Patio Envy and Backyard DIY Projects

Personal

We live on a hill.  There’s a privacy fence running all around the back yard, but because of said hill, we can easily see over it from our back porch and into our back neighbor’s yard.  This gave us a bird’s eye view of their project last weekend–which was to build an epic deck off the back of their house.  The back of their house is laid out very much like ours…small covered space, which they had previously enclosed.  They knocked that down and extended the deck out into a great entertainment space, complete with a new patio set and some cute decorative stuff.

Y’all, I totally have outdoor space envy.

Now we have no need of a deck.  Our house has a long, wide extension of the concrete patio, so we’ve got the space already.  But right now, we are the people in the neighborhood who have weeds as tall as me.  I’m allergic to all of it, plus we totally bypassed spring and jumped straight to summer, so I haven’t had any inclination to get out and deal with them (maybe on Memorial Day, since I’m off).  I did, earlier this spring, hose off the back porch and put down an outdoor rug, clean off the grill (which we use all the time), and clean the outdoor furniture–but in general I haven’t done anything else.

attached-pergola-designsIf money were no object–well, okay, first off, I’d hire a yard crew to deal with the jungle that is our flower beds.  We are to the point where we may need the Green Berets to hunt up the actual legitimate flora buried under the weeds and vines.  But anyway, if money were no object, I would totally build an attached pergola off the back, stretching to the edge of our patio–the kind with those nice drapes of sailcloth for shade.  Maybe with a swing.  And twinkle lights.  And a nice pretty new patio set rather than the motley crew we’ve cobbled together.

cabana-lounge-mMaybe eventually we could do something like this easy DIY cabana.  And there seem to be instructions for creating a PVC pergola (multiple versions) (though I can’t find any pictures).

As money is totally an object and my budget runs more toward a few cans of spray paint to update said motley crew and using stuff I already have, I’ll have to be more creative.  I’ve been haunting Pinterest for backyard DIY projects.  Of course, just cleaning up all the weeds will help tremendously.  Emptying out my existing pots and planting something pretty (and hardy since I’m awful about killing things).  I might use some tomato stakes or bamboo to make custom trellises (or maybe just inverted tomato cages) for some Carolina jasmine.  I definitely need to clean off the ceiling fan out there because–ew.  Dirt and spider webs.  We’ve got a lovely big yard flag with our last initial on it that was a gift–I totally want to hang that.  I’ve got a gigantic canvas tarp I bought for a failed shade project last year.  I might turn that into some outdoor curtains to shade part of the porch.  Shade is definitely an issue.  I do have a pretty big green umbrella and stand.  I really wish our current patio table had a hole in the middle for an umbrella.

 

bucket tableI could totally make a bucket table.  One of the things we’ve acquired is a big pretty marble table top…hmm, I wonder if the galvanized bucket we aren’t using for the dogs is sturdy enough to hold it…That would fit in front of our hand me down glider.  And there’s that wee side table my mom found somewhere or other at a garage sale or something.  Plus I’ve got fabric out the wazoo to make cushions and pillows and such.

I’ve got the STUFF to make something–the thing I DON’T have is time.  But maybe I’ll do some of this for a project when I hit the dig out stage, once Know Me Well is out to my editor.

Excuse me, I have to go perform a self intervention to get myself off of Pinterest again.

Three Awesome Things

Awesome Things

Ok this was really cool.  They did an experiment to see if a blindfolded child could pick out his/her mom from a group full of women.  The results definitely belong on my list of awesome things.

 

Bustle had a really interesting article on the CAUSES OF CLUMSINESS (wow!  It’s NOT all just in my head!).

 

And in the realm of awesome (in my opinion, because I adored this series), Donna Kauffman’s Bachelors of Blueberry Cove are ON SALE this week (I assume in preparation for the launch of Brides of Blueberry Cove next TUESDAY!  BOOYAH!).  $1.99, $2.99, $3.99 respectively.  BUY THEM.  They’re great summer reads.

 

5 Stages of the Book Writing Process

Writing

Writing books is hard, y’all.

This is an incontrovertible fact.  Ask any writer and they will probably say the same on any given day (depending on where they are in the process and whether the writing is going well or not).  We’ve all got our own methods, our own habits, and our own patterns, but we still, collectively, all go through more or less the same stages of the book writing process.  Every.  Time.

In the beginning.

out of the starting gateThis is when inspiration is coming at you so hard and fast, the ideas are slapping you in the forehead like bugs against a windshield such that you’re coated in the guts of their awesomeness.  And yeah, okay, that was kind of a gross image, but it gets at the whole rapid fire BAM BAM SPLAT of initial inspiration.  For me that’s the sprint out of the starting gate through Act 1.  I get that green light and I’m putting pedal to the metal, burning tires, drifting around corners…

The blow out.

blow out

Somewhere in Act 2, I lift my head from that sprint and look around to realize the stands are not quite as full of those necessary details as I thought they were.  And I have to stop and flesh things out some more.  It’s kinda like changing a flat tire.  You pull back onto the road with a little more caution than you had before, drive along at a more reasonable speed.

Somewhere around Albuqurque.

lostAnd maybe it happens before you hit the midpoint, or maybe you make it all the way into Act 3 before you realize, well damn it, I should’ve made a left turn at Albuquerque and the GPS (the outline) is broken and you have to decide whether you’re going to brass ball it all the way to the end of Act 4 and circle back or if you’re going to retrace your steps and sort out where everything went wrong (which is almost always my choice).

A new direction.

ROUSSo you ditch the GPS for an old fashioned road atlas (yet another outline that takes the bare bones basics of every thread and traces them out so you can see where the holes are–if you got REALLY desperate, you made a color coded spreadsheet for this purpose) and start back wherever you need to–for me, usually back in Act 2 again as that is the beginning of the Dreaded Valley of the  Shadow of the Middle.  This happens with varying levels of enthusiasm.  Sometimes I’m so excited to finally be back on track, I manage to pick up steam.  Sometimes I’m already so mired in the muck that it’s just one foot in front of the other.  Plodding to get out of the DVSM.  The DVSM is totally like the fire swamp, except instead of flame spurts, lightning sand, and ROUSes, you’ve got rabid, psychopathic plot bunnies trying to lure you away to a New Shiny, pits of doubt and self loathing, and scenes of unusual stench.

Wooden roller coaster txgi.jpg

“Wooden roller coaster txgi”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Over the hump

But there comes a point in every book, sometimes somewhere around the end of the Black Period, sometimes not until I hit the SPP, where writing is like hitting the crest of that tallest hill of the roller coaster (that’s the Texas Giant over there) and starting the plunge toward the end.  You can SEE the end.  You finally know where you’re going and it’s so close you can TASTE it.  And that’s the point where the words are flowing, fast and furious, geysering out of you almost faster than you can type–and so what, that’s what editing is for.  Nothing matters but the book and getting to THE END OF THAT STORY.  The housework starts to slide.  You start pulling out parts of your wardrobe you haven’t actually worn in three years because you can’t be bothered to do laundry and you have to pray you don’t get into an accident because you’re not wearing the reputable underwear for the same reason.  You’re sneaking writing breaks while your coworkers are off smoking, and writing on your phone under the conference table in meetings.   Dinner is anything easy and what do you mean turkey doesn’t go with frozen waffles?  Shush and have an apple.  I’m busy…

Y’all I am there.  Over the hump.  My husband is wonderfully tolerant when I hit this point of a book.  If I plan well (and this time I did), I’ve actually got a stockpile of real food in the freezer, so getting through the next ten days shouldn’t be too bad (The man can and has lived on meatballs alone).  Not like what I had to dig out from when I finished To Get Me To You last fall.  I am so so ready to get to the end of this book.  Other characters are kicking and Liam is, frankly, really pissed at the level of unholy glee I took at scaring ten years off his life.  Shut up, man, you’re a Marine.  You can take it.  Give me ten more days and I’ll give you your happy ending.

Kait out.

typing fast

Gluten Free Pretzel Crusted Chicken Breasts

Recipe

I’ve been wanting to make Gluten Free Pretzel Crusted Chicken ever since I first tasted Glutino’s gluten free pretzels.  They have a deliciously Ritz-like flavor that I still have aspirations of using to top my poppyseed chicken (which I haven’t figured out how to convert to gluten free AND dairy free yet), but either way, I wanted to use it as a breading.  Given the exceptionally pricey nature of these pretzels (and the tiny size of the bags), I couldn’t quite bring myself to just pulverize a new bag, so I’ve been saving the dregs of the last several bags.  Tonight I finally had enough.  Now, I regularly play around with new recipes and they usually turn out pretty well, but I don’t often end up with a knock it out of the park, holy crap, why isn’t there any MORE? kind of success.  I LOVED this chicken.  Definitely a keeper recipe.
Update: My pal Susan Bischoff (author of the fantabulous Talent Chronicles) tested this out with regular pretzels and flour and got mixed reviews.  She liked it.  Her hubby didn’t.  So I’m not vouching for the results using anything other than the Glutino pretzels.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • salt, pepper, and garlic powder
  • gluten free flour (enough for dredging)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Glutino gluten free pretzels, pulverized in the food processor (I had about 1/2 a cup of crumbs when I was done).
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Prepare your baking sheet with a baking rack over the top (this will enable the heat to circulate all around and for th coating to get crispy on all sides).
  3. Spray rack with cooking spray.
  4. Blitz your pretzels in the food processor until they’re crumby.
  5. You’re going to create a dredging station, a dish each for the flour, egg, and pretzels.
  6. Lightly season each chicken breast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  7. Dredge each breast in gluten free flour.  Shake off the excess.
  8. Dip in the egg.
  9. Dip in the pretzels.
  10. Bake for 30-35 minutes (depends on how thick your breasts are…mine were pretty thick at the thickest point).

Sunday Summary and #ROW80 Update

Sunday Summary

  1. It’s been a busy busy weekend.  I had a self defense seminar Saturday morning at my dojo, a bunch of household stuff to knock out Saturday afternoon.  Hubs and I planned to go see Pitch Perfect 2 Saturday night, but by the time we got to the theater, there was NO WAY we could get through the ticket line before all the previews were done, so we ended up coming home, where I made the first blueberry crumble of the season and we watched Empire Strikes Back on Bluray.  Never gets old.  I love the dynamics between Han and Leia so so much…   Spent today with my mom for a delayed Mother’s Day since I was hacking up a lung on actual Mother’s Day.
  2. I got bunnied in a big big way this past week.  A quartet of books, contemporary romance, unrelated to anything else I’ve got going on.  Very very character driven.  It’ll be a lot of fun.  An exploration of female friendships, which is something I love in Nora Roberts’ trilogies and quartets.  So I’ve been making all kinds of notes about that.  Who knows when I’ll get to actually writing it, but I’m really looking forward to it.
  3. It was a decent word count week, I suppose.  I got about 5,500 words.  Some of that was writing and rewriting my way through the Black Moment sequence.  The first pass didn’t get it, and it wasn’t until I spent some time talking it through with my CP that I sorted out the problem.  This is probably the hardest part of the entire book.  I finished up that sequence this morning.  I’m hoping to knock out the rest of this act by the end of the week, which ought to be manageable as there’s no out of town travel for work this week.  11 scenes left in the book.  Getting there.  Not as quick as I’d like but…getting there.
  4. I’m finally fully well after my sinus infection/brush with bronchitis.  I’m really ready to get back into the groove.  I’ve got 2 weeks of lost training to make up for in preparation for my upcoming blue belt test in early June.  It’s been sixteen years since I did this last–lots and lots of material to cover.  Plus I just feel ready to MOVE again.  Which is nice.  I missed having energy the last couple of weeks.

Midweek #ROW80 Progress Report

Progress Reports

I didn’t get around to posting a #ROW80 progress report on Sunday.  Truth is, I didn’t have much to tell.  I was sick all last week with very low word counts, most of which ended up getting axed.  But I did yet ANOTHER read through over the weekend and hammered out my Act 3 outline (now with even higher stakes!  Which was the original problem…they weren’t high enough).  I need to go back and add a scene in act 1 to seed for some of that, which is what I’ve been slowly stumbling through the last couple of days.  Let’s just say my attention span has been less than awesome.  Part of that is just working my way back into a routine and playing catch up at the evil day job and around the house.  And part of it…

bunniesI have been attacked by rabid, vicious plot bunnies.  Four of them (they travel in packs–didn’t you know?).  So, in fact, I did get a fair bit done yesterday with making notes about THAT.  They’ve still got a pretty big hold on my brain this morning and I’ll keep scribbling notes while they’re coming because whenever I get around to writing them, they will be awesome.

Still, I may finally pull out my Write or Die software tonight to finally get some real work done.  Because…yeah.  Evidently at some point in the last couple of months, I was insane enough to map out my production schedule for the rest of the year in my Google calendar.  According to that, I’m supposed to be done with the first draft of Liam and Riley’s book day after tomorrow.  HAHAHAHAHAHA.  Yeah, no.  I lack about 20k still, which I can conceivably get done by June 1st if I buckle down, so that’s the goal.  I readjusted the rest of the schedule (because if I’m going to be getting calendar reminders, they might as well be for doable goals) to reflect that.

I’ve missed 2 weeks of training for taekwondo (went back last night).  My belt test is June 6th, so I’ve made arrangements to pick up some extra one-on-one training the next few weeks to catch up on that.  At least I’m not hacking up a lung still.

I recently finished reading Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing, which was awesome, and just picked up Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot, which I’ve had my eye on for quite some time.  I follow her on social media and have read some of her other research and REALLY enjoy her approach, so I’m looking forward to diving into that as well.

SO here’s to getting back into the groove!

Dairy Free Salted Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Recipe

I get all kinds of recipes in my inbox from all kinds of sources.  Some get tossed immediately, some go into the recipe file to try, and some get shunted over into the convert to allergen free file.  This recipe for salted oatmeal cookies with dark chocolate from Real Simple fell into the latter category.  I wanted to try to make these both dairy free and a little bit healthier.  This was my first experience baking with coconut palm sugar (supposed to have a lower impact on the glycemic index than regular sugar), and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised.  It already has a sort of brown sugary flavor to it in the first place, and I added a tablespoon of molasses to amp that up.   I also swapped out coconut oil for the vegetable shortening, and Earth Balance for the butter.  I wound up omitting the additional sea salt sprinkled on top (a good decision–what’s inside is just enough to balance the sweet).  These salted dark chocolate oatmeal cookies were lovely, filling, and chewy.   Original recipe claims to make 2 dozen.  I got 18 cookies, approximately 2 inches across.  Note: These are NOT gluten free.  I’ve not had a lot of good luck making gluten free cookies (other than straight peanut butter, which just don’t use flour).  Presumably you could swap the flour for an all purpose GF blend, and add perhaps 1 tsp of xanthan gum, but I’ve not yet tried this myself.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  •  large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces dairy free semi-sweet chocolate chips
Directions
  1. Heat oven to 375° F with the rack in the upper and lower thirds. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Combine the oats, flour, baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
  3. Beat the Earth Balance, coconut oil, coconut palm sugar and molasses with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until lightly and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined (do not overmix). Stir in the chocolate.
  4. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart.
  5. Bake, swapping the pans halfway through, until lightly brown around the edges, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool slightly on the baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Be sure to watch these as the bottoms will burn easily.

5 Reasons I Loved Jupiter Ascending (Even Though The Plot Is A Hot Mess)

Musings

I first saw Jupiter Ascending in the theater with my girlfriends (and am I the only one who keeps wanting to call it Jupiter Rising?).  Loved it.  This is not a popular opinion.  There has been a great deal of criticism about the movie, and I’d wanted to watch it again to deconstruct it because I felt like I missed a lot the first time.  Last night my husband and I watched it (he hated it), and I realized I missed a lot because…yeah, it’s not there.  A lot of the necessary narrative links simply don’t exist, and there are seeds planted that never grow to fruition.  And don’t even get me started on how Jupiter accepts all this with the least amount of freakout from a human finding out we aren’t the only intelligent life in the universe, EVER.  There are UNQUESTIONABLY lots of problems with the plot.

But here are 5 reasons I loved Jupiter Ascending, despite all that.

  1. The score by Michael Giacchino.  Take away the story entirely and just listen to the music.  It’s big, bold, and screams adventure.  I really dig that.

  2. gravity bootsAnti-gravity boots.  So Cain Wise (Channing Tatum) has these anti-gravity boots that are one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a sci-fi movie in a long time.  They enable him to truly bring the fight to all 3 dimensions rather than being limited by the usual physics, and it made for some really awesome fight choreography that wasn’t like all the fight scenes I’ve seen before (and I love me a good fight scene).  Not gonna lie, I love love love watching that man fight.
  3. jupiter wingsIt’s very much sci-fi romance.  I am a romance author and reader.  Give me somebody to ship, and I’ll watch…a lot.  Give me a legitimate relationship to root for and I will be more invested.  Make the relationship central to the plot and have the hero continually fight through hell to save his woman?  You have officially skipped over most of the mainstream sci-fi movie ouvre and given me something I desperately love.  Don’t mind me, I’m over here mentally filling in the blanks that the Wachoswki brothers left out in how they executed said romance.  Also, those wings are HOT.
  4. Sean Bean lives!  Nuff said.
    sean bean
  5. Channing Tatum.  Yeah okay, it’s completely shallow of me, but he’s pretty.  Sue me.  In a Hollywood full of a bunch of short, scrawny guys, with lean ropy muscles, Channing Tatum actually fits the bill of what I like in the body type of my heroes.  Tall, broad shouldered, muscular.  And I’m not about to complain about that half hour stretch where he’s fighting without a shirt.  Just like with Chris Hemsworth in Thor, his abs make me willing to overlook a lot of plot sins.  What?  I’m only human.

So what about you?  Was there anything you liked about the movie, despite its legion failings?

Three Awesome Things

Awesome Things

I have been behind on my awesome things lately.  Haven’t had nearly the time to play online as is the norm.

We should all be this joyful!

This puppy is having hiccups for the first time and he Just. Can’t.  Handle. It.  You know you needed that dose of cute.

And finally, I wanted to share this interview with Leo Balboa (of Zen Habits fame) over at Writer Unboxed, talking about how to meditate when you don’t have time to meditate.  This was of particular interest to me because, frankly, most of the time when I stop long enough to try to meditate, I fall asleep.  I can use all the help I can get. 😀