Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Life's a beach, and then you come home

I've spent the past two weeks at my mother's house, tending to her after she had some major surgery. That's why she hasn't been posting her pithy comments here lately. She's recovering nicely and should be back up to speed in a couple months.

But I got to thinking about something. I tell folks I'm going to visit my mother and that she lives on the coast of Georgia and automatically they jump to the conclusion she lives on the beach.

Au contraire. Yes, she lives on a small barrier island, which oddly enough has a longitude that's only -.33 degrees different from Cleveland, Ohio. See? This is why I don't worry so much about her during hurricane season. She is so far inland that their threat from a hurricane is quite minimal. That's not to say it can't happen, but it happens less than oh, say... Key West.



But I digress. She doesn't live on the beach. It's not far, though. 4.3 miles from her house to the beach at the old Coast Guard station according to Google maps. I've posted photos of the beach during past visits, but I thought I'd give you a little sample of how the everyday people live.

This is my mother's house. It's nice, it's comfy, it's beautifully decorated on the inside, but it's not on the beach.



And this is her houseguest philosophy. She's ~mumble, mumble, mumble~ years old so I suppose she's entitled to feel this way. ;-)





She has grass and shrubs and garden statuary like many people do. Here's "Frank" and a set of temple bells.




This is one side of her house and some positively gorgeous flowers called Agapanthus (also known as Lily of the Nile). Sadly, Huntsville is one cold-hardiness zone too far north for these to flourish. They could handle our summers, but not the winter.



And here's a close-up. Aren't they lovely? So you see, my mother has flowers, not sea oats growing in her yard.



She also has towering live oak trees. Because this is a barrier island, local ordinances prohibit cutting any tree with a diameter larger than a few inches. I guess they are afraid developers would chop away everything and the island would wash away. It could happen, you know.



She has spiders. I've seen plenty of geckos too. I'd be willing to bet there's a snake in the yard somewhere but I try not to dwell on that because I'd never set foot outside otherwise.



And there is the ever-present Spanish moss. It drips from everything -- the live oaks, her dogwood tree, the azaleas and camelias. And large chunks of it fall and get all over everything, like her backyard swing that hangs in the shade of a big live oak tree.




I hope you get a chance to visit St. Simons Island sometime (and the rest of the Golden Isles of Georgia too). It's a beautiful spot filled with history. The beaches aren't as pretty as our pre-oil spill Emerald Gulf Coast, but the wild Georgia shrimp here are to DIE for!

I'm back in town now and playing catch-up. I have mail to sort and bills to pay and dirty clothes to wash and an editor pitch to get ready for though I did get quite a few books from her line read during my time as Nurse Ratchett, Jr. (my younger sister holds the Senior title). The afternoon before I left I made one last jaunt to the Coast Guard beach and got there just in time for a storm with thunder and lightning to roll in.

Some beach.

Do any of YOUR relatives live in neat places?

P.S. Remember today is the last day to enter my "Red Hot Romance" contest.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reunited and it feels so good…

Except for the horrible hangover. And, Oh, my dog, you do not know how hung over I am. You don’t want to know.


My 20th HS reunion weekend was a blast. I learned that old friends always have a hold on your heart, some things never, ever change, and that I am far too old to stay up until 5 am.

Well, I can stay up until 5am, but I will definitely regret it. Especially when there was far too much alcohol involved AND I stayed up the next night until 3.30 am.

I will be paying for that for a while, I think. I still feel like hell on toast.

I loved seeing my friends (I’d post pictures, but I don’t think they want the evidence out on the internet). We laughed, we danced, we closed down several bars on B’ham’s Southside – and that was just Friday night.

There’s something surreal about reuniting with folks who knew you way back when. I remember when they were doofuses and now they’re doctors and lawyers and responsible members of society. They pay taxes, own houses, and have small children. (Hey! I pay taxes, own a house, and have a small child. What the hell happened? My inner 21-year-old strongly objects to this!)

I love my Playfriends, but there’s something special about really old friends. The Playfriends didn’t know me when I had braces or Bon Jovi hair. The trauma of adolescence bonds people in a permanent kind of way.

Some people brought their spouses, but most of us didn’t. I didn’t take the Geek. Personally, I can’t imagine what could be more boring for a spouse than hearing us talk about people they don’t know and things they didn’t do. And honestly, since my inner child really came out to play this weekend, I think having my husband along probably would have caused a cognitive dissonance that might have killed my buzz. (I love you DG, but there are some things you just don’t need to see. Or know about my past.)

Now Counselor Shelley dates back to those halcyon days. And I’m still in touch with a few others. Facebook brought me back in touch with many more. But jamming on the dance floor to an 80’s cover band with the same folks I was dancing with when those songs were fresh and new? Priceless.

So my hangover is nostalgic as well as painful.

I know some folks couldn’t care less about their reunions and have no desire to meet back up with their HS friends. Me? I’m hoping we can all get together again soon. But I’m going to bed much earlier next time. Definitely.

So, are you still in touch with your HS gang? Or are you all spread to the corners of the earth? Do you go to your reunions?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Treat?





I did very little on Sunday. I was tired after being gone all day Saturday and decided to cut myself a break. Besides, there was a Criminal Minds marathon on A&E from noon until 10pm. The kids were not happy that I commandeered one of our two televisions, but since I rarely claim a TV while everyone is home, I decided I didn’t care. ;) Oh, I washed a load of laundry, cooked a simple supper, helped my daughter figure out some things on the computer, and typed a few things into the computer myself, but all-in-all, I mostly watched TV and dozed in the bed. And you know what?

I FEEL GREAT.

Too often, I think we don’t give ourselves these kinds of treats very often. I mean, I mostly watch TV at night when I’m simply too tired for my brain to work any longer. And it is harder to find the time to be lazy when you have kids on summer vacation, coming into the room every few minutes to ask you to do something.

Also, more than a couple of hours is an anomaly too. But I’m actually trying to figure this out. You see, I have a physical condition that is aggravated by stress, and I’m finally facing the fact that I have to look at new ways to relieve that stress. That means NOT rushing to do something 24/7. Letting go of responsibilities that don’t need to be mine and letting go of guilt when things don’t get done (talk about hard!). Part of that is giving myself a little “treat” every so often, like reading for an hour, talking on the phone, getting new music for my iPod, or snuggling with the kids.

This is all a work in progress (and I have a feeling it will take me a long time to progress), but one step at a time, right?

So tell me, what little (or big) “treats” do you reward yourself with?

Angel

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's Done!

I am happy (and horrified) to say that both books are done. They're revised, printed, packaged and out of my hands. The last month has been a crazed blur of work. It got to the point that I kept writing the wrong character's names because I was switching back and forth between stories so often to get them done. I had to do a name search to make sure a "Nate" didn't slip into Ethan's story. Or Jonah's for that matter since I'm also working on a new book while I've got the others out for review.

But its over now. Well, at least for those two. Work of a writer is never done, right? Now there's still the third book to revise and the one I want to pitch at Nationals (I found out I'm scheduled for 10:20 and 10:50 pitch appointments, so back to back panic mode). I've got great appointments this year and I want to make the most of it. I have no illusions of a pink ribbon this time, but maybe if I lay the right groundwork now, maybe next year. Who knows.

Whether or not I manage to pull off an actual vacation this week, I'm at least going to take a vacation from everything else in my life (but work, still gotta go there, but I'm going to take a 4 day holiday.) I'm going to try to relax, recharge and prepare my self for the chaos that July promises. I'm going to read, watch reruns of Law and Order and try not to worry about the fact that my career is resting in a Tyvek envelope on its way to New York City.

Are you planning any trips this summer? Even just a staycation? What do you do between major projects to recharge?
SP

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Addictions

And no, I don't mean the illegal drug, hit rock bottom, ruin your life kind of addictions. I'm talking about the I've discovered these mini cupcakes that are amazing and relatively good on the grand scale of things until you eat the entire dozen kind of addiction. Or the I bought yet another pair of shoes online today because I was bored and they were so pretty addiction. Yeah, the kind that won't ruin your life...but you can't seem to build up the willpower to resist.

I'm telling you, these cupcakes are awesome (and so are the shoes). They're two bites so they're small. The icing on top is perfect - not too sweet, not too bland, not too grainy. They taste like heaven and because they're so small you don't feel guilty after you eat one. However, I'm here to attest that you do feel guilty after you eat ten. I start with two (because I know I can't just have one). And then five minutes later find myself back in the kitchen. I have no idea how I got there. Or what I came for. But, hey look, there are those cupcakes. A couple more can't hurt.

They're small and that's how they get ya. (They're also available in the bakery section at Publix for anyone who wants to join my addiction).

So, I'm going to go first. Hi. My name is Kira, and I'm a mini cupcake addict. (We won't mention the shoes). They say the first step is to admit you have a problem. Although, I think my real problem is going to be step two which I'm assuming is giving up the object of your addiction. In fact, while everyone else shares their own addictions, I'm going to the kitchen for another cupcake. I promise I'll be right back.

Instigator

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Girl's Breast...er... Best Friend

If you've read the Playground blog for any length of time you'll know that (1) about this time each year we get into a frenzy over the upcoming Romance Writers of America national conference and (2) we take our clothing for said event very seriously. And that includes undergarments.

I'm away from home, tending to my mother who is recuperating from major surgery, just finished teaching an online class and am in the middle of doing copy edits for a friend. I am devoid of creativity at the moment, so I dug through my email and found something my mother sent me a while back.

I will give credit where credit is due. It's from ConsumerSearch.com and was written by Sarah Burns.






The bra celebrated a birthday the end of May. The great whites finally turned 100, a milestone which has prompted us here at CS to pay a little homage. Here, some background on these cleavage caddies, and a few tips to ensure you're getting the proper fit. (Hint: There's a good chance you aren't!)

The first bra was patented in 1914 by New York City socialite Mary Phelps-Jacobs. Often on the town, Mary hated the constricting corsets of the time. Her idea: Two silk handkerchiefs tied together in the middle with ribbons sewn on to make straps--the first official bra was born. However, tried as she might, Mary could never drum up enough sales to sustain her idea, (many women considered her invention to be too taboo ) so she sold her idea to Warners. Yes, that's right, Warners -- as in the big bra company. And the rest, as they say, is history....

Today, these 'support systems' are a feminine staple. Available in every size, shape and color, women around the world now wear their bras with patience and pride. I say patience, because it's a rare woman who hasn't had to 'adjust' herself. Falling straps, too-tight bands, super-roomy cups -- any of this ring a bell? You're not alone. According to "industry studies," over 80 percent of women aren't wearing the right bra size. So, we thought, what better time than the bra's birthday to offer a little, ahem, uplifting advice.

The right way to wear a bra:

According experts, bras should be worn level (front to back). However, most women wear their bras too high on their torso, throwing their measurements off. "Most women go up in the back increasing their band size instead of getting a deeper cup," explains Susan Nethero, the "bra whisperer" and owner of the Intimacy lingerie store chain. "Instead, you want to keep the back lean so you can lift the bust." Plus, in order for your bra to maintain optimal support, she says you should give your bra at least one day of rest. "Don't wear the same bra two days in a row because you'll wear out its support elastic."

Four signs you're wearing the wrong bra size:

•Literally falling out of your bra? Go up a cup size.
•Cups caving in? Take it down one cup size.
•Suffering from unsightly back flab? Your bra is likely too big. Wearing the bra lower on your back with a smaller band size often fixes this problem.
•Straps keep sliding down? Go down a band size.

To calculate your correct bra size, Nethero suggests:

•Standing up straight, expand your rib cage (breathe out like you're going to blow out candles).
•For your correct band size: Then, measure all the way around your body, placing the tape measure directly beneath your breasts. Add five to that number, rounding up if necessary to the next even number.
•For your correct cup size: While wearing a bra, measure completely around the fullest part of your bust (across the nipple). Make sure the tape measure goes around your entire back. Then, subtract this number from your band size. The result will reveal your correct cup size (based on the guide below).


0=AA

1=A

2=B

3=C

4=D

5=DD

6=DDD



Carry on. Discuss as you will.

Or share an interesting undergarment story.

I'll go first. I was going to an office party one Christmas and decided to wear a pair of those pantyhose with the built-in panties. One less layer to worry about. So I get to the party and the pantyhose start to feel... odd. I went to the restroom only to discover the elastic in them was rotten. It had stayed in place just long enough for me to put the pantyhose on and ride to the party. But by the time I did my restroom check, the waistline was large enough to fit around a baby elephant. Oops!

How did I solve the dilemma?

HA! I'm not telling!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Choice Overload (or how I became a man…)

Did you know Home Depot has an entire aisle of toilets? Twenty-something toilets to chose from. Why is this? It’s not like toilets come with different kinds of fancy options like heated seats or a Bose sound system. It’s a toilet, for dog’s sake. And looking at twenty of them side-by-side is an exercise in ridiculousness.

DG told me to pick one. I figured he had gone insane, driven over the edge by one too many trips to the Home Depot. My response: “Why are there so many to choose from? They’re all the same and I don’t care.”

DG shot me a look and said, “Now you know how I feel about shoes.”

Now, tempers and patience were running a little short on both sides – fifty trips to the Home Depot will do that to you – so I didn’t try to explain (again) that there really is a difference between my black knee boots with the square toe and chunky heel and my black knee books with the pointy toe and the skinny heel. For one brief moment, I think I understood what it was like to be a man out shopping. If a man has the same reaction to a row of black shoes that I have to a row of toilets…okay, I get it.

(Take note men: There is a difference between a slingback and a peep-toe and they aren’t simply interchangeable. I need both. A toilet is a toilet is a toilet and considering what you do with a toilet, what difference does it make as long as it works? I said I understood your problem, not that the two situations are the same. At all.)

The toilet situation is just one example of the hair-pulling I’m doing these days. Let’s say I want to get a new light fixture for the hallway. I go online to the site that claims “Thousands to choose from!,” enter a couple of parameters, and get it narrowed down to a whopping 750. After years of living with other people’s choices or whatever was cheapest, I was looking forward to picking out what I wanted for this house, so you’d think I’d be in high cotton.

Then I came up against 750 light fixtures, 400 faucet choices, a million shades of ‘blue,’ brushed nickel vs. oiled nickel, 75 choices of cabinet hardware... Cue PC, standing in the middle of Home Depot, staring at a row of identical toilets on the verge of tears.

I found out it has a name, though: Choice Overload.

We all know you can’t give small children too many choices, but it seems adults have a limit too. According to the research, when people are faced with too many choices, they’ll often decide to pick none of them because they simply can’t. If they do make a choice, they’ll often suffer buyer’s remorse almost immediately, because even though they looked through 500 before making a choice, there’s 500 more to choose from and there might be something better there.

It seems most people are happier when their choices are limited. They’re more likely to be satisfied with their choice. They’ll also make the decision more quickly and go on to other, more productive, uses of their time. Some folks will spend hours dithering back and forth, looking for the absolutely PERFECT thing, and still not be happy with the final choice. And to add to insult to injury, they’re not happy they spent so much time on it, either.

So toilet selection will probably fall to my plumber, because DG and I just don’t care as long as the toilets do what they’re supposed to do. I did choose a light fixture for the hallway from what Home Depot had in stock on the store floor. Do I like it? Yep. Will I be happy with it? Yep. Is there something out there someplace that might be even more perfect? Possibly. Am I willing to go look for it? Not just No, HELL NO. I have other stuff to do, and if I want to pull my hair out, I’ll try to decipher my royalty statement, thankyouverymuch.

So, does the thought of 750 similar light fixtures make your eyes cross? Or do you relish the endless possibilities and the joy of the hunt? (And no, DG, 750 pairs of black shoes on Zappos is NOT the same thing at all. It’s not.)

PC

PS: Winners from last week TBR game! Jean (for Lynn’s Concubine) and runner10 and Virginia (for Anna Campbell’s Reckless Surrender). SP gets points for my book, but then loses them because that book came out in February… ~grin~ (Yes, some of my books are quite old, but my game, my rules…) Y’all email me at kimberly@booksbykimberly.com with a shipping address, and let me know if you’d like a book for your TBR pile or a small giftie instead.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Book Excitement



Something wonderful happened this week: I fell in love!

No, I’m not cheating on my husband… well, maybe in my mind. You see, I’ve fallen in love with the hero and heroine of my new book. Since I’m always on here whining and complaining, I figured I’d share the good news with y’all. Let’s just keep it between us, okay? Wouldn't want to lose my reputation as a pessimist.

I’ve had the idea for this series in the back of my mind for a while, but I knew up front it was single title and different from what I’d done before. It’s darker, edgier. I’m traveling in a new direction, which is fun, freaky, and frankly terrifying. At first, I was simply nervous I couldn’t pull it off. But I just finished my novella and knew I had to start writing something else. This was the only idea that called to me, and I decided it was time to take the plunge. I’ve been toying with the plot and characters for the last few weeks, and decided that since I had plenty of time to focus on my writing while the kids were out of the house, I’d finally start Chapter One.

And I did, but I only have 10 pages so far. Instead, I delved deep into the characters (so far I have 12 that populate this particular world, including H/h’s from books 2 and 3—a far cry from the 3 or 4 in my category books) and plot (the plots for books 2 and 3 started showing up in large hunks-both scary and wonderful, let me tell ya). I’ve discussed possibilities for mystery and an overarching scandal (meaning it runs through all 3 books) with critique partners, until they are probably tired of hearing from me. I’ve pulled pictures off the internet for characters, clothes, furniture, and d├ęcor.

Finally one day I realized something—every time I thought about my characters or my book, I got an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach. That twitchy cross between nervous anticipation and excitement that comes with the thought of someone you’re falling in love with. The one you can’t wait to see again. The one you want to get to know better. The one you come to crave in your life.

I’ve fallen in love with my book. Yay!

So even though I was completely freaked out and scared I would screw up, I made myself start the first scene on Thursday. To psyche myself out of the jitters, I hand wrote the first few pages instead of typing. It seemed less “permanent” that way, so if I messed up I could just chunk it and forget about it. Saturday, I started typing those words into a computer file. Guess what? They don’t completely suck. Yay, me! :) And I can’t wait to write some more (a big difference from dreading the page a few months ago).

You can keep track of my progress in the blog sidebar, which I’m going to try to update weekly.

So tell me, what’s going right in your life? Let’s have a gratitude day! (I heard that—stop your grumbling!) I’m grateful that I love my story and am once again excited about writing. AND I’m grateful to have my kids home. I never thought I’d say this, but I missed the little boogers. :) What about you?

Angel

Happy Belated Father's Day to all those supportive husbands out there! For all the times you've listened to our plots until your eyes glazed over, for all the times you've kept the kids so we could escape into our books, and for all the times you've eaten take out for dinner--we love you. You're the best!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Calgon, Take Me Away

I've been working hard lately. Harder than usual, in every facet of my life. Work is a zoo. Writing has picked up to a frantic pace with all the stress and pressure of getting things right. I'm doing a workshop at Nationals this summer that we're dry-running next month. Cakes and catering. Friends and family. Housekeeping and personal fitness fits in there somewhere. I just have a lot going on.

I want to take a vacation. Nationals does not count. It's a week of stress for me that I honestly look forward to and dread all at once. My 4th of July trip was cancelled. But I want to go somewhere. I want to sit on a beach with a drink and an open itinerary.

A friend has asked me to go someplace at the end of this month, but we're running short on ideas. We don't want to blow a fortune or go for longer than 4 days or so. The go-to beach trip is out this year with the oil spill. My friend refuses to drive longer than 6 hours cause she gets cranky, so Savannah or New Orleans is out. We could cruise out of Mobile, but again, oil spill. I doubt the ship would cruise right through the oil slick, but it might not be avoidable and the smell is supposed to be awful. Flights are cheap to Orlando, but she used to live there and hated it, so we'd have to do something once we got there, like catch a cruise or fly on to Puerto Rico or something. We've talked about flying to Cancun. Boston. I don't know.

Of course its peak season, so flights and hotels are crazy high. Carnival Cruise lines is stalking me. Somehow they know I've been on the site and they keep calling me. Maybe if I procrastinate long enough, they'll give me a deal I can't refuse.

Anyone got some suggestions on what would be nice this time of year? Any sites for last minute travel deals? I'm clueless and desperate.

SP

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ruts

Is anyone else getting tired of doing, eating, seeing and hearing the same things over and over again? Maybe it's just me. I wake up at the same time every day (whether I need to or not). I do the same things in the same order before I leave the house. I drive the same way to work. I eat lunch at the same handful of places (and I'm really tired of them!). I leave work at the same time each day and come home to dinner (which I'm very grateful to Zilla for cooking) which is usually some variation of the same thing I've eaten several times over the last few weeks.

I'm in a rut.

You know what's funny? In the above list of things that are vanilla the one that bugs me the most is the food. I'm so tired of eating the same things at the same places. I want something different. I want something gourmet. I want something fit for Food Network which probably means I should stop watching that channel.

I need to break out of my ho hum normal. I know I'll be able to do that a little next month when we go to the RWA national conference in Orlando. But I'm not sure I can make it for the next six weeks without pulling out my hair. I need to be working on my next project. I'm very excited about the book, but I just can't seem to get started on it. Something keeps getting in my way - work, sick kids, appointments, blah, blah, blah. Maybe that's why I'm feeling ugh and frustrated.

Don't get me wrong, I love my life. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love my job (both of them) and I love my friends. I'm lucky and I damn well know it. The major things in my life I have right...I think it's the peripheral extras that need a jump start.

So, are you in a rut? Have you ever found your way out of a rut?

Instigator

P.S. Congratulations to Robertsonreads, Christie's winner from yesterday. Please email playground monitor with your snail mail information.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Blogger - Christie Ridgway




Wine. Weddings. Romance. It only takes those three words to describe my new trilogy. Of course I came up with a premise using a few more of them: One failing winery, two feuding families, three unforgettable pairings. And the first book of the three, CRUSH ON YOU, is out this month.

Alessandra Baci is the youngest of three sisters and is known affectionately around her town as the "Nun of Napa," after a wedding-that-didn't-happen five years before. She's concocted a new revenue stream for the 100-year-old family winery...offering it as a wedding venue. But with the first event scheduled for the end of the month, she's desperate to get the construction finished on the historic cottage where the nuptials will be held. When her contractor runs out on her, she's forced to turn to the man-next-door, Penn Bennett, who is the star of Hollywood's hottest home renovation TV show. Though they rub each other the wrong way--mostly because they want to rub each other the right way too much--Penn agrees if she'll be the second in a two-person crew. Oh, that creates opportunities to get to know each other and to get close...close enough for these too wary people to fall in love.

This is romance without guns or fangs or a historical backdrop. But there are family legends, a missing treasure, and most of all, the unfolding story of two engaging people falling in love. I've had a blast doing research (drinking wine! Watching movies like Bottle Shock! Spending a long weekend with my husband exploring Napa!) but imagining the winery weddings has been the most fun of all. I've been asking everyone their fantasy wedding--mine is barefoot on the beach in a flowing dress.

Yours? A lucky commenter will win a duo of Christie Ridgway books.

You can learn more about Christie at her website and also follow her at Riding with the Top Down where she blogs with nine other fabulous authors.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What I’m not reading… (Darn it)

My To Be Read pile teeters alarmingly at the moment. The sad thing is that I haven’t had a chance to read anything for a while now. But I keep getting books that I want to read and adding them to the pile in the hopes that one day, I’ll get time to lose myself in a good book.

I’m a fast reader, and I love to read, so those two issues aren’t really issues. The problem is that a) I just moved into a new house and I seem to have spent way more time than estimated stripping wallpaper and shopping for new light fixtures; b) I find it very hard to read while I’m writing, because I need to keep my head in my book, not get lost in someone else’s (no matter how tempting); and c) I’m so dog-tired and busy that when I do have a moment to sit quietly I tend to fall asleep.

Sigh.

So, my TBR pile grows and depresses me more every day when I see the wonderful stories I could be lost in but am not. It sucks. But, just for giggles, let’s explore what I’m looking forward to reading.

The May and June Presents Extras: This really sucks, because I’m dying to see what my line buddies are dishing out at the moment. (They’re guaranteed to be fabulous books, and I’m kinda invested because I remember when we celebrated when each one was turned in and accepted.) So, on top of the TBR pile awaiting my next soak in the tub are Overtime In the Boss’s Bed by Nicola Marsh, Good Girl or Gold Digger by Kate Hardy, Hot Boss, Boardroom Mistress by Natalie Anderson, and our newbie’s debut Wild Fling or a Wedding Ring? by Mira Lyn Kelly.

Suzanne Enoch’s Before the Scandal: This book is from 2008 and I don’t know where it’s been hiding that I just now found it. (Surely it hasn’t been on my TBR pile for 2 years!) I love a big, fat historical.

Monica McCarty’s Highland Scoundrel: I read one of the other books in this trilogy while judging a contest, and I liked that one so much I went and bought the other two. The only thing I love more than a big, fat historical is a big, fat, Scottish historical. (I have a thing for Scots, if you didn’t know. ~blows kisses to DG~)

Jane Porter’s Flirting With Forty: This one was in my goodie bag at the HOD luncheon this year. I’ve heard really good things about it (and I watched the movie on TV), but somehow, it never managed to make it to my reading list. (Yes, I know it’s a 4 year old book. I’m behind, I tell you!)

Julie Cohen’s Girl From Mars: This one I bought, read the first chapter, and then packed it in a box accidentally, where it didn’t get unpacked until last month. I mourned it while it was missing; the first chapter was fan-freaking-tastic and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Of course, I love Julie Cohen (she’s a former Modern Heat gal), and these quirky books really seem to suit her.

Blood Born by Lind Howard and Linda Jones: One of the newer books in the pile. I’m not normally a fan of vampire books, but I am a fan of our Lindas. I will give vamps another go because of the authors!

That’s just a random sample of the pile – and random also seems to apply to my reading tastes as well!

Of course, the thing about TBR piles is that they never go away. You never catch up. There’s always another book released or another author discovered (whose backlist must now be glommed) to keep the pile growing. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. I don’t want to live in a world where I’ve read all the books and there’s nothing new to look forward to.

So tell me the top three books in your TBR stack. If one of them matches something in my TBR pile (other than the ones listed above), I’ll send you a little prezzie. Maybe a book to add to your pile…

Or not. ~grin~

PC

PS. WINNERS! We're pleased to announce that Gigi is the winner of Lori Handeland's prize and Margay is the winner of Free Book Friday! Please email smartypants@writingplayground.com with your snail mail info to claim your prizes!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Vacation for Mommy



This week something very different is going down in Angel Land. For the first time since I became a mother, I’ll have no children for a whole week! Yay! Yikes!

This is the first year that both of my kids are going to stay with my mother out of state during the summer. Before this year, I didn’t think Little Man was ready. Even this year, I’m a little concerned, but he wanted to go, so he’s staying. I’ve explained that 6 hours is too far away to drive if you get scared in the middle of the night. And my mother is a wonderful grandmother with plenty enough experience to handle any fears or worries. I know they are in good hands.

So I get what other people call a vacation. I just don’t know what to do with myself. Actually, I do get to go on vacation for 2 days every fall, when I join my fellow chapter members on a retreat. But this is a week. At home. No kids. No whining. No fighting. No cooking (unless I want to). No Disney TV. And no McDonalds. What shall I do? Hmmmm….

1. WRITE
Definitely! I’ve been plotting and planning a new book, very exciting, and I’m hoping to get some chapters written this week.

2. SHOP
Well, it was my birthday this past weekend, and I need new shoes for Nationals…

3. LUNCH
Or maybe dinner? Doesn’t matter, because I don’t have to be home for baths or bedtime. The hubby is capable of taking care of himself, right? Actually, he and I do have plans to celebrate my birthday while the kids are gone.

4. DRIVING SCHOOL
:( After 20 years on the road, I recently got my first speeding ticket. The only downer this week will be mandatory driving school in a very rough part of town, at night… Scary.

So tell me, what would you do if you had a whole week to yourself? I’ll get back to you… once I finally decide to get out of bed. :)

Angel

P.S. Join us on Wednesday when author Christie Ridgway visits the blog.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Free Book Friday - Surprise Edition

I, by nature, am a suspicious sort. I don't like surprises at all. I'd really rather know what's going on. Part of the reason is because I lack the proper responses to most things. Catch me off guard and who knows how I'll react. If I know I'm going to have a surprise party, I can practice my surprised face and be gracious about it. Yes, I really do have to think about these things. Being in my head is a strange and alien place to most of you. You should've seen me at my high school graduation party. All the attention on me, opening presents. Trying to gauge what the appropriate response is to getting money, versus jewelry, etc. If I'm not careful, the people will think I don't like the gift, which is usually far from the truth, I just don't instinctively know how to express it. I'm sure its second nature to some people. I've got to work at it, but I'm better now. But I still like to be prepared.

(For the record, if DB ever thought he'd do some big public proposal type thing I didn't know about, I doubt it would be one of those Hallmark moments. I'd probably just stare blankly at him until he nudged me, then I'd start to cry hysterically and run into the bathroom. That would be for a 'yes,' by the way.)

Point being, that even though I don't like them happening to me, I really like planning surprises for others.

So here we go... It's Free Book Friday, but I'm not going to tell you what you're going to win. It's going to be a complete surprise. I'm not going to tell you how many books or what kind or by whom. Just know they'll be fabulous, no matter what.

To enter, comment today with the phrase "I love surprises!" but then tell me how you really feel about them. Are you like me or do you get joy or thrills from the uncertainty of it?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

God Save Me

From tween girls. I honestly can't even claim that mine are actually tweens because they're only going to be 6 and 9 by the end of summer. But they have surely been acting like it lately. Just this morning I had a conversation with Sweet Pea about her fat thighs - her words, not mine. I swear to you, my child has always been tall and if I can pinch an inch of fat off of her I'd be surprised. She lucked up and got Zilla's metabolism in the genetic mix. But somehow, somewhere she's got it in her head that she's fat.

And she's past the issue right on down to Baby Girl. She immediately chimed in with how fat she was, too. She's not yet six! And this morning wasn't the first time I've heard it from her. Now granted, she's smaller and will probably have to battle her weight like I do when she gets older but she sure as heck is not fat right now. She's too active (my issues cropped up when I started spending most of my days on my rear in front of a computer). Neither of my children are fat by anyone's standards.

At first I laughed it off. I told them in no uncertain terms they weren't fat, but I laughed it off as just girl stuff. I mean, who didn't worry about her waistline in high school? But they aren't in high school. And this subject has come up more than once. After further discussions I've realized some of this is coming from the other girls at school - not that they're saying my kids are overweight but that they themselves are. Jeez, that makes me sad. These girls aren't even in the double digits and they're already focused so hard on body image.

Unfortunately, I think I've probably added to the issue unintentionally. I do battle with my weight and am off and on diets on a regular basis. I mean I try not to make a big deal about it but it's hard to miss when mommy's eating something different for dinner than everyone else.

This whole issue is making me question society's view of body image - for myself and the girls. I honestly don't want them growing up worrying about every bite of food they put in their mouths. That just sucks all the fun out of life - and eating. Not to mention that one of Sweet Pea's favorite things is to cook. She spends so much time watching Food Network that we call her the little Rachel Ray. She enjoys food. I don't want that to change because someone says the scale should be a certain number.

I don't want to make this into a bigger issue than it is so I've taken the low key approach of being adamant that they aren't fat and don't need to worry about their weight only when they bring the subject up. Anyone have other suggestions for handling the situation? Are my girls the only ones bringing weight into their sphere of existence long before I expected them to (or think they should)? Was I just a weird child and this really is normal?

Instigator

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Exploring the Paranormal


Since paranormal romance is such a hot ticket these days, I thought I'd tell you about something paranormal in my home state of North Carolina.


Way out on the old Linville Mountain,
Where the bear and the catamount range,
There a strange ghostly light, can be seen every night,
Which no scientist nor hunter can explain.
*




Brown Mountain, located in Burke Country, North Carolina, and part of the Blue Ridge mountain chain, is nothing spectacular. It is low-lying and covered with deciduous and evergreen trees like the mountains all around it. But when night falls, something unusual happens on Brown Mountain.

When the sun sets and darkness settles like a blanket over the Blue Ridge, visitors to the Brown Mountain area are frequently entertained by a nocturnal light show, which some say looks like a Roman candle being fired. The lights bob and dip, vanish and reappear, and appear to be white, bluish or reddish in color. Sometimes they travel horizontally through the trees at speeds that would be difficult for a human to track.


Sure, you say. Of course.

But I’ve seen them.

The Brown Mountain Lights are one of the most famous legends in the Tarheel state of North Carolina. Dozens of newspaper and magazine articles have been written about them. One of the earliest was a 1913 account in The Charlotte Observer. In 1926 National Geographic devoted twenty-seven pages to the mysterious lights, and in 1999, the Brown Mountain Lights were even featured in an episode of The X-Files. However, there are oral accounts of the lights dating as far back as 1200 A.D.

The first written account of the lights was in 1771 by German engineer Gerard de Brahm. Being a scientific man, de Brahm had a scientific explanation for the lights. He wrote that “the mountains emit nitrous vapors which are borne by the wind and when laden winds meet each other the niter inflames, sulphurates and deteriorates. This causes the lights to inflame.”

In 1910 a Reverend C.E. Gregory of New York built a cabin in the Brown Mountain area and wrote all his friends about the mysterious lights. By 1913, the U.S. Geological Survey had taken an interest and sent someone to study the lights. D.B. Sarrette conducted his observations and quickly announced that the lights were simply reflections of the headlights of locomotives on the railroad tracks in the valley below.

This theory might hold up but for two facts. Many old-timers living at the time of Sarrette’s report claim to have seen the lights since Civil War times – before the railroad was built. Then in 1916 the Catawba River flooded and washed away the railroad tracks around Brown Mountain. The lights continued to be seen and no one could explain why in the absence of locomotives.

Over the following years, numerous studies were conducted and equally numerous theories about the cause of the lights were proposed. These theories attributed the lights to foxfire (phosphorescent light emitted by decaying trees) and St. Elmo’s fire (a naturally occurring electric spark not unlike a neon light). However, foxfire can only be seen at short distance whereas the Brown Mountain lights are seen from a greater distance, and St. Elmo’s fire always remains attached to an object while the Brown Mountain lights seem to float and travel, attached to nothing.

Another theory attributed the lights to reflections from automobile headlights, yet the lights have been seen in times that pre-date the automobile. A second U.S. Geological Survey claimed that the lights were the result of the spontaneous combustion of marsh gasses. This would be a good explanation if there were any marshy places on Brown Mountain.

In 1919 the lights were brought to the attention of the Smithsonian Institute and the United States Weather Bureau. Dr. W.J. Humphries of the Weather Bureau studied the lights and reported that they were similar to the Andes light in South America, another form of naturally occurring electrical discharge. The leading expert on the Andes light, Dr. Walter Knoche, has studied the western North Carolina terrain and declared that it contained no geological conditions conducive to producing this type of discharge.

Some have even suggested that the lights come from moonshine stills. While moonshining was once a lucrative operation in this area and some of the young men who regularly transported white lightning along curving mountain roads became some of NASCAR’s early drivers, this explanation doesn’t explain the early sightings, which predate moonshining or the more recent ones since it’s been quite some time since there were stills in the area.

In 1962 The Charlotte Observer again reported on the lights. Twelve eyewitnesses observed the lights from a specially constructed sixty-foot tower. When the lights approached the tower, some of the men had sudden bouts of static-like dizziness and when they climbed down from the tower, they could not stand up.

While theories about their cause vary, descriptions of the lights are generally in agreement. The optimal viewing spot for them is at Wiseman’s View off of NC Highway 181. On most any night, the roadside will be lined with cars full of folks hoping to see the lights.

Once darkness descends, viewers look to the southeast and suddenly will see a basketball-size light appear. The light is usually reddish in color, hovers in the air and disappears only to reappear a few minutes later in a different spot. Or the lights may appear as white and bobbing. Or they may seem to skip along rapidly. As is usual with unusual phenomena, different people view it in different ways.

Regardless, they remain a mystery.





According to one source, Brown Mountain was named after a plantation family who owned slaves and perhaps the most popular of the tales revolving around the lights comes from this story. Legend has it that a low-country planter traveled to the region to hunt. When he did not return, his faithful slave went out with a lantern to hunt for his beloved master.


This legend inspired local musician Scotty Wiseman to write “Brown Mountain Light,” which was recorded in the 1960’s by a local singer. Wiseman was no stranger to fame. He and his wife Lulu Belle were regular performers on the “Barn Dance” radio show and even stood on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Ryman Auditorium. The author of many songs, Wiseman’s most famous tune, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” was recorded by Elvis Presley.

Another favorite story involves the suspicious disappearance of a woman named Belinda around 1850. Many folks believed that her husband Jim had killed her and buried her body somewhere in the vicinity of Brown Mountain. Soon after her disappearance, the lights started, supposedly as a guide to help searchers find her body. Shortly thereafter, Jim disappeared without a trace. Many years later a woman’s skeleton was found on Brown Mountain and the lights continue, perhaps as a warning or perhaps they are a signal from a lost soul.

Possibly the oldest legend dates back to 1200 and is part of Cherokee lore. A great battle was waged between the Cherokee and Catawba Indians. The Cherokee believe that the lights are the spirits of Indian maidens searching for their sweethearts and husbands who died in the battle. Early settlers in the area believed the lights to be the spirits of slain Indian warriors.

While many theories abound, none are considered conclusive. And maybe no cause will ever be found. But the lights still appear and fascinate a new generation of curiosity seekers.

High, high on the mountain, and deep in the canyon below
It shines like the crown of an angel, and fades as the mists comes and goes.
Way over yonder, night after night until dawn,
A lonely old slave comes back from the grave,
Searching, searching, searching, for his master who’s long gone on.
*

* From “Brown Mountain Light” by Scotty Wiseman


Are you a paranormal romance fan? Have you every seen anything unexplainable (besides the balance on your credit card bill)?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

People Talking About Me Behind My Back

Ah, the wonders of Google. I have Google Alerts set up for my name and book titles, so I can see who’s talking about me on the web. It sounds paranoid, but it’s not. Really. I promise. Aside from alerting me to pirate sites and the fact I’m widely for sale on Ebay (and those two things comprise the majority of my alerts), Google lets me know when I’ve been mentioned on someone’s blog or review site.

And I can then go see what they said about me and my books. If it’s a nice review or comment, I’ll always respond. (I refrain from commenting on the snarky ones; nothing good comes from engaging in that situation. Ever.)

In a way, those alerts are always the most fun. These are folks who probably don’t expect me to read their comment or review – because if they’d done it in the sole hope I would, they’d have emailed me and let me know it was up. I’m not saying that I don’t want people to email me and let me know they’ve blogged about my book, it’s just kind of fun knowing they did it without any expectation I’d ever see it. (Although with Google Alerts being so common, everyone should realize that the person mentioned will see what was said soon enough. The internet is a pretty small place sometimes.)

Most of the time, the comment just lives there in cyberspace, with nothing more said as the blogger has moved on to other books or topics. More than once, though, I’ve popped up on someone’s blog to thank them and tell him how glad I am they enjoyed the book, and the blogger has been floored that I showed up and commented. All of a sudden, I feel special. Ohmigosh, the author has shown up. She’s here! In some cases, I’ve ended up in a conversation about books (mine or otherwise), Harlequin, etc. Once, commenting on a review on a small blog led to an interview and spotlight on a larger, more popular blog. (I didn’t know that the small blog was a side project of a reviewer when I commented there.)

I’m still new enough that I’m still floored by the fact people read my books, much less feel the need to tell their friends about them. (Gasp! Someone thinks I don’t suck!) I’m utterly awed that anyone would feel “honored” (their words, not mine) that I’d come by and comment on their blogs. I’m just little ol’ me. Nothing special here. (The Geek constantly reminds me that not everyone knows a couple hundred published authors, and that most folks still find that to be unique and cool. Hm, maybe since the majority of the folks I know are writers, my perspective is a little skewed there.)

So, riddle me this… if you mentioned on your blog or FaceBook or whatever about a book you’d read, would you want the author to show up and comment? Or would that feel weird to you, like your space has been invaded? I want folks to know that I sincerely appreciate each and every person who reads one of my books, but I don’t want to make folks uncomfortable or seem like I’m looking for something more when I do comment. Y’all tell me, because this isn’t one I’ve been able to come up with a good answer for yet…

PC

PS: Angel is blogging with the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood today about strategies for surviving the summer with kids underfoot, and managing to actually get some writing done.

PPS: Insstigator is blogging at the Blaze Author's Blog today about getting through the summer.

Monday, June 07, 2010

MOANday-Firefighters

I realize its a little late, but MOANday is actually here this month! :) I've got a new wip running through my brain and I'm thinking of including a few, um, everyday heroes. :)





Photobucket




Photobucket

What do ya think?

Angel

Tomorrow I'll be guest blogging over at Ruby Slippered Sisterhood. Come join me!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

May 17th Winner

I'm running a little behind, because I got sick with pneumonia right after our luncheon, but the winner of the May 17th luncheon prize is Margay! Please contact Angel at angel@writingplayground.com to claim your prize.

Thanks!

Angel

Friday, June 04, 2010

It's Amazing What A Little Motivation Can Do...

I won't even begin to tell you how long ago I started the 'Poker Book.' Okay, I will. I wrote the first chapter to enter the Feel the Heat contest for the Modern Heat line. I want to say 2008. I didn't win, of course, and decided I was going to make it fit the line I was targeting instead. Revised the plot and synopsis and started over. Got it about 3/4 finished, then realized that line wasn't where the book, or I, belonged. Then it sorta fizzled. There wasn't much sense finishing it when I wasn't sure what it should be when it grew up. It could end so many different ways.

So I moved to something else. I want to say the 'Mummy Book.' That sucked up my time until I found myself miserably flailing in nothingness. Honestly, its stunning how much time slips away while you're working (or avoiding) a project. Ideas that pop into your head might take a year before they're anything close to a book and another year before the book is close to publishable. Then, of course, is the waiting once its submitted.

If I just sat down and wrote a book start to finish without straying, I'd be ok, I could wrap it up in a few month's time, but I wander. I get a request and stop to work on something else. I piddle. I work on a different project. Start a new book. Pick it up and put it back down a dozen times. It's especially bad if I'm just sort of writing without a driving force like a request behind it. Even worse if I don't even know where to market it when I'm finished.

Last week I told you about the newly arrived force in my career. 3 requests patiently waiting on me to get off my kiester. I am proud to admit I have snapped into line! The first book is finished, revised and out for review. The second book is completely overhauled and sitting because its tacky to send two books out for review at once. I'm going to gather comments, run through the first one again, and off it goes. The second won't be far behind. Books that have just sort of hung around on my flash drive for months or years are suddenly finished and ready in two week's time. Whether its a carrot or a stick, its chasing me down and I'm running.

Maybe its the warmth of summer or the threat of failure. I don't know. But I'm finally amped up about my writing for the first time in a long time. What are you excited about these days?
SP

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Guest Blogger Lori Handeland

Today, we welcome back Lori Handeland to the Playground. In the past, she's thrilled us with werewolves and psychic detectives. Now, she's taking a new spin on one of my favorite subjects - Shakespeare! With zombies and vampires!

On June 8 I will have a book released that is both different from anything I've ever done and somewhat the same.

SHAKESPEARE UNDEAD is a paranormal. It contains vampires and zombies and a kick ass heroine. These are all familiar and beloved territories for me.

SHAKESPEARE UNDEAD is also a historical. I've written those, yes, but none set in England, none that take place during the 16th century and none with a famous character as the hero.
Wow, it was fun!!


Every day while writing SHAKESPEARE UNDEAD, I could not wait to get to the computer and discover what vampire Shakespeare and his zombie hunting "dark lady" were up to. I had a ball picking things from Shakespeare's works to use in the book. (Who'd ever have thought that those Shakespeare classes in high school and college would actually be good for something!)

I became fascinated with London and Tudor England the way I hadn't been since 8th grade. (I had a Tudor phase then. Yes, I was an incredible nerd.)

Have you ever found yourself adoring something you didn't think you would? Or rediscovering an old love you'd thought you'd outgrown?

For me it was Shakespeare and I'm so glad I found him. Hope you will be too.
Here's a taste of SHAKESPEARE UNDEAD, being released on Tuesday! (June 8)

Will pulled the sheets from inside his doublet, the ones he’d been working on all night, the ones that held the lines he wanted to say with her.

He offered some; she took them from him. “A new play?”

“I’m not sure. Can we--? Would you--?”

“Read with you?” Her smile bloomed as bright as the sun. “I’d like nothing more.”

They faced each other, and he began. “Even as the sun with purple-colour’d face had ta’en his last leave of the weeping morn.”

Kate read her lines from the page as if she’d read them a hundred times before. “If thou wilt deign this favour, for thy meed. A thousand honey secrets shalt thou know: Here come and sit.” She spread her graceful hand to indicate an imaginary stool. “Where never serpent hisses, and being set, I’ll smother thee,” she lifted her gaze to his, “with kisses.”

Will’s throat went dry. He had to swallow twice before he could continue. “Ten kisses short as one, one long as twenty: A summer’s day will seem an hour but short, being wasted in such time-beguiling sport.”

“Touch but my lips with those fair lips of thine.”

Will didn’t know when he’d moved closer, but he had, and now they stood hip to hip, chest to chest, her face tilted up, shaded by her cap, yet he could still see the full, ripe beauty of her-- “Though mine be not so fair, yet are they red. The kiss shall be thine own as well as mine.”

He leaned in and brushed their lips together. Her breath caught; so did his. Just that slight touch he felt everywhere.

Kate’s face flooded with heat, and she glanced down, the brim of her cap scraping his nose. Will stepped back, then stretched out a hand to cup her chin. “What seest thou in the ground?” He lifted her exquisite face. “Hold up thy head: Look in mine eye-balls, there thy beauty lies; Then why not lips on lips since eyes on eyes?”

“Why not indeed?” she whispered, and kissed him.Will forgot his next line; he could no longer remember hers. The paper slid to the floor as he cupped her face.

Ah, but soft.

She went onto her toes and pressed herself against him—her lips, her tongue, her chest--she wore too many clothes. Her skin so smooth, he wanted to touch every last inch of it.

Suddenly she pulled away—from his mouth, his hands. Her fingers rose, and she touched her lips, her eyes wide and a little scared.

He’d knocked her cap from her head. He had no recollection of that. Her hair, pinned tightly, had begun to tumble down. She appeared as if she’d been loved and well. He reached for her, and she stepped back. Words gushed into his head like water through a sluice.

“Beauty within itself should not be wasted. Fair flowers that are not gather’d in their prime rot and consume themselves in little time.”

Her hand fell away. “Rhyming,” she said. “A poem perhaps.”

“What?” Will shook his head, which was full of more rhyming words. “Even so she kissed his brow, his cheek, his chin, and where she ends she doth anew begin.”

Kate smiled and stepped closer. Then she kissed his brow, trailing her lips to his cheek and chin before leaning back, staring into his eyes. “Like that?” she whispered, and he was lost.

I you'd like to read the first five chapters go to: http://us.macmillan.com/CMS400/uploadedFiles/Shakespeare_Undead-chapters1-5.pdf

One lucky commenter will pick up a copy of Shakespeare Undead and a Shakespeare Little Thinker Doll!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

PM Gets Domestic *


Last week I did something I haven't done since 2001, but after I got such a great offer, I couldn't turn it down. I mean, it was hot and sticky and sooooooooo sweet, and you folks need to get your minds right out of the gutter.

I made jelly. Mint jelly to be precise. A friend from church was cleaning out a mint bed and I asked if I could get some of the mint to make jelly. Before I even got the large bunch of fragrant stems, I had to buy jars, lids and rings, sugar, pectin and a canning funnel.

Then I had to strip the leaves off the stems, chop them and make a mint infusion, which would be one of the basic ingredients of the jelly. This involved 4 1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of packed mint. Once the water came to a boil, I covered the pot, took it off the heat and let it sit for ten minutes. Then I added green food coloring so it will actually look palatable (otherwise it would looke like muddy water jelly). Making the infusion was enough work for one night, but boy did my apartment smell good.

The next night I got down to business and began the actual jelly making process. I waited til night since you have to cook this and I didn't want to add more heat to my apartment when it was 90+ outside.

Before I began the actual jelly, I had to prepare the jars by washing them and then leaving them in the sink in boiling water. Next I had to put the lids and rings in a pan of boiling water. Then I measured out 5 cups of sugar and set it aside. I put 4 cups of infusion in a large pot, added a box of fruit pectin and brought it to a boil. Then I stirred in the sugar, brought it to a full rolling boil (meaning you can't dissipate it by stirring) and continued to stir for exactly one minute.

The next part is like those plate juggling acts you use to see on TV. I had to pull the jars out of the water and set them on a towel. I ladled the hot mixture into the jars, leaving 1/8 of an inch of head room, pull a lid from the pot and put on the jar and then screw a ring on it. Oh, and before adding the lid and ring, I had to wipe off the mouth of the jar to make sure nothing would interfere with the lid sealing properly.

Once that was done, then I sat back and listened. Before long I heard the first "pop" indicating a jar had sealed. In succession, the remaining jars popped and voila, my jelly was done.

Somewhere in the middle of all that I realized the art of jelly making is a little like writing.

There was GMC. My goal? To have jars of jelly. My motivation? How great it is with lamb (or in my case, pork, which I fondly refer to as faux lamb). And the conflict? The whole darn process of making jelly.

The ingredients were like characters and setting. They had to be just right or I'd end up with a mess. Too much sugar and the jelly would be too thin. Too little and it's prone to fermentation. Sorta like backstory, I thought. You can over or under cook, use too much or too little pectin, and have bad jars or lids. That is kinda like plot and pacing and characterization.

If you've ever made jelly, you understand what I'm talking about. If not, just take my word for it. Like writing a story, it's a delicate mix and balance of all the parts, and once it's done, you have to let it set and seal (or in the case of a book, sell hopefully).

Here's a picture of the finished product. I know some folks who'll be getting mint jelly for Christmas!


And just like no two stories turn out exactly the same, no two batches of jelly turn out exactly alike. I added a little more food coloring to one batch so the end product is a more vibrant green.

Anybody else ever make jelly? Does the analogy to writing make sense to you?

*And before my mother chimes in and tells you, I'll admit that I won the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award my senior year in high school despite not being able to do much more than sew a straight seam and boil water. It was a written test. I just had to know what escarole was, not do anything with it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

My New Addiction

Some of y’all are probably aware that I’ve been having problems with my neck and back recently. Let’s just say that last Christmas, I was a mess. My arms either burned or were numb. My neck hurt so bad I couldn’t turn my head. I couldn’t sleep. I could only sit in one position, and even then, not for very long. My back ached constantly – except when the shooting pain took over. The migraines were the final straw. I finally had to go see the doctor.

What he discovered was a bit of a perfect storm of problems that were going to take a while to sort out: spinal issues that were just bad genetics, an old injury that hadn’t healed properly, too many hours sitting improperly at the computer, and (like a lot of other people) I carry stress and tension in my neck and shoulders.

There were medical things – chiropractic care, a series of painful shots and a course of massive anti-inflammatory meds. Painkillers to get me through the tough spots and help me sleep. There were lifestyle changes – a new kind of pillow (which I hated for a long time), special stretches and exercises I had to do, ergonomic keyboard, mouse, and chair, more breaks when I’m working at the computer (and those breaks meant getting up and walking around – not just clicking over to Facebook.) More yoga. Wrist braces to sleep in at night.

It took a while, but I started to feel a little better. Then the doctor said it was time to add something else to the mix. I know I rolled my eyes, because, dear dog, my life was already upside down from everything. Then I got the prescription: Massage Therapy. Thirty minutes a week.

Finding another hour in my week – including drive time, etc – didn’t sound great, but hey, massage! I’d had a couple of massages before and loved them.

Then I found out this wasn’t the relax-and-let-me-rub-you kind of massage. This was deep tissue, let’s-sort-you-out kind of massage. My massage therapist is a tiny, soft-spoken woman who could probably bring a grown man to his knees with her thumbs. Let’s put it this way – when you come home from a massage, gulp three Advil and strap an ice pack to your back, it wasn’t what you’d call relaxing. But the next day… wow. I felt a thousand percent better. Those early days weren’t fun, but the results were nothing short of amazing.

As I’ve gone on, the massages have gotten less painful simply because they are working their magic on my muscles. Yeah, occasionally there’s a bad knot that has to be worked out, but it’s no longer a run-for-the-ice-pack adventure each time. I’ve gotten addicted to massage. When I got sunburned last weekend, my first thought was “oh, no, I’ll have to cancel my massage!”

Aside from working knots out of my muscles, massage has all kinds of secondary benefits I didn’t know about until I started receiving them. The increased blood flow gives me energy. Relaxing the muscles in my neck and back makes me feel taller, like my back has more space to move in. I sleep better. The time on the table with the dim light and new age music helps me clear my head – meditation without even trying. I’ve come up with all kinds of book ideas and solutions to plot problems while on the massage table. I’m less stressed, more relaxed, more creative. I look forward to massage time now – even the sometimes painful stuff. The occasional painful part is totally worth the overall wonderfulness.

And because I’m a regular, my therapist often takes a little extra time with me to do non-medically required massage. That kind of make-me-feel-good stuff that has me drooling into the headrest. Just to help me remember how much I love massage.

I know some folks don’t like to be massaged – modesty issues (not me) or that they don’t like to be touched (also not me). If I were rich, I’d move my massage therapist into my house and have a massage every day – that’s how addicted I am. I’m a convert to the wonders of massage therapy and getting a little evangelical about spreading the news.

An addiction that’s good for me – body and mind. Gotta love it.

So what’s your good-for-you addiction?

PC