Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fresh start, January 2014

Primary WIP(s) for January:
Final polishing of A Stinkin' Plot (cozy mystery set on garlic farm)
Expand outline for Plowed Under (cozy mystery, sequel to A Stinkin' Plot)

Fun WIP (for mini vacations from more structured writing):
Victoria and the Vapors (homage to Sherlock Holmes)

Status of other Fiction WIPs:
Monkey Wrench (sequel to A Four-Patch of Trouble), first draft about half done
Sisters in Stitches (cozy mystery set in the Berkshires, featuring chemo caps), outlined
Fatal Forfeit (legal thriller) 50+ pages of first draft completed)
Plowed Under (cozy mystery, outlined)
One Cat is Never Enough (post-apocalyptic cozy mystery series; 4 books in various stages of completion)
Arresting Amelia (vague idea for cozy mystery set at general aviation airport)
Tree of Life and Death (holiday novella, sequel to Monkey Wrench), first draft done

Status of other Non-fiction WIPs:
Financial Planning For Authors, languishing in limbo
Legal Research for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Contracts for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Estate Planning for Stashes (refers to collections of yarn, fabric, art, books, beads, Tardises, etc.): four-part series posted on blog, to be edited slightly and formatted into a free digital book on Smashwords.

Guest blog posts
Ruby-slippered Sisterhood, on estate planning for authors, December 19, 2013

Speaking appearances
May 2-3, 2014, New England Chapter, RWA "Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference." Topic is estate planning for authors. More on the conference here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas quilts 2013

The first two quilts were made for the kids next door (who are no longer kids). The top one looks complicated, but is just two blocks, alternating (and I played with the coloring to create the yellow star). The second one is mostly simply nine-patches in a variety of holiday prints, with a few simple stars thrown in for some added visual interest. I love quilts with secondary designs beyond the blocks themselves, like the large stars in the top one and the diagonal (Irish Chain) lines in the second one.

This last quilt (throw size, at roughly 40" x 50") was made to go with the quilt below (photographed when it was basted with pins -- that's what the white dots are -- before quilting), bringing a touch of Christmas to the room, without clashing with the teals of the bed quilt. At this resolution, you can't tell, but the non-Christmas fabrics in the Christmas throw quilt are all in the bed quilt.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ruby slippered sisterhood

An only slightly belated shout-out to the Ruby-slippered Sisterhood, who invited me to talk about estate planning for authors at their blog today: http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/special-guest-on-estate-planning-for-writers/

I nattered on at length; they listened politely and asked hard questions.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday cards

A few years ago, I got some adhesive-backed magnet sheets, and went hog-wild making fridge magnets. Since then, I've saved my favorite cards each Christmas, for re-use as magnets. I have a teeny-weeny fridge (just a little bigger than dorm-sized), or I'd have more.

They're easy to make, and fun to arrange on the fridge. All you really need is the magnet sheets (check out Magnet Valley, which is where I got mine) and a pair of sharp scissors. (The 20-mil thickness is fine if you're just affixing the cards; you might want the 30-mil if you're embellishing with things that are heavier than the card stock.) I like to use a rotary cutter (don't use a fresh blade, because the paper will ruin it; an old blade that's not sharp enough for fabric will work fine on this project -- I always keep a few old blades on hand for paper and miscellaneous products) for really straight/square edges, and a gridded, see-through ruler, like the ones from Omnigrid, which helps with cropping.

I usually crop the card, and then cut a piece of the magnet sheet about a quarter of an inch smaller, and then affix the magnet to the card, making sure to keep the  magnet hidden. As long as the magnet is smaller than the card, it doesn't have to be quite so perfectly aligned as if you cut the two pieces to identical sizes.

If I have left-over scraps of magnet to use up, I do the opposite, affixing the magnet to the back of the card, taking care to center it as best I can, and then crop the card (and magnet, if necessary).

If you don't have enough cards (probably because your fridge isn't a member of the itty bitty fridgie committee), or you want to have a bit more of a color theme, you can make some filler magnets using a favorite wrapping paper. I find that they're not as durable, though, and are more susceptible to the coating of grease that tends to accumulate on everything in kitchens.

NOTE: I did not get compensated for the mention of any products here, and did not receive any free products. I just really like Omnigrid's rulers, better than others that are out there, and the products I bought from Magnet Valley were as advertised and shipped in a timely manner. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The lion and the lamb

I'm not sure which is the lion and which is the lamb here. Todd (the orange) looks more leonine, but he's also an amiable sweetheart.

Emma (the tortie) isn't particularly fond of other cats. She isn't aggressive, but she would much prefer to be the only cat in the world. Which is why it's so amazing that she's curled up this close to Todd, sharing a corner of a quilt on my desk with him.

Emma really doesn't do sharing most of the time. On the other hand, she's no fool, and Todd is big and warm, and I keep my house quite chilly. She likes to sit on the cast-iron radiators, but when they're either too hot or too cool, apparently she'll deign to accept Todd's warmth.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ginger crinkles

I make these soft ginger cookies every year for Christmas. It's a fairly standard recipe, but I got my version from a restaurant (and later a cookbook the owners published) that I frequented during college.

The Soup Bowl had a limited menu -- a choice of two soups, two breads and two desserts -- but the options changed daily, so it wasn't as limited as it sounds, and it meant that everything on the menu was fresh that day, and everything was the best thing they did, no options that fell in the category of, "oh, well, we might as well offer it, since someone, sometime might want it."

This recipe comes out well, no matter what, but for truly stunning results, use top-quality spices, like Penzey's (or the spice specialist of your choice). I haven't received anything in return for mentioning them; I just love their products. The year I switched from standard grocery-store ginger to Penzey's ginger, the flavor was so much better, I couldn't believe it was the same recipe.

You can make these up ahead of time, all the way to rolling them into balls and squashing them in the sugar, and then freeze them to cook later. Place the balls of dough on a cookie tray in the freezer, wait until they freeze solid, and then dump them into a freezer bag. You don't have to thaw them before cooking, just add a minute or two to the cooking time. You can also make a "mix" ahead of time, of all the dry ingredients (not sugar). I make several batches of the mix to have on hand, or to share with friends, since a lot of the prep time is just finding the spaces and measuring them. I line up four custard cups (to make 4 batches), and measure the spices and baking soda into them, assembly-line style. Measure the flour into a gallon-sized zipper bag, toss in the spices and then mix it all together. Stores in the pantry for a year or so.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4 1/2 cups flour
4 t. baking soda
4 t. ginger
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. cloves
1/4 t. salt

1 1/2 cups shortening
1 pound brown sugar (I use dark brown)

Blend in and mix well:
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. The dough will be quite stiff.

Dump onto a large cutting board covered with plastic wrap. Roll out to about half an inch thick. Cut into 1" squares. (I find this easier than using a spoon to apportion the dough, but that works too.) Roll the dough into 1" balls.

Pour some white sugar into a custard cup or similar small bowl. Drop the rolled dough balls into the sugar and squash them slightly, so that they're pressed into the sugar. This gives them a nice surface texture. Place on a cookie tray, sugared side up, and bake for about 8 minutes. They're cooked when the tops get crinkly. If you leave them longer, they'll get crispy; too long and they'll burn.

I use a silicone sheet in the cookie tray and find that the cookies take an extra minute or so to cook, but they're less likely to burn. Plus, the silicone sheet is easy to clean, when the sugar falls off the cookie and then caramelizes on the cookie sheet.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fresh start, December 2013

Primary WIP(s) for December (a week or two on each):
Continue draft of A Monkey Wrench in the Works (sequel to A Four-Patch of Trouble)
Expand outline of Plowed Under (sequel to A Stinkin' Plot)
Expand outline of Sisters in Stitches (cozy mystery set in the Berkshires, featuring chemo caps)
Finish draft of non-fiction book: Financial Planning For Authors for release in January

Fun WIP (for mini vacations from more structured writing):
Victoria and the Vapors (Homage to Sherlock Holmes)

Status of other Fiction WIPs:
A Stinkin' Plot (cozy mystery set on garlic farm) second draft complete, spending time with fabulous betas
Fatal Forfeit (legal thriller, 50+ pages of first draft completed)
Plowed Under (cozy mystery, outlined)
One Cat is Never Enough (post-apocalyptic cozy mystery series; 4 books in various stages of completion)
Arresting Amelia (vague idea for cozy mystery set at general aviation airport)
A Four-Patch of Trouble (cozy mystery, quilt appraiser), on submission

Status of other Non-fiction WIPs:
Legal Research for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Contracts for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Estate Planning for Stashes (refers to collections of yarn, fabric, art, books, beads, Tardises, etc.): four-part series posted on blog, to be edited slightly and formatted into a free digital book on Smashwords.

Speaking appearances
May 2-3, 2014, New England Chapter, RWA "Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference." Topic is estate planning for authors. More on the conference here. Registration opens on December 1.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More cranky

I haven't had a cute cat picture in the blog for a while, so here's Todd.

It's actually a writing-related picture too. See that pink sticky on the computer screen? "More cranky." And Todd has his cranky face on. Those were both critical to the writing I was doing.

Now, usually I don't have any trouble remembering to be cranky. It's my natural state. But at the time, I was working on the second draft of A Stinkin' Plot, and the protagonist is a hermit who doesn't interact well with people, so when she's forced to deal with them in person, not through the internet or an intermediary, she tends to be even more cranky than I am. (I at least try to keep my cranky thoughts to myself, while she says them out loud and unfiltered.) During revisions, I realized that she'd started out plenty cranky in the first few chapters, but about halfway through, she started being nice and caring about people's feelings. Which is admirable, but not at all who she is. So, during revisions I needed to make her "more cranky." Ergo, the sticky note and Todd's helpful cranky face.

Today is not the day for cranky. Nor tomorrow. I've got too much cooking and eating and laughing with friends to do. And Todd might, just might, get a kitty treat or two, which he loves but isn't usually allowed to have.

For the next 48 hours, Todd and I are going to concentrate on a new sticky note: "more joy."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stuffed cabbage, unstuffed

I like stuffed cabbage, but never make it, because I don't like all the fussy work of rolling things up in the cabbage leaves. And then I ran across a recipe for rice and cabbage casserole, which was essentially unstuffed stuffed cabbage, layered in a casserole.

And then, after a mild fall, cold weather arrived, and I was craving hot and hearty meals, so I was inspired to make my own version of the casserole with what I had on hand:

1/2 head cabbage (or more, to taste; I only had a half head in the fridge)
1 cup rice
2 cups water
1/4 lb ground beef
diced peppers (lots!) and onions
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups tomato sauce
Optional: 2 leaves of swiss chard, chopped into small bits
olive oil
romano or parmesan cheese, grated

At lunch-time, chop the cabbage and toss it into a slow cooker with water, to cook on high until the cabbage is soft.

About an hour before dinner, make the rice with the 2 cups of water. (I'm strictly low-salt, but a beef bouillon cube could be added to the water for salt and a wee bit of flavoring.)

While the rice is cooking, saute the ground beef, peppers and onions. When they're almost done, toss in the garlic. Add the tomato sauce, and cook until the sauce is heated through. Then toss in the swiss chard and the rice and turn off the heat. You can skip the swiss chard; it's not really traditional for stuffed cabbage, but I tend not to get enough green vegetables (except peppers), and I had a bunch of swiss chard still growing in the garden, so I included it.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To assemble the casserole, start by drizzling some olive oil in the bottom of a two-quart casserole. Spread half of the cabbage in the casserole, top with half of the tomato/beef/rice mixture. Repeat with a second layer of cabbage, and then the tomato/beef/rice mixture. If the tomato sauce is particularly thick, you may want to add a bit of water to the finished casserole, just enough to cover the bottom of the dish to keep everything moist.

Sprinkle cheese on top of the casserole and bake for 30 minutes (or a little longer, if any of the ingredients weren't already hot) to melt the cheese and make sure the casserole is heated all the way through.

Serves 4.

This could be made vegetarian by skipping the beef and possibly adding mushrooms. The recipe that inspired me didn't have any meat in it. Or mushrooms, actually, but I think they'd make the casserole feel heartier than it would be without them.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to make a t-shirt pillow

To make  your own t-shirt pillow, you'll need:
  • t-shirt
  • fusible web or fusible interfacing
  • scrap of fabric larger than the pillow's dimension
  • thread, pins, scissors or rotary cutter
  • sewing machine
  • iron
  • marking pencil
  • pillow form
Start by deciding what size pillow you'll be making. Measure the design from top to bottom and side to side. The larger dimension is the minimum size for the pillow. I recommend adding a couple inches on each side of the image, to give it a bit of a frame, rather than having the design bump right up against the edge of the pillow. You may not have that option, depending on where the design is and what shape it is.

The burgundy pillow below has a very wide but short design, so the pillow needed to be about 18" square to accommodate the width. There was plenty of fabric on the left and right of the design to get to that size, but the design was printed only about 3" from the neck of the t-shirt. The pillow would have looked odd if the design was at the top of the pillow, rather than centered, so I added a strip above the design, and then folded and stitched the fabric an equal distance below the design to make it look like there was a seam there too.

The black pillow above was more straightforward. The design was about 9" x 11", so I decided on a pillow size that was 14" square, which gives me 2 1/2" of framing on the sides and 1 1/2" of framing at the top and bottom.

I use a 1/2" seam on the pillows, so you need to add twice that (1") to the finished size to get the ideal cutting size. For the black pillow, that meant a 15" square. T-shirt material can stretch when marking and cutting, though, so I like to add a little bit to compensate for that, and the extra can be trimmed away later, so for the black pillow, my goal was to cut a 15 1/2" square.

Make sure the design is centered in your square. The easiest way to do that is to simply fold the t-shirt in half vertically. Then measure half the square's size (7 3/4" in my example) from the fold on each side and mark a vertical line. Unfold the shirt and re-fold it horizontally, and do the same thing. If you want to be more accurate, one option is to take a piece of paper (a paper grocery bag is good) or cardboard that's larger than the size you plan to cut, and then cut a square from its center, the size of the square you will be cutting from the t-shirt, forming a frame that you can place on top of the t-shirt and move until it's centered properly. Then mark around the inside of the frame. Another option, if you're a quilter with a quilting ruler, and you know how to fussy-cut fabric images, is to follow the same fussy-cutting procedure, but with a marker to draw a square of the desired size from the front of the shirt.

For cutting the pieces, I like to use a rotary cutter, because it's less likely to distort the stretchy fabric, but scissors will work if you're careful. First, cut away the neck binding and sleeves. Then, cut along one side of the t-shirt, from the armhole to the hem, so you have a flat piece of fabric. The main thing to remember is that you don't want to risk cutting into the back of the t-shirt when you cut the square from the front of the t-shirt. Cut the marked square from the front of the t-shirt and set it aside. 

Next, you will cut the back of the pillow from the back of the t-shirt. I like pillow backs that fold over each other (envelope style), so there's no need for a zipper, and yet the pillow cover can be removed for washing. If you want to use a zipper or permanently sewn-in-place cover, just cut a square from the back that's the same size as the front square. 

For an envelope style pillow, start by cutting the t-shirt's back into a large rectangle, the width of the front square WITHOUT the extra added for stretching (15" in my example) and the full length of the back of the shirt. Next, figure out how long each of the sections of the back need to be. They overlap, and the amount of overlap is somewhat random. I usually add about 3" to the size the pieces would be if there was no overlap. In other words, take the size of the pillow front WITHOUT the extra added for stretching (15" in my example), divided it in half (7 1/2") and add 3", more or less, rounding up to an easy number to remember (11" in my example). If  you'll be turning under the edge, add another inch, so it would be 12" in my example. Most of the time, I add the inch to only one of the two sections, since I usually leave the t-shirt's hem in place and use it for the finished edge of one of the backing pieces. It saves me time, and the original hem is usually neater than anything I can do myself. For the second piece, without the pre-finished edge, turn under half an inch along one long edge and stitch it down. Two rows of stitching about 1/4" apart will help to keep it from rolling.

Before you sew the pieces together, I recommend stabilizing the front piece. It's generally not a problem if the smaller back sections stretch a bit, and the stretch can make it easier to stuff the pillow, but you don't want the front to stretch out of shape. You can either interface the pillow front, and then line it, or simply fuse the pillow front to a scrap of fabric. Either way, you'll need to cut a square of the interfacing/webbing and a square of the scrap fabric. These squares should be the size of the pillow front WITHOUT the extra added for stretching (15" in my example).

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the interfacing/webbing, and fuse it to the back of the pillow's front. Be careful not to use too hot an iron or  you will melt the shirt's ink. If you used interfacing, rather than fusing the design directly to the scrap of fabric, pin the fabric square on top of the interfacing and baste the layers together about 1/4" from the raw edges. Otherwise, the friction of stuffing the pillow may damage the interfacing. Trim any excess of t-shirt material that extends beyond the interfacing/lining.

The next step is the only tricky one, which is to figure out which of the two backing pieces will be on top when it's finished. For the black pillow, I needed to interface and line one of the pieces, since there's a second design featured there. I wanted that piece to end up on top when the pillow was finished. Usually, I want the pre-finished shirt hem to be on top, although in the picture below, I needed the other piece to be on top for design reasons.

Here's the trick to getting it right. Lay the front of the pillow on the pinning table, right side of the fabric up, and oriented so that the design is also right side up. Then, lay the piece that you want to be on top when you're done, wrong side up (in other words, the right side of the front fabric and the right side of the back piece are facing each other), along the upper edge of the pillow, matching the raw edges on the sides. The finished edge will be in the middle of the square. You can see that first piece (with the yellow backing) in the picture above. 

Next, place the piece the remaining back section, wrong side up, along the bottom edge of the front piece, matching the raw edges and again having the finished edge in the middle of the square. In the picture, I have one corner of the bottom section turned down, so you can see the three layers -- pillow front, top back section and bottom back section. That corner should be aligned with the right edge of the pillow when you have the three pieces laid out.

The rest is easy. Pin the layers in place. Stitch 1/2" from the edge along all four sides. If you have a zig-zag stitch on  your machine, you can go around the edge a second time with a zig-zag, or just do a second row of straight stitching 1/4" from the edge to minimize the raveling.

All that's left is to turn it right side out and fill it with a pillow form.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not so eternal, after all

Those ten pages that wouldn't die? They've been wrestled into submission. Time for a new and shiny project!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Green tomato jam

I had a lot of green tomatoes this year, thanks to early blight. The plants had died, and the tomatoes would have rotted if I'd tried to let them ripen, so I chopped them up before the blight affected them. I like to make green tomato mincemeat from my great-grandmother's recipe, and I made a large batch, but I still had 4 pounds of green tomatoes left, and I really didn't need any more mincemeat, since I had plenty for a couple pies for each of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I went looking for alternative uses for the tomatoes and came up with green tomato jam. It's sort of like ginger-flavored honey with bits in. (I love the British "with bits in" phrasing, and it seems appropriate, because the jam has a passing likeness with marmalade, a Brit favorite, which has citrus bits in.)

Here's what I did, modified by what I wish I'd done (namely, use a food mill, which I don't have, to remove the seeds and get a smoother texture for everything except the lemon peel):

2 lb green tomatoes, chopped (and de-seeded if you don't have a food mill) and frozen, then thawed and thoroughly drained overnight to remove excess liquid. Toss the liquid (or use it to water the garden).
2 cups sugar (might start with half of this, to see if it's enough, and only add more toward the end, if necessary)
1 cup cider (to replace the tossed liquid and add some pectin)
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
1" piece of ginger root, peeled and diced into tiny bits

Toss all of these things into non-reactive pan and bring to a boil for a few (maybe three to five) minutes, just to heat everything. Cover and let sit for several hours (or overnight) to absorb the ginger flavor.

This is what I didn't do, but wish I had: run through a food mill to remove seeds and skins. Alternatively, if you removed the seeds before freezing the tomatoes, then you could whirl the partially cooked stuff in a food processor until reasonably smooth. There would still be some skin bits, but that's okay.

Return to pan.
Take 1 lemon, and peel the zest (just the yellow part, not the white part). Cut the zest into itty-bitty pieces. 
Add the lemon zest and the juice of the lemon to the tomato mixture. (You could do this before the first cooking, but I like the texture of the little lemon bits, sort of like marmalade, so I prefer to keep them intact, not pureed.)

Bring it to a boil and just keep boiling it until it reduces by at least a third, possibly more. It never really gelled like jelly, but reached the texture of warm honey, and when it cooled it was a little more solid, like cold honey or cold molasses. Process or keep refrigerated.

It's EXTREMELY sweet. Really, a lot like honey. The sugar could be cut back. I cut it down from the original recipe, but I added cider, which is also pretty much pure sugar, so I should perhaps have cut back even more on the refined sugar. 

The places where I found the recipes to get me started all suggested using it with cream cheese on crackers. I do think it would be best with something savory to balance out the sweetness. I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to use mine, because I'm not much of a cracker eater.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The eternal ten pages

I'm at the point in revisions (although it happens in first draft too), where I write/edit ten pages, and I'm overjoyed that I only have ten pages left to do the next day before it's done, done, done. And the next day I write/edit ten pages, and lo and behold, I still have ten pages left to do.

It violates the laws of physics (or at least the laws of mathematics), and yet it happens with every single manuscript, every single draft.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fresh start November 20113

Primary WIP(s) for November (a week or two on each):
Finish second draft of A Stinkin' Plot (cozy mystery set on garlic farm) (only a few scenes left)
Expand outline and begin draft of A Monkey Wrench in the Works (sequel to A Four-Patch of Trouble)
Finish non-fiction book: Financial Planning For Authors for release in January

Fun WIP (for mini vacations from more structured writing):
Victoria and the Vapors (Homage to Sherlock Holmes)

Status of other Fiction WIPs:
Fatal Forfeit (legal thriller, 50+ pages of first draft completed)
Plowed Under (cozy mystery, outlined)
One Cat is Never Enough (post-apocalyptic cozy mystery series; 4 books in various stages of completion)
Arresting Amelia (vague idea for cozy mystery set at general aviation airport)

Status of other Non-fiction WIPs:
Legal Research for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Contracts for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Estate Planning for Stashes (refers to collections of yarn, fabric, art, books, beads, Tardises, etc.): four-part series posted on blog, to be edited slightly and formatted into a free digital book on Smashwords.

Speaking appearances
May 2-3, 2014, New England Chapter, RWA "Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference." Topic is estate planning for authors.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

All Dinos Eve

I made several versions of this simple square-in-square quilt for my nieces, finishing the last one just recently. The fabric is from the 1990s, when I started quilting. You can see below that the two main prints (orange and black backgrounds) feature brightly colored dinosaurs going trick-or-treating. The border stripes, purchased at the same time, I believe, have more traditional cats and ghosts. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Rule of Seven

Writers frequently employ a Rule of Three -- three characters, three plot lines, or three uses of a motif. (See what I did there?) You'll find it everywhere in legal writing, and not just because we like to cover all bases as if we were paid by the word, as in the standard language in many wills: I hereby give, devise and bequeath. Or marriage vows: love, honor and cherish. The idea is that just one thing is a bit random, two establishes a bit of a pattern, three cements that pattern and four (or more) is over-kill. So, for many purposes, three is the sweet spot.

In my last WIP, I had three goals for the protagonist: meet a deadline for her day job, harvest the garlic on the farm she's just inherited, and get her aunt buried properly (which then becomes a larger goal of seeking justice for her aunt by finding her killer). In the quilt appraiser's story, the protagonist had three goals: solve the murder, prepare for a career-making/breaking speech, and deal with a health issue that complicated everything.

Recently, though I was reading the thoughts of John Barnes here, where he says, "I like to set up seven slightly related ideas and riff on them till it adds up to something." Perhaps because I was brainstorming a new WIP at the time, I loved the idea of expanding from my usual focus on three to finding seven things that all contribute to the overall story. His Rule of Seven includes more than plot-lines, or the story might get a tad chaotic, and it serves as a reminder that plot-lines and other elements all work together, so the parts come together for the whole that's larger than their sum.

For my current WIP, I already had: 1. genre, legal thriller, 2. premise involving abuse of civil forfeiture laws, 3. a non-mystery-related deadline involving mountain biking, 4. the basic genre goal of solving the mystery, 5. the protagonist's desire to change careers and become a hobby farmer, and 6. a health issue for the protagonist, complicating her other goals.

The two things I was missing (which would add up to more than seven, but I'll combine one of them with another element) were: an interesting title (reflecting the genre), and something compelling about the antagonist.

Whether I'll succeed with the title and the antagonist is still to be determined, but simply knowing where to concentrate my brainstorming efforts was useful. It should save me a lot of the angst I usually experience when I've got a bunch of words written, only to realize that there's this big, gaping hole in the story where a three-dimensional antagonist should be.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Furry keyboards

If you share your office space with anything that sheds (cat, dog, yourself) you'll love this keyboard: 

Not so much for dunking it under a faucet (haven't tried that yet), but because the design makes it so easy to remove fur from between the keys. Just run a Q-tip between the rows of keys, and it will pick up most, if not all, of the fur.

Bonus feature: for those occasions when  you really need to see the keys (like searching for an odd symbol on top of the number keys, or first thing in the morning before you're awake, when you need to put in your password while leaning over the desk, not really in a position for touch-typing), the white keys are so much easier to read than most other color combinations.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pumpkin pie in a jar

I've been obsessed with jam/jelly-making lately. One day, when the crabapples weren't quite ripe, and the green tomatoes (to be made into jam) were frozen, and I didn't want to spend any money, I decided to make pumpkin butter. Except with butternut squash, because I had a bunch of them, including a couple that had blemishes, and wouldn't keep for long without cooking them.

Generally, butternut squash can be substituted for anything made out of pumpkin. I read somewhere that butternuts are actually sweeter and more flavorful than even the sweetest pumpkin, but I think there are proponents on both sides of that debate. All I know is that I find butternuts easier to grow, and I don't have room for both butternuts and pumpkins. So, butternut is my preference.

I did some research and found a bunch of pumpkin butter recipes online. The gist of them all is to mix the squash/pumpkin, a very little liquid (squash releases some when it's heated), sugar, spices and maybe lemon juice, and simmer until the vegetable pieces are mushy. Apparently, pumpkin butter is particularly popular in Portugal, and is more of a chutney, with raisins and nuts mixed in. I was also intrigued by a pumpkin-apricot jam and some spreads that were a hybrid of pumpkin butter and marmalade, with citrus bits included.

I wasn't prepared to spend any money or go to the grocery store, so I limited myself to what I had on hand: squash, sugar, and spices. I also had lemons, which were called for in the recipes I read, probably as a sop to getting the squash high-acid enough for water-bath canning. It's not considered safe to use this method of preserving squash, not even with the added lemon, so I planned to simply refrigerate the butter or freeze it. I didn't need the lemon juice for its acidity, and I doubted the lemon juice flavor would be noticeable in such a highly spiced concoction, but thinking of the marmalade-style versions, I decided to add some lemon rind bits, which hold their flavor better than the juice does. The little bits got more mushy than the usual chewy marmalade bits, but they're a nice little burst of lemon flavor.

Final recipe:

8 to 9 cups of butternut squash, peeled, cored and diced (or you can substitute two 29-oz cans of pumpkin puree)
Shaved peel of 1/2 lemon, just the very outer zest, not the bitter white part, cut into tiny bits
2 Tablespoons pumpkin pie spice from Penzey's (or the pumpkin pie spice mix of your choice)
1 1/2 to 2 cups of brown sugar (most recipes suggested 2 cups, but I like it a bit less sweet; you can start with the lower amount and add more at the end if necessary; I tried to go even lower, but needed a bit more than the 1 cup I started with)
1 cup water or cider

Toss everything into a slow cooker on high for an hour or so, then turn it down to low until the squash is mushy. Use an immersion blender or whisk or just a wooden spoon to smash it into a smooth consistency. Taste and adjust the sugar and spices, as needed.

Lay two wooden spoons or two metal knives across the top of the slow cooker and put the lid on top of the spoons, to allow the liquid to escape, and continue cooking on low until the butter thickens to a really dense texture, thicker than applesauce. Do a final taste test and any necessary adjustments. Ladle into clean jars and use within thirty days. If you want to keep it longer, use freezer-safe jars and freeze the butter.

Makes 4 to 5 cups (roughly half of whatever amount of squash is used)

P.S.: Ignore the "Classico" on the lids. I save and reuse those lids for things that are NOT processed, because I find the rings annoying for daily use. You need to use the official lids if you're processing jams, but as noted above, pumpkin/squash should be kept refrigerated or frozen, not "canned" and left on the shelf. Of course, at the rate I'm eating this stuff, it wouldn't go bad before I used it up anyway!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Estate planning for stashes: communication (part 4 of 4)

So far, we've focused on the documents and court procedures for distributing assets. Perhaps even more important than these formal things, more important than anything a lawyer can do for you, is what you can do for  yourself: talk to your heirs.

By "heirs," I mean both the official ones that lawyers call "heirs at law," (the people who would inherit if you died without a will; basically, it's your closest family members, the people who have the right to contest your will) and anyone outside of the heirs at law who will actually either inherit your assets or will be the person distributing your assets.

It's important to let people know your wishes, and prepare them for any choices you make that they might disagree with. It's not possible to prevent all will contests, especially if the person contesting the will is acting maliciously, but you can head off problems that arise when a misguided but well-intentioned family member contests a will because she doesn't believe the will (or memo) expresses your actual wishes. By talking to the heirs ahead of time, you can make it clear that the will (or memo) really is what you want.

Communication is particularly important in situations where there's no need to get the probate court involved, and all of the assets are distributed without any court involvement. Technically, all wills should be probated, but in many cases, it's a pointless exercise, because there are no assets that are subject to the court's authority. While technically all assets need to be inventoried and distributed, in reality, the only assets that will trigger the need to probate an estate are the ones that a) are owned individually by the decedent, and b) have a paper trail, like bank accounts, vehicles and real estate. Once those assets need to be probated, then all of the assets are included in the estate's inventory, regardless of the paper trail, but if there are no assets with a paper trail, and the other assets are of nominal worth, then it's a waste of everyone's time to go through a probate action.

There are two situations where there aren't any assets that will trigger the need to file a probate: when the decedent had no significant assets, and when the decedent had no "probate assets."

The first situation is when the decedent simply didn't have any significant assets with a paper trail; they had no bank accounts, they rented instead of owned their home, and they didn't own a car. They might still own some furniture, of course, and a stash, which technically should be distributed according to any will, but virtually no one actually goes through the probate court to do it, or, at most, simply file a "voluntary" probate, which amounts to an affidavit that the estate was of nominal value, and all assets have been distributed according to the decedent's wishes.

The second, and more common, situation is when the decedent owned everything that has a paper trail jointly with someone else or in a form that has a named beneficiary (like life insurance policies and IRAs), who inherits the assets automatically, without any court involvement. Most married couples own their major assets jointly, so when one of them dies, there's really no point to doing a probate just to distribute the smaller items that might be owned solely by the decedent, like a stash.

So what happens if all your major assets are owned jointly with a spouse or partner, and you die before the joint owner? In that situation, it's not worth the expense of probating your estate, although, in theory, your will could require it. A better solution for most people is, again, to communicate with your heirs, giving them some guidance for handling the stash.

If you have significant assets jointly with another person, you can't predict which of you will die first, so you should have a will (and memorandum, if appropriate). If you don't have any assets that would be probated, regardless of who dies first, I would still recommend executing a will, especially if  you have minor children, so you can nominate a guardian, and also to cover any unexpected situations, like winning the lottery minutes before a fatal accident. Nevertheless, if you choose not to execute a will, but you would like to give your family some guidance with respect to your stash, you could use the basic format of the memorandum discussed previously in part 3. Just keep in mind that it will probably not have any legal enforceability, because there won't be any court overseeing the distribution of your assets. If you really, really, really want to be sure your stash is distributed according to your wishes, a will that mandates being probated is the best way to go, although even then it's not an absolute guarantee. (Lawyers never make guarantees, because it's just asking for trouble.)

Simply preparing a will (and/or memorandum, if appropriate) is only the first step, though. The documentation won't help if your family doesn't know it exists, can't find it or doesn't believe it reflects your actual wishes. I know it's a difficult conversation to have -- "when I die" is not an easy thing for us to think about, let alone say -- but it's a necessary one.

It doesn't have to be a long, dreary, tearful event. Just make sure that the anyone who owns your major assets jointly with you also knows that you care about your stash, and you would like it distributed according to your stated wishes in your will or memorandum or both. These are the basic steps you need to take with respect to communicating your wishes for your stash (which are also good steps to take with any type of estate planning):

1. Make sure your designated personal representative (or executor) knows where the estate planning documents are, and that you did indeed sign them voluntarily. You might even want to run through the terms of the will with the personal representative, if there's a clause that seems unlike you, such as disinheriting someone. For instance, if  you have a relative who loves the same craft that you do, and who would appear to be the most likely beneficiary of your stash, but you don't leave the stash to her, you might want to explain to your personal representative that you made that choice on purpose, and why you chose the other beneficiary.

2. For disinheritances, if it's done for reasons other than personal animosity, it can be a good idea to explain it to the disinherited heir. As an example, it's a common estate planning practice to disinherit the decedent's parents, not because the will-maker dislikes her parents, but because it doesn't make sense for a sixty-year-old person to leave assets to an eighty-something-year-old person, only to then have all the assets have to be re-probated a few years later.

3. Make sure that the beneficiaries know that the estate planning documents exist, and that they do reflect your wishes. You may even wish to share copies of the documents with your family, so that there aren't any unpleasant surprises later, when you won't be around to say, "Yes, that really is what I want."

4. As the documents are updated significantly (not necessarily every time you add to your stash, but when the terms of distribution are changed), you notify anyone who has copies of, or has read, the older versions.

So now you know: if you want to have a say in what happens to your stash after you're gone, you need to: 1) figure out what should happen to it, 2) express those wishes in a will, 3) expand on those wishes in a memorandum if your state recognizes and enforces them, and 4) make sure your family and representative or executor all know that the estate planning documents exist and accurately express your wishes.

Once you've done all that, go enjoy your stash and make something fabulous to go along with your fabulous estate planning work.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fresh start for October 2013

Primary WIP for October:
Second draft of A Stinkin' Plot (cozy mystery set on garlic farm)

Secondary WIP for October:
Non-fiction book: Financial Planning For Authors

Fun WIP (for mini vacations from more structured writing):
Victoria and the Vapors (Homage to Sherlock Holmes)

Status of other WIPs:
Fatal Forfeit (legal thriller, 50+ pages of first draft completed)
A Monkey Wrench in the Works (cozy mystery, outlined)
Plowed Under (cozy mystery, outlined)
One Cat is Never Enough (post-apocalyptic cozy mystery series; 4 books in various stages of completion)
Arresting Amelia (vague idea for cozy mystery set at general aviation airport)
Legal Research for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Contracts for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Estate Planning for Stashes (collections of yarn, fabric, art, books, beads, Tardises, etc.): four-part series posted on blog, with final section to go live tomorrow; debating whether to make it a free digital book on Smashwords for easy downloading.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Estate planning for stashes: Memos (part 3 of 4)

Two weeks ago, we discussed the technical legal information. Last week, we went over the formal language of a will. This week, we'll address a slightly less formal document that may be used in some jurisdictions: a testamentary memorandum.

Note that in most jurisdictions, a memorandum won't have any legal effect without a valid will that mentions the memorandum. In some jurisdictions, a memorandum won't have any legal effect, no matter what. It's important to find out from a qualified professional in your jurisdiction, whether a memorandum is enforceable and if so, what formalities there are.

Once you've confirmed that a memorandum will work in your jurisdiction, and you've agreed with your attorney that you'd rather distribute your stash by way of a memorandum instead of directly in the will, you need to actually prepare a memorandum. Check with the lawyer to see if there are any formalities, other than 1) referring to it in your will, 2) signing it and 3) dating it. If so, make sure to follow those instructions, in addition to the format suggested here.

Assuming your lawyer has approved of the use of a memorandum, here's an example of the sort of language you might use at the beginning of the memorandum:


Pursuant to the provision in my will for a memorandum to distribute my tangible personal assets, I direct my personal representative [or "executor" in jurisdictions that  use that term] to distribute the following items to the named beneficiaries, provided that the named beneficiary survives me by thirty days.

After the introduction, for the description of the items, you can use either the general language that might otherwise have been included in a will (e.g., "all of my yarn" or "all of my wool yarn" to one person and "all of my cotton yarn" to another person), or a more detailed inventory by way of a list or spreadsheet of items that includes the description, location and optional things like the date acquired and the approximate value. If you're already cataloging your stash on Ravelry, GoodReads, some other on-line site for other types of stash, a custom spreadsheet, a notebook, or a legal pad, you can keep right on doing that, and simply refer to it in your memorandum. Generally, it's more important to have a process that works for you than one that might be fancy and all-encompassing, but that you don't actually use.

Next to each item in the list or spreadsheet, indicate both a first and second choice of beneficiary, in case the first one is unable or unwilling to accept the item. This is just a personal recommendation, but if you know a charity that could benefit from your stash, and you aren't entirely sure your named beneficiaries will actually want the stash, I'd recommend listing that charity as an alternative beneficiary. That way, if the original beneficiary gives up knitting or quilting or whatever else the stash is for, and doesn't have a real use for the items and is only taking them to honor your wishes, the beneficiary can decline the bequest, guilt-free, and the items will go to the charity of  your choice.

One way to express a charitable preference is something like this:

In the event any of the named beneficiaries is unable or unwilling to accept their items, I instruct my personal representative [or "executor" if your state still uses that term] to distribute any declined cotton or acrylic yarn to Head Huggers, or a comparable charitable organization that provides hand-made hats to chemo patients; any declined baby yarn to Project Linus or a comparable charitable organization that provides hand-made blankets for children in need; and any declined wool yarn to the knitters at my local ABC church, who make blankets for the homeless.

Finally, make sure to sign the memorandum, and if there's more than one page, initial any page that's not signed. If there are any strike-outs or hand-written changes, they should be initialed too.

I strongly recommend putting a date on the memorandum, in case there are multiple versions, so the person administering your estate will know which one is most recent. If you update the memorandum, you can leave the original date, and simply add "updated on _____."

DISCLAIMER: The rules relating to wills and probate vary from state to state, and country to country. The information here is not intended as individual legal advice, but is simply offered as information you can discuss when you consult a qualified professional in your jurisdiction, who can advise you with respect to your local laws and their applicability to your specific circumstances.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Estate planning for stashes: wills (part 2 of 4)

Last week, I gave you all the technical information about how a will or memorandum might be used to ensure that your stash is treated in accordance with your wishes after you're gone.

I strongly recommend that you have a lawyer prepare your will, rather than trying to do it yourself. The problem with DIY legal documents is that you don't know what you don't know, and that's particularly risky with wills, because if you make a mistake, by the time anyone realizes the documents are defective, you're dead and can't fix them. Some lawyers (the ones who give the rest of us a bad reputation) secretly love all the proponents of DIY wills, because a defective will tends to generate far more legal fees than a properly drawn one.

That said, you can make the lawyer's job easier, reduce the expense to you, and improve the chances of having a will that accurately expresses your wishes, if you do some planning before you see the lawyer. That's true of all the elements of the will (e.g., choice of beneficiaries, personal representative, trustees/guardians for minors, and age for distribution to children who are no longer minors), but the lawyer is more likely to ask about those basic issues than to ask about your yarn (or fabric or book or scrapbook) stashes.

Accordingly, before you consult with your lawyer, you should think about how you can describe your stash, and how you want it distributed. If you're a Ravelry member (or belong to a comparable group for other types of stash), and you catalog your stash there, keeping it up-to-date, it's extremely simply to simply refer to your Ravelry (or comparable site) account. If you're not that organized, think about how else you could describe the stash, and how to differentiate between portions of it, if it's to go to different people.

Then, you should discuss with the attorney the pros and cons of mentioning the stash in your will versus including it indirectly by way of a memorandum (assuming your state recognizes and enforces testamentary memoranda). If the attorney isn't receptive to your concerns (and you're not prepared to go looking for a different adviser), it might help to mention approximately how much money you've spent on the stash over the years, since the attorney may not be aware of just how much we indulge ourselves with pretty fibers and books and the like. If you have any concrete information on the stash's current value, or know of a resource that would help establish a future value, that would also be useful in the future, for placing a value on the stash in the probate inventory.

If you write the stash directly into your will, you'll need to be somewhat vague and all-encompassing in your description of it, to allow for future acquisitions and dispositions. In other words, the paragraph in the will would read something like this (subject to the standard wording in your jurisdiction):

"I give, devise and bequeath all of my yarn to my son, Joe Shmoe, provided he survives me by thirty days. In the event he predeceases me or fails to survive me by thirty days, I give, devise and bequeath all of my yarn to the nearest chapter of Head Huggers, or comparable charitable entity which supports the donation of handmade hats to patients who have lost their hair during treatment."

If you need to divide the stash among various heirs, it would read something like this (subject to the standard wording in your jurisdiction):

"I give, devise and bequeath all of my yarn, in equal shares, to my son, Joe Shmoe, and my daughter Josefina Shmoe, provided they survive me by thirty days, or to the survivor thereof. If Joe Shmoe and Josefina Shmoe cannot decide on a fair and equal distribution of the yarn, then I give my personal representative absolute discretion to make the division of the yarn, and the personal representative's decision shall be final."


"I give, devise and bequeath all of my wool yarn and the circular needles to my son, Joe Shmoe, and the rest, residue and remainder of my yarn and knitting tools and supplies to my daughter Josefina Shmoe, provided they survive me by thirty days, or to the survivor thereof. [etc.]"

Depending on how detailed you are with your stash cataloging, if you participate in a site like Ravelry (or GoodReads for books), you could add a beneficiary's name or code to your stash catalog. Ravelry and GoodReads both have a field for user-defined tags, so you could either use a beneficiary's name or something more generally descriptive in that tag, and then the will language would look something like:

"I give, devise and bequeath all of the yarn tagged at my Ravelry account with "Joe" [or: tagged with "luxury" or even "Group A"] to my son, Joe Shmoe, and all of the yarn tagged at my Ravelry account with "Josefina" [or: tagged with "daily use" or "Group B"] to my daughter Josefina Shmoe, provided they survive me by thirty days, or to the survivor thereof."

Another option, if you're better at photographing your stash than I am (and then organizing the pictures) would be to photograph your existing stash, and make sure to photograph new acquisitions as they're added, and then organize the pictures into folders on your hard drive (with a back-up to an external hard drive or a flash drive), with some sort of descriptive name, much the same way you would use a tag on Ravelry or Goodreads. Then, just substitute the hard drive location for the Ravelry reference in the paragraph above.

The picture above is what remains of my yarn stash, after switching most of my crafting to quilting. The navy bag is yarn for mittens, the white bag is yarn for chemo caps, and the teal bag is a Go Bag for my current project. If you divide your stash in similar ways, based on its intended use (e.g., clothes, afghans, charity projects, babies), and the intended recipients match up with the various uses,  you could refer to how or where the relevant portion of the stash is stored. It's not quite as reliable as a complete inventory, because you have to trust that no one will go in and mess up your sorting before the items are distributed, but it's better than giving your heirs no guidance at all, and it doesn't require you to do anything you're not already doing (except to write down who gets what).

Bottom line: think about what  you want to happen to your stash before you consult your lawyer. Have an idea of how to describe it, who should get it, and approximately what it's worth currently.

Next week, I'll share some suggestions for how to use a memorandum instead of a will, and then in the final week, I'll address the importance of communication with your heirs.

DISCLAIMER: The rules relating to wills and probate vary from state to state, and country to country. The information here is not intended as individual legal advice, but is simply offered as information you can discuss when you consult a qualified professional in your jurisdiction, who can advise you with respect to your local laws and their applicability to your specific circumstances.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Estate planning for stashes: overview (part 1 of 4)

Over at Reinventing Fabulous, there was a discussion recently about the various types of stashes we like to accumulate, and it got me to thinking about what happens to our stashes after we're gone. (It's not being morbid, it's thinking like a lawyer.) At one point, I had some collectible books that wouldn't seem valuable to a casual glance, but were in fact worth ten or twenty times the prices printed on them. My casual solution back then was simply to attach a note to them, advising anyone who cared to look, that they should not be tossed in the recycling bin.

The picture above is my stash of chemo caps, which aren't really a stash, but it just dawned on me that I ought to include instructions for where they should be donated if I'm unable to do it.

My main stash nowadays is fabric, mostly quilting weight. No single piece is terribly expensive, but the sheer quantity of the collection makes it reasonably valuable, at least to another quilter. Fortunately, the person named to handle my estate is aware of the value, and I don't have heirs who would have any sentimental attachment to it, so I don't worry too much about how it will be distributed.

But what can you do if the person in charge of your estate is less knowledgeable about your stash of fabric, yarn, books or whatever other tangible property you love? How can you make sure that the items go to someone  you know will cherish them, or will be sold for something approaching their market value?

One option, of course, is to list everything in your stash in your will. There are several drawbacks to doing that, starting with the fact that you'd have to update your will every time you added to, or subtracted from, the stash, and our collections are expensive enough without adding legal fees to every shopping expedition.

In any event, I've always been reluctant to include itemized lists in wills. For one thing, it tends to raise questions in the minds of people like the taxing authorities, the beneficiaries who distrusted the person administering the estate, and sometimes even the probate court employees. That means that if something was listed in the will, it almost always had to be formally appraised, even when the value of the item was less than the cost of the appraisal. It also tends to cause problems among rival heirs, when an item listed in the will had been given away or lost or sold before the testator (the person whose will is being probated) died, and inevitably, someone would become convinced that someone else had stolen it.

Until recently, however, in my state the only way to be as sure as humanly possible that an item would go to the right beneficiary was to specifically mention it in the will. That way, if the item went to the wrong person, the right person could go to court to demand either the item or compensation for it.  It wasn't an absolute guarantee, but it was a strong incentive for the person administering the estate to distribute the property to the right person.

My state's law also allowed for a "memorandum" for distributing items of relatively small value, separate from the formal will, but the terms of the memorandum were considered to be informal guidance for the person administering the estate, rather than creating a legal right that the beneficiary named in the memorandum could enforce in court.

In 2012, however, my state adopted what's known as the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) (although "uniform" is a bit of a misnomer, since my state, like others who have adopted the code, tinkered with it a little, so the version here is slightly different from the version in some other states).

A very nice provision of the UPC is Section 2-513, which, as adopted in my state, reads:

"A will may refer to a written statement or list to dispose of items of tangible personal property not otherwise specifically disposed of by the will, other than money. To be admissible under this section as evidence of the intended disposition, the writing must be signed by the testator and must describe the items and the devisees with reasonable certainty. The writing may be referred to as one to be in existence at the time of the testator's death; it may be prepared before or after the execution of the will; it may be altered by the testator after its preparation ...."

Stripping out the legalese, what that means is that, if your state has adopted the UPC or comparable laws, you can create an enforceable document, not included as part of your official will, that lists all of your stash (and other items like furniture and items of sentimental value) and who gets what. You can create the document at any time, before or after you sign the will, and you can change it at any time without having to go back to the lawyer's office for a new will. The memorandum doesn't need to be fancy, as long as it's signed, and the information is reasonably clear. There's no need for witnesses or a notary. Your representative doesn't need to file this memorandum with the court as a public document (unless there's a disagreement about it), which is a nice bonus if your stash is something that's at odds with your public persona.

One caveat: This memorandum won't be legally binding without a will that mentions it. The sample language from the creators of the UPC, to include in your will is this:

"I might leave a written statement or list  disposing of items of tangible personal property. If I do and if my written statement or list is found and is identified as such by my Personal Representative no later than 30 days after the probate of this will, then my written statement or list is to be given effect to the extent authorized by law and is to take precedence over any contrary devise or devises of the same item or items of property in this will."

In summary: if you want to be absolutely, positively sure your stash goes to the right place, and it can be described in its entirety or in some easily defined grouping (e.g., "all of my fabric/yarn/books" or "all of the wool yarn, but not the cotton yarn"), then it might be best to list it in your will, but be prepared for some additional administration expense for appraisals. If you want to be reasonably sure your stash will go to the right place, but you want to have more flexibility to divide the items or to change your mind, then, if it's allowed in your jurisdiction, consider a memorandum, that is referenced in your will.

Next week, I'll have some suggestions for the stash-describing language that your attorney could include, as appropriate in your jurisdiction, in your will, and the following week I'll have suggestions for using a memorandum in conjunction with a will. The final entry for the series will focus on the importance of communication when it comes to estate planning.

DISCLAIMER: As noted above, the UPC has not been adopted in all states, and even where it has been adopted, some provisions have been altered by individual states. The information here is not intended as individual legal advice, but is simply offered as information you can discuss when you consult a qualified professional in your jurisdiction, who can advise you with respect to your local laws and their applicability to your specific circumstances.