My relationship with sewing machines

Singer treadle sewing machine

Singer treadle sewing machine – All sorts of wonderful things were kept in the drawers on the sides!

When I was young, the neighbor lady on the corner took in sewing. After school I’d often go over to her house and play with the scraps of fabric she collected just for me in a box she kept beside the machine.

Some of my earliest memories are of the clickety-clack of her treadle moving up and down. She didn’t seem to mind my being there, and my mom would call when supper was ready. “I’ll send her right home,” Mrs. Peak would say.

Singer featherweight

A Singer featherweight, weighing in at 11 pounds

Fast forward to my graduation from high school. I’d longed for some fancy present, but instead, my mother gave me…a Singer featherweight. And then taught me how to use it. The Singer featherweight was first made at the onset of the depression, as a way that women could sew clothes for their family during those difficult times.

Weighing in at 11 pounds, it did only one thing–sew a straight line. Singer stopped making them in 1964, but they were so well constructed there are many still around, now collectors’ items that still operate as designed.

And yes, my daughter got one when she graduated from high school to take with her to the dorm room!

Singer athena 2000 sewing machine

A Singer Athena 2000 sewing machine–lots of buttons to push

When I got married, a new sewing machine seemed just the thing for a bride in the 60s. I can’t remember my first machine, but when I traded it in on the next model, I was quite disappointed that this baby above didn’t have a life-time guarantee like my first one did!

Nevermind. It had all sorts of built-in stitches, and fancy ways of doing new things with a myriad of attachments. All you had to do was push a button. Of course, I bought it way before the year 2000. That year seemed impossibly far away in the future.

Then I drifted away from sewing for a while. New machines like sergers using those huge cones of thread appeared. My favorite fabric stores closed and for a while, all that was left were quilting stores with six thousand bolts of cotton fabric in every color and pattern under the sun. Not my thing.

I stayed busy with career and family over the years, but something was lacking. Like the mystery of gardening, where you started out with a blank yard and a packet of seeds and ended up with something wonderful, I missed those bolts of fabric with all their magic potential.

Pfaff Creative Icon

The Biggest-Brightest-Newest Pfaff Creative Icon

Recently I found inspiration in a blog by Sarah Gunn. Called Goodbye Valentine, hello needle and thread,  the blog chronicles her journey in 2011 foregoing purchasing of Ready-to-Wear clothes for a year and making her own. Her results looked pretty darn good.

I loved her motto: “If you can read a recipe, you can read a pattern. If you can drive a car, you can operate a sewing machine. If you can shop, you can SEW.”

Now the machine she uses, the Pfaff Creative Icon, is way beyond my league. It’s a computer that talks to your iPhone and tells you when it needs more thread. And the embroidery it designs is simply amazing.

But in a way, it got me to thinking.

And not too long ago, I found myself wandering into Jo-Ann’s. Winter was coming, and they had put out rows and rows of fuzzy material. At 50% off!

Warm fuzzy PJs in the latency stage

How could I resist? I picked up one color. A second. And then a third. With my arms full I walked up to the measuring table, a big smile on my face.

Once home, I dug my old Singer Athena out of the closet. It hummed to life when I plugged it in, and my fingers traced the still familiar path of the thread through the loops and openings and fixtures to the needle.

I hadn’t forgotten this most basic of skills. I could still sew! I think that Mrs. Peak would be proud of me.

What are your earliest sewing memories?
Do you still visit fabric stores?

 

 

 

 

Perfect moments can be had

Hot air balloon among the red rocks of Sedona

A life is like a garden.
Perfect moments can be had,
but not preserved, except in memory. 
Leonard Nimoy

The setting of BLOOD IN TAVASCI MARSH

Autumn Cat tails at Tavasci Marsh

The most frequent questions I get about the title of the second
Pegasus Quincy novel are:

How do you pronounce Tavasci?
That one is easy: Tah-vas’-ski

AND,

Is Tavasci Marsh a real place?
It certainly is!

I’ve lived in the Verde Valley for many years, and Tavasci Marsh is one of my favorite places to visit.

In addition to all those golden butterflies hovering around the rabbit brush, over 245 species of birds have been found there, making it one of the premier birding areas in Arizona.

The marsh has an interesting history. With only 10-12 inches of rain per year, Arizona counts any water source as precious, and Tavasci Marsh is the largest fresh water marsh in Arizona outside the Colorado River Basin.

It was formed when the Verde River formed an ox-bow, a sharp, almost U-turn in the river, and, then capriciously, returned to a straighter course. The water left by the abandoning river created Tavasci Marsh, which continues to be fed by Shea Spring and by underground seeps from the river.

The marsh was a food source for the Sinagua Indians who built a large hundred-room pueblo on the top of a nearby mountain, now managed as Tuzigoot National Monument. Their first dwellings were dated about 1000 AD, and it wasn’t until almost 900 years later that the first white settler arrived.

He was a cattle farmer in the 1890s, whose name, Tavasci, was given to the marsh. He drained the wetlands so that he could raise beef cattle to feed to the copper miners working in the nearby boom town of Jerome.

The owners of these copper mines, which stripped incredibly rich copper ore from Mingus Mountain, eventually acquired the marsh. The huge copper smelters in Clarkdale were only a few miles beyond the marsh on higher ground. This geography, coupled with the fact that mining operations were so imprecise in the early days, caused Tavasci Marsh to become highly polluted with heavy metals, from slag and tailing run-offs.

Even today, there are high levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead and other poisonous metals in the soil and even the insects of the marsh. A restoration project has been proposed to change this unfortunate state of affairs!

Spring cat tails at Tavasci Marsh

When the mines closed down in the 50s, the land reverted to a more natural state, and beaver had a renaissance. Their dams turned the dairy farm lands back into a wetlands marsh.

The desert mesquites and acacia trees were drowned by the rising waters, but they provided an ideal environment for cat tails. Today, much of the marsh is inundated by these tall marsh plants, so much so that open water is increasingly rare.

Doug van Gausig has been called the Bird Man of Tavasci Marsh, and sometimes hosts field trips to Tavasci Marsh during the annual Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival, affectionately known as the Birdy-Verde, each year. Here you can find a number of migrating waterfowl, raptors such as the brown and golden eagle, blue and green herons, and animals such as river otter and, of course, beaver and muskrats.

Doug has ventured into Drone Photography, and has several great YouTube videos that give you another perspective on Tavasci Marsh:

In this one, you can see a river otter investigating a water sampler:

 

In short, Tavasci Marsh seemed the perfect place to stage a murder, so I did!

Every now and then I get an email from a reader with a picture of Flycatcher Road or Tuzigoot Monument, saying “We found it!”

I hope, someday, that you will, too.

 

 

Finding peace in a frantic world

West Fork Trail, Oak Creek, Sedona, Arizona

West Fork Vista, Oak Creek, Sedona, Arizona

“I want to be able to live without a crowded calendar. I want to be able to read a book without feeling guilty, or go to a concert when I like.”
Golda Meir

Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel for ten years and active in public service all of her life was described as strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.

She used to say it was a blessing to be born plain; that the pretty girl had a handicap to overcome, because people saw the beauty first, not the person. She also mentioned the lament of all working mothers: when you are at work, you feel guilty about your children at home; when you are home, you feel guilty about the work left behind.

Time, then, is precious. But time to do what? For Golda, it was time to read a book whenever she wanted, or to attend a concert. I like to think a walk in nature may be the very best use of time ever, but reading a good book comes in a close second!

When we are doing what we want to do, whether it is spending time with our children or pursuing a hobby with passion, time slows down to accommodate us. It obligingly stretches and conforms to the task at hand, giving our creativity not only time, but space as well, so that true joy can be expressed.

How would YOU spend your time, if you had enough to do exactly
what you wanted?

 

 

Increase Productivity Through Immediate Rewards

Happy, happy, happy!

 

Have you ever listened to the dialogue you have everyday with yourself?

For example we’re all familiar with the Critic: You idiot! Why did you think that would ever work? They’re all laughing at you.

The “you” in this case often doesn’t talk back, but simply cowers in a virtual corner, taking in, and worse, accepting the negative judgments as being earned. Totally.

We also run into this negative evaluating side of ourselves when we don’t do something we know we should, for example, exercise: You are lazy. You should get up earlier.  Or overeating: Why did you take that extra piece of cake? You know better.

Indeed.

That system doesn’t always work too well, and in fact productivity plummets as we use valuable emotional energy to battle those negative, self-induced feelings within.

There is a way to change this.

Are you listening yet?

We can encourage and praise, rather than critique or judge when we do something difficult that we didn’t want or have to do, and did anyway: When we have that one in a thousand day when the to-do list got vanquished. When we tackled mind-numbing paperwork at the beginning of the day. When we not only made our step goal, but actually we were 57 steps over.

Some folks take this to mean, I need a BIG reward. When I do this hard thing, I’ll reward myself with a Godiva chocolate. (Who ever ate just one?) Or when I lose this weight, I’ll schedule a massage. (Find time for massage, schedule massage, get dressed, get in car…) Or if I finish the laundry, do this report, file my taxes, you name it–I’ll “let” myself read a fluff book. (Choose book, acquire book, don’t read it yet…no, not yet, either. If it’s a good book, it is already on my nightstand, half finished!)

There’s a more effective way. And it uses tools you always have at hand.

The key is that your rewarding action must be easy to do, short in duration, and it must be immediate.

Two ways to do this are the following:

IMMEDIATE PHYSICAL REWARD

Have you ever watched little kids on a playground? They do something difficult such as swoop down a slide for the first time, turn a hand spring, kick a goal. What do they do? They celebrate physically. They jump up and down. They hug themselves. They do a little dance. Their fist rises in a pump of victory.

Well, we all have a little kid inside that still wants to celebrate. The next time you accomplish something really cool, announce it physically in exactly the same way. And if you are in the middle of an office, head outside or into the restroom or a quiet place, and just do it. And then notice how you feel. Better?

SHORT VERBAL PRAISE

The second is by using small words of praise. My fitbit does this for me. When it notices that it is vertical rather than horizontal, it wakes up and rewards me: “Way to go!” it says. Or “Woot!” Or “What’s up?” And I have that little fillip of good feeling. Someone, or in this case, something, noticed my actions in a positive way.

You can do the same thing for yourself. On an index card, write down 10 short phrases that sound familiar to what you might say. The key is short. For me, the list includes, “Wow!” “That’s great.” “Look what you just did.” “That’s amazing!”

I practice saying these phrases in my mind, with as much enthusiasm as I can, ingraining them into my memory so that I can call them forth when I need them. And then I commit, to using them as often as I can, as soon as I can after a task is completed.

Try it. And then notice how you feel. I think you may be surprised.

If a system isn’t working, it doesn’t hurt to consider a change. Perhaps it is time to turn in those sticks and add a few more carrots to our lives.

What works for you?
How do you reward yourself when you do something hard?

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Help your Beta Readers

Once written, words live forever…or do they?

I’m an Indie mystery series writer.

I find my Beta readers get very cranky when I ask them to read for content and development, and they spend most of their time catching typos and missing words.

So I’ve developed the following protocol, which helps me help them:

I am aware of the quirks of the programs I’m using:

Scrivener is a dynamite writing tool for a modest price. In fact they have a free month’s demo. But the default (for PCs) is that old-fashioned Courier font, which means dumb quotes and em dashes written as “- -“. Both can easily be changed using a global replace in Word, which is where my manuscript usually resides, once I’ve done the initial organizational work in Scrivener. 

BUT, Word is not perfect, either. It has the annoying habit of auto-fill and auto-correcting the wrong words. It will subscript fractions, which leads to some interesting results. I’ve got to be alert to all of these and more as I read through the manuscript.

I recognize my OWN quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Mine include the following:

My brain gets lazy and echoes the same words and phrases…on the same page, in the same paragraph, in the same sentence, even.

Worse, I find myself using the same trope I’ve used in a previous novel. The poor heroine gets trapped on the same elevator, on the same floor…or the hero in two subsequent novels shrugs that same left shoulder…or the chase car squeals around the corner into that dark alley…

And there are those slightly unusual words that my subconscious likes to use again, and again, and again.

I foil my right-side brain by sticking all of these idiosyncrasies on a 5 x 8 card that I keep close by as I eagle-eye the manuscript.

Speed Reading

In addition to fingertip goofs, such as “think” for “thing” and “fine” for “find,” I find that the speed reading I do every day on the Internet allows me to blank on missed words in my writing, too.

If I proofread on-screen, I zip right over skipped words, seeing “in hospital,” rather than “in the hospital” as perfectly okay, even though I’m not from Yorkshire, England. Of particular distress are pronouns and prepositions: I can blindly ignore all sorts of two letter words: In, of, by, and on’s get lost by the hundreds!

“A” and “an” provide a particular field day. If you are like me, in the process of revision, I’ll often substitute one word–a much better word, of course–for the one in my original draft. If the second word starts with a vowel versus the first word choice starting with a consonant, I’m in a heap of trouble.

Names

I wish I could use “placeholder” names, but all of my characters begin their life in my novels with a carefully chosen first and last name.

This works, until one of the ensemble characters arrives on the scene with a similar moniker. I can’t change their name, which has been graved into the stone of Amazon’s Kindle system. So “John,” my series character stays, and “Johnny,” the new person, has to leave.

And if I change that name, it may mean changing yet another character’s as well. It’s a cascading effect that I try to minimize through the use of a naming data base.

But when a change must occur, I then have to go through the entire manuscript with Word’s find-and-replace to do just that. And a global replace with a space before and after doesn’t always work either. That procedure will not catch names followed by a period or a hyphen or in the possessive.

Punctuation

I’m pretty good with capitalizing sentences and making sure series are separated by commas and periods occur at the end of sentences.

But problems will crop up in the revision stage, when my computer curser will move to a weird spot and I’ll end up with an extraneous word like “and” in the middle of a word: strandaight.

Or I’ll move bits of a sentence around, and then there’s an orphan period at the beginning of a paragraph, or worse, a sentence that is missing one.

Having written a half a million words now, give or take a few hundred, I know all of the above will happen, on a regular basis, in each and every manuscript that I write.

I could hire a line editor for this phase, but I’d rather save their good efforts for my final draft after I get the rough back from my beta readers and follow their great suggestions for revision.

So here is my protocol for minimizing errors:

  1. I run my pre-Beta copy through Grammerly. They have a pro version, which costs $, but also a free version that incorporates right into the Word task bar. Very handy!
  2. I next put this Grammerly revised copy through an editing program that checks for echoes and repeats, since that is a standard bug-a-boo for me. The one I favor is a new one on the market, Editomatic which has some other handy editing features as well. They also have a demo version.
  3. At this point, I print off a hard copy, using a different font. If my original manuscript is a serif font such as Times New Roman, I’ll do a control-A and change the font to a sans serif such as Arial. And before I print the copy, I’ll change the line spacing to something different, for example, double space if I’ve been using line-and-a-half.
  4. I read this hard copy line by line, using a ruler, and silently mouthing the words. I  revise my online manuscript with the changes I make.
  5. Finally, I use that text-to-voice feature of Word to re-read the entire manuscript, dictated in a very nice male voice, as I follow along, my finger to the hard-copy page. You’d be surprised what he and I catch on this final read-through!

I’ve found that if I follow this protocol, my Beta readers are willing to give me another shot on my next book, and I am able to produce a clean copy for my line editor to fine-tune.

What works for you?
What errors are your nemesis?
How do you catch them?