An excerpt from the novel-in-progress.

One moment Millie was knocking on a large wooden door and the next she found herself sitting in the middle of a vast conservatory, with no memory of any event between the two instances. In fact, she had only the haziest recollection of anything before the door, save her name and a few other particulars. She decided it was too great a risk to stand in her dazed state and continued to sit quietly on the bench. She pondered for a moment whether she had been drugged, but that disquieting thought proved far too elusive to hold in her mind for more than the tiniest, most alarming second.

Millie studied her surroundings woozily. The arched roof of the conservatory was comprised of hundreds of small panes of glass, some rectangular and others rounded or diamond-shaped. The ceiling stretched far above her head, with a few strangely twisted trees reaching towards those impossible heights. A walkway ran along the edges of glass walls, an entire story up, though she could see it was as deserted as the area surrounding her bench. It reminded her of a great temperate house she’d visited as a child, but both its location and anything distinct about the occasion were swiftly dashed away in the current of her muddled thoughts.

There was an unearthly quality to the light filtering through those beautiful glass panes, and the shadows cast by the highly-ornamented wrought metal struts stretched like curling tentacles on the walkway before her. Millie had a vague notion of caution, that she should be wary in this place, but felt too fuzzy to respond appropriately to this idea. The humid air pressed against her, so she yielded to it — to the entire situation. She was finding it far too difficult to do otherwise.

Millie was no horticulturalist, but even she could see that most of the plants filling the overheated space were quite out of the ordinary. She was surrounded by riotous color and buffeted by a hundred intoxicating scents, yet she could pick out nothing familiar. No frond or blossom resembled anything she’d known before; no perfume stirred a single recollection. She could not be sure, however, whether this absence of acquaintance was truly due to the exotic nature of the lush greenery encircling her, or her own absent memory.

Millie closed her eyes and thought. Hadn’t it been night time only a moment before? She shook her head as if to clear it, but her understanding remained as foggy as a wretched London evening. She turned a slightly unfocused gaze toward a tall gentleman watching her with barely concealed amusement from beside the tinkling fountain. He wasn’t a young man, but he was handsome in an aristocratic, pale way, with wavy blond hair and clear green eyes. He had an air of command about him, as though he often took charge. But how long, Millie asked herself, had he been there?

The stranger blinked and smiled in a mildly predatory manner. “Who might you be?”

Millie longed to place herself in the gentleman’s surely capable hands but mistrusted a smile of such wolfishness. Her thoughts were perhaps a mite sluggish, but a few of her instincts were still functioning. “A friend. I think.”

The man’s smile widened. “One can never have too many friends. Does my new friend have a name?”

Millie, feeling ridiculously coy, shook her head.

Something dangerous flitted through the man’s eyes, but it passed so quickly that Millie could not identify it.

“I think I shall call you Amie,” the man said. “For ma belle petite amie.”

Millie appalled herself by giggling. “No one ever calls me beautiful.” The man was much closer than Millie thought. Had he crossed the room? Or had he been so close all along? She couldn’t be sure.

“They should,” the man purred.

“But what do I call you?” Millie asked, allowing the man to draw her to her feet. She felt a little bereft to leave the bench behind; it felt as though it had been an ally in her time of need.

“A good question,” the handsome gentleman said, tucking Millie’s hand in the crook of his arm. “A very good, very necessary question.”

Millie looked up at him, craning her neck. He was so particularly tall and distinguished looking, especially for a man who had to be at least two decades older than she. He was oddly familiar, but when she attempted to recall who he reminded her of, the memory slipped away as easily as the hair ribbon she’d lost at the seaside as a child. The wind had whipped it out of her fingers, and she’d found herself clutching only air as it spun towards the oncoming waves. It had hovered above the surf for a moment, a tiny red streak against the cold, grey sea.

“Call me Bettgenossen,” the man said fondly. “Though it’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?”

Millie nodded, strangely shy. The name sounded German, but apart from her native tongue, she grasped nothing but schoolgirl French and a smattering of Italian.

“Just call me Bett, then,” the man said with a confiding chuckle.

“Bett,” Millie repeated. She felt as though she floated in the bright, luminous green of his gaze.

He leaned down and kissed her on the tip of her pert nose. “Ah, Amie. You are the best present my children have ever sent me.”

“I am?” Millie breathed.

“Oh, yes,” Bett said as he ushered her down a dark corridor. “The very best indeed.”


An excerpt from my current novel-in-progress, Wolfden Cross.

(Photo credit: Sarah Ross.)

List for May.

Frugality quote.

May was better than April, thankfully. Lots of things could be seen as better than April, though, so I’m not sure I’m saying much.

In May, I:

  • Paid for half of my Patreon pledges using money earned doing surveys. I haven’t been getting as many surveys lately, which has been disappointing — but I don’t shop much (or buy the right kind of convenience foods), so I rarely qualify.
  • Watched a free webinar that was mostly a product-specific ad, frankly — but still got some good, workable information on how to use email marketing as an author. (I expect I’ll need that info one of these days, you see.)
  • Baked banana oat muffins using a slightly modified version of this recipe. I didn’t need any muffins right then — I just wanted to use up some overripe bananas before they spoiled — so I popped them into the freezer for later.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Purchased a replacement mattress cover, since our old one was falling apart. It was on clearance and is supposed to help keep you cooler in the summer — yes, please! On both counts.
  • Was pleased to see that we’ve saved $332.36 in the last six months at Costco, according to the spreadsheet I keep. That’s what we’ve saved over regular prices at Kroger or Target (or wherever) — minus the cost of our membership. Our membership renews in late November, so this should be about half of our annual savings.
  • Went to see Houston Grand Opera’s production of “The Barber of Seville” for free at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park. Everyone was shocked that I, the former opera major, had never seen it. But it’s a dude show — and the female lead is a mezzo-soprano, so of course this soprano had never bothered with it.
  • Made a t-shirt using scraps from other sewing projects and a pattern I’ve used at least five times — pretty much free, except for my time. I sewed several things this month, but I didn’t buy any fabric and only bought one sewing pattern.
  • Spent $13 on a new battery for my three-year-old phone — which is considerably less than a new phone (obviously). This will probably save a tiny bit of electricity, too, since I won’t be charging it three or four times a day.
  • Replaced our shorted-out microwave with a brand new microwave for only $20 using points from Lennox’s Best Buy Visa. We also got a Blu-ray of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”* for only $1 on that same shopping trip because the credits were applied proportionately to both items. We saved $100! (*I’m studying to become Aunty Entity in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. I want to be ready for my metal shoulder pads when the time comes.)
  • Got a free sample of Cheetos from Instacart. They also sent a free sample of mayonnaise about 3 or 4 times the size of standard restaurant squeeze packet, which turned out to be the perfect amount for the coleslaw dressing recipe I use — so it came in very handy.
  • Read 15 ebooks and six physical books from the library, and one free Kindle book. I spent $35.82 on other books in May (including a full price pre-order and a gift for my Mom), so that was much better than last month!

All in all, a much better month! Let’s hope June goes at least equally well.

Summer of Sewing: May Review.

Sarah's Summer of SewingI have actually been sewing. Imagine that.

I genuinely love Me Made May. I think I would enjoy it even if I didn’t actively participate, because I love seeing all the garments that other people make and wear — and one of the best things about it is that it isn’t a fashion challenge or a photo challenge. These are (for the most part) the real clothes that people wear day to day, like multiple copies of a favorite t-shirt. I’m also the sort of person who makes many versions of the same sewing patterns over and over again — so I like to see that I’m not alone. You see people dressed as they usually do — to run errands or work in the garden, not just dressed to the nines with perfect make-up and accessories. It’s like street fashion, but much more casual.

Because I follow so many plus sized sewists on Instagram, May is also a good opportunity to see sewing patterns on a variety of bodies. I’ve already purchased one pattern that I was on the fence about because I saw it looked so good on someone shaped like me!

I followed through on my pledge and wore something self-made on every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday in May. I even managed to post a picture each time on Instagram. (I know that’s not the point of the pledge, but it is part of the fun.) I really did wear the things I normally wear; I only took care not to repeat anything. (Darth Marple style forever!) I wasn’t able to wear a couple of things I had planned on because it got so hot so quickly — and I also saw from the pictures that one of my bras doesn’t fit correctly and needs to be replaced — but I had a good time with it.

I do admire all of those dedicated Me-Made-May participants who make 100% of their own clothing, but I don’t aspire to that level. I don’t have the energy for it, and I’m mostly satisfied with the ready-to-wear* I have in my wardrobe. (I’m extremely picky — if it’s still hanging in my closet, it definitely works for me.) I know I’ve said before that I tend to sew simple things, a lot of “beginner” type patterns even though I’ve been sewing for more than half of my life. I mean, I’m capable of sewing all sorts of things. I used to make Victorian dresses and Renaissance costumes, for crying out loud — I am not afraid of zippers and buttonholes — but I choose to keep it simple because my energy level is so low. I mean, the amount of energy I would need to invest in sewing a pair of jeans — multiple muslins, all that bloody topstitching — could easily net me three or four tops and a dress instead. I’m not saying that I aspire to be my own sweatshop, or that quantity is always better than quality. I’m just saying that for me, personally, most of the time it makes sense to focus on the simpler things.

This might change in the future, of course. My energy level could improve, for one thing (hope springs eternal), and I’m already so dissatisfied with most ready-to-wear that I could see spending a couple of months sewing a winter coat or something like that.

Collage of May photos.

I finished a few things I already had cut out this month and made a couple of other simple things from scratch — including a pair of leggings for my Mom. I made a total of six new garments: Two dresses, two tops, and two pairs of leggings (including Mom’s). I’m more than satisfied with that!

I plan to complete the first draft of my new novel next month, so I bet my sewing momentum slows down a bit. I hope to finish a robe and another t-shirt dress before our vacation in July, though — and I plan to do at least the first muslin of my test project. That’s probably more than enough for June, but as I said, I’m pleased to have started off my Summer of Sewing with some tangible success.

Onward to June!

(*I’m not saying that I’m satisfied with what ready-to-wear currently has to offer plus sizes — I’m patently not. Also, I have to admit that the much of the ready-to-wear I own — aside from loungewear and underwear — is custom made to my measurements via eShakti. So it’s not exactly “off the rack” to begin with.)

April’s dismal list of frugal failures.

Frugality is the mother of the virtues.

If, as this motto I spotted on an old bank building in downtown Houston claims, “Frugality is the mother of the virtues,” I have shamed my metaphorical mother terribly this month. For one thing, though I cringe to admit it, I spent nearly $100 on books in April. I bought a bunch of fabric I didn’t need, too, and all of that on top of dental fillings. Yes, I knew about the fillings — it wasn’t an emergency — but I usually cut back on the month of a dental procedure to help even out the cost. But not this month! Nope. I decided to spend like a crazy person.

And even though I actually am a crazy person…that’s not an excuse.

I went overboard on a lot of stuff this month, but I did do some of my regular things. In April I:

  • Bought a big haul of 50% off Easter candy at Kroger — though we were so late there were no standard Peeps left! I consoled myself with more exotic Peeps (the pancake flavored Peeps are strangely tasty, it turns out) and some Hershey’s Kisses with tie-dye wrappers. I have no idea what the tie-dye had to do with Easter, but hey — they will be groovy whenever we’re ready to eat them. (They’re currently in the freezer.)
  • Finished our tax return before we had to file an extension. Though we always aim to break even (and almost did this year), our small refund has already been direct deposited into our account and transferred into savings.
  • Downloaded and altered free clip art from Graphics Fairy to use in my newsletter and here on my blog.
  • Redeemed a $3 Walgreens reward on some make-up that was also on sale (and on my list).
  • Downloaded Kate Bush’s “The Red Shoes” album from the Houston Public Library via Freegal. I borrowed this on cassette when it was brand new and only liked two songs on it, so I didn’t buy my own copy at the time. I thought I would give it another shot, and I loved it. It was just too sad and difficult for my teenage self to enjoy, but my sad and difficult middle-aged self found a lot more to appreciate in it.
  • Read 23 ebooks and 4 physical books from the library…though that certainly didn’t cancel out my book-based spending spree.

Next month I hope to rein in my personal spending again. Hope springs eternal, et cetera. (Sigh.)

Summer of Sewing: Preparing for Me Made May.

Sarah's Summer of Sewing

It’s that time of year again — time to take the Me Made May pledge and focus on sewing for a while. So, without further ado:

‘I, Sarah L. Crowder, of codenamesarah.com (and @codenamesarah on IG) sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May 2018. I will do my best to wear a self-made garment every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday during the month of May. I will also use this month as an opportunity to finish a couple of lingering UFOs, but I also want to get back into the habit of sewing more regularly — just for fun, with no pressure.’

I’m not promising photos this year, neither here nor on Instagram. I will be wearing many repeats from last year, and I don’t want to make a fuss over taking pictures this time around. I will do my best to photograph newly sewn items and a few things that I’ve never shown on IG, though. Of course, being me, I have to take things even further…so I’m going to use this year’s Me Made May to kick off an entire summer of sewing.

I genuinely enjoy sewing, but I haven’t been making time for it. It’s true that my energy level is especially low right now (particularly since I had the flu), but I make time for other, less important things — so why shouldn’t I get a little more sewing in? I spend so much time thinking about sewing, but so little time actually doing it. That’s what I want to change. I’ve finally gotten my writing into a useful daily routine — now I want to do the same thing with my sewing practice.

When we moved to this accursed apartment (that’s a whole other rant), I specifically made room for a dedicated sewing area. The only things I have to get out and put away are the iron and ironing board — and I can leave those out most of the time, too. I really have no excuse for not sitting down and spending 20 – 30 minutes a day sewing. Even that little bit of time really builds up, particularly as I tend to make simple garments. Just to be clear, though — I’m approaching this as fun, not as a self-imposed duty. I like to sew, and I love clothes; this is really just another form of self-care for me.

Aside from one design-concept-to-finished-item project that I have in mind (that will likely require multiple muslins), I just want to keep on sewing the simple dresses and basics that I usually do. But I want to actually do it, not endlessly theorize about it, as I am wont to do. So I’ve decided to dedicate the next several months to sewing, and have christened it “Sarah’s Summer of Sewing” because I am, as I have noted before, overly fond of alliteration.

I do use the term “summer” loosely here, though. I mean, I’m starting this in May and will likely continue through October because this is a subtropical zone. It’s already 80 – 85F here, and temperatures will remain at least that high until October at the earliest. So summer here lasts a good long while and has little to do with the traditional 20 June – 20 September temperate calendar. Also, it’s my thing, and I can be as loosey-goosey with it as I want.

I’ll do my best to check in here at least once a month, just for accountability — and more often if I have something notable to show off.

So here’s to a fun Me Made May and a successful Summer of Sewing!

Dye eggs, make salad.

We usually dye eggs for Easter every year — despite not actually celebrating the holiday. We just enjoy seasonal crafts. (We also enjoy the post-holiday clearance candy, but that’s another story.)

With all of those hard boiled eggs sitting around, egg salad is almost inevitable. This year’s mix was especially good, so I thought I would share it here.

Just eyeballing amounts for the most part, use:

  • 4 – 5 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • 2 – 3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
  • Mayonnaise
  • Dijon mustard
  • Dill pickle relish (not sweet)
  • Dried dill
  • Salt and pepper

Serve over greens. If you truly don’t have a feeling for the amounts, this very basic recipe is a good place to start.

Enjoy!

(With apologies to my vegan friends, though. Sorry!)

March list.

Never skip your flu shot.

I was completely out of commission for two weeks in March, thanks to an unseasonably late case of the flu. (It was the influenza “B” strain if you’re keeping score.) Poor Lennox got it, too. We were a mess, and we’re both still coughing and very fatigued. I spent my birthday flat on my back with a fever of 101F, so my tea party was of course canceled. I missed two weeks of work, too; it was a less-than-fabulous birthday month all around.

Although I sign up for pretty much any retailer’s e-mail list that will give me some form of birthday coupon, I was only able to take advantage of about half of the ones I got this year — mostly because I was too sick to leave the house. I do wait to shop with several retailers until their coupons come in and rarely make purchases just because I have a coupon, so at least I only spend money I plan to spend. It’s not an excuse for a spending orgy, is what I mean to say! Heh.

Anyway, despite my mostly-wasted month, in March I:

  • Paid for all but one of my Patreon pledges using money earned taking surveys.
  • Was given a packet of feminine hygiene products by a relative who got the wrong kind. They were the exact sort I prefer, except that I normally use the store brand knock-off! (She whispers: “Gonna have a plush, name brand period!”)
  • Got to enjoy the Blu-ray of “Thor: Ragnarok” that Lennox bought for only $3 using a combination of coupons and Best Buy gift certificates from his credit card points. (That man is a hell of a bargain shopper!)
  • Used a $10 off any purchase coupon (for my birthday) to reduce the cost of a couple of bras at Torrid. They were also on sale.
  • Used a $15 off any purchase coupon (again, for my birthday) to purchase a comforter insert at IKEA. We needed to replace our old one, and the coupon made it half price.
  • Used a code (yet another birthday coupon) to get a free Red Box rental.
  • Used one last birthday coupon to get 20% off at Jo-Ann Fabric. Unlike their regular coupons, this one worked on both regular and sale price items. That almost never happens! I only bought things on my list — thread, elastic, and 3/4 yard quilting cotton to make floral bias tape — but I saved $4.95 with my coupon.
  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card — but was too sick to redeem my free birthday drink before it expired! Oh, well. Better luck next year, I suppose.
  • Read 21 ebooks and 5 physical books from the library. I also read one free Kindle book…but then spent $44.85 on other books (good heavens), so like…still not a great month for the old book budget.

I definitely spent too much in March, both personally and for the household. A lot of the household expenditures were unavoidable due to our illnesses (we ordered lots of take-out while we were both too ill to cook), and though I’m grateful that we have the wiggle room in our budget to do this when things are difficult, I hope we’ll do a little better in April.

Next month I hope to get some sewing done; I intend to make a few things for myself for Me Made May and a pair of wild leggings for my Mom for her birthday. I’ll also be participating in Camp Nanowrimo, so I hope to make decent progress on my current novel. (I have been doing well there, at least! I’ve been writing steadily every single day, except for the first week of that terrible flu.) I also plan to finish our personal tax return before the deadline in April. I haven’t had to take out an extension in over ten years, and I mean to keep my streak intact! I know this seems like a lot — okay, it is a lot — but I know I can do it…if I can stay healthy. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

February list.

Pollen's comin', yo!

Actually, the pollen is already here — it’s just nowhere near its peak yet. Allergies are the worst. Ugh.

Here’s a short list for a short month. In February I:

  • Had a free drink on my Starbucks card.
  • Did my shopping at Sprouts one week instead of ordering groceries from Instacart. Not only were grocery prices lower there — I also avoided paying a service charge or tip. Although I love the convenience of Instacart (and the way it frees up my energy for other activities), I can’t deny that it’s an expensive choice.
  • Got a free Clif Bar for Lennox at Kroger, and a box of store brand cereal for only $1 with a coupon.
  • Found a gravy boat on clearance for $3.49. I’ve been looking for one for a long time, as we usually host Thanksgiving dinner for my family, and this was exactly the sort I wanted.
  • Realized I had an overabundance of canned pumpkin in the pantry, so I made pumpkin muffins — and will make some pumpkin spice cookies soon, too.
  • Managed to stay close to my $15.00 ebook spending goal. I was on target to spend far less than the $15 I’d allotted (I was looking at a record low, in fact), but had forgotten a full-price Kindle book I had pre-ordered! Whoops. My actual total spending was $15.07 for the month. However, $2.15 of that was a gift for my Mom, so it technically came from our gift budget. Still, a 7 cent overage is pretty danged good even counting my oversight and a gift!
  • Read 26 eBooks from the library, and watched one library DVD.

I did fail on one front, though. I purchased 2 1/2 yards of fabric to replace some yardage used in a botched sewing project. (It was the same fabric, right down to the color. I plan to try again using a better sewing pattern.)

Next month I will hopefully have lots of birthday freebies to cash in, and several useful birthday coupons, too. Keep your fingers crossed that the oak pollen doesn’t do me in before I can use them all!