The Fifth Anniversary of the 'Dreamslippers,' a Yogi Detective Series

BOX SET 2

Back in 2013, I decided to try my hand at writing a mystery novel. I had interviewed Seattle's mystery literati for a cover story in Seattle Woman magazine, and I'd also steered the storylines on hundreds of mystery-themed computer games for my employer at the time, Big Fish Games.

Another of my chief inspirations, perhaps oddly enough, was the 20 years' experience I had as a yogi. I'd practiced anywhere from three to seven days a week, first the grueling style known then as Bikram (hot) yoga and then the very energetic Baptiste-inspired style called Shakti (like dancing on your mat).

I also lost Grace, my would-be mother-in-law, to pancreatic cancer in 2011. She'd made a great impression on me in the short time I knew her and was a huge inspiration for the character Grace in the series. She was also a very practiced yogi herself.

After that, I knew I wanted to do two things with the book: 1) create an older female character and 2) make her a magical sort of yogi. 

I was also a huge fan of the TV show "Medium," about a psychic who helps an Arizona police team solve crimes. Allison DuBois, played by the fabulous Patricia Arquette, often struggles with the limitations built into her gift, sometimes making mistakes. Her fallibility, not to mention her authentically portrayed marital relationship, made the show rise above the fray (for seven seasons!). And there's one more thing. I'm someone whose childhood trauma led to PTSD nightmares, which plagued me for many years. So the often disturbing subject matter in DuBois' dreams resonated with me personally. I was used to looking for the truth in my dreams, sorting out the terror from the lessons.

All of that background and interest is reflected in the Dreamslippers Series, a three-book saga (plus novella) about a family of psychic dreamers who solve crime using their ability to 'slip' into your dreams. Solving crime that way is a lot tougher than you can imagine, as it's not like the culprit will dream of his guilt, pointing the erstwhile dreamslipper toward all of the clues. The matriarch of the family, Amazing Grace, supplements her sleeping skills with waking-life pursuits such as meditation, visualization, yoga, and even a somatic dance style called Nia, which I practiced myself for a few years. Young Cat McCormick, the hero of the inaugural book in the series, has an entirely different take. She bends and breaks the rules, and she capitalizes on an emotional connection to solve a mystery involving a Midwestern, fundamentalist preacher and his (not-gay-at-all) right-hand man.

BRAG medallion ebook CAT IN THE FLOCK

I released Cat in the Flock under my own imprint, Sky Harbor Press, in July 2014. It zipped up the Amazon sales charts, occupying the No. 1 spot in the Private Investigators category within the first year. It was praised by Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Readers Lane, Book Fidelity, and countless other review sites, blogs, and institutions. I was contacted by a Hollywood producer about rights, and later, by more than one game studio interested in making an interactive novel out of it. Cat in the Flock won me my first IndieBRAG medallion, awarded to only the top 20 percent of independently published books. I would also be awarded the IndieBRAG for the other two books in the series.

Bolstered by the success of the first book, and full of more Dreamslippers stories to tell, I followed up with Framed and Burning. This second book in the series is set in Miami amidst the high-stakes art world, and its prescience can be seen in the Jeffrey Epstein case today. Cat and Grace follow the clues to a murder frame-up, which takes them into the Darknet and the powerful players behind a child pornography ring. While the characters and scenario are fiction, it's based on a great deal of factual research. I also lived in that colorful Florida city for two years while working toward an MFA in creative writing, which I earned from University of Miami. And I was once married to an artist, so my experience of that world is very much first-hand.

FRAMED AND BURNING IndieBRAG 2

Framed and Burning was a finalist for the prestigious Nancy Pearl Book Award, and it was also nominated for a RONE Award, in addition to winning the IndieBRAG.

The third book in the series, Bound to the Truth, is in a lot of ways my best. It continues the series' sex-crime theme, but back in Seattle, with an informed, fair portrayal of the Emerald City's sex-positive community. Cat and her grandmother visit a sex toy shop and a sex dungeon in their quest to track down the killer of a prominent Seattle architect. It was my answer to the huge disappointment that is Fifty Shades of Gray, not to mention an homage to Seattle's openness to all, quirkiness of the best kinds, and kinkiness in spades. As a divorced woman in her late 30s living in Seattle in the 2010s, I don't think I could have had a safer, more colorful, more ripe-for-literary fodder dating experience in any other city.

The Bound to the Truth cover is my favorite of the series, too. All three covers were created by Toronto designer Monika Younger, who's designed book covers for several of Harlequin's mystery imprints and brought a great deal of experience and vision to the series.

BOUND TO THE TRUTH 1400x2240 indieBRAG

After that, I went back and tackled Amazing Grace's origin story in a novella, Work of Light. It's only found in the ebook boxed set. Set in the past, when Grace first discovered her powers, it follows her to an ashram in the 60s, where she uncovers the guru's true nature.

I'm grateful to the many BETA readers who gave me feedback on drafts of the books. We writers are far too close to the work to judge it subjectively, especially the further into the drafting (or development) process we get. My BETA readers put on their "cruel shoes" and gave it to me straight, and I revised to the best of my abilities. I think it shows in the higher-than-average quality for not just an indie but for publishing as a whole.

Another dose of gratitude goes out to all of you readers who told your friends about the books, posted reviews hither and yon, and otherwise showed support for my indie publishing endeavor. When I look back on those heady three years with the Dreamslippers, I see that it truly takes a village to raise a book!

Finally, it's time for an important announcement:

In honor of the fifth anniversary of the series, the ebook boxed set of all three books plus the bonus novella is entirely FREE wherever ebooks are sold, except Amazon, where it's only 99 cents (that is the minimum price we are allowed to offer through Amazon). So please tell your friends. And thank you for your interest in my work. I'm so thrilled you find something of value in these words.

Handy book links here.

You Might Also Like:

Amazing Grace, the Seventy-Something Power Yogi: Could You Keep Up?

Sex-Positive Research for Sexy Mystery 'Bound to the Truth'

All It Takes Is a Red Door


A Peek Inside This 'Vivid Living' Bungalow

Livingroom

As you might remember from our Dragon Flower Farmhouse tour, I'm a huge fan of color. Living in the rainy, grey Pacific Northwest for about 16 years, I took cues from the electric-green moss and Day-Glo orange fungus in the forests and painted my house accordingly. So when the real estate agent who sold us our St. Louis home Instagrammed these stunning pictures of a 'Vivid Living' house for sale, my heart grew like three sizes that day.

I mean, just look at this living room! From the ice blue mid-century modern ottoman (want) to the dried rose cage to the eagle-has-landed lamp–on a lime Slurpee-hued side table, no less–this place is a technicolor day dream. 

Let this be a lesson to ye who are afraid of color: You can totally make it work. How? Let's break it down. First, note the pattern harmony. There's the rug, the pillows, and the curtain. They work to pull the whole two-room spread of oldie-meets-modern collection together because they're the same type of pattern (bold abstracts), with the main colors overlapping and analogous (green and blue, mostly). Second, the other bold colors in the room come right out of that rug, too: salmon pink in the curtains (how cute are those tassels?), yellow in the standing lamp and corner shelf. The ice blue ottoman matches the blue seats on the also vintage dining chairs. Green and blue ground everything, and the other colors feel crisp and clean with them. The wood floors and window trim provide a warm counterpoint.

The cool blue hue carries through into the kitchen, where lo and behold, we have the most adorable theme imaginable: aqua and Elvis.

Kitchen

Are you DYING? I know. This is why you shouldn't automatically gut your kitchen, people. Those two (!) sets of corner shelves leap right out of this bungalow's 1929 birth and prove that new isn't always better. This kitchen comes across so well and balanced because the positively girly aqua is manned up with red accents and vintage Elvis. The thrift store-find collectibles make it especially Insta worthy.

As someone whose own kitchen is alive with turquoise and orange, I give this my stamp of approval. There might be some aqua cabinets in my future now, too.

The styling in this home has made me aware of a color combination I wouldn't have executed on my own: aqua and yellow. But look how awesome they are together. The primary, rain slicker-yellow vibrating against the pastel aqua keeps the two colors from going Easter on you real quick. Here's how it looks outside.

Outside

Incidentally, our outdoor table set is the exact same color, so admittedly, I'm biased. Ours is more of a 60s Space Age design, though:

Ouraquatableset

I've just never thought of pairing aqua with bright yellow, even though it looks great with the bearded irises in the background above. I love the effect.

Speaking of yellow, isn't it cool how your eye is drawn around the office below and then right into the center of the room to that desk chair? It's like the wall colors are there to highlight the velvet chair of the same shade. 

Office

I've never been a fan of yellow and brown, but the stained wood here works well against the yellow because everything else in the room is so fresh: the cute blue stool, the funky modern shelves in white laminate. And I love that the office vibe is softened by a pretty shoe collection. I mean, shoes are like little sculptures of their own; if you've got a great grouping of them, why hide them away in a closet? It's a cool idea for staging purposes, but I happen to know these stillettos have always been on display like this.

By now you're probably wondering who the genius is behind this lovingly curated collection and home design. Remember I told you the listing came to my attention when my former real estate agent posted pics on Instagram. Her name is Martina Devine, and not only does she live up to her namesake by being a truly divine individual, but she is also a sharp cookie when it comes to the business of homes. She persevered valiantly back in 2017 when we bought our house, navigating an unresponsive selling agent, misleading bank officers, the difficulties of having to list our previous home as a rental, and my husband and I being separated by a few thousand miles during the closing. Through all of this, Martina was upbeat and never more than a phone call away.

Well, imagine my delight when I found out via Facebook that she wasn't just the listing agent for this colorful home; the home is hers.

Now I knew that we shared a love of older features in a home; we'd bonded over that while touring houses for sale and settling on the World's Fair-era beauty. But now I see it's much more: Martina's got a great eye for vintage-made-current and a passion for holding onto pieces that tell a story.

There's so much intention here, with the classic Americana theme running through every room. Her velvet contessas in the office above aren't kitschy, though: They're honored.

Take a look at this sunroom.

Sunroom

Of course the orange accent wall balances the orange chair, with the blue rug tying it together and bookending the graphic rug from the first room. But the star of the show is that Hank Williams caricature. 

This house says: I know where I am, where I've been, and I'm proud of it all. It's a celebration of working class, old weird America, and I love it.

By the way, I invited Martina to tell you about her house herself, but she was in the middle of moving to her new home, with all of the stresses that naturally involves. BUT she agreed to write about the upcoming renos she's already scheming for that lovely abode. She explains:

We are buying a mid-century home that has all of the original metal cabinets and a sweet 70's knotty pine basement. I am flooded with projects for the new place that I am so, so excited to tackle. Still keeping ALL of the original features, but making it a bit more.... colorful 😎.

That could be a fun project to write about. At this point, as you can imagine, I am living in a house that feels less and less like my home as each day passes. It's bittersweet, but I live my life assuming that there's always a home project to be done. And once you realize they've all been completed, on to the next house!

By press time, Martina's vivid living bungalow already had a pending offer. But contact her for other beauties waiting to be snapped up in the River City. And let me end with a final image to prove that you can go vintage even in the bathroom because they just don't make 'em like they used to. Says Martina of the pretty pink powder room below:

We built that from salvaged finds, which took way more time and energy than we had anticipated, but it was worth every single second! I am super sad to leave my pink sink. Few things have been able to elicit as strong of a reaction from my husband and me as stumbling across that glorious Mamie-approved fixture!

Bathroom

Here's another fun coincidence: Martina's not the only one who's taken an old bathroom sink and put it back into a home. I once did the exact same thing with a powder blue number, complete with lucite-and-chrome legs. It totally made the bathroom, just like the one above.

What's your take on these lovingly appreciated vintage room stylings? Are you a fan? Not your cup of tea? Tell us in the comments below.

You Might Also Like:

A Peek Inside the Dragon Flower Farmhouse

That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat

 


Chewing the Fat... About Fat

Demofat

Trigger warning: If you're a vegetarian, or the type of person who likes sausage but doesn’t want to see how it's made, you might want to skip this particular post. Today I'm handing the blog over to ol' dusty buns (AKA Anthony Valterra, the other half here at the Dragon Flower Farm). He's going to talk about how to render fat. 

Here's Anthony:

First of all, why render fat? Well, fat is a substance that the human body is accustomed to absorbing. In fact, if you take in too little fat, it can have numerous deleterious effects on your health. It can lower your hormonal levels, make your skin dry, encourage you to overeat, mess with your body's natural temperature regulator, and cause mental fatigue. Now, that does not mean you have to eat animal fat. But if you are a meat eater anyway, it is certainly one of the easiest ways to make sure you are getting enough fat in your diet.

Rendered fat is fat that has been heated so that it melts the fat and makes it easy to separate the usable liquid fat from the proteins and other “waste” materials (although those materials don’t need to go to waste–more on that later). If you are rendering pork, the rendered fat is called “lard,” and if you are rendering beef, the result is called “tallow.” The process is the same, but just for clarity’s sake, we are going to be talking about making tallow. 

Tallow makes a fantastic frying pan lubricant for cooking just about anything. It also is great for providing a bit of flavor and helping the cooking process in a slow cooker, or "Crock-Pot" (which is a brand name, and we actually use one of those). You can bake with the rendered fat, season your iron skillets with it, and even make candles. It is high in vitamins A, D, K, and E and can be stored in a cool, dry shelf (refrigeration is not necessary although in the summer months when every place in the house is hot, we will toss our tallow into the back of the fridge). 

The first thing you need is a large chunk of cow fat. We buy organic, grass-fed beef in 1/4-cow quantities from a local rancher. When we make that purchase, the rancher throws in the fat for free. But we go through the fat faster than we go through the beef, so we end up buying single bags of fat separately between beef orders.

Pictured below is the last one-fifth of a $28 purchase, the last round of rendering we did from this chunk of fat.

Fat

As you can see, the fat comes in a large mass. It can’t be rendered in this state as the liquid fat needs to be able to pass easily through the fiber and protein holding it together. In a perfect world, if I had a meat grinder, I'd first grind the fat and then render it. But I am still looking for a good cast iron hand-cranked grinder, so until then, I just dice the fat into small cubes.

Cutfat

Our Crock-Pot holds five gallons, and I typically render about 3 or 4 cups of fat in a batch. I suppose you could render more, but the process of getting the fat out of the Crock-Pot is tricky enough with this amount. More would be a bit too much of a process for me.

Here is the Crock-Pot full and ready to go. I don’t put anything into the Crock-Pot with the fat. I’ve seen some sources that recommend a bit of water, but I have not found that to be necessary.

Crockfat

I start the Crock-Pot on high and set the timer for about two hours, but in reality, I check the pot about every 30 minutes and give the fat a quick stir with a silicone spoon that can handle high heat. This will be the first of a number of warnings that fat can get really hot and is very slippery! Those are two of its wonderful qualities. You can cook with very high heat with tallow or lard and it will smoke very little, and it creates a great non-stick surface. However, those qualities can make it exceptionally dangerous to work with. So be very careful that you have heat barriers and that you handle everything like you would a slick water eel.

Rendering

Once the fat has given up some of its liquid, and you can see it in the bottom of the Crock-Pot, you can turn the heat to low. Now you can check on it about every hour. You are waiting for it to separate into two distinct parts. First the clear liquid–that is the tallow; second, the brown, crinkly remains–that is what we are going to call “the crackling.” Once the crackling is uniformly shrunken and brown, you have probably pulled as much tallow out of it as you can. Turn off the Crock-Pot and unplug it. Now comes the tricky part.

Funnel

You’ll need a jar that you can seal, and I highly recommend a heat-safe funnel. To be very safe, I recommend that you put the jar with the funnel into the sink and have the Crock-Pot next to the edge of the sink. Everything is very hot and very slippery. The Crock-Pot, tallow, the crackling, and the jar itself will be hot and coated in fat. Using a heat-safe ladle, ladle the crackling out of the Crock-Pot and into a heat-safe container, leaving the liquid tallow behind. I use a second spoon to squeeze the crackling to get as much tallow out of the crackling as I can. 

IMG_0152

Once you have emptied as much of the crackling out of the slow cooker as you can safely manage, you can start ladling the remaining liquid into the jar. I can get the vast majority of crackling out of the Crock-Pot, so it is fairly easy for me to get just liquid into the jar with no tiny floater of crackling. But in the end, you will likely need to use a cheesecloth over the funnel so that you can get the last of the liquid separated and into the jar.

Cheesecloth

Be super careful. Have I mentioned how hot and slippery fat can get? If you knock over the jar, don’t try to grab it. Just let it be, and take the loss. No use getting burnt over spilt tallow. Don’t splash cold water on the jar–it will likely break from the temperature change. Carefully put the lid on the jar (not real tight as the fat is cooling and will cause a suction) and use oven mitts or other protection. Everything will be very slippery–the jars, the slow cooker, your utensils, the funnel, likely the counter that everything is sitting on. Be careful.

Once it cools, it looks like the tallow you can buy in jars at the store. Here's ours, in repurposed sauerkraut jars.

Done

This is what we got from about $6 worth of fat: one 25-ounce jar full and another half full. Call it 37 ounces. On the open market (or Amazon in this case), beef tallow for consumption goes for about 58 cents per ounce, so for $6, we made about $21.46 worth of tallow. Not bad. And what about those cracklings?

Cracklin

Weirdly enough, they make a decent snack food. They look much more appetizing when they are dried out–sort of like pork rinds. For me they are not like potato chips where if you eat one you have to eat the whole bag. A handful of cracklings with some salt, and I’m pretty good for a long time. But they are, essentially, fat, which is very filling, so that is not really surprising.

Rendering your own fat is a good thing that can save you a great deal of money and provide a very useful cooking ingredient. But remember: everything is slippery, everything is hot…

OK, now I can hear the problem with that phrase!

By the way, here's the Crock-Pot that we use.

You Might Also Like:

Born-Again Meat Eater

That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat

Take a Cue from the Spanish Lifestyle

 


The Baby Birds Have Hatched!

IMG_0568

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the bird that had made a nest in my friend Kathy's bathroom window.

At least three of the five eggs hatched on June 24, and here you can see the hatchlings and mother, with the father just outside the bathroom window. 

We'd thought the female was a house sparrow, which is technically an invasive species of bird imported from Europe, a common sight in urban areas. HOWEVER, now that the male has shown up, that theory's out the window, so to speak, because he is most definitely not a sparrow.

Just look at that scarlet hue!

Can you identify the type of bird? Since Kathy's in the Pacific Northwest–Seattle's Northgate neighborhood, to be exact–the likely candidates include:

  • Rosy Finch
  • House Finch
  • Scarlet Tanager

What do you think?

My money's on house finch, as the female scarlet tanager is yellow. The house finch, by the way, is "often the only songbird in most urban areas," according to my field guide.

 


Kick Up Your Heels on the Fourth of July - Literally!

Assembly2
Installing my new FeetUp. Easier than IKEA furniture, and more sturdy!

Exciting news: That FeetUp Trainer I mentioned in this post about why you might struggle with headstands is now a whopping 33 percent off! Yeah, that knocks fifty bucks off this cute little yoga inversion prop.

As you can see in the photo above, I took advantage of the sale and snared one for myself. It's a great deal, so I wanted to share it with you, too. PLEASE NOTE: WE DON'T RECEIVE ANYTHING IN EXCHANGE FOR THIS POST OR FOR THE SALE OF THESE PROPS IF YOU GO AND BUY ONE.

Not that I didn't try. Before this great sale popped up, I had contacted FeetUp hoping to get some sponsorship for a post about their prop. They were cool and receptive, complimenting me on the inversion post and offering a $10 off coupon code for blog readers.

They wouldn't do more, however, like provide a free FeetUp in order to review it or any other compensation in exchange for coverage on the blog, because we haven't met the threshold they established for sponsorships, which is 10,000 followers on Instagram. Our Insta follower count is just shy of 500.

Oh, well. I get it. I mean, we're small potatoes in the world of sponsored content–we haven't made anything on this lifestyle blog and continue to put time, money, and resources into it really as a labor of love. I was totally cool with the $10 off coupon code for blog readers and a likewise small discount on the FeetUp for me, so I could order one to test out. I was just about to fill out the sponsorship form that FeetUp sent me...

Box
It came in a really big box, which the cat loves, but is surprisingly lightweight.

But then I saw this super sale pop up, and I realized FeetUp's own sale was a way better deal (like five times better) than the one FeetUp was willing to give me in exchange for coverage on the blog. So. I. Politely. Declined.

I asked them how long the sale would last so that I could schedule this post around it, and I didn't get an answer. The sale used to be valid on Amazon, which is where I purchased mine, but today as I write this, that's no longer the case. It is, however, still for sale on FeetUp's own website, and they're offering free shipping, so act fast! As this will post tomorrow (Sunday), I'm just hoping it doesn't end tonight. The site doesn't say anything but that it will end "soon."

While I'm both impressed that FeetUp was so responsive at first and feeling somewhat less in love after they weren't so helpful with the follow-through, I'm still super excited about my new FeetUp trainer.

It was unbelievably easy to put together (like IKEA flat-pack furniture, but with way better assembly instructions), is made from good quality materials (wood, metal, a lovely vegan faux leather), and feels very sturdy. I'm both naturally curvy and, especially after 25 years of yoga, pretty muscular, and I felt completely supported by it on my first couple of inversion tests.

FeetUp

I want to practice with it for awhile before giving a full review. I'll post that later on, with some pics of my awkward glorious inversions (!). But I wanted to let y'all know about the super sale in the meantime. Only the white/light wood version qualifies for the sale, but you get a nifty pose sequence poster along with it. It's a great deal.

Sure, a hundo is a lot to spend on a yoga prop, and maybe you could get something like it for cheaper. But it's important if I'm going to turn myself completely upside-down on something that that thing be made of quality materials and feel like it can support me without issues. I practice yoga daily, so for me, it's a good investment in a prop that will get a lot of use. Just yesterday, I inverted for a few minutes after a long bout of desk jocky-ing, and I felt renewed by it.

If you take advantage of the sale and get your own FeetUp, tell me about your impressions in an email, and I'll include them in my review, either with or without your name attached, just let me know. You're welcome (but not required) to send pics, too!

You Might Also Like:

The Real Reason You Can't Headstand

Why You Shouldn't Compare Yourself to Yogi Superstars

Should You Practice a Set Yoga Sequence, or Free-Form?