Friday, September 26, 2014

My Sad Current Reading Habit

My whining about our fall schedule comes as no shock to you since I've been vocal about it in previous posts, but the real casualty? (Besides my needy mini-doxie who could use a lot more attention?) My reading. Yeah, it's in a sad, sad state.

Here's an example. For a few weeks, I've looked forward to reading Rescuing the Texan's Heart by Mindy Obenhaus. One afternoon last week, I had ten minutes before football let out, so I started reading it. A chapter later, I didn't want to quit, but duty called and I had to drive home. The night was particularly jam-packed with homework and such, so I was unable to return to this delightful story.

Cover copyright Harlequin Love Inspired

Two days later, I had another short window of time, so I continued learning about the Texan's heart. And I found I loved it, and the story, and I laughed, and I wanted to just read the whole thing through! But no...once again on mom-taxi duty. And dinner had to be made. Ugh.

My mom came to visit over the weekend, which made me very, very happy. Monday was nuts, but the book kept calling me, so I trotted over to the end table I'd set it on. 

It wasn't there!!

I looked all over for this book. Checked my bedroom, closet, purse, even the couch cushions. I had a feeling Sophie attacked the book. She has a distinct dislike for my tiny word search books and has eaten more than one. But hours later my husband told me, "By the way, your book is still in my car," and I mentally rejoiced. I'd left it in his car! Phew! Now I could finish it.

Yeah, no. Nothing is that easy for me right now.

The book I'd left in his car was a non-fiction book I've been reading--which I love too!--not the one by Ms. Obenhaus. Back to square one. 

Then it hit me. The dog. Maybe my earlier hunch was right? Could my dog have gotten jealous? Did she somehow know I would rather read the book than play fetch with her?

I knelt down and looked under the couches. Sure enough, the book was wedged under one. Doggie teeth marks were all over the bottom cover. Grr... 

I will finish this book!! But not tonight. My to-do list is calling.

I LOVE reading a book in one sitting, but I rarely can do that anymore. Do you have to snatch reading time here and there? Or do you read a book all the way through? 

Have a terrific weekend!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Says Autumn to You?

It's officially autumn. I'm blessed to live in the Midwest where we have four seasons. Some years it feels like one season (winter), and others we skip a season (spring) but we always, always have fall.

We've had unusually hot Septembers lately, which can trick us into thinking fall won't come. But there's a sure sign it's arriving--cold mornings. I take my little dog out each morning, and I know summer is almost over when I need a sweater and tennis shoes. No more flip-flops for this girl!

The leaves slowly morph from green to red or yellow or orange or even brown. One day everything seems green. The next? It's an explosion of fall colors. I love that!! The only downside is that this color burst lasts roughly 7-10 days. A relentless rain never fails to beat all the pretty leaves to the ground. Then the world becomes dreary and gray.

Things I can't live without in autumn? 

- A fire in our fireplace on cold Sundays
- A cozy blanket to wrap up in
- Cinnamon flavored cream for my coffee
- Winter squash
- Apples in my crisper
- Mashed potatoes (and roast beef)
- Long walks through the wooded park nearby
- The sun on my face even when it's getting cold
- A pretty fall wreath on my door
- Several bags of Halloween candy to be eaten by yours truly
- The anticipation of the upcoming holidays
- Replacing my light summer quilt with a heavier bedspread

Each season holds a special spot in my heart, and autumn is right up there!!

What says autumn to you?

Have a terrific day!!

Friday, September 19, 2014

When Daily Tasks Annoy You

On Wednesday the alarm went off, and I got a little tiffed.Why must it go off so early?? Every. Single. Day.

But I kicked the covers off and trudged to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and hair, then tossed on stretchy pants and a T-shirt. Somehow I made it through the rest of the morning routine. I dove into project number one on my calendar. Ate lunch. Tackled project number two.

This picture was taken about five years ago when I still made an effort with my appearance every day. P.S. I miss my giant cat, Cookie. 
Then the evening routine began with me waiting at school for football to let out. I texted a good friend, asking her if the fact I was wearing velour pants, a tee, and no make-up meant I needed an intervention. I've been really schlumpy lately.

Throughout my entire adult life I've put on makeup and made some effort with my hair each morning. Yes, I work from home, but I refuse to wear yoga pants or sweat pants during the day. Jeans and a sweater or tee were my work uniform until two years ago when my weight started creeping up. My work uniform felt uncomfortably tight. Yoga pants slipped into the daily wardrobe. I wore make-up less often.

I'd descended down the slippery slope of not taking care of myself. My attitude was primed to plummet as well.

Which leads me back to Wednesday. After football/cross country practice, I put on workout pants and headed to the park for a nice long walk. But I wasn't in a good mood. Oh, no. I was irritated.

These are the things that went through my head as I stretched.

I'm tired of the alarm waking me up every morning.
I'm sick of  brushing my teeth. 
Flossing is really annoying.
I'm tired of eating. Nothing sounds good. 
Why does showering take so long?
I'm really over having to go to bed every night. 

Did you get that? Yeah, basically I was tired of going to bed, getting up, showering, and eating. 

*raises eyes to ceiling*

I don't even know what to say in my defense. It's ridiculous! I'm ridiculous!!

After my walk/run, I went home with a firm goal. I was going to make an effort with myself again. Yes, that means make-up. And firing up the curling iron or straightener, pulling on jeans and a decent shirt, and not complaining about going to bed/waking up/flossing/eating, which, come on, is stupid to complain about anyhow!!

Today my hair is straight and shiny. My outfit isn't embarrassing. My arms even look toned in this shirt. And I'm looking forward to my broccoli-cheese soup for lunch. :)

Have you ever gotten to a mental low point where even simple daily tasks irritated you? How did you get through it?

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Inspiring Writer Space

Last week I was tagged by K. B. Owen (author of the Concordia Wells Mystery series!) for Cate Russell-Cole's Inspiring Spaces Blog Hop!

We've lived in a lot of places--apartments, houses, more apartments, more houses. Only one of our homes (an apartment) was too tiny to carve out any inspiring space. I've had a computer in an unfinished basement, our bedroom, an empty dining room, a real office, and spare bedrooms. 

Our current home is spacious. I not only have a dedicated office space, I have a corner window too. I know, I'm spoiled! Here are some pictures of where I write. 

I love L-shaped desks. This one allows me to spread my planner out, keep a stack of files nearby, house my most used reference books, and still have room to red-line manuscripts and type on my laptop.

Here's the closet. It's full of office supplies and random inspiration pieces like notecards, old vision boards, and more books.

No office of mine would be complete without M&Ms. Notice the strategic placement--pinned to the bulletin board for maximum grab-ability. The picture of Allison Sweeney is for health motivation (which counterbalances the M&Ms). She inspires me! The schedule is our family schedule so I don't accidentally send my hubby to the wrong baseball field or forget to pick up our daughter from cross country. Not that that ever happened. *cough* :)

I love my office. I'm always inspired when I walk in! 

Do you have an inspiration space? I'd love to hear about it!

Have a wonderful day!! 

Monday, September 15, 2014

New Blog Schedule

Starting next week I'm following a new blog schedule. I'll be posting only on Wednesdays and Fridays. The content will be the same--writing tips, author interviews, updates on house projects, recipes, and things that inspire me. Speaking of things that inspire...

I've been sipping peppermint tea lately. Yum! It's great at calming anxiety and soothing any stomach upset. Plus, it tastes delicious. I've also been loving Chai Cinnamon Spice tea. Tastes like fall!

Tried a few new things last week--a new workout I'd ripped out of a magazine and an old, but new-to-me movie, National Velvet, starring Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor. Naturally, I got sucked in to this delightful story, and, yeah, I cried at the big race. If you've never watched National Velvet, try it! And the work-out? Not bad! 

Did you try anything new this week? Share!!

Have a fantastic weekend!!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why I Deleted Half My Twitter Lists

Three years ago Twitter was my favorite site for connecting with people. I read a lot of blogs and retweeted any I found helpful. It was fun to pop on, see if anyone was drinking loads of coffee (like I do on a regular basis), say "hi" to friends and hopefully learn some new writing tricks through the links others shared.

I followed new people every day and they followed me too. It became harder to keep track of all these new people, so I made lists. But the lists grew large--too large. I created more lists.

Then I found myself reading fewer blogs at the same time many of my favorite bloggers stopped posting. It seemed like my Twitter feed no longer had fun snippets regarding silly cats, a lack of exercise and excess coffee consumption. It was link after link after link.

I never stopped checking in on Twitter, but I wasn't engaged.

I'm still not engaged.

Yesterday I went on Tweetdeck and wondered about some of the people I "conversed" with years ago. Was I missing something by not making more of an effort? 

This led me to reviewing my lists. Wow. Some of them were full of people I've never exchanged a tweet with. Others had duplicates. And some I wondered why I created in the first place. I had so many lists, I couldn't add them all as columns in Tweetdeck, which meant I never checked them.

Over the course of two hours, I consolidated my lists. I deleted over half of them. When I finished, I made sure Tweetdeck had a column for all of my current lists. Now I can actually see every list's feed when I log on. Isn't that the point of making them? *yes*

I don't know if I'll become more engaged on Twitter or not, but I took a step in the right direction. That's the thing about social media--sometimes we outgrow what worked for us in the past. It doesn't mean we have to quit, but we should tweak it to make it useful to us now.

Have you ever become overwhelmed by a social media site you used to enjoy? What did you do?

Have a fabulous weekend!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Autumn Urgency? Not Yet!

I'm not feeling the fall season yet. Sure, the kids are back in school. Yes, football is back on television. But the temperatures have been hotter (much hotter!) for three weeks than they were in July and early August. I'm feeling more of a lazy-late-summer vibe than the typical autumn urgency.

I know I'm in the minority on this. How do I know? On Facebook I keep seeing references to how many weeks are left until Christmas. *shuddering* And Pinterest is full of fall decorating pins, pumpkin spice recipes, and, yes, Christmas ideas.

It's not that I'm against autumn--I'm not! I love this time of year. Love the pretty leaves sailing down from the trees. Love the crisp air, long walks through the woods, wrapping up in a cozy blanket, slow-cooked chili. Yep. Autumn is awesome.

But let me get out of my shorts first. :)

Have you been bitten by the autumn bug? Please tell me you don't have Christmas fever yet!!

Have a terrific day!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ugh! I Felt Like an Idiot

My daughter runs cross country for her high school. The cross country team is more of a cross country family; they're very supportive of each other and have a lot of fun.

Before each meet, a family hosts a team potluck. And during each meet, two or three families join forces to provide food and drinks. Cross country meets can be all-day affairs, and the runners have to be careful what they eat before their race. Providing food and beverages takes some of the stress off the kids and allows them to focus on running. I signed up to assist with food last weekend.

We have several "wow" parents on this team. They're the parents who've had kids in cross country for years. They are pros at organizing food. They know where to go, what to bring, and how to make the process go smoothly. I was really thrilled to be helping one such family. They brought a huge pop-up tent, tarps for the kids to sit on, two portable tables, a trash can, and tons of healthy snacks. They also brought butane burners to cook chicken and noodles for the kids! I was impressed!

My job was to bring all the beverages, two coolers with ice, and desserts. The meet was an hour and a half away, and smaller schools had been racing all morning. This meant the parking situation would be grim. Our races didn't start until 3pm, but I left at 11:00am to be safe.

As I neared the park entrance, traffic was stopped. Cars lined the streets for a good mile. Most meets I've been to have one main entrance, so when the parking lot is full, you can't hold up traffic but must drive through and park elsewhere. I was able to inch my car within a block of the entrance. On a grassy area in front of a sidewalk, I unloaded both coolers, extra cases of water and Gatorade, and my chair, mini-cooler, and bag of desserts. Then I turned around and parked less than a mile away.

Now I had to find the tent. I texted the mom in charge of the food, but I couldn't get a hold of her. I figured I'd pull all my stuff into the park and have either our students or the other family help me carry everything to the tent. But...I had no idea where they'd set up.

Carrying the case of water a quarter mile into the park about killed me. The case of Gatorade wasn't bad. But the cooler without wheels? I was drenched in sweat by the time I managed to get it to the entrance. I dragged the other one in, sat on it, and contemplated how out-of-shape I was. Seriously, my face was on fire, and my shirt was wet from perspiration.

Just then, the school bus with our cross country team pulled up. The coach hopped off and put one of the coolers on the bus, but a traffic director yelled at us to keep it moving. The coach helped me carry the other cooler through the park to the tent. Again, this taxed my poor, out-of-shape body, but I made it without having a stroke.

When we got to the tent, I realized you could actually drive around the entire park. I could have driven straight to the tent, unloaded, and THEN found a parking spot a mile away. Ugh! I felt like an idiot!!

Oh well, I got the drinks there--that's the important thing. We stayed for six hours of races, and I was amazed at how many teams fit in this park. Almost 600 girls ran in my daughter's race, and around 8000 kids compete throughout the day. What a cool experience to watch!

I'm still sore. My back is crying a little. (Okay, a lot!) But it was worth it. And now I know what to do next year...

Have you ever felt like an idiot because you didn't have enough information to make a good decision? 

Have a terrific day!

Friday, September 5, 2014

How to Make an Okay Romance Plot Compelling

Two story sparks have been taking turns in my brain since mid-July. For one of the sparks, I only have a rough impression of the characters--they're going to be a LOT of fun! I decided to develop the other spark first.

I knew the setting, the hero's backstory, and a vague idea of the heroine. That was it! But it turned out to be enough. I immediately listed reasons they could be together throughout the story. The one I liked best was okay, but not page-turning.

How did I know? Well, I asked myself if the stakes were high for both characters. The answer was no. Sure, it gave them a reason to be together, but if either could quit at any time and go on their merry way, the plot won't be very strong.

So I tried on other reasons for them to be together, but I kept coming back to the first one. I figured it was a sign I was on the right track. At that point, I brainstormed ways to raise the stakes. A few came easily, but they still weren't as big as I'd like. Since I was busy updating my website and putting my business records in order, I didn't worry about it too much.

And what do you know? A week later the lightbulb flipped on, and I knew exactly how to raise the stakes. I was ready to plot the book! Yay!

Questions I ask to make an okay plot compelling:

1. What is keeping the hero and heroine together throughout the story?

2. Is it coincidental (ex: they live in the same town and bump into each other every other chapter?) or is it goal-oriented (ex: they're working together on a project)?

3. What is keeping the hero from walking away from this arrangement? Does he have a good reason to be in it?

4. What is keeping the heroine from walking away from this arrangement? Does she have a good reason to be in it?

5. Can you find a side reason for them to work together too? (ex: they are co-chairing a benefit dinner to raise money for cancer. His nephew has cancer. Her mom died of cancer. Side reasons? His sister begged him to help plan the benefit because he owns a local insurance agency and has tons of connections. He gave his sister his word. And the heroine's side reason could be that she is a party planner and trying to launch her own business.)

6. Do both characters have strong motivations to work toward this story goal? What are they?

I'm convinced a good romance writer can take an okay plot and make it compelling. Just give the reader plenty of reasons why the characters are doing what they're doing!

How do YOU make a plot compelling?

Have a wonderful weekend!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What's for Dinner? Crock Pot Roast Pork

Now that school is back in, I plan one or two slow-cooked meals each week. When I create our meal list, my mind blanks. I can think of one recipe, tops. Well, I'm not making the same Crock Pot meal every week! But what to make? My recipes use only a few ingredients and are simple to prepare.

Today's dinner is Crock Pot Roast Pork with carrots, onions, and potatoes.

Unlike good chefs, I do not brown my meat before popping that bad boy in the slow cooker. Nope, I toss a bag of baby carrots into the Crock Pot, chop an onion and throw that in too. Sometimes I peel and slice potatoes and add them to the mix. Then I shake salt and pepper over the raw roast, place it over the veggies, add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water and a chicken bouillon cube, cover it, set the heat to low, and walk away for 8-10 hours. 

It's beautiful. A fully-cooked meal awaits us that night. The meat falls apart--so tender and delicious. I use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables to a bowl. Often I make a quick gravy with the juice, just depends on how I feel.

Other slow-cooked meals I adore? Chili (which takes a little more time to prepare since I do brown the meat!), chicken thighs, roast beef, pulled pork, sloppy joes, turkey breast, and saucy pork chops. 

What are you making for dinner? Do you ever use a slow-cooker?

Have a terrific day!