Sunday, December 31, 2006

Goals, schmoals ...

This won't be a request to post your goals. I don't set them. Never have, never will. I don't know why. Even now, with all that's happened in the past year, I don't have goals except continue on, do better at everything, and survive whatever life throws at me with a good sense of humor. Gee, I guess that's a goal.

No, the topic this week is a retrospective.

Name the most memorable thing that happened to you in 2006 that was not writing related.

He he. That'll make you think, eh? Many of us had writing milestones met, I guess you could say (better than 'goals'). First sales, big contests won or finaled in, award nominations, etc.

No, name something that has nothing to do with writing. Did you finally break par on a tough course? Drive under the speed limit for more than a day in a row (can't claim to that one myself)? Achieve the salary you were hoping for?

This has to be your accomplishment. Not your kid's, or your spouse's (even though we know you're the power behind the throne and should probably get some credit for those achievements).

This is a tough one for me. I'll need to put on the old thinking cap. So much in my life is tied to my 'writing life'. I'll need to ponder this one ...

Party on, Mavens! Here's to 2007 and what it might hold!!!


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Jingle, Jingle

Yes. Our tradition is to open gifts from each other on Christmas Eve. At first I thought it strange, but after more than forty years of celebrating Christmas gift giving this way, I dearly look forward to it.

We start at three, mainly because the group has grown to twenty-four and it's a lengthly process.

Food is prepared and generally everyone is famished when they arrive. This year's menu included:

Salmon Spread
Mexicana Chip Dip
Artichoke Dip
Crab stuffed Mushrooms
Chicken Dip
Tortilla Rollups

For the Main Chomping:
Fruit Pizza
Logan's spiral ham, roasted and delicious
Creamy Shrimp and Corn Soup, yummy
Mexican Cheese Grits
Fruit Salad

Amaretto Cheesecake
Homemade Fruitcake soaked in Whiskey
Pineapple Cake
Homemade fudge

After snacking for awhile, the smaller kids wanted to open gifts, so we obliged.

We sit in a huge circle of sorts, then the oldest grandkids hand out the gifts. We open gifts by age. Youngest first. It's the only time of the year my daughter will admit that her husband is younger than her, (only by three weeks).

We ooh, and aah over each gift.
By the time the grandkids are finished it's time to hit the refreshment table again.

Did I tell you that Southern people expect food at all events, in fact, it is part of the event.

Then the older kids open gifts.

This is the only year that we haven't done fireworks afterward. (That was on my hubby's list.)

By nine, we were finished. The families left, the grandkids knowing that Santa would pass during the night with more gifts.

It seems like a lot of work for a few hours. But I wouldn't trade a moment of it for anything.

Because, once upon a time, I knew a boy who never received a Christmas present that he could remember. So, whenever I think of the excess of Christmas, I'm feeling in my heart that that little boy would have been in such awe. And I remember him with love.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday Traditions

Nope, me neither.

Then again, there might be a few. We have a chicken, not a turkey because nobody likes chicken. We have one of my homemade spiced apple pies, not Christmas Pudding, because nobody likes Christmas Pudding. Brandy butter is horrid, so we have custard.

So you might call it anti-tradition. Instead of doing what we ought to do, we do what we want to do. And it works out really well.

So we get up when we want, eat around two thirty, don't turn on the Queen's Speech, watch "Casablanca" (at least I do, just because I love that film), drink, and eat some more. It's a nice day, and we discovered the best way to avoid family arguments and upset is to do what we want, and be nice to each other.

That count as a tradition?

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Holiday traditions ... hmm, I may be traditionless

This was a stumper for me.

Music? I can't carry a tune in a truck, and caroling was never a part of any holiday we had. We participated in assorted carols for various groups we belonged to, but our family wasn't big on singing.

Church? I'm not religious and can't remember the last time I went. My family would go to church twice a year, Easter and Christmas, so I vaguely remember attending services when I was a child, but haven't done so in recent memory. The services were pretty with candles and lots of singing.

Movies, maybe. Watching White Christmas or A Christmas Carol (the one with Alistair Sims). My sister and I used to watch those every year. She and I have the entire routine to "Sisters" memorized from WC, including the 'fan dance'. But those aren't really traditions.

I guess if there's one thing that's constant it's calling others on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Our family can never all get together at the holiday. There's people in Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, California ... and that's not counting the other side of the family, with folks near Philly and in Pittsburgh. I can't remember the last time we all were in one place for a holiday.

So, yes -- that evening phone call when we look at the clock and say, "That must be Lisa, I'll bet they're opening presents now" or "That must be {insert name}, it's present-opening time where she is". Or the times I've called, after looking at the clock and saying, "Well, it's cocktail time, I'll bet they're on the first present".

I'm calling it a tradition, whether it is or not.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Holdiay music

My favorite holiday memories center on music.


Christmas carols were among the first songs I learned to sing well. Back in the day, my cousin Hunter who played the piano and sang by ear, would liven up every Christmas party with his beautiful holiday renditions.  I remember this one particular lady all of us neighborhood kids used to torment to sing Silent Night for us.  Ollie would sing for us every time.  We used to giggle at her high notes, but the thing we didn’t realize is that we were being soothed and transformed by her heartfelt music.


Later in life, as I had my own children to soothe, I sang a great deal. Christmas carols are my favorite music of all time, and there’s nothing I like better than singing “What Child is This?”  Even songs with challenging high parts, like “O Holy Night,” hold a special place in my heart. I remember dear Ollie and how she touched us with her music. 


I hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season. 


Until next week, Maggie

Maggie Toussaint 



Sunday, December 24, 2006

Do you have a favorite holiday tradition?

That subject line says it all.

Is there a particular thing that you and your loved ones do together? Trim a tree? Open a present at a particular time? Sip brandy from jello molds (see previous post)?

And listen -- I know you're busy. I'm getting ready to get on the road myself. So if you don't reply this week, no problem -- we'll reconvene later.

Have a happy, relaxing, and safe holiday.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hazy holiday memories

I have several fond memories of holidays, many of which revolved around my father, who was a real character. He was often mistaken for Jimmy Stewart. They looked remarkably alike, right down to the tall, gangly physique.

One year he decided we should open a present on Christmas Eve. This wasn't unusual, we often did this. This was accompanied by a special drink (I don't remember the drink -- brandy? gin?) He couldn't find drink glasses that were special enough for this event, so he rooted around in the cupboard and came up with 8 matching containers: jello molds.

These were rubbermaid (tm) molds, shaped like a star or a flower. About 4" high and 4" in diameter. And plastic.

He brought them into the living room with a flourish, filled with Drink of Choice, balanced on a beat-up tray that my mother used as a drip catcher in the stove.

We all laughed so hard I thought we'd have to be hospitalized. He was so happy with his choice of beverage glass and had no clue that these were jello molds. He just figured -- hey, they all matched and they were clean.

We unwrapped many gifts that night, if I recall. I still giggle when I remember the sight of him, coming into the living room with that tray with eight white plastic jello molds balanced so carefully.

I have a lot of memories like this: Hanky Day (when he got about two dozen hankies for his birthday), family vacations (where he regaled us with tales of 'Old Buck', his horse, stories that sustained us through the boredom of driving through South Dakota), Christmas baking with my mother (our assembly line making highly decorated Santa cookies), Prom night (eavesdropping on my sisters as they got ready to go out) ...

All memories with family are holidays, aren't they? I mean, in my mind, some of the memories seem like holidays even though they were just simple get-togethers (family picnics, swimming pool days, bike rides). And although many of the people are gone, I can't say I miss them. I mean, they're still so alive to me in memory. The only difference is that we aren't making new memories together -- I'm doing that with new friends. Perhaps I'm Pollyanna, but to me, it's all good.


Holiday Memories

Ooooh! This is an easy one. My favorite holiday memory happened 3 years ago this Christmas. My kids were still in elementary school and one of our old dogs had just passed away. Our other old dog was blind and pretty much deaf - the one who'd died had been his seeing eye dog. So, poor Bentley was left all alone. And the kids wanted a puppy.

I love puppies.

My husband says he does, but really, he doesn't.

So off we went to the pet store where the kids could play with the puppies. But we weren't getting one. (Don't get me started on the whole puppy mill thing.) But they had fun playing with chihuahuas, daschunds, cocker spaniesl, bichon frises, yorkies, etc. And they begged, "Please Mom, can we have a puppy? You won't have to buy us anything else. We won't even ask Santa for any gifts. Please can we have a puppy? We'll take care of it and feed it and let it won't have to do a thing." (famous last words)

My response, "I am not buying you a puppy."

I bought two :)

One from a woman who owned the parents on a farm, and the other from her daughter who lived down the street and had one of the previous litter's pups.

Two beautiful cocker spaniel puppies, the kind my husband and I could agree on. Two different litters, six weeks apart.

Which meant only one could come home for Christmas.

So, on Christmas eve, I drove to the farm and picked up Vixen. I took her to my parents' house and left her there until the kids were in bed, then went back and picked her up. This little tiny bundle of red fluff with cute little ears and big paws. She and I spent the night in the basement and she never cried once.

Christmas morning, with the kids gathered in the living room, Santa's presents all around them, I walked in with a basket and set it on the floor. Vixen sat completely still. The kids thought she was a stuffed animal.

And then she moved.

"You got us a puppy!"

I will never forget the tears of joy, the hugs, the snub Santa's presents got ( :) ) and the sight of three kids playing with a puppy under the tree.

When all the hoopla died down, a box of puppy supplies was opened and Santa got his due, my middle child looks at me and says, "You lied."

"I did?" I replied.

"Yes. You said you wouldn't get us a puppy."

Here's where my husband chimed in. "Let's give Mom an early birthday present, shall we?" and he pulls out a box from under the tree.

The kids were looking at us funny. My birthday isn't until February. They know it's like a national holiday to me. Matter of fact it's bigger than Christmas to me. He wouldn't give me an early present - I like to be surprised.

So Mom takes the box and opens it veeeeeery sloooooowly.

The youngest grabs one of the flaps and pulls it open. Inside are some dog toys. A leash, like the one we already opened. Another bowl.

The oldest, sweet considerate child that he is, says apologetically, "Dad, we already have stuff for the puppy." Such a sweet moment, both the kid and the surprise I couldn't wait to spring on them.

"Really?" I asked, pulling out the purple dog collar (the other was pink). "Hmmm, what does this say?" I ask, holding up the name tag. (Of course, we've already determined that the other one said Vixen.)

My concerned, not-wanting-to-hurt-Dad's-feelings oldest child takes the collar and reads the name. "Raven..." He looks up with such confusion then wonder... "You bought us two dogs??!!"

The screams, the tears, the hugs, the joy in that room are a memory I will carry with me forever.

I know the SPCA says not to get your kids a puppy for Christmas. Not to buy into the sentimentality of the holidays and bring home a pet, because many of them end up in shelters or neglected. I get that.

But we were going to get another dog anyway. Bentley needed a friend, and, frankly, there was a hole in my heart where our other dog had been. I had to fill it. And Bentley would soon (8 months later, not that we would know that) leave another hole. We were getting these dogs anyway, so why not Christmas?

If a pet is in your future, I say that you should definitely give it to your kids for Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hypervenitlating for the Holdiays

I’m a person who loves routine, and deviations from that stated routine invariably cause distress. I’ve been writing glowing editorials for the newspaper on the closeness of family and the true meaning of Thanksgiving, etc, but it isn’t what I believe in my heart. For me, holidays bring added worries, and I’m not talking about all the gifting, gathering, cooking, decorating, and cleaning.


I’m not a bah humbug, don’t give me presents kind of gal, in fact I love presents, its just surprises I don’t like. We have had a high number of family deaths while on holiday or vacation. My brother-in-law died during a summer vacation.  My father had a heart attack just after Christmas. My father-in-law died of cancer a week before Christmas. Right now I have a dear cousin struggling for breath in Hospice. And there are others, if I could only bring them to mind.


So I’m always glad to put Christmas behind me. I love the blessed stillness of late Christmas Eve, that Silent Night feeling when all is truly calm.  For me, that’s the feeling that I made it through another year. I enjoy that lovely feeling for as long as I can hold onto it.


Then I steel myself for the next round of holidays.


Maggie Toussaint

Coming soon:  House of Lies ;


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Let's talk holidays ...

Yes, it's That Time of Year.

Your topic for the week: name a favorite holiday memory. Just one! And it doesn't have to be a Christmas or New Year's memory -- it can be any holiday, even a personal one, like a birthday.

Is there one that makes you giggle, even today? One that reminds you of something special? One that makes you remember someone special or something that really stands out in memory?

Tell us about it.


Saturday, December 16, 2006


Darth Tater might be cute, but Spike is adorable!

Here is Spike on the wall in front of Graceland.

I have a nice little sofa that sits on my desk which is Spike's resting place when he isn't out traveling about.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


These are all so good!

i can't compete! Especially with Darth Potato.

But I write surrounded by doll's houses. I have two big ones, a small one and a small shop in my living room, and more in the rest of the house. They are my delight, but when you think about it, it's creating worlds, isn't it?

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And here he is ...

The guy who makes me smile

Darth Tater!

Yep, it's Mr. PotatoHead (Tm, R, or whatever is needed) as Darth Vader. He's sitting on my Nec MobilePro 800 (Tm, R, or whatever is needed), brandishing his not-so-dangerous light saber (or sabre, as Lynne would say).

Every time I look at him I laugh. And I've needed a few laughs lately, between work and writing. It's been a struggle these last few weeks. But I just look at old Darth and grin.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Smiling frogs

The absolute closest things to my desk chair that makes me smile are my miniature bean bag frogs. I have one in red leather and one in green leather. They're about the size of a squashed computer mouse. Sometimes they're hanging over my monitor. Sometimes they're resting on my monitor stand. Other times I'm tossing them from hand to hand to get the creative juices flowing. So that's my answer. My frogs make me smile.

Smiles and laughter are important. Share some today!

Until next week, Maggie Toussaint

Okay: what makes you smile?

Sorry for the way-too-thoughtful topic last week. This one should be easier.

Look around your work space. Don't leave your chair, but you can swivel around in it.

Now tell us about ONE item near you that makes you smile. This 'item' can also be a human (if one happens to be standing near), a pet, a book -- the sky's the limit.

What is near you that makes you smile?

Saturday, December 09, 2006


What a difficult topic.

After much thought, thank heavens I'm toward the latter part of the week, it finally came to me.

My daughter's cancer.

A blessing?

Yes, because it drew our family back together in a way I never thought possible. Having a large brood, everyone was involved with their own new families, and yet, when they found out that their sister was stricken, they banded together to give their support. It's been six years, and we're still a tight family.

It showed me that I can't control life. Sometimes you have to accept what is being dealt to you. Whether you like it or not.

Prayer does work.

Enjoy each and every might be your last.

Always, always tell those you love, those precious words, "I love you."

Be like a dog. Enthusiatic when someone you know walks in the door.

I couldn't write during that period of her treatment, and yes, she is well and cancer-free. But I did write an article as I waited for her chemo treatment.
You can read it here.

Yes, it was a blessing, as it made me a kinder, gentler person.

Well, almost.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Remembering the Blessings

Goodness, this week has been one for counting blessings. My car broke down and I had to plunk down my Christmas savings in order to get another one. For days, I was depressed because of the loss, lamenting about my new financial plight, how hard it is to live on disability as a single mother. But then I remembered the blessings within the situation: I am in a better situation financially than many other people in similar positions, that I was able to get financing for another car on my own and without a co-signer. Yeah, the next few months will be tight but I will be fine.

Then, five days later someone rear-ended my new car! Unbelievable! I could have spit nails.

Again I had to remember the blessings: Neither my daughter nor I were hurt, the accident wasn't my fault and the other driver's insurance will pay for the repairs, and compared to the other car, my damage was minor.

The next day my apartment was flooded when a pipe burst. Carpet was damaged and the smell was atrocious.

The blessings here? Well, let's see....

Since I live in an apartment I was able to call the maintenance crew, who called in plumbers. Even though I had to put up a big "stink" about how unsanitary the conditions were becoming while the problem was being investigated, the property manager finally saw the merits of putting us into a hotel for a few nights. When we returned the carpets had been replaced and the pipes repaired. Sure, my daughter and I have been displaced and inconvenienced, but we still have a home, heat on this cold night and food in the frig. I remember the Katrina victims who suffered so much worse and are still not home this holiday season.

On a daily basis, I remember to count my blessings.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006



Okay, there's a lot. I was originally going to say 'good health', because without that, life gets mean. But I live in America, and I can get good health care.

I was going to say, 'My intelligence' (modest mode), but I live in America. Even if I wasn't well-educated and reasonably intelligent, I'd still have a chance at a good life.

So many of my blessings come back to where I live. So I'm going to say, 'Thank you for letting me live in a civilized country that values me as a human being. Yeah, it ain't perfect, but it's better than a lot of the world.'

{soapbox mode on}

In many countries women have no rights, are murdered, tortured, and all with the countenance of the government. Often it's in the name of religion, which often has its basis in politics and control (don't get me started on *that* topic). At least once a week, I read a story of some poor woman or group of women in India, or Asia, or Africa, or the Middle East being stoned to death, beaten, or ostracized for demanding to be treated like a human being.

{soapbox mode off}

Enough said.

Glad to live where I do, when I do.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hitting bottom can be a blessing

Life has a way of dumping stuff on you all at once, and my life was no different than anyone else’s.  I was going along, minding my own business, with a career, a husband, a home, and two kids when I realized I was exhausted.  Suddenly my time wasn’t my own and I had Big Responsibilities.  I’d been able to juggle with one baby, but having the second one so soon afterwards changed my outlook on life. It rapidly became apparent that I was stuck on an endless treadmill of changing diapers, scrubbing the kitchen floor, making baby food, and wrestling mountains of laundry down the stairs.   I needed help. 


Lucky for me, things were changing at my church, and we got in a dynamic priest who took the time to see me as a person.  Since we lived so far away from family, my church had become my home away from home.  I’d always been drawn to music, and the music this new priest brought to us opened my eyes to the world within and the world beyond.  I put one kid in preschool and dragged the infant with me to guitar lessons.  You have to understand that I had never had a music lesson in my life, but I always loved music.  I learned to play guitar, and through music began to experience the joys of self-expression for the first time in my adult life.


That was 24 years ago.  Since then, I’ve hauled my guitar to church and played and sang.  Out of this rewarding experience came the courage to try another form of self-expression, creative writing, another long-buried passion of mine. There was a learning curve as I learned how to write fiction, but along the way I made some great friends and learned more about who I was.  Writing challenged me to define what I stood for, what my themes were, and what I wanted out of life.


Maybe other people get this intuitively, but for me, it was a journey.  And, the road is still unfolding in front of me.


Until next week, Maggie Toussaint


Maggie Toussaint

Coming soon:  House of Lies ;


Counting blessings

Name ONE BLESSING that you feel has affected your life in a major way.

Just one? Okay. My arthritis getting worse.

Seriously. A real blessing in disguise. I've had arthritis most of my life, but until the birth of my children, it was a minor inconvenience rather than anything that affected my life to any great degree. A diet to take care of the allergies, the occasional week of pain with my legs strapped up, and that was it.

Then, after the birth of my children, it got worse. I could no longer depend on steady health, and since no one, doctor or not, could predict when an attack was coming on, and an attack, which meant I couldn't walk, could last any time between a week and six months, I couldn't hold down a steady job any more.

So I started wondering what work I could do from home, because I can't sit at home twiddling my thumbs all day. I took up writing seriously, something else that had haunted me all my life.

And, ma, look at me now! Writing my fifth (or is it sixth) Department 57 book, just sold a new historical romance to another publisher, a new world has opened up for me. The best job I've ever had, if not the best paying one!

Lynne Connolly

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hum along with me ... Count your blessings

I saw "White Christmas: The Musical" yesterday. Great play, great fun, especially when it snowed -- on the audience as well as the stage. Of course, when we walked outside it was 5 above zero with a wind chill below zero and it was snowing for real, but it just added to the ambiance (I have to say that. Even if I hated winter, it would be futile to gripe. I live in Minnesota. It's solid Real Winter here four months of the year and almost-winter two months of the year. A person has to suck it up and enjoy it, even if he/she doesn't. It comes with the zip code).

The major theme of the play/song/movie is "Count Your Blessings [Instead of Sheep]". That got me to thinking ...

Name ONE BLESSING that you feel has affected your life in a major way.

The dictionary defines blessing as "(1) short prayer for divine approval {not the kind I'm talking about, no offense} (2) a fortunate occurence". I'm talking about #2 -- something unplanned, out of your control, not designed, that you consider a blessing in your life.

I was going to ask you to name 5, but really, that's predictable, isn't it? ("My family, my kids, my faith, my ...") No, you've got to narrow it down.

Name that one Biggie.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Throw Me Something Mister!

That's how they say it in New Orleans during Mardi Gras...

Throw me something.

I have bought a book just by the blurb on the bookmark. What the bookmark didn't say was that it was a futuristic novel.

When I purchased it, I felt obligated at this point, the author was standing there, I didn't think I would enjoy it. But I did.

So, I think again about bookmarks.

Just how effective are they?

Well, for one, I can never find a bookmark in my house. The house trolls keep stealing them. But they are useful.

When doing a booksigning, hand them out. Even to those who don't buy your book. It's all about name recognitation. People have to see your name at least three times before it sinks in. (I might take a bit longer...the memory is going quicker than I like.)

A bookmark can also have a great picture of your book. (Insert a hunk photo if your cover is a stinkeroo). Put your backlist, your website, your future releases, put a contest, a puzzle, part of a joke (the answer is on your website...but it better be a good joke). Anything that will create interest and stop them from throwing it away.

Some of the better things I've seen that were given away were some fake fangs to promote a vampire book, a stiletto on a keychain that promoted a book with a stiletto on the cover. I personally like the bookmarks with beads, but along with the bead, I'd put a little plastic cover of my book so I'd be remembered.

All of this is something to consider for the day that I do get the call.

But since I don't have a book coming out anytime soon, here's something to remember me by...