Giveaway! Check It Out!

Just a quick word about a terrific giveaway, then back to work. The Eskimo Princess Review Blog not only has great book reviews all the time, but they’re celebrating 4000 LIKES. And there’s a HUGE Giveaway. I think there’s more than 60 or 70 prizes by now, but I quit counting, so it’s just a guesstimate for me at this point. Best of all, it’s a Rafflecopter contest, so you can add many more chances to win with one entry (be sure to Friend me on FB & like me on Twitter for extra entries :) ) Here’s the link for the contest: Eskimo Princess 4000 Likes Giveaway Contest

If you want to check out the great review blog, here’s that URL:   http://eskimoprincess.blogspot.com/

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Garage Sale; Friend or Foe

I posted this at Laffeinated Ink last month, and slipped a small post in here with a link that somehow got cross-ways between WordPress and Facebook, so I’m adding the post in its entirety here now. It’s that time of year, and we’re getting ready to have a garage sale. Originally, we planned to have it last month, but life and rain got in the way (yes, rain—we’d almost forgotten what it looked like) so things have shifted to probably next month. But it’s gloriously cool today, high to only reach 70 (unbelievable, right?) so I really wish I could sit outside and barter with people as long as they want to come and act like they’re interested in hauling my stuff away.

This will be the first time I’ve had a garage sale that lasted more than one day. Generally, I throw open the doors at seven a.m. on a Saturday morning, and hurry and close them about three p.m., after running down the road to grab all the signs pointing toward our house. I’ve found that eight-hour time frame works pretty well, I still have Sunday to recuperate, I get rid of the biggest bulk of my items, and I don’t have the pickers coming around later with insulting offers to annoy my husband. For me, if the swarm would promise to haul everything away in the early morning I’d just let it go, but hubby holds out for “something” to make our time worth while. Which, of course, means we have to haul the leftovers to the domestic violence resale shop later. Don’t care, as long as it’s gone and I don’t have to see it anymore.

The reason for the two-day—Friday/Saturday—gig, is my kid is moving way away, across the region, and doesn’t want to take anything more than she has to with her. Most to be shipped by Mom Express later. And, like her father, the kiddo wants that elusive something for her time. The jury’s out on whether or not she’ll get it.

Me? I live by the mantra that a garage sale every five or six years does a lot of good things:

1) It creates more square footage in my house. I don’t want to add on, and if the kid is moving again, that means “Mom & Dad Free Storage, Inc.” will be holding her stuff until she gets settled and decides which of the many things she thinks she wants forever will really get shipped to her—and which will stay at “Mom & Dad Free Storage, Inc.” I’m just hoping between what I sell and what she adds, I at least achieve a net zero loss.

2) I get to see all the neighbors at garage sales, and visit in ways we often don’t in a normal busy day. They shop a bit, share a little gossip, and tell me my coffee is great (it should be, I’m a writer, right?). So all that catching up alone is worth the prep work.

3) People are a hoot! I have so much fun watching people shop my junk, and listening to their “serious” questions. They’ll weigh the pros and cons of paying a dime for something I gave twenty bucks for. Seriously. And the questions they ask about things. Amazing! My personal favorite is always, “Has this been used?” I want to smile and respond with, “Of course not. We’re philanthropists who always buy new stuff so we can get pennies on the dollar selling it later at garage sales.” But I don’t, I just smile and say, “Yes, it’s been used, but well taken care of, as you can see.”

Those are the top three. I can list many more, but I’ll wait and provide a wrap up in a later blog post with the jewels I gain from this year’s sale. Enjoy a garage sale this week, or clean out a closet. Each is liberating in its own way.

Do you have a favorite garage sale story you’d like to share?

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The Crazy Way Settings Happen (or Fast Times on London Streets)

A favorite setting I used in COUNTERFEIT CONSPIRACIES involved gunfire, London streets crowded with iconic double-decker buses, various-sized lorries (yep, we’d say trucks in the U.S., but lorry sounds much more Brit), and my characters escaping via a legendary black cab. Until bullets shatter the windows.

I posted about the experience a few months ago on the Laffeinated Ink blog, but I’m reposting most of the story here along with pics to share with my readers.London iconic buses and taxis

First, to clarify, I’ve never had windows shot out of any cabs I’ve ever ridden in, but some crazy vehicle-related adventures have happened to me while visiting Jolly Old London-town. One event occurred when we traveled there in spring 2008 with two 18-year-olds—who knew everything and constantly reminded us ‘oldsters’ we could just go off sightseeing and not worry about them. Fat chance.
Instead, tables got turned.

Armed with Oyster cards, we split up outside the British Museum. My husband and I headed for Churchill’s Bunker, and the teens headed for anywhere but an underground history site. Instructions were repeated, wallets checked, and we divided keys to the flat we’d rented a block from Portobello Road.

Hours later, hubby happy and my brain filled with more WWII info than I’d ever hoped to acquire, we decided to forgo heading underground again and blinked our way to a bus whose number said it circled our route. I jumped on, used my Oyster card, and headed deeper inside, believing hubby followed. Wrong! He’d forgotten to reload his card that morning. An embarrassingly loud buzzer reminded of the mistake. Our indignant driver shouted at my flustered hubby.

“Don’t worry. I’ll grab a ticket outside,” I said, hopped off the bus, and ran to the nearby machine. Unfortunately, hubby followed.

As the ticket fell into my hand, the bus pulled away from the curb. We shadowed it down the block and I swear the bus driver laughed the whole way.

Traffic around Picadilly

We caught the next bus. Since hubby now had a hop-on-hop-off-all-day ticket—and it was rush hour—we took a deep breath and prepared for a stop-and-go ride. Whilst he obsessed about every injustice, I relaxed and watched vehicular near-misses on almost a second-by-second basis. I memorized the looks of different vehicles from above, and marveled at the serpentine effect as they coursed over the roadway. Caught my breath at daredevil antics of cyclists who risked life and limb weaving through lanes to save hours from weekly travels. I gasped as too-large vehicles ducked down too-small alleys for shortcuts in the traffic kerfuffle.

Because of building heights and the traffic’s mesmerizing effect on me, I didn’t notice we were getting deeper into the city center—not farther from it. Hubby continued grousing about the first bus. Neither of us realized the problem until we were last ones on and our driver pulled into the covered bay.

Luckily, this driver was much nicer than the last.

“Take your tickets. You walk back there.” He pointed outside. “Buses will come and turn around. Catch the one you need. Fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. Hurry.”

We hurried. We jogged. We saw a bus with the right number and flat-out ran. We leapt onto the bus—my Oyster card ready; hubby’s ticket in hand.

It was the same bus driver who yelled at my husband and then drove off without us.

Really!

I whispered for hubby to stay cool, pulling him toward the back rows.

Suddenly the driver recognized my spouse. “You have no ticket. Let me see your ticket!”

If hubby could have disappeared into the floor, gone through the asphalt and down to tunnel and train level, believe me, he’d still be there.

I stormed. “He does have a ticket! You watched us buy one at the machine, then drove off just as we were about to board. He has a ticket!” I waved the damned slip of paper.

“What is the date? What does it say?”

“It says today’s date. You know it does. Now quit acting like we’re trying to pull something and drive us home!”
Everyone applauded.

At our seats, several people leaned over to tell how the driver was known for being a jerk. We learned just how far jerkiness extended about a half-hour later when, still some distance from our destination, a man in a brown suit boarded at a stop by a park. The man carried a briefcase and huge, fluffy, white cat.

Our driver went berserk!

I’m not sure what language they screamed in, but body language said Brown Suit was determined to bring the Persian aboard and our driver equally determined he wasn’t. There was pushing and shouting, and—of course—hissing from the cat. Finally, our driver turned off the bus, grabbed the keys and hurled the key-ring into the bushes. He shoved Brown Suit aside, and was last seen stomping back toward the city zone.

“What do we do now?” hubby asked. “Catch another bus?”

“I’ve had it with buses. We can’t be far. If we hurry we’ll be at the flat by dark.”London congested streets

He wasn’t pleased, but I used my ‘do-not-argue-with-me’ look. At an outdoor café I bothered a nice couple who kindly directed us toward Portobello Road.

Eventually, we straggled into the flat, evening on the cusp of full dark, and had two mother-hen teenagers demanding to know where the heck we’d been! Didn’t we have any consideration? They expected more of us!

My husband started explaining, and I laughed. Yep, I giggled and guffawed—then promised full details after takeaway from the nearby Indian restaurant.

That’s how the action street scene in Counterfeit Conspiracies came to be. The scene is nothing like my true adventure, but after absorbing all the sights and sounds of busy London streets during that crazy ride, writing exciting fiction is easy.

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Let’s Tour Harrods in London

We went to London a few years ago, and since PBS is starting a new season of Mr. Selfridge’s this weekend, and since I’ve spent this week blogging about London-related things, I thought I’d blog today about another famous London retailer–Harrods. This multi-floored upscale London department store is  located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge. Oh, and a note, there are doormen who will turn visitors away who arrive in disreputable clothing. We saw a couple get turned away when he was clad in raggedy-cut baggy shorts, and she was in a tube top and way too tight jeans with holey knees.

But we were allowed to pass without incident, so thanks to my trusty camera you’ll find pictures below that I took during our shopping excursion. Everything about the store was carefully decorated, and lovely care was taken with even the smallest purchase. For example, after wrapping a £7.95 key ring for me, the clerk asked if I would like a small sack to carry the purchase in–no “you want to put this in your purse” at Harrods.

At the time of our visit, Harrods was still owned by Mohammed Al Fayed, father of Dodi Fayed, who was linked with Princess Diana at the time of their deaths. The store was subsequently sold in 2010 for £1.5 billion to the Qatari royal family, and the press reported in September 2013 the store would be transformed with a multi-million-dollar refurbishment program. All of these photos were taken prior to this refurbishment, and still hark back to the Fayed family’s Egyptian roots and tastes.

Since we’d been running around London hours before we got to the store, we first felt we needed to freshen up from our travels. Of course, the “wash rooms” or “toilets” (never bathrooms) are something one must really search for, and even once the sign was found to direct us the journey was not over. On the first floor, one is directed through a food court to the back wall, where another sign says “lift to LG washrooms” On the “lift,” the LG (lower ground) button sends the bronzed walled elevator down to the lowest floor. Get off there, and walk down a short hallway, around an escalator, by one shop, and enter the “Urban Health” shop to find “washrooms” on the back wall. No line for the men’s, but a rather lengthy one (of course) for the women’s.

Harrolds decorationn along the ceilingNow, we’ll leave the tour hunt for the washrooms and return to the first floor. Isn’t this a lovely visual display along the ceiling? But all phases of the decor reflect the Egyptian touch.

 

 

 

Harrods view of the balcony & elevatorCheck out the lovely way elevator riders debarked the cars, and stood on the lovely balcony to get a birds eye view of the displays and visitors browsing in the lower floors. Here’s a more expansive view of the ceiling from the 4th floor elevator balcony.Harrods above the 4th floor elevator

 

Harrods escalator

Notice to the left what shoppers encountered when riding the escalator at Harrods. Quite the non-typical escalator view with the lovely columns and top lights that made me think of fanned leaves. And if you’re into shoe shopping, here’s the way Harrods displayed their upscale foot ware. Harrods shoe display
Below, see some of the themed lighting options utilized in the store.

 

Harrods floral lightingHarrods ceiling

Harrods light sconceSo while PBS will be giving viewers a new look at long ago Selfridge’s again this season, Harrods will always hold the chief place in my heart as London landmark shopping.

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Baker Street Underground Station – London

As a continuation in what I’ve now begun casually calling “London Week” for this blog, thought I’d look closer at a couple of places we found interesting when we visited London a few years ago. Today, I’m posting about the tube station for Baker Street. We’ve all heard about Sherlock Holmes’s residence at 221B Baker Street, but there’s a whole world underneath. And this station has a lot of history. First opened in January 1863, the station was almost 25 years old when the first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887. The station has had extensions and renovations completed several times in the early 1900s, and an additional southbound platform and connecting tube tunnels between Baker Street and Finchley Road stations in late-November, 1939. They even had a bomb scare in 1973, but the device was luckily defused in time. Baker Street tube iconic sign

Instead of listing all the trains that come and go out of this station, and sounding like some kind of school tour guide, let me explain why I’m blogging on this station today. This was probably the most complex station we found in London. Maybe it was just us, maybe it was all those different renovations I discussed in the opening paragraph, but this was a station that kept us hopping to simply find which way we really needed to go at all times.

Here are just a few of the notes I made after trying to get back to our flat after one day’s wanderings. I’d scribbled the musings as I rode the return train to my family’s vacation home-away-from-home stop, as I didn’t want to forget my impressions of this station.

Baker Street Underground Station II Arriving from Jubilee line from Bond Street, then crossing to Hammersmith (line) to return to Ladbroke Grove (where our flat was located). Begin at one end of the station and take the Way Out (exit) to Hammersmith. Take a flight of stairs up after finding must go to Platform 6. At top of those stairs, however, it is Platform 4, and another sign directs us up another flight of stairs to Platform 6–so remember to never believe first instructions :)  At the top of these stairs, walk a long hallway that is actually a bridge over both sets of Hammersmith tracks. Find Platform 6 is the Eastbound–and farthest–platform. At the end of this hallway, a set of steps lead down to the Platform 6 area to catch the Eastbound train.

I took some photos from the boarding level on Platform 6, showing some of the upper balcony and different halls. While the iconic sign at above right is full light for a good shot with the Baker Street name, I took the more underground shots with a fast film and no flash, in an effort to give it that late-1890s to early-1920s time frame feel for when contemporary Sherlock fans would have been reading the newly published stories and using the station whose name was made famous by the books.  Baker Street Underground Station

Tomorrow I’ll post on another London site. Have any memories of traveling in London or England that you want to share? Feel free to leave a comment.

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Save Those Things You Could Use for Years

We get so busy that sometimes we forget to hang on to things we should–things that could help us avoid stressful situation, buy additional items we shouldn’t, or even keep family members from serious medical issues.

Without getting into some of the first arguments hubby and I had, here’s a couple of tips that could save your life and definitely save budget and your relationship.

Anytime you buy anything with a manual or a written warranty, file it. Stapling the receipt that shows where and when it was purchased helps even more, but definitely file the item’s paperwork. Here’s why — it will break. Your spouse may be able to fix it, or you can order replacement parts, or one of you realize the kids shoved a plastic piece of toy where it doesn’t belong because the schematic in the manual doesn’t show that piece of plastic ever being a part of the design. If it can’t be repaired, that written warranty may prove you deserve a free replacement!

Save stress and expense by organizing ALL manuals together. If just starting out, get a three-ring notebook, and either punch holes in your manuals/warranties or buy those clear sleeves at Office Depot to slide the paperwork into, then clip the sleeves into the binder. You can sort these in sections, or not, but the big thing is to have them in one place.

We outgrew the notebook, so I have a portable Rubbermaid file box with a carry-handle that holds letter-sized hanging folders, one for each appliance. I drop each manual/warranty inside. I can easily shift hanging folders so all the paperwork from each room gets grouped together.

Best of all, whenever hubby asks for the millionth time where a manual is, I just point to the box. He never files the manual back, that’s too much to hope, but he does drop the manual back on top of the box when done. That’s a win in my book.

When I mentioned ‘save your life organizing,’ it wasn’t to keep from killing my spouse because he used to drive me nuts about product manuals. What I meant referred to those informational medicine pages received with prescription drugs.

Even if it’s a prescription you never expect to use again, keep the paperwork. When you’re ill, or starting a new prescription, you think you’ve paid attention what your doctor said, but if your symptoms change or become worse you may be having side effects from the very thing supposed to be making you better.

When we receive the written info from the pharmacist, I look it over, then file in a notebook holding all other paperwork like this our family has received.

If an unexpected side effect occurs, I make notes on the paper, and flag it in the notebook. If that family member is prescribed this medication again, we know what to tell the next doctor. Even if nothing bad happens, I keep the paperwork without adding notes to know the medication worked fine. We always think we’re going to remember, but even best intentions can fall short. A quick note now may save future health complications and stress.

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Make It Easy and Organized in the Kitchen — and Save Money, too

Again, these are tips I first posted on my publisher’s FB page a couple of weeks ago when we were gearing up for the launch of ORGANIZED FOR MURDER. If you didn’t catch them then, here’s your second chance :)

We have a deep pantry with bi-fold doors, and things can get easily hidden in the shadows of all the other containers. Food can easily go bad if it’s there too long, or I don’t realize I have something and buy more when I don’t need it. For these reasons, keeping the pantry organized helps me save money and time.

To combat the design issues, I use box flats or the lids for file boxes – so there’s only an inch or so lip around the cardboard. Then I put all my cans on these flats. I can stand at the pantry opening and slide out a whole flat at one time, and quickly see all the cans that would normally cower in the back.

I also make sure one section is for tall boxes, like cereal, so all those big containers are together and don’t hide the pasta I need for dinner.

I have always separated bananas as soon as I bring them home from the store, and placed them in a bowl on the counter. I learned early on that keeping fruit in the plastic bags makes everything ripen faster than I like. This is due to the naturally occurring gases. Since bananas grow so close together, separating the fruit from each other helped even more.

I always did the same with apples and oranges and pears and grapes, too. I washed the fruit and set pieces out in a bowl on the table, or in the case of grapes and oranges, kept them in a refrigerated bowl on one of the middle shelves of the fridge.

In the case of bananas, I realized my family ate that fruit much more readily when a bunch was separated and placed in a bowl on the counter, right in the busiest line of traffic, and all they had to do was grab one out of the bowl and peel. That realization was driven home in a funny way recently when my mid-20s daughter moved home for a week while waiting for her new apartment to get final renovations completed.

She grabbed a banana each day and on the third day said, “I wonder why I quit eating bananas? I love bananas. I’ve been eating them every day I’ve been here. They always went bad at my place.”

“It’s because I separate them and you don’t have to do anything but grab them.”

Her eyes grew wide, and she replied, “Omigod, you’re right. I’m sooo lazy.”

So, laugh with your kids, and save yourself some money by thinking how to make cheap & healthy snacks easy to eat, and your fruit will never go bad again.

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