“Mmm…,” she said, nodding. Rosalee’s sluggish brain was suddenly aware that she was standing in a crowded restaurant, having an unsettling and highly personal experience. People were weaving around them, and although she could hear that the ladies behind her had continued their conversation, it seemed muted. Like they were talking to give her privacy, but kind of wished they were listening in. She didn’t blame them…she’d be curious too.
“I was going to call you next week,” George said.

Rosalee raised an eyebrow, “Really,” she said.

Finally, George looked less than one hundred percent at ease.

“No really,” he said. “I called my cousin before I left Chicago. He still lives in Carrolton, so he was able to get your number for me from Betty.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. “See,” he held it out.

Written in slanting print was her name and number.

“Well,” she said, “isn’t it a small world.”

“So…can I call you?” he asked. “I’d love to catch up and it looks like neither of us are free at the moment.” He nodded at the table behind her.

Rosalee hesitated. Why shouldn’t he call her? Her too-slow brain fired off a million reasons starting with “he’s a lying liar.” But somehow, with the words “I don’t think so” poised on her tongue, another part of her realized that particular wound wasn’t…so much of a wound anymore. It didn’t hurt, it wasn’t tender. It was more of a scar really. So the question really was…why not? It’d been a long time since she’d thought about George Bowen, and she found that her overwhelming thought was simply curiosity.

Okay, and maybe, perhaps a slight flush of warmth because good grief, that man was still too good looking for his own good.

“Sure,” she replied with a hesitant smile. “Anytime.”

He started to reach out as thought to touch her hand or shoulder, but she took a very tiny step back. She may not have been hurt anymore, but she hadn’t seen George in decades. She wasn’t ready for that easy familiarity. He must of read her signals because he quickly dropped his hand and settled for another heart-stopping smile.

“Great,” he said. “I’m glad. I’ll call you sometime next week.”

He seemed sincere, Rosalee thought as she watched him walk toward his table, but then again, he always had. She turned away from the crowded restaurant and back to her table, where the ladies were doing their best not to act like anything interesting had just happened. Rosalee sat down, placed her napkin in her lap, and took a bite of her pizza. She chewed, swallowed, and took pity on her friends.

“Go ahead,” she said with a smile. “Ask away.”