Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My next book?



I'm kidding. But that really is a picture of me and my parents. My very talented friend, Don Capone, did that as a gag. But it's so good you could almost believe I've led an interesting enough life to write a book about it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Meet Shanna Swendson!




Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit author Shanna Swendson is gaining legions of fans as a premier writer of paranormal romance. In ONCE UPON STILETTOS, a follow-up to her popular ENCHANTED, INC., Katie, a Texan-turned-Manhattanite who's immune to magic, works as an executive assistant at Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc. She's a wiz at spotting the deceptive enchantments and spell-laced documents that make business go a little too smoothly for MSI's competitors and contractors. If only she could avoid falling under the spell of Owen, a hunky wizard who also happens to be her co-worker. Owen, however, is too preoccupied with an alarming security breach to notice. Someone has broken into his office and disturbed top-secret files, and it reeks of an inside job. CEO Merlin (yes, the Merlin) taps Katie and her special ability to uncover the magical mole.

Keeping her feelings in check while sleuthing alongside Owen, Katie is shocked to discover that her immunity to magic is waning, putting her in grave danger. Soon she's surrendering to the charms and enchantments of everyone and everything around her, including a killer pair of red stilettos. Katie must now conjure up her instincts to get to the bottom of the break-in, regain her power, and win the wizard of her dreams.

Here's what the critics are saying:

"Swendson offers a fresh spin on a genre in this exceptional Manhattan fairy tale." -- RT Bookclub

"ONCE UPON STILETTOS is not to be missed if you're in the mood for a fast and funny read where chick-lit meets urban fantasy." -- Mary Jo Putney, author of A Kiss of Fate

"Swendson's smart, snappy novel will delight fans that loved the first installment, and win over new readers, too." -- Booklist

To purchase ONCE UPON STILETTOS, order online or visit your local chain or independent bookstore. For easy ordering links, visit this page of Shanna's website, shannaswendson.com.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

New blog title

I just changed the name of this blog, as I wanted something that would complement my soon-to-launched website, which I'm calling El's Kitchen. Not sure I'm going to keep Side Dish. For now, I'm just trying it on to see if I like it. So far it's my favorite of all the food/kitchen/eating-rated ideas I've come up with. The ones it beat out include the too-cliche What's Cooking and The Main Course, the nearly pornographic Hot Dish, nonsequiturs like Melted Cheese, Spicerack, Scrambled Eggs, Tossed Salad, and Coffee and Cake, and a few that just seemed too anemic, like Fresh Ideas and Table Talk.

Feel free to share your opinions--good, bad or indifferent. Of course, I'll send up a flare when ellenmeister.com is up and running.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Why being a mother is like being a prosecuting attorney

While my daughter (the portrait artist featured below) is doing her math homework, I'll transcribe the conversation we just had.

DAUGHTER: Something happened at gym today that I think you should know about.
ME: What happened?
DAUGHTER: I got pulled out of the game for no reason. I had to sit out the whole time.
ME: No reason?
DAUGHTER: None.
ME: Why do you THINK you got pulled out?
DAUGHTER: I have NO idea.
ME: What's your best guess?
DAUGHTER: I don't know.
ME: Well, what were you doing when you got pulled?
DAUGHTER: Nothing!
ME: Nothing?
DAUGHTER: I wasn't doing anything.
ME: Were you talking?
DAUGHTER: No.
ME: If I asked your gym teacher what you were doing, what would she say?
DAUGHTER: She would probably say I was talking, but I wasn't. Well, maybe a little. And anyway, she didn't SAY we couldn't talk. It's not fair!
ME: Do your math homework.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"Spoonbill"

By Leslie Van Newkirk

If you haven't read my friend Leslie Van Newkirk, you're missing out on something very special. Leslie is a natural and gifted storyteller. She creates unmistakable characters, placing them in smart, funny plots that are so engaging you don't even notice the subtle themes she slips in until you're done. And, she does it with zero pretense. Leslie wrote a wonderful book that I'll tell you about at the end of this entry, but first, here's a short story that will give you an idea of her talent.


"Spoonbill"
by Leslie Van Newkirk


“I’m not sure I want to go fishing with Ben.”

“Why not?” Walt asks. We’re at home before our shifts. Walt is watching a fight on television. I’m in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher. From the other room, I hear the slaps of gloves upon cheekbones and the crescendo of the crowd when one of the fighters is knocked out.

“It’s fine when we’re all at the bar together, but doesn’t he have some kind of criminal record?” I ask.

“That was years ago. Besides, it was a juvenile center. He was too young to go to Leavenworth.”

“But wasn’t it something severe like murder?”

“It was armed robbery and two assaults. You watch too many scary movies. The guy is fine.” Walt answers with a slight tone of condescension.

“Are you worried that he’s going to revert back to his old ways and steal something? Liquor? Money? Someone else’s tips?” I ask.

“Ben is as loyal as they come. I give him a little power, and he gives me complete devotion in return.”

Ben is one of the bouncers at my husband’s bar. He has dark hair, homemade tattoos, and the squarest jaw I’ve ever seen. I have to admit, when Walt first hired him, I had a slight crush on him. The way he called me “darling” and sidled up real close like a cartoon cowboy at a saloon. And at other times when I would catch him staring off into space, appearing lost, wounded, a sad lobotomy of a young life wasted on the penal system. And maybe that element of danger surrounding Ben held some sort of attraction for me at first. But now I’m not so sure.

Still, Ben isn’t an overlooked man. Lots of women gravitate toward him. On the nights he works, he stands by his black stool at the door, checking ID’s and jerking his head upward at friends. Knocking knuckles with them if they are particularly chummy. Women love to flirt with him – tall ones with matte vermilion lipstick, the grandmother kind that always needs a touch up because it seeps into the cracks of skin above your lips. Short women with those Betty Page bangs. Curly brunettes, stunning redheads, gangly blondes. One at a time they all stand by Ben, twirling the little, red straws in their drinks and trying to elicit a “hello, darling” from his mouth. But if Walt’s comment about loyalty were true, then Ben would never try anything the boss’s wife.

Previously, I’d only encountered Ben on my own terms: chitchatting about our deadbeat dads. Bumming a cigarette from him after I slammed the register till closed at two a.m. and turned the key to total the sales for the night. This fishing trip would be the first time that I’ll be with Ben on his terms, or at least without the safety net of being able to say, “Excuse me, sweetie, but I have tables to clear.” And up until the day that Ben, Walt, and I are to go fishing together I calm myself with the thought that my husband will always be near, and it’s silly to worry about Ben’s past criminal record.

We meet at The Phoenix at midnight. It’s a slow Tuesday, only a few quiet patrons sipping drinks, and I detect an annoyance on Walt’s part over this. He never stops thinking about business and is constantly devising new schemes to lure people in. Although I have to say that I rarely do either. After I found out two years ago that I couldn’t have children, the bar became my baby too. For Walt’s sake, I try to be a model employee. I’ll wash dishes, sweep the floor, empty the pinball machines – anything to prove that I’m a workhorse and am getting no special treatment. But once I bitched to Ben about Walt, and the fact that he was so hard on me sometimes.

“You should be treated better here, darling. You’re his wife,” he had said.

“Yes, but I’m an example for the rest of the employees. You know, I can’t slack like the rest of you.”

“If you were my wife, I’d treat you like gold.” He had winked and I winked back.

I remember how he’d explained one time that none of his adult teeth had grown in. This mouthful of baby teeth seemed an uncommon orthodontist phenomenon, and one according to Ben’s dad, that did not require fixing. So when he had smiled that night he showed a mouthful of tiny, rodent-like teeth.

When we arrive Ben is waiting at the door like a watchdog. “It’s an excellent night for fishing,” he says.

“Are we going to Perry or the Spillway?” I ask.

“The Spillway,” Walt replies. Good, I think. Closer to home. Perry Lake is almost two hours away.

We pile into Walt’s Bronco, the boys in the front. Walt talks about business for almost the whole ride. Ben stays quiet. Not an unfriendly quiet, but a deferential silence. Ben is a man who seems to respect his superiors, and I wonder if this is left over from the penitentiary place.

As we reach the Kansas River spillway, we notice three or four other cars parked, lines in the water on the bridge, but we have a special spot already picked out. It’s deeper into the woods. Walt drives the Bronco past the parking lot and onto a marked path, and although it’s dark, I recognize where we are because I’ve been here countless times during the day. The night itself is beautiful, and through the rolled-down windows, I smell prairie grass and the muddy silt of the river.

After we park, doors slamming shut, Walt goes around to the back to get the poles. Ben takes a leak out of the glare of the headlights, but close enough for me to see his shadowy back, his hands shake, zip, and wipe on the front of his jeans.

“Do you hear something?” asks Walt.

“I don’t hear anything,” I say.

“That’s what I mean. Where’s the water?”

Hearing us, Ben steps closer to the riverbank. “It’s dammed up tight tonight,” he says. And adds, “Tighter than a Sunday school virgin.”

“I can’t believe he just said that,” I murmur to Walt, but he gives me a dismissive look and trots toward Ben, bounding like a superhero.

I trudge behind them, not wanting to subject myself to anymore gross comments. As we walk up the path and reach the concrete ledge we usually fish off of, I realize what Walt means – there is hardly any water on the river’s floor. For whatever reason, most of it has been drained away.

“This is amazing,” says Walt, climbing down into the spillway, his feet crunching on gravel as he lands. Ben follows behind him.

“Is it safe?” I ask.

“Sure,” says Ben, grinning, his tiny teeth pure white in the moonlight.

“If you hear an alarm though, start running,” Walt says, chuckling. Now who is the one who watches too many movies? I think, as I find a flat part of the bank and scramble down. Even though I’m wearing jeans, I can already feel wet mud seeping through the back of them. The draining of the spillway is recent, perhaps because the water has risen too high with recent storms.
The boys are in explorer mode, ricocheting off in different directions. The moonlight is enough illumination as are the streetlights from the spillway bridge. Standing on the bottom of the spillway’s floor – where the usual inhabitants have gills and shells – feels like an invasion of some creature’s home. The gravel and rocks are vaguely lunar, and with the men’s dark hulking shapes flitting from bank to bank, I feel as though I’ve landed on another planet. It takes me awhile to forget that water may come rushing down the spillway at any time.

Perhaps Ben has seen my worried look because he comes up behind me and says, “Don’t worry, darling, you’re safe.”

I exhale too heavily. “I’m not worried.”

“Well, then let’s catch some fish.”

“Can we? I just don’t see a pool that’s deep enough.”

But as I drop my line into a puddle nearby, I notice how far down it sinks.

“I got a big one over here,” Walt whispers as loud as he can. The fisherman’s golden rule: no raised voices.

“Don’t worry about shouting,” I say. “The fish have no where to go.”

And they don’t. Most of them are trapped in water-filled chasms on the spillway floor. I wedge my pole between two rocks and walk over, Ben already ahead of me. Walt strains with his line.

“It’s a monster!”

“Are you sure it’s not stuck?”

“No, Kathleen. It’s not stuck.” He says my name as though it were a curse word.
We hear a snap. His line has broken.

“Damn. That sucker was big. I swear, must have been twenty pounds.”

“She’s right,” Ben says. “They’re all trapped.”

“This is like a fish bonanza!” Walt’s eyes are wide like a kid’s.

“It’s not going to be any fun, if they’re that easy to catch. There’s no challenge to it,” I say, hands on hips. Ben is so close behind me at this point, I can hear him breathing. I take two steps toward Walt, who playfully punches my arm.

“You saw that Frankenfish. Are you telling me he was easy to catch?”

“Well, no…”

“Hey guys, over here!” I hadn’t even felt Ben move, but there he is at the far end of the bank about one hundred feet away, by another long pool of water. I can make out something white and shark-like swimming back and forth inside. A dorsal fin, translucent in the moonlight, slides through the water.

“That’s one huge cat,” says Walt.

“It looks angry,” I say, noticing how fast it swims, as if it knows it’s ensnared. It reminds me of a pacing tiger at the zoo.

“Ain’t like any cat I’ve seen,” says Ben. And I believe him. At the bar, he’s passed around snapshots of the human-sized catfish he’s pulled out of the Kaw River. Jaws like a bulldog’s, Ben’s hand inside holding onto the line of a giant hook.

“I want to see it,” I say. “Close-up.”

"Me too. Ben, you can catch that sucker can’t you?” asks Walt.

Ben throws his line in, but the fish swims right by it. Walt does the same, but the animal is uninterested. Strange. A normal cat, trapped and starving in a pool of water would have taken his bait. The guys keep at this for twenty minutes. Finally Ben throws down his pole.

“I know what to do,” he says as he bends down near the edge of the bank and pulls out a long, flat piece of wood. It’s too dark to tell if it’s driftwood or just a plank. He wades right into the water. The fish makes a beeline for the other end. With one swift movement, Ben whacks it head on. Again. Then again.
We watch as he pulls it out and slaps it on the bank, as if he’s preparing to gut it. It appears to be three feet long, a catfish, but unlike any I’ve ever seen. Its nose sticks out past its open jaw, flat like a paddle, the kind that you see in fraternity houses along Greek Row. It resembles something prehistoric, its nose one of nature’s beautiful deformities. And now it’s bleeding from Ben’s attempt to stun it.

Ben lifts the plank to hit it again, but I yell, “Don’t!”

“Yeah, wait, man,” says Walt. “Let’s get a look at it.”

We all circle around it, Ben sighing and looking over his shoulder in a thwarted manner. It seems like he enjoyed the promise of blood lust and didn’t want to stop. He steps a few paces away, while Walt and I squat by the wounded fish.

After a moment, Walt says, “It’s a spoonbill.”

“Is that a kind of shark?”

“No, I think it’s a catfish. But it’s rarely caught because it lives on the bottom of lakes. It’s a vegetarian. You see it’s wide mouth? It shovels in plankton. God, I’ve only seen these in pictures. Won’t ever take your bait. That’s why it ignored our lines.”

“I can imagine,” I say. I’m momentarily impressed with Walt’s encyclopedic knowledge of wildlife, but then I examine the gasping catfish and am struck first with shivers. Then a profound sadness.

“It’s dying, I think,” I say.

“Yeah,” Walt says, glancing up at Ben who hacks at some reeds up river from us. “He really got it good.”

I’m silent, trying not to cry, but Walt hears my sniffling.

“It’s gorgeous,” I say. “Like a dinosaur.” I have the sudden urge to put my lips to its mouth and blow in air to keep it alive. But then I remember it has gills. And I’m not sure if it’s the oxygen or the wound that’s killing it, but it heaves, its eyes wild, its body convulsing. I don’t know how much fish can hear, feel, smell, or taste but this one looks as if it’s afraid to die.

“I can’t take this,” I say, standing. “Get rid of it.”

Walt pushes it into a nearby puddle of water with his sneaker. It floats lifeless for a moment. Then swishes its tail and is gone in a trickle of current.
Ben comes back, still holding the plank.

“I want to go home,” I say. I put my arms in that stance that I hope both men find intimidating – as if I’ve suddenly gotten PMS, a hormone surge, or any number of womanly things that have turned me into an instant bitch. In truth, I’m too embarrassed to tell them that I’m disturbed by Ben’s brutality toward the spoonbill and feel guilty as if my own craving to see it spurred him on. The men complain, but I shake my head stubbornly.

On the ride home, Walt asks if I want to stop at TCBY. As if fat-free frozen yogurt will erase my memory of the pummeled spoonbill.

“No thanks,” I say. I crane my head to see Ben’s face, but to see it without him noticing me. He sits, quiet, guiltless, stoned-faced. We drop him off at his bungalow, a strange shaped house, next to a turquoise rancher. I’ve been past that rancher before and have seen pit bulls playing side by side with diapered infants in the dirt.

All night at home I wonder whether the spoonbill lived or died.

The next night is more crowded at the bar, so I have little time to chat with Ben about our fishing episode. Truth be told, I’m not sure I even want to talk to him at all anymore. He sits at his usual post – the black stool - flirting with a skinny blonde who wears a tight, metallic shirt, a mini-skirt, and knee-high boots. Her legs are all sinew. Her wrists and hands, white stalks which hold crimson fingernails. She flips her hair, twirls her straw like the rest of them. But that night I question what Ben does with the girls he brings home with him, and the way this blonde is flirting, looks like she’ll get herself a ride in his pick-up truck later. I wonder if he ever beats them, the way he did the spoonbill. I wonder if he ever leaves them bloody, their clothing torn, their lungs heaving for air. I shudder, and just before looking away, Ben flashes me his small-toothed grin until I lower my head and wash a table in circular motions.

Late that morning, while Walt sleeps, I log onto the Internet and type “spoonbill” in a search engine. Reading information that tells me they are almost extinct, makes me feel even guiltier. I’m not sure why. I’ve caught and eaten plenty of fish. But something about the majestic beauty of this creature we weren’t meant to see, and then how Ben bludgeoned it, makes me feel sick to my stomach like that time I was a little girl and watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and The Witch shaves all of the lion’s hair off and then kills it. I type two different words into the search engine next. “Infertility treatments.” Maybe I’m sick of bar life after all.

***
This story first appeared in Word Riot
***

The wonderful novel Leslie wrote is called Crush Dot Com, and here's what it looks like:



I know you can't read the blurb on the cover, so here's what it says:

"As lively as a singles bar at happy hour, Crush Dot Com will charm, delight and seduce you. Take it home! It's a date that won't disappoint."--Ellen Meister, author of Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA

I'm proud that Leslie chose to put my quote on the cover, because it's such a great read. To order it, or to learn more about Leslie, check out her website at leslievannewkirk.com.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Meet Alison Pace!




I have to admit, today I'm blogging about a member of the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit who has actually made me jealous. I don't usually get that way, but when I recently opened Long Island's huge daily paper, Newsday, and saw a full page article about her book, PUG HILL, I gasped. Then I turned a little green.

You see, the article focused on her book because it's partly set on Long Island.

Ahem.

So okay. Good for her. But that's not all. Today I found out she got a blurb from Elinor Lipman. Elinor Lipman! Do you have any idea how much I love Elinor Lipman? If I could one day get a quote from her I'd die happy. (If you haven't read her, you should.)

But here's the thing. It seems Alison wrote a book that kicks ass, and that's why she's getting all this great attention. So Alison, all is forgiven. You deserve the praise and the spotlight!

Here's a brief description of PUG HILL:
To get into the most elite spot of Manhattan’s Central Park, there are a few stiff requirements: you must have short legs, a round tummy, a pig nose, and walk on all fours—or at least know someone who does! Pug Hill is a place for pugs and pug-lovers alike to bask in the camaraderie that comes from owning (or dreaming of owning) one of the world’s most cherished and irresistible dogs.

Author Alison Pace has been to Pug Hill and she knows first-hand the joy and stress-relief that these tiny pooches offer. Now, the author of the hilarious If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend introduces readers to the congregants of Pug Hill in a novel that’s as full of love, humor, and heartwarmingly-awkward moments as the adorable dogs themselves
.

And now, here's what critics and authors (including Elinor Lipman) have had to say:

A remarkably sweet and affecting tale of inner growth. --Kirkus

Pug Hill is all at once touching, witty, and so very smart. I love this nervous and self-deprecating narrator who makes low self-esteem not only funny and endearing but enviable. There’s a terrific comedic eye at work here and a tender heart—a most satisfying combination.
- Elinor Lipman, author of The Inn At Lake Devine and My Latest Grievance

Alison Pace isn't afraid to tackle serious subjects, even as she delivers a wry and witty portrait of a woman growing up and growing into herself at long last. The aptly named Hope has such charm and self-deprecating humor, I felt that she could be a friend of mine. - Joshilyn Jackson, author of gods in Alabama

To paraphrase Woody Allen, love is too weak a word to describe how I feel about this novel. I lurve it. I loove it! - Melissa Senate, author of See Jane Date and The Breakup Club

A delightful romp! Alison Pace's dry and breezy wit make this a delightful, funny read for pugs and humans alike. If Bridget Jones kept a must-read book list in her diary, Pug Hill would most certainly be at the top. -Wilson the Pug with Nancy Levine, authors of The Tao of Pug

Are you sold? I am! After I finish blogging I'm rushing over to Amazon to buy the book. You can also buy it online from Barnes and Noble, BookSense.com, Powells.com and other online retailers, or in person at your local chain or independent bookstore. For more information, visit Alison's website at alisonpace.com.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Review of "Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA"

Phew! I got a review from one of the most notoriously harsh trade publications and it's positive. Not only that, but really got the book and did a good job encapsulating it. Here's what they said:




SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA
Three conflicted housewives in Applewood, Long Island, long for something more fulfilling than what their families and their membership in the local PTA offer.

The Applewood elementary school is going to be the set of a George Clooney movie. Lisa Slotnick, Maddie Schein and Ruth Moss team up to make sure preparations go smoothly. The women find themselves pitted against a buff and blonde nemesis, PTA president Suzanne, who wants all the glory for herself. This leads to madcap escapades and silly sniping amongst the women. All in good fun. The juicy bits concern the women's lives outside the PTA. Each is trapped in a prison of family obligation and sexual repression. Ruth, whose husband suffered a debilitating stroke, is carrying on a steamy affair with the school's guilt-laden superintendent. Maddie, who is convinced that her beloved husband is sleeping with his cousin, decides to get him back by hooking up with her former best male friend from college. And Lisa is struggling to come to terms with her abusive and alcoholic mother, who has asked to move in with the Slotnicks while she attends rehab nearby. As each woman grapples with her emotions, the trio becomes closer in their attempt to bring the movie project to fruition and to thwart the wretched Suzanne. Ultimately, though, they succeed in the larger task of helping each other realize their dreams.

Comical yet poignant read without too much melodrama.

--Kirkus Reviews

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"May Altar"

By Maryanne Stahl

My friend Maryanne Stahl is one of the most gifted writers I know. She can sift the pain and beauty from nearly any moment, and cast a luminous light on it. Witness all she does with this very short but very full story ...

May Altar
by Maryanne Stahl


May is the month of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, my namesake. May is flower beds blooming and tree branches greening and warm breezes through open windows on Saturday morning when my mother tells us it is time to air out our house. May is the buzzing of bees and lawnmowers; the cucumber scent of new-mown grass. May is sunlight on the sidewalks long beyond the afternoon, light still when he walks the streets from the train, light when he comes through the door, and I think that maybe light will make a difference.

I decide to make a May altar on top of the dresser, beneath the mirror, in the room I share with my sister. We don’t have a garden because my mother doesn’t have the time, what with five messy children and the stuff she does for the church and my father, but we have bushes that blossom, blood red azalea and lilac dripping purple.

I cut branches from the inside of the plant where no one will notice. I find a peanut butter jar in the trash; it takes forever to wash clean. I find an old torn slip of my mother’s in the bottom of the “poor bag” in the basement and carefully cut the lace from its hem. I take white candles from the junk drawer in the kitchen. Birthday candles. But we are done with birthdays until August.

My sister doesn’t question me when she comes up from watching cartoons. “That’s pretty,” she says. She likes everything I do. That’s why it is my job to protect her.

He has been taking a nap but suddenly we hear his roar. “What in blazes is this crap?”

There’s a place in my stomach that falls into the place where I pee, and that happens now.

My sister looks at me with animal eyes. I realize she must have left a mess of dolls or coloring books in the living room. We hear something crash, a shoe against a wall, maybe. My sister reaches for my hand, and I pull her to kneel with me before the bursting colors of our May altar.

***
This story first appeared in In Posse Review

***

If you're as taken with Maryanne's writing as I am, you'll want to read both of her published books, The Opposite Shore and Forgive the Moon. They go deep inside the human heart and you will LOVE them! Maryanne is a true artist. Visit her website at maryannestahl.com.

Happy Mother's Day to all!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Jim kissed Pam!




If you don't know what I'm talking about then you don't watch NBC's "The Office." This is a lot to admit, but the scene in question squeezed my heart last night and hasn't let go. He loves her so much! Waaa!

I know. I sound like a lovesick teenager, but his feelings are so palpable I've lost my mind. I can't even talk about them as actors. I'm lost in it. I am Jim. I am Pam. I cannot stop thinking about that kiss.

It's okay if you don't respect me anymore. Hell, I don't respect me anymore.

But you should really watch this:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sun scream




For those of us in the non-burka wearing world, exposure to sunlight has become fraught with paranoia in recent years. And now that summer is approaching, I need to get something off my freckled chest.

What the hell is going on with SPFs?

When sunscreens first came out, they were mostly 2s and 4s. I thought that was pretty cool. You could lay out on the beach for four hours and only get as much suntan as you would if you were there for an hour. That sounded perfect.

Then they came out with SPF 8. I thought that was overkill, but okay. I understand that there are people who work outdoors all day and that kind of protection could be necessary.

The year after that, they came out with Waterbabies SPF 15. I thought only the most insanely overprotective mothers would buy something like that, but eventually I relented and started slathering it all over my kids, too.

But of course, a couple of years later you couldn't even find SPF 15 on anything marketed for children. They all bore a 30. 30? Thirty times your natural protection from the sun's rays? Isn't that the equivalent of wearing a sweatshirt?

I thought that had to be it. After all, how much protection could we possibly need? I mean, I understand that we've pretty much destroyed our ozone layer, but throwing a football in the backyard with your kid isn't as dangerous as exposure to plutonium, is it?

Apparently, some people think so, because for the past two years the most popular sunscreens have an SPF 45. And just a couple of weeks ago, a woman tried to sell me some makeup with the pitch that it has an SPF 50. I honestly don't think bomb shelters offer an SPF 50.

I'm curious to see how high the SPFs go next year. In meantime, maybe we should stay away from the beach and just go shopping.

Perhaps we'll find some cute burkas.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Meet Alana Morales!





Attention new moms! There's a wonderful new book on the market to help you navigate the madness of life at home with the kids. It's called DOMESTICALLY CHALLENGED, and it's written by Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit author Alana Morales. Funny and practical, this book tackles such tough topics as the myth of the Super Mom (hint – there isn’t one) and keeping the kids entertained without hiring a circus.

Where was this book when I first had kids?

I love the quote from Alana about why she wrote the book:

“When I was looking for books about being an at home mom, I found a lot that were either religious or talked about my spiritual journey through motherhood. It was 3:00 in the afternoon and my kids and I were still in our pajamas. I needed to know how to manage running the house full time, not a spiritual pep talk.”

Here are what other mom/authors have to say about DOMESTICALLY CHALLENGED:

With quick wit and unending warmth, Alana Morales has created for stay-at-home moms a must-have handbook for traveling the precarious path of parenthood...and life!” -- Julie Watson Smith, founder of Mommy Hullabaloo and author of Mommyhood Diaries: Living the Chaos One Day at a Time

"In this humorous survival guide, Alana Morales takes the new stay-at-home mom (SAHM) by the hand, and leads her through the maze of myths and truths about what it's like leaving a job to be at home, full-time, with the kids.... any SAHM, whether newly arrived at home or not, will welcome her helpful advice!" -- Linda Gillian, amomslove.com

"Domestically Challenged is the ultimate compendium of motherhood support! Humorist Alana Morales writes with hope, wisdom, and charm from the heart." -- Cynthia Brian, home, garden, and parenting expert at ClubMom, author of Be the Star You Are! www.star-style.com

You can order DOMESTICALLY CHALLENGED at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other online stores. For more information, visit Alana's very cool website, alanamorales.com.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"Hello, Oprah?"

This past week came close to resembling what I had imagined life would be like as an author. And no, I'm not talking about appearing on Oprah. I'm talking about rubbing elbows with other writers, discussing publishing, and doing precious little writing.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of addressing the members of Joe Levens's writers' workshop. (Joe is a wonderful short story writer and editor-in-chief of the outstanding ezine, Summerset Review.) I'd taken Joe's class a few times in the past, so it was a real treat to come back as guest speaker. It was an intimate but lively group of old friends and new faces, and I had a great time sharing what I've learned about the publishing business.

On Thursday, I got to meet an online acquaintance I've grown very fond of. She's Melanie Lynne Hauser, who wrote a hilarious book called CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM. Melanie was in town from Chicago, doing a Mother's Day push for her book (and it is indeed a great gift!), and I had the pleasure of having drinks and dinner with her and two of her other East Coast writing pals, both of whom are debut authors like me. Jackie Kessler just signed a THREE BOOK DEAL with Kensington (wow!), starting with a paranormal romance entitled HELL'S BELLES, due out next year. Lauren Lipton's first book,IT'S ABOUT YOUR HUSBAND will be out this October, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on it. All three were super-smart and super-funny, and it was blast to chow down on steak and vodka gimlets with these gals, while dissecting the publishing industry.

On writing front, things are less exciting. While I'm waiting for input on my finished draft of THE SMART ONE, I'm trying to make some headway with my third novel, as yet untitled. It's proving to be a bitch, because the set-up is so hard, and I've rewritten the opening paragraph about seven-thousand different ways. I know, I should let it go and move on to the next chapter, but I can't. I have to nail the opening first. I'm that anal. (That sentence should result in some interesting search engine hits.)

But okay. My writer pals have been circulating this Garrison Keillor essay about what a-holes writers are for whining so much, so I'll shut up now and take my kids to the school carnival and smile as politely as I can when friends and neighbors give me their most sage advice for promoting my book, which is always the same: "You should go on Oprah."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Prizeless Contest #3 - now with a hint

Can you identify the person in this photograph?



Hint 1: She was once in a movie with Rob Lowe

Monday, May 01, 2006

New look

Do you like the new look? I got tired of that green. Besides, it's all temporary. Once I get my website up and running, the blog with have graphics to match.

ETA: OH NO! MY LINKS ARE GONE!!!!!!! Ack! Do you have any idea how long it took me to get all that coded in?
*bangs head on keyboard*

Sneak peek at my website

Coming soon: ellenmeister.com. Here's a peek at what the home page will look like:


May Horoscopes

HOLY CONSTELLATIONS! My Astrology Zone Scorpio horoscope for this month is amazing! Here's the opening paragraph:

Scorpio

What a magical month you have in store! Travel, romance, and partnerships will all likely move to priority status in your life, and with the dazzling aspects you have, you'll really enjoy everything on tap for you. In fact, what happens this month could well turn out to be life changing in many ways. For the first time in a long time, you will have powerful cosmic help from planetary placements that may just catapult you into a new lifestyle and help you to feel a whole new confident attitude.

Read yours here.