Category Archives: Crochet

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Magical Yarn

Happy Friday, all. Casey here.

As promised, we’ve updated our look. After three years it was time for a change. Please let us know what you think of our make-over.

Now, onto today’s blog.

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I had a realization the other day. It’s 2014. Twenty-freakin’-fourteen!

IMG_1781Well, duh. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that by now. And, despite my seeming disbelief, I know it too.

But it did make think about how much my life has changed in the last few years. Ten years ago, in 2004, I had mostly given up writing.

When I say mostly, what I mean is – I was not actually clacking away at a keyboard. Instead, I was berating myself for being a loser because I couldn’t complete a story. I had a few half-finished or sort of done, but awful, manuscripts hidden in binders under my bed (and yes, they were literally under there, collecting dust bunnies.)

I was paralyzed with doubt and indecision. I was totally clueless about what to do. Should I start another book? No. Because I already had too many incomplete drafts. So, I did nothing and worried. Because that is always so much more productive (not really).

My solution: teach myself to knit and crochet. Yup. Had nothing to do with writing but it was another life-long goal of mine. It all started when I six years old and my great aunts tried to teach me to crochet.

Total disaster. I couldn’t hold the yarn right. Couldn’t make a chain, let allow an actual stitch. I just didn’t get it. No matter how hard they tried to implant their skills into my brain, I sucked at it.

I was a loser/failure <cue sad trombone sound>

I had another chance to learn crochet  in Girl Scouts. Still a disaster but I did manage to make a curly worm bookmark (very lumpy and it didn’t twist properly). It’s now tucked away in my hope chest.

For years and years, not knowing how to crochet ate away at my sub-conscience. Why couldn’t I figure it out? Is there something wrong with me? Ummm. Kind of like my ability to finish a book (that didn’t suck).

I hate not being able to do things. The last straw: when I couldn’t finish drafting yet another novel to my satisfaction, I decided I was going to succeed at something. Damn it.

2004 was the year I went to Michael’s, bought a skein of Red Heart yarn (bright red) and two books – “I Taught Myself to Knit” and “I Taught Myself to Crochet” – and, by golly, that is exactly what I did. I learned!! I made stuff. It didn’t suck once I got the hang of it.

As soon as I mastered the basics, I decided I was knitting in the round. I wanted gloves. So I made them (apparently most beginners don’t go for gloves, but whatever).

Needless, to say, friends and family were inundated with crocheted and knitted “gifts” from me. Yet, the entire time, a little voice in my head nagged at me to get writing.

Eventually, the little voice won out. But not for another five years.

You know what? It doesn’t matter. In the end, I finished a book (Ascension), then another (Mystic Ink), then sold it. Then wrote more and sold more. I credit the little voice. But I also believe that by pushing my boundaries and trusting myself to learn a brand new skill, it gave me the confidence to consider myself a “real” writer and get busy.

And, yes, I still knit and crochet. This is my latest sock:

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Is there a lesson to be learned here? Yarn is magic. No, that’s probably not the answer. But listening to the little voices in your head, yeah, that must be it!

Writers Survival Guide to Menopause

Writers Survival Guide to Menopause

PJ here, and I’ll bet you’re wondering what menopause has to do with writing. For those of you struggling to put words on the page through sleepless nights, power surges (aka: hot flashes) that make you feel like your hair is on fire, or trying to focus through the foggy haze of hormonal upheaval, you know the answer to that question. For those of you not there yet, consider this a head’s up and a public service announcement.

Are you ready for a frank discussion about menopause? There…I said it. I’m still amazed how many people are not comfortable discussing this natural part of aging. It’s not like we’re trying to keep it a secret or bringing to light some controversial topic. If you’re squeamish about discussing such personal issues, feel free to move on to the solutions list below. But if you feel like you’re among friends here, read on and know that you aren’t alone. I’m here to share my experience and pass on what worked for me. (This is not intended as medical advice. Do your research and talk to your doctor to discuss your options).

MY STORY:  I went through “the change” a little early. Although I’m mostly on the other side of it now and I’m not even fifty, the age of onset varies greatly, depending on the woman. Symptoms started at about forty for me. Irregular periods after years of being like a clock in sync with the moon. At first, heavier and more frequent than normal, and then months of skipping entirely, causing me to sweat the possibility of pregnancy a few times—not cool when both of my sons were already grown and out of the house and I wasn’t married yet to my sweetheart. According to doctors, you aren’t officially in menopause until you’ve gone a full year without menstruating. Until then, whatever symptoms you’re having are considered peri-menopausal and will likely go untreated.

More than one way
More than one way

 So then came the hot flashes. OMG! There were times I had a dozen or more hot flashes in a day, and I’m not talking about a little heat. Think of what it would feel like to put your face in a five hundred degree oven and keep it there for about a minute. Breaking out in a sweat every time I put my hands on a massage client when all I wanted to do was tear off my clothes and stand under cool water was totally not cool…pardon the pun. I began having trouble sleeping, waking at three a.m., tossing and turning until six, and then, just as I fell asleep again, I would have to get up. Talk about sleep deprivation torture! I did this for about two or three years, often getting up and writing for those few sleepless hours, trying to make use of the nightly torment and keep my sanity. But the next day sluggishness was brutal and added to the crankiness that was so uncharacteristic for me. I finally understood why those “old” ladies I knew as a child were so grumpy. They were in menopause! Even wearing a bra was irritating enough to have me worming it off in the car after a long day. I’ll admit, I chewed out a few grocery store clerks and made unkind hand gestures to trucks and SUV’s that cut me off or gave me a look…you know the look I mean. But it wasn’t until the worst thing that could happen to a romance writer happened to me. (Come closer…I’ll whisper this part…my sex drive went out the window.) That was the final straw. I needed help! Fast!

After first turning to the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels by Laurell K. Hamilton with mixed  and temporary results, I decided a visit to my Naturopath was in order. She listened to my woes, prescribed my constitutional homeopathic remedy (an entirely different post), and we discussed some natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (taking synthesized horse urine just sounded all kinds of wrong to me!) A note to you informed menopause researchers out there: What I did is different than “Bio-identical” therapy, which is another way of treating hormonal imbalances with natural substances that mimic estrogen and progesterone, but requires guidance from a doctor who specializes in that treatment protocol. Feel free to look into it. I’ve heard very good things about it. You might also find some great tips in a book called WHAT YOUR DOCTOR MAY not TELL YOU ABOUT MENOPAUSE  by Dr. John Lee.

This is what worked for me:

1)      I took over-the-counter herbal supplements called Estrovan, and later, Remifemen (the Estrovan worked moderately well for about a year before my Naturopath told me to try switching.) I found the Remifemen worked better for me. The essential ingredient in both of these products is an herb called black cohosh, which in combination with some other herbs and vitamins helped greatly with the hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. I took one in the morning and then I took the Night Time relief brand before bed. It worked far better for me than taking sleep medicine that made me drowsy and foggy the next day, or the chamomile tea that had me up staggering to the bathroom several times a night. With a few good night’s sleep a week, I began to focus better and feel less depressed and irritable.

2)      I also changed my daily vitamin to include 1000 IU’s of Vit. D, 1500 of Calcium and 1000 mg. of Magnesium. I found a single vitamin (Complete Menopause), that had everything I needed at my health food store  and took one in the morning and one at night. I also added an oil blend that included fish oil, evening primrose, and flax oil–another super combination that can be hard to find, but worth looking for. If you have any doubts about whether you are lacking in these vitamins, or if you are on medication of any kind, check with your doctor and have a blood test done. Many of our aches, pains, and physical/emotional symptoms are due to lack of Vit. D since most of us aren’t getting enough sunlight sitting in front of our computers a gazillion hours a day.

Note: Diet and nutrition are critical in feeling your best at all times of your life. Let me just say that sugar is killing us all, but that’s another post!

3)      I layered my clothes, wearing a tank top or short sleeved shirt and adding a light sweater or having a shawl to throw on and off easily since the temperature changes internally were dramatic. Shortly after a hot flash, I would get a chill and a desperate thirst. I kept a water bottle with me at all times, including next to my bed for those middle of the night power surges that had me throwing off the covers and feeling as dry as a desert. (For the sake of our squeamish readers I won’t get into the all too common “dryness” problem.)

Incidentally, things that aggravate hot flashes? Why chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol, of course. Could the gods be any more cruel?

4)      Believe it or not, exercise helped! Aerobic activity for twenty minutes three to five times a week makes all the difference on so many levels. It’s not uncommon for women in menopause to gain as much as ten to twenty pounds in just a couple of years due to metabolic changes, food cravings, depression, fatigue, etc. Those lovely curvacous sculptures the Renaissance artisans depicted were undoubtedly of mature menopausal women. Does the term “sagging middle” mean anything to you? (And I’m not referring to your pacing problems.) No wonder those ladies wore robes–no skinny jeans for them! 

There’s no point in white-washing it. Aging and change aren’t fun, but  they are inevitable, so if you want to come out on the other side of menopause healthy, you’ll fight the fight and make it work for you. Bottom line–staying active is being proactive!

5)      ON THE PLUS SIDE! Yes, there is a plus side, other than the obvious absence of our dear aunt “flow.” Menopause can bring on an incredible surge of creative energy (my theory is that our bodies are transforming all that “baby making” creativity that we no longer have evolutionary need of, into mental, emotional and spiritual creativity. It’s not surprising that menopausal women take up hobbies such as quilting, knitting, painting, photography, yoga, and yes…writing. There is a wisdom, peace, and quiet strength that comes with this rite of passage that is hard to describe until you get there, but even with all of the challenges—and maybe in spite of the challenges—we are transformed to a higher state of being. Eventually, we come back to being ourselves, only better. (Hold onto that thought gentlemen.)

 We may be a little less patient with foolishness since we’ve learned to value ourselves and our precious time, and likely we’re wearing a less than pristine earth suit (the shelf life of the human body is about fifty years—anything after that requires high maintenance and parts replacement), but more than ever, we are part of a sisterhood. I appreciate and respect women so much more than I did when I was young—a sign that I have grown in respect and love for myself over the years. Just remember, we are in this together and through sharing our experiences, we can help one another through the rough spots.

Perhaps you could ask Santa for a portable fan for Christmas. Happy Hot Flashes!

Sweet relief!
Sweet relief!

 Any other tips for beating the heat and surviving menopause, dear writers and readers?

 

 

Anything to Keep Me Out of the Kitchen

Thea Devine today, thinking that the above sentiment started the day that my firstborn, who is living with us for the time being, said to me that he was having heart attacks watching me slice onions.  Or maybe it was the day we finally got propane and installed a gas stove, which my husband, who does cook, had been wanting for the ten years we’ve been living in CT.

In any event, my son decided that a) he dislikes watching me cook with the sole purpose of “getting it over with”;  b) the notion of the “throwing it into the oven” was an unacceptable term for roasting;  c) he’d do almost anything to keep me out of the kitchen.

And when I do cook, as I did last night, he comes wandering into the kitchen and peers over my shoulder.  Did you scrub the mussels?  Individually?  Discard open ones?  And saute garlic for the sauce?  I felt like I was back in my junior high home economics class. Teacher is watching.    Only he happens to be my son.  Making me feel fourteen again.  And how many years ago was that??

He’s been coming into my office every couple of evenings to casually ask, what’s for dinner?  And I say — roast, spaghetti, chicken, whatever, and he says, I feel like cooking.  And I say, really?  I wouldn’t mind.

And finally I say, if you even ask, you know I’m going to say, yes.  Because he’s suddenly cooking a lot in an explosion of experimentation and trying to educate my palate to like spicy food.  He hooks up his computer in the kitchen, surfs recipes, and cooks.  With love.

I was planning my last ditch when-I-have-nothing-else-in-mind-for-dinner tuna noodle casserole  one night, when he said, do you mind if I do it?  I said, go ahead, but understand that if you take it up a notch, you will bear the burden of cooking it next time.

And he said, it’s not a burden, it’s joyful, it’s fulfilling.  And I melted.

I’ve seen this happen before — with my husband.  His mom was a fabulous cook.  My mom wasn’t.  My first post-marriage birthday present from my husband was the New York Times Cook Book.  Enough said.

However, my husband didn’t start cooking seriously until he was going through a rough patch career-wise.  My son is going through something similar now.  For them, cooking is cathartic, a creative outlet, almost the way writing is for me.

And there are other similarities:  it’s hands-on. It has a beginning, a middle, an end.  It’s an accomplishment.  It can be experimental or comforting, complex or plain, there can be lots of accompaniments, or a focus on just one thing.  In the end, something is produced that is consumable (words or a pot roast) and there’s audience feedback.

Me, I’d rather write, play guitar (and write lyrics), crochet, — I could lovingly do those things for hours.  I’m always psychically at war with anything that keeps me from writing especially (read housework, shopping, paying bills, cooking).

Which is why I “throw it in the oven.”  I’ve got a book to write, plots to carve and words to chop, saute and bake (slowly and lovingly) into the cake that will be my next novel.  I’m happy to leave the cooking to someone else.  I love it that they don’t want me in the kitchen.  But shhh — don’t tell them. … Actually — I think they already know.

Do your men cook?   Is there anything you love to do more than anything else?  Anything creative?  Or do you just ove to cook, and is that your respite?

Thea Devine is working on the sequel to The Darkest Heart, now titled Beyond The Night and scheduled for release April 2013 by Pocket Star.

I Want Candy. . . Candy Dot Scarf Giveaway

Happy Friday everyone! Casey Wyatt here.

The Winner of the candy dot scarf is – Alli-cat Sharron!! Congratulations Alli-cat! I will contact you through e-mail.

Don’t forget to visit me at my website before 2/13/12. I’m participating in a blog hop – Romancing the Valentine Giveaway hop. I’ll be giving away an e-book of Mystic Ink.

But don’t leave yet. Or you’ll miss the fun giveaway here.

I have two favorite holidays.

My first favorite is Thanksgiving. The other is Valentine’s Day. Or as I like to think of it – Chocolate Day!

Seriously, even if you don’t love chocolate, I bet you like candy of some kind.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, I have crocheted a candy dot scarf. And I am giving it away to one lucky commentor (open to US residents only).

In case you’re wondering what the heck is a candy dot scarf and why would I want one, remember those little tiny dot candies? The ones on the white paper? Pink, yellow and blue?

I think candy dots are the closest I’ve ever come to intentionally eating paper. You know, in all fairness, it’s kinda hard not to eat the paper.

Anyway, back to the scarf. I crochet and knit things when I want a break from writing. Or when I’m avoiding an unpleasant chore like creating a synopsis or query letter.

But I don’t just craft to avoid writing. Sometimes I pick up knitting needles or a crochet hook to let my mind wander and think about something other than writing.

I made a candy dot scarf for myself last January and ever since I’ve had several offers to buy it.

I did not invent this pattern (nor have I ever sold my scarf). Twinkie Chan deserves all the credit. If you like this scarf, you can find the pattern and many other yummy food themed scarves in her book – Twinkie Chan’s Crochet Goodie for Fashion Foodies.

As you can tell from the book cover, many delights await you inside. Don’t send me hate mail, if you find yourself in a crochet frenzy. I’ve made several of the scarves and they’re a lot of fun.

Yes, this could be yours…

So who wants a candy dot scarf? What is your favorite sweet confection? And what fun thing do you like to do when procrastinating or taking a break?

Reminder the drawing is open to US residents only and you must comment to be entered. And don’t forget to visit me at my website before 2/13/12 to enter for a chance to win an e-book of Mystic Ink –  Romancing the Valentine Giveaway hop.

Recipe for Success

Happy Thursday, Scribe peeps, it’s Susannah.

When is a fiction book not just a fiction book?  How about when it contains recipes, or knitting patterns, or the directions for some other craft project mentioned somewhere within the story?

There are lots of  fiction books out there that do this.  It’s very prevalent in cozy mysteries, many of which feature a sleuth who has some special skill or occupation that assists her in solving the crime.  There are mysteries based on/in catering, knitting, embroidery, gardening, a coffee house, a cookie store, an apple orchard, and even a cheese shop.

And it isn’t just mysteries.  Debbie Macomber, who is an avid knitter, sometimes includes patterns at the end of her romances.

Bonus material like this can be a lot of fun, and might help an author sell more books.  But these things must be done . . . delicately . . . as the Wicked Witch might say.   I’m reading a mystery right now where there are numerous references to a particular dish.  It’s clearly a clue, but that recipe is inexplicably not included with other recipes at the end of the book.  (I admit it.  I peeked.)   There’s another series where it seems the author really wants to write a cookbook — the references are that obvious and the stories are that flimsy.

Lots of authors do manage to make the process seamless.  Personally, I’m waiting for some bonus material to appear in a police procedural (“How to Tap a Phone Line”), or paranormal (“Summoning Entities for Fun and Profit”) or steamy romance (Instructions for  . . . use your imagination!).

What about you?  Do you love or hate the extras?  Do you ever actually make the food or craft?  Here’s a little takeaway for you — the recipe for Tomato Cocktail, via my mother-in-law’s recipe box:

King Family Tomato Cocktail – makes about 1 quart

1 heaping quart of ripe, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped (support your local farmstand, please!)

2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped

1 small onion (or half a large onion), roughly chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 whole cloves

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place everything into a pot and simmer 40 minutes. Let cool, then run it through a food mill to extract the skins, seeds and cloves. If you don’t have a food mill (mine is straight out of the 1950s, inherited from my mom-in-law), you can strain the whole mixture into a bowl through a colander, pushing the juice through with the back of a spoon, or just fish out the cloves and run everything through a blender or food processor (you’ll get more texture this way). Chill, stir, and enjoy. You might enjoy it more if you add some vodka, Worcestershire, and hot sauce! I like to make a double or triple batch in the summer and freeze in zippie bags for the winter. This also makes a delicious hot tomato soup to go with your grilled cheese.

Knit One, Write One

Hi all. Casey here. J couldn’t be with us today, so I’m posting in her stead.

When I’m not writing or reading, my other favorite hobbies are knitting and crocheting. I like them so much that I have to be careful not to use them as an excuse to avoid writing. Earlier this year, I created a series of food themed scarves from Twinkie Chan’s Crochet Goodies for Fashion Foodies.

I’m now the proud owner of the following scarves: buttered toast, rocket pop, bacon & eggs, and a much admired candy dot scarf (which a few folks have offered to buy from me!).  I also have bags full of knitted socks, gloves, mittens, hats, scarves, crocheted amigurumi (little animals), and even crocheted food (my favorite is my hamburger).

With each cluster of projects, there’s  often a corresponding novel, query or synopsis that was being created at the same time. Not thinking about writing all the time, frees my mind so new ideas can float in.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that knitting/crocheting and writing are more alike than they seem. They both weave a thread into a cohesive whole. From out of nothing recognizable, you create something that didn’t exist previously.

With knitting or crocheting, if you don’t have a good, solid cast on (or chain) as a foundation, the end result won’t meet your expectations. Writing is similar. If the beginning of your story isn’t solid, then ending won’t be that satisfying either.

The other thing I like about yarn craft is that with patience and perseverance, you will be rewarded with an item that you created. One that you can wear, give away or display. And if you’re brave, you can branch out and experiment with new patterns and techniques to create something all your own. If your project goes awry, you can “frog it” (rip it, rip it – get it?) and start again.

Computers are a wonderful thing. They let you easily delete, copy or save your work. If there are bits I need to remove, I create a scene graveyard. I often go back to the graveyard and harvest ideas, wording or scenes as needed. And like my favorite needle crafts, I can either share my work or keep it in a bag hidden from sight.

What other hobbies do you enjoy? Leave me a note. I’d love to hear from you.