Monday, December 15, 2014

One Week and a Play Kitchen

I'm not big home improvement or building things. Much, I think, to my mother's dismay. She's a do-it-yourselfer. Sink leaking? She pulls out the wrench. Need some crown molding? Let's hit the hardware store. 

As the oldest, I was my mother's assistant. Which probably explains my aversion to home improvement. There's nothing fun about passing over the screwdriver or holding the dirty faucet and watching someone else do all the interesting parts.   

I married someone who is just as allergic as I am to saws and drills. My hubby's an engineer and he likes building stuff but things like switches and computers. Hand the man a toolbox and he's a bit lost. 

However, every once in a while, I like to pull out all that knowledge I absorbed working as my mother's assistant and dust it off. This week was one of those times. 

Hubby and I built our daughter a wooden play kitchen. 

(As an aside, I told my mom we were going to do this and she stifled a laugh. Barely.)

My 6 year old had a play kitchen we bought her when she was a toddler. Most parents will support me on this - you never know which toys your kids are going to love and which ones they are going to play with once and never touch again. As it happens, the play kitchen was one of those toys my daughter constantly uses. Like every day. And she had long outgrown the little one we bought her so I got the bright idea to buy her a new one for her birthday. 

Notice I used the word buy. That's because I thought we were going to pay money for one at a store. Until I tried finding one. Apparently play kitchens are designed, for the most part, for toddlers. That wasn't going to work in our case. 

But while doing my research, I came across several videos of people who had built there own. And I thought, "Huh. Maybe..."

I posed the idea to Hubby. I thought for sure was going to tell me I was crazy and there was no way we could pull it off. He didn't. His eyes brightened, he smiled and said, "Okay. Sounds like a good idea."

A good idea? I'm pretty sure he forgot who we were for a moment. 

We designed the play kitchen on paper, with measurements. (BTW one of the good things about having an engineer for a husband is that he can do crazy quick math in his head and wields a measuring tape like a Samari utilizes a sword. I admire this because both of those areas are not my strong suit.)

We took our design to a carpenter who advised us as to the type of wood to use and cut it to the appropriate dimensions. Which gave us...a pile of cut wood. 



Now, it was our job (using a hand saw, drill and screwdriver - along with our design) to make these pieces into an actual kitchen our daughter could use. 

First we tackled the fridge/freezer combo:

Then the stove/oven:


And the sink/dishwasher combo:


A little slap of paint, a few touches here and there and the finished product came out looking like this:


Pretty awesome, isn't it? And we managed to build it, from design to finished product, in a week. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. 

And it was a big hit. We gave it to my daughter yesterday and she absolutely love it. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Self-Discipline

Self-discipline.

It's an easy word. Simple. Rolls right off the tongue. Sounds terribly official.

It's something every writer should have.

Unfortunately, most of us are very bad at it.

I often wonder if this is a problem among all creative people. Creativity is hard to control. I never know when my next idea will hit or where it will come from. Sure there are things that you can do to help like free style writing. But, even still, there is a large part of the time I'm like this: 


One of my goals for the new year is to make a schedule and stick to it. The main problem with working from home is that your "job" is flexible - essentially it's the first one to get thrown off the rails when something goes wrong. Which might be reasonable, however, I have a tendency to allow it to go off the rails even on my own. 

For example, I will get on the computer to write. But first I will check my Twitter. Then I'll read a few articles people have linked. I'll sort through my email. By the time I'm finished with all of that, it's almost eleven and the sun is shining and I think, "I haven't exercised yet. Good time for a run." So, I do a 5k. Then I shower. It's lunch time.

Do you see my point? My whole morning is down the drain and I haven't put one word towards my actual job, my book. 

Or the opposite thing will happen. I'll be struck by genius and my fingers can't type fast enough. I curse the fact that I have to separate from my computer to get the kids from school. Five hours later, Hubby walks in the door. I barely greet him, hunched over the keyboard and muttering to myself. BTW, I have the best hubby in the world because, even after a long day of work himself, he leaves me alone, makes dinner, bathes the kids and puts them to bed. And is happy to do it. 

But that situation isn't all great either. I have to work harder at finding a balance. Working while my kids are in school and then taking a break for a few hours to spend some time with them. 

This past year I set a word count goal for the week and that worked fairly well. I think I want to use the same system but with hour restrictions. 

And I need to only look at Twitter and emails after I write! ;-)   


Monday, December 1, 2014

Καλò Μήνα

Καλό Μήνα literally means in Greek "Good Month." It's a phrase used at the beginning of every month as a blessing and it's generally said as a greeting. When I first moved to Greece, it felt a bit weird for acquaintances (friends, neighbors, teachers) to say this to me right away as I walked up to them or in passing on the street. In translation, it's like having a person say, "Hi. Good Month." Awkward, right? In the US, we say "Have a good weekend" or "Have a great day" but this is done in departure as opposed to in greeting. Additionally, we might wish someone a good week but it isn't common to wish them a good month. 

But the longer I stay here, the more I've grown to love it. Since today is December 1st, everyone was passing out the greeting to each other. And it felt really nice. Particularly so because it's the holiday season, which is my favorite time of the year.

So I'm going to pass this blessing on to the rest of you. I hope all of you have a great month! 

Καλό Μήνα!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Gobble It Up: Book Rec #3

Many of you may not know this but I'm a historical romance fan. Now, I would never, ever, ever write historical romance and that might be part of the reason I love it so much. I can turn my writing brain off when reading one, in a way I can't in a contemporary romance or a thriller. 

So in continuing my Thanksgiving Gobble It Up series, I thought I would recommend one of my favorite historical romance novels. 


Number Three: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan


The Blurb: 

Hugo Marshall earned the nickname "the Wolf of Clermont" for his ruthless ambition--a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner's son to the right hand man of a duke. When he's ordered to get rid of a pestering governess by fair means or foul, it's just another day at work. 

But after everything Miss Serena Barton has been through at the hands of his employer, she is determined to make him pay. She won't let anyone stop her--not even the man that all of London fears. They might call Hugo Marshall the Wolf of Clermont, but even wolves can be brought to heel... 


Let me just say up front, I absolutely love this book. It is completely squuuuueeeee worthy. If you haven't read it, you must stop whatever you are doing and get it.  In fact, right now, the Kindle version is free on Amazon. That's right, FREE. You can't beat that!

Everything about this novella packs a punch. The hero is well fleshed out. The heroine is interesting and tough. Both of them make logically and rational decisions. The issues standing in the way of them being together are realistic and understandable. When I finished this novel on my Kindle, I nearly cried because I didn't want it to be over. Yes, it's that good.

In fact, Courtney Milan is one of my recent discoveries and she's turning into one of my favorite authors. I've read several of her books and have a number of others sitting in my Kindle under the To Be Read section. She hasn't disappointed me yet so if you have a chance to read any of her novels, do it. 

But start with The Governess Affair. I love having people to squuuueeee with!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gobble It Up: Book Rec #2

Okay so I missed last week's blog post entirely and this one is a day late. Sorry about that. My schedule imploded on me and I've been busy putting out fires. See all the smoke behind me? Anyway, on with the blog post...

Contemporary romances are a real hit and miss for me. I absolutely adore them when they are done well but I think, quite honestly, it's really, really hard to discover a good one. I find myself far less forgiving of a character's illogical missteps in a contemporary romance or in situations I feel stretch my sense of reality too far. In addition, the heroine has to be someone I can relate to. I have to want to be her, or want to be her best friend. If that doesn't happen, I'm probably not going to love the book. 

So when I find a contemporary romance I love cover to cover, it's something I shout about. Which brings us to my next Gobble It Up recommendation...  

  
           Number Two: What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss




The blurb:

Is Rachel Robinson the only one on campus who doesn't know who Devin Freedman is? No big deal except that the bad-boy rock star gets a kick out of Rachel's refusal to worship at his feet. And that seems to have provoked his undivided attention. Devin, the guy who gave new meaning to the phrase "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." Devin, the guy who somehow becomes wedged between her and the past she's kept hidden for years.

It's up to this librarian to find out firsthand just how "bad" he really is. Because her secret--and her growing feelings for a man who claims he's bent on redemption--depend on his turning out to be as good as he seems. Which is really, really good.


I originally heard about this book at DearAuthor.com. (Click here to read the review). I was surfing through the archives looking for A/A- recommendations. I do that sometimes when I'm in a book slump and need something really good to get me out of it. 

This book did just that. It's a fantastic, fun read with really great characters. A former rock star hero trying to build a new life without all the fame? Check. A librarian who loves vintage clothing and is not only smart but independent? Check. A story line that will make you a bit weepy but also cheer? Check. 

I can't recommend this book enough. If you are looking for a solid contemporary romance to spend the afternoon with, pick this one up. You will be so glad you did!




Monday, November 3, 2014

Gobble It Up: Book Rec #1

I read a lot of books. Having said that, I'm also pretty picky. I have a tendency to start a book and then, if I'm getting irritated or bored, I will put it to the side and start another one. But there are some novels I've read cover to cover and completely fallen in love with. I'm so grateful when I come across one of these finds. It's an experience of pure joy to close a book after the final page and breath a sigh of pure contentment. 

So, since November is the month of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share one of my favorite books with you each week. My hope is that you will gobble them up and find a new one of your own to love. 



Number One: Justice by Faye Kellerman



I'm a fan of the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus novels. I've read all of them but this one, by far, is my favorite. To give you an idea of how much I love this book, I'll tell you that the paperback cover had to be taped back in place and the binding is coming loose. I've read it over and over again. It's that amazing. 

One caveat here: Faye Kellerman deviated quite a bit with this novel so if you really love the first few Decker novels, this one probably won't be your favorite. There isn't as much focus on Decker's family and it's more of a police procedural.

Okay, Justice is about the murder of a high school student, Cheryl Diggs. She's found in a hotel room, tied up and strangled. The number one suspect: Chris Whitman, Cheryl's on-again-off-again friend with benefits. When L.A.P.D Homicide Detective Peter Decker starts following the clues, he becomes convinced Chris knows more than what he's saying...but is he Cheryl's killer? 

This novel is written from several points of view, including Chris Whitman and the woman he loves Teresa. This becomes important because it demonstrates a side of Chris and a depth to his character that you wouldn't normally get to see. And this, I believe, is the real strength of this book. 

Through Teresa's POV, we learn about Chris as she does. He's not a squeaky clean character and yet, I liked him. A lot. I found myself rooting for him at certain points and feeling sorry for him in others. At the same time, he's scary as all hell. As the son of a mob boss, he's grown up in an environment that has shaped him and that he can't completely break free from. He's a successful pathological liar perfectly capable of murder but for the entire book, it's not clear whether or not he actually killed Cheryl. 

This novel also pits Peter Decker against an adversary as brilliant as he is. Watching the two of them face off against each other is half the fun. The mystery is interwoven and takes some delicious twists and turns that kept me second guessing what I knew. 

Justice made me sympathized with the suspect and it's one of the only books I've read to do so. Chris Whitman is a perfect example of a villain with depth and dichotomy.  

Have any of you read Justice? What did you think of it?   

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pseudonym? What?


I started actively using the internet in high school and, at the time, only some of my friends had online accounts. But by the end of law school some 10 years later, everyone I knew was online except for my grandmother. (Who, funnily enough, just joined Facebook last week so now I don't know anyone who isn't active!)  

Watching the internet explode, I can't remember a time in which people weren't discussing the prevalence of fake online ID's. You could be a 65 year old housewife in real life but online be a 25 year old cowboy. 

In fact, the ability to create online personas was one of the things that was (supposedly) very freeing about the internet. You could make yourself into whoever you wanted to be. 

Hence the attraction and the danger of internet dating.

So I have a serious question: When did it become the norm to believe that people weren't changing their personal information online? 

After reading the "catfish" article by Kathleen Hale, I had several initial impressions. First, I was horrified by the fact that an author stalked a blogger. Crazy sauce. I'm still reeling from the fact that she's not only okay with her behavior but proud of it. Also cray, cray. 

But my overwhelming confusion centered around the fact that Ms. Hale was upset/disturbed that the blogger (supposedly) used a pseudonym and changed information about herself, including but not limited to, her address, profession and photographs.

Uncovering these "deceptions" seemed to spurn Hale on, increasing her stalking behavior in an attempt to uncover who the "real" blogger was. 

The idea present in the article (at least, the way I read it) is that if you are lying about your name, your profession, etc. on the internet, your review/opinion is also a lie. 

This theory has been bantered around long before Hale's article. Many authors and/or other bloggers might find it acceptable to change one's name but not personal information. If you are a doctor, they don't want you to say you are a teacher, for example. If you have two kids, you shouldn't say you have none.

And it doesn't just involve bloggers. When Robert Galbraith was discovered to truly be J.K. Rowling, there were readers/authors/bloggers who found it disingenuous for her to have made up not only a different name but also an entirely different life

At first glance, this may make some sense. We frown upon lying in our society. Discovering your best friend or your neighbor or your college professor is a liar brings their entire credibility into question. You begin to wonder about their morals and whether or not you can trust anything that comes out of their mouths. Particularly if you catch them lying about simple things such as how many children they have.  


So when you "discover" a blogger has lied about who they are and changed personal data, the initial reaction to to say, "They're a liar so therefore nothing they have to say could be valid. The review he/she wrote wasn't really a review." 

But, to coin a phrase from one of my law professors, this is a "false dilemma."

A false dilemma is when you provide only two options. Either you're truthful about everything online OR you're truthful about nothing online.   

In other words: if I lie about my name and my address and my job, can I really give an honest review of a book?

Uh, ab-so-freaking-lutely. 

A blogger may have any number of reasons, personal safety being the biggest one, for creating a false persona online. It's possible you don't want authors like Ms. Hale showing up on your doorstep.

But personal safety might not be the only reason. 

If, for example, I was a high school teacher who loved to review S&M romance, you'd better believe I'd use a pseudonym with a fake address and change my employment info. I would tell you I was an insurance agent living in Baltimore with two cats. I wouldn't use a real picture of myself anywhere. I would change every detail about my real life online because I wouldn't want anyone from my job to able to find out what I was doing on the side. Or, even worse, the students. 

Does changing this information invalidate my review? No, it doesn't.

Does it make me a horrible person? No, it doesn't. 

Why? Because a review is my opinion and nothing more. For those of you unaware of what an opinion is, let me direct you to Webster's. Opinion: a judgment, viewpoint, or statement about matters commonly considered to be subjective. 

Key word in this: subjective. I'm not stating facts here that need to be supported by evidence or proof. This isn't a high school research paper. My opinion can be anything I want it to be. I don't owe anyone a justification or an explanation of my opinion. If I like something, I like it. If I hate something, I hate it.

Opinions are a matter of personal taste. I hate olives. My husband loves them. Which one of us is wrong? 

And while the argument can be made that pseudonyms allow us to say what we really think in a way that we wouldn't in real life...well, from an author perspective, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. 

Pseudonym reviewers allow me a rare chance to get honest, raw feedback. It may not be the feedback that I'm hoping for. It might include curse words and snarky gifs. But it's honest, far more so than I would have gotten with the person looking me in the face. And, for me, for my own professional growth and development, there is some value to that.*

J. K. Rowling not only chose to write under a pseudonym but a whole different persona. You may dislike her for that, but I actually admire her. She knew that any book after Harry Potter would always be compared. And untimely, all she really wanted was for the novel to be judged on what she'd written on the pages

As authors, it's what we should all want. Being nice on Twitter and sharing stories on Facebook about our pets is all well and good. We should be professional and personable. It will help people, reviewers, fans and bloggers to get to know you. But being personable is not why reviewers should give you 5 star reviews. Or 1 stars for that matter. Your review should be about your novel because, at the end of the day, the novel is what you are really selling. Your brand starts with your writing. Without the writing, you have nothing.  

And it shouldn't matter to us one bit if the reviewer is really a stripper from Florida pretending to be a janitor in Maine. The real question should be: Did they give their opinion about the book?

We should be thankful to every reviewer that does just that. 

*As a sidenote, I understand there are "trolls." People who say nasty things about the author or engage online in obnoxious and offensive manner. But let's be honest, I've met people on the street who were ruder than I could have ever imagined. I've been pushed on the train, cursed out in the grocery store, and almost had an all out brawl with a man whose dog went after mine. But guess what? That's life. You can't escape mean, ugly people whether walking the streets of a city or on Twitter. Some people just suck and getting pissed off about it or making yourself crazy over it only ends up hurting yourself and potentially your career.