Hitting the road!

So next week I’m packing up and heading to St. Petersburg for Bouchercon, a chance to see my favorite mystery folks, speak on a panel, and sign some books. If you’re in the greater Tampa/St. Petersburg area, you will not want to miss this! I’ve been following the reports of red tide with trepidation, but I am stupidly optimistic sometimes, so I’m still packing a bathing suit and beach bag.

I’m also heading back to work after a largely relaxing summer. The proposal for the fifth Veronica Speedwell novel was just given the green light! (Book four, A DANGEROUS COLLABORATION is out in March, 2019.) That means I have to hit the ground running as soon as I return because I have to start the new book at the same time I’m getting the copy edits of book four in my hot little hands.

I’d also love to be able to write a little treat to offer readers who pre-order, so this is a good time to throw a suggestion out! Hit me up on Twitter to tell me what you’d like to read and just maybe I’ll be able to make it happen. Hope to see you at B’con next week!

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“It’s not me, it’s you.”

This is what we’re saying to our cable provider today. After years of eye-wateringly high bills, we’re loading up the DVRs to return and cutting the cable. I suppose this is a result of the decluttering that’s been happening around here, but it’s also born of the increasing frustration with a service that is just worth what it costs. More times than not, I will skim the guide through 300 channels and not find a single thing I want to watch. Meanwhile, Netflix has been our solid go-to choice for entertainment, rarely letting us down and often luring us into watching things we’d never have chosen on our own. (That algorithm is sneaky, man.)

Add to this the outrageous cost of the cable services–with 3 DVRs in the household it gets just annoying to see charges to rent the equipment AND to provide service to it. If I’m renting the equipment, don’t I obviously want service? Why is that even a separate charge? I also get seriously peeved with the loyalty discounts that you have to call annually to secure. If you forget one January? WHAM. 20% right back onto your bill.

So, we explored the options–it took about four minutes of googling–and figured out that the best choice was grabbing a couple of Rokus and adding Hulu to the lineup. The Rokus were $90 each but we own them while the DVRs were rented to us at $10/month. (Did I mention our cable company was no longer offering new replacements when the equipment turned faulty? Nope, you had to upgrade to a much more expensive version that carried with it a hefty increase in the service fee.)

And the Hulu package is absolutely worth it considering the fact that we have every single program we wanted with the exception of NBA and we can always grab a season pass for that. (This is something we had to do last year because our cable company didn’t offer the games my husband wanted to watch. Apparently they’re not big Spurs fans.)

So, how much is all this fancy new streaming costing us? Well, we’re ditching our dinosaur landline that we almost never used at the same time and increasing the internet to the fastest to accommodate the heavier streaming load. Altogether, the entertainment/connection costs are going down about a hundred bucks. PER MONTH.

As a side benefit there’s much less clutter hanging around without the big DVRs and the landline phones. No cables to mess with, just a wee Roku box and a tiny little remote that looks like something Playskool might have made in the 197os. I LOVE it. It’s the simplest thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Our DVR remote required a PhD to decipher. This has giant purple nav buttons so you can’t really make a mistake. And when the Roku screen gets tired of waiting for you? It cycles through to an aquarium so you can watch the fish swimming around. It’s charming.

Another weird little benefit I hadn’t anticipated is how liberating it feels to get on board with newer tech. It was freeing to ditch the alarm clock and the landline and instead figure out the Do Not Disturb settings on my cell. (It’s also much nicer to wake up to a Bach cello concerto than the local traffic report.) And cutting commercial intrusion down to a bare minimum in your life is BLISS. One of the things that has always struck me in looking at Victorian photographs of big cities is how advertising had begun to inundate the streets; there are signs EVERYWHERE, demanding attention, contributing visual noise to already crowded conditions.

We’ve lived with those intrusions for so long, we don’t even hardly register them. I moved to a town where billboards are forbidden and other signage is tightly controlled. I don’t even realize how much that contributes to my relaxation until I travel and am blasted with ads for everything. Limiting the advertising in my home by switching to streaming is having a similar effect, as is ditching the landline which had become infested with spam callers. Now if I could just figure out a way to block ringless voicemail, I’d be all set…

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The good medicine of a closet capsule…

I’ve been streamlining and purging and decluttering and simplifying EVERYTHING. It’s glorious. I didn’t start out with a plan; it all happened quite organically. I think it began in Greece. At home, if I wear an outfit for twenty minutes, I pitch it into the hamper when I take it off. On a beach vacation, you reach for the nearest thing which usually smells of sunscreen and salt and hopefully isn’t TOO wrinkled. And it somehow looks fabulous because you’re tan and tousled and it’s all effortless.

When I came home, I realized how easy it had all been. I’ve been reading about capsule wardrobes for years but always thought they seemed restrictive and punitive. Until I tried it. What I packed for Greece was a travel capsule–all white denim and navy and white stripes with some red and pale blue thrown in. Everything worked together and there was zero to think about. When I unpacked at home, I put all the things I’d taken to Greece on one half of my closet, added a few other pieces, and sorted the rest.

Things I didn’t want got donated or thrown out depending on condition. Everything else–mostly fall/winter items–got shoved to the other side of the closet and draped with a dustsheet. Even winter boots were moved aside. I pulled four workout outfits and have kept those in rotation. Since I do a smallish load of laundry every day, I’m never without something to wear, and I never have a massive pile-up of dirty clothes to navigate. (The unexpected benefit of this is there’s never a weekend laundry day; it’s DONE.)

Another unexpected benefit is the EASE. I never think more than twenty seconds about what to wear because there just aren’t that many choices. What I thought would be restrictive has turned out to be liberating.

So, what have I been living in?

Dresses: Black maxi. Pink maxi. Blue and white strapless maxi. Blue and white striped short caftan dress. Black short caftan dress. Blue and white striped hooded t-shirt dress.

Shorts: Two pair white denim cut-offs, two pair blue denim cut-offs, different lengths and washes.

Skirt: One denim skirt. I’m still on the fence about this. If I don’t wear it more within the next month, it’s going to the thrift store.

Tops: Button-downs in navy, pale blue, white. Red and white striped t-shirt. Blue and white striped caftan-style top. Red peasant blouse. Short-sleeved white shirt with buttons. Off-white silk tab-sleeve shirt. Blue and white striped sleeveless top. Red and navy and white plaid short-sleeve top with waist tie. Red and white striped tunic.

Jeans: One pair each in white and medium-wash blue denim.

Bags: Natural leather crossbody, French straw market bag, small oilcloth patterned tote.

Shoes: Natural espadrilles with navy laces, natural Greek leather sandals with leg wrap ties, pink ballet flats, multi-colored sandals with leg wrap ties. Navy duck boot flats.

It’s SUPER casual; the only jackets I kept out were denim–one white and one blue. And the denim pieces are all distressed, so there’s nothing in here suitable for a formal event. But my summer isn’t about formality. My business travel is done for a few months, and my town is very casual. If I want to glam up a bit, any of the dresses work with sandals that wrap up the leg. We’ve had masses of rain, so the duck boot flats are getting more use than expected, but that’s fine.

As soon as the weather turns and it’s no longer hotter than the hammered-down hinges of hell, I’ll have to steal some pieces from behind the dustsheet. I also have business travel in the fall that will dictate a change from navy to black as my base color. Navy and black both mix with my secondary colors of white and red and both work with denim, so changing out the base color is a good strategy for me. The hot pink that I occasionally like with the navy and white will get changed out for grey with the black and red.

I also want to ditch a few things in this capsule for next year–the black maxi is just too hot with the long sleeves–and replace my blue and red striped tunics with Breton striped tees. (Yes, I may need a stripe intervention.) I’ll also add a canvas tote with red trim for running errands. The beauty of this is that I have a shopping list now and no reason to deviate from it.

All of this has changed my shopping drastically. Without impulse-buying a dozen pieces I don’t really need, I’m free to focus on one more expensive item. I bought $100 handmade espadrilles from Spain in precisely the colorway I wanted after researching them online. (They have an insole like a sneaker so they are HELLA comfortable, not easy to find in an espadrille.) Because I’ve that, I’ve breezed right past all the displays of summer sandals that might have beckoned in the past. It’s also made me FUSSY. I’m becoming exacting about necklines and sleeves and cut, knowing that if I am only going to purchase ONE of something, it needs to be exactly right. I’ll be gradually replacing items as they wear out with pieces of better quality–things I really love instead of makeshift quickies picked up on impulse. I also want to shop more from sustainable clothing labels, so if you have favorites to recommend, hit me up on Twitter!


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Self-care, part deux!

So last time I talked about what I’ve given up or limited this month–Twitter, alcohol, sugar, etc. That is half the equation. The other half is what I’ve added. These are things I’m doing regularly and in most cases every day. I’ve been doing this for the last three weeks or so and the peace of mind is incredible. (Two other things I forgot to mention I’ve given up: the news and multitasking. I haven’t missed anything significant by keeping off the news, and I’m still getting everything done and I have even MORE time without doing several things at once. It also helps immeasurably with a sense of calm not to have eleven things on the go simultaneously.)

*Flow Magazine’s 19 Days of Mindfulness special issue. I had this one sitting in my TBR stack since I bought it a few months ago and this was the perfect time to whip it out and give it a go. Each morning I read that day’s essay and try to apply what I’ve read to help increase my mindfulness. This issue includes a small journal with numbered pages to encourage a daily practice of jotting down thoughts, so I clear my head in the morning by doing this when I read the daily essay.)

*Italian lesson. Grazie, Duolingo! If I ever need to walk up to a person in Rome and tell them they’re eating an apple, I’m all set. It’s fun; it’s practical because we want to go back to Italy, and working on another language is one of the best things you can do to keep your cognitive function sharp.

*Morning walk. I tend to do this anyway, but I’ve been extra committed, going even when it was so humid and hot it felt like walking in a terrarium. I’ve set the alarm for 7am because that’s when traffic is light, the weather is coolest, and the neighborhood rabbits are out snacking. (I count them as a way of practicing mindfulness on my walk. The record is 14!)

*Workout. After my walk comes a protein shake and a workout–25 minutes of weights, Swiss ball, and kettlebells. One morning my routine got shifted and my first thought was, “Well, I guess I’ll have to skip today.” AND I WAS SAD. Color me shocked. I’ve always hated sports and considered myself totally unathletic, but I finally realized THOSE were my problems. First, I’m not unathletic–I was just out of shape in spite of being slim most of my life. Second, sports is not the same as fitness. I LOVE being fit and strong; I just hate being around other people when I do it. No gym, no classes for me. When my daughter graduated from college, I claimed her generous attic room for my own and set it up as a very calm space to practice yoga and lift weights. (Hand weights; let’s not get crazy.) This is where all the yoga mats and kettlebells and free weights live, and it works perfectly for me–anyone taller would brain themselves on the slanted ceiling.

*Yoga. After I write, I have been heading back up to my workout space to do yoga, half an hour with the Down Dog app which I HIGHLY recommend. I left myself on the Beginner level for far too long, thinking I wasn’t ready to level up. When I was strong enough to flip from upward facing dog to down dog without putting my knees to the mat, I knew I was ready. This practice unravels all the knots I tend to acquire when I write.

*Meditation. After yoga, I pop down on my meditation cushion and give it ten minutes on the timer in the Calm app. (You’ll notice my smartphone is a big ally in my self-care these days.) Ten minutes is not a long time–anybody can do it–but I find it’s really making a difference. The other day I was in a potentially VERY stressful situation, but I kept scanning my body for tension, breathing into the tight spots, noticing when I was holding my breath, and pretty soon it was over and I was markedly calmer than I would have been otherwise. Progress!

*Mocktails. I don’t miss alcohol, but I do miss the ritual of prepping a special drink to enjoy at the end of the day with my husband. Enter the mocktail. I’ve been experimenting, and my favorite so far is a generous tablespoon of elderflower cordial over ice, finished with sparkling water and a slice of lemon.

*Feel-good entertainment. I’ve put a moratorium on anything too challenging right now. I love Wimbledon and the Tour de France, so most of my TV watching is taken up with those. I’ve also started on the Netflix reboot of QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY which is so uplifting I almost can’t stand it.

*Daily Instagram post. One pic a day to document the mindfulness practice. Nothing aspirational or fussy, just a simple photo to mark the day and make sure I’ve been paying attention to what I’m doing.

You’d think with all these new/refined practices that my day would be jam-packed and I’d be rushing from work to yoga mat to mocktail bar. On the contrary, peeps. Without all the extra noise from Twitter, news, TV, etc. I’ve got AGES to get everything done. I’m spending more time connecting with the people I care about; I’ve read several books, and I’m perfectly on track to finish revisions next week. The house is tidy, and best of all, I have a level of relaxation I usually only find when I’m on a beach somewhere. It’s an absolute joy to realize I can DO THIS AT HOME. And to do it while I’m revising? A revelation.

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It is July 4

and I haven’t blogged in a bit because I am quietly and productively content. Contentment isn’t exciting; it isn’t eventful and it doesn’t demand that you sit up and pay attention. It just curls up calmly next to you and IS.

The last few months–okay, the last MANY months–have been consumed with writing and travel and social media,  yada yada, and it was time to reset. I had a manuscript that needed final revisions and nothing on the calendar. It was a perfect opportunity to regroup. So I have embarked upon a month of extreme self-care rooted in methodical work. Interesting to realize that work can be a component of self-care, isn’t it? That kind of surprised me too. But I LOVE my work, especially when I hit that sweet spot of a deadline with precisely the right amount of time to finish without burning myself out. Three weeks of twenty-page-a-day revisions is just enough to be exacting but not enough to make me frantic. (It’s the fourth Veronica book, due July 20, pubbing in March.)

In addition to work, I’m taking a Twitter hiatus. (If you’re on FB, you will see this as an automatically-loaded post, but I do not have a personal presence on FB at all anymore. The page is maintained by my assistant and I don’t see comments or direct messages.) I adore Twitter, but I am calmer and happier without it–and I have so much TIME. I will of course return when my month is up, but in a more measured way.

I’m also practicing Dry July which is exactly what it sounds like–no alcohol for the month, only I started on June 24 so it will be at least five weeks and probably more. I’m cutting drastically back on wheat and no sugar apart from fruit and a square of dark chocolate each day, not from any desire to be punitive to myself but because I feel SO MUCH better when I observe those guidelines.

So that’s what I’ve eliminated for the month. In my next post, I’ll talk about what I’ve added!

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If you aren’t signed up for my monthly newsletters…

here’s what you’re missing! This was June’s newsletter. The notes go out on the 5th of every month and your information is never shared. If you’d like to subscribe, please fill out the wee form just on the right-hand sidebar.

Dear Readers,

Happy June! I hardly know where to start. You know the beginning of A TALE OF TWO CITIES? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”? Yeah, that was May for me. It began with the trip to Greece which I almost can’t even describe for you. I was absolutely overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of the place. We spent a week on Mykonos where I passed hours just staring at the sea, feeling every single care slip away. I have never been anywhere I felt so instantly at home as Greece, and I have never been so sad to leave a destination. The only way I got on the plane was to keep telling myself that I would come back.

A week later, my daughter was in a head-on collision with a concrete construction barrier. She totaled her car but walked away with minor injuries, and I haven’t stopped heaving with gratitude since. We arrived on the scene before the state troopers even got there, and something about sitting in an emergency room with your child’s blood on your clothes snaps everything into perspective. (I threw that shirt away. I couldn’t stand the idea of wearing it again.) She stayed with us for almost a week after the accident, and I had a lot of time to think about how times of great bliss and great trauma are equally good at stripping away everything that doesn’t matter. On the island, we lived in bare feet, our days pared down to sunshine and sea and fruit. After the accident, we didn’t care about anything other than making sure our child was okay. In both situations, everything else became wholly insignificant.

And those are lessons I want to hang onto moving forward. We can work and pay bills and take care of responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean that we need to get hung up on every little stressor. Is it as elemental as the sea? Is it as traumatic as life and death? Then maybe it isn’t something we need to spend time worrying about. Maybe it’s something we need to attend to without letting it disturb our equilibrium. Maybe we can handle it and move on without losing our peace of mind.

This month, I turn fifty. All my life I’ve been trying to become the woman I want to be. Because of May’s sharp lessons, I’m closer to her than I was before. I’m going to leave you with a picture of me, swimming in the Aegean, on one of the best days of my life. For a long time, I kept my arms and legs moving, thinking I needed to tread water to keep from drowning. I’ve never been able to float on my back, but I had been swimming for a while and was getting tired. I hated the idea of coming in; the water was just too beautiful to leave. So I held my breath and rested my arms and legs, prepared to sink under the water for a minute before I had to start swimming again. And then something unexpected happened: I bobbed right back up. As it happens, the Aegean is salty—so much so that it will buoy you up. I only needed to lie back and rest. I turned my face to the sun and listened to the sound of the sea and my own heartbeat in the shells of my ears. Nothing but peace. I’m keeping this picture because it reminds me of so much: the joy of that day, the smell of the herbs growing on the hillsides, the taste of the sea. But also because that was the day I learned that sometimes bringing yourself to rest and trust that you will be held up is the most valuable thing you can do.

Happy June, y’all!


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Last chance!

Just a quick note that today is the LAST DAY to get A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING for $1.99 on your favorite digital platform–don’t miss Veronica’s second adventure!

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Veronica on sale!

I LOVE this Veronica latte pic from @theartfulelle celebrating A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING–and right now Veronica’s second adventure is only $1.99 in digital!

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Quick hello

I’m dashing by with a quick apology for not resuming the blog on 5/16 as promised. The Greece trip was phenomenal–pics later!–but right now I’m taking care of my family. A few nights ago, my daughter collided head-on with a construction barrier and totaled her car. She has bumps and bruises but is recovering beautifully and we are so very grateful her injuries weren’t worse. Family has to be first priority now as I’m sure all of you will understand. (Heaps of thanks to those of you who have been in touch on Twitter. Your kind words have meant so much to all of us.)

Regular blogging will resume as soon as I can make that work.

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Leaving on a jet plane

I’m packing my bikini and putting the blog on hiatus for just a bit because we’re heading to Greece today! It’s the 30th anniversary of our first date next week and we both have milestone birthdays this year, so we’re heading to the Aegean to celebrate. The blog will resume on May 16–just in time for some royal wedding hoopla!

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