Saturday, December 19, 2009

Seasons Greetings

I'm popping in briefly to apologize for the lack of posts for such a very long time. A lot has happened in the last six months and I'm only just starting to get back on top of things.

I'm head down, and finishing a book so this won't be a long blog. I just thought I'd share some of my "between scenes" activities — the fiddly fun stuff I do with my fingers while my brain is dreaming up the next scene in the book. And at this time of the year it's decorations and ornaments.

I love Christmas. I normally have a real Christmas tree — mostly a seedling or a branch from the pine trees that my dad planted many years ago. I don't care about falling needles,
I love the smell of fresh-cut pine sap and to me, Christmas isn't the same without it. But those trees are a 90 minute drive away and I'm slaving over a hot book and can't afford the time. I know I could buy one, but this year in particular I'm feeling a bit sentimental and if I can't have Dad's pine trees, I don't want any, and I'm working all through Christmas anyway, so I'm going minimalist.

On a recent dog-walk beside the creek, I picked up some lovely fallen eucalyptus twigs and sprayed them with chrome paint, which comes out shinier than silver spray paint. And on them I've hung home made paper ornaments.

Now I'm no origami guru -- I've never even made one paper crane, let alone a thousand. But trust me, these are easy. And made with beautiful paper and a couple of beads they look stunning, even if I do say so myself.

The beautiful colored bells are made with 5 inch square Japanese orgami paper and are amazingly easy except for the last tricky bit, which takes a little fiddling until you get it — it's easy after the first time. You can see someone making it here on youtube, but she rushes the fiddly end part, so go to Ann Martin's wonderful blog which shows the fiddly part best. I added a few beads and an occasional tassel to mine. I've also made some tiny bells, too, as you can see from the pic on the left.
Some people hang them the other way up, which gives you a variety of shapes.

Then there are these beautiful pinecone mobiles, which are so easy -- just cut and thread along with some beads, then hang and watch them catch each little breeze. I made this with good quality textured wrapping paper, but the first one I made with photocopy paper and it's lovely, too.

I loved this little wreath. I like tiny things, so this is half the size of the pattern here. I used white note paper and the lining of a very
pretty envelope for an alternate pattern.

If you're snowed in and have kids to entertain, I blogged about crafts last year on Word Wenches (and will do again this year) so click here if you want more fun and easy things to make.

All the best for the holiday season — stay safe and happy, and may the new year bring peace and safety for all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On being read to...

Yesterday, on the way down to see my mother (just over an hour's drive on the highway) I started listening to the audio book of  Sue Monk Kidd's "The Mermaid Chair."
Lovely book. When I got home last night I was reluctant to stop, I wanted to go driving on into the night, being read to.

For some time I tried to bluff that my decor for it was the "distressed look" but it had gone from being distressed to being in downright agony and shrieking "torture!" and it was time to bite the bullet again. I'd already spend several weekends on it and this was a long weekend — Monday was a public holiday. Everyone else I knew was going away on the last long weekend before winter, but my only plans involved getting this wretched job finished, if it killed me

I made my usual visit to the library during the week and the audio book section caught my eye. There was a book by a favorite author on it that I hadn't read. I checked the catalogue, and all the books by her were out, so I looked at the audio version and thought, why not?

By the end of the weekend, the vestibule was all done, and I'd even managed to wash down the wall in preparation for the undercoat of sealing paint. And although my arms and shoulders were aching, I didn't feel as though I'd passed a weekend in endless drudgery, I felt instead as though I'd been naughty and spent an entire weekend reading. It was wonderful. 

The following weekend I listened to more books as I painted. The surface was still so bad a normal coat of paint would show up every faint pock mark, so I ragged it (painted on the paint roughly and while it was still wet, blotted it with a rag) and I really loved the textured result. That's it behind the tulips.

The most fantastic thing was that the nasty, dreary job not only had a great outcome, but that I'd felt like I'd been given a treat by having all those books read to me. And because the selection isn't huge in my library, I tried some authors new to me and found some I really liked.

So now, whenever I have a mundane household task to do — cleaning out cupboards or regrouting tiles or whatever, I grab an audio book. My hands are perfectly capable of carrying on and getting the job done while my brain is in the world of the book.

And lately, as I've been driving down to see Mum more often, the stories not only make the time fly, they're a comfort. These days I'm not so impatient and it's such a treat to be read to.

So what about you? Do you like to listen to audio books or have someone read to you? Or if you still prefer to do it all yourself, where's your favorite place to read?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Procrastination is not a dirty word...

So, I've been thinking about procrastination recently. I'm an expert procrastinator. I put things off until the last minute. I never arrive anywhere early — I'm not late, you understand — I just squeak in at the nick of time. Usually. (I think I just heard my editor sniff. ;)

I make lists compulsively. I even include on the lists things I've already done, just so I can cross them off and start off with a feeling of achievement.  Sad, I know.  

Anyway, my procrastination often takes a creative direction. It might be that I join Twitter and in the same breath start a blog. It might also be that I take up beading while I watch TV at night. I go through phases of doing little fiddly projects, and while my fingers are busy on one thing, my mind is working on another. In the past I've made cards, things for dolls houses, tiny clothes for tiny dolls -- at the time I was babysitting a friend's little daughter on a regular basis and the dolls house was an ongoing obsession project. And if  I'm not doing craft stuff I'll make soup — all that repetitive chopping of vegies sets the story spinning afresh as well.

The beading started when I attended a pearl knotting workshop, to learn to knot pearls correctly - research in mind, not procrastination. After I'd done the class projects I made this little bracelet from some leftover freshwater pearls and jet chips I had after I'd pulled apart a 3 strand necklace and made it into two longer strands. And as a result of the pearl knotting course, I also discovered wholesale bead and semi-precious stone suppliers, which are so much cheaper than ordinary bead shops. So then I really got hooked.
 I got a bit carried away in the wholesale suppliers, and I also dug out a lot of old beads, broken necklaces I'd bought in charity shops, and some of my mother's old beads, and I started making necklaces. Years ago I used to make earrings but hadn't done anything like that for ages, though I still had some of  my old bead supplies, so it was fun trying different combinations.

There's no real skill involved -- it's actually a bit kindergarten: threading beads-- but lots of fun. And some of the results are very pretty, I think.

This is the first necklace I made, with misshapen freshwater pearls and green glass beads. Green is one of my favorite colors and I liked the combo of the straight-edged glass beads and the knobbly freshwater pearls. Cultured freshwater pearls are amazingly cheap, and yet they're still real pearls. 
Do you know how to tell real pearls from fake? I'd read a squillion times in books that you rub them against your teeth and that real pearls felt rough, not smooth. But I'd tried it a squillion times and never felt the difference.

But all these years I'd been doing it wrong. You rub the pearls gently along the sharp, biting edge of your teeth, not against the front of them, as I'd always done. It feels distinctly different, and it's nothing to do with the actual surface texture of the pearl. Real pearls and fake both feel smooth to the fingers. But rub real pearls along the biting edge of your bottom front teeth and they feel ever so slightly gritty. It's to do with the composition of the nacre -- the substance a pearl is made from. Have you ever eaten a souvlaki (gyros) and accidentally bitten down on some foil? Feels weird. It's a chemical thing, not a texture thing, and my guess is that pearls are like that.
Anyway, enough of the pearl lesson. This necklace was made from the remnants of a broken shell necklace of my mother's. I remember her wearing it when I was a child and I loved the tiny pinky shells. With the shells I used misshapen freshwater pearls (I love the odd ones so much better than the perfect round ones) plus some antique drop shaped semi-opaque glass beads that I'd had for years and never found a good use for them, and some small cubed metal beads. I'l probably never wear this — I hardly ever wear pink, but I like how it looks.
I'd had these blue-green stone beads for ages, but wasn't sure what to team them with. In the end, I chose mauve and green quartz chips and aqua-colored fake pearls from an old broken necklace, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. 

But even though all of this is a form of procrastination, I know, it's not necessarily a waste of time. I find when I occupy my hands with small, fiddly things, my mind roams free. Half way through a project I'll put it down and head for the computer or my notebook and write down an idea for the next or a future scene of my book. It's as if the fiddly manual nature of the activity has set free my imagination or subconscious to roam.

At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Do you have a hobby, a craft, or a favorite form of procrastination?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Inaugural post...

This might be a big mistake, but I've just bitten the blogger bullet and this is my first blog on my own account. Inspired partly by Sherrie Holmes enticing me onto Twitter and my friend Carol Marinelli embracing the net and blogosphere in one hit!

Who am I? I'm Anne Gracie and I write historical romances set in the regency era for Berkley. For more about my books go here.

I already blog twice a month with the word wenches, but this is a less organized, more frivolous and more personal blog.

I have a dog, an Australian Kelpie (cattle dog) called Chloe, and if you think it's cruel that I make her wear a red feather boa, well, here's some other pics from the photo shoot, showing just how miserable she wasn't. If ever there's a dog that likes dressing up, it's her.

I used to try and put cats in dolls' clothes when I was a little kid. I wasn't much interested in dolls, mind — just animals, but people kept giving me dolls and clothes (hoping ladylikeness would take) and I did like the clothes. We had dogs, a horse, cows and goats and everyone was cooperative about wearing old pullovers, scarves and hats and garlands (the goats used to eat the garlands, which was a little disheartening), but the real doll's clothes were all perfectly cat sized, but would the cats cooperate? No way. I still bear the scars. It was most annoying when they were the only doll-sized animals I had. But then cats always are perverse and independent creatures -- that's a huge part of their appeal. You feel so flattered when they deign to sit on you.

After I grew up I never used to be in favor of dressing up animals but a few years ago we had a Christmas party at "dog park" the park area that runs along the creek down the back of my place. It's an off-lead dog walking area and over the years the regulars have become friends. Chloe's affair with accessories started there, at that Christmas party.

One woman, Jane, owner of Chockie and Oscar, dogs who always wore stylish bandanas, turned up with 50 Christmas dog bandanas that she'd sewn herself. So I broke my rule and tied one onto Chloe — and to my amazement, she loved it. Next day she saw it in the car and got all excited and nudged it with her nose and as soon as I put it on her she sat up, proud as punch.

So then the next Valentine's day I took a photo of her with a red feather boa for my website. Most dogs would rip the boa to bits, but not this one. Nope — as you can see, she posed. 

That was several years ago and the boa is still in one piece. And why do I have a red feather boa? I have several — are they not required wearing for a writer of romance, after all? LOL.
 This particular one was a gift from Harlequin, when we had an author dinner at a romance writers conference in Melbourne, and every author was given a red feather boa. So it's truly a Romance Boa.
And if you want to read another boa story, from that same conference, go here.