Marm-ElatedDecember 12, 2014

Oh, my god, I made lemon marmalade! And it came out SO WELL. And it was SO EASY. I am MARM-ELATED. 

And I have spent almost eight years in this house with a marmalade lemon tree that never stops producing, and the fruit just falls to the ground. We use a lot for cooking and every once in a while we make lemonade, but up till now that was all we did. 

Those days are over, my friends. 

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Avoid the strange looking ones. 

I thought I’d give you a simple breakdown of what I did for two reasons: 1) so I can find it later and 2) because I read about four million recipes out there and they were all soooo different and all of them were missing crucial elements necessary for the newbie (and nervous) first-time canner. I’d never sealed jars before. Now I have and it’s not hard. It’s a bit scary at first, but it’s also fun and overall, easy.

Things you’ll need to buy for canning if you ain't got 'em already: 

Nonreactive pot to make the marmalade in (it should hold twice as much jam as you want to make) (I bet you have one. Your soup pot will work, probably). 

Pot for boiling the jars - I got this el cheapo one with a jar rack at my Ace Hardware which had EVERYTHING I needed for canning. Like, you could go to your Ace right now and get this stuff. Right NOW.* 

Canning tongs and funnel - get these. You will regret not getting these. 

Piece of cheesecloth or piece of old, clean T-shirt, piece of string

Jars! Use the half pint size! A whole pint is nutty! Get a box of 12 (comes with jars, lids, and bands)

 

Ingredients  in a 1:1:1 ratio: 

Lemons - get some, any kind.  
Sugar - have some 
Water - you’re good

THAT’S IT.

Who knew? You don't even need pectin, because lemons have enough of their own! (You knew this? Okay. Your recipe is probably better, too. But mine is EASY.) 

For my marmalade, I used about ten lemons from the tree in the backyard. This made a lot, about 12 half pints. Use two lemons for practice! Make a lil bit just for fun! 

I spent a long time researching how to pith, deseed, dress, slice, whap, and dice those babies. I did it carefully and beautifully for ONE lemon and then my hands notified me that I had four cuts, a burn, and two hangnails I hadn’t noticed. Lemon juice is painful. Screw that (unless you don’t have a food processor or Vitamix, in which case, I’m sorry, and wear gloves).

Prep:

Put on some good tunes or a podcast you’ve been dying to listen to. Wear your cutest apron (I’m reminding you, because you always forget to wear it, I know you do). 

Put some small plates in the freezer. You’ll need those later to test doneness

Sterilization:

Wash and dry your jars, lids, and bands with warm soapy water. Put them on a cookie sheet or two in the oven at 225F for 10 minutes. When they’re cooked just let ‘em sit in the stove till you’re ready to fill them. It’s okay if they go cold again. 

Fill that big old pot up with water and set it to boiling. It will take forever, so start now. When it hits a boil, you can turn it off until you need to use it. 

Lemon prep:

Wash the lemons. This is nice to do for everyone, including the lemon.

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Slice off the ends. Then cut the lemons in half. Try your best to wrangle out that white pith that runs up and down the middle of the lemon — use your hands, feel free to mash it around. Try to get the seeds out. Mine didn’t have many. Put the lemon halves into your food processor or Vitamix or whatnot. Put the piths and seeds into that little bit of cheesecloth and tie it up (this gives it more natural pectin). 

I used my Vitamix, filled it with lemon halves, and then covered the lemons with water. Then I chopped ‘em up. You want them in small pieces, big enough to suit your bite need in your marmalade. Don’t puree them. Dump this into a colander. Then, when drained, dump into your nonreactive pot using a measuring cup. NOTE HOW MANY CUPS OF LEMON YOU HAVE. Add the bag of pith/seeds and exactly the same number cups of water (see how you could make a lot or a little and not worry about amounts?). 

Bring to boil then keep at high simmer for 2ish hours until peels are soft. Water will boil away, maybe half of it? That’s okay. Add the same number of cups sugar, bring to a boil and stir occasionally, boil for 10-20 minutes, checking setting point. 

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Setting point:

Get out a cold plate from the freezer, drizzle some marmalade on it. Give it a minute or two to set. Run your finger through it. If it wrinkles, you’re done. If it’s still runny, boil some more. 

NOTE: This is where I panicked. Mine never set right. I boiled for almost an hour, and that stuff stayed runny (I think I hadn’t boiled it long enough in the first cooking without sugar). I read enough on the internet to panic, learning that I could over-boil it and then when it cooled it would turn to rock, so I put it in jars, hoping for the best and expecting the worst, but the next morning, IT WAS MARMALADE! It had marmelled! It was marmellous! So I’m saying to trust your gut here. 

Turn the burner on under the big pot of water again. You’ll need it boiling soon. 

Putting it in jars! The fun part!

Using your favorite soup ladle and the canning funnel, ladle into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of room at the top. Put on a lid and secure the lid with a band (the outer ringy thingy). Only tighten until you feel resistance, do NOT torque the band on tight. Just lightly, till it stops twisting. Then using your tongs, which you were clever enough to buy, lower the jars into the pot of hot water and onto the jar rack. Once all the jars are in the water and the water has hit a boil, boil for another 10-15 minutes. Turn off the gas or move the pot carefully off the hot part of the stove. Using tongs, remove jars to cool, placing them on a cloth (important because the cold counter touching the glass jars can cause breakage).

You’ll hear pings and pops, and that’s good and magical, because they’re SEALING. You’re totally DOING THIS. 

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Leave ‘em there.

Take pictures. Instagram them. You totally should. They’re so PRETTY. In the morning, remove the bands, test them for seal by lifting them an inch or two (briefly!) by the lids. They should stick together. If one hasn't sealed right, put that one in the fridge and eat it first! Decorate! Give away! Or keep them all for yourself. But you won’t be able to. I’d gave my first away while it was still warm to these pretty ladies who stopped by and got covered with every animal we own:

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*affiliate links

** the links are affiliates, not the women.  KiraK and RachelD are just awesome. My extra sisters. 

Me, in Three SongsDecember 3, 2014

My friend Duff wrote herself in three songs, based on this post, and I love the idea of this challenge. 

Apparently I'm in the mood for culling down to the essential today. I've pared my closet to 33 items (not including handknits -- I TRIED! I really did. But I couldn't do it) and now I'm paring down to three songs. 

I've realized lately that both my jobs are completely language focussed. The writing job is obviously so, but so is the dispatch job -- at 911 you can't miss a single word of an address or a symptom or what the captain says on the radio or the word knife. But when it comes to music, I'm kind of wordless. I can listen to songs for decades and be able to sing along phonetically (and even tell you the words that way, if you ask me) but I'll have no idea what the song literally means. 

It's about the feeling. It's about what the sound makes rise in me like sap. (Like sappy sap, mostly.) 

 

Murder in the City - Avett Brothers. Oh, Avetts, you tools. I do wish you weren't such tools. But I still love your music. And I take it back about the words and not listening to them, for this song. These words mean something. They mean a lot to me. Oh, my god, just listening to this again broke me down to tears. Love. Family. Friends. Gah. 

 

Stella Maris -  Moby. This song to me, is every feeling of grief and longing there ever was. This is what I put on repeat when Robin died in Pack Up the Moon (not a spoiler, his death happens before the book opens). This is what I listen to when I want to cry. Or when I want to need. 

Give it Up - Marvin Gaye. Now stop those tears, my friend, and dance. This is my theme song. If this comes on while I'm in the middle of the frozen food section of the grocery store, I will grab the stock boy and spin him around a few times. If this comes on in the DMV (oh, that it would), I will lead those waiting in a feel-good dance party. I can even karaoke it. No lie.

 

How about you? How do you describe yourself in three songs? 

I Kick Like a GirlNovember 26, 2014

Warning: I hate the phrase “trigger warning” but this is one. This post deals with violence and rape and fighting. And me, kicking ASS. 

So, I want to tell you this. I’m a badass. 

Once, many years ago, I attended an Impact self-defense graduation ceremony (back then it went by the strange name of Model Mugging). I was young (in my early twenties) and I was terrified of everything. I was scared to talk to people, scared to walk down the street, scared to go to sleep at night. The reason for this was multi-layered and I don’t feel like getting into exactly how my young psyche had been damaged, but one of the reasons I was scared was that I’d been raped. It was date rape (and oh, how I hate how that phrase can take the barb out of the word RAPE. Date rape, to me and many others, implied for many years that it was my fault. That it was a minor deal. It was neither). 

To be honest, I didn’t even know I was going to write this part of this post until I started typing. I’ve told very few people this over the years. My mother knew. A few friends.

Until the Jian Ghomeshi shitstorm, I’d never admitted this online or in print, anywhere. The shame that’s internalized around rape is astonishing. You know me and admitting things. I LOVE to admit my deepest, darkest secrets and bring them into the light, but I’ve never admitted this. My stomach is in knots and I’m scared right now as I peck at the keys. I twittered a very little bit about my experience a few weeks ago while people were talking about Ghomeshi, and then I threw up and shook for the rest of the morning. But you know what? We have to talk about this. Among my women friends, more of them have been sexually assaulted than haven’t. This is true. 

And this is so fucked up.

(No, before you ask (not like YOU would, YOU know better), this is not why I’m gay-married. I’m bisexual. I love (good) men, and I love (good) women. I just happen to be in love with my wife.) 

So years and years ago, I went to that Impact graduation. I watched women fight their way away from men who were literally holding them down, picking them up, throwing them around. I wasn’t alone in crying my way through the graduation, and I vowed I would take the class someday. I vowed I would learn to be as strong as they were.

The problem was that the class wasn’t cheap. I was a broke college student for a long time, and then I was just a broke, indebted American for a long time. 

Then I could afford it. 

I signed up for the Basics course earlier this year, and I swear to you, I’ve never been more terrified to do something in my whole life. It’s a four day course, and by the time we were ten minutes into the class, I wanted to run. I fantasized about doing it so clearly I was surprised to find myself still standing in place.  

I stayed. 

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First, with the help of our inspiring whistle instructor (the female teacher who’s literally right next to you during every fight, coaching you, blowing the whistle when you’ve won), we learned how to say No

See, as women, we often don’t know how to say this effectively. And we certainly don’t know how to yell it. Our first group “No” was timid. Almost polite. A questioning, “No?” Am I doing this right? 

Then, with the help of the amazing suited instructors (the men who wear the full-body suits which allow them to absorb our punches and kicks), we learned how to fight. I have to admit, I had some doubt about the men. What kind of guy would sign up to come at women menacingly? Now I know. The best kind of men. The men who want women to be safe in this world. They’re kind and generous and—honestly—pretty awe inspiring in their dedication to the cause of halting violence against women. I can’t say enough about them.

Now, in my whole life I had never hit a person who wasn’t a sister (and even when I was a kid, I was always better with words than fists). The first twenty or so times I hit a suited instructor, I apologized. I APOLOGIZED. We all did. 

You know what? By the end of the class, I could take a man out. In order to graduate, we had to land several knock-out blows. Guess who managed to do this? Everyone in the class, including the ones who were much skinnier or much heavier than I was, including the ones who were twenty years younger or older than I am.

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After that class, I was so much less scared. I didn’t know how much fear I carried walking in the BART parking lot at night, going out our front door in the dark, walking through the city, until that fear was lifted off. Not coincidentally, the next week, I got a bike. I wasn’t scared anymore to be knocked off it. No, I sure as heck don’t want to be knocked off my bike. I don’t want to be robbed. But now I know how to take care of myself, of my body, and I wasn’t scared for the first time in my life. 

I loved Basics so much I signed up for Multiple Assailants, which I took last weekend. In this class, you’re not going so much for the knock-out blows (but those are nice to land, sure). Instead, you’re trying to land incapacitating blows, one after another; you line them up, and knock them down so you can get away and call help. 

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And I have to tell you, this class was even more terrifying to me than the Basics had been (with as much as I'd loved Basics, I didn't expect this). A two-day class, I didn’t want to go either day. I literally prayed for a migraine. The first time three guys came at me, I almost lost control of my bladder. 

Then, because I knew how, I fought. 

I’m posting a video here of one of my fights in class. 

It’s scary. If you’re tense right now, if you feel like crying while reading this, please don’t watch. Or at least don't want alone. Watch with someone who can talk to you afterward, who can give you a hug if you need it. (This is me hugging you.) The instructors use language that’s street-real. You can tell I’m scared in this video.

But I’m also exhilarated. Those punches and kicks I’m landing might look like much, but they’re using all my strength, all my muscle, and I'm a strong woman. A normal guy who wasn’t wearing that suit would not get back up. Period. They would either be unconscious or vomiting from pain. 

 

I also didn’t know I was going to do this next thing, but I’m following my heart.

Impact isn’t cheap, but they have scholarships. I’d love to raise enough to put a woman through this class who needs it, a woman who can’t afford it. Click here to donate.

Even a very small amount would help change a woman's life forever. 

If you want to donate directly to Impact rather than going through that link, their holiday fundraiser for taking Impact to college campuses (!) is here.  If you want to see if they’re in your area, click here

Conclusion: 

I don’t expect to ever have to use these skills. If mugged, I’ll give up my backpack. You can have my bike. But try to touch me? I’ll lay you OUT, motherfucker. 

And that makes me feel like I can fly. 

 

 

Living the DreamNovember 14, 2014

Once I was at a HarperCollins party at the Central Park Boathouse in New York. I felt like a naive, squawking goose because I was surrounded by successful authors who didn't seem to think this was a big deal. 

To me it was a VERY big deal. I told one of the editors that--that I couldn't believe where I was--and she was glad to hear it. She didn't think my funny overeager faces were silly. She got excited, too, when I told her how I felt. 

I think it's important to remember these kinds of things. In anything, when you achieve a goal, let yourself bask. Bask in the glow of pride and the knowledge that you freaking DID it. Remember when your mom would point out something that you just did that was pretty cool, and she'd say, "Aren't you proud of yourself?" (I hope your mother did that. If not, I'll say it to you. You should be so proud of yourself, friend, for doing that awesome thing, even if was just a small step. Good on you.) 

Yesterday I had one of those days. I worked a 72 hour shift (that wasn't part of it though it wasn't bad), got home and napped till 1pm (that was part of it. Nothing like sleeping till 1pm, even if you didn't go to bed till 9am. It always feels decadent). Then I got up and went to Mills and wrote a couple of thousand words for NaNoWriMo (I'm still ahead! Loving that!). 

Then, get this: I spoke to a writing class at Mills on being a working writer. 

That has been a dream of mine. That's been a dream for a long, long time. I've taught a lot of places, literally all over the country, and most recently, down under. But when I was at Mills as a grad student, years and years ago, I would walk across the quad, lost in imagining myself in the future, wearing stylish boots, my published books in one hand, a coffee in another, going to talk to students about writing. 

Yesterday afternoon my boots were Dansko and not that stylish, but I was wearing a sweater I'd bound off that very morning, the books in my bag were mine, and I was clutching that coffee like it was the only way I'd keep breathing. 

The students were amazing, and asked awesome questions. They want to be writers like I used to want to be (and now am! Pinch me again!). I want each and every one of them to end up playing the starring role in their own dream. I want that for YOU, too. Keep taking those steps, okay? Those little actions, that tiny risk you take today gets you that much closer. 

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Me, after class, a little verklempt. 

Afterward, as night fell, I put the top down on the bridge on the drive to San Francisco and tried to soak up and enjoy every minute of it. The air smelled of the rain that had fallen earlier that day, and I realized that both of the towns I love best (Oakland and Venice) smell best when cool and damp. The smell of dirt and diesel and salt water. Magic of the very best kind. 

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I love the new Bay Bridge.

Then Lala and I had date night. We had dinner on the sidewalk at the Grove, and then went to see Jill Lepore talk about her Wonder Woman book. It was a freaking perfect day. 

And it didn't hurt that for all that I was wearing a new sweater. This sweater was supposed to have sleeves, yes, but as I was knitting it, I realized how thick it was. I would for sure never wear it, EVER. I wondered how it would look as a vest. 

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 Pattern: DROPS Chocolate Passion, in Quince and Co Osprey. Ravelry details here. 

It's an interesting construction, and will look/fit better after a bit of a block, but you know me. I'm impatient. 

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And I just realized this: Finishing this means I can start a new sweater with the handspun I've been spinning from the New Zealand wool! Eeep! Today, my reward for doing my NaNoWriMo words will be picking a pattern and swatching. 

I feel so deeply happy and grateful to be exactly where I am. Right now. I wish for you the same. 

* I keep forgetting to draw winners! The winner of Chris Baty's book is Jeanne B. and the winner of Larissa Brown's Shieldmaiden Knits is Linda McD -- you've both been emailed. 

 

Giveaway! November 4, 2014

I've written about Larissa Brown before. If you like great novels that completely sweep you to another place and manage to keep you there until you turn the last page even if it makes you late for work, you need to read the jaw-dropping Viking romance Beautiful Wreck (see my review). 

Not only is she a stunning writer, she's a seriously talented knitwear designer, and she has a new collection, also Viking based. 

Shieldmaiden Knits 

(Ravelry link)

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From the book: 

Shieldmaiden Knits features designs in Malabrigo Yarn, inpsired by the epic Viking style.

Vikings were poets and artists. Their woodwork, carvings, bracelets and intricate needle cases and combs all suggest a great passion for design. Their words and sagas suggest a love of dramatic gestures.

The pieces in this collection take the gorgeous colors and textures of Malabrigo yarns, and use simple shapes and easy lace to bring about dramatic results. These are not historically accurate designs, but instead are modern pieces inspired by my research into Viking Age life.

I adore this piece, Gull Warmers:

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and these delicate gauntlets just GET me: 

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I'm giving away a copy of the book to one lucky commenter -- let's play my favorite game and leave a comment about the best book you've recently read. I'll draw a winner on November 11. 

Nanowrimo writers: don't forget to leave a comment in the previous post about Chris Baty's book, No Plot No Problem - will be drawing that winner tomorrow! 

A Ghost StoryOctober 31, 2014

In typical hardcore California fashion, I call myself spiritual, not religious. I'm pretty agnostic, but I know there's something good and interesting after this life, because I've felt close enough to dead people that there just isn't any other explanation (to me). If that's just my brain tricking me, that's fine, too. I'll take it. 

But I do want to tell you about the haunted guitar gig bag. Look! Already, this is slightly exaggerated! Here's how I got it: 

I popped into a very old but newly-renovated music shop in Oakland one morning after having breakfast with friends. I wasn't shopping--just looking--but I'd seen that they had a good selection of ukuleles as I'd walked past, and what's a girl supposed to do? 

The owner of the shop was cordial, giving me a friendly hello and then going back to his laptop. I noticed he was completely intent on the screen, his eyes huge. Finally, I asked the price of a baritone uke, and he kind of jolted himself back. 

"Oh! A hundred." 

"Ah," I said. It was a beautiful instrument, and I waited for him to try to sell me on it, although I already was. 

Instead, he paused. Then hesitantly, he said, "You wanna see something?" 

No! No. When a man you don't know asks if you want to see something on his computer screen, a safe answer is usually Back off, ass-hat. But he honestly didn't strike me as creepy--he seemed more like a guy I'd hang out with, a guy who would fit in with my friends. So I said, "Maybe?"

On his computer were four screens, three normal, one infared night vision. There were all of the interior of the store, two in front, two in back: security cameras. This wasn't odd: it's a music store full of instruments in a high-crime area.

He pointed. "That's me." On the screen, a small image of him walked around, multiplied and synced by four, seen from four different vantages. He was obviously looking for something. The store was lit, but not well, and he used a flashlight to help him peer into boxes.

"Look," he said. "This is a couple of nights ago. I felt really weird that night. So I played this back the next day. I can't stop looking at it." 

We watched the mini-him scoot around the store, tidying something, then digging his keys out of his pocket. He went to the front door to unlock it. 

Something small and bright zipped in front of the two front cameras. It was gone as fast as it had come.

On the screens, the owner pulled the door open, went outside, and turned around.  Through the glass, we watched him lock up the store. "I was leaving to get the PA equipment I'd rented to a place down the street," he said to me. "It was just after midnight." 

As he walked out of view, all four screens shook a little. All four went dark. Then they FLARED to life. They showed the shop, the front and the back of it, but now it was as if a bright light had been switched on and the light was catching dust motes fly around. 

Only these (I swear this to you) weren't dust motes. First of all, motes don't glow like that. Second, motes don't work independently of each other. Most of them were fast, zipping by in clumps, zigzagging in groups, darting like flocks of tiny, bright birds. Some, though, swooped lazily in spirals. Some (this freaked me out) flew toward the cameras and did pirouettes, almost as if showing off, before looping slowly off screen. The cameras kept their slow time, the seconds in the time stamp on each changing normally at the top. 

I was gobsmacked. Slack jawed, literally. "I...I..." 

"Right?" he said. "Now watch this." 

On the film from the front cameras, someone is seen on the sidewalk. It's the guy. "I forgot the paperwork I needed them to sign for the amps. I came back to try to find it." 

As soon as he's seen outside, the bright lights pause. As he inserts his key and opens the door, all of them zoom out of sight. Holding a flashlight, he enters and searches for a piece of paper on the counter. A single bright mote flies across the camera and then is gone again. Another dances in the corner, almost invisible. A few fly behind his back.

Then he leaves again. As soon as he's not visible on the sidewalk, the orbs (because I swear, that's what they were) filled all the screens, dancing and zipping again. 

"I've never seen anything like that," I said, kind of truly freaked out. 

"I have," he said. "I've seen it before out of the corner of my eye, but that night was crazy, and I didn't even notice them. I just felt them. I never get scared here, but I didn't have the car that night. I always walk home, never had a problem, but that night, even though I hadn't seen these tapes, I called my wife at one in the morning, woke her up, and had her wake up our baby so they could come get me." His eyes went big again to make his point. "I made my sleeping wife wake up our sleeping baby to drive the few blocks here because I was scared." 

Then I noticed the date stamp on the tapes we were still ogling. Just after midnight on on All Soul's. I literally didn't even bother to point it out to him. I figured he was probably well aware of the date. 

"Why don't you get some ghostbusters in here?" I asked. 

"I did." 

"And?" 

"They saw the lights, and they said they were concentrated in the back room, where an old man used to live, where he died."

"And?" I said, almost hopping up and down.

"He wasn't a good man," he said. "According to them, he was a really, really bad man."

"You have to be on TV or something! You have to show people this!" 

He looked crestfallen. "But then I'd own the haunted music shop." 

"Yeah? And?" [Aside - I just checked on Yelp, THE MUSIC STORE MOVED. Still stellar Yelp ratings, but no longer in the same place. I'm SO going back to ask him if that's why he moved.]

"I don't want to be that guy. I just want to sell guitars." 

I leaned forward and propped my chin on my hands. "What does your wife think?" 

"She doesn't believe it." 

"But--she's seen the tapes?" 

"She says it's dust or something." 

"But they move. Together. And apart. They act like they have brains, or will, or something. And there are so many." 

He shrugged. "It makes her feel better. I've seen them at home, though." 

"Are you serious?" 

He nodded. "I'll see them zip by, just out of sight, just like they do here. I think they follow me home, but my wife doesn't want to hear about it." 

I started to doubt the wisdom of my planned purchase, and I suddenly understood his reticence to be known for being haunted. "If I buy that uke, will I take some home?" 

He straightened. "Nah. No way." 

"What about the bag?" The uke was so big it was resting in an old Martin gig bag. The bag was ripped and soft and looked more like a sleeping bag than the protection it was supposed to be.

"Oh, you can have that. That's been around here forever." 

I didn't mention I didn't want it, I just paid and took both home. 

Then, when I got home, I couldn't bring the bag inside. The ukulele, sure. I kind of blew on it and said, "Don't come in here, 'kay? This is a nice place. Stay outside." Then I felt dumb and hoped the neighbors didn't see me talking to the uke. But the bag . . . just felt wrong. It didn't feel right. I did finally bring it in out of my car, telling myself I was being stupid, but a few days later, I put it in the trash. I hated having it in my office. 

Silly, I know. A haunted gig bag. But it felt real. 

And isn't that the part that matters? 

OH MY GOD I FOUND SOME OF THE FOOTAGE - he put it on YouTube!!! Augh. Cue delicious chills.

In this one you can't see him entering or exiting the door, but you can see at .20 whatever it is is active, and when he's in the shot with his flashlight, whatever it is is much less active.

 

This is from a different, color camera, same thing, different vantage. Skip to about 1.20 to see it start.  

 I KNOW. Thank goodness I couldn't find the flaring footage -- that was actually scary. I can't believe I just found this though.  

Now, I won't bore you with the tale of the ghost I've felt on the edge of my bed (and the cheeky way it tugs on the sheets!) (not at home, don't worry), but I'll ask you today, on Halloween: what's YOUR favorite ghost story? 

(Oh, and don't forget to read yesterday's post and leave a comment to have a chance to win No Plot No Problem!) 

No Plot, No Problem! October 30, 2014

NANOWRIMO COMETH. At some point, I should probably plot out at least the first scene, since I'm going to launch into it on Saturday, but... 

Hey, wait! 

What does Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo always say?

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Indiebound | Amazon | iBooks| Kobo | B&N *

Know what? Chris is right. No plot is actually no problem, espeically in the magical month of November. I find out what I'm writing as I write it. I can have as detailed a plan as I like, and I'll veer from it just because the grass I imagined over there, on the other side of the fence, feels cooler to my imaginary toes. 

His book is awesome, friends (REVISED and EXPANDED), and because he's just as awesome, he's giving away TWO signed copies and a fire-breathing princess postcard, to boot. 

Just leave me a comment below to enter (tell me what you're going to write about! Or what you're NOT going to write about -- ooh, that's even more interesting, the negative space around your words...) and I'll draw two winners on Nov. 5th. 

In the meantime, I'll just sit here and wonder why I take on creative challenges like sketching something every day just as November lands in my lap. Please enjoy the book llama Chris sent me, as he does. 

No_plot_no_problem_cover_llama

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NaNoWriMo InspirationOctober 16, 2014

I've done National Novel Writing Month for the last seven years. This will be my eighth. There were some years I kind of half-assed it, I have to admit. There were years I was smack-dab in the middle of revisions that were due in December, and I had to be a NaNo Rebel. I didn't love those years. Those felt fake. 

Isn't that silly? It's an online challenge, just a lark. 

But it's a challenge I really do take seriously. I absolutely believe in the magic of writing so fast you barely think while you're doing it. When you look back at your writing (after November! not during!), you find some terrible writing, sure. But you also find not just gold, but entire gold mines, lines of written ore you never would have uncovered if you hadn't been so willing to ride the train right off the rails (no, you're a mixed metaphor). 

This year, I'm doing it for-real-for-reals. As I mentioned in my last post, I have a new book to write! I sold my ninth, to Penguin! And I can't wait to write 1,667 words every day. 

And for you, here's a little How-To video, in case you're thinking about it, wondering if you can or should try. (Hint: TRY IT. What's the worst that can happen? You get more words written in November than you did in October? Fabulous! Good for you!) 

New Book! October 15, 2014

From today's Publisher's Marketplace: 

SOLD: Rachael Herron's TAKING CARE, in which two women, who discover they had been married to the same man at different times, find their way towards friendship and family along a bumpy path despite their differences, again to Danielle Perez at NAL, by Susanna Einstein at Einstein Thompson Agency (NA).

This will be my 2016 release, so it's early to get excited about it, but I AM SO EXCITED. I love this story idea, and I can't wait to start writing it. 

Sketch DailyOctober 14, 2014

I’ve been doing something for nine days with the intention of seeing if it stuck before blogging about it. 

I’m going to sketch daily for a year. 

Gah. Even typing it right there is scary to me. I’m not an artist. 

It took the previous blog post to spur me into asking why I wasn’t. 

I already knew from writing that doing the work is the only way you learn to do something better. But even that is a judgment, right? If I look at my work and ask myself, “Is this good?” or even “Is this better than the last one?” then I’m assigning value to what I’m doing. 

And what I’m doing, drawing something every day, doesn’t need value attached to it. I’m doing it as a practice, as a meditation, as a way of really LOOKING at an object I’m sharing space with in the world. (I’m reading Lala’s copy of The Zen of Seeing, and it’s awesome.)

That’s why I’m putting up the sketches at Instagram (I’ve just joined, friend me there!). That part, the cataloguing, feels important to me. We’re so good at posting the pretty and the perfect. We like Pinterest for a reason. Pretty is attractive. We like the well lit, the well composed, the perfect. It’s good to open that up and post the real things, the attempts that don’t work as well as the ones that do. 

If I don’t post anything, I can easily fail out of the challenge and no one will know (I like accountability). If I only post what I think is good or even just good enough, then I’m constantly judging my sketches. But if I just draw them and post every one, even the ridiculously ugly failures, then I’m only being accountable to my decision to do so, and I can be, if not exactly proud, then happy with each one. 

That said, the only one I’m proud of so far is this one, so please indulge my posting it here, firmly judged and found acceptable:

2014-10-11 18.13.10

And hey, speaking of doing things quickly and badly, I'm signed up for NaNoWriMo again this year (I'm going to start my 2016 release, and I'm SO excited about it)! Would you like to help me get to the Night of Writing Dangerously? Best night of the year! SO MUCH CANDY!

NOWD-2014-Poster

Here's the link to donate, if you'd like to. It's a great cause, all the money goes to the Young Writers Program, helping kids to be creative. Thanks for considering!  

*UPDATE: MY FAIRY GODMOTHER did it again. My sister and I will be going to the Night of Writing Dangerously. I'm not sure if she knows how much it means to me that she donates this every year (and oh my goodness, if she stops, it will be TOTALLY OKAY. I don't need this. Don't take from your IRA to stuff me with candy!). But really, it makes me feel hugged and supported and loved, and more than that--it makes me feel special. It's nice to feel special. Most of the time I feel kinda tired and sometimes my feet ache. But my fairy godmother makes me feel like I have glitter running through my veins. Thank you, friend, whoever you are. I hug you SO hard. 

Mighty Ugly GiveawayOctober 6, 2014

I want to tell you a story. It’s about ugly. 

Once upon a long, long time ago, I had an idea. I was lying in bed in my attic bedroom in the old farmhouse we lived in when I was a kid. I was probably about eleven. My feet were down by the window, and my head was under the slanted eaves, the roof only an inch or two above my nose. I stared up in delight. I’d woken up early with this idea and my brain had started whirring (I still do this, quite often). 

I was an artist. 

It was suddenly clear to me. I’d never been one before, but that morning, at eleven years old, I knew I was an artist. I could feel the urge in my fingertips, the tingle in the palms of my hands. My whole body wanted to draw, and the image of what I’d draw first was perfectly encased in my mind’s eye. 

It was a dachshund. (Come to think of it, it was a low, fluffy, wide dachshund who looked a lot like Harriet.)

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Best dog
 

In my mind, still lying in bed, I could see the outline of this dachshund so clearly. I was astonished. I’d never thought too much about being an artist outside coloring books and FashionPlates, but it was immensely exciting to know that I'd acquired overnight the talent required to be good. 

I imagined it, over and over again, so that when I got up and found my colored pencils, I’d have it right. Yes, I could see it, there was the curve on the nose, there was the soft underbelly. There was the flag of a jaunty tail. 

I couldn’t wait to draw it. Everyone would be impressed. I would draw dogs for my sisters upon request, and after a while, I would branch out. Cats, horses, crickets. Beach scenes! I could probably sell them to someone! 

Unable to keep my excitement or my artistic bent under the sheets a minute longer, I got up, went to my desk, and pulled out the old ledger book I kept notes in (I’d found dozens of them in the attic when we’d moved in, huge red business ledgers. I longed to fill their cunning boxes with numbers, and sometimes I did unnecessary math, just to make the pages pretty). 

I sharpened my pencil. 

I drew the first line. 

It was wrong. 

The very first LINE was wrong. 

I took a deep breath. I erased it and did it again. 

Still wrong. 

I drew that dog, and friends, it looked like a portobello mushroom. The dog’s face looked like a droopy question mark. 

It was awful. 

It was worse than awful, it was UGLY. 

I was a terrible artist. I could see the truth, and anyone who looked at it would see the same thing. 

I gave up drawing for the next thirty or so years. Then I suddenly said, I’d like to draw something! I painted Clementine  tangled in the jasmine vines, as she is wont to do. (Funny, that I drew a dog, after all that.) 

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And you know what? I wasn’t attached to the outcome that day. I just wanted to draw for the feeling of it, for the colors. When I forgot to worry if it would be good or bad, it kind of came out awesome. And I know this: some might call that painting ugly. 

Many might, in fact. But I love it. 

The painting bug hasn't stuck, and I haven't done much since. But I feel the echo of that moment in my writing, when I slap ugly words on the page and smile at them. I'll make them pretty, or I'll throw them out, no worries. Their ugly doesn't scare me. In fact, the ugly does the opposite. It makes me happy, proving I really am an artist. (This doesn't take away the fear. The fear never goes away. That's fine, too.) 

My friend Kim wrote a whole book about embracing the ugly. No, not not-minding-ugly. That’s different. One day, while overwhelmed with doubts, she embraced ugly in a big way. And it changed her life. 

Her book about this? It’s nutballs awesome. People, I underlined. I did exercises. I folded corners down. The book is chock full of her no-nonsense voice and her super inspiring
approach to creativity. 

Migug

Indiebound | Amazon* | iBooks* | B&N | Kobo

Dude. 

If you are creative, you need this book. 

If you want to be creative? You needed this yesterday. I seriously love it. I would read a page or two and then launch myself off my couch to Do Something Awesome. 

Her publisher is giving one away to one lucky commenter (tell me about something you made, pretty, ugly, or in between) and I’m giving another copy away to someone randomly drawn from my mailing list. (Blog comment winner will be drawn on Sunday the 12th.) 

**ETA - I forgot! I'm mentioned in the book! Kim interviewed ME! I forgot when I was reading, too, and she started talking about a writer, and I sat up when I saw my name! 

 *Affiliate links

How to Stop Stalling and Write Your BookSeptember 30, 2014

I've got a class! You should come to it!

More than 19 lectures and 80 minutes of video -- this is the class I looked for when I was trying to claw back my writing mojo. This is everything I know about how to write a book. Plus a clip of Ira Glass! Plus a clip of Nora Roberts! Plus me making LOTS of funny faces on accident! 

This class is for you if: 

You've always wanted to write. 
You used to write but you've been stalled. 
You're scared of writer's block. 
You're not sure how to fit writing in to your already too-busy life.

(And for YOU, my darling readers and NaNoWriMo participants, take 50% off for a limited time by clicking this link for the code.) 

Udemy2

CLICK FOR SUPER-FUN CLASS!

 

A Short List, With YogurtSeptember 27, 2014

1. The first rain came, and with it, joy. There's nothing like that first downpour to make me feel that going-back-to-school fall feeling, that crisp exhileration, that feeling that THIS is what I've been waiting for. It almost makes up for the fact that it only rained for like twenty minutes, and the whole time it was as muggy as Hawaii with none of the beach time. Fall is coming, though. I can feel it. Soon I'll wear tights and sweaters and mittens and be WAY too hot but, hopefully, adorably clad. 

2. I made Greek yogurt! I'm WAY TOO EXCITED ABOUT THIS. I'm all out of my first batch (except for starter reserve), and last night I literally dreamed about eating it. See, my mom always made it. Once a month or more, the oven was full of jars keeping warm and she was yelling at us not to run through the house or we'd ruin it (I researched -- this is true! Too much jostling can destroy the bonds being formed in the souring process!). Bless her. It was pretty gross. She liked things runnier than most people do. Scrambled eggs? Soft as pudding. Yogurt? Thin and kinda watery. I was pretty sure I'd never make it myself. 

But then I read an amazing thing: Greek yogurt is just yogurt, strained. That's it. The water (a lot of it whey) has been drained out, and you're left with the delicious firm byproduct. People, I was IN. Since New Zealand, I've been fiending for fresh, amazing yogurt, and I wasn't finding it in the stores. Fage came close with their Greek honey yogurt, but not close enough. 

So I made it. I'm going to tell you how because I had a hard time cobbling together recipes from online. You don't need a pressure cooker to do this, but if you have one, it's nice. Two ingredients! That's all!

Rachael's Super Easy Greek Yogurt

Bring half a gallon of milk (whole is nice! but not necessary) just to the boil. Turn off heat, let it rest, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until you can hold your finger to the side of the metal comfortably for 10 seconds. Add 4 tbs of plain yogurt with live cultures that you've bought at the store (later you'll use your own, but you have to start somewhere) and whisk away for a little while, till mixed. Cover and keep warm* for about 6-8 hours. (Start checking after about 5 hours. Stop when you feel like it. This isn't rocket science.) Line a big colander with a very clean tea towel or cheesecloth or paper filters, put that into a bigger bowl, and dump the yogurt in. Let drain for 2-12 hours in the fridge (dump the whey or reserve it for smoothies/soups, etc, if you feel like it). 

* To keep warm, I used the yogurt setting on my pressure cooker. My mother would preheat the oven to warm, turn it off, and put the yogurt inside with the light on. Some people like to wrap the pot/container in towels to preserve the heat. You're keeping it at warm (not hot) bathtub temperature. You could survive in it, think about it that way. It shouldn't burn you to touch the metal inside the stove. 

SEE? SO EASY. Could not be easier. Add a little homemade granola and a dribble of honey and you're IN HEAVEN. 

3. I finished the revisions on Splinters of Light, due out in March, and I'm so proud of it. I've also worked about a millionty hours at the day job in the last four weeks since we got back from vacation (more than 90 hours/week on average) so when I'm off-shift and not writing I'm basically lying on the floor acting like the yogurt in the pot. Staying warm. Gurgling a little.

4. Honestly, I've maintained vacation brain, and I think it's due to the fact that I really am ignoring the internet when I'm not at work. Email can wait. Twitter can be put off. I'm reading a ton. It's really nice. What are YOU up to as fall approaches? (Or spring, for those of you standing on your heads?) 

Taking The Time BackSeptember 11, 2014

I've been working on writing more about the book tour, but I've been a bit stumped. See, I've been LOVING not being online so much. 

While we were gone, I checked Twitter and email once or twice a day, when I could. I made sure there were no publishing fires (or fires of any other kind for that matter) and I responded only to the things that needed a response. 

Know what? There weren't that many emails that REALLY needed a response. And I loved that feeling that I had more time for life. Because I did have more time. It was great. 

Since I've been home, I've found myself dealing with a bit of resentment for all the time it took me to stay on top of everything online. Then I started wondering if I could put myself back on vacation-time albeit without outdoor tubs or crocodile sightings. 

Here are the things I'm experimenting with: 

1. No push notifications on phone. I don't need to know if anyone has emailed/Twittered/Facebooked me. I don't. If someone really needs me, they'll call me (and my ringer will be off as it always is, and I'll see the missed call two hours later, but that's another story). Related: no pop-up notifications on the computer. 

2. No Twitter app open on my computer. I'm checking it once or twice a day on my phone, skimming through quickly, sending articles I might want to read to Pocket (a great app) for offline reading when I have the time/inclination. As a Twitter addict, this is the hardest part so far. 

3. No Facebook open ever. (This is easy. I post things to Facebook from Hootsuite but I almost never go to the site itself because I abhor it as a platform.)

4. EMAIL CLOSED. What? This is the biggest, hardest thing so far (I take back that part about Twitter being the hardest. I was wrong). The other night I was lying in bed, thinking about all the time I lose online, and I thought with a tiny flash of rage about the fact that emails were always coming in, and I never got to ignore them like I did while on vacation. After all, my email inbox needed to be open at all times on my computer, and I'm on or near my computer for most hours of most days (either at the day job or at the writing job). 

Then I had this stunning realization. I could close the email window. I swear to all that is holy, this had never occurred to me as an option. What do you do when you restart your computer? Start email, right? It's always there in the background. I couldn't even begin to guess how many times a day I glanced at it.

Now: I'm checking email when I wake up and clearing it to zero (with the judicious use of Sanebox, which I use to send emails to future dates and times -- they land in my inbox again and I deal with them then -- I use this a LOT. It might be fake zero inbox, but it works for me.) Then I'm checking again around 1pm, near the close of the business day in the New York publishing world, and once at night (and neither of those times do I try to clear the inbox, I'm just making sure there's nothing that needs immediate response). 

5. Being okay with dropping things. I take it back! THIS is the hardest thing so far! I'm working on not feeling guilty for putting things off. While I was gone, I did miss one thing that was kind of important, and you know what? The person who needed the info emailed me again saying, "Hey, did you get my email?" It spurred me into action, and no one was harmed in the process. I cleaned up my email when I got home from almost a month away, and there was only one thing I really needed to apologize for not doing. So I did. And it was done. 

Dude, I work 911. I have for fifteen years. I think I have this knee-jerk OH MY GOD IT'S AN EMERGENCY DO IT NOW reaction for, well, just about everything. Laundry not done? How will we go on? Dinner not planned? Lord help us all!  Emails stacking up? CODE RED CODE RED!

I'm dumping that attitude. Right now. 

In the free time I have, I hereby pledge to: write, knit, spin (oh, I'm spinning some Anna Gratton merino fiber that is so amazing I could just die), walk, play, and rest. 

In delicious irony, I give to you a great video -- I loved the song already, and I adored the video when I saw it this morning (after following a link from Twitter. Hey. No one's perfect). 

Passenger, Scare Away the Dark 

All of the above I've only been doing for about 24 hours. I'm no success story, and I may break and go back to normal in another hour. But I don't think so. Stripping it down like this feels good so far. It feels right. 

What about you? Any time saving get-off-the-internet-and-have-a-life tips? Keeping in mind that we all, actually, have to be on the internet sometimes? 

 

Book Tour Part 1August 28, 2014

Hi! *waves frantically* I haven't been around because I've been vacationing like a real, grownup vacationer. Apart from book release stuff (of which, admittedly, there was a lot), I did not work AT ALL. I wrote no words other than hastily penned emails putting out only the fires that really needed to be put out. 

This is what I learned about grownup vacation: 

1. Stay offline as much as you can. Nothing's really on fire (unless it is, in which case call 911, or 000 (Australia!), or 111 (New Zealand)). Banking emergencies aside (apparently you need a steady flow of money when you're on the road, whoops!), I didn't need to be online. I popped up to throw pictures around most days, but that was only when I could. Nothing happened that required my assistance. Dude, I work 911, and they don't need me when I'm not at work. I write books, and in that, I'm my own boss. It was a really good reminder that it's okay to step away. (Digital sabbatical once a week? Here I come.)

2. You'll spend more money than you think you will. Especially if you're in Sydney, yo. Twenty-five dollar scrambled eggs and toast? You'll pay it because if you eat one more Kind bar you might die of sunflower seed poisoning. 

3. Number of Kind bars I needed to get through two countries in 24 days while staying gluten-free to avoid migraines: 15. Number of glasses of wine I could have a day to stay migraine-free: 0.VERY SAD, PEOPLE. Lala sampled amazing wines. I smelled them. They smelled delicious. Sigh. 

4. Everything is worth it. Do it. Find it. BE THERE for it. There were a lot of times I just put away my phone so I could be present, and it's telling that our favorite thing we did (the caving in Waitomo, NZ) was  completely sans-camera. No cameras allowed, or we for SURE would have whipped them out while rappeling 300 feet into the mist. And we would have dropped them. Instead, we were there. Falling slowly through the air. Completely engaged. 

 Some Things, and Later I'll Post Some More

Aug 4: We arrived in Port Douglas, Australia, after 30 hours of traveling, planning to have three days of down time in the small coastal town on the Great Barrier reef before the whirlwind started. It was a great way to get over our jet lag, and we stayed at the amazing Pink Flamingo hotel which had an outdoor bathtub under the stands of bamboo. Ridiculous-sounding birds (one sounded like multicolored bubbles) sang insane songs at us as we reclined in the tub, and it was, pretty much, heaven. From my journal, "The mozzy coil is burning, and the three-story bamboo clanks over our head like men throwing timber." You wouldn't think the sound of timber being thrown would be relaxing, but it was.

There was a hammock for reading in. There were bright colors and a pool and lotus flowers. There was heat and humidity and and mangroves and warm rain. The air smelled like sugar. We rode bikes around town! We ate prawns and oysters! I will not, for your sake, post the picture of the thirteen-foot female crocodile we saw IN THE WILD, because she just kinda looked like a log. But we saw her. And she could have eaten us. 

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Bathtub, no crocs

 

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 Lotus, right outside our room

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Ow. I did break out in hives about two days after we got to Australia, but I think that was all the passionfruit I was eating. I did not get stung by a jelly, not even once. 

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We had some fancy dinners. You have to sometimes. You could see the ocean from our chairs (Harrison's).

Then we went to the Great Barrier reef! This is something I also won't show because I'm sure you can imagine it--the coral, the fish, the three hour boat ride on 5.5 meter seas, the seasickness that ensued... Lala, not me. Poor La. She was a dang trooper. I would not have been so graceful. She just wished for death and held on. (Omg, at one point, I really thought she was dying. I knew we had to get her to hospital after we got back to land, just from the way her eyes looked. It turned out the pink dye in her hair, which had run all over her face in the waves and rain, had dyed her contacts, so she looked positively rabid.)

But the snorkeling was GREAT and we were with the fishies (I love that distinctive scraping noise they make as they nibble the algae off the coral). I have to admit, I even loved being on the boat on the stormy seas. Instead of making me sick, it made me kind of giddy with happiness--a wild, joyful ecstasy that made me think my forebears really did live on ships. This kind of joy is something one must really hide from one's hurling spouse, so I tried to tamp it down as much as possible. 

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More soon, from Sydney! 

Fiona's FlameAugust 1, 2014

The newest Cypress Hollow novel, Fiona's Flame, is out! 


 
Fiona's Flame
Amazon* | Kobo | B&N | iBooks | GooglePlay

In Australia and New Zealand it looks like this: 

 


 

Available HERE


She's carried a torch for him for years. Now they're both feeling the heat...

 

As the owner of the Cypress Hollow gas station and garage, Fiona Lynde is not one for pretty dresses or fussy make-up. In fact, most days she forgets to brush her hair. But she does have one guilty little secret--she's been in love with Abe Atwell for over ten years.

 

The only problem? Abe-the town's handsome harbormaster-barely knows she exists.

 

But then Fiona petitions the council to demolish a deserted old lighthouse, just as Abe is equally determined to preserve the local landmark.

 

Why does Fiona want to tear down the building that was once her childhood home? And why is Abe, whose father drowned in the lighthouse's shadow, so desperate to save it?

 

Battle lines are drawn-just as the spark between them is finally ignited...

 


BOOK NOTE:


 I really hope you all like this one. It was a joy to write. I'd honestly been wanting to write the girl-who-owns-a-gas-station story since I first started writing romance. And the knitting in this book is a little different from the knitting in any of my other books. And there's a possibility you'll see a cameo from my favorite horrible beast, Digit... Long live Digit! 

 

Oh! And the audio version will soon be available! Keep your eye on this space! (Cora's Heartis now available in audio, and I just LOVE my narrator, Barbara Edelman, who's a Real Knitter herself, and gets all the pronunciation right!) 


UPDATE

Lala and I are heading to Australia and New Zealand for a book tour (like, right NOW. We're probably on a plane! Don't break into the house, though, our housesitter is meaner than Digit was!). I would LOVE to meet you if you're near any of these places (newly added Auckland signing!). 

BOOK TOUR:

Sydney, Australia
August 9, ARRA signing, 5pm, Olympic Park

Christchurch, New Zealand
August 13, reading, 3pm, Hornby Paper Plus

Wellington, New Zealand
August 16, reading/knitting, Holland Road Yarn, 1pm (Grand Arcade, Willis Street location)

Auckland, New Zealand
August 21, reading/signing, Orewa Library, 10am

Melbourne, Australia
August 23-24, Melbourne Writer's Festival, floating around!

Danville, California, USA
September 20, A Yarn Less Raveled, time TBA

(Not coming near enough? Round up a group and Skype with me!) 

 
 
*Amazon affiliate link

MeepJuly 18, 2014

Popping in to say: 

  • 4 hours of sleep a night isn't enough. I hate insomnia. But I'm working on it. (The problem I have with insomnia is that it isn't something I can tackle with sheer grit and determination, or I would have solved it years ago. The harder I try, the harder it gets. But I will get it.) 
  • I'm going to nap today. That's a promise. If you get a chance, you should, too. 
  • I love the book I'm finishing (Splinters of Light, out next year from Penguin, HOLY PREORDER BUTTON, that's early!). 
  • I also adore the book that's coming out on August 1st, Fiona's Flame, the newest Cypress Hollow novel, and HEY, while you're thinking about it, you should add it to your Goodreads list (and enter the giveaway!). (US version*.) 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Fiona's Flame by Rachael Herron

Fiona's Flame

by Rachael Herron

Giveaway ends August 17, 2014.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

 
Enter to win

Okay, I'm going back to my imaginary beach to work on more words, and when I've scooped up enough of them and have made a couple of fantasy sandcastles, I'm going to stare off into space, because I'm actively trying to waste some time now and again (see last blog post). 

Next week: Texas, for RWA National! The week after that, Australia and New Zealand! MEEEEEP. 

* Oh! To answer a frequently asked question, yep, I'm self-publishing this in US/CAN, as I did with Cora's Heart. The books were contracted and professionally edited by my awesome editor at Random House Australia, and while my old American publisher (HarperCollins) offered to bring them out here in the US, they could only support doing so in digital form. So last year, I decided that if my books were only going to come out in e-format, I could do the same thing myself and make more money (while keeping the book price lower for you). And because I do it myself, I can actually offer the print form, which a lot of you, my dear readers, still like better. That's why there's no preorder link for the book, and also why you should be on my mailing list so you never miss any of the good stuff!

On (Not) Getting It All DoneJune 24, 2014

I’ve been beating myself up lately. I figured I’d just do it here publicly because you know what? I often admit things here, to you, and then I end up feeling better. I realize I’m normal. I’ve shown you depression, and despair, and grief, and debt. And after I do, I always feel better, because the black thing that claws at our souls is shame, and it can’t live in the light. Just speaking it aloud rips it apart into tiny jagged bloody pieces that shrivel up and then, mercifully, blow away. 

So here I go. 

I’ve been beating myself up for not getting enough work done. 

Yes, I work all the time, both at the day job and the writing job. But I still--always--have more to do, and worse: more that I planned to do. That’s the hardest part for me. Right now I’m writing this blog because I thought of the piece I’m supposed to finish writing, and I was exhausted by the very idea of facing it again. The reason I’m exhausted by thinking about it is because I haven’t had enough sleep. And the reason for that is because of the work. A dear friend told me, “It’s okay just to put one foot in front of the other. You don’t have to do two jobs at the same time.” That felt right, and good, and it made that tight place between my shoulder blades drop an inch or two. 

It’s like meditation. You’re here now. (No. Hi. *waggles fingers* I’m talking to you. YOU are here now (and your hair looks great, by the way). Your eyes are reading my words and because of that, because my fingers are moving, catching my thoughts, the thoughts you’re reading this very second, we have a connection. So I’m telling you, you don’t have to do anything right now but read. And breathe. Feel the air go into your lungs, and then let the air out. There. Wasn’t that nice? Let’s hang out like this more often.)

It’s okay to put one foot in front of the other. And more: it's okay to stop moving entirely. All living things need rest (and if this isn't true, if some scary cephalapod that lives on the ocean floor and changes skin to look like a different scary sea creature to protect itself doesn't actually need rest, please don't tell me, because I don't want to know). YOU need rest (this I know). 

All those other things I’m beating myself up for not doing (building the garden, eating the right things, sleeping enough, having a tidy-enough house), they’re all just an offshoot of Not Getting Enough Done.

It's said you can’t ever have enough money (oh, but I’d like to give it a shot!). It's true of time, too. You  never have enough time to do it all. Obviously, this is true in the tragic sense: young lives lost too early, old lives lost with yet more living to do; but it’s also true in the Today sense. I can’t (ever) do everything on my To Do list. JEEBUZ CHRISTO, I wish I could. On my ideal day I'd write five thousand words, have lunch with friends, walk the dogs, take a nap, tidy something, make a great meal, and do a craft of some sort. In the evening, I’d go on a date, see family and friends, host a dinner, and go to a movie, all the while getting to bed in time for eight hours of sleep. 

Put that way? It’s ludicrous. Of course we don’t have enough time. So let’s pare it down again. We have now. Your butt is planted exactly where it’s seated right now, unless you’re reading this on a bus or train, in which case you’re probably standing and your butt is swaying in front of someone’s newspaper (don't think about that). But you’re there, where you are. Right now. I’m here, in my chair. My fingers are warm, my toes are cold, and the smell of my garlic sweet potato fries is in the air. 

I’ve got time for THIS. For you. And apparently, you have a bit of time for me. That’s a very nice thing, indeed.

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Two dogs Not Getting Much Done At All

 Let’s stop beating ourselves up. We won’t--because we can’t--get it all done today. I hereby give you permission to get less done than you wanted or planned to. And I hope that gives you the space to have something (a nap! a hug! an ice cream cone!) unexpected happen. Tell me about it if it does? 

Savin' Money June 2, 2014

Okay, so you know I love to share things I adore. I have two things (wait! Three! More?) to share today. 

1. Frugal Cell Phone Service

I've been ALL about the frugality lately, so much so that I'm selling things I don't need and not buying more of the same. Seriously, I want to retire young and happy and healthy, and I want Lala to be able to do the same, so we're really cutting back on everything we can in order to make that happen. Yes, it's fun to buy things we want! But it's even more fun to DO what we want. 

To that end: phone bill! We were paying Verizon $180/month for two phones with unlimited plans. That is a lot, and with our iPhones, there was no way to bring that plan down. That was their cheapest plan available for us (and I tried like heck to finagle things to lower it). 

Enter Republic Wireless. They have wireless plans for $5, $10, and $25/month. When I heard about them, I didn't think it could possibly be true and work well, which is why I've used it for a month before reporting back. 

But it's true. Because I chose the $10/month plan, I have an amazing phone, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited data whenever I'm on a WiFi system (which I am 95% of the time). To talk, it uses Sprint with Verizon as a backup when the Sprint coverage fails (which is good because in the Bay Area, Verizon is great everywhere, Sprint not so much). All of my calls have been crystal clear. Last week, when I was sick with the stomach flu, I watched Netflix and Hulu nonstop on my big Moto X screen, and it was phenomenal. 

And on Friday, when Lala and I were Official Tweeters for the San Francisco Opera's dress rehearsal of Show Boat (right??), I knew I might not be on WiFi, so I changed to the $25 plan so I could have unlimited data, too. You can change twice a month on the plan, with days prorated as you go. 

Dude. This is SO CHEAP. And SO AWESOME.

You do need a phone on their system (Moto G for $149 or Moto X for $299), which was a major stopper for me until I realized I could sell my iPhone for the same price as the Moto X, so it was basically like getting a free phone. Even with the $300 charge from Verizon to break my plan early, even with Lala not wanting to leave Verizon (or her iPhone) yet, we'll break even in three months and then save $110 a MONTH after that (I got her on a $60/month single phone plan).

It's not too good to be true. Check it out:

2. Bath Bombs

I do the research for you, aren't you happy? There's really nothing I love more than being up in the middle of the night, doing internet research on wacky things (luggage reviews on Amazon! My idea of heaven). And you reap the benefits of my research here, darlings. 

Lala and I love Lush bath products. They're gorgeous, they work great, and they smell wonderful. That said, one bath bomb runs $5 or $6 each. Even quartering them with a knife, that's a pricey bathing experience. 

So for Lala's birthday (WHICH IS TODAY!), I decided to try to make some really good ones. And I DID IT. These are fizzing, skin-softening bombs that even Lushophiles will love. 

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I combined a couple of recipes, but my main inspiration was taken from Brenda Sharpe's great method, found archived here

Dry Ingredients:
Sift together in large bowl:
1 c. baking soda
1/2 c. citric acid
1/2 c. cornstarch
With whisk, add in:
1/3 c. epsom salts

Wet Ingredients:
In small shakeable container, combine:
2.5 tbsp light oil (almond/canola/sunflower)
3/4 tbsp water
1/4 tsp Vitamin E oil
1/4 tsp borax (an emulsifier)
Several drops food color
Several drops your favorite essential oil for fragrance
Shake it like it's your moneymaker!

Dribble the wet slowly into the dry, using a wooden spoon to mix. If it fizzes, you're going too quickly. When you're done mixing, it should resemble almost-dry sand. Pack into your mold of choice (I used this meatballer). Dry for a couple of days if possible before packaging, but they're definitely good for use that very night. (Pro tip: Pack tightly in meatballer, squeeze together, then use finger to push through top hole while opening the meatballer, then turn over and do the same on other side.)

Indulge with a long soak and good book.

3. Speaking of Good Books! 

BigtinyFeralknitter Janine gave me a wonderful book called The Big Tiny. About a woman who changes her life from top to bottom as she builds herself a tiny house, it's exactly the kind of confessional memoir I love. If you like sitting on the porch swing and reading about minimalism more than actually cleaning out closets, this book is for you. 

Dee Williams’s life changed in an instant, with a near-death experience in the aisle of her local grocery store. Diagnosed with a heart condition at age forty-one, she was all too suddenly reminded that life is short, time is precious, and she wanted to be spending hers with the people and things she truly loved. That included the beautiful sprawling house in the Pacific Northwest she had painstakingly restored—but, increasingly, it did not include the mortgage payments, constant repairs, and general time-suck of home ownership. A new sense of clarity began to take hold: Just what was all this stuff for? Multiple extra rooms, a kitchen stocked with rarely used appliances, were things that couldn’t compare with the financial freedom and the ultimate luxury—time—that would come with downsizing.

 

4. Giveaway! 

I keep adding things! Woohoo! Hey, I have a new thing. Once a month, I give away a book to someone on my mailing list. The only way you'll know you've won is if you are told within the email itself, so make sure you're entered. This time I'm TOTALLY giving away a copy of The Big Tiny to some lucky someone. 

*Disclaimer: Some above links are affiliate links, because dude, I'm saving money! 

More Shawls!May 28, 2014

Hi friends, 

We have two more entries in the giveaway: Make an Alice's Embrace lap blanket/shawl for an Alzheimer's patient (full instructions here) and enter for a chance to win one of these THREE shawls! The first two were made and donated by Christian, and they're blocked and so gorgeous: 

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I made this next one, and it's not blocked, but it's very warm and squooshy. 

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Make a simple (quick!) blanket or shawl using Diane's instructions, mail it to her, let me know, and you're entered. Good odds. GREAT cause. 

BIKE UPDATE: 

This is ridiculous. I'm not getting over this bike bug I have. I made a pledge to do all my errands by bike for the month of May (once a week, I allow myself to take the car to get things like dog food and pick up big packages at the mailbox). And I have done it. A couple of times I thought I wouldn't (going from our house in East Oakland to the Grand Lake area takes about an hour each way), but then I made myself and loved it. Once I took bike-to-BART to attend the Oakland Museum food truck half-price-entry night, which was great, and I can see myself doing that a lot more. How fun to think about going to San Francisco on a bike! I will do that soon. Things I carried on one trip this week have included: A zucchini plant, a burrito (naturally), a food processor blade, and my computer. I love its versatility, and let's face it, my SmartCar isn't THAT much bigger. 

Right now, though, I'm a still a little scared of night riding. I have ALL THE LIGHTS: 

 but our neighborhood is not ideal for night rides. Friends of a friend (male and female riding together) got mugged at gunpoint the other night not too far away, and that freaks me out. I like to be brave and daring! I like to pretend I'm not frightened of anything and then, eventually, I'm not. Some folks would be nervous to ride in our area during the day, but I've gotten over that, and now, while I ride quickly past the sketchier stuff (drug deals in progress and hookers at work in cars while pimps stand guard), I've gained a whole new appreciation for the beautiful things in our neighborhood (small produce stands, fresh tortillas, kids playing basketball in the street, saying hello to people). 

But night makes the scary folks that much more scary (click on Christian's link, above, to read a terrifying night ride experience in Sacramento) and I'm not sure I'm ready for that. That sucks, because night riding sounds awesome. I would like to ride and look up at the stars. I'd like to go see friends and have dinner and get home under my own power. I'm just not ready to do so yet. I might never be, not here, anyway. I might change my mind, and I'm sure I'd feel better riding with a group (but not just one other person, see above mugging story). 

That's okay, though. It's almost summer, there are plenty of daytime riding hours, and now that Lala's bike is fixed (she's the original cyclist in the family - remember when she rode to LA on the AIDS ride?), I predict a lot of summer rides to the movies and, of course, to ice cream. 

Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.

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