Diane’s Tote Bag

These tote bags are fun! And they’re pretty simple to make. The best part for me is that they use up some of my stash, opening up space for more fabric!

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The frogs in the first picture are another favorite pattern of mine. You can find that pattern here.

To make a tote, you’ll need:IMG_5244

Two (2) Fat Quarters
Sixteen (16) 5″ squares
Fusible Interfacing

Four fat quarters and most of a charm pack will make two tote bags. I use nearly a full package of 20″ x 1 yard Heat n Bond Fusible Interfacing for a single tote bag.

IMG_5246OUTSIDE OF THE TOTE BAG:
From one fat quarter, you will cut:
2 – 2.5 x 18″ strips
3 – 3.5 x 18″ strips (1 for base, 2 for the handles)
1 – Leftover strip (for the base of the lining)

After you’ve chosen the 5″ charms for the body, sew them together (1/4″ seam allowance on everything). For this, I used the Island Batiks and decided to do a ROYGBIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) theme with grey stripes. I love the bright colors! Be sure to iron all of your seams as we sew along.

IMG_5248Sew a 2.5 x 18″ grey stripe between the two charm strips you’ve just assembled, for both the back and the front of the bag. Sew them together with one of the 3.5 x 18″ grey stripes.

If you’ve done the math, you’ll notice immediately that 4 – 5″ charms sewn together (with seam allowances) equals 18.5 inches and your fat quarter stripes are only 18 inches. Don’t panic. It’s not a crisis.

Cut fusible interfacing to fit and iron it to the wrong side of the bag. Fold the bag in half, right sides together and sew outer seams (1/4″ seam allowance).

If you want to trim the excess before sewing the outer seam, do it for a cleaner look (that no one but you will ever know is there).

(Now that you have your fusible interfacing on the cutting mat, you might as well cut out the pieces for the handles. You need 2 – 2.5 x 18″ strips.)

IMG_5251INSIDE LINING:

Cut the second fat quarter in half – approximately 10″ x 18″ pieces. Now, this is where you need to do some fuzzy math calculations. You need to end up with a 25.5″ x 18″ piece. Fat quarters are rarely an exact size. The leftover strip from the outside fat quarter is probably six inches wide and that will more than likely work just as it is. Sew it to the two panels as the base of your lining.

Fold the lining in half, right sides together, and sew outer seams (1/4″ seam allowance).

IMG_5253BOX CORNERS:

If you haven’t done these before, they are amazing. There are a couple of ways to do them, but this is my way.

IMG_5254After ironing open the seam, I fold the corner so the outer seam is centered, then sew a straight line 1.5″ from the tip – edge to edge.

Snip the corner off, being sure not to cut into the stitching you just did. Voila. You have a nice straight edge for the base of your tote bag. Do this on both the outside and the lining of the bag.

IMG_5256HANDLES:

Iron a 2.5 x 18 piece of fusible interfacing to the center of each of the 3.5 x 18″ fabric strips.

IMG_5257Press a half-inch hem on each side of the interfacing, wrong side to interfacing, then fold the fabric in half for a 1.25 x 18″ handle.

Top stitch (over stitch, whatever you like to call it) close to the hem, then top stitch the opposite side, just so it looks pretty. Leave the ends open (they’ll be tucked into the bag).

IMG_5255FINISHING:

Turn the outside of the bag right side out. Tuck it into the lining (still inside out) so right sides are together.

Match up the side seams of the outside and the lining (maybe pin them together to keep things straight), and match up your top.

IMG_5258Tuck the handles in on each side. I pin them at the outside edges of the inner two 5″ squares.

Sew around the top (1/4″ seam allowance), leaving an opening for turning. Be sure that at the beginning and at the end of the seam, you run a few stitches back and forth as an anchor, so it doesn’t pull apart when you turn the bag inside out. I like to start on the inside of one of the handles and sew all the way around to the inside of the other handle.

IMG_5260Pull the bag through the hole and once you’ve done that, stuff the lining inside and iron the top flat. You’re making sure that the hole edges are ironed down.

Then … top stitch around the top of the entire bag. These stitches will also help anchor the handles in place.

Believe it or not, you’re finished!

These are wonderful tote bags. Enjoy!

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No Exceptions

IMG_4927I drove through Campus Town in Ames today. It’s always fun to see kids starting their lives, rushing from class to class. I don’t miss those years at all, but I do like watching from a distance.

As I drove past a church, two handwritten banners hung in their front windows. The first read: ‘God Loves You’ and in the next window, ‘No Exceptions.’

No exceptions.

My mind was absorbed for the rest of the drive home. This is exactly what the Kingdom of God should look like here on earth. No exceptions.

As we journey from the cross to the Resurrection this weekend, those two words take on more significance. No exceptions.

God’s son did not die on the cross for some of the people. He didn’t die just for the Jews or for Christians; for people who go to church on Sunday mornings or those who seem to live perfectly holy lives. He didn’t just die for Americans or Catholics or Protestants, or for those whose belief systems – political, religious, or philosophical – line up with ours. He didn’t just die for white folk or rich people, those who can afford health care or who have a good work ethic. He didn’t just die on that cross for those who have their lives all together and whose children are brought up the way we believe they should behave. He didn’t just die for those with no mental health issues, or the families who can afford homes.

No exceptions.

Jesus Christ’s life on earth, his death, resurrection and his living presence are for everyone – no exceptions.

My heart aches at the ugly behavior and talk coming from those who proclaim their Christianity louder than they live it out. Mom always told me that actions speak louder than words. But we scream and yell our hatred and bigotry in the name of Jesus so that the words will seem louder than actions, and those who are as angry and hateful can hear the nasty words and support those ugly beliefs.

When Jesus was asked which commandment was the most important, he gave a simple response. Summed up, he said: Love God. Love Others. He didn’t place any exceptions on that. He didn’t tell people to love God and then love only some of the others. Jesus stated that we are to Love God and Love Others. No exceptions.

We’ll move past Holy Week and Easter Sunday and return to life as it always has been, giving little regard to the incredible passion that changed the world. The passion that came about because of exceptional love for all of humanity.

We are called to perfection as Jesus is perfect. That perfection comes from love. God’s love. When we live out that love, we find that we no longer need to scream and shout; our actions will be louder than our words and no one can drown them out.

Let this be the moment you decide to love, knowing how much God loved you.

No exceptions.

Bellingwood Vignette – Book 13, #3

TB loves the heating pad under my desk. Apparently he was plenty warm!

TB loves the heating pad under my desk. Apparently he was plenty warm!

Vignettes are published in the newsletters that come out each month, but every once in a while, I will write one that comes out before the 25th.

The vignettes are very short stories that fit within the context of the books, but aren’t necessary to the story. They might enhance something that you’ll read  in each book, but generally are just a quick look at some of the characters from their own perspective rather than Polly’s.

Book 13 is just around the corner (Friday, March 25th – only a couple of days away) and while you’re waiting, here is a quick look at what the kids are doing after school one day.

And They Call it Puppy Love

“Wait up, you guys,” Kayla yelled.

Mr. Smith stepped in front of her and she pulled up short. “No running in the halls, Miss Armstrong.”

“Sorry,” she muttered.

Rebecca had stopped in front of the girls’ bathroom to wait for her friend. “Slow down, Andrew. We have to wait for Kayla.”

“Whatever,” he muttered. “I’ll just be at my locker. Find me when you’re ready to go.”

She turned and watched him walk away. “What’s his problem?”

“Where’d Andrew go?” Kayla asked.

“I don’t know. His locker, I guess.” Rebecca shook her head. “What did Mr. Smith want?”

“Told me not to run.” Kayla huffed a laugh. “Like I run. I hate running. Why would I run in the halls when I don’t even like to run in gym?”

“I know, right?” Rebecca said, laughing. “Let’s get rid of some of this stuff.”

The two girls walked down the hall and turned the corner. Andrew was at the far end, leaning against his locker, watching them come his way.

Rebecca stopped in front of hers. “You go on. I just need to get my coat.”

“I’ll be right back,” Kayla said.

“Stupid boys,” Rebecca groused. She opened her locker and put books on the shelf and shoved things around so she could get her coat. It made her laugh. Polly was always complaining about how messy her room was. If she could see this, she’d go bananas. Kayla’s was way different. It was clean and really cute. She had Disney paper on the inside of the door and a sweet little white board and even a calendar hanging there. All organized and neat. Rebecca yanked on her coat and pulled it out from under the books she’d jammed in there all day, then dug around for her scarf.

Even there, Kayla was smarter than her. She always pulled her scarf through the sleeve of her coat so that she could find it right away. There it was. Polly would have a cow if Rebecca came home without it. No, that wasn’t right. She’d have the cow in the morning when Rebecca tried to leave without it on. She wrapped it around her neck twice and shoved her hair out of her face.

“Are you ready?” Kayla asked.

“Not hardly. How’d you get your stuff so fast?”

Kayla just laughed. “You should let me do up your locker for you.”

“You’d have to do it every week. I’ll just make a mess again.”

“Why don’t you hang any pictures up? Or even some of your drawings? Those would be really cool,” Kayla said.

Rebecca bent over and dug around on the floor of the locker, underneath a pile of folders. She pulled out a bent and broken corkboard. “Because everything breaks. I don’t even know where the pins are for this. Polly bought me some cute cat pins and they’re somewhere.”

“You should just throw that away.”

“Here, throw it away.” Rebecca shoved it at her friend.

Kayla took the three steps to a trash can and lifted the corkboard high, then let it drop. “See how difficult that was?”

Rebecca looked down at Andrew, still standing beside his locker. He was doing his best to ignore them. He spoke to some of the boys who were putting coats on, but kept a steady eye on what she and Kayla were doing.

“What did he do to you?” Kayla whispered. “Did he say something stupid? Are you guys breaking up?”

“No. He didn’t say anything stupid and we aren’t breaking up.” Rebecca kicked the bottom of her locker. “I hate this thing. I can’t find anything in here.”

“You really should let me clean it out for you. I could at least get you organized,” Kayla pleaded.

“I’m just going to throw everything away.” Rebecca bent over and picked up a stack of paper.

When she started toward the trash can, Kayla jumped in front of her. “No. You’ll be mad if you throw away some of your drawings. And there might be pictures in there and some of your stories.” She pulled out a piece of music. “And was this supposed to be turned in before Christmas.”

“They don’t care.”

“Yes they do. I was in the band room when Lisa and Sheena were sorting things. They were missing a bunch of parts. How are we supposed to play that again?”

“Then take it back.”

Kayla held onto it. “I will. Is there more in there?”

“Here.” Rebecca held out the stack, waiting for Kayla to extend her arms. When she did, Rebecca pushed everything at her friend. “You do whatever you want with it. Throw it out, color on it. I don’t care. Just get it out of my sight.”

“Why are you in such a bad mood?” Kayla asked, following Rebecca back to her locker. “What did Andrew do?”

“Who said he did anything?”

“I said. You only get like this when you and him are fighting.”

Rebecca shot a glance down the hall, turned her back on Andrew and bent into her locker. “It’s embarrassing when he gets all lovey-dovey,” she said in low tones, checking the hallway around them. Most of the kids were gone by this point. “I don’t want people teasing us because he’s always trying to sit beside me or…” she kicked the bottom of the locker again. “Whatever.”

“I wish I had a boyfriend try to get all lovey-dovey with me,” Kayla said. “You’re lucky. You shouldn’t be mean to him. What if he breaks up with you because you aren’t very nice.”

“I’d still have you,” Rebecca said.

Kayla didn’t respond, but looked down at the stack of papers in her hands.

“I’m mean to you, too. Is that what you’re thinking?” Rebecca asked.

Shaking her head very slowly, Kayla just smiled at her friend. “You’re never mean. Just a little volatile.”

“Where did you get that word?”

“Stephanie’s word-of-the-day calendar at home.” Kayla laughed and then looked worried. “But I didn’t think of you when we talked about it the word at breakfast. I promise.”

Rebecca took the stack of papers back from Kayla and jammed them into the bottom of her locker. “You can fix this up if you want,” she said. “But not tonight. Everybody else is gone. We should go.”

“Are you taking this?” Kayla asked, holding out Rebecca’s sketchbook.

“Yeah, I better.” Rebecca pulled her coat on, slung the backpack over her shoulder and then took the sketchbook from Kayla. She reached back into her locker and picked up her pencil case and kicked the door shut. “We’re leaving, Andrew. Are you coming?”

He trotted down the hall toward them. “Are you going to be mad at me all night?” he asked.

“I’m not mad,” Rebecca responded. She shook her head when she caught him giving Kayla a look. “I’m not,” she repeated. “Let’s just go.

They walked out of the front door of the school and she shivered as they hit the cold air.

“It’s cold,” Andrew said. “Let me hold your hand.”

Rebecca held up her hands, one with the sketchbook and the other with the pencil holder. “I have stuff in my hands.”

“You could put it in your backpack.”

Kayla laughed. “No she can’t. There’s no more room. Will you let me clean that out sometime, too?”

“At least let me button up your coat for you,” Andrew said.

“Fine.” Rebecca stopped in the middle of the street, planted her feet and turned to face him. “Button my stupid coat.”

“It’s really hard work being your boyfriend,” Kayla said. “He needs a medal.”

Rebecca watched her two friends try hard not to laugh and she shook her head. “I’m high maintenance?”

Andrew and Kayla looked at each other and then turned to look at her, innocence pasted on their faces.

“Of course not,” Andrew said.

Kayla spoke over him. “Not all the time.”

“But I don’t want to be high maintenance. I hate high maintenance girls.” Rebecca slumped her shoulders in defeat. “I’m sorry. You guys are my best friends. Here.” She handed the pencil holder to Andrew.

He took it and frowned at her until she held her hand out. “Oh.” Andrew smiled and took it in his.

“But just until we get to the highway,” Rebecca said. “I don’t want Polly to see it.”

He nodded. “This is good enough.”

Booze, Catnip & Light Sabers. Oh my.

IMG_4951Right in the middle of tearing through Book 13, I got a fun care package from my brother and sister-in-law. He does the ridiculous, she does the sublime (and some of the ridiculous). It’s always entertaining, though.

He warned me the box was coming and said there was something in it from “All Roads Lead Home” that needed to be re-created. Now, we had talked about him shipping some alcohol to me, so I began to wonder if the ingredients for “Red-Headed Slut” (the drink) might be showing up. I had no idea.

To be honest, I had to ask when I opened the box, because it still didn’t make enough sense to me. Then he reminded me of Doug and Billy’s Star Wars battle with homemade light sabers. When it gets dark enough tonight, I’m turning off the lights and will be varooming around the house with my glow-in-the dark saber.

Now, if you’ve been around a while, you’ll remember THIS POST with another care package my brother sent me. He’d just published Book 1 – Rookie Privateer – in his Privateer Tales series and station foam had erupted to seal the place from being exposed to space. He filled that box with spray sealant foam and I had quite the entertaining time extracting the wonderful gifts he and Janet sent to me.

This time, planning preceded execution and the unpacking wasn’t nearly as difficult. Though, there was still some foam that hadn’t completely hardened and even though I knew it, I still stuck my index finger into it. Apparently, a five year old still resides in my brain.

While the ingredients for the red-headed slut weren’t in the box, a couple of bottles of Fireball Whisky were. Spray foam is a perfect way to make sure those bottles remained in place.

Grey rolling around, reaching out to play with an unwilling TB.

Grey rolling around, reaching out to play with an unwilling TB.

Now, the fun started. The cats had been very interested in the box – because well – it’s a box! And there were new things that smelled like someone else’s house.

Jim & Janet wrapped the bottles in multiple layers of plastic bags so the foam didn’t adhere. But the fun was inside the bags. I pulled the first one open and couldn’t figure out why there was … oh my gosh, it’s CATNIP! I spread it out on the carpet and the cats went nuts. Janet (Jim?) had packed a little toy ball in amongst the catnip and I tossed it to Earl. He was gone.

Earl found his happy place.

Earl found his happy place.

TB landed on the catnip and wanted no one else to have any part of it. Grey wanted nothing more than to roll her little body all over it. He kept hissing, eating and batting at her whenever she got close. But she was persistent. Then she grabbed the toy from Earl and chased it around the room while little boy started rolling on the carpet. Happy, happy cats. I don’t often give them catnip, but wow do they love the stuff.

I opened the second bottle of Fireball and there was MORE catnip. It hit the floor, too and they were in pure bliss. Rolling, nibbling, more rolling, more nibbling, chasing, running. It was too much for them to handle. What fun, what fun.

The cats have finally fallen asleep. TB here on the table beside me, the kittens on the heating pad at my feet. I’m waiting until it’s dark to turn off all of the lights and swoop around the rooms with my glow-in-the-dark light saber. Okay, maybe I’m waiting for darkness and a couple of shots of Fireball to glow in my tummy.

I still have more editing and re-writing to do. There’s a vignette that needs to be written, a cover that needs to be finished – because the email newsletter comes out Thursday morning at six in the morning. If you haven’t signed up, do so right now – (right there on the right side of this page). You don’t want to miss all the fun.

Thank you, Jim and Janet. You made a good day – great!

Deadlines Work For Me

I work better with deadlines. I’m not fond of them, but deadlines force me to focus and complete tasks. When my sister and I owned the printshop, deadlines were imposed on us by our customers. Whether they were ridiculous or not (and often they were unbelievable), we worked to them. Not meeting a deadline was unacceptable.

TB landed in my mouse area and Grey felt she needed to be there as well. The lantern? That was one of those windy, blizzardy nights I worried we might lose power.

TB landed in my mouse area and Grey felt she needed to be there as well. The lantern? That was one of those windy, blizzardy nights I worried we might lose power.

We opened the printshop in 1984 with Mom. For a while, the three of us were the only ones there. In those early years, it seemed as if every Thursday night, I stayed at the shop, printing until four in the morning, then fell asleep on the floor until Mom and Carol opened the front door for business at eight. (We finally hired a press person and that silliness went away.) But for years after that, Carol and I did whatever it took to make sure projects were finished on time. I can’t tell you the number of times you could have walked into our living room and found all of us (including Dad), assembling booklets and newsletters, mailings and whatever other large project required our attention.

Anyway, deadlines. Those years of practice (no, I won’t call it torture) taught me a lot about time management. I still require a target deadline in order to finish the tasks in front of me. Friends insist that these are my own self-imposed deadlines and I can be flexible with them.

Not really. Because I refuse to take a step down that slippery slope. Each time a deadline passes that I don’t meet, I lose traction. This is my job, this is my livelihood, this is my future.

Wow, this is not at all what I was trying to say in this post. The last thing I want to do is get all self-righteous about deadlines. Life is much more fun than that.

See, the crazy thing about me meeting deadlines is that I have reverted to those Thursday nights. Right now I’m in a dead heat to finish this book by the deadline that I have created. That means that I am either thinking about the story or I’m writing words like mad.

When I write, I can’t have interruptions (other than kittens – everyone needs kittens (or pupper-dogs) ). I might as well just not write while there are other things going on. Activity on FB (yeah, yeah. I know, turn it off), phone calls, messaging, any number of things. I love every one of those distractions and know that I can wait to write and we’ll all be happy.

Do you see a theme? Cats where I'm working. They have a million places to sleep, but hanging out right in my space is preferable. I can hardly argue with that. I like having 'em around!

Do you see a theme? Cats where I’m working. They have a million places to sleep, but hanging out right in my space is preferable. I can hardly argue with that. I like having ’em around!

Around nine thirty in the evening, things slow down enough for me to change my focus An Evernote file is opened, I type the Chapter Number, re-read the end of the last chapter just to make sure I’m ready and then I go … and go and go and go. Some nights I can get through only a half of a chapter because I’m exhausted. Other nights … well … I’ve seen plenty of sunrises, but from the back end. When y’all are stretching your arms and slamming your alarms off, I’m begging the cats to tuck themselves in around me so I can relax and fall asleep.

The problem is that two hours later, they’re ready for more play time. But that’s another story.

In Diane’s perfect world, a personal robot would gladly do the tasks that need to happen during the rest of the world’s work day while I sleep (and oh, by the way, keep the kittens quiet for me, please). I’m sluggish and foggy-brained during the day (I never was much of a morning person – oh, I have funny stories around that … eh … funny to me, probably won’t translate well to anyone else). At night, though? The lights turn on. Every fiber of my being comes alive. The caffeine that I’ve ingested up to that point explodes in my cells, buzzing and humming until I pour it out. These are the moments that I live for. This is why I love what I do. It’s why I’m a hermit – the noise of the world falls away and its silence gives way to the cacophony in my mind.

These next two weeks are stressful, rewarding and exciting as I push to finish the initial writing of the book. Once the words are written, re-writes and edits happen until I have a raw first draft. There is so much more that happens from that point forward – beta readers (and I have plenty, not looking for more, though I thank you for your interest), cover and title creation, writing a synopsis, final editing (several times), formatting for paperback and Kindle, a couple of short stories and writing email newsletters, marketing … oh my.

So I cherish these last two weeks of intensive writing and re-writing. For now, this is all I have to focus on and though I am sleeping at strange and odd hours, it’s just the best fun of all.

BY THE WAY!

Don’t forget that this Friday and Saturday the Bellingwood Boxed Set (Books 1-3) will be FREE for Kindle. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to invite your friends to join you in this crazy little town we love. On Friday morning, I’ll create a post on Facebook with links so you can share them. THANK YOU for being part of this journey with me. 

Handling Conflict. Or, My Sister is a B-A

Carol - Kindergarten

Carol – Kindergarten (1967)

Last night as I was chatting with my sister, I accused her of trying to rescue everyone. Of course, that made me smile because it is who I’ve written in Polly.

I’ve had conversations this week with both my sister and brother and one thing that stands out is our frustration with inequality. It should be such a simple concept, but humanity isn’t wired to take care of others – only to protect and promote ourselves. Kindness, encouragement, support – it’s what we sometimes do for friends and family, but rarely for anyone else.

At least it feels that way. Gone are the days when polite behavior and considering other’s needs above your own is the norm. Am I right? Well … I hope not. I’ve exaggerated this for effect.

This morning was rough. The kittens and I do not have a good sleep cycle plan happening yet. But that’s a different topic. As I tried to fall back to sleep, I let my mind wander. This morning I thought about what had been going on in Carol and Jim’s lives and thought to myself: My sister is a bad-ass.

The three of us approach conflict, abusive personalities, wrong-thinking (on and on and on) in similar, but very different ways.

Jim has a lifetime of upper management skills. He’s learned to measure his thoughts and seek to reason with parties involved. Oh, he still loses sleep and his blood pressure rises, but he’s very good at finding the right words to bring everyone to the table. When someone upsets continuity, he backs away until he can speak reasonably.

I’ve always just put it out there. But I’ve lost friends because of that and over the years, I’ve come to realize that most people don’t care what my opinions are – and there is no way I will change theirs, so I don’t bother. Which is too bad, but the argument isn’t worth it any longer. I’ve fought hard for things I believed in throughout my lifetime and I’ve been treated hideously because of it. You know what? I lived. I still speak my mind, but only if I believe it’s worthwhile. Otherwise, I try to work on the other side – to find the positive and be encouraging.

Now Carol. She’s a riot. If you meet her, you will meet this incredibly sweet and wonderful person. She’s happy, positive, upbeat, enthusiastic, loving … all of those great things. That’s just her personality. She lights up a room when she enters. She’s gregarious and can hold a conversation with anyone. When we worked together at the print shop, strangers would come in and before they left, they’d told her their life story and she’d helped them.

Carol is our conciliator – our mediator. She is always trying to smooth the waters between people, working to understand both sides of a discussion so she can explain it and bring others back to the center.

But dang, if you cross that girl, you won’t even believe what you’ll get. It takes a lot to for her to get to the point that she’ll show outsiders her fury and it will surprise the heck out of you to see her go. But as I look back, some of her escapades are pure entertainment – and good for a story or two.

Carol and Jamie with Kadi and Charcoal (1968)

Carol and Jamie with Kadi and Charcoal (1968)

When she was just a kid in elementary school, she and Jamie walked to school (I went by myself, because ugh, they were so little and stupid) together. An older boy had been picking on Jamie regularly and one day, Carol was done. She went after that boy (who was actually older and bigger than her as well), thunked him on the head with her binder, and made him back off.

Years later, Carol and I were going home late one evening after work. We were driving down a one way (two lane) residential street and of course, street lights were out along the way. All of a sudden, we both saw it – a pickup truck parked in a driveway with half of his bed in the street. She swerved, cursed and then cursed some more. I was still trying to catch my breath when she made a quick turn, went around the block and pulled up behind the pickup. Carol parked and stormed out of the car up to the front door. When a young man answered, she let all hell rain down on him. He was in shock (of course) and called for his friend to fix it. He apologized over and over. I still hadn’t processed on all that had happened until long after she was back in the car and we were heading home again. Whoa!

A few years later, she and I were living in a gorgeous apartment on Park Avenue in Omaha. What a beautiful place. Big rooms, hard wood floors, beautifully restored wood trim. We loved it. But the neighborhood was a little dodgy. Two blocks down, a crack house had regular visits from the police – and today? Yeah. Don’t go there. Even angels fear to tread on that street.

Christmas 1988 - Ghenghis Khan in our apartment.

Christmas 1988 – Ghenghis Khan in our apartment.

When we lived there in the eighties, it was still … not horrible. But if we took long walks with our dog in the evenings, both of us went – just to be safe. One evening we were walking Genghis (a shih-tzu – Genghis Khan, King of the Mongrel Hordes) and there was a commotion across the street at a small local bar. Carol looked over and saw a man lift a tire iron to beat a kid. She hollered and started after him. I stopped her. Because a drunken idiot with a tire iron is never a good thing. She screamed again at the man to stop. He turned and said, “But he was stealing from me!” Okay, he was engaged now. (I was shaking and ready to run for help.) She told him that beating someone was wrong. If the kid really stole from him, he should call the police. And oh, by the way, we were calling them if he didn’t stop. The guy stopped, the kid ran, and we scurried home.

Seriously – bad-ass sister. Who knew? She scares me sometimes and I’m not afraid of much when it comes to that stuff.

Nowadays, Carol deals with little freakin’ bullies in her classroom. They break her heart because she wants them to understand how much better life is without that kind of ugliness. She isn’t afraid to wade into messes that she should probably avoid, but the kids know what side she’s on – every day.

Everyone has stories of when they’ve stood strong between right and wrong, but they shouldn’t just be individual stories. These should be a lifetime of knowing what the right thing is to do and doing it. Maybe there should be more of a moral to this post, but honestly … today I’m just chuckling when I think about my sweet, kind, wonderful sister being some kind of hell-on-wheels bad-ass! I love that!

Marketing? Stop Complaining, Diane.

BellingwoodBoxedSet1-3Marketing is a pain in my butt. I hate it, hate it, hate it. I spend money to give my books away for free and then I spend hours filling out forms on various websites that ask me more questions than I’m comfortable answering sometimes. I won’t be surprised to find a question about the color of my underwear one of these days. None of the marketing sites ask exactly the same questions, so it’s always a tossup as to which answer I need to create.

As I sat here complaining to myself (well, and the cats, too), I realized that I want my books to just do the work for me. And then I laughed because you know what? I’m a lousy manager.

What in the world, Diane? Non-sequitur much?

Not really. See, when people work for me, I just want to assign the work and then have them to it without anymore input from me – unless a crisis comes up. But that’s just not reality. People are people. And I’m a horrible, horrible manager. It makes me cry to have to manage people.

Consequently, I no longer do that. And I don’t cry over that anymore. (I cry over everything else, though – sheesh – what waterworks these eyes are).

Notice their tails? I did that. Because I love messing with them while they sleep.

Notice their tails? I did that. Because I love messing with them while they sleep.

This is one of the things about self-publishing. There isn’t some little lackey out there in media / publishing land who creates promotions and spends hours finding new and creative ways to convince the world they should buy your books. Nope. It’s all about dimly lit rooms with computer monitors and cats surrounding you. (Wait – that’s probably just me – not every other author who self-publishes likes kittens and dimly lit rooms.)

Okay – enough complaining. The awesome, amazing, wonderful side of marketing my own books? When it’s all over and the forms filled out, the money gone from my account and the dates are scheduled, I know that I’m about to meet really fabulous people who are introduced to my Bellingwood books and fall in love with the stories.

Little by little, person by person, my books really do begin doing the work for me. You share with your friends and family, they share and the network grows. That network means that I get to meet and find out about some of the coolest people in the world. I am continually blown away by how fun that is.

Moving out of Sigourney - 1980

Moving out of Sigourney – 1980

When I was growing up, we moved a lot. Methodist ministers didn’t stay in one place much longer than 5-6 years. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. As much as I adored the friends I had already made, I knew that this was an opportunity to meet so many more great people. This had a lot to do with my parent’s attitudes about change. They taught us to greet it with anticipation and expectation. Mom, especially, prepared us to have fun with all of the new people we would encounter. (The funny thing – both she and Dad were hermits, too!)

So, just like the hated days of packing up the house (we had a lot of stuff) to move, I got through this day of scheduling marketing – knowing that on the other side, something great is going to come.

You always have to look for the fun – right?

Oh … wanna know the dates? Tell your friends!

I’ve scheduled the Bellingwood Boxed Set to be free on February 19-20 and then again on March 3-5. Don’t worry. You’ll see those dates again as we get closer, but if you’ve been waiting to share the series – the time is here!

Little Moments

It really is about the little moments in life, isn’t it!

The cats and I just had a blast and because words rattled around in my head, I needed to share. However, because I was busy processing on the words – there are no photographs of this actual event.

Tuna casserole has been tantalizing me for a few months. Don’t know why it took so long to make it – it’s a simple recipe and it’s one of my favorites.

Mom didn’t make casseroles. That’s not how she learned to cook, so we didn’t have them unless someone in the congregation made one and gave it to us. Tuna was something she purchased to create tuna salad. Well, heck, when she was on a diet, she just ate tuna and cottage cheese. That happened often.

Anyway. Tonight was the night. Last night I made sure I had all of the ingredients so all I had to do was cook some noodles and mix the ingredients.

Three cans of tuna. Three cats. Perfect equation. What was fun was watching their little personalities at play throughout this extravagance.

For the kittens, this was new. As soon as TB smelled tuna in the air, he was right there in front of me. He knew this would be awesome.

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The kittens will do nearly anything to be close to TB – no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

I squeezed the tuna juice (water) into three little dishes and put his in front of him immediately, then one in front of Grey – because she was in a PANIC! If TB was that excited, it had to be great. Earl sat on the floor in front of me, desperate to be in on it, but he couldn’t think fast enough to get to a chair that would give him access to the table. I put his on the floor so he could participate right away.

TB hunkered in. This was his to enjoy.

Grey dashed back and forth, trying to figure out where the most fun would happen. Was it at the dish of tuna juice? Maybe one of the empty cans of tuna. Would Mom let her near the casserole dish where all of the ingredients were landing? Oh my, oh my, oh my!

And Earl? That little sweetie just kept looking up at me – he’d found nirvana. I could read it in his eyes. “Thank you, Mom. You’re the best ever.”

They are so distinct in their personalities and those few moments – over dishes of tuna juice – were pure pleasure for me. Each cat was able to experience something simple that I could do for them and they experienced it in their own way.

So what if Grey was all over the place. That was her joy. So what if Earl couldn’t figure out how to get to the top of the table (he usually can, he was overwhelmed). I could make it easy on him and he was content. And TB? This was old hat and one of those few moments that I let him (them) be involved in what I’m cooking.

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I love this face.

Apparently I need to make tuna casserole more often. We all love it.

As I watched each of them find their own way through the moment, I thought about how wonderful it is to do things for other people. I love to give gifts. I’m making quilts right now. Who knows where they’ll end up – or even if they’ll work out. I’m kind of a newbie at this. But those moments of someone else’s joy pile up in my mind as I cut out pieces of fabric and plot a pattern.

When I first started writing, I didn’t have very many readers. I could identify most of the people who were reading my books. And you know what? I wrote the story as if I were telling it to them. Their reactions to bits and pieces of the book were in my mind at all times. Those moments were surely only mine, but once the book was published, it became something that I shared with them, even if it wasn’t at the same time.

Some of the most fun I have is in the moments – whether they are shared immediately or put off until later. I don’t want to miss any moments because I’m too caught up in negative crap. I agonize for those people who spend so much time looking for (and finding) ugliness, anger, bitterness, betrayal and frustration. They miss moments of joy.

Silly little moments. Perfect moments that add up to so much more.

Edit:
Hehe – I re-read this and thought: someone is going to think I’m an imbecile because I used the word extravagance instead of extravaganza. When, in truth, I wanted to use the word extravagance. Just thought I’d put that out there.

Vittimins

What a great day.

After days of gray skies, sunshine ripped through the clouds and charged my Vitamin D batteries right up. All three cats spent the day moving around, holding on to sunbeams as long as they could. I found Earl perched on top of the coffee pot so he could look out the kitchen window. Grey wasn’t too far away. She’d found a sunbeam in a tiny space left beside my toaster. The poor thing had braced herself into that spot, her front legs draped over the counter. I did the only thing I could. I moved the toaster.

After the excitement of spraying water the other night, Jeremy came out Friday afternoon and fixed my world. Not only did he fix the broken pipe, he dealt with many other plumbing issues that I’d just let hang out there. I’m the daughter of a Methodist pastor. Whenever we moved into a parsonage, we adapted to whatever it handed us. I became quite good at it throughout my life. I’m odd. The surface of my living space isn’t all that important to me. I create a work space that fits my needs, but after that, all I want is for things to work. Oh. And I like lots of fabric around me. Blankets, quilts, pillows, curtains, more blankets and maybe a few more pillows. Anyway – all of that to say – once things work well, I’m content.

Today, I’m content.

Jamie is such a Greenwood in this picture - taken in late 1964.

Jamie is such a Greenwood in this picture – taken in late 1964.

This afternoon I finished the first edit of another book from my brother. It’s nothing like either of the two other series that he’s written. I’m so proud of him. He keeps branching out and he does a great job with all of it. This is an urban paranormal mystery and it’s fun. That’s all I will say until he’s ready to give you more information.

You may not see the connection in all of the things I just wrote about, but it’s there. In about thirty-six hours, the Midwest is supposed to get slammed with a blizzard. Not just snow, but snow and huge amounts of wind. With plenty of warning, we have time to set in supplies and be prepared. I’m going into town tomorrow to pick up mail and a few groceries and then, I’m cracking a bottle of wine. Hmmm, wine … writing. There might be a party at Beryl’s house.

With every other snowstorm that has come, I’ve been stressed. I need to travel or do something or go somewhere. The thing is, I love a good blizzard. Just not when I need to be out in it. I’m enough of a hermit that I like being stuck in the cabin anyway. This is just one more opportunity for me to watch the snow swirl around and tuck my head back under the blankets.

Are you preparing for the Midwest storm or are you out of its path this time? Whatever your weather, I hope that you are able to sit back and enjoy the days as they pass. One of the things that bothered me most about my excitement for the storm was that I was overlooking the absolutely gorgeous days that had arrived for the weekend.

I found this wonderful picture of TB and my dachshund, Leica. Taken in 2011.

I found this wonderful picture of TB and my dachshund, Leica. Taken in 2011.

Long, long ago (seriously, I was in junior high – it was forever ago), I listened as a preacher reminded us to focus on the moment and not always look forward to the next great thing or worry about what was coming. He encouraged us not to waste so much time looking ahead that we forgot what the present was offering to us.

I have a tendency to wait for days and events that are stressful to pass and then lose track of the moments that were happening while I waited. It’s something I’ve been working on my entire life.

Now, as for this blizzard, maybe I’d better make sure there is wine chilling. Hmmm, chocolate chip cookies and homemade bread. I’ll get those started, too.

Rely on Others / Be Self-Sufficient

The cabin in spring

The cabin in spring

My dad really messed me up and last night I finally figured out what it was that he did to me.

Here’s the story.

Late Wednesday night (early Thursday morning – about 1 am), I was sitting on the edge of my bed with my computer on a tray table, writing madly away on Book 13. All of the lights in the cabin were off, but the moon was bright enough the cats were still playing. The scene I was writing was a good one, my fingers were flying across the keyboard as I sent Polly and Henry out in the middle of the night to take care of something.

Then I heard a strange sound, one I identified as spraying water. That’s not good. I hauled my old knees into service again, flipped a light on at my desk as I dashed to the other side of the cabin. I turned another light on and water was spraying up from under the sink at an alarming rate.

Winter at the cabin

Winter at the cabin

We have eternal construction happening here. I’m completely fine with that. In fact, it’s actually quite comfortable. Someday all of our family’s ducks will be in a row and we’ll finish more parts and pieces of the inside, but for now, it’s a perfect place for me to hide and write.

One of the things that my brother learned from Dad was that you have more than one shut-off valve for water throughout a house. Right there in plain sight was my salvation. I twisted and twisted and finally, to my great relief, the spray ceased. Now I had a mess to clean up. I sopped water up off the concrete floor (thank you for a concrete floor) and glared at the problem. The fitting had failed because of the incredible amount of lime in our water. It took seven years to fail, but it was now lying on the floor, taunting me.

I'm in the middle. We're a crazy little family. (1966)

I’m in the middle. We’re a crazy little family. (1966)

Now here’s my problem and how my father completely messed me up. I was talking to my brother about the situation tonight and it hit me. Dad raised me as a girl. That’s the first half of the issue.

Dad could fix anything. Plumbing, drywall, the roof, electricity, appliances (well, kinda). He could fix it. He built this cabin. He had help finishing a lot of it, but this was his dream. He could do anything.

He raised me as a girl. I helped him because I was the oldest (tallest and took direction well). But my help generally consisted of him telling me which tool he needed. I was darned proud of myself when I learned to anticipate his needs and have the right one ready. He didn’t teach me how to change fittings in a sink or put new guts in a toilet or (the list goes on and on). He didn’t teach me to fix cars or how to change the oil. I’m certain that he hoped I’d marry someone who was as handy as he was (that did NOT happen, by the way).

Now if you think about the girly-girls out there in the world, what’s one thing you know about them? They are quite adept at asking for help.

There’s the second half of my problem. Not only did my father raise me as a girl, he raised me to be self-sufficient. I don’t easily ask for help. I can now fix many things because Dad taught me to pay attention and figure it out. I was never going to get away with being a whiny little girly-girl. If I worked hard enough, maybe read the stupid manual or directions, and kept at it – I could fix it. On my own. Without any help.

Do you see the complexity of my problem? A) There are things I don’t know how to do and B) I have trouble asking for help in getting them done. I know nothing about plumbing fixtures and I don’t have the time or inclination to learn. I have a book to write, for heaven’s sake.

~~~

Graduation 2

My friend, Kim, went to Arizona for the graduation ceremony, then sent me her cap and gown and insisted on pictures. I got my Master’s Degree!

There’s a wonderful young man in the area – and he’s actually one of the reasons I wrote the first Bellingwood book, though he has no idea. When I knew I was going to spend time here finishing my Master’s Degree and starting my writing career, we needed to install a furnace. The wood stove was a mess and wouldn’t do. I called Jeremy, he gave me a great price on full installation and then did the work. Whenever there was a problem with the furnace or A/C, he came immediately and fixed the thing, charging me a more than fair price (read: ridiculously low for what I was used to in Omaha).

I was at my wit’s end today. Other (minor) plumbing issues have cropped up over the last years and I’ve just been living with them. But now I was over the edge. It was either call my brother and beg him to spend a day with me fixing things or suck it up and ask for help locally.

I finally called Jeremy. He’s one of those young men that grew up learning how to do everything. Though he installs furnace and A/C systems, I suspect there isn’t much he can’t do. I asked if he knew anyone, though, that could do some (apparently) simple plumbing fixes.

“I’ll be there tomorrow, Diane. I’m not a certified plumber, but I’ve been doing this stuff all my life. I can take of it for you. All of it.”

He didn’t see, but I cried when I ended the call. He was coming out to help me.

I’m still frustrated that I can’t easily do these things myself and I’m still frustrated that it’s so difficult for me to ask for help.

Building small cabin 2You don’t need to lecture me. I know who I am. I’ve been this person for a lot of years. You can laugh at my conundrum and commiserate with me on my insanity. You can send chocolate and well-wishes; you can drink wine as you chuckle, but you don’t need to help me. I have Jeremy.

It is nice to finally identify that strange split that happened in me years ago. Dad would smile. Mom would howl with laughter, but hey – she married someone who was handy, even if he did make her get up on top of the cabin to hold plywood while he built this place.

Am I a nut? Oh heck, yes.