What I’ll Be Kicking Myself Over for Years

For the first time ever, we’ve now lived in a house long enough that we have to start replacing major appliances. Yep, two full decades and counting. Last summer it was the hot water heater and this fall the dishwasher. I researched, shopped, googled, asked friends and any “experts” I could find who would answer my questions, and finally picked the one I wanted.

Then the store delivered an entirely different model.

But that’s not even the worst of my story (though that story is waaaaayyyyy longer and may be a post in the future). No, my cautionary tale today is about how we are so grateful to finally have another working appliance that we’ve had to baby to keep it running, or just outright do without when it finally doesn’t want to do its job anymore, that we didn’t think about what we might still need from it before the appliance was hauled out of the door.New Dishwasher mistake

When this shiny new stainless steel dishwasher was delivered, and after the installer came in to work his magic and get the appliance humming quietly under my cabinet, he had me sign that the installation had been completed then slipped the dolly under the edge of my old machine and wheeled it out the side door of my house, down the steps, and right into his truck to carry it off to the place all old dishwashers go to retire. That’s when I made the mistake that I’m kicking myself about. I let him go without removing the basket for silverware.

See, here’s the thing–I’m used to leaving all major appliances and their accouterments behind whenever we sell the house and move. My mind was still locked in the “it must be whole for the next user” mode. While I knew no one was likely to use our machine later, I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t think about the fact that we almost always have more silverware than we have basket space to hold it for a wash cycle (unless we overload it and risk nothing getting clean). What’s worse, the new segmented basket in my new machine is actually even a bit smaller than my old one.

Sigh…It’s not like I got extra credit because I sent all the parts off with the old dishwasher. Heck, I was feeling lucky that they hauled the thing off for free. The old basket wouldn’t have matched, I agree, and it would have had to be shoehorned into one of the other sides when I needed to use it–but I could have always washed ALL of my silverware, even on holidays when everyone seems to use three times their weight in spoons and forks! 

My hope in writing this is that others will learn from my mistake. When an appliance dies and they’re just going to take it away to dump it anyway, remove ANYTHING you think you might be able to use later.  You really don’t get brownie points for doing otherwise, and you could save yourself from years worth of repeating I-should-haves. That’s all. Merry Christmas, happy New Year, and I’ll keep my mouth shut now. Besides, I have extra spoons to wash to keep me busy.

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GIVEAWAY Today!!!!

On Cozy Mystery Book Reviews today, Anna is interviewing Kate McKenzie from the Organized Mysteries series about Christmas in Hazelton, Vermont. Kate offers a great link for seasonal soups, and I’ve put together a WARM holiday prize as a giveaway. Leave a comment and your name may be the one drawn. Good luck! Click here to check it out and enter — Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

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Holiday Tips in My Newsletters

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! Hope your holiday is stress free and full of all the people and events that make you happy and healthy.Ritter Ames logo

Many of you already subscribe to my newsletter, but for the ones who don’t I not only give news of my books and events, but I let my fictional characters pop by to offer tips to keep the holidays–and just life in general–moving more smoothly. So, if you like organizational, efficiency, and/or entertainment tips to help keep things humming during seasonal occasions, you might want to read my two November newsletters. I’ll have more tips in my December newsletter, and plan to post a few here as well. Seasons greetings everyone, and enjoy every moment :)

Early-November 2014 newsletter

Late-November 2014 newsletter

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Want a Chance to Win Cash for the Gift-Giving Season Ahead?

We could all use extra money this time of year, and here’s a fun way to try for $200 in PayPal Cash or a $200 Amazon Gift Card–winner’s choice. MegaChristmasGiveaway

Thanks to the wonderful A Girl and Her Kindle, a whole slew of authors (yours truly included) are joining forces to have a Mega Christmas Giveaway in 30 days. From now until, well, 30 days from now, you can choose the way you want to enter from an almost endless array of Rafflecopter options. You can scroll down until you find your favorite author (Hint: you have to page down 8 times to start seeing my name), or find new authors and Like and Friend and Favorite them for more chances to win. One entry or a hundred (I’m just guessing here, but I’m willing to bet there are at least 100 entry chances), the more options you pick the more chances you have to win. So click the Mega Christmas Giveaway link and make a wish–you might find yourself several hundred dollars richer very soon.

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I Think I Want to Be a Case Study

I’ve been loaded down with never ending deadlines for the past year. I’m not griping, mind you, because part of the reason I’ve had so many is because good things have been happening, which makes people want me to do more of the writing stuff I love to do. BUT…Even good stress is stress. So when I see a new study or link to an idea that helps bring some welcome relaxation to life, I read it, listen to the facts about it, and often try it.

The latest study I read was on how adults can use the act of coloring as a way to reduce stress. I read the information on a website that requires a login and all that security stuff, but then the facts of the study were covered by Huffington Post, and then the Huffington Post article was covered by an All You Magazine article on new stress study using crayons.  You can click this All You link above and not only find a first-person author’s ideas about the study, but also a link to the semi-original HuffPost article, and links to something on PTSD stress and another on breast cancer. And even links to coloring pages you can download and print to see if the practice offers stress relief for you, too.

Now, here’s the thing. Very early on I seemed to have the Crayola Gestapo around any time I whipped out the crayons and color books and went to town. I was never a neat coloring artist, but I was creative. Unfortunately that very creativity (what? trees can’t be purple with a bunch of little green monopoly houses drawn in them?) or the fact that I always took the dark black lines as a suggestion, rather than a boundary when my crayons wandered happily across the page, made me the kid everyone pointed to as the one who really didn’t know how to color. Then in elementary school, I had a teacher who always made us trace every black line after we finished “our work” (I thought it was fun, right?_. She said it was to make the colors pop, and it did give that kind of stained glass extra to our pages. But it also made abundantly clear that I still colored to my own distinctive road map, and that road map required I make a few detours each time. Let’s just say my efforts never made it to the Star Wall. My teacher despised detours, and I couldn’t color without them.

Basically, I never quite figured out why there were so many strict rules for coloring with crayons. Frankly, I still don’t.

I use colors all the time, marking novel ideas on my write boards, slapping different shades of Post-it Notes to remind me what I need to add at different parts of the project. And I colors to coordinate my research in notebooks keyed to which of the rainbow hue I’ve chosen to denote each project.

So, it looks like I understand color. It even looks like I understand and appreciate organization and form.

I just don’t understand always having to color in the lines. Never have, never will.

I think that very talent for stepping across boundaries and exploring alternate routes to completion of whatever project I’ve worked on has served me well to this point. And I think that early resistance to my crayon choices has actually been a confidence builder for me. Everyone had “constructive criticism” to lead me in the proper procedure for coloring, I simply didn’t agree with it. Instead, I put my crayons away for good.

Or so I thought.

Now, though, I think I may take them back out again. See if I can use this method to reduce stress when I feel the deadlines closing in. After all, I’ve always used folding laundry or scrubbing the kitchen floor to discover breakthrough ways of overcoming plot problems–there’s nothing like shutting your mind off from the To-Do list, and just let your hands mindlessly fold or swipe to free up ideas the subconscious could not push through while under stress.

So, I’m thinking a fresh box of Crayola Crayons is just about the best new idea for an addition to my desk. Besides, I already know where to download some coloring sheets :)

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It’s That Time of Year Again

I know, it’s always “that time of year” for something all year round, but now it’s time for all of those end of the year things we have to remember. From donations for taxes, to giving groceries to food pantries, to making sure the walk is shoveled for the octogenarian who lives next door–it’s time for all of those end of the year tasks that just make us feel good.

Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is around the corner, or that Santa is still marking his Naughty-and-Nice list, but I find I smile more this time of year when I’m loading up my Honda wagon to give something away. Library donation for 2014Last week it was books for the annual library sale, held locally here the last weekend before Halloween. More than a dozen boxes later, and the back of my wagon was full, the tires were challenged, and I was ready to go. My librarians were thrilled.

I’ve always given away a box or three of books each year about this time, but this year I decided to gain space while I did my drop-off, and added any books I didn’t scream over as I contemplated giving them away. And I’m so glad I did. For the first time, I found the book sale work space more than half empty at the library. That had never happened before. Usually, I had to search by this time of year to find an empty horizontal surface to stack my donation boxes. This year, I had my pick of floor space. There were some books already donated, sure, but it was obvious to me that ebooks are affecting more than just brick-and-mortar book seller locations.

Best of all, my library donation means I had one floor-to-ceiling bookshelf completely clear and ready for use in my writing business–without buying another piece of furniture. I have several more individual shelves with available space in other rooms of the house, now, and ready to take on Christmas decoration duties (after Thanksgiving, of course) without my having to shift stuff to make the new seasonal stuff fit.

By the first of November, I will go through my pantry and see what I can share with local food banks. I always buy larger stocks when canned goods are on sale or I have a lot of coupons, and I’m thinking that if I share so someone else has a bit more at Thanksgiving dinner, I’ll be able to enjoy my dinner that much more.

Yes, anytime I make a donation I get a receipt. The nonprofits are happy to furnish receipts and my taxman is happy to see the small paper slips as he fills out my return. And while the deduction is likely never as high as the value of what I actually give, the return on my happiness is truly too great to calculate. Giving makes me smile, and getting a smile back is worth all the time, cost and effort.

What about you? Do you have a favorite nonprofit or group you like to give to each year?

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Because a Writer Can’t Wear All the Hats, We Find Experts

Fiction writers may be great at creating characters and brainstorming plots, but sometimes real facts get in the way, and that’s when we turn to outside sources. For example, I’m playing around with a darker than usual suspense story right now that is only alive and thriving because I was able to interview an iron worker about his job. You see, I would never be able to walk confidently across the beams that make up the skeleton of a high rise building. Lucky for me, however, I found someone who not only could, but was willing to tell me about it so I could add color and authenticity to my story and main character. My source was male, and my fictional protagonist is female, and when I told him this he gave a great gaffawing laugh and said, “Let me know when the book is published. I can’t wait to show my kids.” He has five children, and I forget how many grandkids. I can’t wait to hear their reaction either.

For my already published works, I’ve picked friends’ brains for efficient ideas that work in their homes, listened when they told me ideas I did naturally were some of the best they’d ever heard, and even bought a professional organizer coffee so she’d tell me some of her stories about closet makeovers. I haven’t used the latter in any of my Organized Mysteries yet, but I’m sure to a few books down the line. I even got the help of an eye doctor to fine tune one of my plot points for Kate McKenzie in Organized for Murder.

But I don’t just focus on main characters. I’ve interviewed interior designers so I could get Valerie’s character correct, even though she’s a secondary character, and–I suppose–a main adversary to Kate and Meg. Since Valerie is a catalyst, I know it’s just as important to keep her and her actions completely real as it is for me to do the same for Kate and Meg. For the latest, Organized for Homicide, I interviewed a longtime interior designer who had segued into house staging after a friend of a friend of a friend connected us. She was halfway across the country from where my office sits, but the telephone is a wonderful thing, and we had a marvelous visit. I fired off my questions what a stager does and why, and she sent her answers a couple of weeks later, and gave me permission to use her exact words in my book. She even told me how she would stage the Collier’s kitchen when I described the room, which is where so much of the action takes place. I thought her generosity of information was very brave, since when I spoke to her my first book wasn’t even out yet, so she had no idea if my cozy mystery would be a good one or not. I’m sure that’s likely why she preferred I didn’t acknowledge her contribution in the book, for as she said, “My corporate clients aren’t so likely to want my name to appear in genre fiction. Please take no offense; it’s simply a business judgement call on my part.” And I didn’t take offense. Why should I when she’d been so generous with the information I really needed?

For my other series, The Bodies of Art Mysteries, I’ve gone back over the art history notes I took in college, and spoken to curators and docents at my two local fine art museums. You can get a ton of information from docents–trust me on this. Docents truly are a museum’s best cheerleaders. I’ve also visited the National Galleries in Washington DC (yes, we have two), the Canadian National Gallery in Vancouver, and the National Gallery in London. Believe me when I say the old chestnut “you’ve seen one museum, you’ve seen ‘em all” is the farthest thing from a true statement. Every museum is different–and that goes for more than just those labeled a ‘National Gallery’. And after I get back home and need a refresher on a museum, I need only locate one of the many YouTube videos that other tourists have shot with their cameras and phones, then posted later for the public to see. You’d be surprised at how good some of these videos really are.

The Art Mysteries series gives me ideas on where I want to travel next, and helps me fall into our destinations that much quicker. A few years ago we went to London, and I not only used sights I’d gained from the trip in Counterfeit Conspiracies, and the upcoming Marked Masters, but I’ve been able to relive many of the high points of  the trip by posting on this blog. In previous posts I’ve talked about the Tower of London, Harrods, the Baker Street Underground station, and even one wild trip my husband and I experienced on a double decker bus one crazy afternoon.

So while it would be nice to just sit at my desk and type away all day on my keyboard, coming up with absolutely perfect stories all the time, it doesn’t always happen. Lucky for me, however, there’s always some wonderful expert out there who is happy to give a lowly author a heads up on facts we all truly need to make a story work.

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