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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Soul Food

I have always thought my dad was one of the luckiest people I know. It’s certainly not because his life is perfect seeing as how he continues to compete with Elizabeth Taylor in his search for wedded bliss despite numerous failed marriages. No one who knows him would say he has had a stress free life. Besides his love-life turmoil, he has been to war, raised several book-worthy rebellious children and lived through a ten year company strike in which he started and grew a flourishing business only to have one of his business partners literally run away with all the money. It is none of the immediate things you think of when you are evaluating someone’s life and concluding he or she is charmed.

The luck comes from the fact that even though his job as a pilot threw him a few loops, like the strike, missed family holidays, crazy sleep schedules, and prolonged periods of simply being absent from home, he loved his job. He had a passion for flying and he was able to live that passion out every single day for forty years. I think part of the reason he stayed optimistic in his personal life was because he garnered so much joy from his career.

About ten years ago while I was visiting him at his lake house which contained many of the luxuries flying had enabled him to purchase, I asked him if he loved to fly because the money was so good. He’d been strumming on his guitar, singing a Willie Nelson song, but my question put a frown on his face and stopped his nimble fingers in mid-stride. He told me something I would never forget, something that enabled me to say goodbye to my eight to five job and pursue my own passion of writing.

Dad said he flew because it made him want to get up. He flew because it was in his blood. And he flew because not to fly was unthinkable. Apparently, as children are apt to do, I had romanticized the early years in his career when the job had not paid so great, and he had struggled something fierce just to make ends meet.

After the visit with my dad, I went back home, but I never forgot our talk. The other day one of the women in my critique group posed a question on her blog that asked why do you write. That long ago conversation with my dad came to mind, and I thought immediately that I write because I love it, but then I sat down and really looked inward, wondering was this really true. I’ve definitely had my shares of ups and downs so far in this business, and though I’ve sold some short stories I have yet to get THE CALL for one of my full length manuscripts.

Sitting in my kitchen with my beloved cup of coffee, I asked myself if am I writing for the call or because I really do love it. The answer was immediate and swift. I love to write. It’s my passion as flying is my dad’s. Even with this answer, I wondered honestly if I would continue to write even if THE CALL never comes. When I woke up this morning the first thing I wanted to do was sit down and write the next chapter on my current work in progress.

Writing is the food that feeds my soul, and I don’t think I will ever give up the journey since the characters and stories keep popping up in my head and won’t be quiet until they have their moment to shine on paper.

So I suppose this blog is dedicated to my dad who showed me one sunny, summer day that one of the luckiest things in life is to find and pursue your passion.

Thanks, Dad.

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Love and Death

There is no end to the ways we humans express our love. Be it a violent passion or a quieter flame, we each struggle for ways to show that special person, and the world, how we feel.

In Georgian times, when love was perhaps more frequently found outside of marriage than in it, unabashed sentimentality is apparent in the keepsakes that were created. Aside from the engraved gold bands that, as we use them today, symbolize marriage, our Georgian’s ancestors were incredibly inventive.

Miniatures, painted on ivory or vellum, were very popular from the early 1760’s. Portraits featuring remarkable detail were often set in gold frames, or worn as jewelry. Depending on the importance and wealth of both parties they might be set with diamonds, pearls or gemstones. But can you imagine wearing your partners face on you finger? While I do adore my hubby I think that might be a bit much for me. [Oops hubby just read this and very heartily disagreed. LOL.]

The more disturbing variation, at least to me, of the full portrait was the “lover’s eye” miniature portrait (above right). In 1786 the Prince of Wales paid five guineas for eye miniatures of himself and Mrs. Fitzherbert which were encased in gold lockets. Before his death in 1830, the then King insisted that he be buried with her portrait around his neck. Given that they were no longer “together” at the time I find that so endearing. However, the invention of photography and its increasing popularity put an end to much of the interest in miniature portraits beyond the 1830’s.

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” ~ Jack Lemon.

Wearing mourning jewelry was a way for the bereaved to hold onto the memory of their loved ones after death. Lovers, friends, and relations could still wear the miniature portraits of the deceased, but what else could be worn?

This memorial urn ring (below) is a fantastic example. The smooth, flat back is really a glass covered locket and although this particular one is without any contents, I imagine a loved ones hair might have been placed there.

Some mourning jewelry is sad and heartbreaking, especially where the inscriptions indicate a young person’s death. Mourning broaches featuring urns, broken columns, fallen trees, and distant ships are common imagery.

The fashion of keeping a lock of hair belonging to a loved one has been around a long time. And although often seen as mourning keepsakes alone, many kept these mementos as tokens of love and friendship, as would be the case with children’s hair. I know I have a lock from the first haircut my children ever had tucked away in a drawer. But locks of hair they could also be kept to record sexual prowess, somewhat like cutting notches on a belt. According to diarist Charles Grenville, who quotes that the Duke of Wellington found King George IV had kept a ‘prodigious amount of hair – of all colours and lengths’ as souvenirs from his lovers. What a startling discovery that must have been.
The business of arranging mourning jewelry was often decided before death. Robert Walpole, Earl of Oxford died in 1745 and left seventy two rings for his mourners. Samuel Pepys, famous for his published diary from the end of the 17th Century, left one hundred and twenty three.

The expression of love and mourning for loved ones has changed over the years. What was common in my grandparents’ time is far different from how modern love and death is dealt with lately. These days, apart from the actual burial site, a death can spur a facebook page where mourners can gather to post their thoughts or remembrances from now until the internet age ends. Just down the road is a street-side shrine where a young girl was tragically killed and quite often I see her family and friends gather to change the flowers.

So, I’m touching wood as I write this. I’m just a wee bit superstitious, you see. How you would want your family to remember you? Would something like jewelry be for you or (for the technically minded) would a facebook page be ok? How would you remember the love of your life if they were taken from you?

All photos courtesy of The Three Graces

Monday, June 28, 2010

Inspiration Monday: the Temple Church

I have to start by apologizing for posting this so late in the day, but I have a very good excuse. My critique group got into a heated debate over real mashed potatoes vs. instant mashed potatoes. I have to admit, I am my father's child, and I inherited his love for instant. I hate lumps, and no matter how many people have told me "Oh, MY mashed potatoes don't have lumps!", they still have lumps. Instant are guaranteed to be smooth and creamy, and to me, when made with milk, butter and covered in turkey gravy, they taste the same. So that's my horrible excuse for being late today.

However, I would love to share some inspirational pictures from my trip to London a few years ago. My husband and I had an amazing time, and we have close to a thousand pictures and 4 hours of video footage. I won't post all thousand pictures today, but I'll post chronologically over my next few blogs. We started with a trip to the Temple Church. Hopefully, the pics will get your imaginations working and inspire you to get writing...or reading :)

Courtesy of Wikipedia...

The Temple Church is a late 12th century church in London located between Fleet Street and the River Thames, built for and by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters. In modern times, two Inns of Court (Inner Temple and Middle Temple) both use the church. It is famous for its effigy tombs and for being a round church. It was heavily damaged during the Second World War but has been largely restored. The area around the Temple Church is known as the Temple and nearby is Temple Bar and Temple tube station, all derive their name from the church.

We're on our way!

This is part of Middle Temple

Our tour guide, but he totally looks like a monk!

To the left and right you can see the effigy tombs.

Close up of the effigies...well, as close as we could get :)

The exterior...

You may recognize this door...it was used in the Da Vinci Code!

This isn't part of the church, but it's directly across from it...
I just love this shot!

Next time I'll take you to Westminster and Harrods! Hope you enjoyed today's tour!
-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sweet Memories: A recipe for Sfenj

When I asked my children to name their favorite memory of Algeria, the answer was unanimous: Sfenj, the donut-like pastries sold by children on the beaches of Zeralda.

'Sfenj' (it rhymes with 'hinge') means 'sponge' and these light, fried pastries can sop up honey, sugar, or any other sweet topping imaginable. An Algerian mother told me she always prepares these on the first day of school. If the sfenj is delicious, the children will have a wonderful school year. But if the sfenj burns or falls flat, the school year will be a disaster.

Recipe for Sfenj: North African Donuts

2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/2 cup semolina
1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 warm water (add more if the semolina is very dry)
Cooking oil
Sugar, honey, or other sweet dipping sauce

To Make the Dough:

If you have a bread machine: add the first 5 ingredients in the order given, then start it on the dough making setting.

If you don't have a bread machine: Combine the flour and the semolina. Dissolve the yeast and salt in warm water. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and knead for about 15 minutes, adding water as necessary to a dough that is soft, elastic, and comes off your fingers easily. Set the dough in a wet container, cover it with a clean, damp cloth, and let rise for at least 3 hours.

To fry the sfenj:

Heat at least an inch of oil in the bottom of a frying pan.

With wet hands, make a ball of dough and poke a hole in the center. (The dough is sticky. If you're having problems, make sure your hands are very wet. Any surface the dough touches should be very wet.) Don't worry if these are not the perfectly round donuts we're used to seeing in America; they're not supposed to be.

Drop the shaped dough into the frying pan. If your temperature is right, it will sizzle but not splatter. Fry a couple of minutes on each side until golden.

Sfenj is best served hot. Some cooks will roll them in sugar, honey, or jelly before serving them. I serve them plain with bowls of toppings, and let everyone choose and dip their own. Experiment with toppings. Any sweet sauce (cherry, strawberry) is usually good with sfenj. Enjoy!

Have you eaten sfenj before? If so, what toppings do you like? Is there any other North African recipe you would like me to post?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Top Ten Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before My First Conference

Next month a couple thousand writers will diverge on Orlando for Romance Writers ofAmerica’s National Conference at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin. When they do, I will be included in their numbers. This 2010 conference will be my third RWA Nationals. Last year we were in Washington DC and the year before we were in my favorite city – San Francisco.

It’s that first conference I want to talk about here, because that very first conference can be daunting. I was fortunate that I am part of a local RWA chapter, so I knew a couple people as well as one of my online critique partners. There were four of us that year who were first time attendees and together we composed a “10 Things To Know Before Attending Conference For the First Time” list.

I am going to share these tips with you, but do keep in mind that this list reflects my personality and needs. Disclaimer – it may not be for everyone.

10. Know someone. A lot of writers are introverted and bit on the shy side. It can be intimidating to walk into a hotel and see the sheer number of people attending the same conference, especially when so many of them seem to know each other. Some people have an easy time meeting people, and if you’re one of those people, then ignore #10. Otherwise, know someone there. Make plans so you feel comfortable.

9. It’s OK to walk out of a session. There are many reasons why this is the case. 1 – Nature calls. 2 – Editor/Agent pitch appointments. 3 – Decided the session was not for you.

8. Sit in the back, close to the door. You never know when you need to leave a session. See #9

7. Stay in the conference hotel. You don’t have to do this, but I’ve stayed in the conference hotel and off property. It’s like two different worlds. In my experience, you get more out of conference if you’re where the action is.

6. Skip the “First Time” Orientation.

5. Go to Spotlights. And other sessions where you get to hear first hand from either agents or editors what they’re looking for. It also gives you a good feel for their personality and if you might “fit” with them.

4. It’s OK to sit in the bar. Even if you’re not drinking. Almost everyone goes through the bar and many important people can often be found there. (Including yours truly.)

3. Dress appropriately. If you’re serious about making writing a career, look the part. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, someone way over dressed (and, yes, it is possible to be over dressed) and then those in cutoffs or jeans. You want to make a good impression. And while everyone wants to stand out, having your clothing do so in an overt way, is not how you want to be remembered.

2. Watch what you say in public. Never say anything bad about another author, agent, or publisher. You never know who is listening. It is a small world out there, all things considered, and you don’t want to say something you’ll regret in the future.

1. Don’t feel like you need to fill every minute of your schedule. Or if you are someone who HAS to fill every moment – schedule in some down time as well. Conference can be exhausting and if you don’t take care of yourself, it WILL catch up with you at the least appropriate time.

So are you going to conference this year? Will it be your first? Or, are you a veteran at these sorts of things? What are you most worried/excited about?

And most importantly - for all you conference veterans out there – what’s on your top ten list that I left off ? (No, really tell me – because a couple of these came from later conferences and I can’t find my original list.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A necessary evil

If you’ve finished a manuscript at all, then you know all about the revision hell I am currently in. I’ve got three...yes, three completed manuscripts I am attempting to revise (two of them in a series) and still attempting to write on the new wip. I decided last week, I am stretched far too thin. So I narrowed down the to—do list to one ms at a time.

I simply could not keep going the route I was on and I needed a breather. Life, three kids, work, a crit group, and three manuscripts needing revisions...was simply too much for me at the time. So, I completely dropped the new wip despite the fact that I am dying to get back to it at this point. It’s a new project, after all, and it is beyond calling to me. It’s enticing...giving me come hither glances and whispering things in my ear that I just can’t ignore lol.

I decided to write my blog about what I know and what I know at the moment is that I would do anything — anything to make the revision process easier. Researching blogs and articles on the subject have been a huge help but I’ve come up with a tentative list of words to search for in your manuscript as you revise. And I encourage any and all additions you can think of. Perhaps if we compile all this information here in one blog post we can make this horrifying process easier for someone later on.

So here it goes:

The common words: was, that, were, am, is, are, be, had, and has are first.

All, as, could

And as one of my wonderful crit partners pointed out to me (which has been a huge help to me) words that draw the reader out of deep pov: Feel, feeling, felt, hear, heard, see, saw, looked, taste, smell, knew, know, think, thought and wonder. If you changed these words into deep pov, you will automatically strengthen your prose. Thank you Catherine!

Other words to check for: Just, then, so, very, and really

Some other deadwood phrases to search for are:

At such a time as = when

At this point in time = Now

Despite the fact that = Although

Due to the fact that = Because

I am certain there are more and I would love to be able to put more down but currently, my brain is fried from reading the same thing over and over, and over, and over again. =) So, how about helping a writing sister out here and add to the list. What other words or phrases should we be looking out for in our work in progress?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lessons From Dear Ol' Dad

Sunday, June 20th, was Father’s Day in the US, Canada and UK, a day to celebrate our fathers. In honor of this day, I want to talk about my dad. He's an energetic, happy-go-lucky, goofy baby boomer, and I wouldn't have him be different in any way. I'm very much like my dad, only dialed down a few notches. I also inherited his curls, a dimple and duck feet. But probably most importantly, I've inherited the benefit of his knowledge throughout the course of my life.

I think a dad’s role is to teach their children, although not all the lessons are serious. We must have some fun in life, after all. Some of the best advice I received regarding work was, “When The Man starts swinging his sword, stay low”. (The Man. LOL. I did mention he was a child of the sixties. And he is The Man.) Not long after my dad doled out this advice, which I heeded, my employer terminated a string of employees who didn't know to duck, so he knew what he was saying.

His funniest advice had to do with my writing career. “You have to keep writing different things to be a writer. If you keep writing the same stories, people won’t like that.” I told him I have many ideas and reassured him that, yes, I do write them all down in a notebook.

Of course, I’ve learned just as much from how he has chosen to play throughout the years as by what he has said. Here are some of my favorite lessons:

(1) Little kids are easy to fool into retrieving things for you. If they tell you to get it yourself, just tell them, “I can’t. I have a bone in my leg.” Works every time.

(2) It is perfectly acceptable to howl at the moon when you’re at the lake as long as you’re having fun.

(3) Burping should really be an Olympic sport.

(4) One can master the skill of referring to oneself in the third person throughout an entire conversation. Even Samantha Grace can do it if she really concentrates.

(5) “Are we having fun yet?” is an appropriate conversation filler for any occasion.

(6) Aging is unavoidable, but growing up is optional.

(7) Think for yourself!

(8) Life is meant to be lived to the fullest, so seize the day.

What lessons have you learned from your dad?

Twitter Tips

A lot of people use Twitter. Personally I spend more time there than facebook. But do you know what you're doing? I was recently reading a blog post by Chris Brogan, a marketer with some fantastic tips for reaching the right people and enjoyed his 50 Power Twitter Tips blog post. Paul Durban set his post to a youtube video presentation and I just thought I'd share. Enjoy!

Many thanks to chrisbrogan.com for sharing his information under the Creative Commons license, which means that you can share and reuse the information within reason and with some attribution back to the original post.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Potential conflicts exist in everyday life. Tweak or twist a problem and you have a hero and heroine at odds. But, with true love, these insurmountable obstacles are overcome. Isn’t that what romance novels are all about?

There is one conflict that is all too prevalent throughout Central Illinois. I am sure it occurs in other places, but I am most familiar with its impact on my hometown. It divides neighbors and families. Fights have broken out and name calling is not uncommon. In my own family there is a division. My son is siding against me and I hope it is only adolescent rebellion. I am not so concerned on how this affects my son, because I can always ground him until he sees reason. I am more concerned with my nephew and his new bride, whom I adore by the way. This huge conflict between the two existed long before they met and it is still in existence. My nephew has a son and his new bride has two. It is hard to meld two families, especially when they are three boys all within a few years of each other. Also, she is a tad bit older, not that it matters to either one of them.

No, the conflict is much larger than age differences or the melding of families. You see, she is a Cub fan (brains and beauty) and my nephew, much to my disappointment, is a Cardinal fan. I’ve been in their family room and the plaques for each team are displayed proudly on the wall. Whoever is ahead at the end of the season is displayed above the other. And yes, the Cubs have been there for those who want to utter disparaging remarks about my favorite team.
To bring home how important baseball is to this couple, their marriage took place in the conference room at O’Brien Field, home of the Peoria Chiefs, Class A Affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Why would my nephew ever agree to such a setting, being the die-hard Cardinal fan that he is? Because the Chiefs were playing the Quad Cities River Bandits, Single A Affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. So, there the couple was, neither one of them in baseball clothing, but the bride’s children looked dapper in their Cub shirts and my nephew’s son, handsome, even though he was wearing a Cardinal Shirt.

Following the ceremony we adjourned to an outdoor private box and enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, coleslaw, popcorn and beer. All the food necessary for a successful baseball game and wedding reception. I only half paid attention to the game when it started because I was visiting with family and friends. However, I watched whenever Aramis Ramirez, Cub’s Third baseman rehabbing in Peoria and playing with the Chiefs, came up to bat.

The couple is happy and in love, and I pray their happiness continues despite what appears to be an insurmountable difference. In the meantime, I need to figure out how I can take this love story and conflict and set it in a historical period. How important was Cricket and when did it become a sport? Second, I must use the name Aramis in my next novel.

What are your thoughts on everyday, modern conflicts being used and tweaked for historical settings?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Querier

I recently ventured, once again, into the world of hopeful-writer-querying-agents. What is it about the querying process that makes you crazy?

I mean, yeah, as writers, most of us are a little unusual to begin with. We spend random, long hours pounding away at the keyboard, pop up for air and coffee only when we realize we're out, obsess over the particular wording of a four-word sentence, have voices in our heads, lay awake at night thinking about whether our hero should wear boxers or briefs (as though the answer to this question might provide the solution to aging), and forget to start dinner until the kids are crying because they haven't eaten in two days.

But seriously, there is something about the querying process that takes us all just a little further over the edge.

Once a query has been sent out, we obsessively check our email, hitting refresh (on average) about every 2.38 seconds. We call in sick to work, because we could get a request while we were gone. Forget about going to the grocery store--they deliver, right?

At least this time, before I sent them out, I had a good idea of what would happen to me. I took precautions.

Before I sent out my queries, I made sure that I'd been to the store and had plenty of provisions stocked up (especially of the sort that only require a few minutes in the microwave to be ready). I waited until the evening to send them out--and I did it on a weekend, no less. Yes, some agents will read queries from home at night or on the weekend, but I knew that they at least shouldn't be at work. That made me slightly less anxious. I made up my list of what each of the agents I intended to query wanted (just the letter, query letter plus pages, maybe a synopsis) and then set to work.

Once I had them all sent, I breathed a sigh of relief that they were out in the world, calmly ate my dinner (only checking my email about 42 times over the course of my meal), and sat down to watch some TV. I can't tell you what I watched. Because I don't remember.

I was too busy refreshing my email.

After a couple of hours, with nothing to show for all of my email-refreshing, aside from a sore email-refreshing finger, I decided it would be best if I just went to bed.

Again, I had made plans ahead of time. I knew that I would not be able to shut my brain off enough to sleep. So I took a Tylenol PM. Yep, I drugged myself.

Then I waited for the Tylenol PM to kick in, so that I could fall asleep. Constantly refreshing my email, of course.

Once I started to feel that drowsy, drugged, hazy tiredness come over me, I hit refresh one more time.

And had a response.

It had to be a rejection. I knew it. So I braced myself and clicked on it, prepared for the worst.

It was a request. Hard copy. By way of snail.

I took a little heart-flip moment, read the email again, sang for joy, cried a little bit inside, and darted over to the printer. It printed two pages, and then it was out of black ink.

No problem. I had a spare ink cartridge waiting to be used. Somewhere.

It wasn't on the desk. It wasn't under the desk. It wasn't on the shelves near the desk. Frantically, I tore the house apart, looking for the single black ink cartridge that could restore me to sanity, to no avail. I couldn't find it.

And the Tylenol PM was in full effect, so my mind was running out of options. Maybe I could change the color of the font from black to purple. Surely she wouldn't notice. Surely she wouldn't mind.

I decided it was better to go to bed and deal with it in the morning. After all, I wasn't going to be able to get  it to the post office before the next day, anyway.

So I laid down in bed and tried to sleep. But my mind would not stop obsessing over the darn ink cartridge. I knew I had a spare. I knew I had seen it at some point in the recent past. Where was it? Had one of my cats absconded with it? Maybe someone else put it in without my knowing about it. (Not possible, since NO ONE else knows how to put the stupid thing in.)

Aha! I had it. My nephew had been running around with it one day, and I had to take it away from him and hide it. Where did I hide it again? Oh, yeah. My sock drawer.

At this point, it was about 2 am. I got up, retrieved the ink cartridge from my sock drawer, installed it in the printer, printed out my partial, checked my email again, and finally went to bed.

I managed to sleep from somewhere in the vicinity of 3 am until about 7. Not the best night's sleep ever, but I would take it. After all, I was going to spend the rest of the day hitting refresh on my email. And taking a submission to the post office, then rushing back to hit refresh on my email some more.

Are any of you querying right now? How do you handle the insanity?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Burn Baby Burn

We’ve all faced days that we had what seemed, or might have truly been, insurmountable piles of work in front of us. Maybe you let stuff at the office pile up until you couldn’t ignore certain projects any more or risk being fired. Perhaps you needed to finish a manuscript, or send a submission to an agent or editor before you left to go on a much needed vacation, or maybe you just got up one morning, looked at your “to do” list and thought that it was going to be one long day.

I faced a day like that yesterday. I had to take my kids to swim lessons, get their hair cut, drive thirty minutes to pick up red-lines from a friend who still embraces good old fashion reading with the pages in her hand, pack three people for a trip, take my cat to the vet, go to the grocery store, buy Father’s Day gifts, finish edits on a book, write blurbs for three other books…I’ll stop here as the list is ridiculously long.

My point is this: I knew when my feet hit the floor at 6:00 a.m. yesterday morning that my head would not be seeing my lovely pillow again until possibly this morning. I was right. After trying desperately to get everything accomplished yesterday, I finally gave in to bleary-eyed fatigue at 1:30 a.m. this morning. Although, I didn’t get every last little thing done, which I had foolishly hoped I would, I did achieve a lot.

Therefore, here are a few little secrets I’ve learned along the way for being productive and staying up late.

1. Start the morning off with a cup of coffee and a “to do” list.
2. Go straight to the gym and get the blood flowing.
3. Drink a Red Bull while you are on the stair-master at the gym. And no, I’m not kidding. NOTHING in this world will pump you up like a Red Bull, and the people around you at the gym will stare in awe and wonder.
4. Break up your work you must sit and do around the work you need to do while on the move. For example, I had to edit a 92,000 word book of redlines. I edited five chapters at a time. After five chapters, I got up and did other things like run to the grocery store.
5. Drink a caffeinated beverage for lunch. My choice is Sobe Gold Green Tea. Don’t kid yourself that you don’t need more caffeine. You will need it come midnight. Oh yea, try to forget just how much caffeine you have consumed already. One day of caffeine overdrive is not going to kill you.
6. For this one day, if you have children, don’t be afraid to employ a babysitter or a drop-n-go service.
7. Check your to do list and see what you still need to accomplish.
8. Tackle dinner with “take out gusto” and, yes, MORE CAFFEINE!
9. Tell your husband, firmly but sweetly, “not tonight honey”.
10. Save the tasks that don’t require much brainpower for last. If you need to write a blurb and you need to do laundry, write the blurb first and save the laundry for the wee hours when you can’t remember your name.
11. When the clock strikes midnight, and you realize you have just entered the next day, and you aren’t sure whether you want to cry or laugh that you are STILL UP, remember this: at the end of every late night binge you have just accomplished what mere mortals, who don’t know these secrets I’ve shared, could never hope to achieve in a single day.

I’d love to hear your secrets on staying productive and staying up late.

Julie Johnstone, the Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

but so too were garnet, tortoise shell, and pearl during the Georgian Era. These examples below, courtesy of The Three Graces http://www.georgianjewelry.com/ are excellent examples from the late 18th and early 19th Century.
Can you tell the difference between diamond and paste? I’ve never tried with real gems, but I’ve read about it often enough to think I would have a hard time of it. Paste jewels are made by careful design and craftsmanship of glass. They were not seen as inferior jewels made to copy real ones and unlike diamonds could be cut into any shape or size required. Below are two pieces. One diamond - one paste. But which one is which? Can you tell? I'll add the answer into my comments later in the day.


As with anything, over time the cut of gemstones changed. The simple flat cut (see garnet pendant at top) of the 16th and 17th Century evolved into beautiful rose cut styles (see flower brooch above right).

Of course, every perfect stone requires the perfect setting. The closed setting of the 17th century – where the entire underside of the gem was enclosed, became the box setting of 18th Century. A narrow band of metal, or collet (right), enclosed the stone. The setting was either then closed or left open, depending on the quality of the stone. Foiling, adding a sliver of foil under the gem in a closed setting, brightened and intensified the colors considerably, even bringing a poorly cut gem into brilliance. These days the collet and closed settings have been supplanted by the claw (my engagement ring) and millegrained settings.

The high shine of cut steel jewelry was achieved from the unlikely source of horseshoe nails of 18th century England (yes, you read that right). Time consuming and difficult to make, cut steel jewelry was made by the use of steel studs set into a backing plate (by screws or rivets). Most commonly the studs were facetted but other shapes, such as crescents, vesica and frustra were also used. Cut steel jewelry became a lucrative industry in the mid 1700’s in Oxfordshire and as demand increased manufacturing of cut steel buttons and jewelry was thriving at Birminingham by late 1700’s. Quite honestly, if I had a choice between cut steel and diamonds I might be tempted to go with cut steel. The pieces can be truly gorgeous.

Of course, there are many other styles of jewelry that I haven’t covered yet. Indeed, I've found the most breathtaking parure's (boxed sets)  that I might die just to have. But death and love are the subject of my next blog. I hope you come back and see. In the mean time, take care.

All photos courtesy of The Three Graces www.georgianjewelry.com
A truly beautiful location for rare and antique jewelry.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Gilded Age

Last weekend, my hubby took me on a surprise trip to Newport, RI for our 6th anniversary. We spent a half day there several years ago and I’ve always wanted to go back. So when I realized that was where we were going, I was thrilled!

One of the many activities he had planned for me was to go see The Breakers, the famous mansion built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II during the “Gilded Age.” The size and splendor of the place was absolutely awe inspiring. I wish we could have taken pictures inside, but security was tight (though you’ll see we got a couple illicit shots!) We did, however, take lots of pictures of the grounds and the cliff walk just beyond, and I would love to share those with you as well as a little bit of history...Enjoy!

The Breakers was one of many grandiose summer homes in Newport, RI
during The Gilded Age.
They all abut the Cliff Walk, and this is a view of the home from the
other side of the hedgerows.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II loved two things: hard work and building houses.
The Breakers was the family's summer "cottage," and it cost $7 million to build
(about $150 million today!!)

With approximately 65,000 square feet, it has 70 rooms.

We snapped some illicit shots of the music room.
The family loved to perform together and often put on musicales in this room.

The backyard seemed never ending, especially with the vast expanse of the ocean just beyond.

The original structure that stood where The Breakers stands now burnt to the ground in 1892. Cornelius therefore insisted that the new house be entirely fire proof.

Huge slabs of marble were imported from Italy and Africa. The Gold Room was apparently constructed in France, disassembled and then sent to Newport to be reassembled there.

The Breakers is a palazzo style home, inspired by the 16th Century palaces of Genoa and Turin.

Cornelius is the grandfather of famed heiress and designer-jean maven, Gloria Vanderbilt,
and great-grandfather to CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Views from the Cliff Walk are breath-taking. I can only imagine how romantic it would have been for the Vanderbilt daughters to sneak to the other side of the hedgerows for a romantic tryst during one of the many parties held at The Breakers.

Sadly, Cornelius only got to enjoy one summer of good health at The Breakers. He died 4 years after its completion of a stroke. Thankfully, his daughter wisely sold the house to the Preservation Society of Newport County (for a mere $365,000) so that her father's legacy could live on and be appreciated by thousands of visitors every year.

I hope you've enjoyed this little photo tour of The Breakers!

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

I am not a funny person. Ask any of my siblings if you don't believe me. There are many choice adjectives they might use to describe me, but funny would not end up on any of their lists.

In fact, I'm often the last person in the room to get a joke. They go right over my head more often than not. I say its because my head is usually in the clouds, thinking long and hard about something else (like what my hero is going to have to do to get himself out of his current mess or why my heroine is afraid of freckles). Regardless of why I don't get the jokes, though, the fact remains that I come across as a little slow on the uptake.

When I first sat down to write, I recognized the fact that I am Not Funny. Because of that, I chose subjects and themes and tones for my writing that wouldn't require me to try to be funny. It is never a good idea, after all, to try to be something you are not.

In my first manuscript, I had to work really hard to find places that I could inject a little humor. Because I do write romance, after all, and romance should not be all dark and depressing and dour all the time. There must be a little levity from time to time. My attempts fell pretty flat.

My second manuscript, however, I decided to let run its own course in terms of the funny aspects. It wasn't as dark a tone as the first one, but still, the fact remained that I am Not Funny.

So imagine my surprise when the critiques I started to get back were filled with "LOL" or :) all over the place. At first, I thought my CPs were laughing at me, that my attempts at infusing my manuscript with a dose of humor from time to time were failing so horrifically that they were making fun of sad, pathetic me.

But the LOLs and :)s didn't stop coming. In fact, they started to come more often.

And then I realized something. I may not BE funny, but perhaps I could WRITE funny. In fact, I came to learn that I could write very funny.

Just not if I try to. LOL. If I'm thinking about it and saying to myself: This should be FUNNY, then it will inevitably be rather somber.

It was through this process that I actually discovered my natural writing voice, and the direction of my writing took a sharp right-turn. I'm not looking back.

So, in my most recent MS, I embraced the funny. And I have to say, I had a lot more fun writing it than I did writing my first two. Go figure.

What have you learned about yourself that has taken you by surprise and how did you learn it? Bonus points to anyone who can identify where I took the title of this blog post from, just because I like to give out bonus points. Not that there are really any points here. But play along for fun.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Feng Shui Office Space

Yesterday we had a quiz to identify which elemental energy is you most dominant. If you missed yesterday’s blog, go back and take the short quiz so you know which element is most descriptive of you. If you’re across the board, pick the one you think fits best. Today we are going to talk about creating balance in your workspace by either toning down the energy or complimenting it.

Wood Energy: Just a review from yesterday. Wood tends to be enthusiastic about projects, enjoys change and they are hard workers. One drawback is they sometimes leave projects unfinished when they lose interest. When wood energy is excessive, they may be impatient and easily irritated. Sometimes they suffer from exhaustion and burnout. People with excessive wood energy also tend to get headaches often.

Here are some things to do when the wood energy needs to be toned down:1. Turn off the phone and unplug from the internet, facebook, twitter and anything similar for at least an hour a day. Because you tend to get distracted easily, this will help you stay focused.
2. Include a plush chair in your office to encourage quiet time to clear your head.
3. Since horizontal lines slow energy, pick horizontal pictures, blinds or striped curtains. Wouldn’t horizontal stripes painted on the wall be fun?
4. Water helps to soothe wood, so you might want to include a fountain in your office. Also, keep a glass of water handy and don’t forget to stay hydrated in your excitement of pursuing a project.
5. Make a list of people you know will help you when you’re becoming overwhelmed and ask for help when you need it.

Here are some ways to support your elemental energy:1. Wood likes new things, so stock up on different notebooks, folders, colorful markers, etc.
2. Keep healthy, ready to eat snacks or lunches that can be heated in the microwave on hand. You’re too busy to stop and cook a meal, so you’ll grab whatever is quickest. Chips and a soda aren’t going to give you the fuel you need to keep going.
3. Wood has a tendency to think big and wants to soar, so hang pictures high to encourage this natural tendency.
4. Use natural wood in your office.
5. Remove the television.
6. Paint the walls an untraditional color.
7. If you can, pick a room with a view. But, if that’s impossible, hang a landscape picture on the wall.

Fire Energy: Fire likes to socialize, and they are likeable. Their one danger is becoming too involved with others. Because they are sensitive to others’ feelings, they can feel too strongly, which can lead to physical illness or anxiety.

Here are some things to do when the fire energy needs to be toned down:1. Take time to journal. Pour all those feelings out on paper then set them aside to give your body and mind a rest.
2. Avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine.
3. Lower the shades and dim the lights to decrease the external stimuli.
4. Add black accessories to your office, because black is grounding.

Here are some ways to support your elemental energy:
1. Create a space that appeals to your senses. Fill it with fresh flowers, scented candles and soft fabrics.
2. Paint the walls in a vibrant color.
3. Hang art with visual impact and that moves you in some way.
4. Include music in your workspace.
5. If you are able to set up your office in a sunny place, do it. If you don’t have that option, be sure to take breaks to step outside or get some exposure to sunlight.
6. Buy fresh fruit to snack on during the day.

Earth Energy: Earth tends to mother others. They have a talent for making people feel as if they belong. And they tend to be sentimental. One negative they may experience if earth energy is too high is unmanageable clutter and constant worry.

Here are some things to do when the earth energy needs to be toned down:1. Use physical activity to decrease worry. Gardening is an especially good activity, but taking the dog for a walk or cleaning out a closet might be just as effective.
2. Sort and get rid of unneeded items, but break the task into manageable chunks. Maybe clear out the junk drawer one day then a dresser drawer the next.
3. Contain clutter in attractive containers, such as baskets or wooden boxed for small items.

Here are some ways to support your elemental energy:1. Display your collections in your office, such as old books, teapots or vintage hats.
2. Paint the walls a muted shade, like sage, terra cotta or a dusky blue gray.
3. Include a sofa or loveseat in your office where others can join you from time to time.
4. Intersperse antiques or keepsakes in your space.
5. Pick furniture with rounded edges.
6. Surround yourself with family photos.
7. Stock your panty and refrigerator so you know everyone has what they need so you can focus on working on your projects.

Metal Energy: Metal is discipline and organized. They are great at completing tasks and recalling the rules of how things should be done. However, when metal energy is excessive, relationships can begin to suffer. There may be an increase in sarcastic, biting comments and a growing distance between yourself and loved ones.

Here are some things to do to tone down metal energy:1. Ground yourself in the world by activating your senses, especially your sense of smell. Scents are very effective for conjuring memories, so choose ones that bring back memories of when you felt connected with others.
2. Select a warm white for the walls instead of a cold white.
3. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables on hand to nourish your body.
4. Add plants to help soften the edge of metal.

Here are some ways to support your elemental energy:1. Include actual metal in your office, but include warmer metals, such as copper.
2. Keep your d├ęcor to a minimum so you have a streamlined look that won’t distract or bother you. Use open shelving for easy accessibility.
3. Incorporate arcs into your office. If you don’t have an arched doorway, you can add art that depicts arches.

Water Energy: Water tends to engage in solitary reflection. They see most, if not all, sides of a situation. Time can be fluid in their world. When water energy is excessive, water may have trouble motivating themselves to rejoin others, even if they want to join in activities. They may also have trouble moving from ideas to action. They may sleep more than usual, and their bodies may feel may feel cold or crave salty foods.

Here are some things to do to tone down water energy:1. Open the curtains and let in the sun. The sunshine can reset our internal clocks, so get in the sun as often as you can.
2. Warm up some soup or tea to help warm your body.
3. Eat spicy foods for the same reason.
4. Light candles.
5. Write thoughts in a journal.
6. Be patient, because decreasing water energy can be a slow process.

Here are some ways to support your elemental energy:1. Include cascading plants or hanging items in your office. Maybe a wind chime would be a good addition.
2. Remove all noisy devices.
3. Add an ottoman to your space, so you can get your feet off the floor. You tend to be freer with your feet up.
4. Make life easier on yourself, such as hiring a cleaning service.
5. Choose a smaller space for your office. If you don’t have that option, create a nook for yourself with bookshelves or a folding screen.
6. Choose furniture with curving lines.
7. Paint your walls a darker color.
8. Incorporate circle shapes with art, furniture or whatever you can imagine.
9. Use containers to organize your stacks of papers so they are where you need them, but out of sight so as not to overwhelm you.

I’d love to hear if you plan to incorporate any of these suggestions into your workspace. Also, if you make changes and want to send a picture, send it to ladyscribes@yahoo.com. I’ll post them to share with others when we have an open spot on the weekends. Thanks, and I hope you enjoyed this rather long blog.