Monday, February 24, 2014

Linda Morris Guest Blog!

Please join me in welcoming welcome fellow IRWA member, author Linda Morris to the blog!

Linda Morris is a multi-published writer of contemporary and historical romance. She writes stories with heart, heat, and humor. Her latest book, The Mason Dixon Line, was published in February of 2014. She has two more books coming in 2014 from Swoon Romance and Samhain.

When she's not writing, working, or mommying, she's doing yoga, reading, working in her flower garden, or baking delicious things she probably shouldn't eat. She believes that there are two kinds of people: pie people and cake people, and she is definitely one of the former. Her years of Cubs fandom prove she has a soft spot for a lost cause. A beat-up old copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss's Ashes in the Wind that her mom bought for her at a garage sale years ago was her gateway drug into the world of romance novels.

Linda is celebrating the release of her latest book, The Mason Dixon Line!

Carolyn Hart has excelled at one thing her whole life: looking good. She has the beauty and style to turn heads. But making her own way in the world turns out to be a lot tougher than getting elected homecoming queen. She has no idea what she wants to do with her life, her credit card balance is becoming self-aware, and her love life is DOA. And now her boss at Horizons, a school for kids with special needs, has given her an unwelcome assignment: to work with a cartoonist to create a kids' book as a fundraiser for the school.

Former troubled kid Mason Dixon would do anything for the aunt who took him in after his parents gave up on him. But when he offers to illustrate a kids' book as a fundraiser for her pet cause, he winds up taking on way more than he bargained for. The gorgeous teacher's aide he's assigned to work with challenges him at every turn and makes him wonder if there's any line he won't cross for her.


Excerpt #1
Mason should never have agreed to this. He and the educational system had never gotten along.
The girl—what was her name? Carol? Caroline—shifted her cup to her left hand and stuck her right out. He took it, more out of habit than anything else. It was soft, and still warm from where the heat of her cup had penetrated her skin.
He let go, not wanting to get too comfortable touching her.
"I'm actually a teacher's aide, not a teacher."
Whatever. Teacher, aide, same difference to him. She was the enemy, even if she had soft, warm hands and the kind of perfect bone structure you expected to see on a comic-book illustration. The kind of bone structure his pencil would love to sketch, even though it would be a challenge to capture the combination of sensuality and attitude she carried.
Mason loved a challenge.
They took their seats in silence.
As he always did when he spotted an interesting face, he pulled a sketch pad and a drawing pencil out of his bag and went to work.
She watched in silence for a few moments until the first lines on the page began to take shape.
"You're drawing me?" She sounded surprised.
"Yeah. You mind?"
"No, I guess not. I'm Carolyn Hart, by the way."
Carolyn Hart. He let the name roll around in his brain for a minute and wondered how it might sound on his tongue. The name sounded like a spunky heroine from one of those old comic strips with a single woman as the lead character, back when that was a novelty. Mary Worth. Juliet Jones. Lu Ann Powers in Apartment 3-G.

Excerpt #2
"Got a pen?" Mason asked her.
She rifled through her purse. "Yeah, here. Why?"
"Thought I'd do some drawing. Waiting is boring."
"We've been waiting like thirty seconds."
"And I've been bored for thirty seconds. I'd rather draw."
She watched him stroke his pen across his napkin and frown when the pen's nib tore the paper. "This napkin sucks. Got any paper?"
She dug through her purse again until she found a long receipt. "Sure." She handed it over.
He eyed it. "You blew two hundred and fifty-six bucks at Victoria's Secret?"
"Hey, I gave it to you so you could draw, not criticize. No judging!" Flushing, she grabbed for the receipt but he held it out of her reach, grinning. He was cute when he smiled. Damn him.
"Who said I was judging? That purchase actually sounds worthwhile." His lips curved and she had the oddest sensation he was imagining what she might have bought. "What was it? Two hundred and fifty bucks ought to buy a lot of lingerie."
She scowled. "You'll never see it, so don't worry about it."
"Oh, I don't plan on seeing it. But I can dream, can't I?"
"Is that the Mason Dixon version of flirtation?" She crooked one eyebrow. He didn't plan on seeing it? That was a first. No guy had ever come right out and admitted he had no shot at seeing her scantily clad.
Most men were optimistic that way, even if it was totally unfounded.
He looked down at the receipt and began to doodle, his cheeks reddening. "I wouldn't say I was flirting with you."
Sounds like a fun read!
Linda is giving away a free PDF copy of The Mason Dixon Line to one lucky commenter! Post a comment for your chance to win!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Yet Another Misadventure...

I've been staring at this blank page periodically for weeks now. Not having the hunks to help me blog has made it well nigh onto impossible for me to write anything here. But yesterday, all of that changed.

My story begins in the late 90s when I got my new smooth-top stove. I picked it up at Sears in the truck we had at the time, which was a 1985 cream-colored Dodge Ram. I brought it home, and Budley installed it. I think the guys at Sears must've mentioned that we needed to purchase a cord to go with it, but to be honest, that all happened so long ago, I'm really not sure.

It took me a while to get used to the ceramic top. A good many of my pots and pans didn't have the flat bottom required for proper cooking on that type of stove, which, of course, gave me the excuse to buy new ones that did. What is it about buying new cookware that is so satisfying? No clue, but I do recall feeling that way.

The stove performed without a hitch for the next 16 years or so--until this past Sunday when I put a pot roast in the oven and heard a strange cracking sound. Peering through the window in the oven door, I spotted a bright orange flame on one side of the lower heating element. Needless to say, the oven no longer functioned. Budley's first comment was, "Is it time to start replacing major appliances?"

My frugal nature rebelled at this suggestion. "Oh, no," I replied. "We can replace the heating element, and it'll be fine." I turned on the broiler and adjusted the temperature, hoping the roast would cook just as well that way. It didn't, and I wound up putting it on the stove top with two burners on underneath it. The roast got done, but by dinnertime, although it was tasty, it hadn't quite reached the falling apart stage I would've preferred.

While it was cooking, I got online, found a source for the new bake element (which is its proper name) and ordered it. On Monday, I received an email saying that it had shipped. In preparation for its arrival, I decided to clean the oven, which had never truly been cleaned in its life. I didn't even have any oven cleaner in the house. The oven was self cleaning, but without the bake element, I doubted that feature would work.

I took the oven door off and set it aside, removed the racks, and inspected the element. Interestingly enough, it didn't appear to attach the way I thought the replacement part would. Curious, I unscrewed the screws holding it in and attempted to pull it out. Instead of coming loose completely, there were wires attached.

Hmm.... For an element that claimed to have a "push in" attachment, this didn't seem right. Whatever, I thought, and lifted the element up out of the way so I could clean underneath it.

Have you spotted my error yet? No? Well, the wires in the back touched something when I lifted it, sparked and tripped the circuit breaker. With electric shock warnings all over the damn stove, I had neglected to follow the most elementary of safety precautions by either unplugging the stove or cutting the power to it.

Clearly, those wires would also need to be replaced. I pulled the stove out of its niche, unplugged it, and attempted to remove the back panel. One of the screws came out easily, but the other was rusted shut. I sprayed it with WD-40 and got back online to look for the replacement wires.

I never found any wires, but what I did find was a review of the part I had already bought where someone else had been as stupid as I was and wound up having to call a repairman to replace those same wires.

While debating my next move, I cleaned the floor, walls, and cabinet sides of the horrific nastiness the stove had been hiding. For this job, I recommend Windex, which cut the grease better than anything else I had on hand.

My next task was to call Budley at work and report my stupidity. Being the safety-conscious engineer that he is, I figured he'd throw a fit. He didn't. However, he did report nearly having an accident of his own when I told him my story. The fact that I was talking to him proved I hadn't been electrocuted, but it scared him, nonetheless. Since he didn't even want me using the part of the stove that still worked, we decided to simply go out that evening and buy a new stove. So I got back online and found the stove I wanted in stock at Menard's.

Throughout this day, my nose, which had been a bit stuffy the previous evening, began to run like a faucet. Not a leaky faucet, mind you, but a full-on stream of watery mucus. I took a Benadryl and soldiered on.

My next task was to put the door back on the stove, which requires little pins to be inserted as it's being removed to keep the hinges in the neutral position. One of those had flown out as I was removing the door, leaving the very stiff hinge in the engaged position. I wrestled with it for some time, ultimately deciding that it was a two-person job and that if I continued, I would at the very least lose a finger. Sam came home from work not long after that, I pried the hinge up with a screwdriver, pushed it further with the handle of a wrench using both hands while Sam inserted the pin. Simple, easy, perfect. I'd only needed three hands to do it.

Sam and I wrestled the door back onto the stove. Then I removed everything from the bottom drawer, which also had never been cleaned, pushed the stove back into its niche so I could at least get to the microwave, and waited for Budley to get home. When he arrived, I called Menard's (at his insistence) to verify that the stove was indeed available in the store and the saleslady assured me they had one there in a box.

The saga took a new twist after that. Because we'd let the fire go out in the woodstove, Budley had planned to get up on the roof and clean out the chimney that evening. The other half of that bit of sidetracking involved the load of wood that had to be removed from the trailer before we could use it to get the new stove. Our current truck has a cap on it, which prevents tall items from being loaded onto the bed. So we unloaded the wood  onto the porch.

About this time, I realized that Budley was also sniffing and coughing. Apparently, he'd caught the same cold that I had. Sam had been down with a cold the week before, but neither Budley nor I had caught it as yet. I'm guessing our day trip to Evansville on Saturday was responsible. Can you guess why?

By the time Budley had cleaned the chimney and I had wolfed down a sandwich (he claimed not to be hungry), I was blowing my nose every thirty seconds. I took another Benadryl and got in the truck with my purse, a cup of tea, and a box of Kleenex. We drove to Bloomington, picked out some new cargo straps to tie the stove to the trailer with, bought another two packages of Benadryl and some cough drops, then went back to get the stove. I gave the saleslady my name, she printed out the invoice, and we went up front to pay for it. Have you spotted the omission yet?

We drove around to door #10 at the back of the store and I waited in the truck while a guy on a forklift brought the stove and loaded it on the trailer. Budley strapped it down, which took several minutes. By the time he'd finished, I'd gone through another six or seven very well-used Kleenexes, and we headed for home.

But the adventure wasn't over yet. To get the old stove out of the house, we had to move all of this out of the way.

That cabinet is full of my grandmother's china, and the boxes are the file boxes for everything from tax returns to royalty statements, all of which were extremely heavy. Fortunately, somewhere along the line, we had purchased a dolly, otherwise we'd still be wrestling with this stuff and the stove a day later.

We got the old stove out, brought in the new one, cut it out of its box, and began searching for the cord. There wasn't one. Having cursed the saleslady for not mentioning that we might need to purchase a new cord, we then consulted the installation instructions and figured we could take the cord off the old stove and put it on the new one. So Budley went back outside, removed the plate on the back of the old stove, which  my shot of WD-40 had thankfully rendered removable, detached the cord and brought it inside. Meanwhile, I cut the box into strips to use for kindling. I washed the greasy goop off of the cord, he attached it, then we leveled the stove and shoved it into its final resting place. I told Bud and Sam to stand back while I turned on the power. Sam immediately voiced his approval of the blue display panel. I set the clock and christened the stove by frying eggs for a late supper.

The stove now looks quite at home with all the stuff on it while the old stove sits forlorn on the trailer.

One of these days we'll haul it off to the recycling center, but for now, it serves as a reminder of the past and all the Thanksgiving dinners and everyday meals through which it performed its duties like a champ. The controls on the new stove are different. They don't have the numbers to remind me that most things are best cooked on 6.5 while dosas (a kind of Indian pancake) turn out perfectly on 5.5. I have to learn where those sweet spots are all over again. It's probably a bit odd to feel sentimental about a stove, but that's just the way I am.