A Fun Holiday And PerNoReMo Tidbit

Since moving to Maryland in 2005, my husband and I haven’t made trips back to the Midwest for Thanksgiving. The first few years, we still made a traditional meal as we had done for years when we hosted the family get-togethers. And we had way too many leftovers for way too long.

In 2009, we finally asked ourselves why we kept spending half the day in the kitchen for a meal that lasted less than an hour. That was the first year of our new tradition—heading down the road (er, Metro tracks) to Washington, DC, and spending the day at some of the museums, followed by a stress-free, relaxing dinner at a great restaurant. No long day of cooking and no dishes to clean! This year, we also took in the opening day of the “Seasons Greetings” display at the US Botanic Garden Conservatory.

So why not kick off December with some colorful, seasonal photos? And we’ll wrap up with a tidbit from this month’s work on Death Out of Time.

The Fun Holiday

The entry to the display was simply done, with traditional red poinsettias and winter berries with some minimalistic trees, lights, and ornaments.

Inside, things were a “bit” more colorful. Mixed in with the regular plants were more poinsettias and other holiday decorations. The exhibit includes models of the major buildings and monuments on the Mall made from plant materials. The photo below shows the Washington Monument in the foreground with the Reflecting Pool leading back to the Lincoln Memorial.

The colors were so bright, with the sun shining through the glass walls and roof of the conservatory.

I can’t imagine the work that went into making this building:

Or this monument:

This was one of my husband’s favorites:

And I really enjoyed the poinsettias mixed in with some of the other tropical plants.

Orchid were blooming, too, like these:

and these:

One of my favorite sights wasn’t holiday-related at all. It was a poster showing various medicine bottles from the 1800s. And this particular item was too good not to photograph. Let’s hear a round of applause for — Brain Workers!

And, of course, how could there be a Christmas display without:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this holiday kickoff. And no, I haven’t let my writing slide. I finished my PerNoReMo by adding 21,736 words to Death Out of Time, which beat my goal of 300–500 words per day. I also have the new plot straight in my mind and a much better idea of what remains to be done for this rebuild. My next goal? Finishing the rebuild’s first draft. I’m keeping quiet about that target date! But as promised above, here’s another tidbit from Death Out of Time. The scene takes place in the cafeteria of the Natural History Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and features the book’s three main characters.

The Tidbit

“Do you live here, too, or are you visiting?” one of the women asked.

Luckily, his mouth was full, and Avery answered for him.

“He’s our cousin visiting from Kansas.”

“How nice to have family for a personal tour,” she said.

Landry nodded and smiled as he swallowed. “It is,” he said, hoping Madeleine wouldn’t kick him under the table for speaking. But he couldn’t sit mutely when someone talked to him.

“What do you do for a living?” she asked.

And he certainly couldn’t ignore a direct question. “I’m a historian,” he said, taking another bite of pizza and forcing his eyes to look at her face and not her low-cut top and bare arms.

“Well, you’ve certainly come to the right place for that,” she said.

“That I have,” Landry said and washed down his pizza with something called cola. It was too sweet for his taste, and he had wanted a beer. But Madeleine wouldn’t let him have one—probably afraid it would loosen his tongue. But he should have chosen bottled water like she had.

“Do you have a favorite time period?”

“Colonial,” he replied, hoping she would stop asking questions. The situation could get awkward if she didn’t. He didn’t want to slip up and have the rest of his trip canceled.

Avery rescued him once more, asking the woman, “So, do you live around here?”

Landry breathed a sigh of relief as the conversation turned away from him.

There are some “tells” in here, but this is a first draft, and they’ll be worked out in future revisions. And so, back to work for me!

61 thoughts on “A Fun Holiday And PerNoReMo Tidbit

  1. Love the snippet (who cares about tells?) – had a smile at the Landry fighting the urge to ogle the woman’s cleavage :D — the snippet left me wondering why he shouldn’t be talking.
    Lovely photography, too. I visited DC for the first time last summer on a 20th anniversary trip with my husband. So many fascinating things to do and see, you’re lucky it’s right there at your doorstep, so to speak. We also thumbed our noses at tradition this year. My daughter, who turned 13 the day before Thanksgiving was adamant about not spending her birthday in a car driving to relatives. Fair enough. So we rented a little cabin at a state park about an hour from home. We enjoyed our turkey buffet at a nearby restaurant.

    btw – love the snowfall effect – adds a nice seasonal touch

    • Thanks, Gwen! Well, the scene needs some clean up, but that’s what future drafts are for, right? Landry’s situation makes sense in the story when you realize just how “far from home” he is. My working “pitch” is — What’s an archaeologist supposed to think when her eighteenth-century cemetery’s final resident is a skeleton with twenty-first century artifacts? Madeleine O’Brien is skeptical until the dead man’s colleague comes looking for him—from the twenty-fourth century.

      I think it was great of you to give your daughter her day, and I hope she had a great time celebrating. Family should understand in that situation!

      The snow is a freebie option on WordPress. If you go into your dashboard and go to the “Settings” option and choose “general,” there’s a box at the bottom you can check to have the snow fall. It does look best if you put a colored background on your blog for that period.

  2. Beautiful pictures! This is along the lines of my future holidays….simplicity and relaxation. I can’t wait. Thanks for the tid-bit. :) Keep at it!

    • Thanks, Mrs. L. :) I have to say, I really enjoy the relaxing day. The museums aren’t too crowded, and I love letting someone else cook a great meal and not have to help clean up!

  3. Lovely photos and I love the writing snippets you give us! Looks like a lovely way to spend Thanksgiving. At Christmas, I quite like the tradition of hanging out in the kitchen cooking, I have a nice glass of something, some Christmas tunes playing, and I love the leftovers. But then maybe if we had Thanksgiving here too, I might appreciate going out for one of them!

  4. Good on you both, making your own traditions, and what better way to start off the holiday season than at the botanical gardens’ Christmas display. I like the rumpled teddy too, despite the allure of vibrant poinsettia and lurid orchids. So glad your November efforts have been successful JM, and thanks for the tidbit. :)

    • Thanks, Wanderlust. :) Christmas has gotten so commercial, but I still enjoy the simpler aspects of it. The botanical garden also had a holiday model train display, and it was so nice to see the kids excited about that instead of the latest on-line game. If only we would let them hold on to those simple enjoyments!

  5. Beautiful photos! I love your tradition for Thanksgiving. I may borrow the idea someday. I really enjoyed the snippet you gave us — I got a kick out of Landry’s thought processes and his roving eye. Well done, and keep up the good work. Your perseverance is impressive! You ARE a writer. :D

    • Thanks, Paula! I am a big fan of this type of celebration. And I think it could easily be done when having a smaller family holiday, too. ;) There are still days when I wonder about that writer tag, but I’m trying to believe in it! :) I think the overall context of that “roving eye” will surprise readers….

  6. I love that kind of holiday, JM and those pictures are great. When we can’t spend time with family, we’ll also opt either for non-traditional fare or eat out. It sounds and looks like you had a great Thanksgiving. And congrats on your writing. I loved this snippet. I have one question. If Landry is from Kansas why doesn’t he know what cola is or is this to be revealed?

    • Thanks, Brigitte. :) It was a great way to spend the holiday. Ah, yes, Landry and cola. In many ways, like Dorothy, he’s “not in Kansas anymore.” This “working pitch” might help explain that: What’s an archaeologist supposed to think when her eighteenth-century cemetery’s final resident is a skeleton with twenty-first century artifacts? Madeleine O’Brien is skeptical until the dead man’s colleague comes looking for him—from the twenty-fourth century.

      Context is everything, isn’t it? ;)

  7. Beautiful pictures–perfect for a holiday kickoff. Now I’m in a festive mood. And I love the snippet of writing. Landry intrigues me. What secret is he hiding?

    • Thanks, Char! It was so nice to see a more “traditional” holiday display rather than all the commercial elements. And it was great to see the kids all excited about the model train holiday display, too, instead of having their eyes glued to an on-line game. You can get an idea of who Landry is in my working pitch in my reply to Brigitte’s comment above yours. ;)

  8. Wow, what gorgeous photos. I like your Thanksgiving tradition. I spent mine with family, but something dramatic always happens. Last year, my mother collapsed. This year, the police showed up. You know. Normal, relaxing, family stuff. ;)

    I remember that scene from your previous draft. That was one of my favorite scenes because it was quite humorous. I’m glad you didn’t scrap it!

    • Thanks, Kate. :) Um, the police showed up? :O Will there be a blog post about this??? Or will it be worked into a future novel???

      This particular day and its events are getting more “play time” in this version. I hope it’ll not only move the story along but also provide depth to the differences between Landry’s worldview and ours. We’ll see how it works when I send it back out for review. ;)

  9. I love that you and your husband do that. I’m sure my hubs and I will do the same when the kids are gone if they decide to go elsewhere for the holiday. In fact, this year, my husband had to work that day, so we went out to a Thanksgiving buffet on his free hour. It was delicious, and there was no clean-up. Of course, there were also no leftovers… :(

    Enjoyed your writing tidbit!

    • Thanks, Carrie! It’s still a first draft, so it needs revision and polishing. And if Landry’s thoughts left you at all puzzled, I think my “working pitch” in my reply to Brigitte will help clear things up. :)

      I bet you and your husband will enjoy some holidays like this. But for now, it’s far better to share them with the boys, right? But it’s very true that one drawback is no leftovers. :)

  10. I love all the red poinsettias but I’ll have to go with the monster teddy bear for my favorite too. Sounds like a much better holiday tradition than spending most of it in traffic. Your snippet makes me wonder what’s going on with Landry. In my novel, I’ve also done a lot of dialogue scenes with people eating. I guess it must be because people usually talk while they’re sitting together like that. :) The action of eating helps to break up the dialogue too.

    • Thanks, Sheila. :) I’m going to pop my “working pitch” into some comments to help provide context for the scene. It’s: What’s an archaeologist supposed to think when her eighteenth-century cemetery’s final resident is a skeleton with twenty-first century artifacts? Madeleine O’Brien is skeptical until the dead man’s colleague comes looking for him—from the twenty-fourth century.

      Landry is so “not in Kansas anymore,” so to speak. ;) I’ve got a few scenes in the draft where characters are eating, and I probably need to change some of them to some other kind of activity. Granted, the action takes place over a few weeks, but we can’t spend too much time in the dining room! :)

      I’m betting the kids all thought the teddy bear was cute, but I suspect my husband was putting a much more serious fairy-tale spin on what the bear was eating!

  11. Love the festive photos! We got our first “snow” last night on the wet coast — if you can call 1/8″ of white stuff “snow”. Speaking of snow, I love love love the snow in your blog post. How did you do it? Or am I hallucinating in anticipation of the holidays?

    • Thanks, Silk! Your eyes do not deceive. The snow is a free option on WordPress. If you go into your dashboard and go to the “Settings” option and choose “general,” there’s a box at the bottom you can check to have the snow fall. It looks best if you put a colored background on your blog for that period.

      We had a few flakes of snow last Wednesday, and we might see a few more this Sunday, but I really don’t need to see much more. After three +30-inch storms in early 2010, I had my fill for a looong time. :) This region ground to a halt during that period!

  12. Happy to learn you’re so pragmatic about a festive meal in a nice restaurant. There is no romance in standing in the kitchen on Christmas Day for hours and then being too tired to enjoy the meal with family or friends. I have done it myself far too many times. Thanks for sharing the photos and more of your writing! Love the intrigue.

    • Thanks, Helga. :) Before we moved out here, we hosted Thanksgiving dinners because we were centrally located for my family. And even with my siblings bringing some of the dishes, it was indeed exhausting. So I’m not sure why we felt the need to keep doing it for two! I’m perfectly happy to pay for the kitchen staff’s excellent work and to leave a generous tip for the server who’s working that shift.

      I’m back to a stretch of feeling more confident about this rebuild on more days than I am questioning my abilities. If I can just keep that up, I should be able to meet my target for wrapping up this new first draft. ;)

    • Thanks, Jagoda. :) I’m not sure what the exact materials were for making the buildings and monuments. The White House, which I didn’t include, looked like it might have been covered with birch bark. And others looked like bamboo might have been used. But they were all truly elaborate, even including internal lighting. The Thanksgiving trips are fun and relaxing. I do miss having a turkey sandwich the next day, but that’s a small price to pay for a calm and enjoyable holiday!

  13. Is there something wrong with my computer or did I really see snow flakes floating across your post??? Lovely photos and what a great, stress-free way to spend Thanks Giving. Also – congrats on the word count. I’m impressed!! Happy Writing :-)

    • You did, indeed, see snowflakes! It’s a free feature with WordPress.com, but I don’t know if they offer it on the self-hosted blogs. They’ll run on the blog through January 4, I believe.

      December has gotten off to a busy start with work, which is all too common, so I haven’t really increased the word count very much. But I’m hoping to get back to a steady (if slow) pace later this week. Having a relaxing holiday instead of a mad rush has made things a bit easier. ;)

      So good to see that you’ve got your website back!

    • Thank you so much, again, Clowie! I had a lot of fun watching the little kids pose with the teddy bear. Some of the big “kids” were having fun with them, too. ;)

  14. Hee hee – I really like the little character (and timey-wimey, perhaps?) tidbits in that excerpt, no matter tell-y you may think they sound.

    Great photos! And a great idea for avoiding some of the bustle around Thanksgiving meals. When we visit parents/in-laws, there’s always a big to-do. But, when our little family is at home, we take things easy. (We still have pumpkin pie, though. That’s a must in our house!) I agree that taking the time to relax is as important a part of the celebration of the holiday as anything else. That’s why we get the day off from work, right? :)

    • Thanks, Mayumi! In this rebuild, I hope to better “show” the differences between Landry’s time and our own—although the differences may not be what readers might expect. ;) And my fingers are crossed that I’m getting it right this time!

      Pumpkin pie is a requirement, here, too. ;) Even though we go out for dinner, we simply have to make my mother-in-law’s recipe, which includes a layer of cream cheese. Oh, heck, what’s a few more calories, right?!

  15. Great post JM – the extract from Death out of Time is very intriguing – I’m left with lots of questions, but the good thing about that is I want to know more! Glad it’s going so well and you’re meeting your goals so far. I love your attitude to celebrating Thanksgiving too – unique and stress-free – we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but I can see it would just as easily apply to Christmas (not sure I’d want to give up my home made Christmas dinner, but then we only cook for two, so it’s not such a chore!).

    • We’ll still do a traditional meal at Christmas, although we’ve learned to scale it down from the big get-togethers! It’s really nice to go the museums in DC on Thanksgiving because they’re much less crowded than on normal days. So you can really move at your own pace and not feel jostled by others hurrying through.

      Work has gotten really busy (as is common at this time of year), so my writing has slowed to a crawl this week. But I’m hoping to pick up the pace again this weekend. I don’t want to lose that momentum I gained last month!

  16. Sounds like a great stress free holiday! I have a knack for finding friends or family who are making the dinner and bringing wine and dessert. :) Love the Botanic Gardens so lovely. When I went to school in DC, I went there several times.

    • It’s so easy for the holidays, which should be an enjoyable time spent with family and friends, to become stress-filled and burdensome. I’d really rather have a simpler meal and thus more time to spend visiting. And when we go out for meals, we really do appreciate all the work the kitchen and wait staff are doing, so we make sure we tip well!

      Heading to the Botanic Gardens on a cold winter day can do wonders for the mental outlook. I bet we’ll be there again this winter!

      • Definitely. I think we need a slow sign to pop up in November so we take our time with the holidays and stop rushing through them. :) Agreed. A simple meal and more time to enjoy the people around you is a great holiday recipe. :)

        The air there just feels so much easier to breathe too! Definitely rejuvenates the mind and body. :)

    • I do! And I love when the decorations are done with an eye toward the season and not designed to make us spend more, more, more at the stores. I have nothing against gift-giving—I just don’t see where going overboard is healthy!

  17. Thank you so much for allowing us to share in the beauty of your Holiday trip. Wow! what an amazing place. Now, as for your post. We can tell you this…you’ve given us something to think about. And having thought we began to weigh those very reasons why we should skip the big dinner, massive leftovers and horrible kp duty that comes from cooking giant holiday meals. And it was unanimous!!! Next year we pull a JM McDowell & do a holiday spent enjoying what our city has to offer & eating out! For us, we mentioned quite possibly visiting the beautiful Biltmore Castle which we heard is exquisite this time of year decorated from the bottom to the top!! Thx for the nifty idea JM

    • I’m so glad you found the post so helpful! When we were out on Thanksgiving, we saw couples like ourselves, young singles out as friends, families with young children, and larger groups composed of locals with relatives visiting for the holidays. And that was both at the museums/Botanic Gardens and the restaurants. And there’s nothing to say that one year can’t be centered around a large gathering at home while the next is spent enjoying a place’s sights and favorite restaurant! I’ll bet the Biltmore has an amazing display for the holidays! And very likely an excellent dining experience, too!

  18. I could do with some of that Brain Workers ;D I love the pictures you post, they are wonderful.

    Congratulations on the writing! What a fantastic achievement and now just keep writing :D
    Thanks as always for a great post JM.

    • Thank you, Luciana! I’m not sure what the “bromo” did, but I’d bet there was a heavy-duty dose of caffeine in those pills. ;) I love a good cup of coffee, but too much and I’m bouncing off the walls.

      December is being far too hectic, but I’m writing when I can, and I really hope January will give me more time. I want to get the new draft of this story done! :)

  19. I spent days in the U.S Botanic Garden! Such a wonderful place especially at Christmas time! Imagine the man-hours it takes to make those extraordinary displays!
    I like your new tradition…it makes so much more sense when there’s only a few family members! I tried moving my mother and stepdad toward dining out on thanksgiving (since we only have 4 of us here in Vero Beach) but after doing it one year she claimed she hated it (although I remember her laughing and having a great time!) and insisted we cook at home this year. Wayyyyyyyy too much work for 4 adults who don’t need to eat turkey and stuffing for a week afterward! More power to you, JM. If I could, I’d spend the day EXACTLY as you did!

    • Oh, moms can be funny that way, can’t they? ;) Sure, it would be nice to maybe have one day of leftovers, but when I think of the work that goes into making them? No thank you! If any family members ever want to come out here for Thanksgiving, I’m going to strongly suggest a day at the museums, or just visiting over a few hors d’oeuvres and then dinner at a good restaurant! Actually, I doubt I’d even offer to cook! :D

      Everything in DC is closed on Christmas Day, so we will make a small holiday dinner for ourselves then. But we’ve also been known to spend that holiday at places like Colonial Williamsburg when we’re not going back to visit family. Maybe someday, some family will want to share in that kind of relaxed holiday. ;)

    • Thank you for stopping by to visit. I see from your post that you were at the gardens in New York while I was at the gardens in Washington, DC. Isn’t it interesting, though, that they do such similar holiday projects!

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