Rental House Redux

This past week, my husband, brother, and I stopped over to check on the rental house–the first time the three of us had been there together since the place caught on fire.

The contractor’s work seems to be moving along well–they have drywall up everywhere, and of course, rough-in plumbing and electric. It was encouraging to see. And better yet? Not one whiff of smoke.

One thing I can tell my writer friends is that there is nothing like the smell of burnt house. I went over there the day after the fire and, holy cow, the smoke smell was overpowering! As a writer, I’m supposed to be able to describe sensory details, but the pervasiveness of the smoke smell in that house almost defies description. It was so thick I could almost see the carbon molecules in the air I was breathing. And all I could think of was how fast I wanted to get out of there.

A couple months ago, I read a novel in which a character entered a recently-burned building. I could tell this author had not had that experience, as she barely even mentioned the smoke, much less how cloying and sickening it is (especially when there are emotions attached to it, as there should have been in the story). (Otherwise, the book was very good.) It wouldn’t have taken much, aside from how strong a smell it is. It mostly smells like a bonfire, but has an underlying, sickening chemical smell. It’s close enough that for the next few months, whenever one of my neighbors had a fire in their backyard, I was taken back to the rental house. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be for someone who’d lost their home to a fire.

One of our friends had, in an apartment fire around twenty years ago. We took her inside the house a couple days after the fire, and she said it smelled exactly like the burnt apartment building. And yes, she had to get out quickly.

Now, I don’t mind being there once again. There is a new furnace in the rental house, so when we went inside it was comfortable (though we kept our coats on, because the contractors had the heat turned down–thank you!). They are getting ready to finish the drywall next.

Some of the fixtures going into the upstairs bathroom

We had a progress meeting with them this Friday. While progress is good, that’s where the good news ended: we are going to be over-budget, unless we take on some of the work. As in, the estimates for all the work done so far plus what’s still to come exceeded the insurance estimate by about $15,000. Apparently, the savings found in drywall and OSB roofing were not enough to offset the new bathroom, and siding the detached garage so it would match the house (insurance wouldn’t cover the garage, as it was not affected by the fire). So  I spent all day yesterday poring over their 42-page detailed estimate, and pulling out line items we could cover. Most of this was purchasing materials, as they put an “overhead and profit” markup on everything. Others were things like installing towel bars and TP holders – they charge over $13 to do one. I don’t have a problem with that as it’s simply paying for their time, but they’re willing to let us do that and save some $$, so we definitely will. My husband may wind up refinishing the hardwood floors again, too, as that would save over $6,000.

What I’ve been Reading: This week, it’s been mostly my own WIP. But I’ve also continued to binge on a blog I found a couple weeks ago. Over this past year, I’ve discovered blogs outside of the writing community, mostly focused on 1) DIY, 2) Homesteading (I’m not interested in doing so, but I find it fascinating), 3) home building (surprise) and 4) Financial Independence. This week’s blog binges have fallen into category 4. One is www.1500days.com, in which the author describes his march to financial independence, with a goal of reaching it within 1500 days of when he started the blog in 2013 (spoiler: he succeeded). He has a really funny, engaging writing voice, plus there are sometimes plastic dinosaurs and fart jokes (check out the dinos drinking beer  at the top of the screenshot). I’ve become fascinated with FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early), and will probably blog about it more in the future.

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What I’ve been Writing: Still not much–actually, nothing besides this blog post. I probably spent too much time reading 1500days.com and not enough reading my WIP, as I did not complete reading it yet. I’m close, though, so this week’s goal is to finish what I have, and begin writing the next scene.

What about you–have you ever been inside a burnt building? What have you been reading lately? What are some of your favorite blogs? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

A Tale of Two Houses, Part 2

Last week, I blogged about part of my seemingly-uneventful, but actually eventful 2017. Much of what went on was house-related, although not about the new house we hope to begin building this year. Rather, much of our focus was on the rental house we bought in March.

Buying another rental property in this area, when we’re planning to move within the next two years, was not part of our plan. But when my husband’s cousin’s widow posted on Facebook that she wanted to sell her house, my husband was intrigued. His cousin had passed away in 2011, and she was engaged, and ready to move on. He asked how much she wanted for her house, and the figure she named was too good to pass up.

We took a look through the house, a little Cape Cod built in 1945. Luckily it had a mostly-unfinished basement, so it was easy to see electrical, plumbing, and HVAC, all of which had been recently updated. The foundation, basement, floor joists, and so on were really solid and in great shape. The roof was also fairly new, and she’d had the place painted a couple years before. It needed work, but it was all cosmetic–paint, new flooring, new kitchen and bath. We’ve done that sort of work before, so no problem.

The only problem was we didn’t want to take out a loan, and we’d spent most of our ready cash on our land in Tennessee. That turned out not to be too much of a problem, since my brother was looking for a good investment opportunity. So we partnered with him, the deal being that he paid for the house, and we paid for the rehab, with my husband doing most of the work. Our cousins’ new house wasn’t quite done, so we rented the place back to her for a couple months.

My husband did a fantastic job on the hardwood floors

When they moved out in May, the work began. My husband tiled the screen porch, with tile the seller had left just sitting in boxes. He pulled up the carpet–and found lovely, original hardwood floors beneath it. They did need some patching (from registers that were larger than the ones now in the house), and refinishing. YouTube, Pinterest, and blogs are a great resource, and in about three weeks, he learned how to do it all, and did a fantastic job! He also installed new light fixtures, and a ceiling fan that looked great.

I spent most of my summer weekends there, helping with the flooring–wiping, staining, wiping some more, and applying polyurethane. I also helped paint, and finished out the walk-in pantry by building custom shelves and painting the whole thing. It was originally a coat closet, as it had a single, high shelf and a bar, but the former owner had used it as a pantry, with shelf units sitting on the floor. Much more useful, and an unusual feature in a house this age/size.

Our daughter helped in the kitchen – not in the way she usually does

We put new cabinets in the kitchen, granite countertops, and added a subway tile backsplash. Through it all, we had help from our daughter and several friends (of ours, and hers). My brother worked on a few electrical upgrades, such as adding light switches in the basement, rather than pull chains. He’s an electrical engineer and has done commercial wiring before, so he knows what he’s doing.

We took an afternoon off to move our daughter to Columbus, where she got a job. After we got home and had dinner, my husband and brother met up back at the house. We still needed to figure out what we were doing with the upstairs, which was two small bedrooms, so they went up there to talk about it. It was hot (this was the end of July) so they turned on the whole house fan, then went back downstairs to finish installing light fixtures in the kitchen.

A couple minutes later, my husband smelled smoke. My brother went upstairs to check it out. He made it halfway up before he ran back down. “FIRE!”

The whole back part of the attic was ablaze. My husband says he could’ve beat any Olympic runner getting out of that house!

Kitchen, two days after the photo above

Luckily, the fire department was literally around the corner, and they arrived quickly. My husband came home at 4 AM to get our insurance information. The best thing was, no one was hurt, and the fire didn’t spread to any neighbors’ houses (which were only 15-20 feet away).

The fire was pretty much confined to the second floor, and the ceiling in the kitchen and one bedroom. But the whole place was pretty much trashed from the smoke and water damage. In short, a whole summer up in smoke.

Kitchen, two days after the photo above

Fortunately, we have very good insurance. They quickly determined that the fire was definitely accidental–after all, who’d set a house on fire after doing all that work on it–and leaving $4000 worth of tools inside? It was clearly some bad wiring–and investigators found tons of just that in the upstairs walls, and around the whole house fan, where the fire started–places no one could see with the walls and ceiling intact. They referred us to a restoration contractor, who got to work on it the following week. My husband’s tools were replaced. Insurance paid for three months of lost rent. Even better–these old houses were built to last. The roof wasn’t OSB or even plywood, it was made of 1 x 6’s –and our insurance paid for it to be rebuilt that way, and with plaster walls. We had it rebuilt with OSB, and with drywall, and saved enough money to make the upstairs into a wonderful master suite with a fantastic bathroom. Since there was no one living there, we told them to take their time. We’re expecting it to be done by March–a year after we bought the place.

Since the contractor took over, there hasn’t been much to do other than provide them with details about what we want for the renovation. But it was still discouraging after all the work we’d put into it, especially for my husband. It’s in the contractor’s hands now (and so far, looks great!). But at this point, we just don’t have the heart to rent it, so we’re planning to sell. Hopefully, the second bathroom and the walk-in pantry (that they’re rebuilding just like I’d done) will be big draws to buyers.

The other house

We went back to Tennessee in November, mainly to look at some apartments. We want to sell the ones we own here, and buy one there by the time we move. If we find a good deal, we can do this sooner rather than later. We connected with a great broker, and when she found out we were building, referred us to a couple of builders.

My husband called them to set up appointments in advance of our trip.  The conversation with one was pretty amusing:

DH: I know I’m from Ohio, and I’m 300 miles away. I know about how much this house should cost to build, and I know a lot of you guys are busy doing insurance work in Gatlinburg. So let’s just cut to the chase, and you tell me, how bad are you going to screw me?

(I am not making this up, that’s really what he said!)

The builder’s response: “Can I at least see how cute you are first?”

They both met us out at the property. The other guy was okay, but this one really had some good ideas about the placement of the house, and had even taken the time to come out on his birthday.

We got the other guy’s estimate a couple weeks later. It was still over our budget, but by much less than the three builders we’d talked to earlier in the year.

Then the joker’s bid came back… less than 10% over our budget, and totally workable!

So now all we have to do is sell a couple of apartment buildings for our down payment (of the three we own). We have a broker ready to list them, so now we’re in wait and see mode…

 What I’ve Been Reading

The past couple of weeks on the treadmill (too cold to walk outside, that’s for sure) has been The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley, part of my ongoing effort to read more nonfiction. This is one of the classics of personal finance books, and people rave about it. Honestly, I’m not sure why, as the principles are really simple: most millionaires live a simple life, in modest homes, and driving modest cars. Spending less than they make and investing is how most of them became millionaires. It’s also very outdated–it was published in 1996, and this is very clear in the salaries and home prices quoted, as well as things like the lack of references to smartphones, the Internet, etc. (For example, travel agent is a good job??? How many are still in business with the Internet?) Still, it’s not a bad book, and if one adjusts the monetary amounts and a few details to take technology into account, the principals are still valid.

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What I’ve Been Writing

This week, NOTHING! But that was the plan–In an effort to get back into my book, I wanted to go back and read what I have so far. I got about halfway through–that book is long. Too long! I am seeing lots of places I can cut, though it will still end up being a pretty long book (as most of mine are). So this week’s goal is simple: finish reading the book. Any writing will be a bonus.

So, did our rental house saga turn out how you expected? What do you think of it? Have you read (or heard of) The Millionaire Next Door? How are you doing with whatever goals you may have so far, whether writing-related or not? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

A Tale of Two Houses, Part 1

2017 has been a long and busy year. A lot has happened, but not much writing. Probably the biggest event was my daughter’s graduation from college, and subsequent moving out on her own. She has a job she loves in higher education administration, and though we miss having her around (she lives about an hour’s drive away), we couldn’t be happier for her.

I got out of the habit of blogging, and one thing that kept me from getting back to it was feeling like I had to write a long, comprehensive post, and make it good. I realized that yesterday, and it’s kind of silly. Just like housework done incorrectly or incompletely is still better than not done at all, a short blog is better than none. So here goes…

A New House

Our house will be similar to this, only with an attached garage

Some of you might remember that my husband and I are planning a move from Ohio to Tennessee, with building a new house. You might have guessed that I’ve been away because of that. But (sigh), that’s not the case. I’m still in Ohio, and still haven’t started building. And that’s OK.

So to catch up on that, we got a few quotes from builders last spring, around the time I last posted here. Three builders gave us ballpark estimates that were pretty close to our budget, so all looked so far so good. Then they got back to us with detailed estimates. All were 50 -60% higher! We figured out that 1) the economy is good, so there’s plenty of work and 2) many of them are doing insurance rebuilds in Gatlinburg, so they’re extra busy. However, they’re happy to take on another project for the right money. That kind of money is not in our budget. So back to the drawing board there.

We considered downsizing the house by making the garage in the lower level–not really what we wanted. We considered being our own general contractors–we’ve done so on some pretty large remodeling projects, and my parents built two new houses years ago being their own contractors. But they built locally–we’re 300 miles away, so being our own GC would mean having to stay down there during construction. Also not what we wanted.

Our new rental house – isn’t it cute?

An Old House

The new house kind of got put on the back burner when we had an opportunity to buy another house–a rental, here in Ohio. It needed a lot of work, but that was all cosmetic, and the deal was too good to pass up, so we snagged it. (As a side note, we’ve owned rental property for many years, so this is not new to us.) That turned out to be an interesting ride…

Reading

I fell off the wagon keeping track, but I continue to read every day. I’ve been trying to read more nonfiction, too. Most of it is either personal finance or business-related, or is about home building. I finished a novel and a non-fiction book on New Year’s Eve.

For fiction, I read Pure Sacrifice by Jami Gold. I enjoyed her free short story in this paranormal romance series, so I bought book 1 earlier this year. I liked it, and a couple weeks ago I needed something to read and nothing on my Kindle jumped out at me, so I bought book 2. This series (the Mythos Legacy) has all the ingredients to a satisfying paranormal romance, but isn’t the same ol’ same ol’. In book 1, it was the heroine who was the paranormal character (usually, it’s the guy). In this book, it was the guy, but he was a shapeshifting unicorn–pretty different! The worldbuilding was nicely in-depth but not intrusive or info-dumpy, and the characters were engaging. I’ll definitely be picking up the next in the series.

In non-fiction, I read The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines. For those not in the know, they are the hosts of HGTV’s Fixer+Upper, which is probably the most popular reality home show right now. I love their show, and really enjoyed reading about how they got their start in their various businesses to how they wound up with a their own TV show. This book pulled me in right away and kept me interested throughout, and I was sorry to see it end. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys Fixer+Upper!

Writing

While I did make progress on my next Saturn Society time travel novel, writing just wasn’t on my brain for most of the year. I did not complete any projects, and did not have any new releases. I want that to change this year. I figured out what happens next in the novel, and I’m excited to get back to it. Hence, I’m participating in ROW80 to keep accountable.

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ROW80, or A Round of Words in 80 Days, is “the writing challenge that knows you have a life.” We can set whatever goals we want for the challenge. Mine will be a stretch for the first quarter, which will end in late March: I want to finish the novel. It probably needs 20,000 more words. When I take the time and know where I’m going, I can write 1000 words in about an hour or so. The catch here is that I don’t completely know where I’m going with this book, so that’s going to be a stretch. I used to outline, but that grew to be less helpful as I progressed as a writer, as I believe one should always feel free to deviate from the outline when a better idea comes along for a story–and for me, it always does. Also, I need to get a newsletter out this quarter, as it’s been way too long since I’ve done that, too.

This week’s goal: I haven’t written since early November, so I’m going to do a full cycle-back and read the book from the beginning. It’s around 100,000 words at the moment (yes, I write long books). If I do that, hopefully other good ideas to wrap it up will come in the process.

This post is already getting long (so much for keeping it short) and I have a lot to do today, so I’ll continue with the house sagas next week, and post an update on my goals.

How was 2017 for you? It was mostly good for me! If you watch TV, do you like Fixer + Upper? (One thing I found interesting is Chip and Jo have not had a TV since they got married–no wonder they have time to do so much!). If you’re a writer, what kind of goals do you have for this year? How are you doing so far, one week in? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Things are Happening

In some ways, not in others. On the new house/moving front, we received the finalized house plans from our designer. And as I typed that, I realized I’d never shown what our house is going to look like, or even described it. So it’s time to do that: I would call it a Craftsman/Chalet, both styles I’ve always liked. Judging from DH’s comments while driving places over the years, I knew he liked the chalet look too (and wasn’t averse to the Craftsman style). So when I first found this house and showed him, I knew from his reactions that my instinct was right: this was the one.

It’s designed for a sloped lot, which is what we have. So just picture that with awesome mountain views behind it, rather than a lake. Our street is bordered with trees, but if it’s visible from the road at all, that lovely dramatic back view is what will be seen. Yet it will be far off the road enough that we will still have privacy.

It’s about 2000 sq. ft., not counting the lower level. That’s going to be in-law/guest suite, since where we’re moving is a place a lot of our friends and family like to go for vacation (a big reason we’re moving there too).

We bought the plans, then had the designer customize them for us. Basically, they’re a combination of the plan linked above, and this alternate version that has a breezeway and attached garage.

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

Bedroom 3 is will be my writing office, as well as a secondary living space–I guess “den” would be a good word for that. That’s pretty much what my writing office is now, and for the most part that works. Bedroom 2 will be a guest room (mainly for our daughter), and will also be where I put my sewing machines. Heck, I may even get into more sewing if I don’t  have to do it in a dingy basement! I am pretty sure DH’s favorite place will be the screen room off the master bedroom, where we’ll put the hot tub and a TV over the fireplace.

In related news, we also got an offer on the apartment building we have up for sale to pay for all of this. We’ve considered taking out a construction loan, but were hoping this would sell so we didn’t have to, as we try to avoid debt. A couple of weeks ago, we got an offer very close to the asking price–almost too good to be true! The guy wanted to close in two weeks, so I scrambled to collect the paperwork he’d requested.

When a week went by and we had no news of him getting inspections or anything, we started to wonder. So our Realtor and our title agent checked into things. The buyer is a trust, which turns out to be located in Georgia. His title company is in Maryland, and while they’re legit, it turned out they aren’t even licensed to close in Ohio. And they never received the guy’s earnest money. His agent (located in Ohio) couldn’t get hold of him. His attorney (located in Florida) finally called our Realtor and said they guy was still interested. That was two days before we were supposed to close, and nothing since then. It’s like the guy just evaporated. So the building is still for sale, and we may still wind up going the loan route, at least until it sells.

What I’ve been reading: This book took me a really long time to read–partly because it’s really long, party because it’s a slower, quieter story than my usual fare, and partly because my mind’s been elsewhere. But I finally did finish it, and it was worthwhile. Pride’s Children: Purgatory by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a book I’ve been interested in for a while, as I’ve seen it mentioned by the author in blog comments. It intrigued me because the main character has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and I wanted to see how this was treated in fiction (answer: very realistically). Yet I was hesitant, as I knew it wasn’t my kind of book–two of the main characters are actors, and I normally don’t care for celebrity characters. It turned out my worries were mostly unfounded, as the male lead was very well-developed, sympathetic, and real. As was the female lead (the writer with CFS), though I expected that. The third main character, an actress, was thoroughly unlikable–more of a villain, really–but there weren’t that many scenes in her point of view. This book is marketed as literary fiction, but I would consider it more to be Upmarket Women’s Fiction. As such, it’s a little pricey, but it’s free in Kindle Unlimited, and goes on sale for $.99 every now and then (which is when I bought it). If you like this kind of book, I’d recommend it!

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Writing/Row80 Update: I haven’t been writing at all. My mind has just not been on it. I’m going to try to do a little today and get back in, but no promises. One thing I have been doing is taking a workshop from Dean Wesley Smith on endings, the hardest part of the book IMO. It’s been good so far, and has kept me not totally out of the writing, so that’s something. I have managed to keep up with it and the assignments, too. So that’s my goal for this week as well. Anything I get done on my WIP will be a bonus.

What about you–what have you been up to lately? When you step away from writing (or something else you normally do), is it hard for you to get re-started? If not, any tips for me? Have you read any good books lately? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

 

 

 

It’s Official

Last week, we closed on our property in Tennessee. It’s now ours! Part of me still can’t believe it, especially when we went there the following day and it’s even more beautiful than I remembered (that photo does not even come close to doing it justice). We met with our builder the afternoon we closed. He’s a friend of a friend, and we really liked him. He gave us a tour through his current WIP, a 12,000-foot monstrosity being built for a fraction-of-a-1%er who’s moving there from California. Amazing! And a major testament to our builder’s (and his trades peoples’) work. He wants to start on our house when he’s done with the current project, probably in April or May. Things are moving along!

What I’ve been reading: Not going to name the book today, because I don’t have much good to say about it. I picked it up because it’s based on a computer game I recently got sucked into, and it was free. The only reason I finished it was because it was short (a novella), and there were just enough references from the game to keep it mildly interesting. Otherwise, the poorly-developed characters and lack of depth would have had me putting the book down a couple chapters in. There was also an amateurish feel to the writing. I don’t expect a literary masterpiece–I read mostly genre fiction, and simple, workmanship writing is normally fine with me, but this was lacking something more that I can’t quite put my finger on. Most of the reviews mentioned things like this, so it wasn’t just me. On to better things!

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Writing/ROW80 update: As you might guess from my first paragraph, my mind has not been on the writing. Also, we’ve been a bit under the weather here–between our closing, meeting with the builder, and a little walking over the land in Tennessee, we spent most of our weekend there taking it easy at the hotel. Nothing major, just a bad cold/mild flu that took a while to let up. We’re better now, but it’s been slow going. So no, not much has happened on the writing front, other than me working through a couple more sections of The Story Toolkit. I’m not expecting much more this week, as I have to collect all our tax stuff for the accountant, whom I have an appointment with next weekend. But I’ll do my best to spend a little time on The Story Toolkit each day, and see how that works.

What about you–read any stinkers lately? Or how about good books? Have you and your family managed to keep healthy? Seems like everyone I know has had that cold going around here! What else has been going on with you, and how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Crazy, Freaky

By that, I mean the weather. As I write this on January 22, I have my windows open. It’s over 60 degrees here in southwest Ohio. I just got back from taking the dogs for a walk with DH, first time I’ve done so since we got Skeet. Yesterday, my husband went hunting and almost got struck by lightning when a popup thunderstorm came up while he was in a tree stand. Not fun for him.

As nice as the weather is now, it’s just not right. I’m used to cold and often, snow, this time of year! Not that I’m complaining.

What I’ve been reading: Dead Money by Dean Wesley Smith. This is the novel in Smith’s Monthly #22, which is an issue I missed. Studying how he did point-of-view in it was one of the exercises in a workshop I recently finished (“Plotting with Depth” – highly recommend for writers!). I went ahead and read the rest, and it was as entertaining as I know I can count on from him. Even though it’s set in an arena that doesn’t particularly interest me (professional poker), the book still kept my attention throughout. A fast-paced, exciting thriller where someone is systematically killing off the members of a group of old poker buddies, one of whom is the president of the U.S. One need not know anything about poker to enjoy reading!

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Writing/ROW80 Update: I figured out a few more things about my stuck story, but still no idea of the end. That’s no big deal for some writers (and I envy them), but for a planner like me, it’s paralyzing. I have no idea what comes next if I don’t know where I’m ultimately headed. Yes, I’m one of those people who looooooooves maps, always have, even back when they were paper.

I also realized that there were some basic things about my story I’d failed to determine as well, like what the main characters needed to learn in this one, and–duh–the basic premise of the story. As in, “the sentence” that tells what it’s all about. So I looked into a plotting aid I read about recently, The Story Toolkit by Susan Bischoff. It’s a set of worksheets of questions to answer about the story, plus a book to explain the details. It’s not vastly different than some other workshops/books I’ve read, but arranged differently enough that it may jar some stuff loose, so I figure why not give it a try. This week, I want to work through as much of that as I can, although I have a lot going on this weekend, so probably won’t get through it all.

What about you–how’s the weather where you are? Is it as crazy as here? Are you someone who likes to know where you’re going, whether you’re writing or driving? Or do you like to discover as you go? How are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

New Year, Not-so-new Goals

I took some time off blogging last month, mainly because, holidays. With all of the extra stuff on the to-do list, something had to give, and I figured it might as well be the blog, since the writing had already given.

I did get some other things accomplished. For one, I decluttered the basement. After living here for 23 years, that’s no trivial thing. My family is amazed. And while I was decluttering, I found fabric my mom had given me years ago to sew her a couple of things. Which was great in that, if I completed them, I had something to give her for Christmas, not an easy thing to find. Which was not-so-good in that it was another project to add to my to-do list (hence no blog). That really wasn’t a problem as I like to sew; it’s just one of those things I haven’t had time or energy for much in the past few years.

Luckily, my energy held out until after Christmas, and I was able to complete the projects (the last one at 9PM on Christmas Eve). And she loved them, so it was totally worthwhile. The whole family had a good Christmas, so that was even better (and we were all well this year, too!).

DH and I had decided not to get each other anything since, after all, we had a new kitchen and were in the process of buying 28 acres in TN. Except I couldn’t do that, so I bought him a couple things to wear. LOL–he did the same.

Skeet at right while Isis gives DD a kiss

We got an addition to the family, too–a four-legged one. This is Skeet, the neighbors’ dog that we pet-sat for a couple years ago. She’d run away, and DH found her in the pound. The neighbors aren’t really in a good place to keep a dog right now with their jobs (he is out of town all the time, and she is rarely home) so we adopted her. As before, Skeet and Isis get along great, and we knew Skeet’s really sweet and affectionate (and totally destroys dog toys, but only dog toys, so that’s OK).

What I’ve been reading, abbreviated version (since it’s been a while):

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ROW80/Writing Update: As mentioned above, not much writing has gone on in the past couple months. I had a great start to NaNoWriMo, but that stopped cold soon after that as I ran out of outline and had no idea where my story was going. Some people write well that way; me, not so much. I needed to step back and regroup, but just as that happened, the holidays came along. So my new goal for this ROW80 is the same as last time’s: finish the WIP. I did figure out a few things while not writing, so that’s a start. This week, I want to at least spend time planning or working things out each day, if not actually writing.

What about you–how were your holidays? How did you do on your goals, if you do that? And what are you up to now? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Kitchen Reveal, and We Bought the Farm

A lot has gone on this week. For starters, we have an accepted contract on our land! Now the real work begins as we get feasibility tests conducted for things like a septic system, and of course the overall house. Luckily, we have until the end of January to do them.

In other news, I finally completed the touch-ups in the kitchen, and have before and after photos! One thing that’s obvious in the “before” pics is how much clutter there is. But very little of it was “give away” or “throw away” clutter–most was stuff that had no home (well, except for my dinner sitting out in that one pic. That found a home, LOL!). In the “after” pics, no clutter! And not because I got rid of a bunch of stuff–I did that over a year ago. It’s because everything now has a place! Which is no small feat considering that, as pretty as the new kitchen is, it’s still very small. Just much more efficient use of space.

This kitchen was, and is, about 7’9″ x 11’10”. I was watching House Hunters one time, and the couple was looking at a house with an 8′ x 13′ kitchen. The narrator noted that this is smaller than 2/3 of the kitchens in the U.S. “Not mine!” I thought. Bigger would have been wonderful, but two walls are exterior. The other two walls back up to the staircase, and a bathroom, so there was no option to just knock out a wall, like they do on the HGTV remodeling shows. An addition was way out of our budget, and we’re already maxed out for the neighborhood, home-value-wise. So we made the best of the space we had. I also added some cool new features, like a tall pantry with roll-out shelves, and a little pullout pantry for spices.

Click any photo for a larger view (and see how awful our kitchen really was before!)

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Thank heavens for that microwave cart my parents gave us as a gift, many years ago. It was so much appreciated–and still not enough room to contain our food! We couldn’t tilt the window in to clean with it there, but now we can!

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Tons of wasted space above the stove. And check out that dumb gap under the window–it was there before the dishwasher was put in. Now it’s all put to use, and even the aloe plants (in hanger) got pretty, new pots (sitting on counter at the right).

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More wasted space above the sink. This is why sinks often go under a window–like ours does now. And that soffit? Gone, with ceiling-height cabinets in its place.

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This big side counter was a nice prep area for as small as our kitchen is. But even without my dinner sitting out, it was always a mess–even the under-cabinet spice racks were falling apart. Now we have a nice corner for DH’s Keurig (below, right) and room for everything else, plus a big prep area against the back wall where the sink used to be.

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Love the pullout spice rack, and the tall pantry! Below the coffee pot in the right pic is a slim cabinet for cookie trays. All that stuff that was sitting out now has a home. I put a lot of thought and research into this (and some work) and DH put a LOT of work into it. As many of you pointed out, it’s so worth it now! We can enjoy it for a good couple years until we move.

babblingbrook2What I’ve been reading: The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club Book 2 by Ann Warner. This is the sequel to The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club, and a continuation of the stories of characters I really came to love in that book. It did not have the mystery element that the first book had, but there was still plenty at stake in the characters’ personal relationships. With some series books, it doesn’t matter which order they’re read in, but this one really did take up where the last book left off, and featured the same characters. As the author note in the front points out, readers should read the first book prior to this one. Definitely recommended, even if you don’t normally read women’s fiction. I don’t, but I love these!

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ROW80/Writing Update: Not much to tell here. Part of the reason was there’s simply too much else going on, and even when I had time to write, my mind wasn’t on it. But the real issue was that I ran out of outline. I would love to be able to just sit down and write and see where the characters take me, but it just doesn’t work that way for me. Even though my “outlines” are very sketchy–one sentence per scene, and I often deviate from them–I still need that bit of a framework. I tried just outlining a few scenes ahead, which was what I wrote the week before last, but when that ran out, so did my writer’s brain. I did write about 1000 words worth of possible things that could happen, so this week, I want to work that into an outline that will keep me writing.

What about you–what do you think of our kitchen remodel? Have you ever embarked on a project like this? How are you doing on whatever goals you might have, whether writing or otherwise? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Winning NaNo Eight Minutes at a Time

But first, an update. DH and I went to Tennessee again last weekend, this time to do a more detailed walk over the property we like, and then to decide if we wanted to put an offer in. DH mainly wanted to make sure there wasn’t a meth lab, toxic waste dump, or anything like that hidden back in the woods.

We didn’t find any of those things, but we did find a couple areas where people had dumped old tires, toys, and things like that. Nothing DH can’t clean up. We found more to like, too, like an even more fantastic view from the highest point on the property.

view from the top

There were also a couple of surprises, though luckily not bad ones. One was this lovely little clearing in the middle of the woods. It used to be used for farmland, as there’s a fallen down barn nearby.

Fairy Circle

It has sort of a magical-looking quality to it, doesn’t it? It sort of reminds me of a fairy circle. And yes, it really looks like that (though the position of the sun helped in the photo :)).

We knew from the aerial photos that there were two fallen-down farmhouses on the property, plus the aforementioned barn. One of the houses is right next to where we’d build our house, if we end up buying. The other one is close to the meadow above, and the fallen-down barn. Except that the house turned out to be still standing! Zillow thinks so too, and its listing on that part of the property (which is actually a separate plot from the one we’d build on), says there is a 1152 sq. ft, three bedroom, “- -” bathroom house there, built in 1905. We didn’t get any closer to it than this, as the woods were really thick. I’d be very leery of going inside, as I expect the floor (if there is any) is not structurally sound. But I will want to check it out more closely if we do get the property! I’d also like to talk to the seller and learn more details of its history, as this land has been in her family for over 100 years.

old farmhouse

After walking all over the property, we met one of the neighbors, who was amazingly nice and even invited us in. Talking to her made us feel better about the scuttled highway project (which would also have gone right through her property), and we decided to make an offer. Our Realtor is drawing up the paperwork, so we’ll wait and see!

grapevinespringsWhat I’ve been Reading: Smith’s Monthly #27 by Dean Wesley Smith. This issue contained a really good Poker Boy story (humorous superhero series) and a novel from his time travel series. This one was enjoyable enough to read, but didn’t draw me in the way these usually do. Thinking back, I realize it’s the same problem I face as a series writer: where to draw the line between giving enough background info on how the time travel works so a new reader isn’t confused, but not too much to bore the readers who’ve read all the other books. For me, this book crossed over onto the latter side. Still enjoyable, just not as good as the other books in this series.

I also had the opportunity to beta read a wonderful sci-fi novella that I would consider quintessential space opera. It ticked all the SO boxes: new tech, exploration, and yes, space battles. Plus some fun characters and references to the other books in the same world, but with not so much that it would feel like an inside joke to a reader new to this author. I especially liked the scientific explanations given for the tech, just enough to feel real to this reader, but not so much detail the eyes glaze over. My biggest challenge will be writing up a crit for the author, because I just couldn’t find much to criticize about it. I guess knowing you’ve done something well is also helpful!

8-minute writing habitROW80/Writing Update: The writing went ever so slowly the week before last. My goal was to write 500 words a day, five days. That only happened once. Not only did I have too much going on, I wasn’t focused. Something had to give.

I wasn’t planning to do NaNoWriMo this year, but I figured I’d see if I could hit a high (for me) word count the first day, and if so, join in the fun. I managed to write 1336 words Tuesday night–not the on-target 1667 to hit 50k, but a lot for me. So I’m in. This year, I’m not worried about hitting the 50,000 words required to “win,” but am instead focused on just increased production–for me. One thing the NaNo folks suggest is getting other responsibilities out of the way so you can focus on writing. I just can’t do that this time around–there’s too much going on, especially with the property purchase, and extra paperwork I need to do in preparation to sell another of our rental properties. Even so, I wrote five days this week and got over 7000 words. As far as I’m concerned, that’s already a win. Even if I don’t hit 50k, I’ll be “failing to success.” And I got that 7k eight minutes at a time. If you’re participating, I’d be glad to  have more Writing Buddies! My profile is here.

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You see, focus is still an issue. With all the stuff whirling around in my brain, getting to the computer and staying there is where I’ve been struggling. So I took a page from a book I read last year (that I highly recommend) and set my timer for eight minutes. I can manage to stay focused for that time, and usually get between 125-230 words in that eight minutes, unless I have to do a quick research on something. The Pomodoro Method (timing for 25 minutes) or Flylady’s “You can do anything for fifteen minutes” used to work really well for me, but lately, no. But eight minutes, I can do. When the timer goes off, I take a very short break to talk to the turtle or pet my dog or gerbil, then set the timer for eight minutes more. If you’ve struggled for focus as I have, I highly recommend this–as well as the book! This week, I’m hoping to best my wordcount, and hit at least 7500 words.

What about you–do you ever have trouble staying focused? What are some of your tricks to deal with that? If you’re a writer, are you doing NaNoWriMo? Why or why not? Whether or not you’re a writer, how are you doing on whatever goals you may have? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

Five Things to Consider when Buying Land, plus a bonus

Not much has happened this week on the land front, but I’ve still continued to give it a lot of thought and continue researching–and I’m glad I did, because I ran across something that could be a dealbreaker on the parcel we’re looking at. So I figured I’d share some of what I’ve learned since we started this crazy land shopping thing.

  1. 5 Things to Consider when Buying LandYou might think that location is the first consideration when shopping for land. After all, much of real estate can be summed up by one word: “location, location, location.” But wait! It’s not so obvious when it’s not a house you’re buying. The first thing? What do you want to do with your land? Not everyone is looking to build right away–or at all. Vacant land can, in and of itself, be a good investment. Some people buy land purely for recreation–hunting, camping, and other outdoor pursuits. And even if you’re building, what are you building? Just a house? How big? Do you want to farm? Keep livestock? Hunt? Build a big barn (or in our case, a big workshop/garage)?
  2. Location. All of the above plays into the location question. One thing we learned once we met and talked to our Realtor was that we need to buy land that’s outside of city limits, since DH wants to hunt on it. There are also fewer restrictions on outbuildings. But we still want something that’s not too far from the city, as it’s also where we want to live.
  3. How much land do we need? The answer to this question is also determined by our answers to the first. If we only wanted to build a house, we wouldn’t need much. Add DH’s garage/workshop, and we need a little more. Keep us out of the neighbors’ faces (and cigarette smoke)? Add a couple more acres. But DH also wants to go deer hunting, so that ups it quite a bit. These past few years, he’s hunted on 40 acres my brother owns nearby, and he travels all over the land. He’d love for us to be able to get that much. But as little as 20 would work, and if we want something that’s not too far from civilization, is much more realistic for our budget. Speaking of which…
  4. Budget is a major consideration in its own right–perhaps it should even be #1, but that’s pretty obvious so I’ll consider this enough said on that topic. Here is a good article on how to determine budget–again, taking into consideration everything you want to do on the land, in addition to the land purchase itself. Don’t forget to factor in costs like connections to electricity, natural gas if applicable, water/sewer, and Internet, as they can be quite costly in some areas. Or if not available, how much will it cost to dig a well or have water trucked in, and how much to install a septic system?
  5. Which brings us to the next question: Who owns other rights to the land? As in mineral, water, timber rights, etc.? This is a biggie, and one a lot of people don’t think of. Many people don’t realize that when we buy property, we may be buying only the surface. If someone else owns the mineral rights, they may be able to dig for gold, oil, or anything else of value anywhere on your property that they want–even to the extent of destroying buildings! That’s not always the case, but if someone else owns these rights, be sure to understand what they can and can’t do. Is it something you can live with? And don’t think it’s something to worry about if your area’s not known for being gold- or oil-rich. In my area of the country (Ohio, and eventually, Tennessee) natural gas is the big thing. Water rights are another big concern, if you plan to drill a well. They may not matter so much if you have city water and don’t plan to farm, but still something to watch out for. And timber rights–do you want someone barging onto your land without your permission and chopping down your trees? If they own the logging rights, they can.

Plus a Bonus: Check into potential public works projects! This is something I hadn’t thought of until I ran across something on the Internet last week, and is the possible dealbreaker I found with the land we’re looking at. Turns out that until about three years ago, it was right in the path of a proposed highway spur! The local community fought it, and got the project defunded and ultimately removed from Tennessee’s list of potential projects. My research turned up a very good case presented by the opposition, enough that it’s a reasonable assumption that the highway will never happen. But it’s not 100%, so we’ve asked our Realtor to look into it further.

These aren’t by any means everything to consider when shopping for land, but they’re the biggest, IMO. Want some more info? Check out my Land Shopping board on Pinterest!

fireandiceWhat I’ve Been Reading: Fire and Ice, by Patty Jansen. This is actually the first book in a trilogy that’s a prequel to the two books I’ve recently read. I figured I’d grab it to read while I’m waiting for Book 3 in the Moonfire Trilogy. While it didn’t draw me in as quickly as the Moonfire books have, it still had all the qualities of those later stories: lush and deep worldbuilding, intriguing characters, and a complex plot where sometimes it’s hard to tell who are the good guys, and who aren’t. It’s free, so if you enjoy dark, epic fantasy, go grab it!

ROW80Logo175ROW80/Writing Update: Not much to tell here. I upped my daily target to 250 words/day, five days last week, and made that. This week I’d planned to go to 500 words/day, but got stuck on a plot point. I hashed it out with a couple writing friends yesterday, and that helped, at least in my mind. So this week’s goal is back to 500 words/day. We’ll see how that goes. The ROW80 Challenge group has moved to Facebook. Visit the Group page here, and see what everyone else is doing!

What about you–did you know there was so much involved in shopping for vacant land? What have you been reading lately? And whether or not you’re a writer, how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.