My Soap Box

Howdy, friends!  I hope everyone is still healthy and holding up well under whatever your area’s current conditions may be.  We’re all okay at my house.  A few days ago, I woke up so swollen I couldn’t walk, but by the time I was able to get in to see my rheumatologist, things started to get a wee bit better.  (It was a little creepy sitting in the waiting room with other people, though most of us were wearing masks).  My doctor ordered the standard Lupus blood work, and my sed rate and CRP levels (which measure inflammation markers) were about three times the highest “normal range” number, so that explains things.  At any rate, I started a steroid pack, and am feeling much better now.

Last week, I started discussing my “artsy” projects.  I forgot to mention that as far as the house repair or remodel projects that we’ve undertaken, I found the most awesome website called See Jane Drill, and it’s geared toward teaching novices how to do carpentry jobs.  The woman who teaches in the videos is a master craftswoman and a journeyman plasterer, and she’s an amazing teacher!  She’ll tell you to “mix the drywall with water until it’s the consistency of pancake batter or buttercream icing,” and you know exactly what to do.  As a matter of fact, she’s not just for the ladies!  My son now watches her for tips for the jobs he does around the house.

But moving along, not too long ago, I shared how Sister Michelle and I were making and selling homemade soaps, but I didn’t tell you where we store them.  Originally, we just had a small variety of fragrances, and those were fine to store in a closet somewhere.  But when we decided on making our favorite twenty-two designs and scents, we needed a dedicated place to keep them, and it needed to be conveniently located where guests could peruse them if they wanted to purchase any.  We agreed that it would be pretty cool if we could find an old library card cabinet and do something with it, but any we found had a large price tag and took up a lot of room.

So, I started searching YouTube for hacks to make my own.  Turns out Ikea had a cute little “blank canvas” which gave me a good jumping in point.

We purchased five of them and Sister Michelle painted them black.  I then turned the drawers around backward so the little finger hole didn’t show.  I bought some black, white, grey, and red scrapbook papers and lined each drawer then covered the front of each drawer to match the lining.  I made sure some papers were textured to add to the visual interest.

I purchased three types of card holder drawer handles, and after deciding how to arrange each drawer and which type of handle to use, drilled the holes and installed the handles.  I attempted to use the grinder to cut of the backs of the screws inside each drawer, but the tool was too large and bulky for the thin wood, so I found a Dremel bit that worked well.

All told, I’m pleased with how it turned out, and I believe it looks good in my living room.  Each drawer holds seven or eight bars of soap (depending on if they are beveled or wavy cut).  When the drawers on the top are especially full of heavy soap, it does get a little difficult to open and close the lower drawers, but once a few bars are removed, they all work fine.  And, of course, when I start to mention “my soap box,” I can weed out the crowd if I don’t want to be around them because they will assume I’m talking about getting up on the other soap box.

Let’s talk:  Do you ever look for furniture hacks on the internet?  Have you ever re-purposed or refinished a piece of furniture to make it look completely different than it looked before?  Have you ever heard of See Jane Drill?  Have you had to see a doctor since the Covid-19 outbreak hit your area? 

Excused Absence?

Hello, friends.  It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted after my recent “big comeback tour,” and I apologize.  I’m sure we’ve each been dealing with Covid-19 issues, whether they may be, in our own little corners of the world, and I was no exception.  Thankfully, I have not been infected.  I was, however, afraid my daughter was.  She had been sick for more than two weeks, and the Health Department and hospital refused to test her because she hadn’t been out of the country in the past month.  Nearly three weeks in, she was finally able to get tested, and turns out she had the flu but was thankfully negative for Coronavirus.

You’ve also probably heard a lot about Hydroxychloroquine in the news lately.  I happen to take that to manage my Lupus, and even though some rumors were out there that people with Lupus could not get Coronovirus for this reason, several in a couple of Lupus groups I’m in who also take this medicine have turned up positive, and one case was pretty serious.  And then the “fatal side effects” news came along.  So, between worrying about my kiddo as well as dealing with the stress of my medication being on shortage when I needed a refill, and then stressing over the idea that it causes heart issues, my Lupus went into a full-blown flare, and I was pretty much incapacitated these last weeks.

Anyhoozle, I’ve been waiting to get all the other stuff out of the way that I’ve been saving up to blog about so that I could start sharing the “artsy” stuff I’ve been doing around the house.  That time has come.  It’s such an extreme difference in how it feels to finally own a house versus having always rented.  It really inspires me to create.  It also inspires Sister Michelle to utilize all her talents to their finest, such as painting the walls and trim, replacing the plumbing, etc. (among her other many talents), and it brings out Son Jeremy’s magnificent ability to watch YouTube and learn a new skill then conquer the heck out of it on the first try (such as replacing all the baseboards and crown molding).   As for me, my skill is in seeing a space and envisioning it to be something else, then making that happen.

When we moved in, there was a 90s “wall cubby” in the kitchen that was being used by the previous owner as a computer station.  But that wasn’t for us.  I wanted a large pantry that looked a lot more modern than the 1997 build-date of my house.  We hired a contractor to frame it out, and unfortunately, that was our first realization that contractors: 1) are difficult to find; 2) will likely drive up the price after they make a quote; and 3) may not hesitate to take advantage of women because they think we don’t know what they’re talking about.

The contractor who framed out our pantry: 1) didn’t make sure the door was level (not 45 degree angles around the door); 2) knew I intended to add shelves on both sides, yet didn’t add any additional bracing studs to hold shelves (which were obviously intended to hold heavy items such as cans); and 3) did not even tape and mud where the new walls met the existing wall, leaving large gaps.  As it turned out, his knockdown texture also didn’t match the existing pattern size, so I bought a hopper and skim-coated everything and re-textured it (and later, just about the entire house).

After Sister Michelle and I figured out the best way to get the shelves up and be sturdy, she painted and I got busy on the computer designing a transom window.  I bought a thick piece of glass and took it to a vinyl cutting shop where they printed and affixed my design, then I bought a sheet of frosted glass stick-on and applied it to the back of the glass, then had Michelle assist while I built the window frame.  She painted it, then with Jeremy’s help, she installed it, and I found the fancy corner brackets on Etsy (pictured in the bottom photo).

As for the inside, I got some different sized plastic bins and added chalkboard decals and wrote whatever categories of food would go in them with a white paint marker.  For the bins behind the first row, I made additional labels that I affixed to wooden clothespins so that the contents could be seen at a glance.

If you can see the wine shelf above, you don’t need to tell me that the bottles should be stored on their side… I know I need to build or buy something to lay them flat in, but I haven’t gotten to that yet.  Eventually, we hope to remodel the island area of the kitchen and add a wine refrigerator to the cabinet area underneath.

Let’s talk: How are you and your family holding up under the Pandemic?  Have you ever used a drywall hopper to texture a wall?  When was the last time you made a significant change to your house?

Dear Writer…

I tried this last month, but didn’t get a big response.  So, let’s try this again.  (And, no, it’s not an April Fool’s Day joke.)

The following announcement is geared mainly toward my writer friends.  Of course, if you’re not a writer, you’re still welcome to read, reply, and play along, but if you are a writer, you might have a particular interest in what I have to say today.

In the past, one of my more popular blog features has been my author interviews.  Not only did these help draw new traffic to my blog, but they helped market your work to a broader audience. I’ve decided to start a new feature called “Writing Prompt Wednesdays” wherein I will post a writing prompt, either text or pictorial, on the first Wednesday of each month.

I invite you to then take (click to open in a new tab, then right click and save) the prompt over to your own blog and use it to write a short story – say (roughly) between 100 and 800 words, telling what happened to lead up to the prompt, what happened after the prompt, why the prompt, or anything else relevant to the prompt.  Then reply to my post with the link to your post and be sure to include your email address so I can interview you.  For each subsequent Wednesday for the rest of the month, I’ll select one of your responses to feature on my blog along with an interview with you and the links to where we can purchase your work.

April’s Writing Prompt:

Click on this image to open in a new tab, then right click to save.

Actual history of this photo:  This awesome guy actually drives this Radio Flyer car around town, and I see him every so often.  He always gets a lot of looks, stares, honks, thumbs up, and people stopping traffic to get their cameras out and photograph him.  I think it looks really cool, but I’m afraid I’d be too embarrassed to drive it.  Bit I would  love to know what it looks like inside.
Photo: ©R. Carrera

Let’s talk:  Will you be participating in my Writing Prompt Wednesdays?  Would you have taken a photo of this “wagon” if you saw it driving down the road?  Would you ride in it?  What’s the strangest motor vehicle you’ve ever owned?

The Late for Christmas Feety Foot Shoe Socks

Happy Throwback Thursday, friends!  Ever since my daughter Stefani was little, jokes about feet were our “Mommy-Daughter Thing.”  Every Christmas stocking, Easter basket, or birthday gift bag I ever gave her always included a little something foot-related.  They were always just stupid little insignificant things, like a foot-shaped eraser, but they were one of the ways I let her know I loved her.

That’s my lovely daughter!

A couple of years ago for Christmas, I’d done all my shopping except for the “foot thing” I’d forgotten.  So, to remedy the situation, I got on Amazon and found the ugliest pair of feet socks you’ve ever seen.  Actually, they were “feety foot shoe socks.”  The socks were, for the most part, flesh-colored, and the top over the feet were feet slid into pink flip-flops, and the bottom part under the feet were the bottom of the flip-flops.  Hideous, right?

Well, after I submitted my order, I got a message that they would, in fact, not be here in time for Christmas.  We had Christmas that year, and I kind of forgot all about the “feety foot shoe socks” until sometime in late January when they arrived.  I opened the package and removed one sock and inspected it.  It was goofy and cheap, but otherwise, not remarkable.  It had a right foot painted on top, and a shoe bottom painted on the bottom.

Here’s what they were supposed to look like, top and bottom

Then I removed the other sock.  I laughed so hard, I might have wet myself.  [I will nether confirm or deny if I really wet myself.]  The second sock also had a right foot painted on top.  It also had another right foot painted on the bottom!  All told, we had three right feet tops, and one foot bottom.  I giggled the whole time that I wrapped the “feety foot shoe socks” up then called my daughter to come over for a surprise.  When she opened them, we both laughed so hard, our bodies were shaking uncontrollably, and we weren’t making any noise.  It was that hilarious!

But instead, here was what we received.

And here, you can see each top and bottom together.

Let’s talk:  What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever ordered that was different than what you expected when you received it?  Have you ever laughed so hard you didn’t make a sound?  Do you name certain things odd names like “feety foot shoe socks?”  Do you have a certain repetitive inside joke “thing” with one or more of your kiddos?

Author Interview: Mike Steeden

 

Hello, friends.  A few weeks ago, I encouraged fellow writers (and anyone else who wanted to play along) to write a short story to accompany the writing prompt I featured and then allow me to interview them.   As with many things new, a lot of times people like to wait until they see someone else dip their toe in the water before they take the plunge.  But I anticipated as much when I put the challenge out there.  So, rather than waiting for someone to be the first to respond to my prompt, I’m jumping right into the interview mode, sans the homework.  Today, I’d like to introduce you to my favorite Knight of the British Empire, Sir Mike Steeden!   (Okay, he hasn’t technically been knighted yet, but I’m sure once the Queen reads about him here on my blog, she’ll make time on her royal calendar to invite him over for tea and she’ll take care of it then.)  Without further ado, heeeeeere’s Mike!

Please tell us your name (or pen name) and the links to your blog, website, Facebook fan page, Twitter, etc. When did you start writing? What motivated you to undertake writing your first novel?

Mike Steeden

Firstly, young Rachel, my thanks for the invite. In doing so you must surely be a tad crazed…and there’s nowt wrong with that, all the best people I know are bonkers.   Anyway, I go by the name Mike Steeden, a one-time Private Detective specialising in fraud investigations, now a fast aging-juvenile.

When did I start writing? As a person who cannot spell for toffee, I have to say, “Since ‘Post it’ notes became redundant, and not long after the moment ‘spellcheck’ magically appeared on Word.”

The reason I began writing was to unburden my…such as it is…chock-a-block brain of the plague of words it had housed for far too long.

You can find Mike at his blog at: https://mikesteeden.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/michaelsteeden or simply @michaelsteeden.

Please offer us a snippet of your most recently published novel and tell us what it’s about. Also, please share the link(s) to purchase your work:

I well remember the day ‘The Blue-Eyed Cat’…a lovely gal also known as sweet ‘Lily’…had finally been freed from her solitary confinement within the lonely prison cell that is my dark and, of late, empty skull. At last at liberty, the world was now her oyster and boy has she, against all odds, enjoyed herself.

Herewith the ‘blurb’ thing that, in essence, describes Lily’s tale without giving too much away:

‘A book of mind-boggling time-travel, feverish sex, syrupy romance, ho hum history, a dark future, The Moon, Constantinople, Paris and Berlin human consciousness, infinity, a tongue in cheek take on all things carnal, art for art’s sake and three thoroughly mad yet oh so delightful gals.’

Insofar as the overtly risqué shenanigans Lily and chums…both female and male…get up to, shenanigans that committed prudes would no doubt declare as obscene all I can say in my unnecessary defence is that they are nought but an exaggerated take upon the nonconformist life my delightful, yet deliciously, uncontrollable Shirl, long since decided we adopt. By Jove we’ve had some fun.

I believe it is of some importance that ‘The Blue-Eyed Cat’ does have the potential to appeal to free-thinkers, Bohemians, Mata Hari on an average day, Ms Dietrich when the fancy takes, dab hand illiterates, raving lunatics of any and all persuasions plus, of course, uninhibited romantics. Having said that, this is definitely not a book suitable for killjoy Great Aunt Maud, the local Vicar, pious Uncle Percy, racists, sexists, homophobes, those of a sensitive disposition nor, sadly in many respects, swoony types.

You can purchase “The Blue-Eyed Cat” and the rest of Mike’s work at: https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Steeden/e/B015WAUW8C?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1583784194&sr=8-1

Mike was then asked to select three of the next few questions I posed and answer them as he chose.  He selected the following:

If you had one year to prepare, which record do you think you would have the best shot at breaking in the Guinness Book of World Records? Have you ever actually attempted to break a world record at anything?

I’ve never really felt the need to be the best at something or break records. It’s likely the alpha-male gene took one look at me and thought ‘no’. Having said that, I once, late teens, lead the field in a school cross-country run in Richmond Park…a park overlooking the River Thames, south of London and favoured by Henry XIII when not beheading his wives…for the first 5 strides of the long-distance race. I was rather proud of that small success.

After that minor victory I fell hopelessly behind my enthusiastic peer group. However, albeit by unhappy chance, I found that I’d done so well that I’d been chosen for the County of Surrey team in the upcoming annual county contest.

How so, one might ask? Well, what happened was that bringing up the rear, instead of running round the large lake known as ‘Pen Ponds’ like the others, I in my lack of wisdom, spotted a walkway that dissected said lake in two. You see, taking that path enabled me to both shorten my part in the tedious run, and also allow me a little time to enjoy a puff of nicotine. The beauty of my scheme was that, if I made the right choice when re-joining the others…the keen ones…I’d defeat the ignominy of coming in last.

How wrong I was. My calculations not fit for purpose. Unbeknownst to me at that time, I’d prematurely re-joined far too early! The net result was that I’d come in third in a field of over 80 adolescent athletes. The word ‘bollocks’ came to mind as the Sports Master passed on…to him at least…the good news that I’d made the county team.

I never did take my place with the others come the big day. My cunning plan, soaking my right foot in a bucket of beetroot juice for several hours in order that the authentic look of a foot damaged beyond repair would not be in doubt, saved me.

What characteristics, personality traits, likes, or dislikes does the protagonist in your most recently published novel share with you?

Ah, Lily the protagonist. Small, yet perfectly formed, a gal who takes life as it comes; a gal who never gives up on a good cause, despite the curse of dilemmas, the predicaments she finds herself in, and the perilous dangers she has to overcome when seeing to it that fascist Nazi’s get their comeuppance. The bravest gal in all of time…almost, yet that’s the way she’d have it. That she, not unlike my dear Shirl, finds fervent romance and all that that unveils along the way a characteristic that is the one that appeals to me most.

If you could travel through time and take any character from your most recently published novel, who would you take and why? Would you travel to the future or the past and why?

Without a shadow of a doubt it would have to be the incorrigible Lady Freya Hella, a dyed in the wool charmer of lesbian persuasion, who is not just a time-traveller, but time itself. A lady of compassion towards the suffering good and by far the worst enemy the wicked would ever want to know. Additionally, and by nature, Freya defines love in all its definitions.

It is thus, rather than me take her upon a journey across time, she would…hopefully…ask me to join her in the escapade as we, along with sweet Lily, turned back time.

You asked in which time direction would I travel. Backwards, my answer, always backward for I wish to see history in factual progress rather than foolishly take it as read that any and all historical accounts are unambiguous.

Thank you, Sir Mike, for taking the time to answer all my nosy questions with such fascinating responses!  I wish you the best of success with “The Blue-Eyed Cat” as well as with your many other titles for sale!

(If YOU would like to be featured in an upcoming interview, please visit my Call to Writers for details.)

Just Doing My Part

Happy Throwback Thursday, friends!  As I’ve mentioned recently, when my Lupus health complications have kept me from being able to devote my time and focus to writing or editing, or even sometimes reading (much less blogging), I’ve found that I could sometimes take on small projects.  One such project has been in helping other authors format their manuscript for self-publishing, and then either designing a cover for them or tweaking a design they already have in mind.

One such author is your friend and mine, Mike Steeden.  You may recall in 2015 when I helped him format his first book “Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse” and designed the cover out of a photo of his wife Shirley that he sent me.

Mike’s original photo

You may also recall when that same year, our esteemed buddy Craig C. S. Boyack allowed me to create the covers for his “Will O’ the Wisp” and for “The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack.”  (While Craig did his own book formatting, it was an honor to help him with his covers — They were both a lot of fun!  Though I do have to bow to the phenomenal artist he has been using for his more recent publications.)  [[Be sure to check out all of Craig’s work for sale on Amazon!]]

Craig knew what he wanted right down to the type of leaves on the trees! This one was such fun!

With Craig’s idea in place of what he was looking for, I made this one entirely from scratch with the exclusion of the snail photo I took on the beach a few months earlier. One of my favorite things in designing projects like this is “weathering” the look of something (i.e., the coffee stains, the nicks and tears, and the crackles on the gold fleck of the writing).

The following year, I went back to working with Mike who was kind enough to allow me to format and create the cover for “The Shop That Sells Kisses.”  His son George came up with the cover concept and Mike allowed me to run with it.  It, too, features Shirley on the back cover.

In 2017, came Mike’s “Notoriously Naked Flames.”  Mike had a friend who had previously made the art that he allowed Mike to use on the front and back covers, so my job there was just getting the title formatted as well as formatting the book.

Also that year, Mike’s son, George Blamey-Steeden, known to his followers as Zoolon, got in on the family’s book-writing pastime, and allowed me to format and create the cover for “The Words and Thoughts of a Dyslexic Musician,” to help promote his music business.  This was a particularly fun project because I was just sent a couple of photos of George and got to run with them however I was inspired.  (I thought adding the guitar patent drawings in the background was a cool touch, and the word DYSLEXIC is written [according to my research] such as the way a dyslexic person may see letters.)  [[Be sure to check out Zoolon’s book on Amazon!]]

If you’ll look closely, you can see where I changed the name of the store in the background to be more fitting for this book.

In 2018, Mike surprised me with two titles ready to publish: “Fanny, I Think of You Often,” and “The Elastic Snapped.”  With each of these, he located a public domain image that he wanted to incorporate, so I altered them extensively to be more of what he was looking for.

Mike found this royalty-free art that was his vision of “Fanny.”

And this is how I transformed “Fanny” into a cover

Likewise, this was the royalty-free art Mike felt was perfect for “The Elastic Snapped.”

…And this was how I transformed her into a cover.

In early 2019, Mike was at it again, but this time had co-written a novel with his lovely wife Shirley Blamey.  Once more, they sent me a public domain image that they wanted to incorporate into “Whatever Happened to Eve?” and this time, I knew from the content and type of book it was, I knew I needed to add a chapter graphic that went with the story’s theme.

This was the cute chapter graphic I made to go under each chapter mark.

This was the royalty-free picture Mike found that he wanted to resemble his cover, but he wanted some changes such as more peacocks and the removal of the pipe and hookah.

We ended up with this cover.

By 2019, Mike referred me to his buddy Clive who we all may know better as the satirical Danny Soz.  While the main artwork for “The Whitechapel Welk” was pretty much done by the time it was sent to me, I added the text to the front and back covers and helped format the book for publication.  [[Be sure to check out Danny’s book on Amazon!]]

The only cover art help I had to do was add text.

As soon as Sire Soz left through my revolving door, good buddy Mike walked back in through the other side with his latest completed work, “The Blue-Eyed Cat.”  Once again, he located a few photos in public domain that he wanted to incorporate, so I got to run with those and add my own touches to the front and back covers.  [[Be sure to check out all of Mike’s work for sale on Amazon!]]

Mike found this royalty-free photo and knew it was his main character, but he wanted me to move her braid to cover her nudity.

Mike wanted this lady’s hat to be on the woman on the back cover (but in blue).

And Mike found this royalty-free lady to be the woman on his back cover — but not so blue.

And here’s what we ended up with!

So, if you have a book you’re just itching to publish but could use a little help with formatting or cover design, I would be more than happy to offer you my services.  And even if you don’t have a book you want to publish, please take a moment to peruse the works of these fine gentlemen and the products of their hard work, skill, talent, and boundless imaginations.

Stay healthy!

-Rachel