Wednesday, November 27, 2013

SNOWBOUND WITH DR. DELECTABLE by Susan Carlisle

Cover blurb:

Dr. Baylie Walker loves her job. As an emergency medical technician she gets to spend her days skiing through the mountains and saving lives. A secluded and quiet life is just what she needs….

Until delectable Dr. Kyle Campbell makes a dramatic entrance! He may be gorgeous, with a tortured edge, but he's exactly the kind of distraction she hoped to avoid this Christmas! Sparks fly when they are forced to work together. And as the first snow of the season begins to fall, they have nowhere to run....

I loved this book! While the story takes place over the Christmas holidays, the focus is on the relationship between individuals who are working so hard they barely have time to notice the season. Moreover, they are dealing with issues from their pasts that make them determined NOT to fall in love again. Both hero and heroine are realistic and likable; the fast pace and the growing heat kept me turning the pages until the satisfying conclusion. I can hardly wait to see what author Susan Carlisle comes up with next!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Homemade Cleaners

Now that I have some cold process soap making under my belt, I decided to venture a little farther afield and experiment with some home made cleaning products. I went to the supermarket and loaded my cart with Fels-Naptha soap, a box of borax, a box of washing soda, some kosher salt, and a jug of white vinegar. Then I went to the neighboring GNC and bought two tiny bottles of essential oil - one tea tree, one lemon. This is what I did with them.

HOMEMADE LAUNDRY DETERGENT

1 bar soap (I used Fels-Naptha, but you could try Ivory or Dr. Bronner's)
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
20 drops tea tree oil (optional, but it smells good and has disinfectant properties)

First, grate the soap using a hand grater.
Then pour the shavings into a food processor and pulverize until fine.
Finally, stir in the borax and washing soda and 20 drops essential oil. Stir until well combined, about 5 minutes. Store in an airtight container. I used an empty coffee canister.
Use 2 tablespoons per load of laundry. For best results, allow to dissolve in water before adding clothes and add 1/2 cup white vinegar to rinse cycle. I ran a load of towels this afternoon and they came out clean, soft and sweet smelling!

HOMEMADE DISHWASHER TABS

2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup white vinegar 
20 drops of lemon essential oil 

Combine all ingredients until well mixed, then press into two ice cube trays. If you pack thoroughly, all the mixture should fit in the two trays. Leave in a dry, sunny spot until thoroughly hard, about 24 hours.
Unmold and store in an airtight container.
Use one tab per load of dishes. For best results, add 3 drops (no more unless you want a kitchen full of suds!) of dishwashing liquid - I use Dawn - and splash 1/2 cup white vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher. I tested test these tabs tonight; this load of dishes included several plastic containers that had previously held colored frosting made from Crisco, powdered sugar and food coloring
as well as dinner plates that were caked with the remnants of a lasagna dinner. As you can see everything came out clean and sparkly.
I am hooked! So far, my experience has taught me that homemade cleaning products are simple and inexpensive to make, plus they are much easier on the environment than their commercial counterparts. Let me know if you decide to give either of these a try!

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Early Christmas Present

l-r: Joseph Akins, Pam Asberry, Greg Maroney, Philip Wesley
On November 17th, I went to the Whisperings Solo Piano Concert at PianoWorks in Duluth, Georgia.  This one featured the artistry of Greg Maroney, Philip Wesley and Joseph Akins. I love all all their work and enjoyed the entire show very much. But I was tickled red and green when Joseph surprised us at the end of his last set with a Christmas tune, his toe-tapping arrangement of Jingle Bells called Jingle Bell Boogie. I found a previously recorded performance on YouTube; give it a listen. Ebenezer Scrooge himself wouldn't be able to keep from smiling!


I know Thanksgiving isn't here yet, but I will be first to admit I have started listening to some of my Christmas albums and playing holiday music on the piano.  What about you?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Looking to winter


As you face the winter months, it’s a good time to consider also the winter of the soul. Slow things down. Pay attention to what you would cry for. Wait, don’t act, and see what happens.
~ David Morris

There came a day when something inside me finally screamed, "Enough!"

Yes, I would like to play Rachmaninov on the piano, see my students off to Juilliard, publish a bestselling novel, look like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover model, cook gourmet dinners, and travel the world. But sometime the middle of last week, my efforts to do all those things left me feeling like I was drowning in a sea of failure.

The bottom line? Try as I might, I can't do it all. So I have given myself permission not to.

The first thing I did was abandon NaNoWriMo. I felt nothing but peace on the heels of that decision. So I decided to go deeper. I took a long, hard look around me. My refrigerator was empty; my house was in shambles. I had two suitcases filled with dirty clothes from my cruise and the music teachers conference; I hadn't done laundry in a month.

Obviously, I wasn't been treating myself like a much loved child. I decided it was time to change that.

So I set my to-do list aside for a few days. I filled the refrigerator and emptied the suitcases. I sorted through piles of clutter and changed the sheets on my bed. I washed clothes and hired one of my son's friends to vacuum and dust and mop.

Life went on. My piano students kept coming. And this past weekend, I attended the monthly meeting of Georgia Romance Writers and Gwinnett County Music Teachers Association's Music Day competition and yet another Whisperings Solo Piano Concert (details forthcoming).  It was a recipe for exhaustion.

Except I didn't end up there because I consciously let go of all those other expectations I had previously held onto. I went to my writers group meeting and worked at my student event and enjoyed seeing my friend Joseph Akins and others at the concert. Then I came home and went to sleep.

For the first time in ages, I can honestly say that my house is (reasonably) clean and (most of) the laundry is washed, folded and put away. I have slept eight hours the past three nights and cooked a couple of dinners for my son and his friends. I have made soap with my sister-in-law and knitted a few rows on my projects.

The result? I feel sane. I feel human. I feel NORMAL.

Yes, I have taught those piano lessons. Yes, I have practiced: an hour a day. Yes, I have written: 500 words most days. Yes, I have exercised, walking a mile and a half in my subdivision most mornings.

That probably won't get me to Carnegie Hall. It may not land me an agent or editor. And I can say with fair certainty that I will NEVER end up on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But I am taking care of business. Providing a comfortable home for myself and my teenager. Looking out for my physical and emotional health while taking steps that (I hope) will provide for my personal retirement someday.

Giving myself space to prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas and anything that might happen in between.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.
~ Harvey McKay

Monday, November 18, 2013

Making Soap, Round Two


As much as I enjoyed my initial foray into soap making (click HERE), I am sad to say that I let more than a year go by between that first experience and my second. But last night, with the assistance of my dear friend/sister-in-law, I made another batch of lavender oatmeal soap, poured it into the three-pound mold she gave me for Christmas last year, wrapped it in a towel, and brought it home. Tonight I cut it into bars and laid it out on a brown paper bag to cure. The results are pictured above. I know it's chemistry. But it seems more like magic!

I'm  not going to wait another year until I make soap again. With the step-by-step procedures and safety precautions fresh in my mind, I am ready to order supplies and try a couple of new recipes - maybe peppermint oatmeal or true castile soap. The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It was only a writing contest


Bolstered by my Maggie final, I decided to enter my Young Adult manuscript in another contest. Revised according to the suggestions of the Maggie judges, I hoped it would achieve even greater success. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Since I was in the middle of my teaching day when the fateful email arrived, I didn't have time to do anything besides glance at the scores. The first one I saw was 45. My heart fell into my shoes. The second was 77. Frankly, that didn't make me feel much better. The third was 96. At that point I felt dizzy. How could one judge give me a 45 and another a 96? I wanted to cry.

Instead, I pasted a smile on my face and tried to forget about it as I returned to work with my students.

Several hours later - fortified by a glass of red wine - I opened the three critiques and reviewed each judge's comments. The one who gave me the 96 gave me detailed critique in my manuscript; her only issue was not being clear about the conflict between the hero and heroine, which makes total sense because the book isn't a romance, although there is a romantic element to the story. The second judge gave me "above average" scores in every area except opening hook and pacing, which I also can accept; I am consistently criticized for not having a strong enough hook and slow pacing and am working to ramp these up in my writing. But the judge who gave me the 45 ("average" or "below average" in all 10 areas) made zero comments in the body of the manuscript and concluded her three-sentence criticism by saying "this story shows much promise. I’d like to know what happens and would be very interested to read an edited version."

Wow.

Obviously, I didn't final in this contest. I didn't even come close. But I want to take something positive away from the experience. And while it is tempting to hang onto the 96 and dismiss the 45, it might be most valuable to examine the 77, knowing that I need to improve the power of my hooks and the nature of my pacing. As for the other, it is likely that the generous judge simply loved my voice, whereas the harsh one hated it. And as one of my Facebook friends said, "The fact that somebody loved it and somebody hated it means your writing touched a nerve. Those are the kinds of books that hit bestseller lists."

Wouldn't that be something?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The need to knit

Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.
~ Elizabeth Zimmermann

From the moment I feel the first nip of fall in the air, my thoughts turn to knitting.

It doesn't matter that I have a thousand other more urgent matters to tend to. I pull out yarn and needles and a pattern that says "beginner" or "easy" and set to work. It might take me weeks or months to finish a project that a more experienced knitter or a person with more leisure time might be able to knock out in a day or two. It doesn't matter. I might make a fatal mistake and find myself unable to fix it, necessitating the ripping out of rows and rows of stitches (also known as "frogging") and starting all over again. It makes no difference. I have been knitting for years and lack the skill to accomplish anything more complicated than a rectangle (can you say "scarf"?) or a hat (although my last couple of attempts have been utter failures). Who cares?

The joy is in the knitting.

My first attempt at knitting lace.
I can't say I feel that way about many other things in my life; I am hopelessly product oriented. As a teacher, I am constantly preparing my students for the next big event: a piano festival, a competition, a recital. As a pianist, it is much the same. As a writer, I will not be satisfied until I have a published novel to show for my efforts. As a jewelry designer, it's all about finishing pieces to list for sale in my Etsy store.

But as a knitter, it's all about the knitting.

A ruffled scarf using specialty yarn. The fact that it is super easy to knit in no way diminishes my sense of accomplishment.
I don't know why knitting is different; it simply is. But there is something about the feeling of the bamboo needles and soft yarn in my hands, the rhythmic nature of knitting and purling, the predictability of the outcome. And for whatever reason, when I make a mistake I find it easy to forgive myself. Maybe it's because I have decided I don't have to be an expert in this one thing. As a knitter, I have determined that it is okay if I am never anything more than a beginner. I do not expect perfection and am not disappointed when I do not achieve it. Every completed project, no matter how simple or flawed, is cause for celebration. Some I keep and wear; others I give away, to people I know will appreciate the love and care that went into their making. And then I move on to the next thing.

Knitting as a metaphor for life? This is something I should probably give some thought to.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Torn between two lovers

It doesn't seem possible that it's November already, but National Novel Writing Month is here. Yes, I'm going for Win #5, but here on Day 11, when I should be at 18,333 words, I have added measly 7,248 words to my manuscript. But considering everything else I've had on my plate the past couple of weeks, 7,248 words is almost a miracle. Because music has been my muse.

First, there was the Redeemer Piano Ensemble concert - eight pianists on four pianos under the direction of conductor Mary Hinely - on Sunday, November 3rd. The week prior to the performance, we had four rehearsals - a total of ten hours - in downtown Atlanta. Of course, I was practicing at home, too. But all our hard work paid off; our program, which included works by Bach, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Rossini, and Bizet, among others, was well received by our audience. Best of all, we had a blast doing it.

Pianists Kristi Helfen and Pam Asberry
Four short days later, I found myself on the road to University of West Georgia in Carrollton for the Georgia Music Teachers Association 2013 conference. There were workshops presented by teachers from all over the state, recitals showcasing student audition winners, two sessions presented by eminent composer and pedagogue, Marvin Blickenstaff, and a banquet and awards ceremony. All were informational and inspirational. But the concert featuring headliners Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe was absolutely unforgettable. Here is a sample of their masterful, riveting musicianship.


On the heels of these deeply satisfying experiences, I am more determined than ever to become the best pianist  and educator I am capable of and to continue making music with others. I am already hard at work on new music in preparation for a May concert with my friend and colleague Natalie Hardy. We start rehearsals on Friday.

Elizabeth Joy Roe, Pam Asberry, Natalie Hardy, Greg Anderson
Music and writing. Is it possible to give each the time and attention he requires? Love is infinite. I will find a way.